Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Celebrates 30 Years


Yes, time has passed that quickly.  For people like me, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) bring back fond memories of coming home from elementary school, plopping myself down in front of our *gasp* standard definition CRT TV, and watching the coolest green dudes kick some Shredder-butt.  Because my parents didn’t believe in cable, I would sometimes have to make this deal with my younger sister — stand next to the TV, dynamically adjust the bunny ears, and I’ll do the same for you when Jem comes on.  You kids don’t know what you have these days with your fancy Hulus, Netflixes, and devices that stream this way and that.  We definitely had a lot of fun in the eighties and TMNT was a big part of it.  This is also why this event was kind of a big deal for me.

On Saturday, June 14, 2014, I was able to get a good dose of nostalgia at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum when they hosted an opening reception for their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30-Year Retrospective Exhibition.  Though it has been running since May 3rd, June 14th was chosen as a celebration date because it also coincided with the official release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History, an illustrated book written by the Cartoon Art Museum’s own curator, Andrew Farago.

Before I start my total nerd-out, I want to thank the artists who autographed my book and drew custom TMNT characters for me.  These are probably the most generous and coolest people you will ever meet.  They are masters of their craft and went well beyond the call of duty in interacting with each and every fan.  So, a big “Thank You” to Andrew Farago, Ken Mitchroney, Mark Bodé, Felipe Smith, Irineo Maramba, and Ciro Nieli!

Meeting the Turtles!

Upon entering the museum, I was greeted with the Turtles themselves — Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo.  The four took pictures with whoever wanted one and this was something I was not going to miss out on.

The Turtles seen here are the ones from the current Nickelodeon series that started in 2012.

Andrew Farago

My first meeting was with Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum and author of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History.

Farago autographed my book with a “Cowabunga” and a nice drawing of a Turtle head.

I haven’t been able to read the book from cover-to-cover, but from the first few chapters and flipping through the rest, it’s a very thorough tome.  What I really enjoy about it is that it’s not a mundane, run-of-the-mill, hardcover book.  Within the pages, there are envelopes and notes attached to it so you get a feeling of interaction.  It reminds me of a pop-up book.  This format really puts you in the shoes of the artists and creative talent who worked on TMNT.

Mark Bodé

My second meeting was with Mark Bodé.  From 1988 to 1995, Bodé was the artist and writer for the TMNT comics.  He collaborated with TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman.  Another art-form Bodé is known for is graffiti.  If you look at the picture of Andrew Farago, the painting of Shredder behind him was created by Bodé.I requested a “Leonardo” for my autograph and it came out stellar.

Ken Mitchroney

My third meeting was with Ken Mitchroney.  I struck up a quick conversation with him before he autographed my book.  A very friendly, humble, and funny guy who was thanking me for allowing him to draw in my book.

He also autographed it with a “Cowabunga” and his own take on a Turtle.

Felipe Smith

My fourth meeting was with Felipe Smith, the character designer for the current TMNT on Nickelodeon.  He’s also famous for being the creator of Peepo Choo, a Japanese manga.  In March of 2014, Smith became the writer for the All-New Ghost Rider.

I requested an “Usagi Yojimbo” and man did he deliver.  That’s one mean-looking rabbit.  Smith did the drawing completely in marker without any sketching or lines for guidance.

Smith then autographed my book with a “Donatello” — front-teeth gap and everything.

Irineo Maramba

My fifth meeting was with Irineo Maramba, Design Supervisor at Nickelodeon Animation Studios.

(Note: Pictures are censored because Maramba drew Casey Jones with the most true-to-character attitude.  I had to black out the “sensitive” areas just in case the Internet explodes from the awesomeness.)

Yep, I requested a drawing of Casey Jones.  When I initially requested the drawing, Maramba asked if I wanted classic-Casey or modern-Casey.  I told him to draw the one he’s most famous for.  He actually forgot what the character looked like so he quickly pulled up a picture of Casey Jones, from the current Nickelodeon series, on his phone.  Maramba then proceeded to do a pencil sketch of the character.  He finished the drawing with a marker and a pen, for the speech bubble.  I think it turned out pretty sweet.  He gave me more than I requested and added one of the Turtles in the back asking Casey, “Do you wanna hang out?”  As you can see from Maramba’s pose, it only proves that the artist puts a piece of his soul in every piece of art that he creates.

Maramba then autographed my book with a side-view of Raphael.

Ciro Nieli

My sixth and final meeting was with Ciro Nieli, Executive Producer of the current TMNT on Nickelodeon.  Nieli also worked on Teen Titans so he honored requests to draw Robin.

At this point, we were teetering on midnight and these guys have been here since 7:00PM meeting fans and creating custom drawings.  I made a request of “Splinter angry at Michelangelo” and I let Nieli interpret what Splinter would be angry at.  In my mind, I was thinking about the scene in 1990’s live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie where Leonardo slices an airborne pizza and has a slice accidentally land on Splinter’s head.  As Nieli was drawing, he says to me, “Now I need to find out what Splinter’s angry at.”  Nieli starts to draw a triangular shape on Splinter’s head and then says to himself, “It dices, it slices …”  I guess both he and I were thinking of the same thing.  From what I could tell, Nieli used a blue soft-lead pencil to do an initial sketch.  He then finalized it with a marker.

Nieli concluded our meeting with an autograph of a large Turtle drawing on the back cover of my book.

Ending the Night

This exhibition certainly shows that TMNT has grown into a huge phenomenon since its creation by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.  I wasn’t able to look at all the artwork due to waiting in line, but I’ll be sure to make a separate visit before it ends.  Though the venue is small, the collection is extremely thorough and covers many incarnations of the TMNT franchise.

To say that I was a happy camper is an understatement.  One of my biggest disappointments this year was not being able to get tickets for Comic-Con.  This event gave me a nice, thick, healthy slice (Yes, pun intended.  And since we’re going down that route, it was a combo with all the toppings!) of fanboy heaven.  You don’t make it to thirty-years-strong without dedication and passion.  The creative powers behind TMNT know that the franchise isn’t just a property, but a culture and a community.  To Andrew, Mark, Ken, Felipe, Irineo, and Ciro, I will be sure to seek you out if you guys are at another convention or meeting.  You’re certainly bringing the Turtles back with a vengeance to a whole new generation.  With that being said, I’m going to sign off with a “BOOYAKASHA!”  For us old fogies, that’s the twenty-first century’s equivalent of “COWABUNGA!”

Exhibition Details

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30-Year Retrospective exhibition runs from May 3, 2014 to September 14, 2014.  From their site:

"The Cartoon Art Museum’s latest exhibition celebrates the iconic hit franchise Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  This retrospective will be on display at the museum from May 3 through Sept. 14, 2014.The Cartoon Art Museum’s exhibition will include all of the original artwork from the historic first issue from 1984, other early covers and interior artwork from series creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and their associates from Mirage Studios, storyboards and animation cells from the original 1980s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television series and material from the popular TMNT Adventures comic book originally published by Archie Comics.The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was created by Eastman and Laird, and the first TMNT comic book debuted at the Portsmouth Mini-Con in New Hampshire on May 5, 1984.  An article announcing its publication was picked up by the Associated Press, and the book sold out its initial print run virtually overnight.  The comic’s success soon led to myriad licensing opportunities including toys, animation, video games and live-action films. Today, the Turtles are bigger than ever, with a hit comic book series published by IDW, a best-selling toy line courtesy of Playmates Toys, a hit-animated television series airing on Nickelodeon and the upcoming Paramount Pictures theatrical film, Teenage MutantNinja Turtles, set to open worldwide on August 8, 2014."

The Cartoon Art Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11AM to 5PM.  They are located at 655 Mission St. San Francisco, CA 94105 and can be contacted at 415-CAR-TOON.