Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
In May 1984, Laird and Kevin Eastman self-published the first black & white issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, at an initial print run of 3000 copies for the forty-page oversized comic. It was largely funded by a loan from Eastman's uncle, Quentin (which experience had a profund impact on Laird, and led indirectly to his later work with the Xeric Foundation), and published by the duos Mirage Studios, a name chosen because "there wasn’t an actual studio, only kitchen tables and couches with lap boards. That first issue received a number of subsequent printings over the next few years, as the Turtles phenomenon began to take off.
Laird's newspaper experience led to the duo creating "a four-page press kit, that, according to Flaming Carrot-creator Bob Burden's own Mystery Men press-kit included "a story outline and artwork that they sent to 180 TV and radio stations," as well as both the Associated Press and United Press International. This led to widespread press coverage of both the TMNT property and Mirage Studios itself, creating "a demand for the interestingly-titled comic that caught everyone by surprise. With the solicitation of their second issue, Eastman and Laird's Turtles comic began a meteoric rise to success, bringing in advance orders of 15,000 copies - five times the initial print run of the first issue. This, Eastman has been quoted as saying:
- "basically ended up with us clearing a profit of two thousand dollars apiece. Which allowed us to write and draw stories full time: it was enough to pay the rent, pay the bills, and buy enough macaroni and cheese and pencils to live on.
The Turtles phenomenon saw the duo invited to their first comics convention at the tenth annual Atlanta Fantasy Fair in 1984, where they mingled with the likes of Larry Niven, Forrest J Ackerman and Fred Hembeck (among others).
With their (November 1985) fifth issue, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles downsized to the more "normal" American comics-format and size, and the previous four issues were also reprinted in this size and format with new, color, covers. Also in 1985, Solson Publishing released a "How to draw" volume entitled How to draw Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Solson would also produce six issues of a TMNT "Authorized Training Manual" as well as a "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Teach Karate" volume in 1987.)
That the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became such a success (and in such a short space of time) came as a surprise to both Eastman and Laird. Laird has stated on several occasions that:
This led to increased pressures on the two creators (and the team which they formed to help them), including a prolonged period (about a year) of artist's block in Laird. The "incredible growth and complexity of the business" that sprang up around their instantly-successful Turtles properties, led to Laird:
- "suddenly discover[ing] to my horror that I no longer enjoyed drawing. It was a real shock, because if I ever had anything that I could rely on... it was that I loved to draw.
Laird and Eastman's creations went on to become a popular cultural phenomenon, forcing both of them to take regular sabbaticals from the comic to deal with the day to day pressures of running what became a multimedia franchise. Eastman eventually sold his share of the franchise to Laird (and the Mirage Group) on June 1, 2000, except for a small continuing income participation. On March 1, 2008, Laird and Mirage bought out the remaining rights and interest of Eastman, and the two went their completely separate ways.
Laird believes that the reasoning was simply that Eastman "was just tired of it. He wanted to move on and has other things to spend more time on.
On October 19, 2009, Laird sold the franchise to Viacom/Nickelodeon, but still retains the rights to do up 18 black-and-white TMNT comics per year.
Although ostensibly over-seeing the animated Turtles projects through Mirage, Laird had minimal hands-on involvement in the development of the original animated series, and even less with the Next Mutation series. However, he took a more active role in the next - TMNT - animated venture, acting as "a consultant, and... working with the guy I consider the head writer, Lloyd Goldfine. In this role, he says "[f]rom the get-go I've been looking at everything, from day one. Story premises, outlines, the full scripts and the sketching and designing of characters and settings. I've been doing a little drawing myself. Lots of suggestions. I've seen a few of the episodes, and it's neat to see a lot of the stuff I've worked on. While final preparations were underway, he relaunched the official comics canon of the franchise with "Volume Four" (the third published by Mirage Studios), with artwork supplied by fellow TMNT writer, friend, and Rat King creator Jim Lawson. When the new series proved a success, Laird relaunched Tales of the TMNT to accompany the fourth volume.
Following a successful deal to revive the Turtles theatrically, Laird put Volume Four on hold to develop the new movie; he has yet to return to the comic, leaving several plot lines unresolved. Tales of the TMNT was thought to go on hiatus in 2008, and the franchise's future beyond its on-screen presence was uncertain, but staff confirmed that this was not the case. It was confirmed on Steve Murphy's blog that Peter Laird was intending to return to Volume 4 and that the title would return, distributed digitally by Mirage.
The name "Mirage Studios" was chosen because of Eastman and Laird's lack of a professional art studio at the start of their career, before their creation made them both multi-millionaires. With the success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Eastman and Laird hired a core group of artists to help with the increasing workload, beginning with Eastman's high school friend Steve Lavigne, brought on in 1984 as a letterer.
In 1985, Eastman and Laird hired Cleveland artist Ryan Brown to assist them as an inker, and a year later penciler Jim Lawson cover painter Michael Dooney joined the studio. These six individuals would allow Mirage to expand into a number of spin-off and companion titles, starting with Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, designed to fill in continuity gaps in the main title. Operating from a renovated factory space in Florence, Massachusetts, the Mirage team produced most of their work in-house, including the Playmates Toys designs and the Archie TMNT comic series, until Tundra Publishing took over the building.
Eastman and Laird along with Brown, Dooney, Lavigne and Lawson toured extensively over the years, making personal appearances and attending many comic book conventions. As the Turtles' popularity increased, further people were added to the studio, including Eric Talbot (who attended Eastman and Lavigne's old high school), writer Stephen Murphy, and Brown's friend, Dan Berger, who was brought in from Ohio to ink the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures title from Archie Comics. Aside from Eastman (whose creative differences and other pursuits saw him leave and sell his interest to Laird and Mirage), these individuals have remained with Mirage to the present. Stephen Murphy stepped down from his position as Managing Editor in summer, 2007 in favor of Dan Berger; Murphy remains as Creative Director.
In 1988, Mirage Studios participated in the drafting of the Creator's Bill of Rights for comic book creators. On June 1, 2000 Peter Laird and the Mirage Group purchased all of Kevin's ownership in the TMNT property and the corporations, except for a small continuing income participation. Laird believes that the reasoning was simply that Eastman "was just tired of it. He wanted to move on and has other things to spend more time on." On March 1, 2008 Peter Laird and the Mirage Group completed the buyout of Kevin's entire right, title, interest and income participation in the TMNT property and the four Mirage corporations involved in the ownership, management and protection of the TMNT. This event finalizes the transaction begun on June 1, 2000.
- Peter Laird really hates Venus de Milo.