“If you want it done right, you’d better do it yourself!” When it comes to creative endeavors, this is often the case. In fact, sometimes you have to do it yourself if you want to get it done at all! That was certainly true in 1983, when two young men set out to get their ideas for a new comic book published.
Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were big fans of DC and Marvel superheroes. They kept up with all the latest trends in comics, and realized several tropes were so overused they were ripe for a loving parody. At the time, team-up books such as X-Men and Teen Titans were all the rage, and several of these superhero teams were composed of characters who were: pre-adult, genetically mutated, and/or skilled in martial arts. There also seemed to be a proliferation of intelligent, talking animals, such as Howard the Duck.
Eastman and Laird decided a mash-up of all these elements would be a hoot! They created a quartet of superheroes with all the characteristics popular in DC and Marvel’s top-selling books, wrote an elaborate story detailing their heroes’ origins and debut adventure, and then illustrated the tale themselves. The resulting art lacked a little polish, but the apparent joy and creative energy that went into the work more than made up for it.
The daring duo then tried to sell their project to the publishers that had inspired them: DC and Marvel. Without hesitation, both companies said, “Um, no!” Over the next several months, Eastman and Laird went to every independent comics publisher they could think of; and they got rejection slips from each one — enough rejection slips to make most creators want to throw in the towel, or take matters into their own hands!
Early in 1984, Eastman and Laird formed their own company, Mirage Studios, for the sole purpose of publishing their comic book, a 40-page black-and-white one-shot. To finance the venture, the two creators emptied their bank accounts, and Eastman donated his income tax return — but it still wasn’t enough to pay the costs of printing the comic. So Eastman also borrowed money from his uncle. The pressure to succeed was on, and the duo had a heated discussion about the size of the print run.
Laird wanted to go for broke and print 5,000 copies. Eastman, who’d put up most of the money, thought his business partner was crazy! Eastman was more inclined to print only 1,000 copies. He figured they’d be lucky if half of them sold, but with 500 copies they’d at least break even. Ultimately the two compromised on a print run of 3,000 copies.
They approached several distributors and found a few that were willing to handle the new book. The creators also wrote a press release and sent it out to all the fan magazines and numerous comic shops. The result? Before the book was even printed the distributors had ordered 1,500 copies. And by the time the book was printed, the remaining copies were spoken for. Eastman and Laird immediately ordered another 6,000 copies from the printer, all of which sold out.
Then, despite creating their comic book as a one-shot, Eastman and Laird went to work on a second issue. Only this time, to ensure they could meet buyer demand, they did a print run of 15,000 copies! It sold out! So they produced a second print run of 30,000 issues. And by the end of 1984, their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the best-selling independent comic of the year!
More issues followed, as well as the merchandising of the characters for cartoons, games, toys — and movies. The comic book project that no publisher wanted was soon adapted for the big screen, in 1990, with a box-office success that generated two sequels. Eventually this movie franchise was rebooted, and two more big-budget movies premiered (in 2014 and 2016).
Eastman and Laird took a chance and did the job themselves. They did it right, and they continue to be rewarded for their efforts!
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” (Isaiah 30:21 NIV)