I shed a collection of comics before a cross-country move the better part of a decade ago. I kept one long box of some favorites. This is a
short blog post about one subset of that box: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (TMNT) comic book knockoffs. It’s July in San Diego, and that’s usually when we welcome the strange, annual Comic Con transformation. That I’m publishing this comic content now is coincidental and curiously COVID appropriate.
As a kid, most money I scrounged found its way into the cash register at Kovac’s Comics, my local comic slingers. A comic-collecting cohort allowed me to peruse a couple of his TMNT comics. That old-school TMNT – wry and rough, black and white, an oddly oversized format – it was something new. These abnormal animal comics, though only several months old, were already valuable because of exploding popularity and small initial print runs.
My first TMNT comic: Raphael
When I saw the Raphael one-shot on the shelf at Kovac’s in April 1985, 11-year old me didn’t hesitate. …Well, maybe a little. At $1.50, it seemed extravagantly expensive to a tweener, compared to the mass-market DC/Marvel $0.75 offerings. But it was, “#1 IN A ONE-ISSUE MICRO SERIES” – Hmm, that sounds exclusive! Ehh, but I wasn’t immediately sold on the whole lack of color thing TMNT had going on. Pay double for black and white?! …I’m glad I did.
The gateway comic. (Gateway to what??)
I collected a couple other TMNT comics that didn’t make it past the aforementioned great purge, but I decided to keep the nine different TMNT knockoffs I’d collected in the mid-80s. And when I decided to write this blog post, I purchased another three specimens on eBay to make it an even dozen. But, dear reader, don’t assume these ersatz TMNT comics are in demand; while the early TMNT comics by Mirage Studios suffered from low print runs and high demand, these knockoffs were plentiful in more ways than one. Read: not valuable, even 30+ years later.
Regardless, early in the growing TMNT phenomenon the TMNT craze was perhaps ever so briefly overshadowed by its spoofy spawn. Never before had a comic title inspired so many blatant caricaturish copycats. Parodical pretender ripoffs? Hokey homages? Call ’em what you will, they struck a note with me. Not a strong enough note for me to purchase more than one of any title, but a note nonetheless. And/or maybe I like collecting weird things.
The List of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Knockoffs
I don’t think I even read most of these books, or if I did, I’ve no recollection, which is true of many events 35 years ago, I’m sure. Nonetheless, I’ll try to say a few words about each. Conveniently, most of these verbosely titled comics require a few words just to tell you their names, and I seem to like hearing myself type.
Enjoy this list of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle knockoffs. Click the pics for larger images.
Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters #2 (1986)
Our first entry is from 80’s indie comic stalwarts Eclipse Comics, and it was also the first knockoff to market. Why do I have issue #2 and not #1? You’ll find a few second issues in this weird collection, mostly because when I acquired these TMNT knockoffs hot off the presses in the mid-80s, even the knockoffs were in high demand. The premier issues were prohibitively expensive unless you jumped on ’em within a few days of release. …Reminds me of the tulip bubble.
You’ll find varying art quality in these knockoffs. The Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters’ art, while simplistic, is stylistically interesting to me, with elements of outsider-art and chiaroscuro, maybe? Sure. I like it.
Aristocratic Xtraterrestrial Time-Traveling Thieves #2 (1987)
Stylistically slick, with refined lines, the art of the Aristocratic Xtraterrestrial Time-Traveling Thieves reeks of popular comic book art tropes of most eras. That is to say, if you’re looking for familiarity in your Twisted Tweener Taekwondo Tortoise titles, this might be your jam, artistically. Not that I remember anything about this book. I mean, other than it being a TMNT knockoff, that is. The TMNTs had April; this comic also featured a strong-willed chick, it seems. #KnowYourTargetMarket?
This one was published by Comics Interview.
Cold Blooded Chameleon Commandos #1 (1986)
Oh boy. A #1, finally. “Hard-hitting, fast-paced action like you’ve never seen before! Genetic mutation at it’s finest.” AKA the Cold Blooded Chameleon Commandos. Is this really the pinnacle of genetic mutation? I hope not. If there’s any justice, I’ll mutate a third hand right about the same time the wife evolves a third boob. Ah, I kid. But seriously, I don’t have much to say about this one from Blackthorne Publishing. I like the art and visual character development more than some of the others in this list.
Fish Police #1 (Reprint) (1986)
Okay, so, this one barely squeaks into the collection. First, it’s a reprint. (shudder) Secondly, by some accounts The Fish Police isn’t technically a TMNT knockoff. Creator Steve Moncuse allegedly sketched some of the characters before TMNT published issue #1. Still, TMNT #1 published in May 1984 with Fish Police dropping its premier issue more than a year later. Seems fishy to me.
Regardless, 11-year old me thought it was a TMNT knockoff, and that’s good enough for much-crustier me.
Geriatric Gangrene Jujitsu Gerbils #1 (1986)
Planet X Productions brings us these senior citizen martial artist rodent crime fighters. This comic title lasted three issues. I love the wrap-around cover art. The Geriatric Gangrene Jujitsu Gerbils’ inner-page art slips just far enough into conventional comic art territory to earn a thumbs up from this crappy, armchair TMNT spoof reviewer. Is that what I’m doing? Sure.
Should I flesh out this blog post with more info on these comics? Let me know in the comments. I mean, I guess I could actually read them so I have something substantial to write instead of this TMNT knockoff word salad. This is one of the three titles I recently acquired, so it’s new to me.
G.I. Jack Rabbits #1 (1986)
The 80s G.I. Joe comic craze started a couple years before TMNT #1, and lasted almost as long. This hastily drawn double-spoof is the (unlikely? inevitable? doomed?) marriage of those two pop-culture phenomenons. I can picture 80s kids arguing at the comic store about whether more of G.I. Jack Rabbits’ gene-sliced DNA came from G.I. Joe or TMNT. Oh to have been a fly on the wall for that TMNT knockoff conversation.
As hinted, this specimen comes off as slapdash, for instance, it’s pretty much panel-for-panel a copy of G.I. Joe #1, but the Jack Rabbits’ enemies, a herd of sinister bovines calling themselves COWBRA, is a classy touch, in this crowd. COWabunga? …And to regular readers asking, “Who are you to cast stones about mediocre sketching?” I say, um, yeah, dammit.
Clint: The Hamster Triumphant #2 (1987)
A twofer! Wait, is it a threefer? Or does that sound too much like three-four? For sure. So, like the Raphael micro-series, this mini-series title sees the most violent member of the Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters in his own arc. But it’s not just TMNT getting the sendoff, here. Obvious nods to Frank Miller’s Batman The Dark Knight Returns, Apocalypse Now, and other popular media references make this comic a lovely hodgepodge homage.
The art is only a little Frank Miller-esque, but that’s enough to score this art slightly better than par for this copycat comic course.
Hamster Vice #1 (1986)
Speaking of hamster heroes and TMNT, you know what else was big in the mid-80s? Miami Vice. Like big in a weird way. Which brings us to Hamster Vice. The more straightforward TMNT ripoff pastiche had perhaps already played out and it was time to tread toward transcending the tried and true but tired trope of animal gangs. Sure.
Glad I wasn’t a Miami drug kingpin in this universe. Nothing like trying to make pals in the penitentiary after telling them a police hamster locked you up.
Miami Mice #2 (1986)
Speaking of Miami Vice, yeah, another TMNT/Miami Vice hybrid here. I’m a fan of the art in this one. Is it ‘top-three’ list material? Probably. Whereas the previous TMNT/Miami Vice mix-up seems to be far more Vice than Turtles, Miami Mice seems to lean the other way. You know, toward Teen Turtle Town. Excellent lettering also sets Miami Mice apart from most other TMNT knockoffs. As a kid, I didn’t appreciate the impact of a great letterer, but I do now.
Is the story any good? Don’t know. If it is, Miami Mice is the whole package.
Mildly Microwaved Pre-Pubescent Kung-Fu Gophers #1 (1986)
Another new-to-me funny animal fighter comic book, this tortuously named title is the longest of the bunch by a hair, I mean, by a gopher. How long do rodents live, anyhow? Does a gopher hit puberty somewhere around three months? …Asking the important questions. (for a friend) The Mildly Microwaved Etc. Gophers’ simplistic art doesn’t do anything for me. Had this come earlier in the list, maybe I’d’ve been more forgiving. And to think, I don’t even own one of each TMNT knockoff. Talk about torturous–imagine having to write about another dozen or so stretched-thin fighting animal troupes. …Okay, sign me up! Tortuously FUN!
Naive Inter-Dimensional Commando Koalas #1 (1986)
As if these animals weren’t inbred enough, here’s another crossover. Oh, look! It’s Eclipse Comics’ Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters making a guest appearance with our titular brain damaged quantum tunneling marsupials. Don’t you love it when indie outfits collaborate? I do. Oh wait, that’s independent brewery collabs I’m thinking of.
Publisher ICG was only around for a couple years, and it looks like this is their only non-reference publication. More publisher trivia: Scroll up to the Time Traveling Thieves to see another example of a trade publication outfit temporarily dabbling in comics proper thanks to the TMNT knockoff craze.
Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos #1 (1986)
Australia, you might only account for 0.33 percent of people on the planet, but your fauna contributes a respectable second TMNT knockoff here. More marsupials! If I ever read these, I’ll try to remember to read the Ausie titles with a thick bush accent.
Speaking of crossovers, this issue has “an extraordinary (sic?) short but critical appearance of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” inked by none other than Peter Laird.
More about the Kangaroos? Fine. My pal Herb says the cover is an homage to Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg. He’s not wrong.
More Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Tributes
More? Yes. There were even more TMNT knockoffs. Were the Sultry Teenage Super Foxes (1987) TMNT-inspired? Likely, but they’re not the sort of foxes you might think. Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Pachyderms (1989)? Definitely. Genetically Modified Punk Rock Pandas (2012)? Assuredly, but long after the Dark Age of comics TMNT helped fashion. Immature Radioactive Samurai Slugs? They’re from TV, not comics, but, a-yoo-betchya! Shall I go on? The SEO-maven in me wants to be thorough and keep listing them, but fears of tendonitis (and a fleeting concern about your fading interest level) gives me pause. You’re welcome.
But wait, there’s more! If you’re left wanting to see more of these dozen knockoff comics, I hastily shot a TMNT knockoff companion video flipping through each comic and paid some aspiring voice actors a nickel to narrate it. Comics not your thing? Maybe you want to read about a few dozen TMNT TV show knockoffs. (TV’s not my thing.)
Still hungry for TMNT trivia pizza? Do you want even more, weird, tangential TMNT action? Once people wear masks and social distance for a few months, and COVID’s controlled, check out the Eastman Studio at IDW’s San Diego Comic Art Gallery. …And the other TMNT stuff they have there. It’s a true treasure for TMNT geeks. Well, if it’s still there. Call first!
Thanks for reading. Cowabunga.
Dan Dreifort blogs about SEO, UX, art, coins, travel, cat food, music, tech, and all sorts of other stuff. Should he focus on fewer things? Nah. That sounds boring.