The Failure of Media Preservation and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

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Media preservation is broken, and we need to discuss what that means.

Some of you may have heard about the recent shutdown of ROM sites LoveROM and LoveRetro—places to get “pirated” video games—but what you may not know is that these sites are often the last bastion of availability for the games they host. Richard Garriott, creator of the Ultima series, has special hardware to make sure that his first game (Akalabeth) is running at all times, simply because there is no guarantee anyone would ever bother preserving it. I’m sure there are mirrors that will pop up, but the truth is I don’t know if everything was kept. I don’t know whether there’s a special significance to anything that might have been lost. None of us do, not yet. The importance of art isn’t discovered in its own time. Poring over that material with the backing of time and a broader understanding of context that we don’t have in the present is the job of researchers and historians, and they can only work with what they have. Why do you suppose archaeologists are so happy when they find a clay pot?

Star Wars is naturally the most famous example of poor preservation in pop culture. Due to aspect ratio changes, not even the original VHS copies are accurate representations of the films; the only place a print of the original film stock was preserved is in the Library of Congress. Of course, part of the problem with Star Wars preservation is that George Lucas was and is notoriously disdainful of the original version, preferring the special edition’s corrections and changes to the original releases. And no, I have no idea why Disney (and 20th Century Fox) hasn’t released the original versions of the first three films.

Restored prints do make their way around, though.

My issue with these decisions made by corporations or individual artists isn’t specifically that they have their thoughts and opinions on their work. My issue is, quite simply, a matter of availability. I’ve already discussed how I despise the idea of a rare book, and how I feel that limited editions do nothing but punish fans who came in late to the party. And when it comes to a digital world, the excuses for these pieces of media being the property of a single library, or avid collectors, are unacceptable.

But I’m not here to talk about video games or film, they’re not my area of expertise. I’m here to talk about comics. I’m here to talk about how one of the biggest media franchises in pop culture has systematically failed to preserve its own history. I’m here to talk about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

No, really. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the most prolific franchises of the century, and for a long time was under the tight creative and financial control of Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, who wanted to make sure they didn’t end up in a situation similar to Jack Kirby’s, where his creations and artistic contributions were not under his control, downplayed, or he was simply not given proper financial recompense. Even with their tighter authorial control, huge amounts of what they published under the Mirage Studios banner hasn’t been archived in an easy-to-find, readable way, which is horrifying. I’ll explain what I mean by showcasing the severe lack of availability of the “main” TMNT releases, whether it’s from Mirage or others.

The Myriad, Messy Ways of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Collections

A note: I will be discussing things that are available both currently in print and available in other formats. It’ll become relevant later. Trust me.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 1)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird

There are four volumes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the first is the most famous of the lot. Issue one was published in May of 1984 and ran for 62 issues (plus four one-shots that are integral to the plot). And you can’t read most of them, even if you go back to reprints from the ’80s and ’90s. A number of the issues you can read are colorized, with no means of seeing an untouched version of the art. It’s a bit like saying I could read every issue, but only with three different Snapchat filters on.

Part of the problem is that guest writers and artists have been unable to reach licensing agreements, and the licensors, in general, have de-emphasized the importance of non-Eastman/Laird stories. This is best shown by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection series, reprinting only Eastman and Laird collaborations (and their occasional solo efforts) from that time period. Included in the Ultimate Collection‘s first five volumes are:

Issues #1-12

Raphael, Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello one-shots





But let’s combine that with other releases. Mirage reprinted issues #1-29, 31, 35-36, and the four one-shots in black and white, but those are also all out of print. IDW also offers a fair few of the missing issues in color, though not in order, leaving only two issues unavailable in any format, as far as I can tell. So, let’s tally that up:

Original Format, In Print: 58% (Missing #13, 16, 18, 22-47)
Original Format, Out of Print: 78% (Missing #30, 32-34, #37-47)
Colorized, In Print: 97% (Missing #30, 41)

On paper, that’s not bad. In practice, you’d need Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Volumes 1-6, TMNT Collected Book 2-7, TMNT: Soul’s Winter, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics Volumes 4-7 to hit that 97%, and I promise you that trying to put that nonsense in order so you can just read it could involve flipping between as many as three different books at a time. And it still wouldn’t be the whole thing.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Short Stories

Mirage’s TMNT released a number of short stories over the years, many of them by creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. The only site I found that attempted to catalog Mirage’s short stories is run by someone with ties to movements that I have no interest in getting near, but even before I knew the person who ran the site, I have no idea whether it was a complete work or not. I’d really prefer an additional secondary source that’s not run by someone the Nazis are cool with.

That said, Volume 6 of the Ultimate Collection does have a selection of short stories by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. It also excludes a few, such as “Old Times,” originally published in Plastron Cafe #1. A rare solo effort by Peter Laird (one of only two, I think, and the fact that I don’t know is exactly why I’m writing this article), its exclusion is not only baffling, it’s outright worrying. Whether it’s an oversight, a mistake, rights issues, or it simply wasn’t viewed as important enough, that’s just strange.

Plastron Cafe #1 – “Old Times,” pages 6-8. Written and penciled by Peter Laird


But on top of that, the majority of TMNT‘s short output from other creators are not reprinted for reasons unknown. I can’t even give you the percentage on what’s available, because the short stories that have been reprinted are minimal and as I’ve said, I can’t find the exact number of short stories that were published in the first place.

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 1)

The Collected Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Cover by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird

A secondary book of seven issues, this one presents a baffling conundrum. At only seven issues, this series was given a full collection back in 1989, complete with a short story. This is the copy I own. There is another black and white reprinting in 2007, but it contains a new short story (while not including the old one) and replaced the splash pages that open each issue with new ones. The new splash pages lead to an epilogue which, to my knowledge, caps off the entirety of the TMNT timeline.

When IDW went to reprint Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they did so in color and utilizing only the original splash pages—not even relegating the 2007 splash pages and epilogue to a bonus feature.

Original Format, In Print: 0%
Original Format, Out of Print: 100%
Colorized, In Print: 100%, with the exception of the 2007 re-issue’s splash pages and epilogue.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 2)

Credit where credit is due: this 13 issue series got a full reprint. It was in color, reprinted in color, and to my knowledge, there were no changes when it was reprinted. For the sake of you who might not know where it is, and God knows it’s hard to find out, it’s reprinted in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics Volumes 8-10. While the volume numbers on the reprints don’t indicate the contents, this is honestly the best we’re going to get in this article.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 2) #1-5
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 2) #6-9
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 2) #10-13

Original Format, In Print: 100%

Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 3)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 3 – Urban Legends Issue #5

This series was published by Image Comics, not Mirage Studios as the preceding volumes were. It went on for 23 issues, and I know very little about it—it sold poorly and didn’t finish its story, though two fan-produced issues (with support from the original creative team, as well as Kevin Eastman) allowed an ending to the series. These issues were made available in an incredibly limited number of physical copies, but are very easy to find in PDFs. While I had originally heard it dismissed as nothing but Image’s typical schlock, the series has been given a critical re-evaluation over the years due to its harkening back to the earlier, grittier days of Mirage’s TMNT, and some of its plotlines served as intriguing stories in their own right. While that shift is new, which is very much the point of why these things should be preserved, it is currently being re-published in color as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Urban Legends. It will also include three new issues by the original team to finish off the story, though I’m going to take the easy bet that the fan produced issues will not be included in any reprints of the series. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

Original Format, In Print: 0%
Colorized, In Print: Ongoing

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 4)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 4) – Issue #20

In 2000, Peter Laird returned to the Turtles for a continuation of the events of Volume 2, rendering Volume 3 non-canon. Over the course of 14 years, he produced 32 issues with artist Jim Lawson. It was independently published, had a varied page count, and the circulation was limited: all total, it was over 1,000 pages. It was never released in trade format of any kind, and Peter Laird has stated repeatedly that he has no idea if he will ever finish the series. He has also stated that he does not believe (and considering what little he’s done with the series since the sale of TMNT, I suspect he currently does not care enough to check) that IDW has the right to reprint the series at all, leaving the work even further out of reach.

Original Format, In Print: 0%
Original Format, Out of Print: 0%

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 2)

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 2) #41

Running from 2004 to 2010, this 70-issue anthology series covered any area of the Turtles’ lives that the writers wished. I can say very little about it, as I’ve had no real ability to read it. From what I understand, due to the sale of the Turtles to Viacom, the series had no proper conclusion. IDW has tried reprinting the series, with mixed success—they published 25 colorized issues over eight volumes, and never released any further volumes. Recently, they released an omnibus that includes the entirety of Volume 1 and the first eight issues of Volume 2, still all in color.

Original Format, In Print: 0%
Colorized, In Print: 35.7%. Ongoing.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Newspaper comic)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Newspaper Strip – 01/09. Year unclear.

This series was produced for seven years, largely by Mirage Studio mainstays. It has never seen any kind of re-release that I am aware of. Any other information I could find out about the strip and its contents is contradictory and unclear.

Original Format, Out of Print: 0%

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003)

Season 1, Episode 24 – “Lone Raph and Cub”

A seven-season animated series produced by 4Kids, this series adapted a number of Mirage comics while giving its own spin to the story and a more cohesive throughline. It is very much a Peter Laird creation, as he was the most hands-on executive producer you will ever see, and in my opinion, it is his definitive version of the Turtles. There were 156 episodes, a made-for-TV movie (Turtles Forever), and a number of shorts. I don’t know what that number was, but at least more than 18. None of these are in print anymore, and the original DVD releases were missing at least 3 seasons worth of content, to begin with. These DVDs also included making-of material, which is also effectively lost.

A couple of special notes: Turtles Forever was released in the US on DVD, but it was released in 4×3 rather than its intended 16×9, and also had several minutes of footage cut. There was also a website included over 1,600 pieces of production art throughout the series, including material that never made on screen. The website is gone.

Original Format, In Print: 0%

Original Format, Out of Print: 6 seasons out of 7 (Missing movie, several shorts, a web-serial, and the entirety of Season 7)

More Turtles, More Problems

There are a number of other things—like the Japanese OAVs, Mirage staff short stories, crossovers, jam comics, and I’m quite certain more that I’m utterly unaware of—that are simply not available in any legal format, while a few (such as Kevin Eastman’s Bodycount) are being released by IDW. Going through all of them would take an amount of research an actual historian would undertake—and I am not that.

Fortunately, not all TMNT material is lost. All six theatrical movies, Volume 2, the 1987 series, its comic book tie-in, the 2012 TV series, and IDW’s trade paperbacks of their version of the Turtles (provided you get the Complete Collections, which along with their Transformers and G.I. Joe Complete Collections are the most comprehensive trade collections of any comics company I’ve ever seen) have all been released in relatively easy-to-collect formats. When you compare this to the wealth of material that has been lost, and its significance to its creators and consumers, this isn’t much of a comfort.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was sold for $60 million back in 2009, and the 2018 cartoon series is just getting started. It is a thriving property, and “cowabunga” alone is enough to bring the Turtles to mind in most Americans. But when you look at all that’s lost, even if it may exist in some form, it’s horrifying. We don’t know the artistic significance of the uncollected Volumes 3 or 4. We don’t know the artistic significance of Volumes 1 or 2. We don’t know the significance of any artist, any story, without the benefit of hindsight—hindsight that sometimes can only be created by what exists on the hard drives of avid collectors, the ones who horde media like the preppers for a nuclear war horde water.

What We Have to Lose (and What’s Already Gone)

This isn’t okay. Again, art is not discovered in its time. Partly because it takes time for things to be sifted, partly because we don’t know how it influences people, partly because we don’t know how it influences culture. Carl Barks wasn’t known for decades, so his work went relatively unexamined, just enjoyed. When fans tracked him down and the breadth of his work became public knowledge, we could not only track how he inspired people, we could track who inspired him, and have a better understanding of the history of the medium. And our ability to track recent art isn’t limited to comics and television: we don’t even know the date that Super Mario Brothers was released for the NES here in the States.

While I’ve discussed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in depth, it’s hardly the only work in popular consciousness or from distinguished creators that is currently lost. Let me show you some material that is unavailable to the public, whether it was destroyed, locked in a creator’s vault, or lost for legal reasons.

  • Will Eisner’s Hawk of the Seas
  • The Batman – The fullscreen version is available, but it was originally produced in 16:9. I have seen it streaming on Netflix, but never available in any other format.
  • Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog (500+ issues) – Even when they were publishing it, the series was poorly collected. Now, it is likely lost to legal limbo.
  • A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001) – There were several cutscenes in the North American release, and it was not aired or put on DVD in widescreen.
  • Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s romance comics
  • Mickey Mouseworks – While all but two shorts were repackaged to be shown as part of Disney’s House of Mouse, that series is also lost.
  • DuckTales (1987) – While available on iTunes, some scenes are edited.
  • Disney’s The Little Mermaid TV series
  • Doctor Who – The BBC burned years of footage because they had no dedicated archival department. Some episodes were recovered. Many were not.
  • Dexter’s Laboratory – “Dial M for Monkey – Barbequor,” due to complaints about The Silver Spooner. “Dexter’s Rude Removal” – An unaired short that was released on YouTube but never aired on television. The short is now gone from YouTube completely. Also missing is Ego Trip, the finale movie to the series and long-form directorial debut of Genndy Tartakovsky.
  • Mickey Mouse ’90s strips – Written and drawn by numerous Disney veterans, including Floyd Norman. I was only able to find one library in the country that even had the newspapers it was printed in.
  • Love’s Labours Won – It even happened to Shakespeare. We don’t know if the play is real. We don’t know what happened to it. Take a moment and reflect on that, please.
  • Watchmen RPG – Written with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, giving context and additional bits of information to the story. Currently out of print.
  • The source code for almost every NES, Sega Genesis, and SNES game, many of which were stored on paper. And at least one studio’s archives, unsurprisingly, caught fire.

I know there’s more. Things that I didn’t include that I know about. The list would go on too long if I did. But even if I didn’t care about the length, I can’t list the entirety of what I’m familiar with for exactly the same reason I wrote this article: they’re lost. For all the things that I know are gone or are in danger of being lost, it’s nothing compared to what’s already gone.

I wonder what else just had its last copy thrown away or deleted while you were reading this article.

If you want to read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, here’s my best suggestions for how to do that without breaking the bank—that means the stuff that’s in print, even if it’s not necessarily in its original format. Maybe they’ll see that the interest for the originals is there. (The links are affiliate links.)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 1)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Ultimate Collection Volume 1
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Ultimate Collection Volume 2
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Ultimate Collection Volume 3
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Ultimate Collection Volume 4
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Ultimate Collection Volume 5
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics Volume 2
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics Volume 3
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics Volume 4
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics Volume 5
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics Volume 6
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics Volume 7
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Legends: Soul’s Winter by Michael Zulli

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Short Stories

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Ultimate Collection Volume 6

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 1)

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Omnibus Volume 1

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 2)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics Volume 8
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics Volume 9
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics Volume 10

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 3)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Urban Legends Volume 1

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 2)

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Omnibus Volume 1
Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 3
Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 4
Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 5
Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 6
Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 7
Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 8

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7 thoughts on “The Failure of Media Preservation and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

  1. I can definitely see where you’re coming from with this article – I have a passing interest in Turtles and trying to work out where to go to read the comics was thoroughly confusing given how many differing versions of the material there are.

    But there’s one crucial flaw in your argument which is that preservation is not the same as accessibility. Preservation of a cultural artefact – whether it be a video game, a comic or an artwork – does not require that it be instantly and easily accessible to everyone who wants it.

    ROM sites are often cited as being the saving grace for games from defunct companies, holding copies of them when there’s no official archive or storage. But, for console games certainly, those original games still exist. You can go and buy a second-hand copy of Super Mario World or Capcom’s Mickey Mouse games or the Konami Turtles games pretty easily, regardless of whether some flight-by-night website has a rip they don’t know the source of up for download. Those copies didn’t all disappear instantly when they went off sale. ROM sites simply give people the opportunity to play them easily and for free, but they also strip them of the vital context of their original hardware, crucial for truly appreciating them for what they are and were when created. You could go and download a C64 emulator with a truck load of games in a moment, but you wouldn’t get a full picture of them as a creative work without having to sit for seemingly hours as they load (unreliably) off a cassette tape and playing them with the original controls. Emulation does not and largely cannot replicate that.

    The same is true for the Turtles comics. It’s not like the issues missing from these reprints don’t exist. You could go and buy second hand copies of the originals, it’s simply that you choose not to. And I can understand that, trade paperbacks are much more convenient and certainly there is a better job to be done by most publishers on how they present their back catalogue (Marvel have been doing sterling work with their Epic Collections the last few years on that front). But that the issues done by other creators can’t be reprinted for legal reasons doesn’t (necessarily) mean that the materials for them aren’t stored somewhere and preserved.

    You mentioned in passing, almost dismissively, the Library of Congress, but they fulfil the exact purpose you’re striving for here – preserving original copies of creative works. The original version of Star Wars does exist, thanks to them. Yeah it sucks you can’t see it, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone. The role fulfilled by the LoC and other archives does need to be expanded and we should all be pushing for content creators to engage with organisations like them. But content redistributors, whether they be legal ones like IDW or illegal like ROM sites, are not those organisations and “can I easily get a copy” is not a proper barometer for whether a creative work is truly preserved.

  2. Curious about one point in your list at the end. You mentioned “The Batman”. Is this referring to the early 2000s series that aired on KidsWB? If so, it was released across five DVD sets and a Movie, all of which are still available on DVD and Digital.

    1. That’s the show. The Batman itself is available, but the majority of it is only available in 4:3. It was originally produced in 16:9. cutting off quite a lot of the picture and changing the overall look of the show from its original intent. Digitally, last I checked, the first two seasons were in widescreen and the others were not. I know for a fact they’re not on the DVDs though.

      The movie is similarly available in widescreen… somewhere, but I don’t know where.

  3. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume 2)
    Credit where credit is due: this 13 issue series got a full reprint. It was in color, reprinted in color, and to my knowledge, there were no changes when it was reprinted.”

    Unfortunately that’s not true… Every issue got re-colored (horribly) to be more in line with the other volumes of “Classics”. They are full of mistakes and weird coloring choices. The poor quality made me buy the original issues from the Mirage online shop (where quite a lot is still available nowadays!). The only issue I really had to hunt for was V2 #10.

  4. I believe you can watch The Batman in widescreen on Vudu from the episode previews I saw. It’s not exactly HD, but it’s the highest quality of the show in widescreen I’ve seen.

  5. I’ve been reading through the tmnt ultimate collections and just noticed volume 3 is missing some issues (what the heck??) Nice to know what I have to do to find them. This was an interesting read, thanks.

  6. That reminds me of the tragic forklift accident destroying the starlog magazine’s magazine, all gone up in flames…

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