The First Comic Book from Mirage Studios
|Published: May, 1984
Print run: 3000 copies
Total on CGC census: 486
Recent sale: $6,600 CGC 9.6
The one that started it all: the May, 1984 original first printing of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The renowned pair of artists came together sharing a mutual inspiration from legends Jack Kirby and Frank Miller. The idea for the TMNT was sparked by the comedic concept of a turtle dressed in a mask and nunchakus which Eastman sketched during a brainstorming session. They then elaborated that first concept drawing into a team of four, and the TMNT were born. The pair were so excited by their concept, and convinced of its potential, that they used a $500 tax refund plus a $700 loan from Eastman’s uncle (who is thanked in the top left corner of the interior cover), to self-publish their first-ever comic book.
To print it, $1200 in hand, they turned to the publisher of their local TV schedule giveaway magazine, who ended up printing it at the same oversized 7 3/8” x 10 7/8” size as the magazine. That’s why there’s all that extra black space in the margins of the first issue… it’s the difference in size over a standard comic book (the next few issues would continue to be printed at this larger-than-normal size, with cover art that made use of the entire space). Other than the red color used in the cover, the entire book was black-and-white; and the paper used for the interior pages was cheap newsprint — those choices helped to keep the cost down. The initial print run of the first issue was a mere 3,000 copies. The interior back cover of the first printing has an ad for ”Gobbledygook” while the interior back cover of the second and third printings have an advertisement for t-shirt iron-ons.
Gobbledygook #1 1984 — Not a Comic Book
More about Gobbledygook: If you had sent in a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 to CGC Comics for grading prior to 2004, you might have been surprised when you received the book back to find that it was not credited with the first appearance of the turtles on the label. That’s because prior to 2004, Gobbledygook #1 was credited industry-wide (both at CGC and in the various price guides) as containing that key first appearance. Yet, CGC had never been sent any original copies for grading, and throughout the industry people would swear they had never even seen one or only seen a photocopy. But Mirage cleared up the confusion, explaining that Gobbledygook was not actually a printed comic book — instead, it was made on a xerox copier and stapled together by hand. That’s not to say that original copies aren’t very highly collectible… but they are still just (literally) xerox copies, not an actual comic book with a printing date. That means anybody with an original copy, a photocopier, and some vintage 1984 paper could churn out forgeries today that would be indistinguishable from the original photocopies (given the frighteningly high level of forgeries of TMNT #1 as I will discuss further, collectors should likewise be extremely wary of shelling out big bucks for Gobbledygook; I don’t know how even a professional grader could realistically certify what is a true original copy). So in 2004, the industry changed over to recognizing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 as containing the first appearance of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, Splinter, and Shredder. Trivia: Michelangelo’s name was originally misspelled Michaelangelo
Collecting this Comic Book
Comic Link said of this book: ”No other comic book from the past 25 years has had a greater overall impact on the hobby and on popular entertainment than this first issue from 1984. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spawned an entertainment and marketing machine that continues to this very day to churn out everything from blockbuster movies to breakfast cereal and action figures. This quirky little independent issue also changed the way that collectors and investors thought about the hobby of comic book collecting.”
A warning note to collectors about forgeries: the 2nd and 3rd printings had a note on the interior front cover just under where Quentin Eastman is thanked, indicating ”second printing” or ”third printing” but other than that line, the interior front covers are identical to that of the first printing. Some copies have surfaced where that extra line has been bleached out, making it look as if it is a first printing.
Another warning note: there have now been known cases of grading company error, where the label atop the slab failed to indicate “third printing” when it should have – in other words, from the label alone the copy presented as a true first print copy (and was marketed that way at auction) when in fact it was not. And the way collectors were able to spot this error was by looking for slight coloration differences that make 3rd print copies discernible from 1st and 2nd print copies. The quickest way to spot this difference is to zero in on the second ‘T’ in the word TURTLES in the title at the top:
There remains a problem in that first and second print copies are indistinguishable from the outside, so once encapsulated one really doesn’t know for certain if the grading company has made an error.
And if you are feeling discouraged with all these warnings, I’m sorry to say that I have one more: There are also known forgeries that look the same as a true first printing to the untrained eye, but do not use the original cheap newsprint for the interior pages. When I first composed this blog entry in July 2011, CGC had graded 6 counterfeit copies, showing up on the census as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – COUNTERFEIT” and I wrote, “one can imagine the sinking feeling six unlucky collectors felt when they got their graded book back, after being so happy to have won their copy at auction on eBay or someplace.” As I write today, updating this blog entry on March 3, 2014, another two counterfeit copies now appear on the census, bringing the total to 8. Two more unlucky collectors have been duped.
So collectors seeking a first print copy of TMNT #1 face danger at every turn: On the one hand it is risky to invest the thousands of dollars the higher grade copies of this book go for, only to send it in to CGC and get back a label indicating it is a counterfeit copy. On the other hand, there are now known examples of grading company error with third print copies coming back with a first print label, raising the question: over the many years that copies have been sent in for grading, has the error ever occurred where a second print copy has come back with a first print label in error? Could you win a copy at auction that has a first print label, but really there is a second print copy inside due to a failure of quality control at the grading company leading to a simple labeling error? Opening the book to check for the Gobbledygook ad on the inside back cover or whether “second print” appears on the inside front cover is the only way to know for sure, but once encapsulated, you cannot open the book anymore to check!
At least with CGC graded copies, they have been checked and verified by the professionals at CGC against restoration and forgery. And collectors can at least perform a visual check of the second ‘T’ in the title to rule out the possibility of grading company error where you are seeing a first print label atop a third print copy.
Here’s what an example graded copy looks like:
TMNT #1 First Print — Value
The low print run, black cover, cheap interior newsprint paper, and passage of time has caused high grade copies of this comic book to be extremely hard to come by. As of March, 2014, CGC had graded a total of 486 of them, and just 87 copies are graded a 9.4 or higher.
As of this writing, a recent sale of a CGC 9.6 graded copy was $6,600. That also happens to be the exact value attributed to this comic in this grade, by the most popular online price guide. As of this writing, the ComicsPriceGuide values this comic in the various grades, ungraded versus graded, as follows:
Sources & Resources
If you have reached this far, it must mean you enjoyed this post… If that is the case, thank you for reading and you may enjoy other posts I have made about comic book collecting; click the following link for a recent post with ideas for more Rare Comics To Collect.
Mirage’s eBay Page (if any copies remain in Peter Laird’s personal collection, this is where they would be sold): ebay.com/usr/mirage-studios
Mirage’s Origin Story: www.ninjaturtles.com/origin/origin.htm
Mirage’s TMNT #1 Page: www.miragelicensing.com/comics/mirage/volume01/01/01.html
Recalled Comics TMNT #1 Page: www.recalledcomics.com/TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles1.php
Comic Book Database TMNT #1 Page: www.comicbookdb.com/issue.php?ID=27751
CGC Census Page: www.cgccomics.com/census/index.asp
Collectors interested in TMNT #1 should also know about the Graphic Fantasy Fanzines, another independent comic (Ajax Comics) featuring the first appearance of one of the IGN top 100 superheroes, and yet, it is so unknown and rare that most readers of this sentence will never have heard of or seen a copy!