It's a rare child who doesn't have a fond memory of perhaps strangest gang of superheroes ever to grace the pages of comic books, cartoon series, toys or feature films.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
A fresh, new month-long feature auction event at Heritage Auctions, titled The TMNT Auction: Heroes in a Half-Shell, celebrates 36 years of pop culture impact across 113 special lots.
First published by Mirage Studios in 1984, the debut copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, has sold for as much as $90,000 in near-mint condition at Heritage. The storytelling was the first to break ranks from other comic series, which relied on flashy names and spandex, to simply designate each member with a differently colored mask and names after Italian Renaissance artists: Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello. Fandom launched immediately.
"When it first started out, I believe it was the right idea at the right time," Co-creator Kevin Eastman said. "As a comic book, there were a large number of comic stores across the United States and the direct market/non-returnable distribution system allowed a lot of independent publishers to find an audience.
"As a toy and cartoon series, I feel it was the same. The TMNT were completely different than anything else out there at the time, and the opportunity to distribute through cable networks instead of the big three, allowed us to find a fans base. Honestly, at the end of the day, it was the fans who decided to embrace it, and make it the hit it was and still is.
Among the auction's highlights is a coveted copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (Mirage Studios, 1984) CGC NM 9.4, a splash page of original comic art from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #7, from Eastman's private collection.
"So many of [the items in the auction] are all personal, and bring back such wonderful memories, but I would say besides some of the original printings, the original art," Eastman said. "Page 13 from issue #7 is one of my favorites, such a joyous moment of reunion for the boys and their father. I've kept it in our personal family collection since its creation, and looking forward to seeing it go to a good home.
Additional original art includes animation cels, such as a Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo Production Cel Setup with Master Background (Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, c. 1987-1996) from the successful Saturday morning cartoon series. Even a fan group of related toys and memorabilia are on offer, recognizing the monumental impact the action-figure line had over children for more than two decades.
Fandom has touched every corner of the "Turtle-Power" universe as a file copy of Gobbledygook #1 (Mirage Studios, 1984), which featured a back-cover advertisement for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, which predates their first comic appearance. Copies of the book can sell for more than $10,000. The sale also includes a near pristine copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 Signature Series (Mirage Studios, 1984), signed by and also from Eastman's private collection, with a unique sketch on the edition's wraparound cover.
Eastman still remembers the years the characters sped from comics to animated television series and a major toy line. "The cartoon and toys launched late 1987 and mid 1988, respectively, ratings and sales were wonderfully strong," he said, "but I recall by the time we were well into 1989 everything started to go crazy. Ratings and sales were number one across the board and we had begun production on the first live action film, which after its release in 1990, I could finally tell people what I did for a living and they didn't laugh."
The idea behind the auction was to spotlight the series continued popularity and success, said Xavier Chavez, a comics grader at Heritage Auctions and architect of the sale, "Some values are now reaching prices that Golden and Silver age comics sell for."
When issue #1 broke the $10,000 mark for a high-graded copy, the Turtles' popularity has only risen since they were created and the movie reboot in 2007 was proof of that, not to mention that same $10,000 comic which sold less than a decade ago is now over $50,000, Chavez said.
"This auction gives collectors a full representation of all the Turtles comics that were produced throughout the decades by the different publishers," Chavez said, "but it only scratches the surface with the comic art and other collectible material the TMNT have to offer. Hopefully the results of this auction will bring more art and collectibles to market, satisfying some of the collector demand for these 'Heroes in a Half-Shell.'"
Heritage Auctions' first TMNT Auction: Heroes in a Half-Shell Monthlong Auction is open for bidding. The auction closes Dec. 10 on HA.com