1986: That Time Turtles Taught Karate
Unfortunately we cannot be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Can we be teenagers? Definitely. Can we be mutants? Arguably. Turtles? I mean, spiritually. Ninjas? You bet your sweet bippy we can be ninjas. And who better to teach us than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themselves?!
Well probably Master Splinter.
But in 1986 Solson Publications took it upon themselves to release several “Authorized Training Manuals” starring the Ninja Turtles. And for a mere $2.25 you could pick up an issue and learn the art of the Ninja yourself. Solson Publications was a New York run comic publisher in the 1980s. They’re mostly known for publishing a lot of “How To Draw” guide books, a Three Stooges comic, and a series about a buff machine gun toting Ronald Reagan called Reagan’s Raiders. You know, the good stuff.
I stumbled upon these TMNT “Authorized Manuals” about a decade back for a dollar each in a used bookstore. The issues met my criteria for the need to consume everything TMNT as well as the possible serious career path of becoming a ninja. Today I’m going to be exploring the Authorized Martial Arts Training Manual as well as the Authorized Karate Training Manual. I love finding any type of TMNT merchandise or media prior to the 1987 Fred Wolf cartoon series, so let’s delve deep together into these turtley treasures and see what goodness we can find.
Here we have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Authorized Training Manual Vol. One. from 1986. Artwork is done by Solson regulars Jason Rodgers and Rich Buckler. It’s interesting seeing the Turtles drawn by artists other than Eastman and Laird especially so early in their lifecycle. This particular issue introduces all four brothers with some insight on their weapons. You then are able to learn some stances and attacks based on a series of step by step illustrations. You won’t be a ninja master by the end of this issue, unfortunately, but it’s a charming experience flipping through it.
I especially enjoy the illustrated weapon diagrams. Though these issues are brief and shallow, you can easily find much better resources in the learning martial arts but, honestly, what do you expect? If I were a nerdy edgy teen in 1986 and was focused on making myself a living weapon, I’d probably be more inclined to purchase these comics instead of heading to the dojo between the dry cleaners and White Hen. Afterall, when you take out a group of goons and the damsel babe you saved asks you, “Where did you learn that?” would you rather answer “Sensei Darrell“ or the “Ninja freakin’ Turtles”?
This training manual series ran for six issues. The sixth issue (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Authorized Training Manual No. 6 Vol. One.) was an expansion on the Martial Arts techniques learned in issue one. It’s pretty similar in execution except artwork is done not only by Jason Rodgers but Don Secrease, Paul Daly, and Bill Koch. The art is a little sketchier and grittier (which obviously works for this iteration of the TMNT) and Master Splinter is added to give more insight to the new illustrated techniques. I’d say the art definitely feels more Eastman and Laird and the turtles themselves just look meaner. I’d say to use this issue if your local goons decide to step up their antics with chains and flamboyant mohawks.
If you thought the Ninja Turtles were done teaching you martial arts in just six issues you’re wrong, buster. Because there’s a single issue in which they teach Karate. You can call Mr. Myagi and tell him to stick to those damn Bonsai trees because you’ve got Turtle Power now. This issue, aesthetically, is much cleaner and better presented than all the other issues in the series. And as a self declared expert in karate (and by that I mean I’ve been in the same room as Ralph Macchio) I’d say this issue is pretty stellar. The illustrative steps are broader and more informative to where you can maybe do something completely unremarkable but at least show promise. There’s also an epic panel of pure focused turtle-crotch.
If you had to purchase one issue I would personally go with this one. It has the best artwork, instructions, and an ad for a comic series consisting of a group of female powerlifters that fight crime (It’s called Iron Maidens because of course that’s what it’s called). There’s been Ninja Turtle cookbooks and shaving sets so I’m not surprised there’s comics where they teach you their ninja ways. What makes this so unique is that it was crafted before the Playmates TMNT merch machine launched in 1987. The three issues covered today were not deep or very informative. And I’m not sure who exactly they were “authorized” by. And, at this point, the TMNT were too adult for kids yet too silly for adults therefore I’m not sure who the market was when producing these issues. But I’m glad they exist. They’re a wonderful time machine to right before our favorite mutant brothers were launched into teenage superstardom.
Going through the steps and taking these issues seriously might make you more of a Foot Soldier than a Ninja Turtle. But it doesn’t take away from the charm and nostalgia when flipping through the Turtles in their comic infancy. Today we covered the two Martial Arts manuals as well as a (Bonus) Karate manual. But I did mention there are six issues in their entirety. Each of those four issues are dedicated to a single turtle brother. And next time we’re going to cover the art of the sword, sai, bo, and nunchaku. So grab some Crunchabungas, stock up some mutagen, and make sure you’ve got a bottle of turtle wax because we’re about to go full ninja, dudes and dudettes.