Welcome back, dudes and dudettes, to part two of a retrospective on Solson Publications 1986 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Authorized Martial Arts Training Manuals. If you haven’t read part one of my coverage you can find it here. If you already have or just don’t want to then there’s nothing I can really do, man, I’m just an article on the internet.
In 1986 a small New York comic publisher put out seven comic issues in which the TMNT teach you the way of the ninja. After digging into three issues previously, I now present you with the four remaining issues in which each Turtle brother teaches you the art of their personal weapon.
So clear your living room, sharpen your blades, and put on some Kenny Loggins records because we’re about to enter the danger zone.
I mentioned how the previous TMNT martial arts manuals were light on substance but overall pretty charming. It’s a ride to be able to see the TMNT so early into their comic careers being drawn by artists other than Eastman and Laird. Those issues covered very basic stances and cultural backgrounds. But it’s issues two through five where things start to get pretty dang serious.
Each issue is simply titled after the name of a particular turtle brother (notice the misspelled “Rafael”) with a secondary title such as the “Art of the Sai”. It’s kind of crazy to think there are licensed and “authorized” Ninja Turtle guides on how to use these sharp and dangerous weapons to flat out harm others. And nowhere on the issue does it tell you to proceed with caution. The Turtles look meaner than ever as if they sense what you’ve just gotten yourself into…and there’s no turning back now. The artwork is very much in league with the first issues I covered with all the illustrations done, once again, by Jason Rodgers. His interpretation of the Turtles has certainly grown on me after flipping through these issues. They’re somewhere between the original Eastman/Laird vision but with a very Jim Henson 1990 feel thrown in for good measure. The Turtles presented in these issues come off as serious and violent. Opening up issue two you come face to face with Michelangelo choking a literal ninja turtle to death.
Each issue follows the same layout: a brief history of the specific weapon, weapon stances, holstering, a fold out poster, and a couple murderous techniques. Mikey teaches me where to hit someone in the face with a nunchuck, Donnie shows me how to choke out someone with a bo, Raph tells me how to get stabby, and Leo demonstrates that cutting people is better than talking it out. It’s weird to think that I’d be having these homicidal maniacs on my lunchbox just two years later! Ah, the ‘80s were such a magical time weren’t they? Once again, these issues are very much in league with the previous manuals: light on substance, common misspellings, and crude in presentation. Kind of like my articles. But the charm is what made me embrace them. These “weapon” focused issues are a little harder to love just because they’re so darn violent. That being said, I don’t mind the TMNT being violent but here they’re just literally teaching you violence with step by step instructions. Yet it’s just so bizarre that I have to love what Solson Publications is trying to do. Because, as a ninja crimefighter, there may be no phrase as confusing to leave your defeated opponent with as, “I was taught this from a Ninja Turtle instruction manual.”
My favorite of the fold out posters has to be Leonardo’s. It depicts the leader of the team violently impaling our poor nameless volunteer ninja turtle to death blood and all. I mean, it’s no telling Shredder to commit seppuku, but it’s pretty close. I think we tend to overlook that “ninja” basically means a martial arts assassin. And, all in all, I believe that’s something that these strange offbeat “guides” at least capture in a sense when it comes to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In a little over a year these guys will be spouting surfer dialect, obsessing over pizza, and comically battling bodacious bumbling bad guys. But, as captured in these rare issues, here they are teaching you how to take out someone holding a knife using your sai.
I think this is a fair representation of what makes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles such a cultural touchstone to so many fans. For 35 years now, they’ve had so many interpretations and reimagnings that there are generations of kids and adults that have their Ninja Turtles. And these “authorized manuals”, though silly, capture the Turtles right before they hit their animated superstardom. If you find yourself at a convention or online auction and see these for a decent price, I’d pick them up for the pure novelty factor. As for Solson Publications, their samurai publication fetish came to a close in 1987 but they did employ legendary comic artist Jim Lee as an inker. In conclusion, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Authorized Martial Arts Training Manuals can’t substitute for real authentic martial art lessons. They’re weird, oddly violent, loaded with misspellings, and inaccuracies. But you’re not here for that. You’re here the TMNT. And, with that being said, these are just cool to have. They’re great conversation starters into fandom and fun to flip through. Sometimes you just have to take things at face value to enjoy them. I give them a resounding “Cowabunga!” even though these Turtles wouldn’t be caught dead saying that.