I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the importance of protecting the rights of creator owned properties. I discuss getting value for your creation and thinking long term about your potential licenses. The truth is that very few creator owned projects will ever become major characters on any level. But when you think about the potential of creator owned projects, one of the best examples to consider is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The lessons that have come out of that title are ones that every artist should learn.
An Inside Joke
I first saw an issue of Turtles in my freshman year of high school. I distinctly remember rolling my eyes when I saw the cover and a guy in class explained the concept to me. In 1984, everyone who read comics knew the most popular comics were Daredevil, X-Men, Cerberus and Ronin. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird didn’t agonize over trying to create something completely new. They combined all of the basic concepts behind all the most popular titles and came up with gritty, young, chemically altered, anthropomorphic martial artists. The idea was confusing to anyone outside of comics. To anyone who read comics, it was the best example of self indulgent parody. The book premiered at a small comic con in New Hampshire with an extremely small print run. Then larger publishers like IDW and Image got involved. Then the merchandise started to come out. After a short period, the inside joke wasn’t a joke anymore.
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