Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (comic strip) – Dean Clarrain, (others?)

4 out of 5

Seeing as how wikipedia reports that this was printed from 1990 – 1997, generally daily, I’ve definitely not been able to read all of them. However, thanks to some helpful online sources, I have read about 350 or so, which seems like a fair enough count to weigh in.

…And, yes, my TMNT bias is likely in effect, here, as I don’t want to oversell these as the most grippings read ever, but I do think they were unique, in the same way that the Archie-era TMNT – from which these generally stylistically / tonally took (sharing writer Dean Clarrain and artist Jim Lawson for much of what I’ve sampled) – was actually pretty unique as well. That has the same big ol’ minus of Clarrain almost always circling back around to over-the-top environmental themes or top-down morals like “greed is bad,” but there’s the big ol’ plus of his writing as well, which is the ability to edge a kid-geared story towards, firstly, an ongoing narrative, and also general weirdness and darkness. The Turtles travel to an under-Earth ferried by Death (!), and fight in a surreal war between cat mutants and within dinosaur dreamscapes; they war with aliens and cockroaches to save the planet from terraforming. It continually bops off in unexpected directions, and the tiny format really dialed in Lawson’s more simplified art style, especially in later strips when he adapts this cute lil’ “squashed” look for the characters that’s a delight.

The repetition of some strips is amusing from a distance – like, they’ll repeat exactly what happened the week before as a “recap” with one additional bit of dialogue – and I’ll allow this as a necessity of a mostly daily schedule. Earlier strips, done by Ryan Murphy (I believe), have some dual tone shading and seem to be a bit more comedic and singular, pulling from the Mirage roster, before we go off on unique, Clarrain-led adventures, those adventures including some alternate universe Archie characters (i.e. non-“canon,” used with different names or for a different purpose) or perhaps unused toy ideas populating the side characters and villain cast.

All in all, the rating is representative of how much fun this would’ve been to read day to day, as most papers were / are lacking ongoing strips of this nature, not to mention that unique tonal flavor of kiddie / surreality that Clarrain straddled well, and the Mirage goofiness that could be find on the outer edges and in the backmatter of stuff written during that era. Add into it the quality art of Murphy, or – if you’ve acquired an appreciation for Lawson – great work from Jim as well, and it’s really a shame these haven’t been collected yet. Any Archie fans should find them quite enjoyable.