Bizarro Back Issues: The TMNT Authorized Martial Arts Training Manual Will Teach You Absolutely Nothing (1986)
If you were a child in 1990, then you wanted to be a ninja. I actually suspect that this is true for literally every child of every era who has known what a ninja was, but I can really only speak from my own experience, and that experience had a lot to do with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There were other ninjas of course, but while Snake-Eyes never really did much on TV and Sho Kusugi required a trip to the video store, the TMNT were swinging katanas and nunchuks around everywhere you looked. They were everything my eight year-old self wanted to be, and since growing a shell proved difficult, ninja training was obviously the next step.
Sadly, I never had a copy of 1986’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Authorized Martial Arts Training Manual, or else I probably would’ve grown up into a life of silent assassination and smoke-bomb escapes, rather than just sitting in my office making jokes about comic books. But with a new theatrical movie and ninja interest returning to an all-time high, it’s worth looking back now, to see if we can’t find out a few ninja tricks to apply to our day-to-day lives.
Spoiler warning: Unless your day-to-day life involves the proper handling of a sai, we will not.
Despite being billed as an authorized tie-in to Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Martial Arts Training Manual wasn’t put out by Eastman and Laird’s Mirage Comics. Instead, this is a product of Solson Publications, a cornerstone of the black-and-white boom of the ’80s that I’m going to guess was responsible for around 70% of the comics with the word NINJA in the title that came out during that decade. This was seriously an entire company built around putting as many ninjas as they could onto the cheapest possible newsprint.
As much as that sounds like a pretty fantastic business plan, it turned out to be a pretty unsustainable enterprise. When the bottom dropped out of the B&W boom, Solson went with it. They ended up only lasting a year before they went under in 1987, but not before they put out such luminaries as Ninjutsu, Codename Ninja, The Bushido Blade of Zatoichi Walrus, Solson Christmas Special: Samurai Santa, How To Draw Erotic Witches And Vampy Vampires, How To Draw Sexy Witches, Wenches and Vampires, How To Draw Fetish Art, How To Draw Sexy Career Women, and the reasonably ironic How To Publish Comics. Judging by that roster of titles, Solson had a team of experts whose interests matched up pretty exactly with young Chris Sims — and who ended up with almost as much disposable income.
As you might be able to tell from the cover, this particular issue was only the first volume of the TMNT Martial Arts Training Manual, but a quick search of eBay — where I ended up paying way too much for a copy was clearly pulled right out of a quarter bin — shows that there were six in all. Our ninja training must therefore remain incomplete, but let’s see what we can’t learn from this first issue.
I was kind of expecting this first installment, by Jason Rodgers and Rich Buckler, to be a sort of introductory course to the ninja arts, but that is definitely not the case. Instead, we are jumping right into learning about weapons, which seems like it might be slightly irresponsible — especially since we’re starting out with Donatello and the Bo staff, which, given that broomsticks are available in most homes, is definitely the easiest ninja weapon for children to replicate and promptly injure themselves with. Or maybe that was just my childhood.
Once we’re familiar with the history of the bo (“exact origins unknown“), then it’s time to learn the basics of properly holding a stick:
Am I allowed to show this kind of content here at ComicsAlliance?
[Editor’s note: no.]
Oddly enough, they don’t really explain how you’re supposed to grip the staff if you were one of those weirdos born with five fingers instead of the usual three, but I guess we’ll manage it. If nothing else, it’s really difficult to stay mad at something that has gifted us with the phrase “karate fist.” Either way, once we have the grip down, we move on to the next page and I’m pretty sure that’s Donatello’s penis.
Okay, on closer inspection, that’s actually Donatello’s tail, but if you’re just flipping through this thing looking to see if they get around to teaching you about shuriken (they don’t), then that thing could not look more like a ding-dang. I think I understand now why Michael Bay made them wear pants for this new movie.
I mean really.
All in all, Donatello and Li’l Donnie there get nine pages of bo staff instruction, which seems to be right around the time that Rodgers and Buckler realize that they only have a limited amount of space to work with here, so they start cutting down the lessons in order to fit everything in there. By the time they get to Leonardo, the katana and the art of swordsmanship only gets a measly three pages.
To be fair, they do include an almost alarmingly detailed breakdown of all the parts of a katana that brings me back to memories of being a teen and, in the words of Ken Lowery, really caring about sword tang…
…but after that, it’s pretty much “then you put the sharp part into your opponent’s soft bits” and we close out with a word from our sponsor.
Seriously, that’s an actual ad from this comic. Comics from the black and white boom are INSAAaaaane!!, y’all.
To be fair about it, each member of the team gets a dedicated comic/training manual of their own later, but still, it seems pretty disproportionate. I mean, Raphael’s section is basically just a two step diagram on how to punch. Step one: Stand. Step two: Punch.
All in all, in terms of actual ninja techniques you can learn in this book, it’s all pretty disappointing. There’s not a single page in here about turning invisible, vanishing in a puff of smoke, or even how to skateboard through a sewer, something that I know for a fact is a central tenet of ninja training. But that said, it’s not entirely worthless either. If nothing else, I have learned a new life motto:
I, uh… I think they meant “fist.”
Yeah this thing’s pretty bad.