Rich Horn stands in front of his collection of the negatives used in the printing process for the first ever Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic at a September convention in Manchester, New Hampshire. The pages were printed at the Journal Tribune in Biddeford and the comic debuted at a convention in May 1984 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The comic was created by Kevin Eastman, originally of Buxton, and Peter Laird. Courtesy Photo/Rich Horn

BIDDEFORD — In 1984, two essentially broke artists, using borrowed cash, walked into the Journal Tribune in Biddeford and arranged to have 3,000 copies of their work printed.

The black and white drawings were the pages of a comic book they called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Kevin Eastman, who along with Peter Laird created Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1984, in a recent photograph. As it turns out, pages for the first TMNT were printed at the Journal Tribune, which folded in 2019. While Eastman sold his interest in TMNT several years ago, he continues to draw them for the company that holds the license to produce them. Courtesy Photo

Yes, that one. The first one —  ever.

“Cowabunga, dude,” as TMNT Leonardo da Vinci began saying in 1987, three years after that first comic was printed.

The comic was drawn by Buxton native Kevin Eastman and fellow artist and business partner, Peter Laird.

And now, years later, the negatives of the pages of that first comic that would go onto to become a mega hit and inspired many more comics, a television series, movies, action figures, T-shirts and more, have surfaced.


Colorado collector Rich Horn brought them to Biddeford in September, hoping to be able to take a photo of the collection of 40 negatives in the press room of the Journal Tribune, but that was not to be. The newspaper folded in October 2019, and the building is now the home of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The press, a 5-unit Goss Community, is long gone.

Still, Horn drove up the hill into the parking lot of the Alfred Street building, parked and took a few exterior photos, with the human services department’s permission.

Then he drove to Manchester, New Hampshire, where the negatives made their debut at the Granite State Comic Con. He wanted the debut to be in the state where Eastman and Laird created the series — they were living and working in Dover, New Hampshire, at the time.

Mirage Studios, the company formed by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, issued a news release in 1984 at the debut of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, printed at the Journal Tribune. Courtesy Image/Kevin Eastman

Horn, 49, has been a collector since he was a child. A data analyst for Boeing by day, he is an avid TMNT fan and has turned his collection into a business. He attends shows and conventions, like the one in Manchester.

“I’ve been collecting since about 1985, a year after the Turtles were created,” said Horn. “I found a Turtles comic book, maybe issue 11, and I needed to get some of the back issues and so I started looking for those …. over the course of keeping up with the comic I amassed a collection. I enjoyed the story and thought it was neat.”

He is the fourth person to have the negatives in his possession; and barring some tremendous offer, very likely will be the last.


From the newspaper, the negatives ended up in Florida, thought to have been brought there by a former employee. They were found by their second owner in an antique store there. Horn said he saw them when they were first offered online, but was hesitant at the time, concerned about their authenticity. Later, he was able to establish they were genuine, and bought them from the third owner. Later still, another friend who at one time worked briefly at the Journal Tribune said he recognized the handwriting on the negative box from when he worked in the press room.

Horn could not be happier.

“These are the real deal,” said Horn. “These negatives have changed the game; they are so rare.”

The Journal Tribune printed the pages of the comic. The cover and binding were done elsewhere — the JT did not have the capacity to undertake the entire process.

Rich Horn, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles collector, recent acquired the negatives of the first issue of the comic, which was printed at the Journal Tribune in 1984. The newspaper is no longer printed, but Horn decided to look at the former location. He debuted his negative collection at a comic convention in Manchester, New Hampshire in September. Courtesy Photo/Rich Horn

“To our surprise, it sold out quickly,” said Eastman of that first printing, by phone from his home in San Diego, California, where he continues to draw Ninja Turtles. There was a second printing of 6,000 copies, he recalled. Eastman, who owned Mirage Studios with Laird for years, explained he sold his ownership of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles about 15 years ago. The title was later acquired by Viacom, who sold the licensing to a corporation called IDW, who hired Eastman to consult and work with them.

“It was very exciting” to hear the negatives of that first TMNT comic existed, said Eastman. He recalled that he and Laird had approached Eastman’s uncle Quentin, who owned an art studio in Manchester, for a loan to print the comic.


“He was very in tune with what Peter and I were doing,” Eastman said. The two artists put together a business proposal, obtained printing costs, and laid out how they proposed to repay his uncle.

Then it was off to the JT, to begin the printing process.

“The film was created from the drawings, and they laid it out, marked it up to size it for the presses,” said Eastman.

He recalled looking at press proofs to make sure the pages were in order and there were no blemishes or other issues.

Doug Worthing, now head of graphic design at Mainely Media LLC, which produces the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier, Kennebunk Post, South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Sentry, and Scarborough Leader, was working in the plate room of the Journal Tribune at the time, where images from the negatives were imprinted on plates used in the printing process.

“We were like ‘what is this?'” said Worthing when the negatives for the TMNT comic landed in the plate room. “I think my exact words were ‘this isn’t going anywhere; no one’s going to buy this’ — boy, we were wrong.”


A Batman and Spiderman fan, Worthing, who was 21 at the time, said TMNT did spark his interest — and he recalled his cousins were all collectors.

“We had fun printing it, and people would come in from other departments and look at it. To my knowledge, the Journal Tribune had not printed a comic book before,” said Worthing.

He said viewing the negatives on Horn’s website brought back a lot of memories — like the fact he and the others had to cut the negatives up separately and place them on goldenrod paper so they would fit on the image area of the plate.

Worthing said his son-in-law is a big TMNT fan — and now so is his son — Worthing’s grandson, 3 1/2.

After that first comic, Laird’s wife secured a teaching job in Connecticut, and Eastman said he followed shortly thereafter to work with Laird on issue two.

“It was our dream to be comic book creators,” said Eastman who graduated from Westbrook High School where Jane Hawkes was his “awesome” art teacher.


He said many people wonder where the names of the turtles originated — Eastman explained he was an art history fan and did a mural of Leonardo da Vinci for the school.

“It was a childhood dream come true,” said Eastman of the success of TMNT. “It is an incredible blessing.”

He tours, attends comic conventions — where he met Horn — and meets a lot of young people looking to become involved in the industry, he said.

Eastman remembers the first comic book convention he and Laird attended, held at a hotel at the Portsmouth traffic circle back in  May 1984. “We weren’t sure there would be a second issue,” he said.

Horn said the only way to get a true reprinting of the first edition is with the negatives he has, and he would like to explore that avenue, perhaps with a documentary crew. Given the age of the negatives and changes in the printing process since 1984, the task could be a bit daunting, he noted. Still, he would like to try.

Horn is said to be known as the historian for TMNT comics by those who collect them.

“It feels natural they’ve fallen into my hands,” said Horn. “I want to take care of them, and I want people to see them. I know these negatives inside and out. I’ve spent months just looking at them.”

The negatives are available to view on Horn’s website.

Comments are not available on this story.