Friday, December 19, 2014

Snippets #17: April 30, 1984

       This one is from April 30, 1984 letter to my brother Don:

       "The mood in Turtleland is one of growing excitement as the day of the Portsmouth comic book convention draws ever closer. Our full-page ad came out this week in the Comics Buyer's Guide, and it looks pretty spiffy. Hopefully that will generate more orders. We are continuing to receive a trickle of orders generated by the press releases that we sent out, and are starting to get orders for t-shirt iron-on's from the ad sheets that we sent out with the books.
       This should also be the week that we see ourselves all over the local print media. The first story on the turtles came out yesterday in the Portsmouth Sunday Herald; I'll try to include a copy of it with this letter. It's pretty cute. The Free Press and the Transcript should have our stories when they come out tomorrow, and Foster's Daily Democrat will probably run their piece on the Turtles this Friday in their feature magazine. We've also been mentioned in Portsmouth Magazine and re:Ports; we may also be featured on the cover of re:Ports (which is a weekly rag covering entertainment in the seacoast area) next Friday. We're keeping our fingers crossed.
       What could be either the biggest publicity we get, or turn out to be absolutely nothing, is that UPI (United Press International) might be interested in doing a story on us. I sent a press release to their Boston offices on a lark, not expecting that anything would come of it. But last week I got a call from a woman at UPI who asked me to send her a copy of the book and some more information, and said that UPI might (and I emphasize MIGHT) want to do a piece on us. If they did, it would be fantastic! But being the semi-realist that I am, I'm not holding my breath."

       [As previously mentioned, UPI did, in fact, do that story, complete with photograph, and we got a boatload of publicity from it. What a stroke of luck! 
       Of course, it's also true that, had we not taken the initiative and sent out that press release to UPI, it is extremely unlikely that they would have ever taken notice of us and our little comic book. So I guess it wasn't ALL luck. -- PL]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Snippets #16: April 27, 1984

       This one is from an April 27, 1984 letter to Mom and Pop:

       "Here's another dispatch from Turtle  land!

We are cautiously optimistic; the initial response seems to be positive. We just got some nice notes in the mail today saying that the book was, and I quote, "Gorgeous! Better than "Ronin"! Better than "Daredevil"! Better than "Cerebus"? Well, almost! Great alternative reading for all those "heavy" books." That was from a guy in Louisiana.
       We had the last of our interviews on Wednesday, and are waiting for them to appear in the papers. One may appear today, and if it does I will include it with this letter and mail it out to you tomorrow. Actually, our interviewing might not be over, because yesterday I got two calls from interested parties. One was from the UNH school newspaper; they might send a reported over to do a story on us. The other was even more interesting -- a woman from UPI (United Press International) called and asked me to send them a copy of the book, as they might be interested in doing a story on us. UPI, as I'm sure you know, is a BIG news wire service that is as its name implies, international. I sent a press release to their Boston office as a sort of joke; I really didn't expect anything to come of it. Maybe nothing will… but the possibilities are exciting.
       Today we also got in the mail three tear sheets from the upcoming edition of the Comics Buyer's Guide, sent to us as "proofs" for our full-page ad that will run in the next issue."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Snippets #15: April 26, 1984

This is from an April 26, 1984 letter to Amy Blumenthal (of United Press International):

"Dear Ms. Blumenthal,

        Thank you for your call in response to our press release concerning our new comic book, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". We appreciate your interest, and would be happy to discuss the book further with you or another representative of UPI. Our schedules are fairly flexible, and I am usually at home in case you would like to call during the day. (Kevin Eastman and I run Mirage Studios out of our home in Dover.)
        I am enclosing a copy of the comic book, along with some more information about Mirage Studios and the other "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" products that we are marketing. (At present, we are only selling t-shirt transfers in addition to the book itself, but we hope to do a poster in the near future.)
        Hopefully, my next statement will not seem egotistical, but… I think that there is an interesting story to be written here, not just about our comic book, but also concerning the great diversification and expansion that has transformed the comics industry in the last few years.
        Thank you again for your interest, and we hope to hear from you soon.


        Peter A. Laird"

       [As diehard Turtle fans know, this UPI connection resulted in a windfall of free publicity for the TMNT comic, as this story went all over the country, and possibly around the world. We literally could not have paid for that much press. Thirty years later, I still feel grateful to Ms. Blumenthal for her interest and efforts. -- PL]

Snippets #14: April 18, 1984

       This snippet is from an April 18, 1984 letter to Mom and Pop:

       "This Monday, after much anxious waiting and several postponed delivery times, we  finally got the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" back from the printer. (By the time you read this letter, Chris will probably have gotten the two copies that she ordered.) I drove up to New Hampshire Printers in the rain, and stuffed the little Vega with 3000 copies, thankfully all boxed. Actually, we got about 275 extra copies, because of a printer's overrun… it didn't cost us anything extra, thank goodness! Now all those boxes full of comics are sitting in our living room, making the whole house smell of printer's ink. We immediately mailed out all the orders that we had received, plus about another 20 as review copies to magazines and to potential distributors. The bad news about the mailing is that we discovered that it costs us 71 cents to mail out a single copy. That, combined with 13.5 cents for each envelope, plus 9 cents for a Xeroxed insert that we are sending with each mail order, makes our shipping cost 93.5 cents per copy. If our mail order customers send us $2.00 per issue, that leaves us with $1.06. From that we have to subtract 50 cents for printing and advertising costs per copy, and we're left with a fantastic profit margin of 50.65 cents per copy. Far out, huh?
       In any event, we are currently too thrilled at having the books in our hands to be too upset about a meager profit margin. Both Kevin and I think the book came out very nicely, especially the cover, which I think makes the whole thing look very professional. We are happy with the finished product, and (hopefully!) our buyers will be too. I think that the convention will prove to be a lot of fun; Kev and I are both psyched-up for it. We're each doing a large color drawing of the turtles to hang on the wall behind our table at the convention; Kevin's is actually a full-acrylic painting on canvas. We are also starting to get some results from the press releases that we sent out to local news organs; I was interviewed over the phone by a reporter for a local radio station yesterday (unfortunately I forgot to ask him what radio station he was with), and today we got a call from a reporter from Foster's Daily Democrat, the Dover paper, and he wants to do a feature story on our book. We're going to talk to him next week.
       In the meantime, I am working on the Moxie ad artwork. I would much rather be doing turtles, but I need this money. Today I'm mailing off to the Peace Development Fund in Amherst several drawings that they commissioned. Hopefully they will pay me for them soon."

       [The convention mentioned in the second paragraph was the Portsmouth, NH comic convention where on May 5, 1984, Kevin and I "premiered" the TMNT comic book. 

       The "little Vega" mentioned in the first paragraph was the little shitbox car which Jeannine and I owned, a notoriously (though we didn't know it at the time we bought it) low-quality machine which -- after conking out several times and leaving us stranded -- made every drive a white-knuckle experience. It eventually ended up in the hands of some neighbors of ours in Sharon, CT, shortly before we moved from there, and I think they basically drove it around a little dirt track they'd made on their property. I suspect it has long since been recycled... or perhaps it sits in that very field, slowly returning to the earth.

      One of the promotional things which happened around the time this letter was written was a short video piece done on us and the Turtles by a local (I think Durham, NH-based) public TV station. I wish I had a copy of that. 

       It's funny to recall that Kevin and I actually, seriously thought for a little while that a good business plan would be to sell the entire print run of TMNT #1 as single copies, through mail order direct to customers. I'm glad we wised up and went with the wholesale thing. It made life a LOT simpler.

       One of the neat things about these old letters is the inclusion of small details which I had long forgotten. Case in point -- having all those boxes of freshly printed TMNT comics "making the whole house smell of printer's ink". I suspect that given my wife's sensitive nose, especially for artificial scents like that, having the house reek of printer's ink was not the most pleasant thing for her. However, I don't recall her complaining.

       At least the boxes didn't stay around too long, thanks to the unexpected demand for that first issue. -- PL]


Monday, December 15, 2014

Snippets #13: March 28, 1984

       This is from a March 28, 1984 letter to my brother Don:

"The Turtles are finished. We did manage to stay on schedule… in fact, we surpassed our schedule, and had all the artwork done by March 19. This Monday I brought all the stuff to the printer, and we are currently waiting for it to be printed. Hopefully, that will be accomplished within a few weeks. I wrote up and sent out a press release to all the major comics fanzines, hoping tat we might get some free publicity (our advertising budget is a very frayed shoestring). Wonder of wonders! -- This week in the Comics Buyer's Guide, a weekly magazine/newspaper devoted to comics and distributed nationally, our press release was reprinted almost word for word, along with a piece of art that we had sent along with it. The space it took up would have cost us about forty-five dollars. I'll send along a reduced Xerox of the page so you can check it out.
Yesterday I got a call from a guy out near Concord, NH, who saw the notice in the Guide and wanted to know what our plans for distribution are. He does some distributing  of comics to stores in his area, and may want to deal some of our turtle books. I didn't give him a definite yes or no, as we are going to wait 'til after the convention before we start dealing with dealers. Also, he said that he would probably want to pay 40% of cover for the book -- supposedly that is the same amount that he pays another major distributor for comics. However, that would mean we'd only make 25 cents per book… not exactly what we would like to make. We'll wait and see; if the book really sells well through mail orders, we''ll sell it that way. But if it is really slow-moving, we'll probably bite the bullet and try to unload them on distributors.


Probably the biggest news up here is that Jeannine has found a teaching job for next year, after filling out many applications. Amazingly enough (and to her relief),  she was offered the position after her first interview!….. The school is in Falls Village, Connecticut; she'll be teaching high school English there. So, come September, we will no longer be residents of New Hampshire. Kevin will probably move with us, so that he and I can continue Mirage Studios. Far out, huh?"

     [As mentioned before, we DID "bite the bullet" and sell to distributors at wholesale prices. Just goes to show how little we knew about the way this business was typically done when we started out in it.
     At this late date, I can't remember who the "guy out near Concord, NH" was, and if we ever ended up doing business with him. 
      In hindsight (which, as we all know, is 20/20), it's ironic that the "biggest news" when I wrote this letter was Jeannine finding a teaching job -- and NOT the first issue of the TMNT being done and about to be printed, something that would change all our lives radically. But that's life -- at that time, Jeannine's new job WAS way more important than our goofy little comic book. -- PL]

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Snippets #12: March 26, 1984

This is from a March 26, 1984 letter to Mom and Pop:

"This afternoon I have an appointment with the New Hampshire Printers -- I am bringing the turtle book to them. It is completely finished, art-wise, and with luck the printing of it will be done in two weeks. Kevin's uncle did agree to finance the book, and he gave us a check last week. We are going to have three thousand of the books printed; hopefully we will sell a greater percentage of them than Don and I did of the "Calendar of the Gods". We have already placed a full-page ad in the Comics Buyer's Guide which should appear the week before the Portsmouth Mini-Con (the comics convention at which we will premiere the turtles). I'll send you a copy of the flyer that was made up for the convention -- it's alright, but I think they should have had Kevin and I do it. I can't remember if I sent you one of the press releases that I wrote up for the turtle book… I sent out nine of them to the major comics-related magazines, hoping to get some free publicity. Around the end of April, we're going to send out a bunch to the local media -- maybe some paper or local TV station will want to do a human-interest story on "local boys create own comic book" or something of that nature. In any event, I'll send you one of them.


P.P.P.S. I got my Comics Buyer's Guide in the mail today, and what do you know! -- They mentioned our book! So I'm also enclosing a Xerox of the page."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Snippets #11: March 2, 1984

This is from a March 2, 1984 letter to my brother Don:

"Right now, I am in the middle of a major project with Kevin. We are attempting to put together the first issue of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", for publication in late April. This is our biggest effort to date; 40 pages plus covers. It's been pretty crazy -- we thought up the idea in December, decided we wanted to do the artwork on this special kind of paper that costs $7.20 per sheet (we could fit 3 pages on each sheet, but just barely), had many discussions about whether we wanted or could spend the money on that paper (actually it was Kevin's money to be spent), and finally ordered 14 sheets of it from an art supply store in New York City in January. Of course, we couldn't start drawing the thing until that paper got here, so until about a week ago we were on tenterhooks, wondering if it would get here in time. You see, we have set a pretty tight schedule for finishing the art: pencils and lettering finished by the end of February, and start inking by March 1, finishing an average of a page and a half every day. That would allow us to bring the completed, camera-ready artwork to the printer by the first week in April, and. allowing the printer two weeks for printing, we should have the book ready for sale by the fourth week in April. Just in time, too, for we have committed ourselves to premiering the book at the Portsmouth Comics Convention being held May 5th. We have already paid for the table, and have started advertising, that we will be there. Whew! So, as you might imagine, the next two months will be filled with a frenzy of activity.

Of course, all this may come to naught if we can't get up the money to print the book. As I will explain further on in this letter, I have NO money, and Kevin has only his IRS refund of approximately $500, which is supposed to arrive sometime in March. To get the book printed with the minimum acceptable quality, so it won't repel potential buyers, we will have to have $750 to print 1000, or $1500 to print 5000. Take a look at those figures, and try to guess which scenario is more attractive. If we have 1000 printed, the unit cost is 75 cents per book; if we have 5000 printed, the cost to us per copy plummets to 30 cents! Obviously, we would prefer to spend twice as much and get FIVE TIMES as many copies, because the profit potential is so much greater. But as it stands now, we don't have enough to print 1000. I really don't know where we are going to get the money; and if we don't get it, then all our plans and work go down the tubes, and the "Turtles" book goes back on the shelf, publication postponed to who-knows-when. There is a possibility that one of Kevin's uncles may be willing to loan us some money, but it is still uncertain how much… and for that matter, whether he will.

All this is further complicated by our (Jeannine's and my) financial state. Until a couple of days ago, I hadn't realized how desperate it is going to get for us come May. Together we have perhaps $700 in the bank, and come May, Jen will no longer have her job. I am still making dribs and drabs of money, illustrating jobs being scarce of late -- maybe $200 per month. Add to that rent and utilities expenses of close to $400 for the summer months (each month) AND the fact that we have to move out of Dover by the end of the summer (Jeannine will have graduated, and we have no reason to stay), and you will perhaps see why I am starting to feel the icy fingers of despair probing my being… or something like that. I'm trying to maintain some level of confidence and cheer, but it is somewhat difficult with imminent financial doom staring me in the face."

       [Interesting... here I make mention of our having created the TMNT concept in December of 1983 -- that's close to the November 1983 date I thought I saw on that letter which at the moment I cannot find.

       I remember quite clearly the anxiety produced by having to wait for that "special kind of paper" (which real TMNT fans know is the Graphix Duo-Shade illustration board upon which we drew many of those early issues) to arrive. We literally could not start drawing the pages until we got that shipment, and there was definitely some nail-biting happening. 

       It's interesting to ponder what might have happened had we managed to get enough money together to print 5000 copies of that first issue, or, alternatively, if we'd only raised enough to print 1000. -- PL]