A toy Michelangelo the ninja turtle plays a scaled down TMNT arcade machine

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Who was the Artist for the Original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cardback Art? A Search for an Answer.

If you don’t want to read, there isn’t a definitive answer here, but I think the assumption that Errol McCarthy did the original art is valid.

This is likely the first ad for retailers to sell the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles VHS, “Turtle Soup,” from page 117 of Video Store Magazine in June 1988. It’s available at the Library of Congress for anyone who wants to scan this specific page for me, as I can’t find it anywhere. The image comes from a post on the Technodrome Forums, which links to an upload from the Photobucket account for yelimsexa, which is from an eBay store that no longer exists. That’s what’s unfortunately happening with the watermark in the image.

An ad from Video Retailer Magazine, June 1988
An ad from Video Retailer Magazine, June 1988

“Turtle Soup” was never used as a VHS tape name, and none of the 193 TV show episodes ever used the name either, according to the Turtlepedia list of VHS releases and the list of episodes on Wikipedia. The street date lines up with the “Heroes in a Half Shell” VHS, which had the episodes Turtle Tracks and Enter the Shredder, the first two episodes of the cartoon.

A buddy of mine found another ad using the same art to estimate what the VHS cover would look like and is also using the title Turtle Soup to sell it to retailers. This image is also from an eBay listing, and it’s still meant for retailers, while the publication is unknown for now. This may predate the other ad, as the tapes have no street date. I contacted the seller to ask if they knew where it was from but got no answer.

A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles advertisement to video retailers for the first VHS tape.
Another TMNT retailer ad, publication unknown

The ad art is clearly sourced from the same art on the card backs of the original 1988 Playmates toys. I put a short video call for help to solicit people to help figure out who drew the art for the card backs and ad. Across a Reddit post and the video on Instagram and TikTok, the suspected artists were Eastman or Laird, Ryan Brown, or Errol McCarthy. A name left out of that list is Steve Lavigne, who proposed updated art, but Playmates didn’t use it.

I spent a lot of time looking through art from the names more commonly associated with Mirage Studios in the early days of the company and came across one bit of art that also happened to be an advertisement that isn’t one-to-one with what exists in the VHS ad, but the style seems close.

An early ad for the TMNT miniatures, made by Dark Horse, art by Peter Laird
An early ad for the TMNT miniatures, made by Dark Horse, art by Peter Laird

I came across this scan from roseangelo’s Flickr account, which appeared in comics in 1985. The Leonardo at the top of the Dark Horse minis ad feels closest to the VHS ad’s Raphael. The Sharon, CT location for Mirage Studios is a pretty good indicator of when the ad was created, as Mirage moved into Sharon, CT in 1984 and out to Northampton, MA in 1986.

Peter Laird’s drawings were used for miniature ads. Source: Peter Laird’s blog

Who drew the ad? It was Peter Laird! While the above isn’t the exact art for the miniatures ad, it’s pretty clear it’s Peter Laid. The above art was posted to his blogspot blog in 2008.

The artwork above is something I drew, using the figures as reference, for an ad we ran in the early TMNT comics in an attempt to sell some of these figures through mail order. I can’t remember how many we sold, but in a way it was irrelevant — I just love the fact that these things existed at all! Dark Horse (not related to the comic book publisher of the same name) went on to do several more variations, including a wicked cool Triceraton in a flying harness, and a bigger Turtle figure (about two inches tall, as I recall). I’m not sure if the company is still in business

-Peter Laird, Blast from the Past #113: Illustrations for our ad for the Dark Horse miniature lead figures

The thing that stood out to me was the Leonardo. He was much rounder than how Laird traditionally drew the turtles, which looked a lot like the turtles in the card back art and the ads, but by the time this all came around, Eastman and Laird were publicly speaking about how busy it was running the TMNT empire, which caused the search to continue.

Let’s look at Erroll McCarthy because a few people repeated an assumption that he was the artist. In an interview with Battle Ram: A He-Man Blog, he described his work on TMNT and Star Wars as “mostly concept art which may or may not become a toy. My biggest accomplishment was doing the TMNT blimp!” There’s a ton of McCarthy’s cardback work for Masters of the Universe, but only concept art for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The date on the Bebop art loosely aligns with the timing of the original cartoon, which debuted in December 1987.


Replying to @The Beard Was it Errol McCarthy that drew the cardback art for the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys for Playmates? #teenagemutantninjaturtles #tmnt #playmates #toys #toycollector #actionfigures #80s #90s #smallmystery

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“My biggest accomplishment was doing the TMNT blimp!”

McCarthy’s art style was too far from the art featured on the card backs. I was so confident I made another video supposedly dispelling the connection! One thing that bothered me a bit was McCarthy’s comment about the blimp.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle box art for the Turtle Blimp by Playmates, art by Errol McCarthy

Here’s the box art for the Turtle Blimp, which features some distinct-looking Ninja Turtles. Leo is looking like a very round boy, and the way Raph and Mikey’s faces are drawn is extremely reminiscent of the card back art. The “Cowabunga” with a K always stands out, as it does on the Sewer Surfin’ Mike figure’s surfboard.

Errol McCarthy’s TMNT Turtle Blimp concept art

The box art matches Errol McCarthy’s concept art for the Turtle Blimp and also the actual toy itself. With the box art, we have confirmation about who drew the box art and some published artwork of the turtles.

I understand that you would like me to expand on my previous response. Upon further consideration, I still believe that Errol McCarthy is the most likely candidate for the artwork found on the packaging of the toys in question. While Peter Laird’s artistic style may bear some resemblance to the artwork, it seems less probable that he would be responsible for it.