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

Never pay full price for late pizza.

Skateman comic cover

Why The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Bandanas Were Red

When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took the leap from black and white comic book pages to color merchandise, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird hadn’t decided what color their bandanas would be.

We always assumed the Turtles’ belts, wristbands, kneepads and scabbards would be brown leather (it just seemed to make sense). And the basic colors for the Turtles’ bodies were inspired by those of the many pet-shop turtles we’d seen in our lives.

-Peter Laird, Blast from the Past #77 repost: Iron-on TMNT group shot with logo (archive), February 21, 2009

But why were the bandanas red?

The covers of the first prints of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics books from Mirage Studios were colored, but they featured black and white art with color highlights rather than being fully colored art of the turtles. In terms of the comics themselves, I dont think that the turtles appeared in color on the cover of a comic until 1985 for the fourth print of the first issue of the comic. 1

Chronologically speaking, the covers came after some other color prints of the turtles. It was the t-shirt iron-ons that Mirage was selling that featured the first images of the turtles with red bandanas. This was the very early days of Mirage, and the iron-ons were the ones you could buy in a store.

These iron-on’s were fun to do — we made them at a copy shop in Portsmouth, NH which had the first color copier we’d ever seen — but even when applied perfectly, they didn’t last too long. After a few washings, they started to crack and peel and look pretty bad.

-Peter Laird, Blast from the Past #77 repost: Iron-on TMNT group shot with logo (archive), February 21, 2009

But why did Eastman and Laird choose red for the TMNT Bandanas?

The answer is Skateman. Skateman? Skateman.

In 1983, Neal Adams created Skateman and published Skateman’s first and only comic for Pacific Comics. There may be debates about Adams’s greatest contributions to comics books, but there will never be a debate about his worst. Skateman #1 was voted the worst comic of the last 25 years in 19902. What Skateman lacked in quality, he made up for in having a red bandana.

The red bandana was a “tip of the hat” to what Kevin and I both thought was one of the goofiest comics of the early 1980’s, “Skateman”, which featured a guy wearing a red bandanna while fighting crime on skates, if I am remembering correctly. I think Neal Adams had something to do with that comic. 

Peter Laird, Ask PL #14
Skateman giving a child a bag of live grenades

While no one has love for Skateman, the comic inspired a significant piece of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle history. While it’s likely hanging out in numerous dollar or less bins in comic shops, I picked up my copy off eBay for pretty cheap. It’s nice to have this piece of ninja turtle history, even if it’s a completely junk comic.

One of the first pieces to ever feature the TMNT in red bandanas. source
  1. comics.org, archive link ↩︎
  2. World’s Worst Comics Awards (1990) – #2 ↩︎