Another giant IP deal unfolded yesterday, as Viacom/Paramount/Nickelodeon acquired the rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for $60 million.

Created in 1984 by two New England indie cartoonists, the Turtles have gone on to be an enduring kids brand, with movies, cartoons, cereals, toys and probably something everyone who was a kid in the ’90s owned at one point. Most recently, 4Kids Entertainment was producing an animated show, giving the Turtles yet another run near the top.

Now, Paramount plans a NEW show for Nick in 2012 as well as a new feature film that same year. The Turtles’ very successful toy license with Playmates will also continue.

The Nick deal included nearly $10 million as a buyout for 4Kids, which owned the TV rights for the franchise.

The rest — $50 million — went to Mirage Group, the previous owners, including co-creator Peter Laird, probably best known in this space as the funder and organizer of the Xeric Grants for deserving indie comics.

While it’s not quite clear who else is involved in the Mirage Group, Laird had been the sole creator involved in the franchise since buying out his co-creator Kevin Eastman in 2000.

On his blog, Laird explains his reasons for the sale, mainly burnout at running a global franchise — Laird is 55 — and the desire to get back to drawing. The entire statement should be read for context, but it does get into such interesting territory as how his take differs from Nickelodeon’s and more. But it is certainly not the end:

One comment — which I have seen online several times — expresses the sentiment that this sale will mean “the end of TMNT”. This baffles me. Unless I am completely naive, the sale to Viacom could very well mean a brighter future for the TMNT property than was previously feasible.

On a final note (at least for this statement), please understand that I sold the TMNT property, not Mirage Studios. Mirage still exists, and it’s still my company. It just doesn’t own the TMNT intellectual property anymore. I’m not sure what its future will be. For a little while, it will be helping with the transition of TMNT over to its new owners. But after that…? I don’t know. What I am hoping, however, is that this little core group of creators sticks together, both as friends and collaborators. And I think that is certainly possible.

Eastman and Laird remain the only two indie comics creators who ever got filthy rich from their creations, and they did it by holding on to the copyright and having a very, very savvy agent who made them terrific deals. Eastman spent an awful lot of his money, and it’s believed that the Laird buyout actually bailed him out of a lot of debts he’d run up. However, even allowing for the other entities of the Mirage Group, $50 million is a nice payout after having already made millions and millions of dollars.

Congrats to Peter Laird, and here’s hoping he enjoys his newfound spare time.


  1. Peter Laird’s a super-nice guy and I like that at the end of the day, he took steps to ensure that he could spend time doing what he really wanted to in life. I’m looking forward to, down the line, seeing the fruits of his labor.

  2. Wow. Good for Mirage and Laird! Hopefully some of that money will be invested in the Xeric Grants.

    Hmm… Maybe he can team up with Paul Levitz…
    (Man, get them together, and watch the VC vultures line up!)

  3. As a lifelong Turtles nerd, I’m pleased to hear that a) Laird has made a business decision he’s happy with, and that will allow him more personally engaging uses of his time, and b) there’ll be more TMNT for everybody.

    Here’s hoping that the occasional Usagi Yojimbo cameos will be retained in the upcoming incarnation, with Stan Sakai’s continued involvement!

  4. When Peter’s mother came to work showing off her son’s work I bought the first few issues (black and white only) for….I’ve forgotten but it was something like 35 or 65 cents per to “help her boy out” and said I was buying to give to my son who “loved comic books.” (Still does!) I’ve always been happy for Peter’s success although I’ve never met him because he has really great parents!

  5. I haven’t seen any articles which estimated the value of media or merchandising rights for the Turtles. I’m guessing that Mirage Studios hasn’t ever released numbers of that sort publicly. However, if Laird wasn’t interested in working on the Turtles anymore and wanted to do other things, he wouldn’t haggle over the price. Undeveloped properties aren’t worth anything. Nickelodeon’s rationale for acquiring the Turtles property is a familiar one:

    For Nickelodeon, the move is part of an ongoing strategy to to attract more boys to the channel. Over the past five years, Nickelodeon’s reach among boys 6-11 has fallen by almost 10%, and by 6% in the 9-14 category. Rivals including Walt Disney Co., new cable network Disney XD and Time Warner’s Cartoon Network, both have programming that is aimed directly at boys and young teens. [. . .]

    While this is a tiny deal compared to Disney’s recent $4 billion deal to acquire Marvel Entertainment, the rationale is the same. It’s better to buy than to build. Even though its over two decades old, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is an established brand. The first generation of fans are now parents who can introduce their kids to the new version.

    “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is “rich with opportunity for a tent-pole movie,” said Paramount Pictures President Adam Goodman, in a statement.

    Familiar brand names can be worth quite a bit, all by themselves.