Randall Lobb didn’t think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would ever amount to anything. In fact, he was sure it wouldn’t.
Lobb first came across the gritty, oversized, black-and-white comic book as a teenager at Toronto’s Silver Snail comic shop in 1984, and he thought the idea of four mutated turtles who fought crime as ninjas was an outrageous parody trying to piggyback on the success of Frank Miller’s wildly popular Daredevil series.
“I couldn’t get past the title,” said Lobb. “I thought it was crazy.”
Fast forward 30 years and you can still hear the surprise in the former comic book collector’s voice. Now a 49-year-old high school teacher, he is just about to release his first widely distributed, feature-length documentary – about the unlikely history of the storied franchise he was so certain was doomed from the start.
A wholly Canadian production that’s been five years in the making, Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tracks the evolution of a humble comic book that defied the odds and became one of the world’s most recognizable pop-culture brands.
The story behind Turtle Power, which was filmed and produced by Lobb and his friends Mark Hussey and Isaac Elliott-Fisher, is somewhat similar to the franchise it profiles. After all, Turtle Power is equally unlikely, a self-financed movie produced by three part-time filmmakers from small-town Ontario – Lobb and Hussey are from Goderich, Elliott-Fisher lives in Paris – who have been juggling their lives and day jobs ever since they began production in 2008.
Now, five years, countless interviews and more than 200 hours of footage later, the movie is finally set to be released by Paramount Home Media Distribution on Aug.12 – on the heels of the just-opened, Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot and a timely complement to the 30th-anniversary celebrations.
“It’s an underdog story,” said Lobb, who also works as a brand and innovation strategist for VirtualHighSchool.com. “They [TMNT creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird] could have never anticipated what would happen, so that was the theme from the start, and we also saw it as a metaphor for what we were trying to do.”
TMNT grew out of a limited-run, independently funded comic book from Northampton, Mass. Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles No. 1 first appeared in comic book stores in 1984, and faster than you can say “cowabunga, dude,” TMNT became a hit animated TV series, a bestselling children’s toy line and a successful movie franchise, in spite of its off-kilter premise.
It is this story Turtle Power looks to tell over the course of its 98-minute run time. But it’s not the story the three filmmakers thought they were going to tell in 2008, when Elliott-Fisher first approached acquaintances Lobb and Hussey on a street corner in Goderich with the idea of making a documentary about a franchise he had been a fan of since he was four years old.
Much like his initial reaction to the comic book, Lobb immediately dismissed Elliott-Fisher’s idea, but Hussey embraced it. After a short back-and-forth discussion about the movie’s premise with his future partners, Lobb agreed to go forward.
“We came up with this idea that we’ll look at the fans, and it won’t run afoul of licenses and all that,” Lobb said. “As far as I could tell, it was going to be a big fan-doc. We were going to show some people who had amazing collectibles.”
After following up on an e-mail that Elliott-Fisher had sent to Mirage Studios, an independent comic book company founded by Eastman and Laird and the original home of the TMNT franchise, Lobb received the initial networking support he needed to start working on the doc.
From there, things began to spiral happily out of control in a way the filmmakers never anticipated. At New York Comic Con in 2009, Elliott-Fisher struck up a friendship with Eastman. Upon hearing their idea, the TMNT co-creator invited the trio to interview him in Los Angeles and to stay at his Beverly Hills mansion for the duration of their stay.
“As we were leaving L.A., we kept saying to each other that it doesn’t matter if we sell [the movie]. Look at what we just did!” said Lobb.
Laird also agreed to an on-camera interview, and with that access to the franchise’s two creators, Lobb, Hussey and Elliott-Fisher changed the focus of their documentary from TMNT fans to the franchise’s complete history.