Friday, Oct. 30

NORTH ADAMS -- After 25 years of chronicling the adventures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, co-creator and city native Peter Laird has sold the franchise to Nickelodeon for a reported $60 million. "I've known for a long time that at some point in my life I would sell the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," Laird said in an e-mail interview on Tuesday. "I just wasn't sure when it would happen. But, as they say, in this case ‘the stars lined up.'

"The idea of a sale of the [Turtles] property to a third party is not a new one. Kevin Eastman and I, while we were still partners, discussed it during the 1990s and actually came to the conclusion that if the right deal came our way, we would take it."

However, the pair passed on two offers and Laird eventually purchased Eastman's share of the business. He said the sale came completely "out of the blue," when Mirage was approached with an offer.

As part of the deal, which was finalized last week, Viacom, the parent company of the popular children's station Nickelodeon and MTV, has purchased the global and intellectual rights from Laird's Mirage Studio and television distributor 4Kids Entertainment. The popular Saturday morning cartoon will continue to be broadcast on the CW television network through 2010, while Laird retains the rights to publish 18 Teenage Mutant Ninja Comic books per year, through mainstream publishers. However, Mirage will no longer be able to publish trade paperbacks.

Laird, who co-created the popular Turtle characters -- Michaelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo -- with Eastman in 1984, has been the sole owner of the franchise for nine years, producing the comics and overseeing the numerous cartoon, movie and toy lines from his company, Mirage Studios, in Northampton.

Laird said that while he will always have a relationship with the turtles, he never anticipated to spend more than half his life with the franchise.

"Twenty-five years is a long time," he said. "It has worn me down. I am no longer that guy who carries his sketchbook around with him and draws in it every chance he gets. I really, really miss being that guy."

Laird stepped away from writing, toning and lettering the Turtle comic books about four years ago, in an attempt to reinvigorate himself. Work on the fourth volume of "Tales of the Turtles" has lagged -- something he hopes to correct.

"I have a conclusion planned out for that series, and at some point I want to get to it. Maybe this sale will help me get to that point," he said. "I am currently not sure when or if I will make use of that clause [allowing him to produce up to 18 comic books a year]. I don't know if I am retiring. I hope not!"

Laird and Eastman published a limited run of 3,000 copies of the first "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" comic book in 1985. Laird's parents were among their first backers, giving $40 toward the cause. No one expected the comic book and characters to generate so much attention.

"It's a very cool feeling to know that they've lasted this long," he said. "I originally thought we'd have trouble selling the 3,000 copies of that first issue we printed, and thought it likely that it would probably never be heard of again. Neither Kevin nor I remotely expected what would eventually happen."

With the fate of the turtles is now in the hands of Nickelodeon, which plans to launch a computer-generated cartoon in 2012 to coincide with the release of a live-action movie retelling of the Turtles' origins, Laird said unlike some fans, he is excited to see what happens next.

"If you were to read some of the initial comments from some fans, you would think it was all ‘gloom and doom,'" he said. "Bizarrely, some fans were actually saying this sale meant ‘the end of the Turtles.' I just don't get that. I see the sale as a necessary step toward making the Turtles a perennial property."

He added, "I just didn't have the energy for it anymore, and the [franchise] really, truly needed a new owner. I will be honest -- I'm not sure if I will like everything that will be done with the Turtles now that I no longer own them, but I am very excited and curious to see what those changes will be."

While Laird has no immediate projects lined up, a 25th anniversary animated special, "Turtles Forever," was completed a few months back and is scheduled to air on television in November.

"I think it is a fitting tribute to 25 years of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a lot of fun," he said.

Mirage Studios is expected to close its doors in December.