Life for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles began in Dover

Did you know that the idea fierce fighters was born in the Granite State?

If you were a kid growing up in the mid-1980s, you probably can answer these questions:

1. How did the Teenage Ninja Turtles become mutant?

2. For whom were the TMNTs named?

3. What was the TMNT’s favorite food?

4. Who was the TMNT’s nemesis?

Bravo if you answered — 1) Exposure to mutagen ooze 2) Renaissance artists 3) Pizza 4) Shredder

But on this 30th anniversary year of the mega comic hit, can you answer this? Where were Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo and Leonardo born? And no, the answer is not Italy.

Cowabunga! if you guessed New Hampshire.

The sewer-dwelling reptiles were hatched in 1984 by artist and Maine resident Kevin Eastman and his friend Peter Laird when they shared Laird’s house in Dover. One night they started drawing the turtles at the kitchen table — one upping each other in the campy department. Eastman drew a turtle standing up with nunchakus in its hand. Laird added the ink and the words “teenage mutant” to the title drawing to make it that much more ridiculous. “It was a goofy night. It was the dumbest idea we ever had. We were quite positive we wouldn’t sell a single copy of the first issue,” said Eastman during a radio interview. “We wrote it for no one else but ourselves.”

But that “dumb idea” turned into franchise worth millions and included comic books, merchandise, a television cartoon series and two films, one of which — “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” directed by Jonathan Liebesman — was released earlier this year.

But according to their creators, the TMNTs were only made manifest because of some New Hampshire people — people they’ve never forgotten — including Ralph DiBernardo, owner of Jetpack Comics in Rochester whom Laird and Eastman credit with “launching” the turtles.

DiBernardo met the artists in the early ’80s when they were regular customers at a comic booth he had at Newmarket flea market and they became friends. When he opened a comic book store in Portsmouth in the mid ’80s, he ran a comic convention at a Howard Johnson’s at the Portsmouth traffic circle.

“Kevin and Peter asked me if they could premiere their new comic book at the convention. Looking back at that now, it’s embarrassing. I had invited comic book artists from New York and other places as my guests to draw people, but Kevin and Peter paid me for a table and paid to advertise using their turtles as characters in the ads. At the time it just seemed like a goofy project to me. Who knew?

“Even funnier, at one point they came to me and begged me to buy more copies of their comics so they could pay back Kevin’s uncle in Manchester the $1,000 he staked then to get the comic book off the ground. They had done an initial 2,500 run, which they had printed in Somersworth. At one point I owned 500 of those original black-and-white comic books, but eventually gave most of them away or cut them up to use as decoration. I don’t own a single one. They’re worth about $5,000 each now.”

But DiBernardo, 50, is anything but bitter. “I’m still friends with the guys and they’ve been nothing but great to me. They showed up earlier this year at the store for Free Comic Book day. It was the first time they’d been together in over 20 years. And 6,000 lined up to see them and get their autographs.”

Now that’s Turtle Power.