Monday, June 25, 2018

TMNT Entity 10th Anniversary Retrospective

Today marks ten years since I launched TMNT Entity and I fear that by the time I finish typing this sentence it'll be the twentieth anniversary and my foot'll be halfway in the grave.  Time's just flyin' that fast, it seems.

I wish I had more to mark the occasion than a half-assed retrospective with a half-assed graphic, but I think the reason time has been flying so fast is because the hours in the day seem to be getting shorter.  There were a lot of projects I'd hoped to have completed before this date, and several that I'd hoped to launch, but my current professional writing obligations took priority over my hobby and here we are.

I started TMNT Entity in 2008 as a matter of necessity more than anything else.  I had just been pinkslipped from my job writing movie and television reviews for a new-defunct website company.  I'd gotten a new gig pushing, pulling, lifting and dropping boxes at a warehouse, but I still wanted to write.  Like anything else in the world, if you want to get better at writing, you have to do it every single day, and I wanted to keep on writing even if nobody was paying me to do it.  To stay in practice, I launched three blogs based on three of my interests: PelleCreepy (to review and catalog horror movies, now defunct), The Ecto-Cooler (to review and catalog episodes of The Real Ghostbusters, now long defunct), and TMNT Entity (to review my then-blossoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book collection, now not-quite-defunct).

Juggling three review blogs wasn't feasible, so I whittled it down to the two that had gotten the biggest audience and response, and then finally focused my energies exclusively on TMNT Entity (though the PelleCreepy horror movie reviews ultimately migrated to AIPT).  At the time, the Ninja Turtles were probably the least of those three hobbies for me, but TMNT Entity found its niche faster than the others did, so I endeavored to light a bigger fire under my enthusiasm for the franchise.  TMNT Entity began as strictly a review site for the Archie TMNT Adventures comic, as I wanted to limit my focus and figured I'd quit when I was done with that finite series, but it soon expanded to encompass the Mirage comics, the Image comics, the brand new IDW comics, the cartoons, the movies, the weird European shit, rare manga translations, and even a bunch of editorials and research articles.  I guess the fire worked.

But man, I dunno what audiences saw in my site a decade ago.  Check out some of my earliest "reviews".  They suck!  I didn't talk in-depth about the art, the story, the history, or anything of substance.  My observations were superficial at best, utilizing two or three brief paragraphs to express whether it was "cool" or not.  I mean, yeah, I was 23 years old when I founded this site, but Alexander Hamilton was only 21 years old when he helped found a nation, so I don't have an excuse.  I just wasn't very good at articulating my observations.

However, writing every day paid off, as I intimated earlier in this retrospective, and gradually I got better at deconstructing the visual and written aspects of each story to properly express where I felt the product delivered and where it faltered.  But the next thing I had to learn was to stop being such a complete asshole about it.

It's easy to forget that the people creating these stories for our consumer consumption aren't just names on paper.  Many of them are still alive and many of them Google themselves every day to see if anyone out there is talking shit about them.  Many Ninja Turtle creators have found my reviews (up to and including Peter Laird, yikes) and taken exception with the abrasive or insulting tone I've used, particularly in the realm of personal insults.  And that, in turn, has made me realize that I've been calling people names because I didn't like a comic book they wrote twenty years ago and, wow, what a prick.  While it didn't change my opinion about the work (I still think it sucks), it's humbled me enough to realize that I'm taking something they did professionally and interpreting it personally, which is neither healthy nor respectful.  Over the past year, my own work has been getting professionally published and some of the responses have been brutal.  While I try to take even the most vitriolic reviews of my output with a stiff upper lip, I won't deny that it burns.  Turn about's fair play, I guess.

The reviews are only half the point of TMNT Entity, and admittedly the lesser half.  When I started the site, I wanted it to be a mix of useful information and subjective filler.  If you think I have shit taste, then you could still conceivably ignore my whiney missives and use the indexed summary portions of my site for research and cataloging purposes.  That was the dream, anyway.  And perhaps I've succeeded much better on that end than on the other.  For a one-man operation over the span of ten years, TMNT Entity has just under 1,500 articles.  And nearly all of them have some informative substance to them rather than just photos of my cat.

But I've got those, too.

While I don't know if any TMNT professionals actually use my site for research purposes (my reviews have probably scared them all away), I get around 2,000 views a day, so I know some people out there are making regular use of it.  For them, I hope they found it informative and handy.

Of all my articles, I've enjoyed writing the research essays more than anything else.  And it's been through them that I think I've improved the most on a substantial level.  I look back at my first one about the history of the TMNT in Japan and I gag.  I awkwardly cited all my sources in a bibliography at the bottom rather than hyperlinked throughout the article where they correlate.  And many of those links are dead; I should've screenshotted them and embedded those images in the article, because now I'm referencing and redirecting readers to sources that back up claims, but those sources no longer exist.  Compare it with my most recent research essay and hopefully you'll notice some improvement.

Such essays are fun to produce because rather than just read/watch a piece of media and then write about it, I get to do a lot more legwork.  I enjoy the sleuthing involved in digging up quotes, hunting down evidence, following source trails, punching holes in my own conclusions and then trying to plug them up again so as to make the results as airtight as possible, and then waiting for the inevitable commenters whose feedback will find the cracks I didn't even see and need to go back and seal up, or sometimes offer new evidence I didn't know was out there to help bulk up my essay.  They're exhausting, but challenging, and I always learn something along the way, especially through the interactivity with others who know far more than I do.

One of the most popular features on TMNT Entity, at least according to the hit counts, have been the reading orders and chronological timelines.  As a consequence of the way American comics are published, the monthly issues are often released out of narrative sequence, with many of the supplements and tie-ins being published with no editorial text to enlighten readers as to how they correspond to the primary media.  It's a puzzle and they've been fun to try and put together.  I've not always been happy with the results, though.  My Mirage continuity timeline is a beast, and though it lists the stories in a chronological order, it is NOT a recommended reading order, which I think many viewers have interpreted it as.  Likewise, it makes the Mirage canon seem prohibitively intimidating and confusing, when the truth is that most of that stuff is just short gag strips that don't affect anything and the meat of the Mirage storyline is quite linear and easy to grasp.  Sometimes I think that timeline I made has done more harm than good.  On the flipside, I'm rather satisfied with my 1987 TMNT cartoon viewing order, as I think it succeeds in making an incoherent TV series marginally less incoherent (there's only so much I can do, sorry).

Also, it should be noted that even though I called TMNT Entity a "one-man operation" earlier in this article, the truth is that I have received a TON of help over the past decade.  So here comes the Special Thanks portion of our show.  Feel free to skip it or ctrl+f for your name (if I left you out, I'm sorry!).

I want to thank Adam Winters for sharing with me a metric ton of the hardest to find International TMNT comics as well as other odds and ends that have helped to demystify those issues for me and hopefully everybody following the site.  Adam has also shared all of the raw Japanese TMNT manga scans with me, which I've translated. 

But neither the raw scans nor my translated scripts would be of any use without the help of Cryomancer and his Optical Internet Translation Gang website, who image/text edited the manga and hosted the scanlations for curious readers. 

In a similar vein, I want to thank Enscripture, Nortok Diab, Wilddiverse and anyone else who has been kind enough to share scans of TMNT rarities with me over the years to be cataloged on this site.  Much of what you'll find cataloged in the Misc. Reviews index came courtesy of them.

I owe a big thanks to Andrew Modeen, who asked me to assist with some research for his unofficial TMNT Volume 3 conclusion issues and TMNT: Odyssey projects.  He gave me the opportunity to put my research abilities to some good use, but it also led to him inviting me to guest write for his TMNT: Origins project (coming soon!).  And through that, I will be able to see my words brought to life by artists such as Jim Lawson, Dan Berger and Powder (another fan whose support and enthusiasm has been a great resource over the years).  Writing scripts for Andrew proved to be vital practice in the years preceding my professional publications, helping me work out the kinks in my own formatting and style. 

I'd likewise like to thank Arseniy Dubakov, who I got to know via my work on Andrew's TMNT publications, and it was fun to see him (along with Andrew and Cryomancer; small world) bring the "Tales of the TMNT #71" project to life.  Arseniy currently publishes licensed TMNT comics in Russia, so congrats to him for making the leap from fan to pro!

I'd like to thank Russ Whiting and all the editors at AIPT.  They gave me a new platform from which to publish my reviews of TMNT movie and television media, helping a fresh audience find my site.  They also gave me a place to write articles about non-TMNT content and I've had a lot of fun working with them over the years.

Thanks go to Timothy Lim, the artist with whom I have worked on many projects over the years.  It was thanks to him that I was able to co-create some licensed TMNT merchandise (mostly t-shirts) as well as co-create several variant covers for the IDW TMNT comic.

Also a big thanks to Turtle Flakes, who have magnanimously allowed me to promote my work through them!

And a final big thanks goes to all the users at The Technodrome TMNT Comics forum! They've shared my work, critiqued it, helped me improve, and frequently provided me with resources to build a better TMNT Entity.  Thanks for the years of help and support!

Okay, that's it for the gratitude.  If I forgot to give you a high five, please forgive me; I appreciate everyone who has helped improve this site over the past ten years, both large and small contributions.

So, what's left for TMNT Entity?  Well, here comes the sad news (or maybe not so sad, if you're one of the creators whose work I've critiqued over the decade).  You've probably noticed that TMNT Entity has been slowing down in terms of updates across the past year or so.  Well, as I mentioned, I've gone from writing as a hobby to writing professionally in that span of time and there are consequences and compromises that go with it.  I still have to work a full-time job to make ends meet, I'm not Neil Gaiman yet, and that means every spare minute I have has to be used for writing.  In the past, those fleeting minutes went to TMNT Entity.  Now, I have to use them for my professional, paying work.

In the past year, I've self-published my first novel in Kindle and paperback (it was probably more fun to write than it is to read, but a lesson for every up-and-coming author out there is that even if you aren't satisfied with how rough-around-the-edges your first book is, the fact of the matter is a book is a book and you've got to start your resume somewhere). 

I also published two political satire pieces, but I won't advertise them here out of respect for my TMNT Entity readership who come to this site for bad jokes about Ninja Turtles, not bad jokes about politics. 

Coming in July is my first two-issue miniseries, Black Hops: U.S.A.-G.I., which I'm very excited about and hope to continue with future minis.  And FYI, for those who preordered that one, there was turbulence at the publisher unrelated to our book but unfortunately affected the release schedule, shifting issue one from May to July (though issue two remains on target).  Tim and I appreciate all the support and feedback that project has gotten! 

I'm also working on my second novel, being written in a much more traditional and less experimental fashion than the first.  I'm happy with it so far, though it'll likely be a self-publication and thus has to be something I work on in my free minutes.  Still, I hope to have it out sometime next year.
Picture unrelated.

With all that going on, plus the 40 hours a week dedicated to my day job, to say nothing of other personal obligations, it has been a strain to keep TMNT Entity going.  I may have to reduce my updates strictly to reviews of the IDW titles as they're published, though they come out with so many each month that it's a challenge to even keep up with those.  The truth is that I've reviewed most of the major TMNT titles from the past, with just the odds and ends from the International market to try and cover (so much stuff from the UK!).  TMNT Entity has more or less fulfilled its initial purpose.

I'm not closing shop on the site or even putting it on hiatus.  At least, not yet.  But the reviews are going to slow down to a trickle and getting the IDW coverage out on the same day as the books are published is not likely to happen anymore.  It's still about 2 years before IDW hits that TMNT #100 milestone, and that may be the natural point where I shut it down, but there's no telling where I'll be in 2020.  So who knows.

To everyone who has enjoyed TMNT Entity over the past 10 years, I want to thank you.  To everyone who took the time to read this self-indulgent retrospective, I REALLY want to thank you.  To all the TMNT pros who have created the media which I love, I think you already know how grateful I am for your hard work and inspiring craftsmanship.  To all the TMNT pros I've ticked off by colorfully defecating all over your hard work and craftsmanship, I'd like to apologize.  I mean, I'm not going to stop speaking up about the things I like and dislike, but I'll at least try to be less of a shithead about it. 

If I have any other parting words, I guess it would be that a lot can change in ten years.  When I started TMNT Entity, I was a dumbass with a ponytail and a goatee hauling boxes at a warehouse, barely stringing together enough sentences to coherently express my opinions on comics made for elementary schoolers.  I've cut my hair, I've moved cross-country, I've said goodbye to great friends, I've made new friends, I've gotten a full-time job and moved up the ladder within it, I've met some of the people who made those comics for elementary schoolers and learned that they're better people than I'll ever be (shaking my hand even after I talked down about them online), I've gotten better at stringing sentences together, and I've pulled enough of it all together to finally start getting my work published by people who'll pay me for it.  In those ten years, I also got robbed at gunpoint, had my apartment broken into, lost all of my written work in a theft, seen beloved friends and family (both human and animal) pass away, and gotten into nasty fights where neither I nor my opponent proved to be particularly good human beings.  But at least I don't have a ponytail anymore.

The point is, a lot can happen in ten years.  Even if you're in a place that looks bleak and monotonous, time-itself is a form of momentum and you won't be stuck there forever.  If you aren't where you want to be right now, you can work to get better and eventually you'll find your way there.  Sometimes it takes ten years, which is a long time, but it'll go by faster than you think.