TMNT II reveals for the first time that the origin of the fervent foursome was nuclear waste. The truth is, these pizza munchers sprang from the brains of two punchy comic-book fans trying to top each other one night in 1983. Having stumbled upon the dopiest idea they could think up, Kevin Eastman, now 28, and Peter Laird, 37, borrowed money from an uncle and put out a black-and-white superhero parody that became an underground fave among college kids. In 1986, they made their first licensing deal. The rest is hysteria.
''You could safely say that I'm a millionaire,'' Eastman says with a laugh. ''I would also like to say that I'm not as rich as everybody thinks.'' While Eastman and Laird no longer write and draw the comic books, the duo oversees every Turtle strip, toy, and T-shirt produced around the world. In addition, ''Turtle money'' has allowed Eastman to launch his own Tundra imprwhich gives more creative freedom to both established and fledgling graphic artists, as well as to fund a comic-art museum in his hometown of Northhampton, Mass.
If his creations are losing their edge anywhere, Eastman feels, it's in the movies. While he and Laird had a high degree of control over the first TMNT movie, they didn't on The Secret of the Ooze, and the result clearly rankles Eastman. ''Each of the Turtles' personalities was a lot better defined in the first movie,'' he says. ''The producers chose to cut out a lot of the important, heart-and-soul story bits and just went on gags.'' Doesn't he know that Hollywood has always been a shell game?