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The cartoonists, who still publish Ninja Turtle comics, developed the story line that became the basis for the TV show and movie: four ordinary turtles were accidentally dropped into a sewer manhole, where they fell into a radioactive goo that caused them to grow to human size and gain the power to speak. The mutated turtles were then adopted by Splinter, a similarly mutated rat who had once been the pet of a ninja warrior and who continues to tangle with his master's human nemesis, the Shredder. Splinter drills his wards in ninja-fighting techniques and names them after his favorite Renaissance artists: Leonardo (the group's leader), Raphael (the rebel), Michaelangelo (the jokester) and Donatello (the technical whiz). "The characters should have Japanese names, but we knew we couldn't come up with convincing ones, so we decided to go way in the other direction," explains Eastman.
Though the comics were an instant hit, Turtlemania did not reach the big time until New York licensing agent Mark Freedman offered to market the heroes. "It just hit me in the gut. The name was great. It was going to be the funniest thing I'd ever done or the worst thing." Freedman cut the deal with Playmates Toys, who, in turn, sponsored the first TV episodes. The Turtles have been modified somewhat in the process of being turned into media stars. Their passion for pizza, for instance, and their "Hey, Dude" lingo were added for TV. So was an unfortunate -- and publicly criticized -- tendency for punks and villains on the show to fall into racial stereotypes. As far as the movie is concerned, box-office expectations are high. "Everything that has to do with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been successful," says producer David Chan. Who knows, maybe he'll shell out for a sequel.