Longtime Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Illustrator Becomes A Tattoo Artist Eric Talbot has been drawing for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise since the 1980s. Now, he's using his steady hand to ink tattoos.
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Illustrator Starts Drawing Off The Page, And On Bodies

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Illustrator Starts Drawing Off The Page, And On Bodies

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Illustrator Starts Drawing Off The Page, And On Bodies

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The elementary school crowd just loves Nickelodeon's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," right? But the four reptile brothers who always inevitably save the day actually have comic book beginnings. As New England Public Radio's Jill Kaufman reports, one of the first Ninja Turtle illustrators is now drawing his superheroes in an altogether different medium.

JILL KAUFMAN, BYLINE: It's one of those really cold winter days in the Northeast. Still, there's a lot of bare flesh on display at Oxbow Tattoo in Easthampton, Mass. And it's a big day for artist Eric Talbot, who has been drawing Ninja Turtles for the franchise since the late 1980s. He's beginning to ink his first full-color Ninja Turtle tattoo.

ERIC TALBOT: I have two greens that I'm considering in - working with. But I'm not going to go in and just hit a flat color. I'm going to be working colors together like I do with my traditional art.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Unintelligible) Looking good, huh?

(SOUNDBITE OF TATTOO MACHINE WHIRRING)

KAUFMAN: When he was little, Talbot says, he was more than happy to stay inside with a pile of paper and copy things he saw in comic books. While all the other kids were outside playing sports, he watched a lot of monster movies, he says, and began to draw his own creatures.

Talbot describes himself as shy. But he recently finished a two-year tattoo apprenticeship, which included classes on bloodborne pathogens. And in this new line of work, he's going to be touching a lot of strangers.

TALBOT: I just find it so fascinating. I love to put this - the needle in the skin and see that crisp, clean line come out, you know? All the different types of needles - the canvas is moving; the canvas is pliable.

KAUFMAN: And in his first few months of solo tattooing on that canvas, he stayed away from doing any Ninja Turtle art until he knew he was ready.

(SOUNDBITE OF TATTOO MACHINE WHIRRING)

KAUFMAN: On this day, Randy MacArthur, an insurance agent, drove a couple of hours from New Hampshire to be tattooed by Talbot. He's lying down on a table, right arm under the light.

RANDY MACARTHUR: This one is going to be Donatello on my forearm.

TALBOT: Yeah. But Donatello is your favorite, so we're starting with Donatello. He's going to be the focal point of the tattoo.

MACARTHUR: And then we're going to go from there after that.

KAUFMAN: MacArthur is part of a dedicated fan base who follow Turtle artists on social media, clamor after them at comic conventions. This moment, he says, is sort of surreal.

MACARTHUR: It's definitely a fanboy moment. You grow up seeing the art that he did, and then you get to have a piece of history on your arm.

KAUFMAN: And MacArthur talks every day with other fans online about Ninja Turtles, about the vintage comics and also about life.

MACARTHUR: They've really brought a lot of people together. They make sort of like a motley crew of a family, if you will.

KAUFMAN: While fans have been coming together around the art for more than 30 years, after drawing the Turtles on paper for that long, artist Eric Talbot was losing interest in the work.

TALBOT: I was kind of sitting in my basement with my dog drawing Turtles and not really seeing people. I really got complacent, I think, with my style and what I was drawing. I wasn't really trying as hard. But now...

(SOUNDBITE OF TATTOO MACHINE WHIRRING)

KAUFMAN: Now, with a needle, he's drawing Donatello in a sort of defensive pose.

TALBOT: He's saying, come on. Let's get going. Let's fight. Let's have some pizza - no.

KAUFMAN: The only thing the TV Ninjas seem to eat is pizza.

TALBOT: So it's coming together.

KAUFMAN: A few years ago, Talbot says, he would never have been able to touch anyone like this - as he brushes away some extra ink from MacArthur's arm. And the two of them are going to be seeing a lot of each other in the next few months. After Donatello, there's still Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo left to ink.

(SOUNDBITE OF TATTOO MACHINE WHIRRING)

MACARTHUR: Are there any good pizza places around here?

KAUFMAN: For NPR News, I'm Jill Kaufman in western Massachusetts.

(SOUNDBITE OF "'TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES' THEME")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) They're the world's most fearsome fighting team...

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