TMNT #01 1st Printing Counterfeit…or Something Else?

Recently I was able to check a big item off my Want List when I found and acquired a true counterfeit copy of TMNT #1 1st printing (Mirage Studios).  It’s a book I’ve been looking to get for nearly 20 years due to its historical significance to TMNT comic books.  Now that I have the book in hand, I can tell you that this counterfeit would be nearly impossible to detect without knowing a LOT about the TMNT #1 books and without direct comparison against an authentic copy of TMNT #1.  This counterfeit has interior newsprint pages and a cover that is near-identical to an authentic (i.e., with the “Gobbledygook” ad on the inside back cover).  However, there are key areas that identify this as a counterfeit (or, at least different from an authentic TMNT #1 1st printing).  Please refer to the pictures for visuals of these differences; NOTE that the counterfeit is always the raw / ungraded copy in the pictures where a CGC graded copy appears.

  • The lighter red color, which appears almost as a dark pink when compared to an authentic copy of TMNT #1.
  • The absence of the very tiny red or red/white cross-hatching in the dark shadows of the front and back cover artwork; on the background buildings, the Turtles’ bodies, and (most notably) in Shredder’s shadows. The counterfeit renders these dark areas completely black with no red or red/white cross-hatching.
  • In certain areas of the front cover where the red color meets the black, there is a very slight separation between the red and black where you can see white.  This is most clearly seen within the second “T” of “TURTLES,” around the sword blood within the “S” of “TURTLES,” and down along the entire right edge of the front cover artwork.  While this same separation seems to exist on authentic copies of TMNT #1, the separation is much more exaggerated on the counterfeit.
  • Across the middle of the back cover (from left to right) there are scratch marks in the fully black portion that then progress into smudging within the artwork.  This likely was damage that occurred to the master image / negative used to produce this counterfeit cover, causing all copies of the counterfeits made using this method to have this issue.
  • The front and back cover images and lettering are positioned just slightly higher than an authentic TMNT #1.  This is very hard to see unless compared directly with an authentic TMNT #1.
  • The Gobbledygook ad on the inside back cover is just slightly cut off on the right side.  The upper right corner of the Gobbledygook #2 image is cut off.
  • Both staples are positioned approx. 1/2″ higher than the staples in an authentic TMNT #1 (at least, when compared with my copy of TMNT #1).  However, this would likely not be a reliable method of identification since stapling location is probably somewhat variable, even among two authentic copies of TMNT #1.

Multiple different types of TMNT #1 counterfeits have been identified over the years.  Most are fairly easy to spot since they typically are actually 2nd or 3rd printings that have had their printing designation on the inside front cover bleached out / erased.  Those can be easily spotted by simply looking at the ad on the inside back cover and/or the address listed at the bottom of the inside front cover.  I actually don’t even regard these as “true” counterfeits since they are really just “damaged” 2nd or 3rd printings.  There is also another counterfeit version I’ve heard of that is supposed to have very white non-newsprint body pages but I’ve never seen a copy of that counterfeit before (and I’m not sure it even really exists since it would be super-easy to identify from the stark white pages alone).  This specific counterfeit (the one I recently acquired) is the most highly sought-after counterfeit of TMNT #1 given that it is a truly identical reproduction in all aspects, including newsprint pages, no printing designation, the Dover, NH address, and the ad for “Gobbledygook” on the inside back cover.

While it’s clear this book isn’t the same as an authentic TMNT #1, it’s still similar enough to the original to make a person wonder how such a meticulous reproduction was made.  Its mere existence sparks numerous questions about its origin and from there, we get multiple hypotheses about how it came to be.  In my opinion, there have really only been a couple valid theories about how this counterfeit was created and its origin /creation; that is, until I got my hands on this copy.  Now I’m thinking there’s enough “right” about this specific counterfeit that there could possibly be another scenario for its existence.  I’ve listed the key theories here and have also provided my thoughts regarding each.

  1. FULLY COUNTERFEIT – The quality of this book absolutely lends itself to the entire book having been counterfeited in whole (i.e., the entire book is counterfeit – cover and body pages were copied / reproduced).  However, for this to happen, it would have had to be produced using professional printing equipment (offset printing for the interior pages) and the cover produced in a similar manner (or on a very high-end 1980’s era scanner / copier).  I’ve historically never believed anyone would go to such lengths in reproducing the whole book in its entirety.  Doing so would take a LOT of preparation and work and it wouldn’t likely have involved just one person.  Multiple people (and a printing business) would have had to be involved with creating the negatives and the printing plates, book assembly, etc.  Would they risk their job and their business for such an endeavor?  TMNT #1 1st printings were hot books back in the 80’s but they would maybe be a few hundred dollars…not nearly what they are going for now.
    However, just a few years ago a set of TMNT #1 negatives surfaced (purchased by a fellow TMNT comic collector), each negative being a page from TMNT #1 with all 40-pages of TMNT #1 represented.  Only the cover images are not present.  These are the types of negatives that were used in offset printing to create printing plates so, the existence of these negatives means a fully counterfeit reproduction of the body pages could have been done.  These negatives could have been used for printing the body pages of the 1st, 2nd, and/or 3rd printings of TMNT #1; or they could have been used to make counterfeit copies; or maybe all of them used these negatives.  The actual origin and use of these negatives is not known but it at least opens the door to the possibility that access to the body-page negatives and printing equipment isn’t out of the question and counterfeit body pages could have been made.  Still, the lack of cover images in the set of negatives still poses a problem for this theory.  It’s possible that, given its two-color (black & red) composition, the covers to the TMNT #1 books (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and counterfeits) were produced by a separate print shop and then assembled elsewhere or delivered to the body-page print shop for assembly.  Lots of assumptions and unknowns in this theory make it a hard one to back.
    Perhaps one of the biggest detractors to this theory (for me) is the extremely low quantity of identified TMNT #1 counterfeits.  As of Oct. 2018, only 14 copies of TMNT #1 counterfeit exist on the CGC Census.  Of those 14, we don’t know how many of those were simply 2nd or 3rd printings with their printing information bleached / removed.  That’s a VERY low quantity of counterfeits for a book widely known to have been counterfeited.  If a book were to be counterfeited using professional offset printing equipment, it would stand to reason that hundreds (if not thousands) of copies would be made.  Once you have the printing plates made and the presses running, it wouldn’t seem likely to just produce a small quantity of copies via this method.  If this method were used to counterfeit the books, then I’d expect there to be far more counterfeits in existence.  In addition, this specific counterfeit is one I’ve been looking to acquire for 20 years.  It doesn’t stand to reason that these counterfeits would be so hard to find if a high quantity of copies were made.  I think these true counterfeits were from a very small batch.
  2. COUNTERFEIT COVER ONLY – It could be that only the cover of this counterfeit is truly counterfeit and the body pages themselves are from a TMNT #1 2nd or 3rd printing.  The sizes of the first three printings were identical and so it seems more feasible to me that someone would just reproduce the cover of a TMNT #1 1st printing and then take a copy of a 2nd or 3rd printing, remove the staples and the cover, and then staple the counterfeited cover onto the body pages (through, or near, the same holes where the staples previously were).  This is especially more feasible when you consider that, with 35,000 copies of 3rd printings made, in the mid-1980’s 3rd printings were readily available, easy to acquire, and cheap.  Given the lighter appearance of the red color (the pinkish hue) on the cover of these counterfeits, that seems to indicate the possibility of a 1980’s era scanning / copier limitation. If someone tried scanning this two-color cover, it seems the lighter shade of red would be a direct result of that.
    I’ve adhered mainly to this theory since I heard about the existence of this counterfeit many years ago.  However, now that I’ve been able to personally inspect a copy, I find there to be some interesting possible holes to this theory.  First, what about the white offset between the red and black colors on the cover?  If this cover were simply photocopied or scanned, the result should be an exact representation of what was scanned. So, although a scan might produce less-rich colors, where do the extra white areas come from?  Second, the cover is perfectly cut to fit the book and all the edges are straight and sharp. This would have needed to be cut perfectly prior to re-assembly on the book OR the entire book would have needed to be trimmed up on the top, bottom, and sides after the counterfeit cover was added back on.  It doesn’t appear that any trimming was done to the book and, in fact, there are still areas at the top where the interior pages just slightly show with the cover closed.  Third, the paper stock of the cover feels completely authentic.  It’s glossy like an authentic copy but not too thick and wraps the body pages perfectly at the spine.  This type of paper would have been hard to find I would think.  Fourth, and perhaps one of the biggest holes in this theory, the staples.  If you are putting on a counterfeit cover over the interior pages of a 2nd or 3rd printing, you’d first need to remove the existing cover, take the staples out, and THEN re-attach the new counterfeit cover to the body pages with staples in the same exact area.  The first problem is that getting staples into a book like this would require a special stapler that could reach the span of the book’s width without bending it.  But even assuming someone had access to this stapler, putting staples through the body pages at EXACTLY the same position (and in the previous holes) would be extremely difficult (if not impossible).  You’d also need staples of the exact same size (width) as the original ones.  And, if you positioned the stapler wrong, there would be obvious additional holes in the body pages where the previous staples were placed.  I’ve carefully inspected this counterfeit book and the staples are attached tightly and there are no signs of additional holes in the spine of the body pages. I’ve looked at the staples (from the interior, page 20 & 21) under high magnification and there are no additional holes.  I suppose it’s possible that whoever made these carefully removed and then re-used the EXACT SAME staples and put them through the cover by hand and then re-inserted them in the existing holes.  However, how did they then get the cover to align so well to the body pages without any evidence of trimming?  Additionally, you can see in the spine pictures that the staples bond the cover very tightly to the body pages.  I wouldn’t think this could be possible if staples were being manually inserted by hand and then re-bent inside by hand.
  3. UNKNOWN / OBSCURE TMNT #1 1st PRINTING VARIANT / ERROR – This theory is an entirely new one and it’s one I personally came up with only after I’ve had the opportunity to closely inspect this counterfeit with my own hands and eyes.  The first thing I noticed when I received this counterfeit TMNT #1 was just how incredible its quality is.  While there are obvious signs that this specific cover does deviate in key areas from authenticated TMNT #1 1st printings (see the list above), everything else about the book looks and feels legit.  The interior pages are newsprint, the staples are tight and positioned in a singular area of the spine, and the cover edges are perfect and well-positioned onto the body pages of the book.  Really the only thing I can detect that sets this book apart from an authentic TMNT #1 is the cover – and almost all the distinguishing cover anomalies are associated with the printing process itself.  While that might lend itself to the second theory above, the holes I outlined in that theory still stick with me as legitimate problems.  All that has me wondering whether this book wasn’t actually produced as a counterfeit but instead as some sort of TMNT #1 proof printing or test-run; a limited number of copies made in an effort to refine and set up the manufacturing process and get the colors/layout on the cover correct; a print run that was meant to be completely destroyed yet some copies made it to the public; or part of an initial print run that didn’t meet quality expectations.  What if this book was made professionally and then, upon inspection, the cover simply didn’t pass quality standards or live up to the quality it was intended to be?  If you think about it, the cover has all the signs of a book that had noticeable printing issues and a re-print would be needed to fix the issues; the muted red coloring, the white offset between the red and black, the dark shadows without the red/white cross-hatching, the scratching / smudging on the back cover, the slightly mis-aligned cover image & text positioning.  This all clearly adds up to a production error of some type but whether it happened legitimately at a print shop or at the hands of a counterfeiter is something I’m not ready to settle on.

So, which theory do you subscribe to?  Maybe you have a unique theory of your own, different from the ones I’ve outlined above.  For me, until I have more hard facts or proof that this specific book is a printing error variant, I’ll have to classify and regard this as a TMNT #1 Counterfeit (which is how it would grade if sent to CGC).  Regardless your opinion is on this TMNT #1 counterfeit, one thing remains true: the TMNT #1 1st printing counterfeit is an undeniable piece of TMNT comic book history.  Copies of this book were sold and traded as authentic to unsuspecting buyers for years before information about them was more widely available.  I’m sure some collectors still try to pass these off as authentic if they can get away with it.  Many collectors likely still have copies of this counterfeit in their collections and don’t even know that what they have is not the real deal.  And, while its origin is still a mystery, I hope to some day get to the bottom of this TMNT #1 1st printing counterfeit.  Someone out there knows why and how these counterfeits were created and, maybe one day, they’ll find this website and decide they want to fill me in.  😉  Until then, this book goes into my collection along with its brother, the counterfeit TMNT #2.


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