Chris: I’m a big fan of Donatello and when I found this comic from the 80s it sparked a dim recognition from when I went to my first comic stores in the mid to late 80s. When I saw it recently, I had to pick it up, especially since my pal Vincent has been learning how to use the Bo staff.
Vincent: *Adjusts glasses* technically you can just say “Bo” and not “Bo Staff” since Bo means staff, but anyway yeah I just started learning to use it. I recently got my yellow belt in Kobudo weapons based martial art from Okinawa that covers at least three of the ninja turtles (it also has sai and nunchucks). While not anything close to an expert, I’m probably going to be really annoying pointing out technical details that I know.
On a Turtles front, I liked TMNT and came into them from the cartoon and toys. I still have a soft spot for them, but I’m not what you’d call an active follower. Donatello also happened to be my favorite ninja turtle.
Chris: So this comic is not a story. It’s not even published by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s publisher at the time, Mirage Comics. No, this is a licensed use of the character by Solson, an indie publisher, who made a book for each Turtle “training” you in how to use the weapon. 21 pages of training manual may seem like not enough. But in the 2014 live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, Master Splinter learned ninjutsu from a book he found in the sewer. Maybe Michael Bay saw this very comic and insisted that the idea be added to the movie!
Vincent: Yeah, that doesn’t seem very plausible. And I’m going to say that I have low hopes that this book would teach me everything I’d need to know since movement is very important to Martial arts and books only show still pictures. You really need an instructor to guide you as you do the moves and tell you what you’re doing wrong.
Chris: Vincent, I’ll just let you know that I’m also including all the ads. It’s an interesting glimpse back at 1986. While I can’t tell what this book’s story would be, I do think the art is good.
Vincent: Awesome, I really need to read this Ninja comic now. Great ad.
Vincent: The bo can be fairly flexible. In fact when we do “sparring” we use rattan bos so they don’t snap in half as easily as our “form” bo i.e. the hardwood ones you’d really hit someone with. I imagine this one is one millisecond away from snapping in half and having Donatello land on his shell.
Chris: Ha ha ha! I like how the artist decided on the pose and must have at some point been like, “Oh, what do the Ninja Turtles’ crotches look like? Well, I’ll just not really address it at all. I’m not even gonna put it in shadow.
Chris: These days the writer could probably whip up this text from a 5 minute Google search, but it is a little more impressive when you consider he probably had to take a physical trip to the library and take some notes for this page.
Vincent: I remember eating this kind of stuff up in every nerd book I could find. There wasn’t an internet to help me in my quest for all kinds of nerdy knowledge. I googled this stuff just now and it’s basically a rabbit hole of related searches. I don’t know anything about this fighting style, but now I’m going to learn!
Vincent: You also don’t want the bo knocked out of your hands because you don’t have the right hold. And while the text is correct, I feel like there’s not enough pictures to show you all the hand holds. Or maybe that’s all you have with this system. It’s also funny to think that for an instructional manual showing you how to hold something the model only has three fingers. Really hope that translates to humans who have five.
Chris: The artist is fine but Donatello looks hilariously off-model in this book. The comic had only been out for 2 years and maybe a dozen issues so there probably wasn’t much of a model sheet to go on at the time. It was long before there were cartoons, toys and movies. But Donnie’s head looks like a melting lump of Play-Doh.
Chris: Ugh, I lived through this time. And while there were some really awesome black and white indie books like Usagi Yojimbo and The Tick, there were also TONS of rip-offs of Ninja Turtles. And none of them got that Ninja Turtles was just doing some satire of what was popular at the time, Daredevil by Frank Miller, but also telling real superhero and sci-fi stories. Everything was teams of martial arts animals for a few years and it all sucked.
Vincent: We only had our local grocery store for comics or a long trip to Green Bay (which was about an hour or so away), so I missed out on a lot of this stuff. Basically we only had the top selling books. There wasn’t all this bottom dweller stuff available.
Chris: I’ll be honest: I’m having trouble understanding what the lower hand is doing in figure 2. It looks like his thumb is in the foreground and so the staff is on his knuckles? That doesn’t look comfortable. Also, the artist has included his tail even though it wasn’t there in the first splash page.
Vincent: Yeah, I was right. The model only has three fingers, so that doesn’t help. The artist really needed to show you were his hands are supposed to be on that bo. In 1 it appears that his left hand isn’t even touching the bo, which isn’t something I’ve been taught. You always want to have contact with it so that it is secure in your hands.
Chris: I think I actually follow this part of the diagram. It seems like it would flow the way I’m reading it. Hey, maybe I can take Vincent in a bo fight now. I ALSO know to have a strong grip so that I don’t drop my weapon!
Vincent: This is interesting. The technique they’re showing here is kind of like a striking move in Kobudo and not a block. I guess it can block, but ours ends with the bo actually blocking your lower body, not all tucked into your arm there.
Chris, you may be able to defeat me. I’m only a lowly yellow belt and you’ve got the hunger to win.
Vincent: Again, this looks like the lower strike move I know and not a block.
Chris: I’m having a harder time understanding this diagram. Step 4 is especially confusing because the artist draws an arrow behind the leg but you’re obviously not supposed to sweep your staff under your own leg.
Vincent: They didn’t want to cover that awesome art with an arrow.
Chris: Okay, so this move looks like you just sort of hook something low and yank it up. That sounds doable. When you study bo stuff, do they use these same names?
Vincent: We get Japanese words and phrases thrown at us and I’m trying to learn them all. We really haven’t been given the Japanese names for each move, so I have no idea. Most of the time I’m just struggling with remembering what I have to do and not screwing up the execution without also having to try to memorize the names of everything.
And this does seem similar to our parry move, though we start and end in a much more neutral pose (bo sticking more towards the opponent at start and ending.)
Chris: This is glorious. It’s Rambo times ten. It looks like President Reagan is the actual hero guy? I kinda want to read this book, at least for an issue. This was truly the height of our Cold War hatred of the Soviet Union.
Vincent: I believe I’ve seen a cover of an issue of this somewhere. I would really like to read it. My guess is that it’s totally tongue in cheek because even then Reagan had a lot of detractors that made fun of his cowboy image.
Chris: Huh? You hug the staff against your chest and push it out? Is that what it’s telling me to do? Also, in step 3, the artist forgot to add one of the rings on Donatello’s knee pad.
Vincent: Yeah man, #2 is confusing. It kind of looks like our low block but I can’t tell if #2 image is actually telling the story because of bad art or if that’s what you’re supposed to do.
Vincent: #4 and #5 don’t seem that helpful without any motion indicated. I believe he’s striking down from #3? (You can also strike up from this position to do an uppercut).
Chris: I think speed lines could really help in these illustrations. This is about the point where trying to decipher the moves is getting old to me. I’m looking for weird details or anything else to interest me. Why can’t I just swing my stick around and bop people on the head?
Vincent: You probably could bop people on the head that were unskilled or didn’t know there was an attack coming.
Chris: Donatello looks casually annoyed with me. Like he knows I’m not trying hard enough. I got it, I got it. I need to practice. Get off my back. Or should I say shell?
Vincent: Damn, this thing is like putting a puzzle together to figure out what he’s doing. Maybe some more text or close ups of his hands could lend a hand to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing.
Vincent: Woah! Stallone did a comic book? Wait a second..
Chris: This ad confuses me so much. It reads like Stallone himself made a comic to teach you how to make movies. But I’m pretty sure that’s just about impossible so it must be parody.
What does “actual real simulated recreated scenes” even mean?
Chris: Okay, I know I can do this because I actually do it sometimes with my golf clubs. Do you think Donatello trained Casey Jones how to properly fight with his golf clubs?
Vincent: He just taught him how to stretch and left everything else to him.
Chris: I’ll never be as flexible as Donatello. Also, it’s slightly disturbing that the moves where he’s rotating his pelvis in front of us is the only moves where he’s removed his belt. I know his Turtle dick isn’t hanging out but… it feels like it is.
Vincent: I’m certainly getting a weird naked vibe from that missing belt. It doesn’t make me feel good.
Chris: Well, that’s a splash page alright. Looks like this is how I’ll get to use my bo shortly!
Vincent: For a second I thought Don had more than two hands and then I realized he was crushing one of his Turtle brothers.
Chris: Oh wow. I totally didn’t get that until you explained it.
Chris: Did this manual transition into cheerleading moves so slowly that I didn’t notice?
Vincent: We have figure eights that we use in one of our Katas, but we use two hands. I’ve been trying one handed for fun. I have the feeling that they exist mostly to intimidate and work the wrist muscles, because they don’t feel like they’d be an effective fighting move.
Chris: Well, now we’re really running into the problem of having a three fingered creature teach us how to use our five fingered hands.
Vincent: How am I supposed to put the bo between each finger? It’s about an inch round. Am I supposed to split my fingers into chunks of three? HOW DOES THIS WORK?!
Vincent: So that’s a fellow Ninja Turtle he’s beating to death for the sake of our learning bojutsu.
Chris: I guess it cost extra to license the Foot Clan?
Chris: Blocking against another bo is great. But what about using it against a gun or a knife? I feel like those are things we’re more likely to encounter than a ninja with another bo.
Vincent: I get the “what if I shoot you?” question when people know I’m training in martial arts. It’s annoying as fuck. Of course I’d be dead. It’s not training to fight against guns. I can just buy a gun if I want to walk around thinking someone is going to shoot me. I guess you could attempt one of the strikes in the book to try to knock it out of the gunman’s hands, but you’ll probably die.
As far as knives, that’s easy. Just use the bo to keep them at a distance, try to knock the weapon away and strike them in the neck, head, or legs. Bojutsu forms were designed to combat a number of weapons including swords (which are really large knives). Unfortunately, this book doesn’t do a very good job of illustrating even the most basic movements, so you’d probably be toast against a knife much less a sword.
Chris: Oh, I’m not trying to be a wiseass. But, as an example, in Krav Maga we learn how to disarm guns and knives. But we also are taught how to de-escalate a situation. I’d have thought a simple sentence and illustration to that effect could have been useful.
Vincent: This reminds me of the sci-fi RPG ads I used to see in comics back in the 80s. I’d give it a shot.
Chris: I wonder if this actually had all five issues published? Because it looks pretty generic. I would guess not. Solson Publishing only existed from 1986 to 1987.
Chris: Yelling at me to have confidence isn’t going to give me confidence, Donatello. Also, did Donatello lose some fights between pages? Because he has a pretty prominent dent on top of his head now.
Vincent: HAVE CONFIDENCE, DUMMY!
Vincent: This is bullshit. Where’s the extra pizza breaks?
Chris: This schedule looks just like mine except switch martial arts with naps and meditation with playing games.
Chris: I’ve never studied with this weapon but I have studied several martial arts. The one thing I am surprised at here is how you’re blocking your vision by putting your hands and weapon in front of your face. That doesn’t sound right.
Vincent: You’re not. Even when you block, you may have a bo in front of your face but not your whole arm. I feel like they’re drawing the bo too short and the hands not far enough apart.
Vincent: This certainly seems hilarious.
Chris: Jesus. Hard pass, thanks.
Chris: Ha ha! Yeah, get him Donatello! Smash his head in! The figures are getting a lot smaller and less detailed. Did he have to draw them all in one day?
Vincent: Probably. He was tired of drawing all the same shit.
Hate to criticize another technique that I don’t know anything about, but the advantage of the bo is distance. I’d never want to close in like that and risk losing my advantage. Then again, if the enemies head is turned into paste you can choke him all you want at that point.
Vincent: I have no idea what is happening in this ad.
Chris: The art here looks good even if I don’t get the premise AT ALL. Rich Buckler worked on all the major titles at DC and Marvel through the 70s and 80s. He created the first Deathlok. Good artist.
Chris: This art is obviously copied from the cover to the fourth Friday the 13th movie, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. But… I think it’s like a parody of that maybe? Because there’s no way this publisher had the rights to those movies. These ads are designed to hook your interest but they do very little to explain what it is.
Vincent: It feels like they were throwing everything out there that they could, hoping something would stick. Even if they were ripping off another IP.
Vincent: Man, they haven’t drawn any arrows in awhile. I pretty much have to guess where the bo went from illustration to illustration. I also realized they haven’t really talked about leg work at all. Where are they supposed to be? Right out in front of you? And they haven’t talked about where the power of the strikes comes from. This thing.
Chris: Nice of Master Splinter to wake up and give some training advice right in the last few pages. Hope you had a good nap, Grandpa.
Chris: Well, I guess I’m ready to be a ninja now. Do I get to choose my own colored bandanna or is one assigned to me? How does this work?
Vincent: I think first you have to bathe in some glowing green goo. We have colored belts, but not bandannas. I’ll have to ask my Sensei about it to be sure.
Chris: I suggest dumping apple gatorade on your head while you ask.
Vincent: Never heard of the guy.
Chris: Seems like he had some talent for such a young guy but the only stuff I can find from him is the Ninja Turtle training manuals and some work in Reagan’s Raiders. Maybe he went in a different direction after art school. Still, stuff like bios and letters at the back of comics used to be a big deal before we had online forums. It was the only way to get an idea of what it was like behind the scenes of comics. I remember poring over comic store newsletters and letter columns back then.
Chris: So Gary Brodsky was the publisher/guy in charge of Solson. He was the son of Marvel editor Sol Brodsky. He was Sol’s son. Solsun Publishing. I bet a book like this was actually very helpful to self-publishers at the time.
Vincent: “Find out what’s popular and copy it. Make some crazy humor books that make no sense.” There, I saved you some time.
Chris: Yeah, this is the back cover of the comic. A movie directed by Rich Buckler, an artist and editor at Solsun who made his real money at Marvel and DC. He did some short films, mostly martial arts stuff in the 80s and they did a one day shoot of the above mafia movie. It was about 15 minutes long. They shopped it around and no one wanted to finance the full thing. Oh well. There’s always comics.
Vincent: I’d like to see this thing. Anyone have a copy.
Anyway… I really feel like I haven’t learned a whole lot of useful information from this book. This thing has barely enough information in it to do a couple of okay strikes and blocks. Kids, if you want to learn how to use a bo join a dojo.
Chris: Or learn it from a book like Master Splinter: