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Cards for a Cause: Mutant Pizza

Two years. That's how long it's been since Mutant Pizza, a fan-made trading card set celebrating and paying homage to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, began. And by "began" I mean "hobbled out of the gate and barely tripped over the finish line 24 months later."

It actually started even before that. On the heels of releasing The ColleXion: RefleXions, I got that high you get from unexpected success. The second series of fan-made X-Men cards for charity ($5000 to the Equal Justice Initiative) sold out in a single weekend. The first ColleXion was limited to 50 sets, and I nearly doubled RefleXions with 99 sets. I was scared I out-supplied the demand, but with the final set finding it's home, every negative emotion that came with an undertaking like this – fear of failure, impostor syndrome, burnout – evaporated from the scorching heat of victory and motivation to do it all over again.

 

ORDER A SET OF THE LIMITED EDITION CARDS, LIMITED TO 75 SETS (All proceeds will benefit the Sea Turtle Conservancy)

 

I thought about giving the X-Men a rest, and picked up a different childhood love when I switched from mostly human mutants to mostly mutant mutants with the Ninja Turtles, fully expecting another quick six-month turnaround.


That was February 2021. I was on the government's dime with the Navy for pretty much the rest of the year, but in my downtime, I read the entire Archie comics run, early Mirage, and kept up with IDW's ongoing comics. I subscribed to Paramount+ and binged the 2003 animated series and Rise of the TMNT, which are my least and most favorite iterations of TMNT, respectively. Yes, respectively. 2003 started as a rehash of the Mirage comics in a lot of ways, and that did nothing for me. Rise is the ballsiest Turtles, the one brave enough to go it's own way.

A collage of Stanley the bellhop morphing into Bullhop
My toddler helped me build this Bullhop collage as we watched "Fried Rice Ninja Turtles" together.

TANGENT: For what it's worth, the IDW series's first 100 issues is the greatest run of TMNT comics, and the 2012 Nickelodeon animated series is objectively the best of the bunch, despite Rise being my favorite. I used to think Secret of the Ooze was better than the first movie, but have since come off that crazy train. You could say there were a lot of stops and starts, but I prefer to think this labor of love has been moving at a turtle's pace. Y'know, to stay on-brand. Short, explosive spurts of development followed multiple months of inactivity. I practically let the project die out, but the amazing artists – 48 in all across 102 cards – kept turning in amazing work, and every time, I felt a surge of invigoration to press on. I decided early on that the charity these Cards for a Cause would benefit should echo the themes of the Archie series and be something of a conservational nature. Illustrator/contributor Elisa Barety suggested the Sea Turtle Conservancy, and after a brief search to see their charity scores, I was sold.


Mutant Pizza Back Matter

 

Mutant Pizza has been the most exhaustive, expansive Cards for a Cause set so far. ColleXions included reading lists, which were painstakingly researched, but nothing came close to what I attempted here. The TMNT are one of the most successful multimedia properties of all-time, and I aimed to shine a light on all facets of their history. Each card includes "The Menu," first appearances in TV/film, comics, toys, and video games. Some characters have appeared in as little as one of those media (i.e. Shogun). Others made their first appearances in different media as the project inched forward (i.e. Jagwar, whose NECA release was the character's first action figure).

A scratchy, etching-like illustration of TMNT video game villain, Shogun
Art by Mexican artist Millo Sketch

"Extra Cheese" is the classic back matter stuff I began cultivating in The ColleXion, interesting quotes from creators, or little-known trivia about characters' development and histories. Some of the links died while this project was still incubating, mostly Twitter threads from TMNT VIPs who likely deactivated their accounts. I tried to re-source information if possible, and mined a lot of digital avenues: YouTube interviews, assorted archived news articles, books like Rad Plastic, the Technodrome forum, websites like The Sewer Den, and podcasts, including Shellheads and my personal favorite, Turtle Tracks. TANGENT: The apex of the research was reaching out to Douglas Booth, a prolific writer of animated series throughout the decades, who penned the popular episode, "The Case of the Killer Pizzas." He was gracious to answer my questions and supplied great info for what was an otherwise sparse segment of the project. Shockingly, this episode, widely considered one of the top ten from the original Wolf/Murakami series, was Booth's only writing credit on the series. "I really had fun writing "The Case of the Killer Pizzas," Booth said. "I felt a strong resonance with my idea of what the TMNT series should be like – wild, almost out of control action, humor, and fun – rebellious, and irreverent, but not mean-spirited – and I did my best to put those qualities – focusing mostly on "fun" – into that episode! I had originally thought that this might be a series I could really keep working on – but, alas, the powers-that-be didn't pick up on any of the other ideas I sent along, so this one was it!"


The back of a Mutant Pizza trading card, featuring character name, first appearances, and lots of random trivia and factoids
Cardbacks made to look like pizza box interiors

"The Chef" is obviously my punny way of crediting the artist. There has been watercolors, pixel art, ink drawings, crochet, needlework, cut paper, collaging, and even cosplay in this set! COSPLAY. A few other categories added a little extra personality to the chefs' section beyond their social handles. "Specialty" was the artist's favorite slice; "The Oven" their go-to pizzeria, and "The Soup" their favorite character, a play on the menu motif and Shredder's famous zinger uttered by the late, great James Avery. A few artists (Juan Wences, Marcelo Biott, Amanda Stewart come to mind) either had a literal handful of submissions in the project, or didn't supply me with the aforementioned info, so at the 11th hour, I added "Slice of Life," a section devoted to pizza trivia. Lastly, "Nutrition". These blurbs were all fact-driven items, usually tied into the characters in some way. (The item associated with one-eyed Archie villain Bellybomb is about cyclopean plankton.) This part was both a lot of work, and also the easiest work. I don't know how to explain that.


In Conclusion

 

Not sure what's next for Cards for a Cause, but please, at the very least, download a complimentary interactive PDF of Mutant Pizza and check out the awesome crowd who made it happen with their dope work. I'm just glad it's finally here. And that I didn't guarantee 30-minute delivery.

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