Jeremy and schoolmates. Artist: Ben Dunn. From the cover of the first issue.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Antarctic Press
First Appeared: 1987
Creator: Ben Dunn
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Following the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1984), possibly the hottest property to come out of comic books since Batman, American comics were rife with black and white series sporting goofy names, and Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters (1986) was only the beginning. One wag suggested a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents series titled Has Been Over Exposed Public Domain Superheroes, and another opined that the hottest comic of all would be Stolen Radioactive Incandescent Jalapeños. But the …

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… majority of titles were goofy in different ways, such as Alien Ducklings (1986), Fish Police (1985) and Trollords (1986). In this environment, cartoonist Ben Dunn (Warrior Nun Areala, Marvel Mangaverse) introduced Ninja High School in 1987.

In many of these cases — perhaps most — the title was the best thing about the comic, and that could have been gotten across with a mini-series, a oneshot, an anthology entry, or even a line in a fanzine. But no, they tended to have open-ended, ongoing series. Trollords, for example, had 28 issues over a period of half a decade, from four different publishers; and Fish Police even got adapted into a TV cartoon seven years after it started. Ninja High School is one of the few planned from the start to be a limited series, and it wound up lasting longer than any half-dozen of them put together.

The cover of Ninja High School #1 (undated, but it came out in 1987) proclaimed it to be a 3-issue mini-series. The fourth (January, 1988) said it was now a regular series, and following that it came out monthly, continuing for well over 100 issues. The publisher was Antarctic Press, which had been formed for that purpose, and which has had its greatest success over the years with Ninja High School.

Dunn did Ninja High School in the manga style that was starting to be seen in America, with such titles as Area 88 and Mai the Psychic Girl. This was partly a matter of personal affinity, and partly because one of the main things he wanted to do with the series was parody the conventions and motifs of manga and animé, by filling a relatively normal American high school with that sort of credibility-lacking melodrama.

The series takes place among the students of Quagmire High School, which is located somewhere in the American Midwest. The main character is Jeremy Feeple, a fairly ordinary kid, except for being the attempted love object of a rivalry involving a skunk-like humanoid alien and two wealthy Japanese ninja clan princesses. That, and the fact that his mom is a retired ninja.

Other animé-style melodrama centers around Professor Steamhead (Johann Steamhein), a displaced German Jewish scientist with a somewhat anachronistic interest in harnessing steam power; Tomorrow Girl, a synthetic person who functions as a superhero patterned after Supergirl; and an occasional need for Jeremy and/or his pals to sally forth and save the world.

In 1992, Malibu (Dinosaurs for Hire, The Trouble with Girls) published a full-color version of Ninja High School. Malibu has also published several mini-series and specials spun off from Ninja High School, including a two-issue crossover with Speed Racer in 1993. At the same time, Now Comics (Astro Boy, The Green Hornet) crossed the two character sets over from Speed's point of view. Antarctic handled a crossover with Gold Digger on its own, as well as The Girls of Ninja High School, The Ninja High School Swimsuit Special, Ninja High Yearbook and many other adjuncts to the main series. Most issues are kept in print, in graphic novel form.

As the hundredth issue of the regular series passed, the title was changed to NHS and the focus was changed to an offshoot set in Hawaii, with few characters continuing from before. But after a couple of years, it changed back.

Ninja High School hasn't been such a financial bonanza as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But for decades, it's maintained a presence in the comics stores of America as one of the most consistently successful manga-inspired independent comic books.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Ben Dunn.