It's an ordinary aluminum-sided house that sits on a packet of grass. Shrubs frame stone steps and metal banisters that lead up to an awning-covered porch. The Ferndale home's interior is quaintly decorated. A glass cabinet in the corner of the family room is crammed with dolls and figurines; more knickknacks and dolls rest on top. Candles and framed photos line the fireplace mantel. A Native American dream catcher hangs from the corner of a mirror, reflecting a family of collectors.
Michelle Ivey, 29, inherited her pack-rat behavior. She's a passionate woman, hence a bit obsessive-compulsive. See, Ivey owns the world's largest collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles memorabilia. That's right, the largest. Ripley's Believe It Or Not! confirms the fact; VH-1 glorified it.
"One day I was at a [comic] convention, down in New York at the Big Apple Con," Ivey says, sitting on her bed, which is outfitted with Ninja Turtle sheets. "I get a phone call from my mom. She tells me that I'm in Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Someone at church told my mom I was in it. She went out and picked the book up, and sure enough ... page 119."
Ivey, who resembles Velma from Scooby Doo, could be every comic-book reader cliché brought to life, if she were a dude. She's has no job a freak electrical accident at a local factory left her unable to work and lives at home with her parents. Her father is a factory worker and an amateur B-movie costumer of monsters. Mom is a housewife.
As a kid, Ivey gleaned much from the four teenage brothers who grew up on the brink of suburbia, looking for the light that might define their lives. Since her TV-cartoon introduction to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a 9-year-old, Ivey has assembled a collection of TMNT comics, animation cels, movie props and more basically anything she could get her hands on.
Her bedroom sees at least 85 pages of original comic-book art and nine props from the first three TMNT movies. (She purchased two movie props for a hefty $4,000). Ivey says she owns about 1,200 toys opened and factory-sealed. There are at least 420 comic books, many rare and valuable (including the oft-coveted first edition of the first Turtle comic, worth more than $1,500), and more than 2,210 trading cards. There's a pair of giant Turtle wristwatches hanging here and multiple Turtle alarm clocks atop furniture. She's got boxes and boxes of original Ninja Turtle cereal sealed in plastic wrap with the free Turtle cereal bows attached. The list of green goes on. This massive assembly is kept upstairs, which, years ago, was converted into a Turtle-style lair.
The value of her collection approximately 40,000 items total is anyone's guess. But to Ivey, the collection's priceless.
Such Ninja Turtle devotion has made her a small-time celebrity. In August 2004, VH-1 profiled her on Totally Obsessed and Canadian television's Fanatical did the same this month.
"They showed up at my house and were here for three days of filming," Ivey says of the VH-1 taping. "My interview was a good three hours sitting on my couch. My mom and dad did about two hours on the front porch and they even flew in a friend from Minnesota for an interview, which they didn't use."
VH-1 concocted some Ninja action too.
"They filmed me at a dojo with a sensei I haven't trained with in seven years, and wanted us to act like I was training regularly with him. They also had me spar with my brother while I was in costume, and he was able to take me down two times, so that was the footage they used."
She continues: "Totally Obsessed is full of lies, but funny to watch. People got a show about a girl who wants to become a real Mutant Turtle and only took karate because she likes the Turtles, who lives on a steady diet of pizza every day, who makes little or no income. ... "
Why the Turtles? What have they got that other comic heroes don't?
"I really find myself a fan of the Turtles for their personalities," she says. "Characters in [other] shows that are made for only the story or the teamwork don't always show real personalities."
The characters created by Massachusetts artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird originated as a 1984 self-published comic book. For Ivey, the characters are only part of her passion. The Ninja Turtles actually improved her reading skills.
"I'm dyslexic," Ivey says. "I grew up in a family that's all dyslexic mom, dad, sister, brother, all of us. In fifth grade, I was at a first-grade reading level and the school wasn't giving me any help."
In 1990, Mom saw her daughter's interest in the TMNT and handed her a book about them. And when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie opened in theaters nationwide, Mom offered her a deal: Read this book about your humanoid half-shelled friends and you can see the movie on opening day.
"It took me a couple months to read; it was the first book I'd ever read but I got to see the movie and I continued my learning."
Ivey saw the flick 52 times in theaters. But don't call her odd. She's never seen the film with her face painted and drunk, screaming and acting like an idiot.
"The comic and cartoon fans are pointed out as 'different,'" Ivey says. "But it's the sports fans who'll put on crazy makeup to 'support their team.' And they're considered perfectly sane!" Besides, Ivey argues, everyone has something that they enjoy and believe in, be it sports, religion, comics or fishing.
So where does such a hobby lead an obsessive? Ivey plans to hold a Turtle Convention in 2009, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Mirage Studios' TMNT franchise. A possible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle museum is also in the works.
"I was inspired by (Turtle co-creator) Kevin Eastman's Words and Pictures museum in Northampton, Mass., to try and create a space where Ninja Turtle history could be shared with the public." Ivey says. "There are a handful of locations that I'm still debating on, with New York City, Las Vegas, Hollywood and Florida being the main ones, because they're good tourist traps, where the museum could be shared by millions."
Of all the green guys Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael Ivey's got a thing for Michelangelo, the wise-cracking "party dude" of the cartoon clan.
"He's a very fun and cheerful character," Ivey says. "He's responsible when need be, and has come through for his family and friends hundreds of times. And while having such a hard and serious life, he's still able to take in and enjoy the world around him. Michelangelo has a strong heart. He would put himself at risk to make sure everyone else is happy around him. Even when he's in pain, he smiles."
Five essential things for the world's biggest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan, should she find herself stuck on a desert island.
1. Ninja Turtle Pillow, Blanket, and Michelangelo doll: Ivey: "They go with me everywhere." (Um, that's three things, Ivey. You aren't fooling us).
2. Michelangelo and Leonardo animatronic heads from the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time: Bought off eBay for $2,000 and $1,800 respectively the "showpieces" of Ivey's collection.
3. Michelangelo's "Combat cold cuts!" sausage weapons, from the movie TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze: "I got them off E-bay in 2000, from the prop-master of the second movie, for $250." She'd take them to the island "for self-defense. They can wallop a good punch!"
4. Page 30 of TMNT comic volume 1, no. 10: "Hand-given to me by artist Kevin Eastman for free, but the frame was $70. To decorate the island. This is an important piece of early Turtle history, and the original inspiration for part of the plot of the 1990 Ninja Turtle film."
5. Ninja Turtle Walkman with Ninja Turtle soundtracks on CD: "Entertainment for the island. $15.88 at your local Wal-Mart."
Will Tupper is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]