Wednesday, 9 September 2015

BEYOND OINK! #7: RING RAIDERS

<< GO TO PART SIX: FUNNY FORTNIGHTLY


Remember these?  I certainly do!  They were billed as the "next big thing" and their creators Matchbox were certainly going into overdrive in the marketing department to ensure everyone knew it.  Instead of starting out with a toy line and reacting to the level of popularity, the company organised the selling of rights for everything from books, model kits and kids' costumes to an actual US cartoon series right from the offset!  Launched on both sides of the pond, it was only in the UK that collectors were also treated to their own comic and what a title it was.

This is the comic I've mentioned before, a criminally short-lived one which remains to this day as my very favourite (non-Oink!) childhood comic.  May I introduce you to the Ring Raiders:


With a spectacular Ian Kennedy cover I can still remember walking into the newsagents' and spotting this sitting on the shelf.  Previously unaware one was coming out I'd asked for some pocket money to go and buy a comic and this met my young eyes, complete with a free Matchbox Ring Raider plane on the cover!  It was hard to miss in an age when free gifts were rare, so a bulky one such as that really stood out.  I ran home and devoured the stories over and over again for the whole fortnight.  It was brilliant!

But what are Ring Raiders?  They were a range of toy planes which came in "wings"; collections of four planes each attached to a small ring via a clear plastic arm.  Kids could attach these to all four fingers, pose them in any way they wanted and then run around with the planes in flight.  Each wing also came with a mini fold-out comic book telling a tale of the Ring Commander of that particular group.  Initially proving popular in the summer of 1989 the range expanded for Christmas to include large bases, Battle Blasters (electronic SFX devices which attached to the wrist by Velcro and resembled flight sticks), display stands, medals with special silver planes, larger bomber planes on individual stands instead of rings and during the following year a whole second series of aircraft:

Some of the original wing packs

I started off with a special Ring Raiders Starter Pack of one plane from the good guys and one from the baddies, the Skull Squadron.  I can't remember if I'd seen the adverts or the toys in the shop first, but I do remember endless hours with these two planes and mini-comic.  (More on these two particular characters further down the page.)

Soon enough I was a collector and my assortment of planes grew.  Any visiting family members from the mainland knew what to bring with them, Santa stocked up for that Christmas and my brother and sisters began discussing behind my back which ones they were each purchasing for birthday and Christmas presents.  Along the way I had numerous wings, three of the four bases, many medals, bombers, a Battle Blaster and even the audio cassette and a couple of VHS videos, one bundled with special planes!  I distinctly remember being in a toy shop with my sister the following summer and she was very confused as to why I didn't buy an interactive toy like all the rest of the children, instead coming away with the official display stand!


There are some adult collectors to this day (those two planes above are from one such collection) but not myself I have to say.  Well, the rings don't fit anymore!  Seriously though, I have the comic and it's a delight to read but the toy range is firmly in my past.  But what a past!  I can honestly say no other toy line had me as excited as Ring Raiders and every new plane I acquired was an event.  To then see a brand new, large and glossy 24-page fortnightly comic from Oink! publishers Fleetway was the icing on the cake.  I'd jumped in at the very beginning of the next craze, or so I'd thought at the time, and the comic had such potential for big, epic storylines and loads of characters to explore.  An order was placed straight away.

With over half of each issue in full colour and artwork to swoon over it was an action-packed comic from the first page.  The story behind the toys was a simple yet effective one.  In the late 1990s (ten years into the future at the time) Skull Squadron was formed with the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it idea of aiming for world domination.  Formed by a band of pilots who had been left broken and bitter by recent wars, Skull Squadron discovered the secret of time travel which they installed into each of their aircraft.  As the situation became grim the leaders of the world (we all got on in that future) then banded together to form opposition.

The Ring Raiders were then formed but they were on the back foot!  They only had the technology to install time travel on one craft and so created the huge Air Carrier Justice (the one toy base I didn't have as it was MASSIVE and very expensive) which they then took through time to assemble a force of the very best pilots from the past, present and future, before using it to scramble themselves across time to combat the enemy.  Compared to the Skull Squadron pilots who were all from the future of the late 90s but who could all time travel, the good guys tried to balance the odds by calling upon various different flying skills from the very greatest aviators across time instead.

The elusive toy itself, which could link with the two bases I had
to form probably the biggest toy ever!

The characters all wore rings too, but while these were initially just a way to 'fly' the toy planes, within the fictional world of Ring Raiders they were used as a way to connect each pilot with their aircraft in a unique and personal way.  It could take the energy from the human behind the stick and for a small period of time transfer that to the plane, whether that was for a burst of speed, extra maneuverability or giving extra punch in the special weapons department, or trying to bring a crashing plane back under control just long enough to land.  Each ring would only work with that one character and their individual plane and they couldn't use it for too long or else they'd pass out, and then the recharge time for the ring was down to how long it took the person to physically recover.

In addition the ring was a way of summoning pilots (this was before bluetooth remember), warning them secretly of danger and could contain smaller gadgets like laser cutters etc.  Altogether it made for an interesting set-up for what may on the surface have looked simply like a toy-line of Matchbox planes in the same vein as the usual cars and lorries.

The comic was very definitely geared towards those who were already playing with the toys and familiar with the backstory, the rings and their limits.  For those of us already invested in Ring Raiders it made for thrilling stories that could concentrate on the action and characters, and let's not forget that superb artwork.  Below is the first part of Trackdown!, taken from the premiere issue.  Drawn by John Cooper it told the story of a race to secure/capture a Doomsday Device which had been accidentally created and which threatened to destroy the world, so was perfect to be held for ransom by Skull Squadron:


Reading it now as an adult it reads brilliantly and develops very organically over eleven fantastic parts, which is about double the length of many 2000AD stories!  It may have been a comic for younger readers but it didn't talk down to us and treated us as having actual attention spans.

What I love is the fact the first few parts focus on an original character created by the comic. In the toys only the Ring Commander got named, pictured and had a written profile (the human characters being designed by Those Characters From Cleveland), but here in the very first issue the team behind the comic bravely introduced us to a brand new pilot, namely one from the anonymous planes which made up the remainder of Joe Thundercloud's Rescue Wing.  Freddie Riley was very likeable and we were left hoping he'd return at some future point.  However, this story focusses on his leader Thundercloud for the most part, but side-lining Riley after a few issues doesn't feel like a cop-out and instead the story shows just how well the wing work as a team.

Trackdown! features the Air Carrier Justice beaming half a bi-plane on board to rescue a young boy after it's deliberately broken in half by a jet, a Skull Squadron plane flying by remote, the same plane being balanced precariously on a Ring Raider jet by the power of the ring and nearly draining the pilot of his life in the process, a time travel jump to the age of the dinosaurs and the evil Blackjack's plane skipping across a lake and sinking in the climax.  When listing all of that in such a way it may sound like it's a matter of throwing everything at a story just for the sake of some random action for the kiddies, but I have to say it all works!  There are reasons for all of this and it all develops out of the characters themselves and the situations they place themselves in, perfectly demonstrating the scale of the comic's potential.  Not bad for a licenced title, eh?

Now, one of those two planes I got in my Starter Pack was this little fellow:

Image from eBay

This is the Grumman X-29 fighter and this particular one was codenamed Samurai Flyer and belonged to Wing Commander Yasuo Yakamura of Valor Wing.  It was both my favourite plane and favourite character and came with a P-51 Mustang which you'll see further on in this post.  Maybe it was because this was my first and introduced me to the whole line of toys, or because I'd never seen a plane like it before, but I also think he was a favourite of many fans.  This was probably because Yakamura was from the far future and got partnered up with the futuristic (but real) X-29 which in the world of Ring Raiders was filled with all sorts of computers and automated systems courtesy of the pilot's knowledge.

He was certainly the most interesting Ring Raider character and his plane the best looking of the line for me.  You can imagine how thrilled I was then to open the first issue and see a complete five-page colour story revolving around Yasuo.  Unfortunately only this first page features his aircraft but in the background you can see one of the bases I gratefully received that Christmas and the story itself was great fun.  It was the first in the series of one-off tales which would focus on one character per issue, of either the 'Raiders themselves or from Skull Squadron (a complete one of these is included in this post) by delving into a incident from their personal past, which could often be our future, and which explained one of their identifying character traits:


Drawn beautifully by John Gillatt this told of how Yasuo came to trust robotics and computers to the level where much of his Ring Raider airplane was controlled by them.  I remember as a kid thinking how cool it was with this first issue to have these brilliant characters come out of these toy planes, and as the comic continued it was always extra exciting when one of these stories would feature a pilot whose plane you actually owned.

The first issue left me gagging for more and I wasn't to be disappointed.  The next two issues featured free posters and the front covers are made up of images from them drawn by S. James with a figure standing in front by Ian Kennedy.  It feels very much like a comic in its early days and you'd expect that to continue for longer but it found its feet very quickly, as you'll see further down the page:


It wasn't actually until #4 that we had our first mention of how the ring's power could affect the human wearing it.  In fact this was the first time the ring was used as anything other than some sort of warning device.  Here, Yuri Kirkov's plane had taken a bad dive after an attack and he had to use his big bit of shiny jewellery to wrestle it to the ground, landing in a rebel enemy's territory as he did so:

Art by S.James

Not covering the rings properly for a few issues is a rather big failing of the comic I have to say, but only with hindsight.  Originally I was already up to speed with the set-up of Ring Raiders and so I never really noticed it but I did look forward to the first times the rings were used.  The comic used their powers sparingly, concentrating on the characters and their own flying abilities so the rings weren't seen as a gimmick, but now I can see there was never any real introduction for readers not accustomed to the toys.

The Transformers comic drew me in before I started buying the toys and other licenced comics set out their backgrounds too, but Ring Raiders took the leap of faith its readers would already understand and decided to tell the background story slowly, concentrating on the aerial acrobatics and developing the characters behind it first.  But I now feel it would've been a lot better to explain the set-up and the power of the rings in that first issue, for those picking it up who didn't already have some aircraft hanging off their fingers.

There was a small paragraph in the letters page of the first issue with the most basic of breakdowns of the background story and I see now as these issues developed we got to learn more about how Skull Squadron and Ring Raiders came into existence.  It's a mature way of doing it and is something we're all used to now in television ever since the likes of Babylon 5 introduced us to storytelling which slowly let us into the set-up as they went along.  By no means am I saying the comic should've held its readers by the hands with that first issue, as it would've come across as very childish indeed, but even the start of a multipart story about some of the background elements and having a ring used in the exciting way we toy collectors knew they could be would've gone a long way for curious readers looking for a new comic.

Then they could've developed things at their clearly preferred pace, with the ring usage back to being kept to a minimum for dramatic effect and the full details of the history of the story coming out as we went along.

But back to the positives and that fourth issue didn't only bring the first proper bit of ring-based drama, it also brought with it a confidence which is evident throughout it and the following issues.  The bigger and thus bolder logo and the exciting Ian Kennedy covers (all covers would be fully painted by him from now on) gave the impression of a comic which had already matured into its prime.  I really thought this was going to last for a long, long time; it was so full of great quality reading material, meaty and exhilarating and every issue was read several times before the next one appeared.  I'd spend hours playing with the planes afterwards, each issue at the time brought a level of excitement I hadn't experienced from a comic before (or since if I'm honest, in comparison).

Just have a look at these covers in all their Kennedy-glory:


That cover from #6 shows the P-51 Mustang codenamed Galloping Ghoul and flown by the ghostly figure of Skull Squadron Wing Commander Wraither, a mysterious figure of which little was known, even his true appearance.  I loved seeing this other favourite little tiny toy painted up like a big powerful, full-size plane in full-page glory, taking centre stage like this.

Skull Squadron often got centre stage billing like this as a lot of kids were fans of the evil group's planes and characters instead of the 'Raiders.  Indeed, the letters page would alternate every fortnight between one for the 'Raiders and one for the 'Squadron, hosted by different pilots every issue.  Skull Squadron even allowed 155 words for each mini-story submitted; "that's 5 more words than those Ring Raiders allow" they'd boast whenever it was their turn.

Some strips even ended with a cliffhanger of a Skull Squadron plane about to crash or being targeted by a 'Raider's missile and the character profile stories often centred on them too.  My favourite from this read through is definitely Skull Leader Chiller's and it's quite a harrowing tale for a kid's comic, which is probably why I loved it so much back then.  His plane was the most sought after when I'd finished reading this!  From #3 and drawn again by John Gillatt it includes deception, death, double-crossing and plenty of chills:


Chiller was a favourite amongst many fans due to his ice cold character and the freeze ray of his plane.  While the planes themselves were real-life machines and always given their proper names, descriptions and weaponry,  they obviously had to have something unique about them.  Something to set them apart from their real-life counterparts, to add a science-fiction-type element to them.

Chiller was the most calculating of all the bad guys and by the time the comic ended it hadn't gotten around to profiling their leader Scorch, concentrating on his troops first almost like the comic was working its way up to him.  In the meantime we looked forward to any story which had some form of ice threat in it and when one made references to a ship in the "Black Star Line" travelling from Liverpool to NewYork and coming a cropper you just know some form of icy death is going to be involved, as depicted through the art of Carlos Pino, the only artist who got away with signing his work:


Operation Chill would continue to intrigue, setting up a great little mystery which, while it's obvious Chiller is involved we're not sure why or how.  In real life the planes had proven to be successful and for Christmas the big bases were being released, including the Skull Squadron's Mobile Command Centre which was a brilliantly original toy.  Like Marvel UK's Transformers comic and its tie-in with Hasbro, the Ring Raiders title from Fleetway also had a job to do in promoting the new toys in Matchbox's range and what better way to introduce the new sky base than to have it appearing slowly from beneath a melting iceberg, bit-by-bit in all its creepy glory!  Worked for me:


Talking of promoting the toy-line, weirdly enough Matchbox didn't seem to think they needed to pay a marketing company to produce their print adverts and instead they only appeared in this comic, created by the editorial team at Fleetway!  These differed every issue, starting with very bland ones featuring a full-page image of some child's hand with planes attached to more elaborate ones as we went along.  Here's a couple of examples including one featuring artwork from S. James:


The Operation Chill story began in #6, rounding off my favourite issue of the lot as it featured Wraither's P-51 Mustang on the cover and the start of two brand new stories inside (one featuring a showdown between Wraither and Yakamoto!), showing to my young self the comic was in its stride and set to continue for a long time.  All stories in this issue are second-to-none even to this day, delivering quality characterisation and action the likes of which I hadn't experienced before as a child and which all hold up amazingly well today.

It was like an anthology comic but all tied into the Ring Raiders theme and the imagination on show to develop these toys into something substantial that would last is evident throughout.  You got the impression some of these characters could return later in new stories just like those in 2000AD keep returning, but on top of that they could also overlap and appear in each other's strips at any time.  It was a glorious package.

The issue also included the first in a brand new feature which I was very excited by:


These photo files were originally to continue with every issue, building a large resource of information on the real-life planes featured.  Just like the toys, the comic was very accurate in its portrayal of every plane and on the letters pages it's interesting now to read young children writing in and using the correct technical terms and specifications.  It certainly peaked my enthusiasm for all things fighter plane-wise and at around this time I started to collect a new partwork called Airplane because of Ring Raiders!  (I also think it's the reason I liked Jag so much when it appeared on TV six years later.)

With six great issues under its belt and growing ever more confident with each one the future looked bright.  Alongside the adverts filling up almost every commercial break during CITV, the toys packing out the shops and the Ring of Fire video being packaged with some planes by Matchbox it looked like they were here to stay!

Also released was a standalone video of two further episodes of the cartoon, which differed greatly from the comic and even changed quite a bit of what was established with the toys too (then again so did the Transformers cartoon).  It added two new female fighter pilots, the planes would transform into silver, armour-clad versions of themselves under ring power, some of the other characters' appearances were changed and Cub Jones - who was a World War II pilot in the toys and comic - was made into a rookie pilot for the first episode as a way of introducing the show.  But it had a rocking theme tune, even if it was different to the great one the adverts already used (and a different one was used again for the audio adventure Matchbox released!)

But this wasn't all that made it seem like the "next big thing" was indeed ring-powered.  The merchandise was already out in force:


In the 80s if you had a lunchbox and flask based on your intellectual property you were on your way to the big time!  These are just some examples (pulled from eBay) of Halloween masks, "Valentines"(?), Revel model kits, storybooks, cardboard models, bedsheets and even napkins for some reason(!) and there was plenty more.

How on earth then could this appear in that fantastic sixth issue?:


My heart sank.

I couldn't believe it, how was this possible?  Yet another comic of mine was being cancelled.  At the time I could only assume it was through poor sales but I find this hard to believe when I also now take into account the toy-line proved massively popular for Christmas 1989 yet also completely disappeared before the following one.  The promising cartoon series produced five episodes as a tester but was never picked up for a full series, the merchandising vanished and, despite a 'Series II' of aircraft being released in the spring of 1990 there were hardly any on the shelves and by the time the festive toys started rolling out the Ring Raiders were nowhere to be seen.

What happened?  I have no idea.  Were those "circumstances beyond our control" something more to do with Ring Raiders as a whole rather than the comic itself?  I'll probably never know but with such a hugely promising start it's criminal it was never given a chance to develop and evolve.  Fleetway did indeed produce the special for the following year and wasted no time in getting it out as it appeared in February when I was expecting it to be an Easter or Holiday Special and it's covered below.

The comic is of great quality and well worth picking up the entire run on eBay, though do be warned each issue can fetch a higher price than you'd expect (around £20 per issue) due to their rarity these days.  The two annuals produced also have nothing to do with the comic and are of relatively poor quality in comparison, with basic text stories and features and no strips included.

Reading over these comics it was a thrill to see certain images on the page which had stayed with me all these years in the foggy recesses of my memory, such was the strength of them.  From World War II bombers fighting 80s fighter jets and Mako's 'Sea Hunter' Mig-29 laying an underwater mine, to Blackjack reappearing into a story silhouetted against a blazing sun and a ghostly vision of Wraither appearing above my favourite plane in my favourite story.  Actually, why don't I show you what I mean:

Don Wazejewski
John Cooper

John Gillatt

Don Wazejewski

There was some simply stunning imagery in this comic and these are only the tip of the iceberg.  No, not that iceberg, we've covered that already.

So the comic ended up cancelled before all those potential new readers opened their ring-based toys from Santa that year, and he'd plenty of them to deliver; they proved very successful, so with that wonderful gift of hindsight the discontinuation of the toys and thus everything else based on them is a mystery I'll probably never know the answer to.  But I can still enjoy these wonderful tales and just imagine where they could've led.  One good example of how the comic's universe was being developed came in the aforementioned special which came as ever with another fantastic Ian Kennedy cover:


Actually, it came with two of them!  Cancelled very suddenly Ian had two completed pieces of art ready, so the inside front cover of this special edition contained what would've been #8's front page if it'd been published.  We'd already seen Ring Commander "Salty" Salton's one-off strip in #4 so there must've been a new multipart story featuring this World War II pilot on the way, but it's remained untold:


The Ring Raiders Special contained the final chapters of all the strips which had begun in the comic.  This meant there were actually almost the same amount of chapters to Trackdown! in this one edition as in the whole fortnightly run, with five issue's worth of Thundercloud and Blackjack madness present here.  We'd only been treated to the first part of Operation Chill so the final four are all here too alongside the concluding three pages of Freedom Fight which had begun in the very first issue.  Castle of Doom was also another one we'd only seen a few pages of to date but it'd already become my favourite as I'll describe below, so to have all five remaining episodes here was exciting stuff!

While none were the length of the epic eleven-part Touchdown! all of these stories varied in length from one another, meaning they'd all be ending and then replaced with new stories in different issues, which would've made for a hugely varied comic.  Perhaps the idea was to have at any one time a long epic and other shorter stories, or maybe we'd simply have seen it continue to bring us a lovely variation that'd have us guessing when each story would reach its finale.  It's all guesswork now.

But back to that favourite story of mine, Castle of Doom which is drawn in the wonderfully detailed stylings of Don Wazejewski.  As I mentioned, my first two planes belonged to Yakamoto and Wraither in that little Starter Pack.  Originally I thought these packs were a random selection of one leader from each opposing side, but upon reading the first part to this in the final issue it was clear these two characters were destined to be matched up again and again.  For me then, after only reading the first four pages of the story this just made the cancellation of the comic even worse!  I couldn't wait to see how my first two planes matched up in combat.

In reality a bi-plane and an experimental, high-tech jet would never amount to much of a fight but with these characters it was never going to be that simple.  Rumours surrounded Wraither in the fictional Ring Raiders world that he could make his plane disappear like a ghost, hence its Galloping Ghoul codename, when actually we see him use cloud cover and amazing aerial acrobatics to hide himself in plain site.  (Almost made a pun there, but it'd be too easy.)  It was speed versus maneuverability and the story kept me guessing as to how the Ring Raider would come out on top.

In the Special the final twelve pages, which would've made up three issue's of strip, hadn't been separated into chapters yet and so read as one explosive finale.  Here's the first four pages of that climax (part four if the comic had continued) and as you'll see the comic was taking its first steps into delving further into the history of the conflict and the formation of the Ring Raiders.

Wraither's Vulture Wing had appeared above a mysterious castle somewhere in Central Europe in the year 1789 and the 'Raiders had sent in Yakamoto on a lone mission to do recon but he ended up chasing down the Skull Squadron planes. Set up by Wraither, Yakamoto had to disengage from the pursuit in order to save an innocent bystander and Wraither and his team got away, with us none the wiser as to their intentions, other than it'd come to pass sometime in the future.  We pick up the action just as they've made their escape:


The story continues to include mind-controlled innocents opening fire within the castle on the very ones who'd eventually help save the world (by forming the Ring Raiders), with Yakamoto circling in his X-29.  How can he possibly save them from there?  Well I don't want to ruin it for you if you decide to give the comic a go so I'll leave you guessing there, but needless to say it's all rather ingenious stuff, as always.

Isn't Don's art just sublime too?  I love the very solid and slick inking style, his highly detailed backgrounds add a real sense of grounding the fantastical action in reality, the contrast of the science-fiction and the historical is particularly well handled and I even love the way he draws humans as slightly shorter than normal, which adds a kind of Thunderbirds feel to the proceedings.  I don't think there's any particular artist who suits the comic more than any other as each one's unique style brought so much to the overall package.  They seem ideally suited to each individual story being told!  Whether this was by chance or by design could be debated but I'd like to think it's the latter, otherwise the editorial team just got extremely lucky when pairing up each story with the person who'd bring it to life.

Thanks to John Freeman and Lew Stringer for helping in the identification of this particular artist and all those who took part in the discussion on Facebook when John shared the above with the readers of his Down the Tubes website.

Just wanted to include this one final page from Castle of Doom.  The comic was heavily action-based but it could also fit in moments of humour and unbelievably every one hit the mark.  You'd expect such a comic to perhaps make corny attempts at humour in much the same way as 80s action cartoons would, but as I said Ring Raiders never talked down to us and so any humour involved was aimed at readers of all ages.  Matching the pacing of the stories and the air battles themselves there were some classic moments of equally quick wit inserted here and there which only helped add further character to the comic itself, as well as to the pilots.  For example, Wraither was the ghostly, deadly pilot of Skull Squadron many had grown to fear (even amongst his fellow pilots).  He terrified innocent bystanders and used this to his advantage to get his way, controlling hearts and minds at a whim with complete disregard.  He was calculating and methodical in his plans and here he'd crafted the "perfect plot" to destroy the 'Raiders before they'd even been formed:


This Special fell into my lap as a complete surprise one Saturday morning when my mum came back from the shops and I jumped for joy, running to my room to read through all the previous issues before losing myself in the sixty-four brand new pages before me.  It was so good it broke my heart all over again, realising this was the very last time I'd ever get to enjoy reading a new Ring Raiders comic.  But not only did the short-lived series go out on a high with this edition, the Special itself went out on one too with the final one-off strip for one of the pilots.

Yuri Kirkov was the Ring Commander of Freedom Flight wing and had appeared in all the previous issues in Freedom Fight (I showed a panel from it above #4's cover).  Before being sought out by the Ring Raiders' leader Victor Vector he'd fought in Vietnam for the Americans after defecting from Russia.  Those of us who grew up in the 80s will know the 'in' thing was to have your hero damaged in some way by Vietnam, whether that was through trauma (Magnum PI), physical damage (Michael Knight in Knight Rider) or psychologically (Stringfellow Hawke in Airwolf) and it's clear to see why when you think back to those days.  However to see Vietnam crop up in more than a simple passing comment in a children's comic based on toys was something else.

Yuri was battling Wraither when the Skull Squadron pilot disappeared into the fog and a comment was made by one of Yuri's wingmen about the ghostly Galloping Ghoul.  This then prompted a flashback for our hero 'Raider and we were treated to some beautifully painted images of the war in a story which involved Kirkov getting lost in fog himself close to the Vietnam border and being assisted by a chopper pilot.  Upon landing safely and wishing to thank the pilot he discovered that same chopper had crashed and exploded a year or so earlier when the pilot had tried to help a fleet of bombers land in the same fog.  The fog-based part of the story is eery and the artwork suits it perfectly, but I wanted to show these particular war-based images as an example of what kind of stories this comic could've continued to tell:


Drawn by John Gillatt you can see in that bottom panel how he altered his style to indicate fog cover and it just works so well.

Ring Raiders could flip between the futuristic and the historical, and the fantasy and the reality so well, all through well developed characters, exciting action, superb art and great stories.  If it had continued goodness knows how it would've developed, it's anthology style worked a treat and for those two short months I ran to that newsagents every-other Thursday after school to get my next fix.  Oink! aside, the fact this comic remains my number one from childhood with only seven issues to show for itself should tell you something.

I never picked up the four-page preview comic but I was able to see it once and it's a beautifully painted strip by Ian Kennedy so well worth hunting down if you're interested.  I only lost one issue of those I originally collected but I was finally able to replace it a couple of years ago via eBay, though I do have a few doubles now because of it.  Even my Oink!s were mainly thrown out over the years since the 1980s and I've had to replace them all for this blog!  But Ring Raiders will always have a place on my shelves and every few years I'll keep taking them out of their protective, boarded sleeves (the only comics I keep this way), reading them and imagining what could've been.

NEXT TIME

In a fortnight I jump into a world which seemed to capture the enthusiasm of nearly every friend I had at the time.  The franchise could do no wrong but I fell out of love with the comic after only six months or so, bizarrely after the British strips started!  What?  Sacrilege!  But during those early issues I had a regular order and then a chance encounter with one single later issue brought much joy to my young self.  Come back, with pizza in hand, to find out what on earth I'm talking about:


18 comments:

John Freeman said...

Great item, glad to have helped you track down the "mystery artist" on the project, even if I didn't know who it was.

You mentioned the mystery of why the toy simply vanished. This article has some background on why the line was canned in a crowded market: bear in mind this is from a US perspective that never saw the UK comic: http://forgottenanimation.tumblr.com/post/107545765637/ring-raiders-1989-an-animated-television

Also, the British TV ad is here: http://youtu.be/iUQ7czTRdpQ

Intriguingly, it's noted that the company that developed the concept - Those Guys From Cleveland, generally worked on girls properties. This was one of the few boys properties they developed. Some of the national papers that have done 80s toys nostalgia pieces suggest that the very concept of a toy that involved boys wearing rings was an anathema to the retail industry, concerned to direct their potential consumers down the right aisle at Toys R Us...

Perhaps those folks now snickering at the name "Ring Raiders" have a point, for all the love of the toys you've expressed?

The name itself might have caused people to just laugh it out of court and the quality of the toys was clearly not great if they were reusing moulds, which wouldn't have helped, and while the TV show was different to the UK comic, that would have been a major driving force in making any range successful. When it didn't go to series, that was the end of "Ring Raiders".

The children's toy market is a considerably competitive market place and it would appear that despite what the amount of thought that went into the range, it didn't deliver the goods, especially when its rivals, such as Transformers, then in its sixth year and still going strong, were well established.

Phil Boyce said...

Ah but your post on Facebook was the catalyst! Thanks again.

That article is a strange one. I'm no professional writer obviously, but it reads like a rant rather than a factual piece, especially when it attempts to call out Matchbox for re-using moulds. This was nothing new, but unlike Transformers, GI Joe and He-Man which reused them in a rather sneaky fashion, Matchbox had always done so and been quite honest about it. Like the paint scheme 'variants' throughout their toy cars, Ring Raiders were no different really. Each box had clear real-world names and descriptions of each aircraft and for kids it was a matter of collecting them all in a Pokemon fashion. I know I had all the planes from series one but not all variants. Then the following year series two was all new moulds. The writer of that article seems rather angry about a toy and cartoon doesn't he?

Wearing the rings was never an issue for us I remember, thanks mainly to the way it was marketed. The nostalgia pieces may have missed the point somewhat I'd guess, as they often do in preference to poking fun at our past - which we all do admittedly as we do take on a different perspective on things over time, and it can be fun! As I was so obsessed as a child my parents (who read an awful lot of magazines and newspapers) would keep any clippings about Ring Raiders, always painted as the new hit craze and I distinctly remember the description of how successful they'd been over the Christmas period. Hence the 'mystery'.

That different perspective is clear in the name raising giggles today. In those pre-widespread internet days it was an innocent one and never an issue (otherwise it wouldn't have been used I'm sure), so that's why I deliberately didn't cover that aspect. Only since then has the unfortunate "joke" come to the attention of many thanks to the 'net. Funny the first time but tiresome after that, even in the late 90s the joke came up but was brushed aside when reminiscing

Reading your comment and Facebook post it got me thinking that perhaps the answer is somewhere in between. While those clippings I had are long gone, it could be the fact that they were a success on only one side of the pond. If they flopped in America where the big bucks would've been sunk into the brand and the cartoon etc., as well as all of that lovely merchandise above, then it wouldn't matter how large the fan base was over here. If so I wouldn't blame Matchbox. Perhaps this was on the cards already and things changed even before that Christmas, it wouldn't be the first time a toy or cartoon has been a hit here but been canned because of a lack of interest in its home country.

Thinking about that though, they do feel like a very British kind of toy, don't they? Maybe they suited us better haha! If that is the case it's such a shame as we loved them! Of course the comic may still have been cancelled because of sales, as stated I wasn't sure either way, but it's strange they'd then produce the special and word the announcement the way they did. It could be the line was getting wound down already and Fleetway cut their loses before investing in new content.

It'll forever be the best non-piggy comic from my youth though, and the positive reaction it's received through various channels already has been heart-warming.

John Pitt said...

No wonder I wasn't able to guess what the last 2 posts would be, - I'm afraid I don't remember either of them!
But, if we're talking "Turtle" next time, Phil, I can't wait! I used to buy the "Hero" Turtles Comic for my younger daughter. But I spotted a thicker "Ninja" Turtles UK special, which I bought for my elder daughter and THIS one - I haven't been able to find a picture of the cover anywh

John Pitt said...

Ooops, sent too early, by mistake!
(CONTD.)
....anywhere on the internet, so if you've got a scan, I'd LOVE to see it!
Cheers.

Phil Boyce said...

You'll have to wait a couple of weeks to see if you're right of course ... but which cover are you looking for? The first Hero one?

John Pitt said...

No, it's the UK "....NINJA...." ( thick ) Special I can't find. I know it existed, because I bought it!

benpeter johnson said...

Funny, I don't recall these at all and I have an embarassingly good memory and admiration for the plastic junk of our childhoods. As for the wearing of rings on schoolboys, I lived in Rural south west England and we wore rings of the plastic sort whenever they came out of a fairground 'prize egg', which they frequently seemed to. Either a ring with a plastic spider on top or a pencil topper in the shape of an anthropamorphic veg man. Real jewellery was worn by older boys and men too. Earings were worn by proper hardnuts with farmer's tans so jewllery was always a unisex thing. Anyway, the artworks amazing in these examples youve posted here!

Phil Boyce said...

Was it tied in with the movies by any chance, John?

Phil Boyce said...

Always great to hear of people discovering these comics all these years later, benpeter. You know you've made a really good point, I remember toy rings with lights in them, or that made noise and let's not forget those egg ones, always a favourite to wear on holiday! "A prize everytime!" But yes military rings and the like were also about as mentioned and those ones you've brought up are great examples too. The artwork is gorgeous throughout and made the comic feel like a really high quality product, which of course it was, and it looks just as beautiful today.

John Pitt said...

It didn't appear to be, but it did tell the story from the beginning, but in Comic / Cartoon format, noovie stills or pix anywhere. It was a one-shot, about as thick as the complete Judge Dredd monthly, full colour throughout.

John Pitt said...

http://www.comicvine.com/teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-adventures/4050-20735/
Phil, by the process of elimination, I reckon it must have been this (#1)!

Phil Boyce said...

That's very definitely an American comic, so if you're thinking of a British Fleetway one it can't have been. Their printing of the movie comic adaptation did keep the "Ninja" in the name though.

John Pitt said...

Will you have a scan of the cover of that one then, should you ever do a Turtle post?

Phil Boyce said...

Don't have it I'm afraid, if I was ever to do a Turtle post...

STEPHEN ARCHER said...

I have to admit I'm not at all sure I’ve ever heard of Ring Raiders. There’s a vague memory of seeing an ad for it in Eagle which is by no means definite. Alas I don’t think I would have enjoyed it for the simple reason I didn’t like war-based comics. However it was good to learn there’d been a special to round off the stories – if only they’d done this with Tammy six years earlier. Snarl, gnash, fume …. An informative article as ever, though.

Phil Boyce said...

It was definitely a science-fiction setup but it's stories could be set during wars, the future or even the distant past in any story setting. But I can see how you'd get the impression, what with it being based around fighter jet pilots.

Phil Boyce said...

John, is it amongst the couple of "Ninja" titles at the very bottom of this page?:

http://www.turtlemania.ru/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=94&Itemid=187

John Pitt said...

Thanks for the link, Phil, I would never have found that! - Yeah, that was the one I got my elder daughter! ( the first one )
Been searching for that scan for YEARS!
You're a star and a Gent, sir!