An incredibly simple advert but it can't be denied it's a powerful and attention grabbing one. This appeared across Marvel UK's comics range in early 1988 but it was only about eight or nine years ago that I saw it for the first time when collecting a certain other 80s title which you'll read about soon. Back in 1988 I learned of this great new comic a different way. But first, let's rewind a little further to Christmas 1987.
At some point prior to this I'd discovered Filmation's Ghostbusters cartoon on video in my local rental store (somewhere I frequented every single Saturday as it was closed on Sundays so you got to keep the tapes for two days instead of one). It was typical Hanna-Barbera stuff and as well as the human 'busters it included an ape and his flying car. Seriously. I heard of a new cartoon coming out in the early part of the year based on the movie Ghostbusters and I was looking forward to seeing more than just the episodes on that video. However, my school friends looked confused when I asked if they'd used a real ape or a man in a suit for the film. I learned that the cartoon was to have "The Real" added to the title as it was based on the original film which pre-dated the cartoon I'd known, and a few days after Christmas ITV showed the movie one night at 9pm. (The addition of those two words to the title were actually necessary for legal reasons, even though Columbia's movie had come first.) I can vividly remember sitting on my bed so I could watch it on my brand new Pye 12" portable TV in a dark room and I freakin' loved it! In early January the brand new cartoon started on Mondays at 4:20pm (we remember such silly things don't we?) and I was hooked.
Then about a month or so later the family was watching Surprise, Surprise together and Cilla and Bob (with Spit the Dog) made a dream come true for a budding young artist when they took him to draw a page for Marvel UK. The page was for the brand new comic The Real Ghostbusters and this was how I first heard about it. I jumped for joy! I remember recording this segment and watching it back, pausing it and standing right up to the screen to see the cover date to work out when it'd be out but on that Saturday morning a couple of weeks later my dad came back from the newsagent's empty handed. He told me they'd still to open one bundle of comics so to try later. I was doubtful it'd be there. Had I worked it out wrong? The date was a fortnight from that day but that was the way Marvel's comics worked, showing the 'expiry' date (my phrase, not theirs) of that issue - basically the date of the next one. I wondered down about an hour later (my patience isn't great) and low-and-behold I got it!
Finally here was my very own Marvel UK comic (Thomas didn't really count as Marvel). I'd glanced enviously at some of my friends' Transformers comics, hearing them discuss the long, epic storylines and seeing all this superb artwork and their huge piles of dozens and dozens of issues. But I'd never fancied jumping in, so here was my chance to catch a brand new comic of similar ilk right from the word go. Or so I thought.
That picture of the first issue is actually an advert from another comic, but apart from the two red and yellow banners it's exactly the same as the premiere issue's eye-catching cover. It came with a lovely metal badge which adorned my schoolbag for months, it was printed on the same smaller-than-A4 pages that the Thomas comic used but it had twenty-four pages, the same as Transformers etc and all in full glorious colour. But whereas Transformers had one main story taking up nearly half the comic and one smaller back-up strip, you can see above the first issue's cover boasted of no less than four stories! How on earth...?
A SURPRISINGLY, SURPRISINGLY ORIGINAL COMIC
Well as it turns out The Real Ghostbusters comic was going to play more to the film and cartoon's comedy side but with much shorter, self-contained strips rather than ongoing stories. As the series progressed it'd settle down into a formula of two comic strips of four or five pages each and a text story taking up three or four pages in the middle. Some issues would boast of four (or even five!) stories, meaning less pages each and it wouldn't be unusual for some to only run to two pages, providing a simple set up for a good old-fashioned pun.
The inclusion of text stories wasn't new to me thanks to the previous comic I've covered, but for titles such as this aimed at the late primary school to teenage market it certainly was. Yes, older comics had them, but at this stage in the 1980s they'd all but disappeared and to see them again was a slight disappointment when I opened #1. I'd wanted the same as Transformers and for a minute or so I felt short-changed. That changed as soon as I read it though!
It was just so damned entertaining!
Now for this blog I went and bought three issues from a local comic shop in Belfast a couple of months ago as I never kept any (which surprised me!) and I ended up with #3, #14 and #156, all picked deliberately as you'll see. But you're bound to be wanting to read some of it aren't you? Patience my friends, patience.
|The earliest issue I could get my hands on|
The first issue had me sold and a regular order was placed. The stories were so imaginative and funny, I loved it immensely. While the cartoon loved to take its time to set up stories and could on occasion build up a great, epic scenario, the Marvel UK comic matched its humour perfectly and having a few different stories with their own funny ending each issue was great! Also included were fact-files on the main characters and later the ghosts, a letters page with Peter Venkman at the helm, Spengler's Spirit Guide and a mini Slimer strip. But let's take a look at a strip first.
|Cover by Andy Lanning and Dave Hine|
From #14 the comic went weekly (it didn't waste any time!) and the first of these issues had one eleven-page story split into two parts, along with the obligatory text story. The first two pages of this are below, written by one of the comic's main writers John Carnell who also worked on many of Marvel's new range of strip and text licenced titles such as Thundercats, Galaxy Rangers etc, as well as the superb American-format The Sleeze Brothers and the mature-themed Strip. Andy Lanning was one of my very favourite artists on The Real Ghostbusters as his style was much different than the rest and had this real nice, chunky feel to it. He also co-created The Sleeze Brothers with John and has brought his considerable talents to everything from Death's Head II to Judge Dredd. Readers of modern-day Titan Magazines comics may also recognise the name of the letterer, as Steve White has gone on to edit many of their titles, such as the Transformers comic which launched alongside the movies:
TOBIN'S OR NOT TOBIN'S
This is just the tip of the iceberg. With a comic which lasted 193 issues and with so many stories to tell, the pool of talent it collected together was immense. The regulars did later state they had a blast with it though. For a licenced title they had a lot of freedom and sometimes the joke was thought of first and the story built around it! It worked though. Beautifully.
Dan Abnett had a big task it must be said though as in each issue was the latest instalment of Spengler's Spirit Guide. In the movie Egon Spengler had made reference to Tobin's Spirit Guide and while I'm not sure if the cartoon mentioned it (only season one is currently available) the comic ran with the idea and had a reference series of their own. Often mentioning the tome from the film, these text pages may have looked very serious (the design stayed the same throughout) but they were absolutely hilarious. Featured all the way through the fortnightly and weekly issues Dan wrote them all - over one-hundred-and-eighty, never running out of imagination, never lacking the laughs and always a highlight of each and every edition.
They usually tied in to a story from the same issue, so with #14's story dealing (in typical Ghostbusters fashion) with the four horsemen, Dan had decided they weren't the only galloping riders for the end of time:
Much later in the run (this next page is from #156) the comic would also include a lengthy series of pages based on true urban legends, if that's not an oxymoron to describe them as such. There's no writing credit here unfortunately and this is the only one I have to scan in but it shows you what they were doing. It certainly added a suitably spooky feeling to an otherwise comical weekly outing and at this time with the British humour strips, the text stories and the serialised American stories (see below) this added yet another dimension to the comic. I do remember being a fan of these and they became the first thing I'd read each week:
At its height The Real Ghostbusters was a truly great comic and I can't oversell that. The variety and quality of the contents was superb and reading back on these (particularly this later issue) I can see now as an adult just how much value for money there was. There's a wealth of different reading material here, you could never get bored moving from one style to the next, and the amount they crammed in (without ever sacrificing that all-important quality) puts a lot of today's licenced comics to shame.
NEVER SHORT ON READING MATERIAL!
Issues 1 and 14 being the exceptions, most of the issues' covers related to the prose story within (with the cover usually reprinted at the beginning of the tale), which alternated between two different styles. One issue would see a text story told in the usual fashion of the writer as the narrator, mainly focussing on one part of a bust or one moment in the life of the team. The Judge Dredd Megazine does this type of storytelling to this day, with a text story in some issues taking up the same amount of space and also telling a very focussed tale. It works a treat. If you think about it there's no way to tell a bigger, more elaborate story with a long setup when you're talking about a limited amount of space and words.
Below is one such example (including both cover and interior versions of the artwork) from that later issue in the run. I don't want to say too much yet, I'll let John Freeman's writing show you what I mean by the above:
Even with only two pages and a rather large font, John takes time to give us a unique introduction which sets up how he's going to tell this particular story. It provides a lovely, funny insight into how the good people of New York now took all this ghost busting in their stride and the back and forth between that and the tour information is inspired. Also dealing mainly with two of the team instead of them all lets us have a little humorous banter and Egon's character is perfectly captured with the dictation.
These days John also runs the superb comics resource website http://downthetubes.net and if you're in any way interested in any modern comics titles it's a great way to keep up to speed.
In alternate weeks, by the way, the text story would be the latest instalment of Winston's Diary and would be just that - a story told in diary form by the character Winston Zeddmore and they were just as much of a delight. In fact it was one of Winston's in the very first issue that convinced me the inclusion of text stories in a comic was the way forward for the Ghostbusters!
As an aside, the cover art became more and more elaborate as it went along, especially the colouring. Some are truly beautiful and are masterful pieces in their own right! The following link doesn't contain them all unfortunately but it can certainly give you an idea of what I'm raving on about:
Marvel UK were the first to launch a tie-in comic to the new cartoon series, before a comic was released in the States! In America it wasn't Marvel who got to delve into the world of four parapsychologists for the entertainment of children, it was NOWComics. Their run was more traditional, with roughly twenty or so pages for each story per issue, it ran for a few years and a couple of volumes. It even reprinted some of the Marvel UK stories as back-up strips and for special issues, which was a bit unique! Over here it'd be over a year before we'd see any of their stories travel across to us though.
HAUNTINGS FROM ACROSS THE POND
Around #80 or so the sequel movie Ghostbusters II was released and the comic serialised NOW Comic's adaptation, entitled The Real Ghostbusters starring in Ghostbusters II. It ran for several issues and thanks to me missing it in the cinema this was how I first experienced it. The comic still had a brand new, contained British strip, the text stories and Spirit Guide but having a huge multipart story was a big deal and I simply adored waiting impatiently for each new part to come. Even though the comic had won me over with its format from the premiere issue and I'd never longed for serials anymore, this changed my mind. It was yet more variety and complimented the other contents.
I was delighted then to see the American strips continue for some time afterwards, with each split over roughly three or four issues. They actually took up more space in the comic than the Marvel strip and they had a very different feel, more akin to the cartoon itself. Below are a few pages from part of a story in #156.
The USA back-ups would continue well beyond the foursome's adventures, as you'll see after these scans there'd be a different kind of support strip to come:
|Unfortunately no credits in this issue|
I remember the cartoon shifted after a few years to be split into two parts during Saturday morning TV shows such as Get Fresh and SM:TV and the title became Slimer! and The Real Ghostbusters. I never knew why until recently when I found out the cartoon's last season changed its target demographic to a slightly younger one and became an hour in length in the States, where Slimer (the team's loveable - except if you're Peter naturally - pet ghost) had his own cartoon for thirty minutes, followed by the Ghostbusters for the second half. We only got the ghost busting half so the title never made sense and I was also unaware that the green blob had his own comic!
It was made by NOW and then released over here under the Marvel label as a monthly for over a year but it passed me by completely until it merged with my comic. The Real Ghostbusters and Slimer! then split his stories like they had the strips above over a few issues at a time. They were okay but I preferred the 'busters rather than Slimer and his silly friends. They weren't terrible though and there was something charming about them in a way.
CROSSING OVER TO AN ALTERNATIVE LEWNIVERSE
But we'd already had a Slimer strip ever since #1. Marvel's action comics had a tradition of having a comical strip somewhere in each issue. With Transformers Oink! cartoonist Lew Stringer brought us Robo Capers, Action Force brought us Lew's Combat Colin (who then made the transition to the former title when they merged and can be seen in new adventures today in Aces Weekly) and now this comic brought us Blimey! It's Slimer written by John Carnell and drawn by Lew. I'm seeing a pattern, are you?:
Later Bambos took over the writing and drawing of the cartoon but I just had to include one of Lew's, naturally. Slimer also became a bit of a mascot for Marvel UK, appearing in all the mentioned titles above and as the cover star of the short-lived It's Wicked, Marvel UK's weekly humour comic in the vein of The Beano and The Dandy.
The Real Ghostbusters remains one of my very favourite comic titles and today it reads incredibly well as a very funny and truly different series. It ran for an impressive 193 issues, but I think I dropped off not too long after the later issue above. I'm not sure why, it could be because by that time I was collecting quite a few comics and had to sacrifice one in order to collect another, but I'm not sure. Before I'd stopped reading it though, it had begun reprinting some of the British strips but still had plenty of new material. For its last half a dozen or so issues it went monthly (sounds familiar) and was 100% reprint, with no text stories and no Spirit Guide or Blimey! It's Slimer. It didn't even have an editorial anymore, just the same picture of the Ghostbusters on page two every month.
During its time it captured so many readers in its trap and spun off into brilliant annuals that I remember very, very fondly! They had hugely fun strips, some spectacular artwork for their text stories and brilliant extras. I can remember curling up into bed during the nighttimes over Christmas and New Year a few years in a row and very happily losing myself in them. Add in the usual Collected Comics seasonal specials which reprinted strips from the regular comic, then the Puzzlebuster(!) monthly which was basically a themed puzzle compendium and the fact they and Slimer were the main stars of the Marvel Bumper Comic (a fortnightly reprint collection of Marvel UK strips) and they were absolutely everywhere! Marvel UK made no secret that they were a real money-spinner for them and insanely popular.
Thanks to the comic having for the most part individual stories it's really easy to dip your toes into now if you never have before, as you won't have to worry about collecting a huge amount of them before being able to sit down and read them. Go on, grab yourself a few random issues - with the talent pool behind it you'll not regret it, I promise.
To finish with, one of these issues had an advert on the back page which took me right back to Christmas mornings and many nights spent playing with my favourite action figures, Ecto-1, Ecto-2 and tubs of ectoplasm on my bedroom floor:
Beyond Oink! will be back in a fortnight's time with the next comic I placed a regular order for with my local shop, just a couple of months after starting Ghostbusters. It was one which I could completely blame my parents for though, and my mum didn't actually mind adding this one to the three comics I was already regularly collecting. I just hope my scanner can cope with it, as it's going to be...
UPDATE: John Freeman has now placed an article about this very post on the Down the Tubes website which includes further insight into The Real Ghostbusters and is well worth a read right here.