Category Archives: Ring Raiders

WRiTiNG RiNG RAiDERS: JAMES TOMLiNSON iNTERViEW

With its huge ensemble cast, near limitless storytelling possibilities and its ability to turn small plastic airplanes on rings into thrilling war machines piloted by dynamic, three-dimensional characters Ring Raiders was (and still is) my favourite non-OiNK childhood comic. Editor Barrie Tomlinson had assembled the very best talent to bring my latest obsession to life in 1989 and this included his son James, who went by the pen name James Nicholas at the time.

James was an acclaimed writer for Eagle, Battle and Scream! and would be the person responsible for my one of my favourite stories in Ring Raiders. According to Barrie, James has always been an “aviation nut”, so surely this would seem like the perfect comic for James to write for?

“With the aviation connection, Ring Raiders really did stand out for me amongst so many ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ titles,” James told me. “This does bring back some great memories of marvellous times long ago. So good to hear that Ring Raiders was, and still is, appreciated so much by those that read, and continue to read, the title. It makes us writers (and artists I am sure) so nostalgic and proud. It was indeed so sad (I’d use the word tragedy, but that may be a bit too far!) Ring Raiders lasted only a handful of issues, it deserved a longer print run for sure. Many others clearly think the same!”

James very graciously (not to mention rather excitedly) agreed to answer some questions about this brilliant comic which unfortunately launched at a time when comic sales across the board were in decline, when it seemed no matter which one I started to collect it didn’t last long. The fact it remains a favourite all these years later is testament to its quality. So with an ace publication based on a childhood obsession and a fan of all things aviation at the helm of some of its top stories, I was really looking forward to this interview. James was not to disappoint.

OiNK Blog: It was great to hear you’re still an aviation nut and have fond memories of your time working on Ring Raiders. Were there any particular aspects of the idea behind it that stood out for you?

James Tomlinson: Yes indeed, I’m still very much an aviation nut after all these years! Rather than just one story, I think it was the whole concept that really stood out for me. Pilots and aircraft from different eras locked in mortal combat in contrasting time zones all over the globe. It really had the makings of a long-running and thrilling sky-based adventure which seemed to be just what the kids back then would have loved. Well, that’s what I think anyway!

OB: What was the process like when a new licence came through, to get up to speed on everything you’d need to know about something like Ring Raiders? I imagine it wouldn’t have been a very long timeframe before you’d start producing stories?

JT: With these sorts of stories, based on toy products, there’s really no definite answer to this one. It varied so much. Sometimes we were given a lot of information about the characters and storylines, other times there was much less for us to go on. Of course, in the latter scenario, this could be a good thing as it allowed writers to use their own imagination more and pad out things with their own ideas. Again, the amount of time we got to read up and prepare for something new like Ring Raiders varied hugely. Often there had to be a very quick turnaround with the stories, on other occasions we had months to get things just right.

OB: You very kindly sent me a folder from the licence holders you used (look out for this at a later date – Phil) and it was very scant on details for each character, basically consisting of the information on the toy packaging and focusing more on the decals of the planes. Did you get anything more to go on, or was it up to you as a writer to embellish them as you saw fit?

JT: From what I recall there was indeed not a great deal to go on with the characters from Ring Raiders, so it was a case of each individual writer embellishing the characters. Obviously, if the licence holders didn’t like what the writer had done with the characters they could object and ask for changes, which did happen on a fairly regular basis (although not so much, thankfully, with Ring Raiders).

OB: It was like an anthology comic in many ways. Who came up with the story ideas and chose the characters you’d focus on? Your first story was set during World War II at a time linked to the origin story of the ‘Raider featured, Cub Jones. It’s also chock full of B-17 Fortress Bombers fighting modern day jets and classic prop planes. How very you.

JT: I think most of the basic story ideas came from the writers themselves, apart from those that, say, focussed on the early life stories of the individual heroes and villains. Those were probably more down to editorial decisions. Bomber Blues was very much my sort of story, with all my kind of ingredients. I’d always been a fan of stories about the Flying Fortress of WW2. This big plane with a big crew and a ton of guns really caught my imagination. Searching my dusty old memory banks, I seem to recall there was a serial story in Battle about an American Flying Fortress squadron flying out of wartime England which I always enjoyed. To have a Flying Fortress going up against jet fighters from the future was just perfect in my eyes. I’m sure I had a lot of input into this story choice! 

OB: Both of your published stories were beautifully illustrated by Don Wazejewski, how did that come about? Did you write your stories and they were assigned to Don or did you work together more closely to produce the final product?

JT: It was just luck that a great artist like Don Wazejewski was chosen to illustrate Bomber Blues. Certainly, in my time writing I never worked closely with the artist who would eventually illustrate my work. We always worked very much apart. Many lucky artists lived abroad in the sun anyway and it wasn’t so easy to keep in touch as it is today; no internet, emails or social media back then! I always thought the many different artists who converted my (sometimes difficult!) ideas to a finished visual work did a superb job. I wish I could have produced work half as good as they did. Unfortunately I’ve never had any drawing talent at all (always a bit of a drawback if you want to become an artist). Artists like Joe Colquhoun, John Cooper and Sandy James were at the top of their game. (The latter two also produced some stunning work for Ring Raiders – Phil) I take my hat off to their much missed talents!

OB: Your second story ‘Castle of Doom’ involved more time travel into the past and a plot by Skull Squadron to undermine the formation of their arch enemies. It seemed to be setting up a larger scale story in the background. Was this the idea, something you could return to at a later date? Or am I reading too much into it?

JT: Once again, Castle of Doom was just my cup of tea when it comes to a story. Travelling back in time to change what will happen in the future has always intrigued and interested me. Maybe because I watched a lot of Doctor Who and The Time Tunnel when I was a youngster! I really don’t recall if there was any plan to make this story part of a long-running adventure (like my story Operation Deep Cover which I wrote for Battle Action Force) but it’s an interesting idea. Perhaps you should have been on the editorial team and suggested it, Phil!

OB: Oh if only! Once the ‘Raiders perfect time travel I’ll see you back then!

OB: In that story the main characters are the Ring Raiders’ Yakamura (X-29 fighter) and Skull Squadron’s Wraither (P-51 Mustang). These two characters’ craft were in a two-plane ‘Starter Pack’ which was how I started collecting the toys. Was this deliberate?

JT: I’m almost certain that the Yakamura X-29/Wraither P-51 Mustang were deliberately chosen to go up against each other in this story given they could be bought together in a Starter Pack. The idea was probably to encourage youngsters (such as yourself!) to go and buy the X-29/P-51 combo (then available in all good toy shops) and re-enact the dogfights from Castle of Doom. Whether this decision was down to Those Characters From Cleveland/Matchbox/someone in editorial or even the humble writer is lost long ago somewhere in the clouds!

OB: My inner fan just grinned from ear-to-ear! For UK fans your comic was responsible for developing the characters beyond the toys. Did the licence holders ever request alterations that affected your work? Barrie has told me they were more understanding than most.

JT: I’m glad the then young UK fans appreciated our efforts to flesh out the characters from what was perhaps a not-so-detailed starting point. Licence holders could often be very fussy about things and ask/demand/insist that changes were made. Usually this was at the script stage although, when deadlines were tight sometimes the artwork had already been completed. I’m thinking of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Adventures here rather than Ring Raiders. Last minute changes to the actual artwork were usually impossible, given that many artists lived on distant shores and there was just no scope to alter things late in the day. We’d usually say we’d take on board their comments and make sure we did things properly next time!

OB: You were responsible for the Photo File series, which we only got two parts of in #6 and the Special, unfortunately. The comic seemed to get a new found confidence with that sixth issue so I was gutted it was the last one. Can you remember any plans you or the team had for stories or the comic as a whole beyond these early issues?

JT: Yes, I was behind the Photo File series, I’d produced similar types of aircraft fact files for other titles in the past. Again, this was right up my street as I obviously had more than a little(!) interest in the subject matter. I was disappointed only a couple of these were completed, the P-51 Mustang and the F-104 Starfighter, the latter for the Special. The Starfighter was another of my all-time faves, a really special plane which had the nickname ‘The Rocket With A Man In It’! I do agree that Ring Raiders was getting better all the time and the sudden end of the title was a real shock to us all. What the long-term future held for the title is difficult to say with any certainty. I would have hoped it would have gone from strength to strength as we got more used to the characters and expected storylines. There was just so much scope with all that dogfighting action through the centuries!

OB: Finally, Barrie gave me some details of unpublished stories which were being worked on when the comic was cancelled. There was apparently a Christmas story and another called ‘Blow Bubbles’, both written by yourself. Can you remember anything about them?

JT: There were at least three of my stories for planned future issues which were sadly unpublished. Apart from Blow Bubbles and the untitled Christmas story, there was also a story called Hijacked. Unfortunately, I don’t recall anything about any of them! I’m not even sure what stage the stories had reached, whether I’d finished or even started writing one, two or all three. I’m afraid the three tales have disappeared into ‘The Bermuda Triangle’ of unpublished writing!

Thanks so much to James for this brilliant interview and his detailed, enthusiastic answers. It’s been great to bring this comic back to life through the blog and to give it the appreciation it so clearly deserves. If it had continued I’ve every faith it would’ve evolved into an epic title to rival any licenced fare in the UK, including even Marvel‘s Transformers. Sadly, it was not to be.

But we’re here to celebrate this comic, not mourn it and I’ll leave the last word for James:

“It’s been a pleasure spending time revisiting the history of Ring Raiders. Those were great days!”

Just last week I published an interview with Ring Raiders‘ editor Barrie Tomlinson, and before the month is out the long-awaited review of the Ring Raiders Special, so stay tuned!

EDiTiNG RiNG RAiDERS: BARRiE TOMLiNSON iNTERViEW

My very favourite non-OiNK comic from my youth may have only lasted six fantastic issues and one incredible special in 1989/90, but that didn’t stop me from being hyped to read Ring Raiders again as an adult for the blog. They may have been based on obscure toys that weren’t the success they were expected to be, but the comics held up incredibly well today, full of character, fun stories and high octane action.

In the then-near-future of the late 90s Skull Squadron were a terrorist organisation on the brink of world domination. Capable of time travel and made up of the most sinister of pilots plucked out of various eras they planned to use this ability to destabilise the world order, with themselves ready to fill the gap. In response, the governments of the world formed the Ring Raiders, an elite force formed in a similar way, each equipped with a special communication and energy ring.

The gotta-collect-’em-all toys came with small comic books featuring basic dogfights, but it was no small feat to transform those little Matchbox plastic planes into compelling strips with fully formed characters. While the toys may seem to limit what a comic could do, the opposite was true of that background storyline, which was almost endless in scope. Fleetway Publications were going to need a top editor to craft their new fortnightly comic, so they naturally turned to Barrie Tomlinson (Eagle, Tiger, Wildcat).

Barrie formed a team of the very best in British talent; Ian Kennedy, Carlos Pino, Angus Allan, John Cooper, Scott Goodall, John Gillatt, James Nicholas (Tomlinson), Don Wazejewski, Tom Tully, Sandy James and Geoff Campion. I must’ve read each issue dozens of times and was gutted when it (and the toys) ended so prematurely.

The Ring Raiders comic genuinely surprised me with just how brilliantly it reads today. It was exciting and had masses of potential to explore an almost endless array of epic storylines. Within its short lifespan it covered Word War II, Vietnam, the threat of nuclear annihilation, futuristic sci-fi battles, murderous back stories, civil wars and even an homage to a certain 80s 3D movie I love. I loved the range and as an adult I think I appreciated the character development at the centre of such fanciful tales even more.

I was so excited when Barrie agreed to answer some questions for me and came away delighted at how proud he was of this licenced comic fave.

OiNK Blog: Hi Barrie, can you remember what made Fleetway choose the Ring Raiders licence? Looking back they were just tiny Matchbox planes with only minimal character drawings on the packaging.

Barrie Tomlinson: Fleetway Publications was a massive organisation. The first I would hear of a new licence would be from the Editorial Director. It would have been negotiated by a non-editorial department and presented to us. I just had to grab all the info I could find about the storyline and characters and make myself an instant expert on the subject.

OB: There’s a similarity between Ring Raiders and Wildcat. Both have an anthology feel while wrapped up in an overall theme. Was this a conscious decision or was it just befitting the licence?

BT: It wasn’t a conscious decision. I would have just wanted to use the characters I had been presented with and turn the comic into something which was liked by British readers.

OB: Were you personally responsible for selecting the writers responsible for fleshing out these characters?

BT: Yes, I would have been responsible for selecting the writers. It’s really unfortunate that the detail books for Ring Raiders were not kept. They would provide a wealth of information. My son James, who wrote under the name ‘James Nicholas‘ was one of the writers. He was a natural, as he is an aviation fanatic! I’ll have to guess at the others. Probably Tom Tully was one. I can’t remember writing any of those scripts myself… but I probably did! (He did indeed as we later found out during the read through, as well as the others – Phil)

OB: There were some mature themes in there, such as Vietnam. This strip in particular wouldn’t have looked out of place in a classic IPC war comic. The setup allowed stories set in the past, present or future, time travelling, fantasy of historic tales. It sounds like a writer’s dream title! Did you feel you had that freedom in a licenced comic?

BT: Everything we did had to be approved by agents of the copyright holder. Each script and piece of artwork had to be submitted and approved so we always had to stick closely to the original material we had been sent.

OB: There’s a feeling of a larger scale story developing in the background too. Was anything worked out in advance or were you winging it (pun not intended) and seeing how they developed over time? Can you remember any plans you had if the comic had continued?

BT: There were not any massive plans. It was always a rush producing titles like this as everything had to be approved. Once we had taken on board all the story/character details it was just a question of talking to writers, recruiting artists and getting on with it. I was pleased with the high quality artwork we achieved on this title, using artists who were greatly experienced in working for my department.

OB: A cartoon series was also in development which was very different to the comic in basically every way, going down a more sci-fi route with clichéd characters. I preferred the flawed characters in your comic by far.

BT: We didn’t have any contact with the cartoon series. We could develop the characters to a certain extent but everything would have to be approved.

OB: Speaking of those approvals, were there any requested changes or outright rejections? There was very little established in the toy line so for me the comic was really creating these characters.

BT: Occasionally, they would ask for alterations. Nothing too much. Some of the other toy comics were much more hands-on. I had to train people doing the approving that it was a comic. At first, they were looking at each individual frame as if it was a one-off poster. Eventually they got to realise these were small frames and the slick comic artwork was very different to that used in a giant poster or on a toy product. As I recall, we didn’t have that problem with Ring Raiders.

OB: It seemed at one stage almost every comic I began collecting got cancelled very quickly. Having read back over some of those titles it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of quality! Why do you think so many excellent comics were cancelled so early in the late 80s and 90s?

BT: I think it was just that the comic era was coming to an end. Television and computers were taking up children’s time. Once upon a time, the delivery of the weekly comic was a big event in a child’s life. It was delivered with the morning paper. Dad read it as well. Then children became more sophisticated and they wanted something more than a comic. They were growing up faster.

OB: Finally, the late Ian Kennedy always said his favourite subject to draw were airplanes, especially fighter planes. Ring Raiders seemed like a perfect fit for him. Was he contracted to work on covers for Fleetway or was he selected by you personally? Can you remember any comments from him on his time working on Ring Raiders?

BT: Yes, I would have selected Ian to work on the title, he wasn’t contracted for covers. I think I remember him being disappointed when Ring Raiders came to an early conclusion.

I was delighted that Ian worked on Ring Raiders and other titles in my group. His recent passing was a sad occasion for the world of comics. Greatly missed but his art will live on!

OB: Thanks so much for your time and insight Barrie, it’s been a pleasure to read this comic again, thank you for producing such a quality read for fans at that age.

BT: It’s great to know that the title is so well remembered. It’s a great tribute to the writers, artists and editorial staff who worked on Ring Raiders. It may not have lasted long but I think it looked good as a comic in its own right.

If you’d like to find out more about Ring Raiders and read the real time reviews just click here.

The final edition, the whopping 64-page special will be reviewed later this month and next week watch out for a wonderful, lengthy interview with Barrie’s son and Ring Raiders writer, James Tomlinson (or James Nicholas at the time).

RiNG RAiDERS #6: FiNAL BOARDiNG CALL

This is something of a bittersweet review. On the one hand it’s the best issue of Ring Raiders the team produced, but it’s also the last. I can remember back in 1989 I’d always go and check out the shelves first before asking for my reserved copy, and my heart sank when I scanned through this exciting looking latest issue and saw the announcement. At this point it really did seem all the comics I was interested in weren’t lasting long at all. I was devastated with the news for this particular one.

What a cover to kick off my favourite issue, Ian Kennedy really showing he understands the subject matter, his love of aviation clearly apparent. Skull Leader Wraither was one of my two favourite characters and to see my favourite toy planes on the cover was a thrill. It still takes me right back now. Inside, two new serials and a new regular feature begin. It’s obvious this was never planned to be the last issue. However, it may be the final fortnightly but it wouldn’t be the finale. More on that below.

But let’s not be down, there’s more of the finest 80s licensed action strips to enjoy and there’s been a bit of a shift about inside to keep things fresh. Where previously Battle Zone ’99 introduced us to each issue, it’s replacement story is moved so that Tom Tully‘s Freedom Flight, rattling along to its big finish can take point, opening the comic with some blistering action that’s been building since #1. Sandy James‘ colour work makes quite the impact as the first thing we see inside, it’s just a shame something went wrong with the printing process with several pages of this issue.

Skull Squadron‘s plan finally gets revealed as Calvador is the perfect place for them set up a power base to take South America. The rebels are fully aware a heavy price will be asked of them for this help but they continue regardless. It’s clear this is only one part of a much bigger plan and interestingly leader Scorch is monitoring from thirty-two years into the future. Obviously (much like Doctor Who) in the world of Ring Raiders time is fluid, always in flux. I appreciated major plot details only coming later rather than being laid out in the first episode too. Despite being based on toys, the comic told its stories in a mature fashion, treating us as readers with attention spans who’d stick with them. I appreciate it all the more now.

The first of two new stories is Castle of Doom , written and drawn by the same team as the previous Bomber Blues, James Nicholas and Don Wasejewski respectively. It takes Trackdown‘s previous position as the second strip. Trackdown always felt like the main story, even though I’d no idea just how long it would last. It felt like it had deliberately slower pacing to begin with, like it was building tension and settling in for a long run. So when Castle of Doom took its place it instantly felt like an important story. I wasn’t wrong.

Set in 1789 it sets up a fascinating plot involving my two favourite characters. Wraither (from the cover) in his P51 Mustang ‘Galloping Ghoul’ appears in the skies over a hauntingly atmospheric castle proclaiming to be a sky demon. The owner of the castle is already a disciple of this winged deity, but the local mayor sees him as a threat. After Wraither fires upon him, pushing him over the edge of the castle turrets he turns on his hypnotising mind control ray over the assembled masses, instructing them that on this exact night two hundred years hence their descendants must rise up and assassinate every single person in the castle.

Returning to the skies he and his Vulture Wing prepare to exit through time again. Wraither and his dark, faceless persona is the perfect Skull Squadron leader for this mysterious tale and I was just as excited to see the Raider sent to investigate would be none other than Wing Commander Yasuo Yakamura in his cool X-29 ‘Samurai Flyer’ jet. These were my first two toy planes and perhaps as a result of them being bundled together in one of the Starter Packs they seemed destined to be mortal enemies in the comic.

Certain scenes remained tucked away in my memory refusing to leave because they had such an impact on me, they were that amazing to this Ring Raiders fan.

Skull Squadron targeting this particular castle in this particular time zone for just a few moments has the Ring Raiders completely confused. Yasuo is on standby and in his X-29 can get there quicker than anyone. I can still remember the palpable excitement of this first instalment as a kid thanks to the characters involved, but also because James sets up a genuinely interesting mystery here.

As Yasuo stalks the skies above Vulture Wing we see his inner thoughts trying to work out what’s going on. Even when he engages the enemy he remains a man of few words, thinking his retorts to Wraither instead of shouting them out over the radio like the other pilots. The cliffhanger has the mayor hanging on to a tree sticking out from the cliff face and Yasuo having to leave himself wide open to attack in order to save him. With my favourite planes locked in combat and an intriguing set up in play it was an agonising wait to see what would happen next. (If we even got to find out!)

The character flashback story this time centres around Wing Commander ‘Never’ Evers, in the appropriately titled Never Say Evers Again, written by Scott Goodall with John Gillatt back on drawing duties. This is the first we’ve really seen the character other than crowd scenes and I never owned his toys, both of which are real shames because he’s a fun character with an interesting past. Enrolled as an officer cadet in NATO‘s flying school he was cocky and lazy in equal measure. Caught skiving off sick from a routine training mission, his instructor puts him under open arrest.

Now, Evers loves his rock and rock and especially playing it so loud he annoys everyone around him. His imprisonment takes place at the far end of the base in unoccupied accommodation which just happens to be beside the records department for NATO. In the end we find out the arrest was deliberate, his instructor is working for Skull Squadron, and when Evers’ hifi speakers blow a fuse and silence engulfs the area he hears a noise and discovers the theft of computer records in process. His instructor was using Evers’ relocation and his loud music to cover his tracks you see.

Having a double-cross like this is similar to last time but Evers is such an enjoyable character I didn’t care, especially when it led to this final sequence. My only complaint is that there isn’t more of this particular aerial battle. The brief bit of action we’re given is fab and a great climax to a character study strip, but how I wish it was longer. Another aircraft that wasn’t part of the Ring Raiders toy line too, which was always a nice addition to the comic and heightened my interest in finding out more about them as a kid.

He’s on the cover, he’s the star of a brand new strip and now Wraither is also in charge of the letters page. None of the contributions mention him and he isn’t happy about it as you’ll see. This is one of the things I loved about our comics this side of the pond, how the characters would interact with us in often cheeky, sarcastic ways. I never sent anything in myself. It had become a bit of a habit by this stage but Ring Raiders simply didn’t last long enough for me to get around to it. This would be the last we’d see of the readers too, as the special the following year wouldn’t contain any more of these pages.

Part six of writer Angus Allan and artist John Cooper‘s Trackdown is our penultimate strip. Wing Commander Thundercloud is right on the tail of Skull Leader Blackjack, but can’t do anything except follow for fear of setting off the Doomsday Device if he opens fire. All the Skull pilot has to do is wait it out until he’s home free, but suddenly he dives and stands his Harrier jet on its nose! It’s a shocking move but in the end it shows how tactical and sadistic Blackjack can be.

Established in both the toy line and the comic, Blackjack can remotely control his Harrier. In this day and age of drone warfare and those silly driverless cars it’s easy to forget things like this and K.I.T.T. in Knight Rider were science fiction, and exciting sci-fi at that. So he ejects after aiming at a biplane far below, expertly manoeuvring himself so he lands on its tail. I love how this is depicted in the art, especially the angle from above the ejection.

The maniac tosses out the pilot of the biplane and takes his young son hostage, although he does tell him his dad had a parachute and will be safe, as will the boy if he just shuts up. He doesn’t intend to kill (although it’s meant to look like he could), just to use the kid as means of dropping his pursuing Ring Raider. Scorch himself radios through to the Air Carrier Justice, telling them Thundercloud has a choice; either follow the Doomsday Device to stop it reaching Skull Squadron, or rescue the boy.


“The future of the world against one boy’s fate? No contest!”

Joe Thundercloud

It’s a brilliant twist that I’d completely forgotten about, even though I reread these about five or so years ago. I remember the thrill of this particular chapter as a kid and it’s another key reason why this was my favourite issue; all the stories are firing on all cylinders, the comic had really come into its own, it was confident in its characters and the universe within which it was playing.

In the end Thundercloud radios in that he’s going after the device, that one boy’s life can’t compare to the whole world. The Ring Raiders listening in are horrified but Ring Commander Vector is defiant, he says he knows Thundercloud isn’t going to abandon the boy. So what’s he doing? Vector asks the professor what would happen if they beamed the device up but can’t get an answer. It seems everything is in Thundercloud’s hands. It’s an impossible situation he’s in as the Harrier and the biplane set off in different directions.

The cliffhanger gives us no possible clues as to the outcome. Can you imagine my reaction to this knowing there wouldn’t be another issue in a fortnight? Only with hindsight am I able to say reading the Special (with another five chapters of Trackdown to read all at once) was incredibly exciting, and that if the comic had continued #7 would’ve contained the single most exciting piece of strip action I’d ever come across up to that point. That’s not just hyperbole, as you’ll see next time.

I’ll leave my final thoughts on the whole story until then but suffice to say Angus and John created something truly special for me with this. It’s a story that has stayed with me all these years, certain scenes tucked away in my memory refusing to leave because they had such an impact on me, they were that amazing to this Ring Raiders fan. The eleven chapters made this the comic’s first true epic at 44 pages in total.

This issue felt like the beginning of the next stage of the comic’s life.

This issue saw the first time new serials joined the fray, sitting alongside continuing stories. Others would end in what would’ve been #7. I was looking forward to seeing explosive finales and new beginnings, since each story could be so completely different than what came before. Each issue would’ve brought that sense of anticipation, never knowing when one would end or a new one begin. With this issue it felt like the beginning of the next stage of the comic’s life.

As I mentioned above the ‘Next Issue’ boxes were still present at the end of each strip but blanked out, although adding to the frustration was the ability in some cases to just about make out what they said. On the letters page Wraither talked about the next issue in a fortnight’s time and the comic was still asking for contributions. All of this just made the Special Announcement (in the space usually reserved for the Next Issue box) all the more shocking.

At the time I refused to believe it was due to bad sales with the way the first sentence was worded. It just didn’t make sense to me. The comic was too good for this to happen to it! The toys were on sale for Christmas, they were ace, how could it stop before all those new owners jumped on board? All of these thoughts went round and round in my twelve-year-old head.

Speaking with Barrie recently he told me the issue was already at the printers when news came down that the plug was being pulled. Needing to get an announcement into the issue but with no time to typeset anything he instead wrote the panel on his typewriter. It feels a bit like some wartime correspondence and very fitting for the comic. It’s just a shame about the news it carried.

The comic was too good for this to happen to it!

As Barrie says in his book Comic Book Hero, the industry was struggling as a whole at this time, many titles were failing no matter how good they were. Television and videogames were stiff competition and publishers seemed to be releasing licenced comics based on every new toy or cartoon product in a bid to try to reverse the trend. For a market already facing decline it was now also spreading itself too thin. Inevitably not many new comics survived.

I cut out the Ring Raiders Club coupon that had been in the comic since #3, thinking if the comic was ending at least I could join this. I never heard back. I asked Barrie if he knew anything about it but as far as he’s concerned this was run by Matchbox so unfortunately I’ve no information about it at this time. But let’s enjoy the rest of this fantastic final issue, shall we?

As I’ve mentioned several times during this series it was amazing to see these tiny toy planes brought to life, as it were. Now writer James Nicholas was going to be treating us to aerial photography and details of the real world aircraft every fortnight. At least, that was the plan but we ended up with just two parts in this and the Ring Raiders Special. But at least I did get to see a favourite character’s aircraft in this fact-file.

So our final strip is also a new story and while he may not appear in this part it’s clear from the icy cliffhanger and the name of the story, Operation Chill, who our big bad was going to be and I have no complaints whatsoever given how ruthless he’s been in previous stories. Living in Belfast now as an adult the not-so-subtle references which were lost on me as a kid are plain to see. On an unspecified modern day date a cruise liner of the Black Star line is travelling from Liverpool to New York when all radio contact is lost before the ship crashes through the docks.

Making clear references to the Titanic, writer Barrie Tomlinson and artist Carlos Pino return in what would turn out to be a fantastic story. It would be the mission that would introduce the Skull Squadron’s mobile HQ to the Ring Raiders, originally in a future fortnightly issue just in time for children like me to ask Santa Claus for it, potentially even the Christmas edition itself.

Yes, the base has featured in previous stories but remember this was a time travelling comic and it can tell its stories in any order it wished. We could see a character in action and then later down the line read about their recruitment, piecing together the timelines ourselves. The complex nature of the overall arcs could’ve made for excellent reading further down the line.

With all of the schoolboys and crew missing Bravery Wing and their commander Max Miles get their first comic mission and come under heavy fire when checking out the location of where the ship last checked in. But below there’s only ice and open waters. Where is the attack coming from? The big reveal was another part of the Special worth waiting for if memory serves.

Much in the same way as #6 of OiNK, this issue of Ring Raiders felt like all of the pieces had fallen into perfect alignment, making the cancellation all the more heartbreaking. Would it have had better sales earlier in its run and been given a longer chance if released just after Christmas? Probably not, because as much as I didn’t want to admit it at the time the toys just weren’t the success they deserved to be. But that didn’t put me off. The following year I continued collecting planes and accessories, stopping just short of the second series’ release. Perhaps they’d been successful just enough for the next series or maybe they’d already been produced. Either way, all merchandise including the comic and cartoon had been canned.

Image taken from eBay

Not long after Ring Raiders disappeared a new partwork was published called Airplane and I bought the first dozen or so issues. If I couldn’t buy the comic anymore maybe I’d find out all about the aircraft to go with my toys. The first issues were all military craft which had coincidentally featured in the Ring Raiders range but it wasn’t long until it was focussing solely on commercial airlines and I became bored and cancelled it. Hey, I was 12 years old!

I’ve already mentioned the Ring Raiders Special and this came out in February 1990 so watch out for it on the blog a few months from now. Barrie wasn’t sure if it would see publication when he wrote the announcement, given how quickly it had to be written up. But he and his team did produce it in the end and all of the stories from this issue got the remainder of their full runs printed in one big issue.

That won’t be all you’ll read on the blog next year about this fantastic comic or the toys that inspired it. For now, make sure you check out the two remaining comics still being read in real time that make up the Barrie Tomlinson trilogy this winter. Wildcat and Super Naturals continue and are both excellent titles.

So long Ring Raiders, you will be greatly missed but all these decades later you remain a very favourite comic. I hope that shows how much of an impact your six issues made to this reader anyway.