I admit that back in 1988 when I finally got to open my copy of The Real Ghostbusters‘ premiere issue I was a little confused. I’d been looking forward to something more along the lines of Marvel UK‘s Transformers comic, with a lengthy multi-part story and certainly no text stories which I associated with comics aimed at much younger kids. However, any confusion, or indeed initial disappointment, evaporated as soon as I started to read.
By the end of its 24 pages I was hooked and didn’t regret placing the order with my newsagent before even reading it. In fact, I stayed with the comic for the majority of its run. Now, 33 years later I’ve just finished reading issue one for the first time in decades. So how does it hold up to reading today?
That front cover is nothing short of iconic, often copied by my young self back in the day on several school exercise books. Andy Lanning (The Sleeze Brothers, Superman, Majestic) and Dave Harwood‘s (Action Force, Swift Sure, Conqueror) introduction to this new title perfectly captures the light-hearted tone of the comic. Unlike the aforementioned Transformers I’d enjoyed reading at my friend’s house, The Real Ghostbusters would focus on smaller, complete tales aimed at getting a chuckle out of its readers. A unique approach, brave even, but they pulled it off and created a comic like no other.
The first issue has no less than three strips and a text story, fact-file, activity page, ghost guide, request for readers’ letters and of course a Lew Stringer strip. (What Marvel comic was complete without Lew?) It’s all introduced on the HQ page which starts off the whole shebang by reciting the movie, setting the tone perfectly for this comedy comic (a term I’ll clarify later). The overall design wouldn’t change, there’d be no ‘new look’ every 50 or so issues, instead the cover and feature pages remained the same almost until the very end.
There’s certainly a confidence about it from the very start.
All of the strips here are written by John Freeman (of Down the Tubes). Editor of Doctor Who Magazine at the time, he was asked by the comic’s launch editor Richard Starkings to supply stories for the first issue. John told me this was literally his first regular writing gig, which is incredible since this was the launch of a brand new comic based on such a hot property. Needless to say, John knocks it out of the park.
As with the other stories, “There’s a Ghost in my House!” takes place with the team already on the job and gives us an idea of the pacing we can expect, as well as acting as an introduction to the Ghostbusters’ equipment, interactions and most importantly their humour. That’s all it really needs to do, but there’s still a twist. The ghost itself is a buggane, a house ghost and harmless if treated right. The homeowner ends up feeling sorry for it and in the end keeps it as a pet!
The strip is drawn by Anthony Williams (Judge Dredd, Fate, Sinister Dexter) with Dave Harwood on inking, lettering by future Slimer! artist Bambos Georgiou (Knights of Pendragon, Spectacular Spider-Man, James Bond Jr.) and coloured by Steve White (Transformers, Xenozoic Tales in Jurassic Park, editor of Visionaries). One of the other stories, The Ghost Under the Hood is also drawn by Williams but with Dave Hine (Detective Comics, X-Men, Night of the Living Dead) inking and there’s quite the difference. For the previous blog site I’d read a couple of the annuals and Dave’s inking added ample shadow work to gloomy, haunted scenes and made for some atmospheric illustrations. Finally, this strip is coloured by Paul Jacques (Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers).
Again, it’s full of action and humour and plays out like one scene has been plucked from an episode of the cartoon. This was Richard’s intention, he wanted each story to take place right in the midst of the action whenever possible. Here, Ecto-1 is out of control, Egon unable to steer or brake. You can see from the page above the plan isn’t to Peter‘s liking and in the end the car suddenly stops, sending him flying. Now parked outside a Chinese takeaway, their perpetually hungry pet ghost Slimer appears from under the hood.
To establish a scene and scenario, pack in some action, wit, character and a funny conclusion in just three pages is quite the achievement. Indeed, by the time I finished reading the comic I was a little breathless (metaphorically speaking) with the fast-paced nature of the stories and gags.
The covers were mainly used to illustrate the text stories, doubling up as their title pages. So yes, basically we’d be getting two identical pages in our comic but we didn’t care, some of the front covers would have us frantically flicking straight to that story. This was especially true later in the run with some simply stunning artwork on the covers.
I’ll admit it took me a handful of issues before I read one of the prose stories as a kid because of a false perception they were aimed at younger children than me. But I remember discovering just how good they were and reading all the ones I’d glossed over one very enjoyable afternoon. From then on they often became the first thing I would read.
Space constraints might have been a factor here, but they would often focus on just a couple of members of the team per story. This would give each individual character time to shine, and in doing so the humour in their interactions was always well developed and genuinely very funny.
None were funnier than the Winston’s Diary series which ran in alternate issues, with Brian Williamson‘s (Doctor Who, Totally Primeval, Batman) panels repeated each time. In this issue, my favourite character takes us through a typical day in the life of the team. In this issue’s story, over the course of a few busts Winston’s cool head provides a hilarious contrast to the others. Here’s just one example, where a rock star is hearing strange noises in his apartment:
“The apartment was newly decorated and equipped. Egon took PKE readings in all the rooms. Ray spectra-scoped the walls and balcony. Peter explained that he must carefully examine the rock star’s expensive Hi-Fi and video in case the ghost was lurking there. We all heard weird noises, groans and whines. I bled the air bubbles from the newly-installed radiators and the noises stopped.”Winston Zeddmore (Dan Abnett)
This repeats throughout the day, Egon and Ray going to ever more extreme methods of ghost hunting, Peter finding something to distract himself and Winston solving the problem with common sense. It’s deadpan humour at its best.
Another text feature would also be a highlight every issue.
Spengler’s Spirit Guide appeared in every issue until just before the end. In the film and cartoon Egon would make reference to ‘Tobin’s Spirit Guide’ and this ongoing series was his own version of said tome. These were all written by Dan Abnett (Knights of Pendragon, Death’s Head II, Sinister Dexter), which is no small feat when you think about how the comic went weekly from issue 14 onwards and he created well over 150+ altogether! In an issue which featured The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse the Guide detailed the other half dozen or so Horsemen that don’t get talked about. I can remember laughing hard at that one in particular.
I’ve found out recently that little illustration of Egon was drawn by none other than future Marvel US, DC Comics and 2000AD artist Cam Smith (Supergirl, The Incredible Hulk, Gen13). This means Cam’s work appeared in more issues than anyone else’s of course, technically speaking.
This issue also contains the first fact-file. As a child I drew a combined figure of the Ghostbusters based on that final sentence. From what I remember Egon was the brain, Winston the heart, Slimer the stomach (obviously) etc. It was a real Frankenstein’s monster which I decided not to send in to the letters page because, well, some things just aren’t meant to be seen.
Once in a while the comic would include what it called Ectoplasmic Activity, such as this membership card and masks in a couple of future issues but it didn’t appear much, unlike Blimey! It’s Slimer. While it wouldn’t be too long until Bambos (letterer on our first strip) took over, at the beginning the little green blob was in the hands of OiNK‘s very own Lew Stringer. Of course, with Lew at the helm Slimer is going to make his way to Britain for a slap up feed.
Lew has written a blog post about his time on the comic, which you can read here.
A look at a classic comic wouldn’t be complete without a look at the advertisements within, especially when they’re connected to the subject matter. I welcomed these action figures into my toy collection during Christmas 1988, along with Ecto-1, Slimer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and a few other ghoulish monstrosities, and I recall I ate far too many packets of these crisps that summer too. They were surprisingly nice for a tie-in.
So how did this 33-year-old comic hold up for this 43-year-old? One word: brilliantly. I was surprised at how many times I chuckled while reading it, even though I’m not exactly the original target audience anymore.
I called it a “comedy comic” earlier, a term I’ve never used before. The definition of “funny comics” conjures up images of OiNK, Beano, Buster etc. But while this is indeed a comic which sets out to be as funny as it can be (something it succeeds at very well) it’s more the sitcom to OiNK’s sketch show. I also think calling it some combination action/adventure/funny comic would sell it short. The Real Ghostbusters was a unique comic and remains so to this day.
WHEN YOU GONNA CALL?
Just as it happened 33 years ago today I have an urge to collect this comic all over again. This issue has been immense fun and it just kept getting better and better. In fact, as brilliantly as it began my favourite time with the comic wouldn’t be until around issue 80 onwards.
It’s just such a fun comic there’s only one thing for it.
Now of course this will take a while, it was Marvel UK’s most popular comic at one stage and lasted a whopping 193 issues, alongside four annuals, specials, poster magazines and more, even a puzzle spin-off. It’s going to be quite the task so don’t expect any more real time reviews for quite some time, but I am officially announcing they’ll be joining the OiNK Blog as soon as possible. The daunting thought of covering a series of its size on a weekly basis has put me off in the past, but after reading an actual issue there’s no way I could do anything less.
Finally, just look at this little Easter egg I found while doing some research, from the pages of IDW‘s Ghostbusters Crossing Over comic from 2006!
UPDATE: Two years later (this update coming to you in May 2023) I’ve been able to collect 142 of the 193 regular issues and three of the four annuals. I’m getting there…