Hot on the heels of the news Rebellion is to reprint some of Tom Paterson‘s OiNK strips later this year in The Tom Paterson Collection, comes the news of a Kevin O’Neill strip from one of the OiNK Books seeing publication again! The strip in question is the brilliant The Truth About Santa, written by Tom Thug and Pete and his Pimple cartoonist, Lew Stringer.
Kevin is probably best known for his 2000AD work, most notably Nemesis the Warlock, as well as Marshall Law and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. For OiNK, he contributed to two issues.
First up was a fantastic four-page The Price is Right parody in the 1987 Holiday Special and later that year came the first annual and the highly memorable strip above. Anyone familiar with Kevin’s work and his very unique style might wonder what kind of Christmassy strip this could be. All I’ll say is that you will not be disappointed! Kevin really is one of Britain’s Best.
So anyway, a second edition of Kevin’s Cosmic Comics book has been released by Hibernia Comics in association with Rebellion’s Treasury of British Comics and Gosh. The first version went down a storm but this is more than just a simple rerelease, it contains a lot of extra content too. There are 28 more pages (making 96 in total) and what’s in this new section falls under the banner ‘Kev’s own’, compiled by the man himself.
Lew announced the news on his Lew Stringer Comics blog with the following details:
“[‘Kev’s Own’] is a collection of Kevin O’Neill’s early covers, samples and unpublished work for magazines like Interplanetary News and Legend Horror Classics, as well as Titan books cover designs and the never-before-reprinted 7 Wonders of the Galaxy series from 2000AD and more! Also included in ‘Kev’s Own’ is commentary by Kevin on the art included and his early career.”
Chronicling Kevin’s career and the development of his art over the years this is a must-have for fans, of which there are plenty so if you are one I suggest you get clicking over to the Hibernia shop now and get this ordered, because this is a very limited print run. Priced at £10.49 plus postage it’s also unmissable for any OiNK fans who’d like to support any reprint releases.
That logo brings back so many happy memories. For a while back in the late 80s and early 90s I was obsessed with the Ring Raiders toys by Matchbox and I even cut out that name from the box of one of the bases and stuck it to the outside of my bedroom door. Some kids had their names on their door, but not me. Like I said, obsessed. You can find out more about the Ring Raiders toys (and merchandise) in my introductory post.
The real time read through of the short-lived but truly brilliant comic series begins today with the issue of Eagle dated 16th September 1989 (on sale 9th September). A banner along the top of the cover alerted readers to the free gift inside, one that would signal the release of the brand new licenced title from Fleetway.
Inside the matt paper of Eagle was a free Ring Raiders mini-comic, printed on higher quality stock that really made it stand out. The bright paper also makes the gorgeous Ian Kennedy artwork really pop too. While Ian would contribute to every single cover for the fortnightly this would be the only time he’d produce a strip and it’s certainly an eye-catching piece. I wasn’t aware of this preview’s existence until a few years ago, but if I’d been reading Eagle at the time and saw this upon opening the comic, I think I may have found it hard to breathe with the excitement.
Okay that’s an exaggeration, but probably not as much as you think.
Four pages isn’t a lot, let’s face it. But this was par for the course by this stage in the UK comics market. OiNK was the first for the 80s to establish using a preview comic for marketing a new release and they did so with a full-size, 32-page publication given away free in a handful of IPC titles (who would later sell all their comics to Fleetway). That was in 1986.
In 1987 another of Barrie’s creations, Super Naturals began with a 16-page preview issue with full-sized pages, then in 1988 his original Wildcat comic’s preview was also 16 pages but at a reduced size. In the same year Marvel UK launched its Visionaries monthly with a small four-page mini-comic, made up of an edited down version of the story to be published in the first two issues. So you can see how things had developed over the decade.
Space was at a premium here to grab the attention of the readers sufficiently enough to get them to buy a new comic, but Ian’s gorgeous hand-painted artwork is certainly bold enough. A basic plot written by Eagle and Ring Raiders’ editor Barrie Tomlinson is just to set up a big mid-air battle between the Raiders and their enemies, the Skull Squadron, in order to show off the kind of action we could expect.
Aboard their time-travelling Flying Fortress the Air Carrier Justice they’re alerted to a mayday from their leader Ring Commander Vector. The pilot receiving the alert via their ring is actually one of my two favourite characters and pilot of the futuristic Grumman X-29. I talked about this being my first purchase in the previous post. What follows is a double page spread of gorgeous aerial action featuring all kinds of various aircraft from across time, which as an aviation enthusiast must’ve been really enjoyable for Ian to draw.
In the toy line, and indeed in the comic proper, the pilots shown here would each command their own wing of four planes and pilots. But for the benefit of this preview and introducing the readers to the concept it’s best to show as much variety in aircraft type and aesthetic design as possible, so the Wing Commanders of many different wings are used instead. It works a treat and certainly comes across as confident in the concept’s ability to produce dynamic comic action.
The back page shows Ian’s cover for issue one, the first I saw as a child and mentions the brilliant free gift (an actual Matchbox Ring Raiders plane) and the fact the pages will be bigger, with half in full colour, much more than the comic this preview was given away with. If only it had become as big a seller as the hype states here! But that’s something we’ll deal with at the end of the real time read through.
As I’ve said before this remains my second favourite childhood comic, with only OiNK beating it to the top spot. It was an exciting read every fortnight and really holds up today as top quality stuff. There’s some real depth to the characters (which is no small feat given the outlandish setup and the toys), hints of a wish to tell big epic stories, loads of action, a sense of humour and exciting artwork.
So for the next few months I’ll be reviewing each issue on the date of its original release, going in-depth into stories, characters and art and giving my honest opinion on reading the comic now as an adult, as well as reminiscing about what it was like at the time, obviously.
212 pages in total, the next 24 of which will be winging (I really do have to stop the plane puns) their way to you on Thursday 16th September 2021. I hope you’ll join me then. The Command Is In Your Hands!
Do you remember these Matchbox toys? Created in partnership with Those Characters From Cleveland (Care Bears, My Pet Monster, Popples) it felt like there wasn’t a single ad break without that catchy metal music in the latter half of 1989. Synonymous with miniature toy cars Matchbox released Ring Raiders, an assortment of high quality, colourful planes of various types and configurations and presented each on a small ring perfect for my eleven-year-old hands. This meant they could be flown in formation around every room in the house, complete with annoying (for my parents) sound effects from the Battle Blaster joystick.
In the summer of 1989 I was captivated by the idea. I started off with a special Ring Raiders Starter Pack, a cheaper set of two planes (normally they came in sets of four) so kids could try them out and hopefully get sucked into collecting them all. Mine contained one from each side of the battle, the Ring Raiders themselves and their enemies the Skull Squadron. I can remember playing with them all the time, even setting them up on their rings next to my bedside lamp so they’d be the first things I’d see in the mornings.
With each pack came a mini-comic and the pilots behind these two planes soon became my favourite characters, something which continued into the pages of the comic.
The background story concerned the formation of Skull Squadron ten years into the then future, a band of extremely talented fighter pilots who could travel through time in their bid for world domination. Their aim was to manipulate events through history to change the world order to suit themselves. Formed to stop these terrorists were the heroic Ring Raiders who created a massive time-travelling flying fortress which they’d use to recruit the best and bravest pilots from the past, present and future.
This was a neat set up to allow for the fact the toy aircraft could be based on classic World War II fighter planes, modern day jets or even some brand new prototypes, all fighting it out side-by-side. By Christmas 1989 the sets were being accompanied by large bases, those sound effect joysticks, audio adventures, medal and plane sets, a display stand and even a couple of videos of the cartoon episodes produced as a series of pilots (no pun intended) in the US.
I was a collector straight away and over the months 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 loved ones were secretly discussing which sets I had and which ones were already purchased as presents.
In the end I had numerous wings (the name given to each set of four planes, each with one named pilot, the Wing Commander) alongside three of the four bases, many medals, bigger bomber planes, the display stand, a Battle Blaster and one of the audio cassette adventures and a couple of VHS videos, one of which came bundled with limited edition planes. The cartoon wasn’t great, except for one particular episode I remember having my mum and I gripped! I can honestly say no other toy line excited me as much as Ring Raiders and every new plane acquired was an event.
Like more and more toy lines, Ring Raiders was created as a kind of ready-made franchise, with merchandise appearing right alongside the first series of planes. There was a big push by the creators to market The Next Big Thing to as many companies as possible, including Fleetway. Editor of the Ring Raiders comic Barrie Tomlinson and writer James Nicholas sent me a wonderful licensee folder full of information on the characters, planes and possible merchandise, which I’ll show you at a later date.
The advertisement above is from an industry trade magazine from some time before the toys were launched, promoting the franchise to potential partners who’d like to jump on early. If they’d taken off (no pun intended) as they’d hoped I’d guess my own bedroom would have looked a little similar back then.
Plenty of people saw the early potential and produced everything from lunch boxes and books, to Revel model kits and even Hallowe’en costumes, all of which were released in time to cash in on the Christmas rush.
They may have initially launched in the US and that was where the bulk of these items were available, but it was over on this side of the pond that collectors were treated to their very own comic, and what a comic it was. In fact, OiNK aside it remains my favourite childhood comic to this day which is no small feat considering it only lasted for six regular issues and one special to wrap the stories up.
So back in September 1989 I’d just started grammar school and everything was new and different in life. I dandered into my local newsagent on the way home one day to pick up my reserved comics and to have a scan of the shelves like I always did. I was so excited when I spotted a brand new comic dedicated to the toy range I’d just started collecting a couple of months previous! Not only that, the cover was a spectacular Ian Kennedy creation and it came complete with an actual official toy plane! I placed a regular order before I even left the shop.
To see these teeny tiny planes painted up as full-scale fighting machines, battling across the skies like this was a thrill. They looked so awesome! I ran home and devoured the stories over and over again for the whole fortnight. It was brilliant! On top of this was the feeling of jumping in right at the start of what I thought would be the next big craze and at the very beginning of what would surely be an epic new comic. I’d joined the readership of Transformers years after my friends had but this felt like it was all mine!
Ring Raiders was presented as a kind of anthology comic with five completely different stories, but all tied in to the Ring Raiders theme. Even in that first issue I remember the characters felt developed and the stories huge in scope. I was also excited to see they were all going to be multipart tales, unlike the tiny stories I’d been initially disappointed with in The Real Ghostbusters.
As a kid it was so cool to see, even with the very first issue, these brilliant characters and such dramatic, dynamic action come out of these tiny toy planes, and as the comic continued it was always extra exciting when one of the stories featured a pilot whose plane you actually owned.
I also loved how the rings themselves were integrated into this new world. While the cartoon did something similar (so it must’ve been part of the franchise’s story) in the comic they were even more important. Initially just a way of playing with or displaying the toy planes, they were woven into the very fabric of the stories and characters, which you’ll find out about just as I did, as we make our way through the issues.
No credits were ever printed in the comic but in recent years I’ve been able to find out who worked on Ring Raiders and the team assembled was second to none. Then again, in charge was legendary IPC/Fleetway editor Barrie Tomlinson, whose comics always had the best talent. Roy of the Rovers, Eagle, Speed, Tiger and Scream are just some he was responsible for, so my new favourite comic was in great hands.
Barrie would write some of the stories himself, joined by a writing team including his son James Nicholas, Angus Allan, Scott Goodall and Tom Tully. On the artist front we had Ian Kennedy providing more gorgeous covers (aviation art being a favourite of his, Barrie said Ian was disappointed when Ring Raiders was cancelled) and inside we’d be treated to the work of Sandy James, Carlos Pino, John Cooper, John Gillatt, Don Wazejewski and Geoff Campion. Editing Ring Raiders freelance from home under his Creative Editorial Services Barrie also brought in Terry Magee to assist with editorials.
If it sounds like I’m excited to take off with this comic again (okay, that one was intended) then you’d be right. But it’s only one part of a very special winter on OiNK Blog! Over the next several months, alongside the (at the time of writing) ongoing real time read throughs of OiNK and Jurassic Park will be The Barrie Tomlinson Trilogy, as I am now officially calling it.
Ring Raiders, Wildcat and Super Naturals. Only in recent years have I found out three comics from my youth were all edited by the same person. They may be very different titles but take a closer look and you can see some similarities in how they were put together, read them and you’ll get the same high level of quality in their storylines and characters, look at the superb artwork in each and you’ll be equally wowed.
It all kicks off with the Ring Raiders Free Mini-Comic given away in Barrie’s own Eagle comic. Containing a full-colour strip drawn by Ian Kennedy, a closer look will be on the blog tomorrow(Thursday 9th September 2021), 32 years to the day the news of this brand new and exciting comic was broken. Issue one will then be reviewed just one week later before going fortnightly for its run. Discovering the first issue on the shelves I never knew of the preview at the time, only picking it up a few years ago to complete my collection.
Since those childhood days most of my comics were binned by my parents when I moved out of home in my early 20s. Even my OiNKs weren’t safe. Only first issues and a select few hand-picked editions or books survived those culls, but the one exception was Ring Raiders. Apart from accidentally losing one issue (#4) I chose to keep them all. The issues in these reviews are the originals I bought back in 1989.