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 like Transformers but with the ghost busting team, 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. 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 and Dave Harwood‘s 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 one? 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 of the comic wouldn’t change, there’d be no ‘new look’ every 50 or so issues, instead the cover and feature pages would remain the same throughout.
There’s certainly a confidence about this comic from the very start.
All of the strips here are written by John Freeman. Editor of Doctor Who Magazine at the time he was asked by Richard Starkings to supply stories for the first issue. John told me this was literally his first regular 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 keeps it as a pet!
The strip is drawn by Anthony Williams with Dave Harwood on inking, lettering by future Slimer! artist Bambos Georgiou and coloured by Steve White whose work could also be seen in Transformers. One of the other stories, The Ghost Under the Hood is also drawn by Williams but with Dave Hine 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 very eye-catching, atmospheric frames, coloured by Paul Jacques.
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. In the end the car suddenly stops, sending him flying. Now parked outside a Chinese Takeaway, Slimer appears from under the hood.
To establish a scene and scenario, pack in some action, wit, character and a funny conclusion all in 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 panels repeated each time. In this issue, my favourite character takes us through a typical day in the life of the team. 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 issue 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 the tome. These were all written by Dan Abnett, which is no small feat when you think about how the comic went weekly from issue 14 onwards and he created well over 150+ of these! In an issue which featured The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a story 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!
What I’ve found out recently is that little illustration of Egon was drawn by none other than future Marvel US, DC Comics and 2000AD artist Cam Smith. 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. With Lew at the helm, of course Slimer is going to make his way to Britain for a slap up feed.
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 figures into my toy collection 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 actually laughed out loud while reading it, even though I’m not exactly the original target audience anymore.
I called it a “comedy comic” above, a term I’ve never used before. The definition of “funny comics” conjures up images of OiNK itself, 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 incredibly 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 the comic just kept getting better and better. In fact, as brilliant 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 real time reviews after this one for quite some time, but I am officially announcing they’ll be joining the OiNK Blog posse 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.
REANIMATING THE UNDEAD
Just before you go, if you’ve enjoyed this look back over The Real Ghostbusters #1, if it’s brought back some happy childhood memories, then I have a bit of very exciting news for you!
Over on Sony’s official Ghostbusters YouTube channel they’ve decided to bring back Saturday morning cartoons and release the entire series one episode a week! Now of course this means Saturday afternoons over here (2pm to be precise) but still, if you grew up with this cartoon get yourself over to the playlist now and then every week after that. With 140 episodes made, if they do indeed bring them all back that’s a lot of fun weekends ahead.
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!