Monday, 11 July 2016

Ghostbusters comics! This doesn't usually happen...

So the new Ghostbusters movie is out now and all the fuss seems to have died down. 

You (I'm sure) will have noticed the furore surrounding the announcement of the remake of the beloved 1984 supernatural comedy, which largely seemed to centre on the fact that the movie would recast the characters as... WOMEN! 

This upset a lot of idiots who hadn't noticed that this was not the first time we'd had female Ghostbusters (see above) but also had the effect of making anyone objecting to the new movie seem like a misogynist, whatever their reasons.
Speaking personally, Ghostbusters remains one of my favourite movies and a large part of that is the heavy nostalgia factor of one who grew up with the spin-off cartoons, toys and (of course) comics.

My initial reaction was that I did not want a remake/reboot/rehash of the original but the closer it got the more interesting it seemed. That first movie aside the franchise has had many ups and downs. Largely downs.
Oddly, the first Ghostbusters comics arrived in the UK and were, of course based on The Real Ghostbusters, the popular cartoon version of the team.

(If you don't know why they had to add the "Real" to their name the quick version is that there was a terrible children's TV show in the mid 1970s called Ghostbusters and the copyright holders were quick to cash in on the use of the name by rushing out an equally terrible cartoon version after the movie came out to trick well-meaning aunts into buying disappointing VHS tapes)

The Real Ghostbusters TV cartoon is one of my favourite things from my childhood and the early series still hold up pretty well (certainly compared to many contemporary shows) owing to some impressive talent involved.

A simplified redesign of the characters (they all had different-coloured hair as well as boiler suits) and easily-identifiable character traits made them distinct characters. Incidentally, Ray's character included him being "the fat one", prefiguring what would happen to Dan Aykroyd. 
Adding a more active version of receptionist Janine and bringing in a cuter version of the "onionhead" ghost from the movie as ghost "pet" Slimer to the already very toyetic firehouse base and emergency vehicle Ecto-1 made the show an instant hit. They even added a helicopter called Ecto-2.
So in 1988 Marvel UK launched The Real Ghostbusters, initially a fortnightly comic, then weekly as of issue 14. It followed a pattern laid out by many similar contemporaries (Transformers and Action Force probably being closest) in that it contained several strips, a letters page, features ("Spengler's Spirit Guide" being the most consistent) a text story and joke page.
Unlike its Marvel UK stablemates there were no US comics to reprint and the nature of the show lead to a much heavier emphasis on comedy than the typical "adventure" strips. There was also the regular "Blimey! It's Slimer" humour strip, drawn by either Bambos or the great Lew Stringer (now there's a guy who can do a comics blog).
Most of the writing was by John Carnell (creator of The Sleeze Brothers, if you remember them) or sometimes Dan Abnett.

Along the way the boys trap ghosts and save the world while still having time to take part in 1988's British charity event Sport Aid. Albeit with an unfortunate colouring choice for Peter's shorts.
"You've popped out again, Alan."

What else can we find in those 80s comics?

Here's the debut of Ecto-3. A Go-kart.
It's no Thunderbird 6.

Here's the canonical introduction of the "Fright Features" outfits worn by the boys in a toy range (I own the Egon in this wave):
Honestly, for some reason Egon was my favourite and this toy had his helmet split down the middle (viddy the line on the art above) to reveal a screaming face and tentacles!

Slimer once went to a job when the others were ill:
That... way of talking was annoyingy-woyingy.

There was one strip I was reading when the design became very familiar to me. I looked at the face of the bystander in this panel and immediately recognised it.
That is art by John Geering, the co-creator of Bananaman, Older readers may also know him from Puss and Boots (in Sparky) or Smudge (in The Beano). Genuinely pleased to see him working here.

At one point Slimer shows his favourite TV show is a Batman '66 parody.
And in The Real Ghostbusters Spring Special you could cut-out-n-keep your own, your very own, Ghostbusters identity card. 
Feel free to download and print this out for your own personal use.

One thing I did not expect, however, was a picture of Bob Carolgees. 
Yep, the creator of Spit the Dog (and Cough the Cat, lest we forget) was also Cilla Black's co-host on '80s British TV make-a-wish show Surprise Surprise (the unexpected hits you between the eyes). It seems for one episode the dream for one lucky spod came true with a surprise (surprise) visit to the Marvel UK offices where the massive nerd who likes comics like a child was also given the chance to draw a strip for them. And that strip was published in The Real Ghostbusters!

Here's the full story if you need it:
It didn't usually happen.

If you want to see the resulting page, here it is:
Yeah... let's be charitable and say "Well done you."

Incidentally take a look at the Carolgees photo again and viddy the spinner rack they chose to represent Marvel UK. Full of Thomas the Tank Engine, Care Bears and Doctor Who Magazine.

But the real stand-out issue of this comic (for me, at least, I have such fond memories of it) was issue 14, the first weekly issue, which devoted the whole issue to one story.
Our story begins with an explorer discovering an ancient mask...
...which takes control of him, turning him into an Aztec god. And soon the world is experiencing weird weather patterns...
The supernatural disturbances seem to centre on a new addition to Central Park...
He he. Ziggurat. That's a fun word to say.

Naturally, the Ghostbusters find the source and...
This, however does not work and instead unleashes your actual apocalypse. You know, four horsemen and all.
And I want to take a moment to genuinely appreciate to design of them. Cos they're ace.

Then Egon makes a suggestion that we have established since day one as a Bad Idea.
Yep. the second time they crossed streams was here. Unlike last time, however, they do (spoiler warning) cross dimensions rather than total protonic inversion.

But never mind that now, that's the end of part one. Next came Spengler's Spirit Guide. Which, this week, was devoted to the horsemen of the apocalypse. Not the first four, but the others.
There's some great jokes in there! The 11th horseman is responsible for odd numbers of socks, broken pencils and Rick Astley.

The centre pages of the issue were a cut-out-n-keep mask of the demon Quetzaltalcum and the text story of the week was Janine and Slimer responding to the bizarre weather caused by the events of the main story.

Back in part two the horsemen ride home only to be revealed as our heroes in disguise.
Get him, boys! 
The archaeologist at the heart of it is rescued and the real demon responsible is revealed.
And there's just enough time for an Evil Dead reference as he is trapped before the story ends.
And even the Blimey! It's Slimer strip tied in to the week's events.
Anyway, the UK comic eventually lead to a short-lived Slimer spin-off.
And when that ended, Slimer took the starring role in a Marvel UK humour comic called It's Wicked (I know, that title really dates it).
(For further cringing about the phrase "It's Wicked" have a look at this completely unrelated BBC kids show from 1987)

So much for the UK but what of the US?

Well, Marvel Comics failed to secure the Ghostbusters rights in America so instead a company called Now Comics made them.

Now Comics was founded in 1985 and produced comics licensed from movie and TV properties almost exclusively. They were responsible for things like Mr T and the T-Force and Married... With Children (yeah, that's right, there was a Married... With Children comic).

The first issue was published just five weeks after the first UK Real Ghostbusters and starts with a slightly surprising reference.
The comic itself was troubled by sloppy editing which lead to colouring and binding errors so does not have as much affection as the UK equivalent. I was going to point out a story I really liked from them, called Ecto-X.
Egon invents a Ghostbusting robot which eventually gets out of control and decides it can bust more efficiently if it gets rid of those pesky human 'busters.
There are some great nightmarish images of our heroes disincorporated in one of their own traps.

Like I said, I was going to mention this as a highlight of the run.... but then I noticed it was actually a reprint from the UK comic as well.

However Now did also produce the comic adaptation of Ghostbusters 2 in 1989. Although, oddly, it still featured the character designs of the Real Ghostbusters.
The Now Comics run ended after 28 issues in 1990 and the Marvel UK comic continued until 1992. 

Skip forward to 2004 when a Canadian company called 88MPH Studios published a well-received four-part Ghostbusters comic, intending it to kick off a series based in the continuity of the original movie. However the company soon collapsed so that never happened.

Japanese publisher Tokoyopop gave us a one-off manga in 2008 but Ghostbusters really return to comics glory in 2011 thanks to IDW.
IDW, like Now, is a company that specialises in picking up licenced properties but also treats them and their fans with respect.
Again, these new comics were set in the universe of the movies and featured great new character designs by Dan Schoening. Various writers worked on the first miniseries but the ongoing is written (with a great ear for the characters' dialogue) by Erik Burnham.

Along with expanding the world of the original (following the cartoon's example of giving Janine a more active role) and bringing in more characters to increase diversity (currently the Ghostbusters brand has been expanded to an international franchise) the best thing has been... THE CROSSOVERS!
I love a good crossover, I do. When characters from different franchises meet. The weirder the better. As IDW has some very disparate properties it means that not only can our gang meet the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but also The X Files' Lone Gunmen.
And in one of their strangest Summer events they even busted the ghost of an alien from Mars Attacks!
There are plenty of in-jokes and stuff to delight the die-hard fan of the boys from the firehouse. For example you may know that the original "Slimer" ghost was thought of by Dan Aykrord to be the ghost of his friend John Belushi. Now, in the comics he is not the pet/mascot he was in The Real but is once again a malevolent spirit. Ray, however does have a helpful spirit guide who comes to him in dreams.
Yeah, that's right. He looks like Jake Blues.

I'll leave you with my two favourite things they have (so far) done in this comic. First, in this year's "Deviations" event we are shown an alternate world where the original movie ended with Gozer the Gozerian winning. So has now taken control of the world. But is stuck in the form of a giant marshmallow.
And, lastly, in 2015 they gave me the crossover I didn't realise I'd always wanted!
Dimension-hopping demons lead to the Ghostbusters meeting The Real Ghostbusters! It was a hoot.

That's it. I'm off to see the new movie.


  1. Awesome post! Still remember that Four Horsemen issue. And IDW's run is great, as you mention.

    1. Thanks. I should seek more of the IDW series.