Tuesday, 15 January 2019

GOOF! #6: SWITCHING TARGETS

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We're now at the halfway point of Goof!'s first year and after a very promising start the last couple of months have seen some strips disappear and the overall feel of the comic shift somewhat towards a younger audience.  I have to say I do enjoy the idea of the first comic of the year having the cover it does though, as if arriving into 2019 has meant we're all time travellers.  Unfortunately, only the Goof strip itself follows this idea.  There's definitely some enjoyable, funny content here, but it's no longer the comic promised us at the beginning, which we'll get to below.

First up, once again two particular strips are from the ever-reliable Lew Stringer and Dean Rankine.


After last month's snowy delight of a strip, Derek the Troll from Lew finds himself all at sea, adrift upon the oceans in search of rescue.  Rescue does indeed come but unfortunately this is in the shape of a pirate ship.  Obviously this won't go exactly as Derek might have hoped, after all nothing ever does for him, the end result being probably even worse than the situation he started in.  Lew even manages to get in a comical shark which always raises a smile with me.

Dean's KaiJunior continues to produce some great laugh-out-loud moments and is by far the best new addition to the comic in recent months.  Here he's under attack from the Air Force, but as always father is on hand to aid his son's development into a fully fledged monster.  He's a lovable character even though he obviously destroys everything around him and I just wish we could get more from him than one page a month.  Another new strip joins Goof! for January and gets two pages, but I wish the extra space had been given over to KaiJjunior instead!


Let's look at that new addition.  Agents of W.E.I.R.D. from Rick Eades has a couple of funny moments and could be a highlight in future issues.  It's got a couple of jokes in particular which are nicely timed and the reveal of the U.F.O. is so blatant it's just the perfect gag.  I like the style of the character drawings too, very original and fun in themselves.  However, spelling errors do detract from it somewhat, as you can see below.  For a comic to be read by people of all ages it's important to make sure there's no such errors for the kids reading, but unfortunately this appears to have slipped through both creator Rick and editor Marc.

It seems most months there's also some spelling or grammar errors on the welcome page too, this month being no exception and it can leave the reader with the feeling, whether true or not, of Goof! being a rushed comic.


Tor Freeman's page, Spells in the Forest has definitely been a highlight since the beginning, with a lovely look and feel to it.  After the first couple of issues the individual stories and light-hearted humour came to the forefront and ever since we've been enjoying nice little episodes with endearing and fun characters.


Unfortunately, this was where the laughs ended for me.  Overall, for a title marketed as a "funny comic", it seems more stock is put into having lots of different art styles, rather than entities that work as comic strips.  This has been an ongoing issue for me which is very disappointing after those first few editions showed such promise.  Style over substance perhaps?  That style is lovely, it must be said.  There are some beautiful art styles here from some very talented illustrators, rather than cartoonists (for the most part).  But for something to be a comic strip, particularly a funny one, you need more than just the art, you need jokes, story, character etc.

I probably shouldn't do this, but below is the final panel from Andrea Bell's How to be Cool, a strip I originally put in the 'Good For The Kids' category when it became clear the "Comics for Everyone" byline of Goof! meant there were different strips for different age groups, rather than everything appealing to everyone.  But even this strip, after starting off as a nice counterbalance to the world today for young readers, has now turned into something completely patronising.


I have no doubt Bell's illustration work is appealing in other formats and I'm not in any way criticising any of the contributors' art styles.  Yes, there's some lovely art in Goof! and looking at the websites of the contributors their illustrations are fantastic, that's no exaggeration.  For example, an early favourite was Dwarf and Duck and the cartoon-style characters, especially Duck, are hilarious.  However, now it's struggling to come up with satisfying individual episodes and I think the strip itself is doing the fantastic art style a disservice.  Another perfect example of this is a strip I simply don't like, That Little Devil, which to me is teaching kids the exact opposite of How to be Cool and revels in the main character's bullying of others.  But one look at artist Mari Ahokoivu's website shows a multitude of simply gorgeous children's books and stunningly beautiful illustration work.

At only 6 main issues in there's also been a heavy casualty list already!  Flot and Zot seem to have disappeared, the promising Space Stupids never returned despite its cliffhanger, then in this issue other favourites such as Stick Pig, Space Dawg, Two Wizards and Donald Dogsbody are all conspicuous by their absence.

Donald in particular was meant to be taking a break for one issue but still hasn't returned.  In fact, even though his story wasn't finished he seems to have been replaced by Marc's Ro-Bert now, which is actually a reprint strip!  Yes, a reprint strip already.  Last month I didn't catch on, but when I saw this month's page was obviously two smaller strips pasted together I did a little research.  Both month's appearances are reprints of strips previously published in Local People magazine and were even shown on Marc's own Instagram months ago.  Couple this with the reduction in pages, down to 18 with only 15 of those containing strips and it doesn't seem to bode well.

SWITCHING TARGETS

I'm not trying to be critical.  I'm not trying to be a negative person here.  I'm not, really.  Neither is this blog.  The idea was always to cover the comics I love, the blog is all about the fun of rediscovering classics and, in this case, of discovering a new title inspired by a classic.  I was a fan to begin with but, with the disappearance of many strips older readers could enjoy more and the lack of content in many others, I feel now the comic has gone off in a different direction than what was promised at the beginning.  As such, this will be the last full write-up of the comic on the blog (there's going to be a bigger focus on Oink!, its team and other classics anyway this year) but I'll still be plugging some of the highlights.

I don't believe I'm the target audience for the majority of the strips anymore and as such it's not fair that I be the one to review them.  However, don't let me put you off!

TO GOOF! OR NOT TO GOOF!

Looking at the majority of the content they look absolutely beautiful, the illustrators should be incredibly proud and if you've got younger children or siblings I'm sure they'd love Goof! as their first foray into the world of humour comics.

By subscribing you'll instantly get access to all of the existing issues and each new one until you have 12 altogether, so every subscription will renew at the same time.  This of course means if subscriptions do renew at #12 then the comic will have to commit to at least a further 12 issues.  Whether it does continue or not I don't know, but right now for £12 you could have access to a large array of characters and drawings I'm sure the little ones will love, and a handful of very funny strips you can giggle along to as well.  Just click on the link below to head on over to the website.

Monday, 14 January 2019

KNIGHT RIDER ANNUAL #1: MAKING A DIFFERENCE

"No matter what's going on in the world or in my life, putting an episode on can bring a huge smile to my face.  Don't we all have something in our lives that does that?  This is mine."


I can't begin to tell you how much I love this show.  My late grandad came to my house when I was a child and asked my mother if I'd seen the film on TV the night before about the fantastic computerised, talking, jumping car.  He was sure I'd love it and he wasn't wrong.  From the moment I saw the next episode I was hooked and became obsessed for a few years, with all the merchandise you'd expect me to have had.  As a 90s teen ITV repeated it on Saturday afternoons and the obsession returned, never to go away.  I've collected VHS tapes, DVD collections, models, books (both classic and new) and even now I'm enjoying the series all over again in its beautiful new HD glory on Blu Ray, while gathering all of the featured songs together in an Apple Music playlist, which you can follow along on my personal Instagram by the way.

The point is, this has always been and probably always will be my favourite television show of all time.  While my shelves include other series featuring more sophisticated storytelling, or more modern dramas, or universe spanning sci-fi epics, all of which I love, Knight Rider has a special place in my heart and no matter what's going on in the world or in my life, putting an episode on can bring a huge smile to my face.  Don't we all have something in our lives that does that?  This is mine.

INTRODUCING THE ANNUALS

I've been considering collecting the old comic strips we had in the UK back in the 80s for a while now.  It's a mammoth task, as it featured every week in Look-In magazine (a junior version of TV Times) between 1983 and 1986, two pages a week.  That's a lot to collect and they aren't cheap on eBay, so I decided to start with the annuals and was able to track down the first three straight away.  This is the first book, released in the summer of 1983 for the Christmas season and it's a very, very retro experience!


Look-In's strips I have particularly fond memories of, my sister or brother collecting the magazine every week and I'd read the comic strip for this show.  Two pages a week meant there were constant cliffhangers, a bit like the classic Thunderbirds strips from the 60s (reprinted in the 90s).  Memory tells me they were crisp, clean line drawings and full of action, while the strips here are greyscale and made up of what appears to be a mix of pencil work and grey watercolour paints.  The end result is a lovely, unique style for this reader.  Other TV-based annuals may have done something similar but this is the first I've come across it.

INTRODUCING THE KNIGHT RIDER

We'll take a closer look further down this post, but for now the first strip is only two pages, a quick summary of the setup for the series; Michael's original identity, being double-crossed, shot in the face and the reconstructive surgery which resulted in his new life.  Plus, of course, his introduction to K.I.T.T.


It's followed by a multipage text feature entitled The Foundation - the people and the facts.  This is an in-depth look at the Foundation for Law and Government, the non-profit arm of Knight Industries set up to fight criminals who operate above the law after its founder, Wilton Knight, almost had his entire life destroyed by such criminals.  Court battles and legal wrangling make up the majority of their work, but sometimes direct intervention is called for and that's when Michael Knight comes in.  Formerly police officer Michael Long, he's been granted a second chance at life to prove that one person really can make a difference.

He's aided in his venture by all of the resources and funding of the Foundation, presented in the form of the Knight 2000, a near-indestructible car with a wealth of physical gadgets and abilities, and its artificial intelligence, the Knight Industries Two Thousand.  That'd be K.I.T.T. to you and me.  I can remember my sisters watching the show and having posters of David Hasselhoff on their bedroom walls, while I had posters of K.I.T.T., which is kind of a microcosm for the wide audience the show was able to attract.  Indeed, I can remember it being a series that the whole family would gather around and watch together, which was a very rare thing indeed.

This text feature is great as it gives a load of background information for each of the main characters of Michael, Devon Miles (misspelt as 'Deven'), Bonnie Barstow and K.I.T.T.  They're the kind of details the show's bible would've had when it was created and which either came out bit by bit over the course of the four seasons, even long after this annual, or which weren't mentioned at all.  These are the character details the series' writers would've had access to when writing their scripts originally.  If you're also a fan it's fascinating stuff.  For example, did you know Devon originally met Wilton when on a mission in France for the British S.O.E., or that his parents were killed in the Blitz?  Or did you know Bonnie's father was a pilot who worked for Wilton or that she's strictly an electronic mechanic, not an automotive one and has a Master's in Computer Science and a Doctorate in Robotics?


Unfortunately there's no credits for anything in the annual; for editing, art or writing.  I'm not sure about the Look-In strips but for now these stories will have to go uncredited I'm afraid.  The strip stories act kind of like the final part of an episode, all of the build-up delivered in the first few panels so they can then concentrate on the action.  Such as above in the Break-Out story which sees the attractive victim attempt to double-cross Michael only for K.I.T.T. to eject that plan.  Literally.

INTRODUCING THE STORIES

The text stories have the scope to give us a more detailed set up to the adventure, even if that set up is an 80s cliché in the form of a motorcycle gang terrorising a small town.  A staple of 80s television stories a very similar plot was used in only the third episode of the very first season ('Good Day at White Rock').  It's one of a few reasons why I think this annual was put together when the team behind it had only seen the pilot movie.  Also, as with all the other stories this one repeats K.I.T.T.'s functions from the movie and not any of the vast amount offered up by the series proper.


Nor is there any sign of Bonnie, who didn't appear until the first hour-long episode.  There's a lot of Michael sleeping while the computer drives the car too, which was one of the first things that happened in the pilot.  There's also a clear distinction between the computer and the physical car throughout as emphasised in the movie, but which the show only reinforced a couple of times later on.  For example, "K.I.T.T. brought the car round the buildings and came up behind them."

The text stories are enthusiastically written and have a good pace to them, with a real feeling of the writers getting to grips with a brand new concept and really running with it.  Michael and K.I.T.T. throw everything at the bikers, not just the usual turbo boosts but also in terms of a plan that could only be achieved by this unique partnership. 


The other text story, The Long Chase is a more original affair and involves the US Customs Department asking F.L.A.G. for help in an art forgery case.  But it isn't a simple matter of tracking down some fakes.  The company being investigated deals with high quality reproductions as a legitimate business, but Customs believes they're also smuggling in stolen originals amongst the shipments.  They've tried tracking the trucks but are always met with carefully planned car accidents, traffic jams, road blocks etc.  Enter Michael and K.I.T.T.

Two trucks are suspected, both leaving the depot at the same time.  Using Michael's experience and K.I.T.T.'s logic they deduce which one to follow when they separate on the highway.  They end up subject to the same impediments as Customs were, but they're able to get around them one way or another, much to the terror of Marshall, the Customs Agent along for the ride!  However, even after all that they've still followed the wrong truck.  Marshall is about to call it quits, the other truck would be hundreds of miles away by now after all, but that's just the kind of challenge this pair take in their stride.

There's some really nice scenes involving Michael and K.I.T.T.'s burgeoning partnership, which is still very much in its early stages here.  It's intriguing, well-paced and all round a thoroughly entertaining little tale.  The illustrations for the text stories are like larger versions of the strip panels, the style looking more simplified when blown up to this size, but I like it.  That double-page spread above is a good example.  It's simple but highly effective and very eye catching.  Reading this book now, these images have a lovely retro feel to them that many would pay good money to have painted and framed if made today!

INTRODUCING K.I.T.T.

As well as a brief bio of star David Hasselhoff there are two other features in this book, mainly centred around the other main character.  The first, K.I.T.T. - The Car and The Stunts is pretty self explanatory and centres around a kind of interview with one of the show's producers.  However, this mysterious person is never named and with some details being incorrect I wonder if the writer of the article actually did speak to someone from the show or not!  Or if they got some of the details from elsewhere and reprinted them here as a faux interview.


There's a reference to turbo boosting onto the back of a truck and how this was done for real, but the scene in question wasn't done for real and instead was achieved through clever editing and effects.  The 'producer' also says the only thing that isn't done for real is the ejector seat, but in reality this was really installed into one of the cars used on the show. Indeed, since this book there have been numerous funny interviews with the stunt people on the show who used it.  Strange.

But putting this back into the context of the time, it was exciting to see these lovely, action-packed photos of K.I.T.T. in action.  There may not have been any photos of him turbo boosting over anything, but there's explosions, a ski mode (up on two wheels) and a very memorable helicopter chase amongst other scenes.  You have to remember this was way before the internet and even VHS tape recorders were only starting to be installed across the UK.  That meant the only way to see your favourite TV show was when it was broadcast or repeated, so annuals like this with their photos were hugely exciting!

What's interesting is how the book credits actor William Daniels as K.I.T.T.'s voice, when the show didn't.  In fact, Daniels insisted he wasn't credited so as not to ruin the illusion for the kids.


K.I.T.T. Equipment and Functions deals specifically with the fictional side of the car, its onboard A.I. and the abilities within.  There's a particularly well-written introduction to this part of the annual, especially in the different ways he interacts with the three human characters.

"Michael and K.I.T.T. are true partners: they bicker, they rib one another - but they are fiercely loyal to each other."

"But K.I.T.T. is a little bit of a know-it-all.  He's pragmatic, sometimes arrogant, often fussy and peevish.  And since he's (yes, he is described as a "he") completely logical, he has a difficult time understanding this most illogical of humans, Michael Knight."

Of course he'd soften as his character developed over the series, as he learned from the humans and their missions together.

"K.I.T.T. has a great sense of humour and he is incessantly interested in human emotions and feelings - things he seems to pick up on as time goes on."

Again there are some inaccuracies, such as claiming he can't have independent thought unless put into surveillance mode (this mode is for scanning the area, K.I.T.T. can always have independent thought) even though it later states correctly what this mode is.  But, more glaringly, turbo boost does NOT enable K.I.T.T. to fly(!) as stated here and he has NO offensive weapons.

INTRODUCING THE FINALE

While these errors rather annoy me as an adult fan of the show, as a child I really didn't care.  We were much more forgiving back then.  Or it may have had more to do with what I mentioned above, that this and other books were the only way we could see images and enjoy new stories away from Saturday evenings in front of the main telly.  My own copy of this annual disappeared many, many years ago but I do remember it falling apart from being read that many times.  It rarely left my side for months after Christmas 1983, I'd even clutch it tightly while watching the latest episode of this hot new, incredibly successful series which was light years ahead of its time!


To finish off this post here's a double page spread from the final strip, Devil's Valley.  It may have been a family show but Knight Rider never shied away from dealing with issues you'd see in more adult dramas, such as murder, kidnap, drug dealing, terrorism etc.  All defeated by one man making a difference of course.  Another topic it would touch upon more than once and which this strip also does, was racism.

Above, a variation of the Ku Klux Klan are the baddies, though here they seem to have kidnapped a young lady to make some sort of religious sacrifice.  She escapes and runs out in front of a self-piloting K.I.T.T. (yes, Michael is sleeping during a night drive again) and it really does play out like the final act of an episode, with no real plot development and instead focusses on the action.  Once more, all of the car's capabilities shown are the same as the pilot movie; turbo boosts, crashing through walls, oil slick etc., but it's huge fun and while the front of the car looks a bit off it's an exciting collection of panels and shows the potential a regular Knight Rider strip could have if coupled with a deeper story. So it'll be interesting to see how the long-form strips in Look-In compare when I collect them.

INTRODUCING... THE 'K2000'?

One interesting thing I see in all these annuals is the incessant need to have 'Knight 2000' festooned all over the car.  It's poorly superimposed on all the covers and can be seen on the front, rear and both sides of the car in the strips.  The car is meant to blend in and, while looking like a super sleek model, isn't meant to stand out.  I remember any toy K.I.T.T.s I had as a kid had this plastered all over them in sticker form and I'd always remove them.  It could be to do with licensing.  Maybe having the name on the car like this meant it could be treated as a fictional car, so extra costs to Pontiac for images/toys of what is a modified version of their Trans Am wouldn't be necessary?  I just don't know.

Well, that's the end of the premiere annual from Grandreams for Knight Rider.  There were five altogether and I have the first three at the time of writing.  Yes, it's not exactly accurate and today it wouldn't have this issue, but this is a book very much of its time and when enjoyed in this way it's a really fun retro experience, one which has taken me right back to those days when I was discovering this show for the first time and enjoying brand new episodes every week.  Hugely exciting times!

Not that I'm anything other than hugely excited watching it on BluRay now in my 40s though, obviously.

Monday, 7 January 2019

AN ANNUAL TRADITION

I originally had plans to cover a few classic comics annuals in December but a combination of being ill in November (its posts then pushed back) and a busy Christmas meant I wasn't going to get them all covered.  However, it's all worked out for the best.

When I was much younger I loved that tradition of getting annuals every year as part of my Christmas list.  While The Oink! Books stood out as glossy and floppy, the rest were all hardback books and for me started out long before Oink! with the Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends annuals, then those of a certain favourite live-action TV show.  But once I started collecting comics all my annuals were based on them instead.

During the Christmas holidays I'd read parts of these books and I've particularly fond memories of going to sleep Christmas/Boxing Night with my Transformers annuals.  But, after everything had calmed back down again, in January I'd read these from cover to cover, over and over again every night in bed.  The few comics annuals I wanted to cover on the blog have now been joined by three more based on that aforementioned TV show, so I thought this would be the perfect chance to relive these all together as nighttime reads once more in January!


There we go then, these are all the books I'm going to be writing about this month and what a month it's going to be.  I've already published a post about that first Real Ghostbusters annual from 1989 and I'm excited to cover the blog's second Big Comic Book (the first was covered Christmas 2017) as this was my first book of that particular series.  There's also the first annual for its spin-off title Funny Fortnightly and the first three annuals released for what still remains as my favourite television show of all time.  One of these will be the next to appear here and it's just the start for Michael and K.I.T.T.'s comic book adventures here.

I hope you'll join me this month for what will be the very best in bedtime reading.  Well, for me anyway, you can read them whenever you want!  I think it's going to be a fun start to a brand new year.