Artist: Andy Lanning
Company: Marvel UK
Joe- Hi Andy! So glad you agreed to chat about your involvement with the comic! Lets go right back to the beginning to start with. Just how did you first get involved with Marvel UK and which comics/projects had you worked on before The Real Ghostbusters launched in 1988?
Andy- Prior to working on TRGB I had been working for another UK weekly comic called Look-In, which was subtitled, ‘the Junior TV Times’. It was a mixture of pop and TV, photos and comic strips. I had been lucky enough to get a job there in my last year of art college working on a Boy George ‘Story so Far’ strip. This was my first professional work and when I left college I continued to work at Look-in as a designer and artist, drawing various strips like Danger Mouse, Roger Ramjet and Galaxy High School.
Around 1987-88 I shared a studio in Islington with another cartoonist, Brian West, and a young artist by the name of Liam Sharp, who I’d met at a meeting of the Society of Strip Illustrators. Liam was just breaking into comics having spent a couple of years as assistant to the legendary Don Lawrence. Liam used to work with me on the strips for Look-in as a colourist.
Through the SSI we had learned that Marvel UK were looking for new artists for some new comics they were developing and Liam really wanted to draw superhero books but, as he was only 17 or 18 at the time and lacking in confidence, I went along with him to provide moral support when he met Richard Starkings, who was the senior editor at Marvel at that time.
Unfortunately for Liam, the new books they were producing were based on kids animated shows and Liam’s style was not suited to them but Richard was impressed by my Look-in work which was all based on cartoon shows.
(Side note, not getting any work that day was probably the best thing that happened for Liam because, within a few weeks he was working for 2000AD drawing Judge Dredd!)
One of the books was The Real Ghostbusters which Richard wanted me to do some samples for so I drew a couple of pages of continuity, sticking to the model sheets of the characters and making up a story so I could show some storytelling.
Richard really liked the pages and asked me if I had the rest of the story to which I said yes. Obviously, I didn’t but made the rest of it up and it became my first published strip in the comic, a Hard Day’s Fright. Which appeared in issue #2 of the comic.
I also roped in my old childhood friend, John Carnell, who was living in London and wanted to get into comic writing. We would come up with an idea, I would plot it by sketching the story out then John would script it. This ultimately led us to create The Sleeze Brothers with Richard at Marvel UK in 1989.
Joe- I love that you told Richard a little white lie to help you get the job! I wonder if he knew you were telling porkies! So, what was the general feeling towards the comic around it’s launch? Was it something people wanted to be involved with because they were fans of the film/franchise or was it just another job? I remember John Marshall telling me that it was a dream job for him because of his love for classic monster stories and Scooby Doo!
Andy- Oh it was an absolute blast to work on the comic. I was a huge fan of the movies, a massive Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd fan from their Saturday Night Live work, the Blues Brothers (‘natch) and Stripes and really enjoyed the cartoon show too. I was even lucky enough to watch Ghostbusters 2 in New York the week it came out with an audience of New Yorkers who were cheering and whooping at every landmark.
Joe- I’m always so happy to hear that the creators working on The Real Ghostbusters were such big fans of the films! It must have been incredible to be in New York at the time of Ghostbusters 2, wow!
Now, I know pretty much everyone at Marvel was drafted in to work on Real Ghostbusters at some point or another but you definitely got some of the more memorable gigs and were obviously there from the very beginning.
Andy- Yeah, I think only Ant Williams and Brian Williamson were working on it before me but we all used to meet up regularly in the office and afterwards for beers in the local pub where we’d show each other artwork and brainstorm story ideas. All of us, editors, artists and writers were really young and working in comics for the first time so we just had a ball.
Joe- Just to remind readers of a few of the more well known covers and stories that you contributed to the comic: You drew the cover for the very first issue and pencilled some great early issue stories like “Hard Day’s Fright” and “Frightmare!”. You also drew the cover and main story for the first ever weekly issue (#14).
There was that wonderful Ecto-x Cover and story for issue #50 (another milestone issue) as well as all of your annual work. You are perhaps the most prolific Ghostbusters annual artist actually, having done the interior spread for the first annual as well as the cover art for the other three!
Do you have any favourites out of those or are there any covers (or stories) that you are really proud of?
Andy- I think you nailed it, my absolute favorite was the Ecto-X cover and story. It was my homage to the Robocop film poster.
As for the annuals, they were all fun to do and came out great because John Burns painted them and they are just bloody lovely! The Stay Puft one particularly.
Joe- I remember reading through the Marvel artist and writer guidelines and it was mentioned that the VHS tapes of the show were actually available in the office for anyone who wanted to watch them for reference. Do you ever recall watching any episodes back then? If so, did you enjoy the cartoon? (If you haven’t I can definitely recommend some great episodes, it’s extremely well written!)
Andy- Oh yes, I watched all of them, I even picked some up from a trip to New York which I may even have lying around my shed! The series was great, you’re spot on, the writing was excellent and the designs were really good too.
Joe- Andy, you may just be my favourite interviewee yet! I am so happy you watched the show back then, it was (and still is) fantastic. Joe Michael Straczynski’s writing is phenomenal and they had such an amazing design team that created some truly terrifying ghosts and monsters!
Speaking of great writing, which of the Marvel writers do you think understood the concept of the Real Ghostbusters the best and whose stories did you enjoy bringing to life the most?
Andy- Well, I actually only ever drew the stories I co-wrote with John Carnell. John went on to write a ton more for the comic, including the Slimer strip. He has a real British comic strip sensibility to the humour he brought to his scripts, often building the whole story around the end gag, which would invariably be a pun! I remember Dan Abnett and Steve White wrote a pastiche of those pun-filled stories which was very funny.
I think all the writers genuinely loved the concept but I have to make mention of the fact that Dan Abnett wrote every instalment of ‘Spengler’s Spirit Guide’ that appeared in all the issues of the comic series which deserves serious kudos.
Joe- Dan’s Spirit Guide entries are fantastic. I didn’t fully appreciate the effort that went into them as a kid because I was so captivated by the artwork in the strips but they are just so good. He’s a brilliant writer!
Which of the characters did you find the easiest to draw and which was the hardest?
Andy- I loved drawing Slimer and can still draw a pretty good one from memory today.
The other characters were all pretty easy because we had lots of animation character sheets to reference but I think the hardest to draw would have to be Ecto-1 as it’s just a complicated bit of kit! There’s a lot going on with the wagon and it’s SO iconic you really do not want to get it wrong.
Joe- I mentioned it earlier but Ecto-X is such a great story with some really great panels. Where did that idea come from and do you remember all of the various 80’s film references you incorporated into the story? (The obvious one being Robocop but there were plenty of others!)
Andy- We had been wanting to write longer stories in the comic but the format was quite strict, the stories were anything from 2 to 6 pages long but when the comic went to a weekly it was decided we could do one story that ran the entire issue; even the text piece and Spengler’s would all be related to the main story, which was 10 pages long.
John and I came up with the Doomsday Mask story which featured the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and had a blast producing that issue.
We were always on the look out for an excuse to do the same thing again and issue #50 gave us the opportunity.
Ecto-X was an obvious pastiche of Robocop, right down to the cover, as I mentioned.
I’m struggling to remember any other references but can give you a bit of behind the scenes info. We originally wanted to call the issue (and indeed Ecto-X) “Robobuster” but Marvel UK were concerned about similarities to Robocop, an 18 certificate film being made in a kid’s title.
The original design for the cover had Ecto-X looking far more serious and threatening as well as having a smoking ion blaster arm. Again, it was felt this was too close to Robocop and the art was changed. The original art has pasted over sections on his head and arm.
Joe- That’s incredible! There are actually several nods to various 80’s films including Predator & Dirty Harry!
It’s interesting that you wanted to go with the title of Robobuster because there is an episode of the show called “Robo-Buster” which is incredibly similar to Ecto-X!
Talking of influences and references, I’ve always wanted to ask if your cover for issue #4 (which was also the illustration for “Taxi to terror”) was at all inspired by the Taxi ghost in the original 1984 Ghostbusters film? A lot of people have noticed the similarities!
Andy- Oh yes, totally.
Joe- So awesome to confirm that with you! While I’m on the subject of films influencing comics, what about comics influencing films! I’m not sure if you saw the Ghostbusters 2016 reboot…but I remember there being a scene with a Ghost at a heavy metal concert and all I could think of was “Shock and Roll” (from issue #7) a fun little story you illustrated about the very same thing haha! Did you see the film and if so did you get a chuckle at that scene? (If you haven’t seen it…lucky you!)
Andy- Heh! Yes, I’ve seen the film and thought it was OK, it made me laugh quite a few times but overall the story was all over the place. The ghost gig did make me chuckle. Shock and Roll was a homage to Kiss and AC/DC, who I was really into growing up.
Joe- In issue #30, you illustrated the “Slimy Awards” short story in which you got to draw your colleagues Helen Stone (editor/colourist) and John Carnell (story writer) as well as yourself all accepting awards based on the readers votes.
Andy- I honestly cannot remember this!!
Joe- (After refreshing Andy’s memory)
Andy- Ha! I really had totally forgotten the Slimy awards! Great stuff!
Joe- Was that a fun one to draw and how did you feel at the time getting voted best artist? I’m guessing there must have been a bit of friendly rivarly between the regular artists back then. Did Anthony Williams or Brian Williamson stop speaking to you for a few days? Haha!
Andy- Oh, yes, they both sulked for weeks and accused the whole thing of being rigged!
Actually, there was a healthy rivalry going on between the artists. I would look at what Ant and Brian had drawn when I was in the office and would want to raise my own game and I think the same is true with them.
In fact, over time, Ant, Brian and I ended up sharing a studio together in Brixton with Kev Hopgood (who was drawing Zoids) and John Tomlinson (who was an editor at Marvel UK at that time).
Joe- Talking of your fellow Marvel artists, which of the regulars did you get on with the best at the time and do you still keep in contact with any of them? Have you worked on any projects with those same artists (or writers/editors) since?
Andy- Oh yes, As I mentioned, many of us ended up sharing a studio together and the whole Ghostbuster ‘family’ worked on many books after: Things like, The Sleeze Brothers (John, me, Richard, Helen, Steve, Baskers, Bambos, Sophie, Dan) The Punisher (me, Dan, Dougie), Hokum & Hex, Fate, Scare Tactics (Ant, me).
Obviously, Dan and I went on to write a metric shit-ton of books at Marvel and DC. Ant and I worked together on a lot of US books too and still work together to this day.
Joe- In the interview I did with Brian, he said that at some point the Marvel offices were swamped with Kenner toys which were then incorporated into the covers and stories at Marvel. Toys and comics (and plenty of pub lunches) seem like a dream job! How much fun actually was it working at Marvel in those days and do you remember the toys?
Andy- I have really fond memories of those days, it was a real treat to head into the offices to deliver artwork. This would always end up in the pub after work where many new stories were cooked up. There were toys everywhere not only the Real Ghostbusters but other toy-related stuff like Transformers, Zoids as well as junior titles like Thomas the Tank Engine, plus Steve White had a huge collection of dinosaur related stuff, including several inflatable dinos and Nerf guns!. It was like Hamleys in there most of the time!
Joe- From issue #50 onwards (May ’89) there seemed to be a period where, at least for a little while, we saw your name disappear from the credits on The Real Ghostbusters. Do you recall which projects you were involved with at that time that took you away from Ghostbusters? (Sleeze brothers I assume?)
Andy- Yeah, John and I started working on the Sleeze Brothers and I just didn’t have the time to work on TRGB anymore but tried to do the odd cover or two when I could.
Joe- Towards the end of the first 100 issues you were once again back doing some great cover artwork. Issues 86, 87, 91 and 93 were all Lanning classics and it was great to see you make a return! Was it nice to be back working on a title you were so involved with at the beginning?
Andy- Oh yes, it was great to have that run of covers. I worked with Helen Stone, who was editing the book then, and worked up about 5 or 6 ideas which she loved. I would like to think by then I had actually gotten better as an artist by then, having worked on the Sleeze Brothers for the best part of a year.
Joe- Were there any covers you wish you had drawn, ideas you wish you’d come up with or references/easter eggs you wish you’d snuck in? There seemed to be a lot of freedom to do pretty much whatever you wanted which must have been great for the artists! I remember Dave Elliott did a great homage to Fantastic Four #1 in issue #48 for example (something that completely over my head till I was a teenager!)
Andy- Not really, as I said, I sat with Helen Stone and we looked at subject matter that hadn’t been done (King Kong, Sleepy Hollow) or something specific to a holiday (the Slimer Valentine cover) and I sketched up some ideas and we went with the ones that were strong cover images.
Joe- What did you make of the push to incorporate the NOW comics Ghostbusters 2/RGB adaptation in the Marvel UK comic? As a kid I thought it was great, but nowadays I do wonder if any artists felt cheated out of the regular work on the title due to those US stories being reprinted over here.
Andy- I’d have loved to have the opportunity to adapt the movies into strips but as was the way with a lot of things at that time, Marvel UK was the poorer relation to the US stuff which was a shame because we’d built such an audience and had great creators.
Joe- Talking of reprints, did you realise that NOW reprinted some of the Marvel UK comics and stories including yours? Your cover for issue #14 for example was used 2 years later on NOW’s Volume 2, issue #1.
Andy- Yeah, I saw those at the time and it’s bittersweet- great to see the stories live on but kind of sucks that all the creators do not see any remuneration for the reuse of their work.
Joe- The comic eventually came to an end with issue #193, bidding it’s readers farewell in September 1992. What did you make of the success of the title back then and did you (or anyone else) ever think it would last that long?
Andy- It was an amazing ride while it happened. Everyone was expecting the comic to be cancelled at some point because this was the way of kid’s publishing at Marvel UK at that time, no comic would run for too long and sales would eventually dip to the point it was no longer profitable for them to keep publishing a title.
I only learned later that The Real Ghostbusters was the UK’s biggest selling comic for some time, even though it was bi-weekly to begin with, I think it was regularly selling over 200,000 copies a month! Amazing!
Of course, none of the people working on the comic knew this in case we started asking some hard questions around why we weren’t getting royalties on such a best selling title? Still, we were all very happy to be working on something we loved and we had a hell of a run.
Joe- Have you worked on anything Ghostbusters related since the Real Ghostbusters comic?
Andy- No apart from the odd sketch of Slimer I’ve done at a convention.
I’d totally be up for adapting the new movie, Afterlife, into comics if anyone is listening??
Joe- I sincerely hope someone is! This is probably a good time to plug the film and encourage the readers to go see it!
If you could go back in time and do it all over again, would you change anything?
Andy- I don’t think so, it really was a great time in my career, I got to meet and make life-long friends and really start my career as a comic professional.
Andy then followed up with a confession…
OK, maybe I regret popping Steve White’s inflatable Stegosaurus by jumping on it, I’d probably not do that again! His face!