Back in 1984, when Ghostbusters the movie started earning its 128 million dollar takings, surprisingly few people knew that the characters were based on real people! Of course the movie didn’t help, turning everything into a special effects extravaganza, but in 1986 the real story could finally be told — as a high quality cartoon series on American TV.
Despite being produced by Columbia Pictures — who also made the film — the actual making of this ‘all-American’ cartoon is in the hands of CLT/RLT, ‘the largest and most profitable conglomerate in Europe’. The animation side of this ‘conglomerate’ is DIC, which employs over 300 people at facilities in France, Taiwan, Japan and America. The latter was set up in 1982 with Andy Heywood, previously involved with Hannah-Barbera and shows such as Scooby Doo, Popeye (the new version) and Yogi’s Space Race. This Californian company handles the creative side of The Real Ghostbusters — writing, storyboarding, backgrounds, timing and voice recording while Tokyo does all the animation, painting and filming. It’s a highly successful combination which has made DIC a word class animation group, and The Real Ghostbusters one of the top US shows.
An indication of the importance of The Real Ghostbusters show in particular is given by the involvement of Ivan Reitman as an executive producer — he’s the man who produced and directed the original film. Like the film, the TV series will be sold the world over — and earn lots of cash from selling its licence to companies like Activision. Before the show even came out in America, Kenner Toys (Star Wars, Care Bears and Centurion) and a host of others, including a breakfast cereal maker, had been signed up for substantial amounts of money.
The Real Ghostbusters series features most of the major characters from the film, many of whom are summed up in promotion by a single word description. The leader is Peter Venkman — opportunist, PHD class clown and something of a slob. Lead scientist is Ray Stantz, the enthusiastic idealist who contrasts with pragmatist Winston Zeddmore, the common sense guy who’s also a bit of a sucker for strays like Slimer — the eternally hungry pet ghost. Other members of the team are Egon Spengler, the nerdy electronics genius and Janine Melnitz the secretary who regards it all as just another 9-to-5 job. And finally there’s Ecto-1, a vintage Cadillac hearse loaded full of computerized gizmos but forever breaking down.
The ghostbusters’ main enemies are Gozar The Destructor, who can assume any shape it wishes, and Walter Peck — the bureaucrat who doesn’t believe in ghosts.
Their adventures are currently [i.e., as of April 1989] being repeated on Saturday mornings on Motormouth and are also available on video for £7.99 in The Hollywood Children’s Collection from RCA/Columbia. Each video has two episodes on it, and tapes five and six are just being released about now.
Besides the sell-out toys, probably the biggest Real Ghostbusters spin-offs are the comics. While in America The Real Ghostbusters appear in a NOW comic, in the UK it’s Marvel who have the licence and their comic is completely unconnected to the American one. Marvel launched the UK comic in March 1988 to instant success — it was their biggest selling title of last year. The ‘cute’ subject matter was something of a departure for Marvel, and most of the artists and writers on it were employed specially for it.
There are fourteen or so pencillers drawing strips, plus numerous writers, inkers and letterers working on the comic. Typically, once a script has been commissioned it will take three months for the resulting comic to hit the newsagent. Since in each issue there are four strip stories plus a text one, there will be up to five different writers, pencillers, inkers etc. involved each week.
The process starts with a writer’s outline of a story. This is discussed with the editor Helen Stone before being written up as a full script with panel descriptions and dialogue. Depending on the subject of the story — lots of machinery say — it will be sent to the penciller whose style is most appropriate. On average a penciller will take a week over a live page strip, which then goes back to Helen who often requires changes. In addition all the artwork has to submitted to Columbia Pictures for approval, generally they too will want to make changes to the characters’ faces and special equipment.
Once the pencils are finally accepted they’re sent to another artist for inking; he or she uses a pen or a brush to go over the pencils permanently. This is a very American way of doing things — in the UK the penciller would do this as well. Lettering, however, is pretty much always done by a separate artist while the final stage — colouring — rarely happens in the overwhelmingly monochromatic UK comics. The finished artwork is then sent for reproduction together with non-artwork pages, such as text-only stories and letters pages.
Since all the writing and artwork for strip stories os done by freelancers, the editorial team who handle features is very small — just three people work on The Real Ghostbusters full time in London. The freelancers, by contrast, are scattered all over the country — many live in Scotland — while while one artist even lives in Australia! The end product of all this costs 38p weekly and remains one of Marvel’s hottest titles.
The computer game of The Real Ghostbusters is based on a three-player, 1987 Data East coin-op which, despite good graphics and gameplay, was never heavily promoted in the UK. Its Spectrum conversion is being handled by the Manchester-based programming house, Mr Micro. Established ten years ago, Mr Micro — like so many programming houses — started off as an independent software house publishing their own games such as the Hunchback-style Punchy (88%, Issue 2). Five years later, they sold all the rights to their games to Commodore, Prism Leisure and Amstrad (who still bundle some of their games with the +3). The software house had turned into a development house and felt it had glimpsed the future — the Commodore Amiga. Mr Micro worked with Commodore to develop games for the American wonder machine only to find Commodore then pushing the Amiga as a £1,500 business machine. Obviously the company had been left in a bit of a lurch, but Activision came to the rescue with their problems converting the fractal-based Lucasfilm games to the Spectrum. Mr Micro accepted the challenge and haven’t looked back since, working for a wide variety of software houses, writing original games as well as conversions.
The company remains a small one though, employing just twelve programmers and expecting a high turnover of product from them. The Real Ghostbusters is only the latest ‘mission impossible’ for them, requiring long levels with lots of full colour enemies, to be scrunched down into 48K. Highly sophisticated compression techniques just about make it possible for one load to contain all the full colour graphics and attack patterns. And, as with the comic, all the graphics have to be checked with the licence holders.
Mr Micro are currently working on a number of other projects, but regard all game promotion as the software houses’ responsibility and refuse to allow behind-the-scenes tours of their offices, even refusing to give out the names of the programmers working on specific projects. The only thing we know for certain is that Grandslam’s imminent release, Dandy, is their work and unlike The Real Ghostbusters the game design is pretty much their own — consisting of four entire games!
Special thanks to Karen Foote at Ray Hodges Associates and Helen Stone (Editor The Real Ghostbusters comic) for their kind help with this feature.