By Lucas Williams
For pre-teen computer game geek me of the early 1980s, artist Jerry Paris was simply the guy who did cool computer game magazine covers… but it would turn out he did great comics, too, and I was delighted to have the chance to talk to him about his work recently.
Jerry had done a number of covers for Computer and Video Games, Sinclair User and other magazines published by EMAP, such as this for a feature on Scott Adams’s “Questprobe” Marvel adventure games.
But he was also known for his work on Marvel UK titles of the time. He had an American sensibility which seemed perfectly suited to action, science fiction and superherodom.
Citing his influences as wide and as far ranging as “Kirby, Romita, Kane, Byrne, Adams, Toth, Wood, Gibbons, Dillon, McMahon, Ezquerra, Eisner, Windsor Smith, Steranko, Andru, Ditko and Leach,” Jerry’s style has a dynamism and design sense that has been overlooked in the annals of British comics.
Starting out as an aspiring artist, Jerry went door to door trying to get work.
“I started out hawking a portfolio of crap work about to various newspapers and music mags’,” he recalls, “getting nowhere for a few months. I learned a lot about getting through doors, passed reception blockers and getting rejected.
Eventually, he landed up at Marvel UK.
“At 16 years old I phoned them up and Paul Neary, the Managing Editor, was kind enough to not laugh at my work. He gave me some spot illustrations to do for Doctor Who Weekly (Tom Baker and K9). I would deliver the work early in the day and then hang around the offices, doing all the scut work until I got hired full time as they had become reliant on my being there.
“Never be afraid to do the menial jobs, as they are part of the bigger picture,” he suggests to aspiring creators.
Computer and Video Games Magazine had already run a one page comedy strip called “The Bugs” when Editor Tim Metcalfe approached Jerry to discuss some ideas for a revamp of the magazine. Jerry was still doing cover work, but the pair wanted to create some characters specifically for the relaunch.
EMAP’s great rival, Newsfield, were also trying their hand at adventure comic strips, with Kelvin Gosnell and Oliver Frey’s “Terminal Man” in Zzap!64. The characters would also become the hosts of the magazine and act as editorial, hosting the features and responding to readers on the letters pages.
The re-launch issue of October 1985 introduced “The Bug Hunters“, an adventure strip created by Jerry, initially written by the well known (though not to me at the time) writer “Pedro Henry”, who had found fame as the scribe for “Axel Pressbutton” in the celebrated Warrior two years previously.
“Pedro Henry” was actually the nom de plume of by now veteran scribe Steve Moore, whose credits as a writer stretched back decades, including the memorable British superhero “Johnny Future” for 1960s title Fantastic and in the 1970s and 80s, as author of many other Warrior strips, such as “Ektryn” and “Father Shandor”, numerous “Future Shocks” in 2000AD, and strip’s for Doctor Who Weekly.
“Steve was a friend, who I met through Steve Dillon and Garry Leach, who I was friends with from my time at Marvel and Warrior,”Jerry recalls. “I asked him if he would help co-script the first few issues until I found my feet,” Jerry explains. “Being dyslexic, it was a big step for me, but I was able to give Steve a complete overview of the characters and world I had come up with, so we were able to sit down and thrash out the first few episodes quite quickly.
“Working with Steve, who had so much experience, was a real laugh and I learned so much just from being around him.”
Jerry describes himself as “a child of both US and UK comics and wanted a mix of both” in the new strip. “There’s a lot of 2000AD in there and British humour.” influenced by the books and films of the time.
“The Bug Hunters” centred on a team of trouble shooting robots of varying usefulness, brought together by and for IDEAS Corp, The Institute for the Development and Expansion of Advanced Systems.
The human, gruff and militaristic Jackson T Kalliber led the team.
￼Company liaison (and “Ripley” figure – which Jerry cites as an influence) was provided by Melissa Ravenflame, who accelerated many a pre-pubescent’s development.
The balance of the first incarnation of the team was made up of four robots : “Big Red” a massive lumbering, accident prone yet, loveable, oaf…￼
“Otiss”, the wheeled brown noser…
“X”, the cool as hell, mean and moody bouncer ‘bot and “B-Con”, his accomplice and not above corruption…￼
Essentially, the team are a cybernetic version of TV’s more recent The IT Crowd, without the suggestion to “switch it off and back on again”, but more the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. “Debugging” with guns, or Big Red landing on stuff.
Initially running to two to three pages of strip per issue of C&VG, the strips were wacky, with lots of comedy. Occasionally,some of the gags can be a little risqué for an all ages magazine, but the art was spectacular.
The opening strips were stand alone gag strips, offering lots of action and comedic situation, but they establish the world and characters. But “Bug Hunters” starts developing with the reality warping strip “Snow Job”, and then it takes a darker turn in the first multi-part storyline – “God”. Jerry provides script and pencils, with Garry Leach on inks on some episodes as the team take on the head of IDEAS Corp, who turns out to be some kind of amorphous, shape changing, genetically engineered beastie. The team stop him, but not without casualties, mean and moody X is “exed” and the team licks its wounds and regroups.
In the next storyline, two replacements are recruited. An imposing, hard (steel?) assed, law enforcement robot Lieut’ Laww on loan from the Police…
And Grill a pyro tech robot.
In this multi parter, titled “Steel Madness” robots are inexplicably turning on their human masters and wreaking havoc. The team are tasked with finding the source of the problem, battling their own kind and stopping London being overrun.
If you can overlook the join in the middle, revel in the glory of this double page spread…
The wacky elements of the early strips are further understated, this has become more hard edged sci fi action, but Otiss, B-Con and Big Red are still there to lend comic relief. Laww comes across as a robotic “Judge Dredd” and stars in some wonderful action sequences.￼
Through a combination of heavy firepower, and Big Red jumping up and down on the spot, the team win the day.
And then – it ends. Sadly to date, that was the last we saw from the Bug Hunters.
However, there was the pretty nifty “Lieut. Laww” spin off series. Laww is one of a number of robotic policemen working for the British Police, currently targeted and being eliminated one by one by an alien mercenary.
That wasn’t the end of strips from Jerry Paris in Computer & Video Games, either. Issue 100 saw the appearance of “The Corps”, a futuristic war story, but that quickly disappeared as Jerry was committed to other work.
The stories are a riot, action packed and fun. But the real star here is Jerry Paris’s artwork. Dynamic, chunky, highly detailed, beautiful lighting and imaginative layouts.
In the 1990s, Trident Comics collected the strips in a single edition. But be warned, it’s like hens teeth to find. (There are digital versions available in the darker parts of the internet of a shady legal nature).
Sadly, the Trident deal left a bad taste in Jerry’s mouth.
“The whole thing turned out to be a bit of a disaster for me, as Trident didn’t pay their print bill and the printers withheld all my original Bug Hunters artwork as collateral,” Jerry reveals. “By the time I found out about this, the artwork had gone missing, never to be seen again.
“I am still furious about it all these years later.”
Happily, that isn’t the end of the story, Jerry has plans for the characters to reappear, the line up of the team will evolve further, possibly within a sketch book of his work, format to be decided – hopefully with a brand new episode of the ‘New’ Bug Hunters.
Let’s face it; you can’t really go wrong with a team of robots, guns, explosions and beautiful women. Especially if they are all drawn by Jerry Paris.