Friday 20 March 2020

Blast from the Past! Freeway Fighter

Devastated by a killer virus, the world you once knew is a wilderness.

No, it's not your daily news update, but the opening to the blurb of Ian Livingstone's Freeway Fighter. It continues...

Life is lawless and dangerous. Survivors like you either live in scattered, fortified towns, or roam outside as bandits. YOUR mission is to cross the wilderness to the far-distant oil-refinery at San Anglo and bring vital supplies back to the peaceful town of New Hope. Even in the armed Dodge Interceptor you are given, the journey will be wild and perilous. Will YOU survive?

For his sixth solo contribution to the FF range, Ian Livingstone ventured into the realms of near-future, post-apocalyptic dystopian science fiction. Clearly inspired by the Mad Max movies, set in 2022, Freeway Fighter had the hero crossing the wilderness in his heavily-armed (and armoured) Dodge Interceptor, to reach the distant oil-refinery of San Anglo so that he might return with vital supplies for the inhabitants of the peaceful town of New Hope. But success is anything but certain, since the wilds that lie between the scattered, fortified towns are the territory of lawless bandits and brigands.

Vehicular combat was a feature of this particular adventure with the Dodge Interceptor having both a FIREPOWER and an ARMOUR score to represent its offensive and defensive capabilities.

Like Starship Traveller (Steve Jackson’s one and only foray into hard sci-fi Fighting Fantasy), Freeway Fighter has fewer than the standard 400 references, coming in at only 380 paragraphs.

The cover was by the sci-fi artist Jim Burns. When the book was republished by Wizard Books, the cover was reworked by Jim Burns. However, this the painting was not an original piece of artwork for the range, the piece having already been used as far back as 1984 to illustrate the Games Workshop RPG Battlecars.

Model-maker and FF fan Stuart Bannister was inspired by Jim Burns' artwork to create a 3D revision. "I enjoy converting miniatures, and I also like making dioramas, so it made some sense to try and recreate scenes from some of my favourite FF books," explains Bannister. “My very first one was to recreate the cover art from Freeway Fighter, using a 1:43 scale model car, dismantling it and adding bits to it in order to build a more futuristic/post-apocalyptic version. I had just watched Mad Max and had re-read the Freeway Fighter book – the front cover illustration remains one of my all-time favourites. Getting a car to the right scale of 28mm miniatures was a problem and then trying to get a really smooth, red finish on the car was a challenge. I had to do a lot of sanding and use a lot of spray lacquer to get the desired effect."

Freeway Fighter, as sculpted by Stuart Bannister.

The interior art was by Kevin Bulmer. It was completed in only nine days, as a favour for Ian Livingstone after the original illustrations that had been commissioned, were rejected at the last moment.

One of the early contenders for internal artist on Freeway Fighter was actually FF legend Iain McCaig, but other commitments meant that it simply wasn’t to be. However, we have an idea of how the book might have looked since McCaig did start work on an image for the book.

With Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the reader is always cast as the hero of the adventure. This means that secondary characters encountered along the way enjoy the sort of popularity and fan adoration normally reserved for the protagonists of more traditional novels. In the case of Freeway Fighter, readers demonstrated a particular fondness for the car the hero drives throughout the course of the adventure.

“I wanted to know the background story to the Dodge Interceptor you end up driving in the book,” says Andi Ewington, the creator and writer of the Freeway Fighter comic. “I always found it strange such a car would be found at New Hope without a bigger tale to tell. The comic fills in those gaps and brings a depth to an already existing story.

“Once I had the germ of the plot and I had my main characters, I would cherry pick scenes, encounters and baddies that fans would be familiar with and weave them into the narrative. It was imperative not to mess with the world so it would conflict with the gamebooks too much, so every step I took in the comic I would ensure I wasn’t creating a ripple that would disrupt the source material. It was tricky, but I think I’ve managed to carefully tip-toe my way through it without causing too much disruption.”

Ian Livingstone's Freeway Fighter was published by Titan Comics in 2017, with Andi Ewington's script being realised on the page through Simon Coleby's art, Len O’Grady colours, and Jim Campbell's lettering. It was later collected as a graphic novel, which has since been translated into Hungarian!

The Hungarian edition of Ian Livingstone's Freeway Fighter alongside the English language version.

This new iteration of Freeway Fighter has also inspired FF fans, including pixel artist Andy Green, who created this image, inspired by Simon Coleby's artwork.

Did you know...?
One of the variant covers produced by Titan Comics for Ian Livingstone’s Freeway Fighter #1 featured the artwork from the original FF gamebook and was exclusive to Forbidden Planet, which hosted the launch event for the comic at its London Megastore, on Saturday 20 May 2017. It was here that Livingstone and Burns were reunited for the first time in a long time.

“After a gap of 30 years, it was brilliant to see Jim Burns at the Forbidden Planet launch event signing,” says Ian Livingstone. “Puffin Books’ original 1985 Freeway Fighter gamebook (red car) cover was painted by Jim. When Freeway Fighter was republished by Wizard Books in 2005, the (blue car) cover was again by Jimand now both of his cover paintings appear as variant covers of Ian Livingstone’s Freeway Fighter #1. And I am pleased to say that I am the proud owner of both paintings which sit proudly in my collection.”

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