Bionic Action is one of those rare oddities among 'Look-In' strips, not based on a single series, pop star or group, or a toy, but merging two related shows which had enjoyed success in the publication: The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.
Of course comic cross-overs were nothing new - Marvel and DC had done it for years - but the nature of television rights made it unique at the time for 'Look-In' - the only similar venture would be Count Duckula making a (no doubt Cosgrove Hall approved) cameo in the Danger Mouse strip some years on. So as the same US production team at Universal behind The Six Million Dollar Man had spun off 'The Bionic Woman', delighting in their own series cross-overs, it was probably only a matter of time before a strip would try the same thing.
By 1979, The Six Million Dollar Man had been running as a strip for nearly four years in 'Look-In', finishing in March, with The Bionic Woman a little under three, and both a year beyond the end of their respective television shows in the USA. One suspects the rights to the original shows had expired, and interest was waning with other fresher new tie-ins waiting. But when The Bionic Woman came to a close in May, relinquishing the colour pages to a very short-lived CHiPs strip, it ended with a cryptic 'Jaime's back in action next week with a certain Col. Steve Austin...', with the preview indicating they were teaming up for Bionic Action another new-look picture-strip'.
'New look' is certainly a term that can be applied to Bionic Action, and over its six month run it had no less than four different artists, all new to 'Look-In'. First up was Ian Gibson, who had illustrated both the Brown Watson 'Bionic Woman' annuals in 1977 and 1978 - a range that used talents such as David ('V for Vendetta') Lloyd, John Bolton (who also did the 'Bionic Woman' in 'Look-In') and the late Brian Lewis. Gibson recalled recently, "I think I got the chance to work on 'Look-In' as a result of the Brown Watson annuals for 'Bionic Woman'! I suppose I have to thank my agent, Luis Llorente, for that. He told me that 'Look-In' was a prestige mag and their rates were good too. So I was happy to get a chance to work for them." Having just finished the first run of 'Robo-Hunter' for IPC, Gibson bided time in starting the Bionic Action strip before going back to '2000AD' for 'Project Overkill', 'The Mind of Wolfie Smith' and - more famously - 'The Ballad of Halo Jones'. Gibson had an unusual dynamic flair, akin to Martin Asbury who had drawn 'The Six Million Dollar Man', but even though he kept up the strong tradition of action layouts, his work was maybe a little too stylised for 'Look-In', at odds with the realism of other strips. He concurs, "I don't think I was really their kind of artist."
Gibson was replaced by Ron Tiner, an ex-art teacher who became a freelance illustrator in the 1970s, working for both IPC Fleetway and D C Thomson. Like Gibson, Bionic Action was Tiner's sole work for 'Look-In', and he would use a frame from the strip (issue 29) in his excellent 1992 book 'Figure Drawing Without A Model', which showed his extensive versatility as a graphic artist. Tiner recalled recently, "My work on 'Look-In' came about through Martin Asbury, who I had met at the SSI (Note: Society of Strip Illustration, later the Comic Creators' Guild). Martin heard that Ian Gibson was going to work on '2000AD', so he tipped me as his replacement. I was keen to try out some new ideas regarding page layout and viewpoint, and I was quite pleased with the results." Even though this was only the first story of the new strip, Tiner recalls its future was by no means certain and thought he was the final artist to draw it, "I seem to remember that they were talking about cancelling it. I had a lot of other offers at the time and so I didn't try and get any further work from them after that story was over."
Obviously the strip continued with another new artist, John Richardson, who had also been working for Fleetway and D C Thomson. Richardson was unique among the four in actually illustrating a complete Bionic Action story, and the only one to return to 'Look-In', for 'Haircut 100' in the early 80s. Like Gibson, Richardson had a quirky style that verged on parody but he continues to flourish as a professional illustrator, managed by his wife Pearl.
Drawing the final few parts was Mike White, another freelancer with a history for Fleetway and D C Thomson. Of the four, White had the most realistic style, his brief contribution being the strongest, and he would later find fame drawing 'Roy of the Rovers' in the 80s.
The summer of 1979 also saw ITV blacked out for over ten weeks by a technician's strike, the longest in its history, starting on August 10th, and finally coming to an end on October 24th. One senses, with some licences coming to an end and 'CHiPs' aborted at short notice in issue 24, that 'Look-In' was struggling to keep up the strip content, to the point where Bionic Action was a convenient already running filler, and it began the 'Battlestar Galactica' strip before the series aired in the UK (see separate feature). But once the strike was over, and the delayed autumn schedules grinded back into transmission, Bionic Action was replaced by new strip Charlie's Angels, now in its fourth season and introducing Shelley Hack as Tiffany Welles.
But that is a matter for another feature entirely...
(Article by Shaqui Le Vesconte)