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I picked up Mort's latest DVD in the mail a day or two ago -- this one a full collection of FORMAT, a British fanzine devoted to the ZX Spectrum that ran from 1987 to 1998. It's great stuff. I've gotten heavily into collecting local computer user-group newsletters and the like lately -- all that laser printing, local advertisements, and flamewars waged with the user group two towns away make for tremendous reading if you're as nerdy as I am.

FORMAT I'll discuss later, because there's 132 issues to read and I'm busy with work and preparing for a weekend vacation, but there was a bonus included with the disc: the first two issues of Load Runner, a British comic published on a biweekly basis by ECC in 1983.

I have never read a British comic magazine that wasn't Viz, but this 40-page title is familiar enough -- a collection of small ongoing stories, none running over five or six pages, with a few text articles thrown in here and there. (If you remember The Adventures of GamePro, the Load Runner comics are very similar in size and storytelling style.)

The difference with this comic is that everything is themed after the home computers, making Load Runner both extremely dated and extremely valuable as a historical curio. Remember, this was a time when computers were seen as "the future" (exactly what kind of future, nobody had fully worked out yet) and half a dozen 8-bit PCs were vying for consumer dominance. The results are just as chaotic as the local marketplace at the time.

The running features in Load Runner include:

- Load Runner itself, the tale of "Byte Killer" Mike Roman (a repairman whose work chiefly involves gunfights with rogue department-store robots) as he's captured by a computer and thrown into a constantly shifting virtual world.

- Time Plan 9, a hard sci-fi photo comic starring a schoolkid whose new computer (an Apple II with its nameplate rebranded "Akron 90") takes on a mind of its own and hatches a mystic plot of some sort, much to the consternation of his computer-hating mother.

- Andy Royd -- The Dominators' Rogue Star!, my personal favorite. A sports comic with a loopy sci-fi plot grafted on to it, the series is set in 1993, by which time pro soccer is played by super-powered robotic footballers and the game's purely a matter of technical engineering and managerial strategy. Andy is an athletic superstar whose body was rebuilt after a tragic "Computa-Kart" accident, and now he's posing as a robot on the Dominators' team. Can he save them from relegation and foreclosure?

- Countdown to Chaos, a serial novel about a passing comet throwing the world's computer systems haywire.

- The Adventures of ROM and RAM, a humor comic about two mouse-sized aliens posing as computers in order to spy on Earth.

- Trumbull's World, a story set in a vaguely Max Headroom-like place where the titular programmer has found the secret to interstellar travel and throws his kids into virtual-reality to escape government hitmen.

- The Invasion of the Arcadians, about an arcade game that brainwashes kids and turns them into roller-skating punks with mohawks (really).

All this is interspersed with the usual sort of "How they use computers at Heathrow / how they use computers on the farm" features you can see in any computer mag of the era.

I can't find any information on how long Load Runner lasted. The last issue I can find evidence of is the ninth. If anyone has an idea, let me know, because I really want to find out what happens to Andy and if they accuse his manager of cheating once he's unmasked as a human being. This is what game mags need more of -- speculative sci-fi sports comics. (Sentences like the one I last wrote are part of the reason I am no longer running any print magazine.)

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots and lots of publishers and game companies.]