This month, NBC Universal revealed that it has teamed with digital comics company Lion Forge to release—via digital booksellers including Amazon’s Kindle store and Apple’s iBooks, and in print as graphic novels—five series based on some of its well-remembered '80's properties including Airwolf, Knight Rider, Punky Brewster, and Miami Vice, as well as eternity’s syndicated ode to the early '90's, Saved By The Bell.
It’ll be weird to check in with Zack, Screech, and the gang without the show’s iconic theme song to kick things off—but, according to Lion Forge CEO David Steward, that’s only the beginning of what’ll be new and different in this incarnation of these properties. "We will be playing to some of those key nostalgia moments that people remember," Steward tells us. "So we’ll be doing nods to certain things, like putting Zack Morris’s huge '80's cell phone in there at one point. But it’s really about high school." That means, according to Steward, that Zack’s cell phone will be consistent with the times—a smartphone.
That may seem like a silly point to make, but it’s germane to the discussion of nostalgia, since it relates to these properties. This isn’t the first time some of them have been reimagined—Knight Rider alone has been revived five times in the '90s and '00s; Miami Vice was a big-budget film by Michael Mann in 2006; Punky Brewster also appeared in an animated series in which she teamed up with a "leprechaun gopher"; and the Saved By The Bell cast managed to both go to college and be replaced by a new generation in separate spin-offs. But it will be their first appearance as comic book characters, and the first time many of them have been seen in new stories in decades. In the interest of reviving these properties properly, the publisher is keeping things flexible in its approach—what works for Airwolf probably wouldn’t work for Punky Brewster.
"With Knight Rider, we’re doing a sort of reboot and starting from the beginning. [The previous spin-offs] were continuations of what came before, so what we’re doing is starting from the beginning," Steward says. "In the case of Miami Vice, we’re going to focus our initial stories as continuations and off-shoots of the series itself—in all of its '80s pink, neon, and aqua glory."
Each series will be published in eight-issue arcs that Steward likens to the seasons of a television show—with individual episodes that combine to tell a larger, overarching story—and while the initial release will be digital, those arcs will be collected in graphic novel editions in print. Steward hopes this will make it easy for readers who aren’t already familiar with the properties to catch on. “One of the things about comic books is that, if you open up an issue of Spider-Man, you could be on issue #237. It’s like, ‘Am I in the beginning of a story, right in the middle of something? Where am I?’ ” he says. “There should be enough where you can get into the groove and know what’s going on.”