Tuesday, 5 January 2016

THE OINK! BOOK

Welcome back to the blog and you'll notice the logo has changed again.  To those who were here a couple of years ago you should recognise it as the original image I created for the site and I felt it was time to resurrect it.  It was always my favourite, with those comics being my actual issues spread out on the floor, and summed up the blog perfectly, but now it also serves the purpose of being 'new' once more and of being at the beginning all over again.

Back in the autumn of 2014 I made mention of a project I was dreaming up which went by this name:


But apart from a post about it again last year there's been nothing else.  Well as it turned out there was a bit of an upheaval in my life not long after the first time I wrote in regards to this and that put things on the back burner for a good while.  Then, as mentioned in my last post the Beyond Oink! series took up so much of my time, alongside huge issues of the comic itself to cover, that it was delayed again.

That wasn't a decision taken lightly at the time.  This project is incredibly important to me, but as my life started to settle down again and I was working very hard at the blog I made the decision to delay it until I could give it my full, undivided attention.  I didn't want it or the blog to suffer from spreading myself too thin, because the more I looked into this project the more I realised just how much of my time it's likely to take up, as well as the mammoth amount of work involved.

Enjoyable work, mind you.

With the coverage of the Oink! comic itself coming to an end it seemed perfectly natural to concentrate on making that coverage, and all associated posts, the very best blog it could possibly be.  I sank my teeth (not to mention my heart and soul) into it all and I am so incredibly proud of what I've achieved on here, particularly during its final year.

I read back over this whole blog from beginning to end during those last months of 2015 and I saw how my writing changed and developed over time.  If you've read my last post where I look back at the highlights of writing The Oink! Blog you'll have seen how I started to gather positive feedback from readers and professionals and how this led on to the blog developing in many ways, including covering new material by Britain's best, having two articles published on the UK's top comics news site, the feedback and sharing of the posts based around the other comics of my youth... not only was the blog developing, but reading back it was clear I was too.

It made me realise I'd done exactly the right thing in delaying the new project until I'd covered what I needed to, until the first chapter of the blog had been completed.  I'd continued to work hard at developing it and myself naturally, right through to its conclusion.  Now I was ready.

CHAPTER TWO

So I hope you can see how just doing something I love, something I'm passionate about, has led me to this point now.  I loved Oink! (still do) and I've always loved writing.  The blog may have been something to pass the time originally, but it grew and so did my passion for both.  It's got to that stage where I want to make a go of writing just like I'd always wanted to but which I'd never had the attention span nor confidence for.

It feels like I've very naturally arrived at the beginning of 2016 and can officially announce what's happening next.  With the Christmas decorations taken down today the usual feeling of empty space in my home and the dreading of the dreary months ahead aren't there.  My reorganised, freshly cleared living space doesn't feel barren this year; it feels instead like it has a crisp, fresh newness about it.  I'm not usually one to celebrate the New Year but this January I am.  2016 has arrived and with it a new beginning and not just for the blog, but for me too!

Work on a brand new book about Oink! starts right here.

The blog will now become a diary of sorts, chronicling my work on the book from the original conception right the way through to publication.  This is going to happen.  Oink!'s 30th anniversary is this year and I can't think of a better way of marking it than starting work on this and taking you all along for the ride.  I can't wait to get stuck in.

COMING UP NEXT

First I'll be writing up my initial ideas and how they've changed somewhat since I first announced it (prematurely) all that time ago.  I'll show you the original pitch document I put together and showed to some of the team who worked on the comic (again, some ideas have developed and changed) to see what they thought of the idea, as well as bringing you up to speed on what exactly this book is going to be.  In a nutshell I'm aiming for a companion piece to The Oink! Blog in a way, with this site being from the viewpoint of a pig pal and the book being the story of our very favourite comic from the perspective of those who brought it to us in the first place.

I hope you'll enjoy what's to come and I'll see you back here soon with more details.  It all starts now.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

THE OINK! BLOG

A simple title for a simple post.  I can't believe I've completed the task I set out for myself back in April 2013, nor that I've been writing on here for a whopping thirty-two months already.  On the one hand I feel like asking where has the time gone, yet on the other it feels like this blog and I have been inextricably linked together forever.  It's that latter feeling which sums up this post.

I set up the blog in just a few days after having the original idea, to ensure I'd get the preview issue up on the correct date.  It was all very rushed to begin with and like many of my good ideas I was sure it'd probably flit away after a few months but I'd have a ball while my attention span stuck with me.  But it's still here and I've now reached the point where I initially thought I'd be ending the blog, with all the regular issues covered, the final annual written up and then the last three specials were also to be covered in a series of posts before the end of 2015.  But as you'll know by now those specials will be included around the dates we originally got our hands on them instead, just like the other issues, and the blog will be going off in a new direction in the meantime very shortly.

Farewell second logo... what's next?

It just became part of me.  As I've always said Oink! helped in no small way to define my sense of humour and was a huge part of my life when I collected it back in the late 80s.  Doing the blog I found a real passion in writing about it which in turn fired up my passion for writing in general, leading me now to what I have planned for the future.  Yes I created this blog, but I also feel like I owe it a debt of gratitude in a strange way.  It's redefined what I want to do with my life and the person I am.  It's brought with it a raft of new friends, opportunities and aspirations.  For anybody in my personal life whom I've met for the first time since starting this it's ended up helping form their impressions and knowledge of me.  It's a hugely important part of my life now.

I'm not saying it'll continue indefinitely.  There's a new project I'll be covering on the blog from January onwards and that will take a long time (maybe even as long as the blog has been going so far) but after that who knows.  Maybe there'll be something else Oink!-related to write about or maybe when that writing project is finished that'll be it and I'll be on to pastures new.  But whatever happens, The Oink! Blog means so much to me; it is me.  Wherever I may go in the future it'll have all started right here with that first tentative post on Tuesday 23rd April 2013.

The Christmas season is over.  What next?

HIGHLIGHTS

I'm not blowing my own trumpet here.  I'm not going to list the "best posts" or anything like that, I'm not that big-headed.  But there have been some occasions these past few years which I have simply relished.  Key moments which have been definite personal highlights of writing this blog and as I wrap up the comic coverage (and the first chapter of the blog if you will) I wanted to share some of these with you.

GROWING


Inside that first calendar year there were many favourite moments within the actual comic, such as my reuniting with favourite characters and cartoonists, seeing the comic develop its original ideas and feeling its confidence grow into the title I had so many fond memories of.  I had to be patient and not skip ahead and so every fortnight I opened up another 'new' issue and was delighted by the contents.  But the two above were my definite early favourites and I would still hold them aloft as the perfect examples of Oink!

Those very early initial issues were refreshingly rough around the edges in comparison to other humour comics of the time (and of today!) but when I sat down to read #6 I had no idea what I was about to read.  Met with what is still my favourite cover of the regular comic, by Ian Jackson, this issue saw Oink! fully find its feet.  It all came together perfectly and every single page was faultless.  I roared laughing on more than one occasion and when I'd finally finished I had a mammoth task ahead in having to select key pages, but it was worth it.  The Oink! team's confidence was sky-high and this seemed to leap off each and every page and the series gathered momentum from there, with classic issue following classic issue.

When I got to #14 many weeks later I was met by a particular You Are The Detective page and, after suspecting as such while reading earlier pages, the conclusion was drawn that this had been my first issue as a child.  It was an extremely personal post and changed how I wrote about my favourite comic, simply because I really felt like I was now covering that old favourite comic!  Each issue brought back memories of not just the strips themselves but of reading them, of key childhood moments and of family.  I started to share these on the blog, not really sure how it'd go down but I simply kept writing what I felt I'd want to read myself.  It seemed to work and the feedback I've received throughout has been fantastic.  By way of example on 16th October this year, two years after I made that writing decision, this comment appeared on the blog of Lew Stringer himself.  I was elated:


I'm not going to dwell on the feedback as that would make this feel too self-indulgent, but thanks to all who have taken the time to contact me via email, comments here, on Twitter and Facebook.  You've helped spur me on and I can't thank you enough for even reading what I've written!  Thank you.

ANNIVERSARY

After battling with computer problems which delayed any new posts for a couple of months I slowly started to get back into the thick of things and got caught up on late posts by the time the first birthday issue of Oink! came around.  It was when this milestone occurred that I started to get the positive feedback from both fellow pig pals and those who had made us into pig pals in the first place.  I couldn't believe what I was being told; fans of the same comic were really enjoying my blog and reliving Oink! through me, their kids even enjoying it for the first time by becoming regular readers here!  Then the professional writers and artists started to tell me how much they enjoyed what I was doing.  I got to speak to Patrick Gallagher and later Davy Francis on the phone, who reminisced at length about their time working on the comic; that was simply fantastic!  Lew, David Leach, Jeremy Banx and others shared their enjoyment of the blog and of going back to those times.  Then this arrived in the post from Tony Husband himself!:


I couldn't believe it all.  It was quite overwhelming.  To this day I still can't quite believe people enjoy my writing as much as they do, but the anniversary spurred me on and, nudged along further by my very good friend Andy supplying me with a brand new Apple Mac Mini(!) for the express purpose of writing (click here), I decided I was going to grab that childhood/teenage/20-something dream by the horns once more.  But this time I wasn't going to let go!

Originally I was working on a digital novel based around a story I'd sketched out many years ago but as the year went on I realised I'd already been researching, collecting information and writing about a subject very dear to my heart.  It was the perfect subject for a brand new book.  You may remember I mentioned it towards the end of 2014 but there's been nothing since.  Well what do you think the next phase of the blog is going to be all about?  Check back here on 5th January 2016 for more on this!  But needless to say it's the beginning of something new to me and it's all thanks to those few months around the time of Oink!'s birthday celebrations on the blog.

GOLDEN


To some the loss of glossy pages in the fortnightly Oink! took away from their favourite comic, but for me this was just the beginning of something amazing.  The issues in the final quarter of 1987 (or 2014 in this case) signalled what I called the golden age of Oink!  Every single issue was simply perfect.  There wasn't a single 'miss' in any of the contents.  They had that funky new look on the cover, some amazing new talent had joined in the fun, the subjects and extras were spot-on and my favourite childhood book was finally going to be read after all those years!

The Oink! Book 1988 would be covered over three posts in the Christmas period, I also got to meet Davy Francis in person and acquire some of his amazing original artwork (covered here), my book project was (at the time anyway) coming along nicely with the first annual as my main inspiration, and the blog had lots of nice little extra posts popping up thanks to new information coming to light from some of the comic's contributors.  It ended up not only being my favourite period of time Oink!-wise out of its entire run, but also my favourite time on the blog to date.  Christmas is by far my favourite time of the year anyway, but to have these magnificent issues and everything going on with the blog in the months preceding it that year just made it the most enjoyable of times.

Out of the past few years I look back at this time most fondly.  I had so much to do on the blog and had the greatest amount of fun.  That's not to take away from anything since, but this took some beating and if I had to pinpoint anything as a highlight of this experience it'd be those few months.

BEYOND

With Oink! going monthly for its final issues I wanted to come up with something to fill the gaps in-between them.  Initially it was going to give me time to work on my new project, but I didn't want the blog to come across as being neglected.  Initially I was going to split each issue into two and cover them fortnightly, or have an addition post with one of the larger strips a week or two after each issue was covered.  But I felt this would go against the original basis of the blog and so instead I came up with the idea of covering the other comics I collected as a child and teenager.

Beyond Oink! was born with good intentions and I enjoyed it immensely but it also had the knock-on effect of taking up so much of my time (I have little enough time to work on the blog as it is) that the writing project was put on indefinite hold.  But boy was it worth it!:


Oink! was the first comic I'd ever read properly, certainly the first bought specifically for me and the first I'd ever collected.  It started me on a path to some amazing titles and I had a blast covering them every fortnight over six months this year.  Researching them, discussing them with the likes of John Freeman and Lew Stringer who helped me identify artists etc., reading them (obviously!) and then writing them up and sharing these forgotten treasures was a delight.  The reception was brilliant.  I loved the fact these comics brought people to the blog, who'd enjoy the memories and leave comments, or even discover them for the first time.  Some of these titles had next to nothing about them online (people seemed particularly happy to see coverage of Wildcat for example, and Ring Raiders was a huge favourite of mine with nothing on the 'net at all!) so I felt an insane amount of pressure to do them justice.  But in the end I wrote as a fan of them and kept to the style I'd developed with Oink! and while there were plenty of very late nights and a severe lack of sleep to meet the deadlines I'd promised, I would do it all over again.  Great fun!

A highlight-of-a-highlight though has to be the post for The Real Ghostbusters (click here).  It was only the second comic to be covered and it was a thrill to receive comments from John (who had written for it) and others from the creative team.  I'd been thrilled when Lew or John had written a post previously when I'd launched the blog or it'd hit its first birthday, but now I saw my work being shared throughout social media by comics professionals, including those who had worked at Marvel UK on this comic.  It began a pattern for the following posts and it meant every two weeks I was in awe at who was reading it!

It'd been created to fill the gaps between Oink!s but ended up being a major highlight for this fan of these terrific comics.  Seeing it being shared and praised was like having the star letter in every one of these titles!

2000AD

I've featured links before to sites and blogs of those who used to work on Oink! and upon occasion when a new title by one of them is released I've covered these too, such as Jeremy Banx's Frankenthing and David Leach's Psycho Gran.  As the blog has run on I've even been asked if I'd like to write up a post for a new comic and it's always a delight to do so.  I've seen it as a huge compliment that these professionals would ask and send me review copies.  Me!

In 2014 the website for Dazed and Confused magazine got in touch as well, as they were putting together a series of articles marking the anniversary of Chris Sievey's passing, were interviewing Patrick Gallagher and were asking if I could supply the images.  You can read about this here.  All of this taken together I'm very privileged to be in the position where I can help and it's a lovely thing to be asked; after all I'm just a pig pal like anyone else, but it is a nice way of recognising how the blog is seen by others.

Thanks to Lew's Blimey! blog I'd started collecting 2000AD in September 2014 and very soon became a huge fan.  Through it I ended up meeting some new friends who meet once a month in Belfast for a few drinks and a discussion about the latest issues and happenings in Mega-City One.  As many of you likely know, John Freeman runs the Down the Tubes website which is a fantastic resource for all things UK comics related.  A fan-made documentary film called Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD had been produced but was taking a long time to get released on DVD.  As such they were doing the rounds throughout the UK at film festivals and the like, with Belfast's Queens Film Theatre suddenly popping up on their radar back in August this year.  We all went to see it and a day or two later I got a lovely message from John asking me if I'd review it for his website!

Again: me!  I jumped at the chance, as this would be my first bit of writing outside of my own blog.  Now I'm always one to say I don't read many film reviews and the like as I find a lot of reviewers quite snobbish, always rubbishing the same movies because it's seen as the-right-thing-to-do and an awful lot of them have closed minds, or think their opinion is gospel because it's in writing.  The last thing I wanted to do was write a review which was going to come across as 'fact'.  I wanted to keep within my style of writing I'd developed here on The Oink! Blog but also in keeping with the style of some of the best video game magazines I used to collect years ago - Commodore Format, Cube and nRevolution in particular.  There's a reason I mention them.  They were written in such a way that, while they gave a final score, the actual writing of the review itself told you whether you personally would like the game or not, regardless of their own views.  Basically, they treated their opinions as actual opinions and knew everyone was different.  They were fun but intelligently written.

I wanted to bring a bit of that to the table and for it to come across as an actual opinion piece, not criticising for the sake of criticising and not preaching about whether it was any good or not.  It was also to be a certain amount of words in length (though after I'd cut it down John did say this was a rough estimate, but I still kept within it), so it was a challenge I relished.  Writing a few drafts and then editing it down several times taught me a lot and I'm extremely pleased to have it in print on John's site.  You can read it (if you like) by clicking on the image below:


Or even better, you can now buy the film by clicking here.

No pun intended but this was a thrill, so thanks to John for the chance to do this and for believing I could.

In addition, my piece on the current UK comics industry (click here) was also posted up in its entirety by John on the Down the Tubes site here.  I must be doing something right!

END

It might sound strange to say the end of the blog's run-through is a highlight, but it really is.  Because I did it.  Under three years may not be much compared to other blogs but it's a milestone for me alright!  For someone with a bad attention span and who would give up on projects far too easily in the past, for me to get through it all is a highlight in itself.

But it was all rounded off by some wonderful messages from those involved in Oink!, as well as from readers of the blog and fans of the comic, then at Christmas I received some wonderful items from Davy Francis and Helen Jones as documented previously.  You can read about these by clicking here and here respectively.

I've got one more trick up my sleeve... or rather Davy does but we'll finish with that below.

Firstly, I hope the highlights above haven't come across as too self-indulgent; I'm not trying to say "look at me, aren't I great".  In fact, it still amazes me that the blog is as popular as it has become and that people enjoy it as much as they do.  I wanted to do justice to this wonderful and very important UK comic and I hope I've been able to do so.

No, these highlights are just a personal selection of my time working hard at this wee site.  There have been many surprises along the way and I'd been thinking recently about my journey from creating a fun little diversion with a daft idea, to what it's going to become in 2016 and what I'm going to be doing myself as a result of this blog, so I thought I'd write my thoughts up.  Okay, so that in itself is a little self-indulgent, but aren't we allowed to be now and again?

I never expected so much would come out of this blog and I have to say I would still continue to grow ever more excited about it and the opportunities it's created even if it were to end now.  Thank you for coming along for the ride and when you (hopefully) return on Tuesday 5th January to see where it's headed you'll see exactly what these highlights have meant to me.

Thanks again folks!

To end with then, how about a little exclusive strip from Davy Francis?

As well as popping round to my office to hand me that great Cowpat County piece, Davy reappeared the next week with the following page.  It's a funny little item on welcoming in the 21st Century, written and drawn by him sometime in the late-90s.  He did explain he wasn't sure what publication it was for originally, but it unfortunately remained unpublished.  Well fortunately for us, as The Oink! Blog has yet another exclusive new piece of work from one of the comic's top creators!

Enjoy folks and I hope you all have a very happy and prosperous 2016.:

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

THE OINK! MUG (INSERT LOTS OF EXCLAMATION MARKS HERE)

(Warning folks, this post includes a ridiculously happy blogger getting all excited over a cup.)

Back near the beginning of the month I showed you the prettily-wrapped box which had arrived in the post from Oink! co-editor/creator Mark Rodgers' partner and Oink! star Helen Jones.  I wasn't allowed to peek until Christmas Day itself and so I very impatiently awaited the big day.

I visited my parents over the holiday season, spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day with them and we've a traditional way of opening our gifts on the 25th.  We'll open our main presents to each other first thing in the morning, then go around my old hometown visiting my sisters and their families, delivering all the presents I bring down from the big smoke of Belfast every Christmas Eve.  It's only after all this and after the big Christmas dinner that the three of us sit down around the tree and open the rest of the presents from each other, the rest of the family and our friends.  So it wasn't until nearly 4pm when I was able to finally tear my way into the package Helen had sent over.

Not that these traditions stopped my mum from trying to get me to open it from the moment we were all eating breakfast!  The suspense was killing her but I wanted to savour the build-up and save it with the rest.  When I finally did unwrap it I found this delightful little storage box (which my mum tried to steal after Christmas) and inside it a mountain of bubblewrap.  A good dig about inside and I found a very well protected certain piece of Oink! merchandise I'd almost given up on obtaining:




It might sound a little silly to get so excited about this, but when I collected Oink! as a young 'un this and the record were the only pieces of merchandise I ever asked for.  The mug was treasured and used throughout my teens right up until I was nineteen, when it was used as my personal mug in my job at the time. Three of us were let go suddenly from that job and I never got my mug back.  Ever since I started this blog back in April 2014 I've been checking eBay for the Oink! mug on an almost daily basis and in all that time I've only ever come across one, but I saw a small crack on it and the seller refused to pour water into it for a test so I had to let it go.

I've mentioned it here a couple of times before and right back at the very beginning I mentioned how my own checklist didn't include any other merchandise, just the mug.  To quote myself, "Gotta get my mug back!".  I've also mentioned it once or twice (I may be leaving out a few other times there) on the Facebook group and Helen took notice.

Languishing at the back of her sideboard (Helen's words) she remembered I'd been after one and popped it off to me as a fabulous surprise Christmas present.  I know you'll be reading this Helen, so once more thank you so very much!  It was very kind of you and I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate the thought and of course the mug itself!

I hope you've all had a wonderful Christmas and that you'll join me again on the last day of the year for a look back at some other highlights of mine from the past few years doing this blog, before it all changes in 2016.  Enjoy the rest of the festive season.  I certainly am!: