Thursday, 21 May 2015

#63: NOW WITH ADDED MUSCLE

Well here we go folks with the first of our final half dozen issues and the monthly Oink!s:


That looks a bit different, doesn't it?  So what did you all think about this when it happened?  While Oink! did change somewhat for the weeklies, this was the biggest (and final) change it'd see.  Originally we'd 32-page fortnightlies full of regular characters and backed up with mini-series and one-offs, then an evolution to 24-page weeklies with fewer regular characters but still chock-a-block of the more random content and now we'd seen another change.  However this time it's more like a complete transformation over the course of these six issues, starting with Uncle Pigg welcoming us to his new "magazine".

#63 would come at us with glossy pages once again and there's also more of them - 48 in total!  Yes that may only be the same as two weekly issues but it's still a hell of a chunk of piggy goodness to be getting on a regular basis and as a child I loved that fact and loved the new look.  To begin with anyway.

My own favourite period of Oink! as regular readers will know was between #36 and #44 (more information here) and, while the comic starting off all shiny and glossy was a lovely change for humour comics at the time (compare it to the smaller, rough pages of the likes of Buster and even 2000AD that it came bagged with), those newsprint fortnightlies were just perfect to me due to their content.  It then made the 'specials' all the moreso with their gloss.  This meant, at the time, these monthlies felt like getting a big, fat Holiday Special every issue.

Fleetway weren't strangers to monthly titles with the likes of The Best of 2000AD having been released by now and the two comics shared more than just their bulk and page stock, unfortunately.  But more on that below.

So what kind of Oink! do we have from here on?  Surely we'd now have all our regular favourites back alongside the other elements thanks to the extra room available?  Well the simple answer to that is no, believe it or not!  We'd see some of them return in special one-off strips but others were still gone for good.  The later monthlies would find their own identity and arguably could be compared with some of the very best of the comic's past issues, but these first couple - this one in particular - really does feel more like two weeklies stapled together.

There's probably a good reason for that, as with deadlines etc this most likely has been made up with material originally destined for the more streamlined weekly issues.  With the writers and artists working on content specifically for the monthly titles you'll see a shift not only in the size of the strips in later issues but also the tone of some of the content.  You'll see what I mean as we go along.  It all makes for a very different feel to the comic for the last four or five issues.  Is that a good or a bad thing though?  Well for me that all depends on whether you're 37 or 11.  You'll see what I mean over the months to come.

Back to the present, in a manner of speaking anyway, and let's kick off our double-whammy of Oink! goodness with Ed McHenry's Wally of the West shall we?  Why not:


Wow - Fleetway certainly have a convoluted way of saying "monthly", don't they?  (Joke!)

Now back in the 80s I wasn't what you'd call mad on music.  I do remember my brother and sisters listening to the charts every Sunday afternoon on the radio and watching Top of the Pops on the main TV in the living room, much to the chagrin of our parents, and I had a fondness for Stevie Wonder and Boy George's music.  But apart from that it wasn't until the early 90s that I began to develop my own musical tastes, much of which was ironically 80s-based.

This was because my siblings had collected the early (including the first) Now That's What I Call Music cassettes and The Hits albums during the previous decade and now I found myself getting them handed down to me.  This started me off and from there I discovered more music of the time, mainly through ITV's The Chart Show after whatever kids' programme was on every Saturday morning.  Right Said Fred, Eternal, the Super Mario Bros movie soundtrack... ah my first tapes and CDs...

But anyway I've digressed as usual.  Oink! was no stranger to mocking the current musical trends but the next one really did slip by me at the time as I've absolutely no recollection of listening to any of his music.  Perhaps he simply wasn't for my age group, and perhaps that was a sign of Oink!'s changes towards a different demographic.

Of course in later years I'd hear a few of his songs, though the tune to the following one escapes me at the moment but it doesn't make it any less of a fine spoof, written as ever by Mark Rodgers and drawn by new-to-Oink! Michael Peek:


At one stage even Weedy Willy would see a guest appearance by the inspiration behind the above page, but that's still to come.

One character who began as a one-off, then delightfully reappeared randomly here-and-there was the Wonder Pig by which we'd come to know by a variety of different monikers.  This time he's going by the name Larry and while there's no writing credit I'm going to give it to Tony Husband who penned all the previous scripts for this charming little pig and Chas Sinclair's equally charming penmanship.

Back to a double-page spread and glorious full colour, Chas' work is the perfect companion to Tony's take on some favourite types of childhood books.  But what's this!  His master hasn't fallen down a pit?:


I roared when I got to that panel on the second page, that recurring joke never failing to entertain.  If you're a bit lost when I say that just click on the Lashy the Wonder Pig label on the left there (under Stuff in the Sty) to see what I mean.

Above, Michael Peek made his artistic debut in our comic with the Morrissey single cover and what a superb piece of drawing it was.  With Simon Thorpe's front page and feature below it's clear to see Oink! attracted some serious talent!  Michael returns again here with the latest madvertisement from GBH who, after spending so long trying to get at our money through selling us everything from dodgy books to dodgy holidays, are now cutting out all that fuss and going right to the source!

The following is a commercial presentation from the bank of Burkleys and the mind of Howard Osborne:


Before moving on to that fantastic Simon Thorpe piece I've already mentioned, I wanted to include the following two little quarter-page strips.  To show you how the comic was still producing just as wonderful as ever shorter strips as it was the bigger spreads, to show you that some regular ones were still with us, and naturally to show the wonderful talent of the ever-funny Davy Francis.

Cowpat County was the very first strip to appear in Oink!, on page three of the preview issue no less - check it out here, then Greedy Gorb came along in #15 when the comic introduced its second wave of characters (his first appearance on the blog was way back in #19) and both stayed put for the most part ever since.  Fan favourites through-and-through, some of the weeklies felt a bit odd without them but here they're both back in this special first monthly comic and keeping themselves lean and trim (well, as lean and trim as Gorb can be) with the kind of quick-firing gags we loved from Davy.  Always a treat:



Right, so like I said above Simon Thorpe is just a wonderful artist and it was a delight picking up this issue now for the blog and seeing that well-remembered front cover after all this time.  A Thorpe cover!  At long last!  Unfortunately it'd be his only one but it was accompanied by the following hilarious - and obviously beautifully painted - double-page spread.

This was the 80s and a certain actor was gaining international stardom right at the beginning of his illustrious career.  However, back in 1988 that career was ripe for sending up and Mark Rodgers hits the nail right on the head with this one.  I don't think anyone could've predicted Schwarzenegger's career from then on, never mind Schwarzenhogger's!:


Notice as well, unlike comics today, there's no photocopying in that 'Consistency' section!  Brilliant stuff there and it looks a treat as a double-page spread in the comic, once you've removed the double-sided Oink! Superstar Posters from the middle pages that is.

What?

Oink! Superstar Posters?  Yes.  Oh the last ones were fantastic weren't they?  They were indeed.  Are these by J.T. Dogg as well?  You betcha.  Great, I can't wait to see some brand new Dogg poster artwork!!  Well....  we'll get to that.

First though, a quick return to a supporting character in the second of two Pete and his Pimple strips from this issue.  Yes, we've got two whole strips for Pete Throb and another two for Tom Thug as well this issue, more proof that #63 had been put together from material destined for the 24-page weeklies.  But hey, it means double the goodness from one of Oink!'s most prolific cartoonists, Lew Stringer and that's always a cause for celebration in my book.  Or blog.

As you know readers had been sending in possible solutions to Pete's pimply predicament for quite some time now and while his new girlfriend Spotless Suzie was perfectly fine with his zit (she worked as a compost analyst on a Y.T.S. course don't you know) even she must find times when it just simply gets in the way.

So this issue Suzie helps pick out a solution from the bulging suggestions pile and for a little while (about a half a page actually) we get a brand new comic strip as a result, alongside a cameo from Lew himself no less:


You know that old adage "If it seems too good to be true it usually is"?  When will Pete ever learn?  Well as it happens, and thankfully for us, he never does and look out for some mammoth Pete and his Pimple strips coming very soon!  (I'm not talking about double-page spreads either, pus pals.)

I didn't think Pete's love life would make an appearance again and below is the return of a particular favourite I thought we'd seen the last of too, but first we take a little detour thanks to Kev F because Meanwhile, at the fish market...:


I can hear your groans from here.  More very funny stuff from Kev soon but, um, "meanwhile"... hmm, the next page I've included could make me look rather silly.

Back in #56 I went on a bit about how we'd seen the last of The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile Aged 8 5/8 (years), with it replaced by the Vidiots series in the later weekly issues.  It was such a shame that possibly my favourite strip in the whole comic had come to an abrupt end without any kind of finale and I'd even mentioned how, for his last regular comic appearance (he'd still appear in the Holiday Special with his holidays snaps), he didn't even look at us - possibly too broken up and didn't want us to see him shed a tear.

Well my quick flick through the monthlies to check upon a comment left on the blog stating that was the end of Hadrian seemed to confirm the worst, but here he is again to prove me wrong.  Sort of.  Yes, the diary is back but this is definitely his final appearance and it's in no way a finale of any sort, so I can only assume it's one which was held back for whatever reason from the weeklies, possibly due to lack of space and the aforementioned series of television-inspired back pages.  Maybe they did intend for it to return to this format until the move to the new comic where he'd be sadly lacking.

But for now here's a nice surprise turn from Hadrian and his baby sister, writer Mark Rodgers and artist Ian Jackson (another name we'd end up seeing a lot less of now):


What a delight to have him back even if it is only this once.

There were a few other elements of previous Oink!'s we'd see return in the monthlies, though I'll stop short of using the term "making a comeback", as they weren't exactly "making" anything.  As I said above there was something else beyond the print schedule and chunkiness of the comic Oink! had in common with Fleetway's The Best of 2000AD Monthly title - reprints.  Now obviously the 2000AD monthly we can forgive, the very reason for its existence was to reprint classic stories after all, but the regular Oink!...?

By the last year of the 80s and the early 90s other comics I collected at the time would also start using reprints as a way of filling up their page quota but Oink! was the first - definitely for me anyway.  I wasn't aware until later monthlies that this was happening, as the ones in this issue I hadn't actually seen yet (the first two Superstar Posters and the first Transformers spoof, Transformoids) but yes our "big, fat" Oink! was now being padded out with reprints from only two years previous.  It may only be six pages but still, once I realised this it felt like we weren't quite getting what was promised and I felt a bit cheated.

As we moved into the 90s many comics would go the reprint route as readerships fell and cutbacks had to be made.  Fleetway even published two very lucrative fortnightly comics based solely around the idea so this was certainly a sign of the times to come.  But as our comic was one of the first to start doing this it was a sticking point for quite a few Oink! fans, especially when the amount of pages had been hyped up.

I think it does stay at this amount so I'm not sure why they settled on forty-eight pages when only providing forty-two of new material.  Why not do forty or forty-four and have all brand-new content without having still relatively recent content being reprinted again?

But hey, the issue is still jam-packed with brand new goodness, such as the multi-part Dallasenders Motel photo story with children in the main starring roles in a story which ramps up the soap opera cliffhangers to preposterous levels (possibly originally to run over several weeklies as each part has a 'Previously' and 'Next Time' box), Batbottom and Bobbins get their own showbiz gossip column which in no way is from that there place Timperley, Greedy Gorb, Wally of the West and The Torture Twins all get more than one outing too, Roger Rental makes his long-awaited return and Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins starts a new adventure which this time has nothing to do with football (which pleased me no end in 1988 and today in 2015).

So that's the first of the new look Oink!s, so what's next?:


Police Vet is a definite highlight to look forward to - our first multi-page strip created specifically for the larger comic, so make sure you're back here in four weeks.  Four weeks?!  My goodness that's a long time isn't it?

Well you may want to return next week first for the start of that thirteen-part series I'll be writing which will take us right through to the end of the year.  It'll start off fortnightly too so hopefully it'll help fill the gaps between Oink!s, but what's it all about?  Come back next Wednesday 27th May to find out.  Personally I can't wait to share these with you!

Until then have a great Bank Holiday weekend piggies.

Monday, 11 May 2015

THE FINALE BEGINS!

Don't let the Monday blues get you down, there's a big, fat porker on its way to you right here:


Oink!'s climax begins Thursday 21st May!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

#62: IT'S ALL ABOUT TO KICK OFF


For the last time in the regular comic let's take a look at that classic logo as big, big changes are afoot for the last time:


Editor Tony Husband brings us the last weekly cover and it's a simple affair, giving a football magazine theme to the proceedings, gently mocking the style of other titles such as Shoot! etc.  The reason?  Inside there's a four-page Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins story to end his ongoing tale of football stardom, amnesia, radioactive monsters and shadowy transfer agents.  I'll admit even today, while the story is well told and Horace is always a lovable character, the football puns and jokes are a bit lost on me, but only because I was never into the sport.  It's not a slight on the strip itself.

As a child I didn't like sport at all.  Swimming I loved, and the Olympics were always magical.  Now as an adult (physically anyway) the Olympics still have that grip on me and you'll find me cheering on Tom Daley in much the same way as my dad screams at the TV during a Newcastle United match.  Other sports though it's still a case of not so much, but every two years for the Summer and Winter Games you'll find me living a hermit-like existence for two weeks in front of the TV, followed by regular trips to the pool or out running.  Olympic legacy and all that, eh?

But anyway, Horace would continue into the monthlies on a more traditional note with individual stories with an ending each issue and a good old belly laugh.  But others weren't so lucky.  Readers, it pains me to break the news to you but below is the last ever appearance of Burp in the regular Oink! comic!  Yes that's right, after we've already said goodbye to Mr Big Nose and with Hieronymous Van Hellsong having two great mini-series come to their own natural ends, Jeremy Banx bids us adieu with this final page.

He does return in the Holiday Special and the annual to come later this year, after all these would've been completed long before this time, but for those final six issues to come we're left not only Burp-less, but Banx-less!  You'd better enjoy this one then and that's an order!:


Of course you were going to enjoy that and the Congenitally Blind Saturnian After-Image Nibbler could so easily have also been included in his superb Frankenthing e-book, couldn't it?  What an imagination!

But what a sad realisation that Jeremy isn't going to be contributing to any of the following issues.  But as I've mentioned before the Burp epic in the second Oink! Book (coming Christmas Day 2015 on the blog, folks) is a particularly memorable one for me for a very personal reason, so I'm really looking forward to revisiting that during the festive season!  Until then, so long Burp, it's been a blast.  A very smelly, slimy and at times gory blast.

On to the next strip for this issue then.  We all grew up with cartoon characters based on animals such as Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck etc.  As an adult though you're bound to have come across someone in your personal life or on television who asked questions we never thought of as children.  Such as why did Donald wrap a towel around himself as he stepped out of a shower when his lower half was naked at all other times?  Also why did Bugs not wear clothes normally, but when dressing as a female wabbit felt the need to put human-type apparel on?

But hey, at least Bugs knew where he should be living, as Ed McHenry picks up on with a swipe at a comics-based character from the Beano, Biffo (now Bummo) the Bear:


Speaking of things we never thought about at the time, Pete and his Pimple has been with us since #15 but not once have we considered the ramifications of his existence on the wider world.  Sounds very serious, doesn't it?  Who cares about the clean up, the putrid mess left behind on the streets of Oinktown and the health hazard of having large amounts of greasy, slimy pus all over the pavements?

Well as it turns out Lew Stringer cares:


It's such an obvious idea for a Pete strip, but only so in hindsight once you've read it.  Like some of the greatest stand-up comedians who point out the funny things in our daily lives we never really thought of, Lew comes up trumps with the non-obvious-yet-obvious joke above.

I love the fact the character is played completely straight.  We're used to Pete's world being rather zany, so this page has got a completely different feel to it, with the captions having a rather matter-of-fact description, as if explaining something completely serious and normal.  Great stuff and really funny!

No Frank Sidebottom strip this issue, not even a photo story or gossip column.  But what we get instead is this superb mini-poster, an A4-sized piece of charming felt-tip pen work from Chris Sievey, the man behind the mask.  Frank of course will return right the way through the monthlies and will actually be the final cover star of the comic, but for now just take in the following scan before we move on:


Lovely stuff.

Simon Thorpe is well known to regular readers of Viz comic, the title erroneously linked to Oink! when people call our comic the kids' version of it.  In reality that was never the intention and Oink! was actually more inspired by Mad magazine and the need for something different in UK comics.  However, when we're treated to a full-page strip such as this next one it's easy to think of Viz as Simon's art style is so fundamental to that adult monthly.

Were you a CBBC viewer back in the day when we had a couple of hours of children's programming and we chose one channel over the other?  As a CITV child I wasn't that familiar with most of the BBC's programmes but I do remember the odd episode of Maid Marion and her Merry Men.  Remember Tony Robinson's programme, do you?  Well it aired at around the time of these issues of Oink! and may have been rather... shall we say, inspiring for Simon by the looks of it:


One of my favourite additions to the weeklies have been some lovely full-page strips which contained no dialogue and very few panels.  These started off with Tony's and then moved on to Ed McHenry's.  I've included some of these before now and couldn't let this final weekly one go unnoticed.  It's a great page and is beautifully coloured, especially when you see it on the printed page.  Take your time and let each panel sink in before moving on to the next, the payoff is completely worth it:


Yes we had such strips of various sizes before the weeklies, but they became a guaranteed full-page fixture in every single issue since the new format and I think being in a slightly smaller comic than before made them stand out all the more.  Definitely no other title would've dedicated a full page out of twenty-four to what could've been seen as such 'simple' strips as these.  As of next issue, with many, many more pages to play with I'm positive they (or something similar) will continue into our last half dozen.

In fact my sister absolutely loves elephants so I must share this with her on Facebook.  Hang on, I won't be long....

So what have I chosen as the last weekly strip of the entire run?  The biggest laugh of the issue for me, it's a Madvertisement but not from GBH for once, instead this one comes from the mind of Kev F.  It's got a great punchline and works just as well today as it did in 1988, because that's how far washing-up liquid adverts have moved on since then:


Well here we are at page 24 and the shape of things to come.

You'll remember in #54 Uncle Pigg ran a reader's survey and the change from next issue is meant to have come off the back of that.  Like I said at the time, there wasn't actually a space to tell the team which format the readers would prefer the comic to continue in, so was the move to a new format already decided?  Or at least on the cards?

Anyone who has been following the blog for a while will know all about Fleetway's good-intentioned fiddling.  Oink! was a great success for original publishers IPC and Fleetway saw great potential but ultimately these changes were to contribute towards the demise of our favourite comic.  You'll see next time just how different Oink! would become and how obvious it is that they were refocussing the title again on another certain audience, albeit one that did make up a large majority already.

Looking back at the comic now all these years later I'm really looking forward to these final issues, especially once they find their feet a couple of months in.  At that stage we begin to see strips designed from the ground up for the increased page count, so you can look forward to both multi-page versions of your favourites and, with the extra space, some former characters making a reappearance at long last!

Just like the weeklies it does take that time to settle in (though now there's a longer period of time between editions it only takes a couple of issues rather than half a dozen or more) and to take full advantage of the new format.  The first couple feel like Holiday Specials, basically more (much more) of the same strips you'd see in the fortnightly or weekly issues.  Obviously this is no bad thing!  Monthly Holiday Specials?  I'll be having some of that thank-you-very-much!  But those final three or four issues really do sink their teeth into creating strips for the 'new' Oink! and the results look to be tremendous fun if my scan of them in preparation is anything to go by.

I haven't forgotten the premise of the blog, but I wanted to have a little scan ahead - not reading, just flicking through them - to be able to preview them for you all, as I know there are fans out there who instantly write them off when discussing Oink!  Some people wrote off the weeklies and I hope I've been able to show you how they went from strength-to-strength and (while they were still very different in feel to the fortnightlies) we ended up with an incredibly strong, very random weekly title that I absolutely adored.  Looking ahead I hope I can prove those naysayers wrong again, these final six issues look like they're going to be an absolute hoot.

I'll leave the final word with Uncle Pigg himself and you've only a fortnight to wait until "The Wild New Monthly Magazine" and its big, fat porker of a premiere issue:


Next issue on sale Thursday 21 May and watch out for a new thirteen-part series of posts coming the week after which I'm really excited about, but which don't feature a single pig!  What?!  See you soon.