Wednesday, 26 August 2015

BEYOND OINK! #6: FUNNY FORTNIGHTLY



I could very easily say click here and be done with this post if I'm honest, but that wouldn't be like me and so here we go again with another comic which, for reasons I can't fathom, you'll find very little about online.  While its companion title Big Comic Fortnightly is fondly remembered and you'll find plenty of cover images and information on the web, you'd be hard pushed to see any proof of Funny Fortnightly's existence.

When Big Comic proved so successful in its fortnightly guise Fleetway decided not to change it to a weekly title but instead released another reprint comic.  With the same amount of pages for the same price it'd come out in the weeks in-between issues of Big Comic Fortnightly, meaning we'd have a weekly dose of classic strips to enjoy.  But it was also more than that, as Funny Fortnightly pulled series from the archive which weren't being used in the other title, giving it a different feel altogether.

The strips chosen seemed aimed at a slightly younger audience, there were also more little random strips (appreciated by this Oink! reader), more competitions and mini-quizzes (which were also reprints) and altogether it felt like a more youthful and fresher version of the same basic idea.  It was quite clever actually and proved these weren't randomly chosen reprints shoved into a new comic:


While some characters such as X-Ray Specs, Buster (albeit in the form of Buster's Dream-World) and Frankie Stein could be found in both, the majority were kept as unique ingredients, either pulling them from comics not yet mined for content or just those strips not yet covered by Big Comic.

Some examples included Kid Kong, Bonehead, Bad Penny, Mummy's Boy, Spy School, Clever Dick, Son of Sir, Bertie Bumpkin and Fun-Fear.

As a child these different characters were a delight to begin with, the way it was put together felt more Oink!-like (some strips were even shrunk to be different sizes and to fit more in) and it had brand new covers drawn especially for it while Big Comic used panels of reprints (or so I thought).  It all pulled me straight in and for a little while it was my preferred comic out of the two.  For this post I couldn't wait to get my hands on some issues again but, just like online information, actual copies of Funny Fortnightly are rare.  But I was able to purchase three of the very earliest issues on eBay to pull some of my favourite strips out of and here are the other two issues' covers:


This is where I have to say I came to a crushingly disappointing realisation while researching for the blog.  What I'd thought all those years ago were original covers drawn up specifically for this new comic collection of mine were actually reprints themselves!  Not only that but they were all reprints of covers from one comic - Krazy.  That first issue's cover above had me believing it was a special premiere issue cover but in actual fact it was the front page of #33 of Krazy, which you can see for yourself at the following page of Peter Gray's excellent Comics and Art blog which shows the entire run of Krazy covers in one post:


The two covers above for the third and fifth issues are from Krazy #42 and #70 and while you're there have a look at #67's, which was a personal favourite and it's heartbreaking to think the cover which had my friends and I in such kinks with its "Friends, Romans, Countrymen - lend me your Funny Fortnightlies, the newsagent's has sold out!" was a hasty edit of one from thirteen years earlier.  Of course that's not to take away from the original covers (mainly drawn by Mike Lacey) but it shows a lack of imagination to not even pull them from a variety of titles.

But enough of that, we're here to read some comics!  That's exactly what I'll be concentrating on as the origin story of these two comics has already been covered in the aforementioned part three.  So below are some of the strips which were instant favourites when the comic launched, all taken from these recently-purchased early issues.

THE STRIPS

There's quite a lot where two characters who are complete opposites are brought together in a strip with a lengthy title highlighting their differences.  Some examples are Tough Nutt and Softy Centre, The Upper Crusts and the Lazy Loafers, Clever Dick and Dozy MickThe Swots and the Blots and The Toffs and the Toughs.  IPC (who published these first time around) must've liked the idea somewhat.

It's not exactly difficult to work out who would come a cropper every week in the above strips and the same can be said of what was definitely the best of the bunch in my opinion and the one strip of the genre which would appear the most.  Most likely drawn by Jim Crocker ghosting the style of Reg Parlett, Ivor Lott and Tony Broke (I've a lot/stone broke) are just as enjoyable today as they were in the late 80s for me and before that in the 70s in COR! and don't feel like they've aged at all.  Here's their debut as far as my comics reading history goes, from the premiere issue of Funny Fortnightly:


Ken Reid's art is a particular highlight of these classic collections and he was a favourite contributor of mine to these comics I have to say.  One of his which had been selected to be reprinted for fresh young eyes was the rather gruesome-at-times Face Ache.  First appearing in Jet comic in the early 70s his rubber-like face and the amazing transformations he could make it undergo were always fun and Ken seemed to take great pleasure in giving us the most horrific monster faces he could dream up.

It was different.  That was the main thing.  After Oink! had helped form (or corrupt, depending on your point of view) my sense of humour for life a lot of 'funny' comics felt very samey and while I did read Big Comic Fortnightly and Funny Fortnightly from cover-to-cover and enjoyed them for the most part, I was instantly drawn to strips which stood out as something unique.  Face Ache fell into that category perfectly and Ken's artwork was a large part of that.  Just take a look at this:


In fact this strip must've impressed the editor so much he felt one reprinting wasn't enough, as it was placed on two different pages within the same issue (#5), the above on the glossy inside back cover.

Back in the Big Comic Fortnightly post you'd have seen a strip by the name of Mustapha Million about a child millionaire and how having the burden of a huge inheritance didn't mean he couldn't still be a child.  At first glance you'd be forgiven for mistaking a Whizzer and Chips character called Tiny Tycoon was another example of IPC taking a winning formula and creating (or rather re-creating) it again and again.  However Tiny wasn't a millionaire, he just had aspirations to be.

Think Alan Sugar as a very, very young boy and you'd be on your way to understanding the premise.  Tiny was a budding businessman with lots of crazy ideas to make money and move his way up the corporate ladder.  His ideas may not have always been entirely successful but they were, just like the comedy itself, always inventive.  Drawn by Tom Williams here's a rather delightful double-page spread getting a rather unique recycling message across:


Also worth noting (if you note such things) is how Tiny was a unique character for another reason.  He started off in one half of Whizzer and Chips (Whizzer) and ended up in the centre 'comic' Chips after a hiatus.  Not that the comic was really 'two-in-one' of course, but fans will know what I mean!

The next character reminded me a bit of Charlie Brooker's Transmogrifying Tracey from Oink!, although obviously the following young lady came first.  Disappearing Trix was drawn by Reg Parlett (who else?) between 1979 and 1982 and featured a simple premise which Buster comic milked for all its worth during those few years she appeared in the weekly.  Quite simply she could disappear and reappear in the 'blink' of an eye as-and-when she saw fit.  This could surely open up a whole world of mischief but Trix was a good girl for the most part and would often use her power to get her own back on bullies and pranksters.

But that'd get quite boring for young fans so of course she had to get into trouble, when using her invisibility for reasons which we readers may also have been more inclined to use it for:


Whizzer and Chips saw potential comedy in areas we may not have previously considered and if you needed any proof of that look no further than Timothy Tester, another strip which initially drew me in thanks to its artwork being of a significantly different style in comparison to the majority of the other pages.  Drawn by Cliff Brown who wrote Scream Inn which also appeared in the first issue, Timothy would test new products by companies who'd send him their prototypes through the post.  We've all heard of such sidelines before, a way of making a few extra pounds by trying out new goods and writing up in-depth reviews for the companies behind them, but it's not something which jumps out as comics material.  Timothy proved us wrong.

Sometimes he'd test the items in ways they weren't originally meant to be used and these were always the best strips, where he'd go way beyond the remit of the testing needed.  Such as using special binocular glasses as a replacement for regular sight ones for example.  How could that possibly fail?:


Alongside Ken and Reg above another legend in the IPC comics line was Sid Burgon and in these few issues he's as prolific as ever.  I've included a couple of samples here, the first being The Haunted Wood from Knockout comic, a different take on the tried-and-tested story formula of a ghostly forest.  The original spin here is that it's very much a wood full of character, it's no urban legend as these trees are very much alive, and the forest itself has made a friend in a local boy.

He's not its protector or anything as the wood can take care of itself as you'll see, he seems to genuinely hang out there although this does seem to be a solitary pastime having trees as actual friends so I can't help but wonder what kind of inadequate social circle he had!  But it did make for an entertaining romp every other week, especially when the wood needed to protect itself from us humans going about our usual human ways, i.e. looking for natural resources to exploit.  As per our race's usual ways this man has probably thought nobody would miss some bits of wood and he'd just take what he wanted from nature:


It's a nice way of getting an environmental message across too but I'm not sure how far it went with that as I've only these few issues, but I'd like to think over time the strip would've carried on.  It's a clever way of instilling this sensibility into kids without it being too obvious, and comedy is always the best way to get such messages to sink in!

One character who appeared across both comics was Monster Fun's Frankie Stein but he appeared in two very different guises.  In Big Comic Fortnightly we'd see his full-page or double-page strips while here we were treated to his little quarter-page ones which delivered one quick gag.  Even though they were created for the same comic originally these smaller tales suited Funny Fortnightly perfectly rather than the longer strips.  These were another reason why my initial reaction to the comic was that it was just so much fun!:


It's great to see Frankie in this other format as I'd completely forgotten about it in the intervening years and having a look at some of the others I actually prefer these smaller strips.  They put him in very ordinary situations which then descend into madness through some way in which Frankie deemed completely logical, all told with no speech whatsoever.  They're miniature classics in their own right and highlight just how funny these classic comics could be even for new generations.

THE COMIC

I've a great treat in store to end this post with but first I just want to wrap up my thoughts about the comic, because you may have noticed I've made more than one reference to how I felt about it at the beginning of its run.  Did my opinion change?  Well kind of.

With Big Comic Fortnightly and Funny Fortnightly running side-by-side it was originally a thrill to get a new comic and to have it feel so fresh and different by comparison.  But as the months drew on I found myself engrossed in the former title more than its little brother.  In hindsight I think there was just more meat on the bones with Big Comic.  While Funny Fortnightly was daft and full of silliness it lacked staying power and the initial reaction soon gave way to wanting something more to sink my teeth into (just to complete the metaphor).

While Oink! had a lovely, random selection of strips of various sizes it was all very well balanced but Funny Fortnightly was like taking the lightest, quickest gags and stuffing a comic full of them - worthy of a giggle but you'd be left missing the bigger belly laughs.  I'm not sure how long I stayed with the comic, definitely for a year or so I'd say and I also had the first annual, but I'd stopped my order with the newsagents' before a big change took place, I know that much.

As I said there's next-to-no information on the title online so trying to find out how long it lasted and for how many issues has been impossible so far.  What I do know is there were only two annuals compared to Big Comic's eight books so it wasn't as successful, that much is certain.  Also at some stage it changed to Funny Monthly, meaning long-term readers had lost that weekly dose of classic IPC and not long after that it was cancelled completely.  Sound familiar?

To dismiss it completely as the internet appears to have done is criminal and I whole-heartedly recommend you pick up a handful of issues to enjoy a different take on the idea, but whether you stretch to the full collection is another matter.  But for some quick laughs, plenty of slapstick and some hugely memorable characters who have been otherwise forgotten it's a sound investment!

To finish with here's that treat I promised you:

Leo Baxendale.

Tom Paterson appeared in a handful of Oink!s and on the blog three times (in the premiere issue, #15 and The Oink! Book 1988) and to say he's a fan favourite of British comics readers is to undersell him and the joy he's brought to more than one generation of readers.  Always intricately detailed and packed to the rafters with sight gags galore, Tom's work always entranced and entertained in equal measure.

But where does this all fit in with this final strip?  It's said Tom's early work was heavily inspired by that of fellow IPC cartoonist Leo Baxendale, a true giant in the world of UK-originated comics and you can see an example of his work below with Nellyphant from Oink!'s stablemate Buster.  Leo worked heavily with IPC/Fleetway as well as DC Thompson, the latter of which he famously took to court to get recognition as creator of the strips he made for them.  Artists weren't allowed to sign their strips back then with the Beano/Dandy publisher and with IPC it was also very rare.  Us pig pals were very lucky as Oink! made a big deal out of us kids knowing who the contributors were - the strips were creator-owned after all.

The case was settled out of court and in the late 90s Leo left British comics for good but his work is treasured to this day and includes such fondly-remembered strips as Clever Dick, Bad Penny, Sweeney Toddler, Little Plum and The Bash Street Kids.

So I'll wrap up my look back at Funny Fortnightly with an example of this hugely talented and loved man's Nellyphant strip.  Given the only word (or rather noise) this particularly silly elephant could make I think it's a particularly suitable send off for this blog post:


NEXT TIME

When I think back to the comics I collected besides Oink! there's one which stands out head and shoulders above the rest.  It tied in with the latest toy line I'd jumped onboard with from the very start, it had a cartoon in production in the States and the comic itself contained great characters, heart-stopping action and some stunning artwork, all wrapped up in an inventive set-up which could've expanded into something truly epic.  In fact I was certain it was going to, until the sixth issue ended up being its last!

Six issues and a special doesn't sound like much but to me it's still a crime this happened to such an excellent comic.  I'll be back in a fortnight (9th September) to introduce you to it, but for it to have only lasted that length of time and still be my very favourite comic out of all these being covered in my Beyond Oink! series, that must tell you just how awesome I felt it was.

What other comic can give you THIS as a free gift with its first issue?!:


Special thanks as always to Lew Stringer for helping me confirm/identify the artists for some of the above strips.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

#66: EXTRA CRISPY PORK BELLY


Ah, this is actually quite refreshing!  It feels like an age ago when I last wrote about an Oink! comic and since the last issue's release date I've spent many (many, many) happy hours researching and writing for the Beyond Oink! series of posts.  It's a delight to be back with the next issue of the whole reason behind this blog's existence.  Tony Husband brings us his latest cover with Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins and his wife Mandy.  It's always nice to have a cover by Tony seeing as he's one of the comic's editors and creators, but it's also a tad strange another star wasn't up front and centre (so I named this post after him instead).

But first a quick glance through this issue and the transition to the older teen market seems to be complete.  While certain strips such as the giant one below would've worked just as well in the fortnightly, for the most part Oink!'s humour is certainly not what it once was and I'm not sure what to make of it to be honest.  Don't get me wrong it's still head and shoulders above other humour comics of the time but, having been used to the unique style of the comic for the past two years writing this blog, it's just not the same.  It's become a little more like other similar comics aimed at the teenage reader of the 80s, following their lead instead of leading the way.  I've covered why this transition to the new-look monthly happened in-depth before so I won't go into that again but overall it's certainly a very different beast.

As such I've found myself swaying towards the more traditional Oink! material at the expense of the majority of this issue.  By "traditional" I obviously still mean very different to the norm (such was the comic's whole point to begin with) and way back when I introduced these final six issues I mentioned briefly how we'd see massive strips of some of our very favourite characters.  In this issue for example Pete and his Pimple gets a great three-page strip which takes on the Lost in Space TV series in superb fashion and below is the return of a certain giant robotic porker.

Now although the Pete strip and others were written specifically to take advantage of more space being afforded to them, this Pigswilla strip was originally meant to be a serial in the weekly comic but reads particularly well as one giant collection.  As ever it's written and drawn by one of the fans' very favourite contributors Lew Stringer and it's the last solo strip for the Godzilla-themed pig, his final appearance being in a crossover with Pete in the next annual.

If you're a regular reader of the blog or of Oink! when originally published I'm sure you're gagging to get stuck into this, so without further ado here he is!  Split into three parts in this issue I've placed them all together here as one hilariously epic smorgasbord of Stringer goodness.  Enjoy The Perils of Pigswilla:


Lew certainly likes to make up a rhyme or two if quite a few of his Oink! contributions are anything to go by.  Thanks as well to Lew for confirming with me this was indeed meant to be a multi-issue serial originally with only slight tweaks (chapter length and the amount of violence, albeit still comedic) made to help it work as one complete strip.  I certainly agreed with him when he told me he was very pleased with how it turned out and how great it was to see it all in the one issue.

It's hard to pick out a favourite moment from this final Pigswilla, whether it's his rapping, the fantastically maniacal butchers or the commentary on how quickly the public can be swayed between love and hate.  On that final note, in this day and age it's difficult not to look at the penultimate panel on page three and think of a certain political party's supporters when they get a few moments on the news.  It's the t-shirt isn't it?

Brilliant stuff.

Before we move on do you fancy knowing a little more about the creative genius behind the above character?  Well if you remember the cartoonist profiles in the 1988 Oink! Holiday Special you'll know to expect scant information from this:


So what else is there in this issue besides Pigswilla?  Well he's definitely the highlight but some other gems are in here too, albeit not as many as we're accustomed to.  Reprints are kept to a minimum with two of the Oink! Superstar Posters (The P-Team and Peter Swillton) and Johnny the Jet, and we've new material with GBH getting political, Davy Francis doing his own time-travel rendition of Old MacDonald Had a Farm with Doctor Mad-Starkraving, David Leach's Psycho Gran makes a welcome full-page return and Simon Thorp's one-off Forgetful Ferdinand!! makes a memorable non-appearance.

I have to say though, the GBH dating agency Madvertisement doesn't sit very well with me, making fun of being matched with violent thugs, of attack techniques used on dates and of clinical schizophrenia.  I know Oink! was aiming at an older audience but with some of those still on board from the early days being much younger was this really suitable?  Well, I suppose it never did me any harm!

Simon Thorp also contributed scripts for a few other parts of the comic including this great little Madvert for their enunciation guide Talk Like A Proper Toff.  But I get the impression the end result would be less Barrington Bosh and more The Only Way is Essex.  Given the grammar evident with some of today's (and I use this term lightly) 'celebrities' and how it's become the norm with many teenagers and, scarily, adults to copy these speech patterns I wonder if this next scan would just go right over their heads today.  It may do, but the rest of us can have a good chortle at their expense:


Someone who seems to be just as prolific in these Oink!s as Lew Stringer is the young, talented Charlie Brooker.  Not only contributing his own unique cartooning style he also wrote some brilliant quizzes and other such strips for the comic.  This next one takes the hand out of the 80s pop groups we were all so used to back then and, as much as I totally adore music from that decade, this is a simply perfect way of parodying each and every one.

Radio-wise I listen exclusively to Absolute 80s these days so I was particularly taken with this next page, or rather the first quarter of this page.  Don't get me wrong, the rest is funny too but I had a load of fun with the first section, 'Think of a name for your group'.  There's simply endless hilarious combinations to try out!  Seriously, go ahead and try it with Charlie's The Oink! Guide to Pop Stardom:


One recent addition to Oink! who seems to be churning out classics one after the other is Kev F (Kevin F Sutherland) who started off with his Meanwhile... series of unconnected and random little strips.  This issue has another one but instead I just had to bring you this inventive, intricately drawn double-page spread.

I love Kev's art style and after reading Oink! for so long now with each artist bringing something completely different to the comic, it's amazing how the editors Mark, Tony and Patrick could still find someone new and unique.  As I've mentioned before I was surprised he only showed up for the first time in the comic's final year (see his blog debut in #49), such was the impact his cartoons made on my young mind that I'd thought he'd been there since the beginning.

But back to the present, or really back to the past since it was twenty-seven years ago, but it's the present with the whole remit of this blog, but it was created in the past... maybe The Three Scientists would be better writing their own introduction and explaining all this.  Though I wouldn't bet on it!:


Now as you'll be aware we're approaching the end of Oink! with only two more regular issues to go after this one.  After that three characters would transition to one of its sister comics and one of them was Weedy Willy.  Always drawn by Mike Green but scripted by a variety of different writers, Willy disappeared from the comic for a while in the middle of the run, only to make a triumphant return in quick little jokes tucked away amongst other mini-strips.  Right back at the very beginning he was always taking up a lot more space (his strips, not his weedy frame) but by the time I came to be a pig pal with #14 he was appearing in random formats each issue.  He seemed to suit all sorts of different lengths but when transferring over to Buster he had to become a full-page character every single week.

With hindsight of course we now know this is about to happen so it seems fitting he returns here with a page all to himself and as ever he's thought of a hair-brained scheme to win over Dishy Mandy.  To be honest my initial reaction was to think he'd already done this but nope, after more than sixty issues Willy hadn't yet gotten around to trying out an inflatable muscle suit, which was never going to end well.

Writer Catherine Johnson is a name I'm unfamiliar with and several Bing searches later there's no indication of a comics career, but her contribution here is in keeping with all of the previous Weedy Willy strips so she's a very welcome addition to the growing list of Oink! talent.  With just a couple of months to go it's time to bring the weediest of weeds back to the fore:


With Pigswilla taking over so much space I'm mindful of how much I've already scanned in and so it's time to wrap up the latest issue again.  But what's this on the back cover?  Ian Jackson artwork?  Yes indeed Ian brings his unique Oink! sty-le back in just four weeks (the five week wait for this issue felt much longer, didn't it?) with no less than a new Mary Lighthouse strip, the first this year!  Long-time readers will definitely be looking forward to that I'm sure so check back here when the next issue goes on sale on Thursday 17th September.  September already??:

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

BEYOND OINK! #5: THE TRANSFORMERS


My blog has always been my own personal journey through Oink! and I've shared many memories along the way.  With the Beyond Oink! series I've applied this to the other titles I read as a child.  Last time I also added in as much information as I could track down on Wildcat as it's sadly a forgotten comic with no coverage online, however there's certainly no need to introduce these fellas:


Covers: Stephen Baskerville (left) and Andy Wildman (right)

With these two comics began an obsession which continues to this day, albeit in movie form.  It's wonderful to see something I adored as a child return so successfully, loved by those who grew up with it originally and by the kids of today.  I was quite late to The Transformers world and that's what this post is all about; my own personal memories of my time with Marvel UK's number one, top-selling success story.  It includes a period in the comic's life which can often be disregarded by some fans and I want to correct that.

BEGINNING IN THE MIDDLE

While my friends became collectors of the toys and comics straight away I was a fan of the cartoon series instead.  They didn't like it as much because it contradicted the comic but there was no doubt everyone loved the voices, the music and that sound effect.  I'd rent the videos regularly and when the movie was released on VHS it just blew all of our minds.  To me now the series doesn't really hold up while the original movie is still enjoyable as a piece of nostalgia but is lacking what I came to love about the comic - the human touch.

Nevertheless in 1987 Santa Claus brought me this, the Winter Special from the previous year:

Cover: Ralph Macchio, Don Perlin,
Ian Akin, Brian Garvey
and Nel Yomtov

That Christmas it arrived in my stocking alongside The Oink! Book 1988, the Dandy/Beano 50th Anniversary book and my first Big Comic Book.  Comics were starting to feature big in my life but I wasn't that enthralled with this, not liking the changes made to the story and as such I kept renting the videos.

But fast-forward to November another year later and I was off school for a few days, feeling very poorly and sorry for myself and while my mum was shopping she decided to buy me some reading material to cheer me up.  Bless her, she came back with this as a complete surprise:

Cover: Robin Smith

Containing three complete stories from the UK team focussing on the festive season I was completely entranced to a level the cartoon never managed, as these stories focussed on the alien robotic creatures from the perspective of us humans.  This also meant, unlike the cartoon, they actually transformed to be in disguise.  The cartoon's theme music may have contained "Robots in Disguise" but three episodes in and everyone in the world knew who they were and what they transformed into, and the human characters became more and more marginalised to the point where they did next to nothing in the movie.  This special of the comic showed me exactly how The Transformers should be handled, returning the magic and awe into the characters and storylines.

The first story contained Circuit Breaker, a young lady by the name of Josie Beller who was left crippled for life during a Decepticon attack.  A computers and robotics expert she covered her body in micro-circuitry and re-emerged as a mentally unstable woman whose sole purpose was the destruction of all Transformers, regardless of allegiance.  Buster Witwicky (recognise the surname?) also got caught in the crossfire of two warring machines while trying to help the recently-defected Jetfire (again, sound familiar?) with an identity crisis.  Finally a random human gets in the way of Starscream who has been awoken from suspended animation and is having a crisis of self-belief.  It takes this man to set him straight, although of course this results in him helping one of the most evil of all Transformers, which was a nice twist.  I was amazed at how much character there was in the humans and robots alike, and all set at my favourite time of the year.

When we had to go by bus on a shopping trip a couple of days later I asked if I could get a new comic and picked up the latest issue of the weekly, joined by an unsold copy of the previous week's which the newsagent hadn't sent back to the distributors yet.  The two issues at the top of this post were read again and again for the rest of that week and I can still clearly remember doing so very excitedly on that bus.

It was just as well I got the two issues as it meant I had a complete two-parter to enjoy.  The comic alternated between American stories which were 22-pages in length and so split over two issues, and the UK-originated ones which were still multi-issue but with each part specifically written for the 11-page format.  The Ca$h and Car-nage! story had me sold completely and only 192 issues after my friends had started reading it.

Written by Marvel US's mainstay for the series Bob Budiansky and drawn as ever by Jose Delbo it told the tale of a group of mercenary humans intent on hunting down Transformers in exchange for cash from a mysterious benefactor.  While the Autobots and Deceptions very much kept themselves hidden (albeit in plain sight) their war did still result in human fatalities at times.  As a race we were all meant to be equally terrified of them, with only a select few humans being privy to the fact there were actually good guys too.  I loved this aspect.

While some may see this story as just another in the long run it was extremely important to me and contained everything I wanted from this comic.  Here's a quick snippet:



A regular order was placed and I joined my friends in this epic tale.  At least for a while anyway, as by the time my first year of the comic was up they'd have stopped reading it, but you'll see why below.

I should mention right now while these were reprints of the American comic I never saw them that way and still don't.  Getting hold of the US titles was near impossible back then and so Marvel UK released their own, printing the strips only a month or two behind the comics across the pond.  That was the whole reason for British strips in the first place, to fill the gaps between the American stories.  But they took off and today are remembered as being of even higher quality.  So I see these as the first printing of these stories, rather than 'reprints'.

EXPANDING THE BRITISH EXPIRE


One thing I found fascinating straight away was how the comic actually embraced The Transformers: The Movie in the UK.  Rather than ignoring it like they had with the TV series the UK creators (specifically long-time Transformers scribe Simon Furman) saw it as an opportunity to really develop their own storylines and other characters instead of being tied down to following the Americans.  With the film being set in the far distant time of 2005 - ahem - the comic decided to start telling stories from the future, often spinning through time to the present day and back again.

I'd known from my friends how time travel had previously featured with Galvatron and other movie characters coming back to the present day and mingling with the Transformers of our time.  It sounded like great fun, so you can imagine my delight at starting to collect the comic just before this epic began in #199:



With the characters being robotic the team had a ball with battle scenes involving torn limbs, exploding bodies and decapitation.  This particular incident resulted in a Decepticon dying before he was created (keep with me) and the universe didn't like this.  Already weakened from the to-ing and fro-ing, time itself erupted.  Now needing corrected somehow, it wasn't going to stop killing and destroying worlds until it got what it wanted.  The cartoon never did anything like this!

Time Wars coincided with the title reaching a mammoth 200 issues, a huge achievement for any comic but especially when you consider it was licensed and based on toys.  At its height it was selling a quarter-of-a-million copies every single week which is a staggering number and a total run of 332 issues isn't to be sniffed at!

As with previous special issues we were treated to a wraparound cover poster, this time drawn by Lee Sullivan.  Inside, the Action Force back-up strip was removed for one week, Transformers increased in length, there was a handy recap of all previous events for new readers and more all printed on gloriously glossy paper.  This proved to me I'd made the right choice in coming onboard - this comic was something else:



Then something changed.  For me it was for the best but not so for my friends.

TRANSFORMING THE TRANSFORMERS

The comic had been made up of two strips - one 11-page Transformers one, backed up with a 5 or 6-page Action Force strip.  Action Force had been cancelled after 50 weekly issues and folded into Transformers which before that had used a varied selection of strips from Marvel's own Iron Man, Rocket Racoon and Machine Man (none of which were available in UK comics), to licenced fare like Robotix and The Inhumanoids.  Once they even had the robotic civil war from cover-to-cover when they printed the American mini-series Transformers: Headmasters five pages at a time for sixteen weeks.

As a child I really got into Action Force but when a big change happened with the 213th issue I was elated to see Sunday morning cartoon favourite Visionaries as the new back-up, albeit only for eight issues and a reprint of a story from their own cancelled comic, but at the time I hadn't read it.  But the big change was the comic splitting the eleven pages of Transformers action in two so we'd get three stories per issue instead:

Cover: John Stokes

My friends Roger and Bruce didn't like this change.  I can understand why, after all they were used to the previous way of doing things for over 200 issues and they felt there wasn't enough to each part.  The American strips were now spread over four issues and to begin with the British ones were cut in two until the comic started producing ones specifically for the new page count.

Personally I loved the new format.  I was used to this way of story-telling and 2000AD has always told its stories this way.  Even reading back over the whole series as an adult and getting used to the longer strips first I still preferred the way these issues were put together.  It made for more variety and gave Marvel UK the chance to tell two ongoing Transformers tales side-by-side.  However they weren't finished in shaking things up.

The next change was also criticised by readers and the comic printed the letters to prove it.  Colour was removed from the middle pages where the British strip resided and this was the beginning of the period of time I mentioned at the beginning.  While I'd started before these changes, and for its last year it'd return to the previous format, this period made up the majority of my time with the comic and I loved it so I really wanted to champion it.

THE BLACK-AND-WHITE TRUTH

The comic was honest about rising production costs and how changes had to be made to ensure it carried on bringing us top quality stories week-in, week-out.  Again, readers of 2000AD would probably not see the problem here but Transformers had been full colour ever since #26 when it went weekly and some readers were aghast at this change to a winning formula.

But now the writers had grasped the shorter form of storytelling and what they produced was thrilling stuff!  Sometimes we'd get a quick two-parter with only some lasting longer but never running to epic lengths like in previous years.  They were very much now a companion piece to the 'main' American strips.  In reality Simon Furman was in his transition stage of moving permanently to write the Marvel US series, with some top British artistic talent heading off with him.  But don't be thinking this meant they were an afterthought or in any way inferior.

Some brief examples are below, starting with the first two pages of the final Aspects of Evil strip.  This was another format they played with, telling individual stories linked by a common theme.  This particular series culminated in the ultimate form of evil; the planet devourer Unicron, originally created for the movie.  It was a character piece, as were the previous four weeks which summed up the five most evil robotic forms in the galaxy who would all form part of the biggest ever Transformers epic to come:



The shorter strips were also a good way to inject more humour.  In the recent movies we've seen some female warriors with motorcycle alt modes, however back in the 80s we only had the one female robot and she was pink and had lipstick!  We never thought this strange or stereotyping back then, in fact we saw it as a great thing.  But looking back now it is rather cringeworthy and the writers of the comic obviously thought so too, as you'll see from the first two pages of Prime's Rib:



The comic then ran up against a rather sticky problem.  It had caught up with the American strips as they couldn't pause them anymore by running long British stories.  Reducing them to five pages per issue only meant they caught up more slowly.  With purse strings tightened across the comic industry Marvel simply couldn't fund a huge full-colour British epic anymore, so there was only one answer.

Reprints.

"ANOTHER CHANCE TO READ..."

This was the final nail in the coffin for Roger and Bruce.  They were getting stories they'd read before, then a short five-page monochrome story and Action Force, which they didn't like that much.  Both of them cancelled their regular orders but I was about to enter my golden age as these classic strips had slipped me by and now I could enjoy them slowly over many, many weeks.

On the other side of the world Furman was preparing the biggest and most elaborate storyline yet which would bring back Unicorn, the time-travelling Decepticons and a vast array of backstory, including the creation of the Transformers race.  (This was something he'd covered in the British strips previously.)

So in preparation Marvel UK reprinted some of its own top epics such as Target: 2006, Wanted: Galvatron Dead or Alive and The Legacy of Unicorn.  Already lengthy they were effectively doubled due to the shorter format, so we had reprints for a long time.  The comic eventually explained why these particular stories had been chosen but by then many readers had left the comic, which was a damned shame.

But let's have a look at what I was treated to at this stage.  Below are examples all featuring the simply stunning artwork of Geoff Senior who became synonymous with The Transformers the world over.  I can remember Target: 2006 stunning me every single week and I'd run to the shop for the next instalment!  Next to that is a page from that year's annual and a new strip which brought together present and future forms of the same Decepticon which all tied in neatly with what the comic was covering, and below that again are the first two pages of the reprint of Wanted: Galvatron Dead or Alive who'd gone missing after a time jump.

This also introduces a certain Marvel fan favourite!  To those who came to love him over the following years but weren't readers of this comic I bet you didn't know he was created for The Transformers, yes?:




Death's Head went on to star in his own monthly comic and met many Marvel heroes, however comic snobbery meant some people refused to see him as a Transformers comic creation.  They didn't want a link between their superheroes and a toy-line comic and some went so far as to suggest the Death's Head in Transformers was from an alternative universe... blah blah blah.  Codswallop.

G.I. Joe fans got up in arms too when it and Transformers crossed over, even though the stories were brilliantly handled and their comic was based on Hasbro toys too!  That now reminds me of those Star Wars fans who refuse to agree Han Solo didn't fire first even though the creator and writer of the whole thing said he didn't and it was just down to bad editing in the 70s.  Passionate fans are one thing, but choosing to ignore or change what the original writers create is a tad insulting.

For those people I just had to include this strip from one of the very first American Transformers strips, written by Jim Salicrup and drawn by Frank Springer (pencils), Demulder & Esposito (inks) and Nel Tomtov (colours):


Also in the same story the place known as The Savage Land ("prehistoric domain of the present day Ka-Zar" apparently) was the place where the Dinobots roamed millions of years ago.  So yes, they were in the same comic universe.

Speaking of such things I'm not a huge fan of the Marvel movies of late.  I've only seen a few and out of those only the original Iron Man really impressed.  I'm not keen on how they've crafted their universe, with each movie feeling more like a part of something else rather than its own whole - it's all very 'marketing before movie' to me.  Even though I've never got into it Star Wars seems to be doing it right, in that it started off with a distinct series of films which crafted a lush galaxy to play in that future projects can organically grow out from.

You can imagine my joy when Paramount released information their Transformers movies were going to go the same way.  In the comic there was a whole galaxy of stories out there to be told (the cartoon expanded too).  Some featured human-like characters to give us that perspective, others involved them meeting aliens on far away worlds, but the balance was always there and it worked beautifully.  I can't wait to see these stories develop on the big screen, especially with the calibre of writing talent they've brought in!  Below are some examples of how the comic expanded.

THE MATRIX QUEST

With Age of Extinction the origins of their race is obviously going to be the arc over the next couple of films and fans of the original movie and series should know where it's going, but let's hope they also bring in some of the comic's story too like later TV series did.  In the comic Primus was the Transformers' own god-like being (he was their planet Cybertron, to cut a long story short) to rival Unicron, the creation Matrix was sentient with the soul of all previous Primes (which the movies used) and was the only way to defeat the planet-devouring Chaos Bringer himself (that'd be Unicron again).  When Optimus Prime was killed his body was jettisoned into space, the Matrix still inside his chest cavity, so a desperate search began with their own home planet at stake.

So began the longest and most celebrated story arc which many sum up with the title Matrix Quest, even though this was only the first handful of chapters to the story.  Even with the sheer scale of things Simon Furman kept to what I now call "the perfect Spielberg blockbuster formula", which is simple stories told with real skill, hidden depths and characters developed enough so we care about what happens to them, drawing us right in (look at Jaws, Jurassic Park, E.T., War of the Worlds etc to see what I mean).  That perfectly sums up the Transformers movies and when I read back over these climactic stories it's no wonder I'm such a fan of what Bay and Spielberg crafted - I'd grown up on it already.

I've droned on for long enough I'm sure, so I just want to run over some quick examples of what made this time of the comic so utterly special.  While budgets had been cut the comic was very clearly being put together with a lot of love and care, especially with the black-and-white stories which acted as tie-ins to the main American-originated Furman stories.

One such tie-in was this prequel strip.  Published before the Matrix Quest we didn't know what was to follow but it set up the dark side to the Matrix beautifully.  We were lucky to be getting all this additional stuff our US friends didn't have and it was an ingenious way of adding that extra hidden depth to the story.  I'd love to show you more but copyright forbids so here's just a glimpse Deathbringer:



The shorter tales were also used to add depth of character as well as story and sometimes both these ideas came together in one little burst.  In The Big Shutdown Autobot Nightbeat is hunting down Deception Thunderwing who becomes a big player later in the finale.  Even though these tie-ins weren't directly referenced later to us British readers they brought a rising in tension, which was the whole point and showed the real genius of Simon Furman.

When the Matrix Quest began the first few parts (the actual quest) took the form of pastiches of classic movie genres, such as one of the organic Transformer Pretenders hunting down a monster robotic whale-like creature on a giant boat called The Orca.  Below Nightbeat returned in an adventure which spoke to his Hollywood-inspired detective self.  A fan of our movies he may not have appeared in many stories but he was certainly one of the better developed and with the first page of The Big Shutdown and the first five of his part in the Quest I'm sure you can see why he was a favourite of mine:





I'm not going to go into any huge detail about the stories as you may have noticed, instead I just wanted to relive my time with this comic but if you're interested in reading them (and I can't recommend highly enough that you do) there's links at the bottom where you can find out more.

'COVER'ING ALL ANGLES

Just a couple of things to cover which I loved from the comic on top of the strips - covers, the letters pages, more Lew Stringer goodness (where would a post on The Oink! Blog be without that, eh?) and the Transformers A-Z.

There were literally hundreds of characters in the toy range and the comic had to feature as many as possible.  In the stories we'd our main and recurring secondary characters, then more irregular ones who'd end up as fan favourites from being so full of character but rarely seen.  Then there were those who'd simply be background robots, meeting the licensing agreements without overwhelming the story, but at least with the A-Z we got some information on them, even if they didn't do much storywise.

Slapdash below only appeared in a Christmas story and then in the background of a handful of others, but I've included him because he was my favourite toy!:

Artwork: Ian Akin and Brian Garvey

That wee dude with him was his Powermaster buddy.  In the toys he'd transform into an engine which needed to be clipped into the car to unlock the ability to transform.  It was interesting to read in the comic how these guys had to go through a horrible process to be integrated with the technology, including having all their limbs dislocated so that they could transform.  It was a bit gross but it made for a cool idea.

To finish off my original time with the comic I just wanted to show you a few covers.  When it entered the 300s new British stories had ceased, G.I. Joe was discontinued and the main story reverted to 11 pages with reprints of early UK strips as back-up (which again I'd missed the first time around).  But in order to make sure they didn't catch up with the American ones again the comic became fortnightly once more.  It was agony waiting that long with the stories it was telling and my trip to the newsagents every other Saturday became more of a sprint every time.  During this were some truly stunning cover images from some truly exceptional British artistic talent:

Stewart Johnson and John Burns

When The Real Ghostbusters started reprinting older stories it also seemed to churn out some beautiful covers.  Perhaps Transformers could spare more money for them now with the inside running only the Marvel US strips and reprinted British ones.  They were certainly eye-catching and while there'd already been some beautiful artwork on the covers, the last year or so saw artwork which I can only describe as spectacular on occasion, mixed up with some imaginative and memorable imagery.

Here then are some of my favourites from those later issues and the artists are credited underneath, with a certain Stewart 'Staz' Johnson being particularly prolific.  Having come to the comic with some great black-and-white art he excelled here in full blazing colour as you'll see:




There was hope of a continuance beyond the then-cancelled American comic with a monthly title but this fell away and #332 was the final issue.  Simon Furman has since criticised Marvel for canning the US comic as it was still selling around 100,000 copies per month - an impressive figure for a comic originally meant to be a four-issue mini-series and based on a toy line.  At its height in the States it had sold roughly the same each month as the British one had each week (250,000) so with that decrease Marvel cancelled it, but it was still outselling many others and today 100,000 would be seen as a blockbuster success!

Then in 2007 out came the first Michael Bay movie and I was dreading it, thinking they'd ruin it even with Spielberg onboard, but after seeing the first trailer with that sound effect I was sold.  It was the perfect live-action interpretation and on eBay I noticed these comics were going for a pretty penny.  My friend Roger had given me a load of his old comics but I'd stupidly passed on most of them to a girl I liked at college years later, so now I only had about a hundred left so I thought I'd sell them.

But of course you have to check to make sure everything is in good condition before putting it on eBay so that you can list any defects.  Next thing I knew I'd spent an entire evening reminiscing over them and reading bits and pieces instead of sorting them out.  What happened next was inevitable:


I'm missing about a dozen or so from that first year and the final annual but through the Collected Comics specials I was able to read every single story and it was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences of my life and that's no exaggeration, even if I was around 30 years of age at the time.  Everywhere I went for about six months I took a handful with me (even to Majorca) and I struggle to think of a single issue I didn't enjoy.  I even got into Action Force all over again and was gutted when it ended mid-story.

ENDING AT THE BEGINNING

Reading back over from the very start I just had to include a couple of examples of earlier issues for a bit of contrast to end on.  For example the first British strip was called Man of Iron.  Set apart from the main story as simply a space filler it's gone down as a classic in its own right and features some beautiful artwork from 2000AD stalwart John Ridgway (with Mike Collins) and gorgeous colours from Gina Hart and Josie Fermin:




These early stories featured a real innocence and readers simply had no idea of how the comic would grow and evolve into the epic classic it became.

Also from earlier issues were some brilliant strips which homed in on just one character long before the smaller strips did so later on.  This American story called Showdown from writer Bob Budiansky, artists Herb Trimbe, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey and colourist Nel Yomtov saw Autobot Skids become tired of the never-ending war and fall in love with our planet.  He left the cause and after running into a Deception and being left upended at the side of the road to rust away he befriended a human woman and a beautiful friendship developed over the two issues.

The story inevitably saw Skids face up to his role of protector of the human race and he left his new friend to rejoin his comrades, sacrificing the friendship and his happiness in order to go and fight to protect her.  Unfortunately we never saw her again and Skids only made a couple more passing appearances before being killed off, but for a couple of issues he was my very favourite:



Finally, where would a Marvel UK comic be without a bit of humour from Lew Stringer?  Over the course of the run Lew contributed two different strips to the comic which the readers adored.  Later he'd bring us Combat Colin from Action Force (and who you'll see today popping up in brand new strips in Aces Weekly) but it all began with Robo-Capers.

These strips mainly dealt with the ongoing farcical attempts by a robotic alien race and their King to take over Earth, but we'd a special full-page one-off in #74 to show the transition between the evil Soundwave and the heroic (somewhat) Grimlock as letter-answerer for the comic.  The letters pages are hilarious to read back on with a lot of sarcastic replies and mickey-taking of the young readers, who lapped up being chastised by their favourite Transformer.  Below is Lew's chronicling of how that handover took place at Marvel HQ:


I read back over these roughly six years ago and once or twice since I've thought about selling them but I've never been able to do it.  They sit proudly on my bookshelves and I don't think I'll ever let them go.  In fact writing this lengthy post has put me in the mood to read them all over again.

A truly superlative comic series, a magnificent achievement both in success and in the amazing quality of storytelling and artwork, the heart and soul of these live on today for me on the big screen, but there's a few different varieties for all tastes out there in ongoing comics and cartoons too.  Long live The Transformers - 'til all are one:


First and final covers by: Jerry Paris and Andy Widman respectively

NEXT TIME


Wait.  Hang on.  Am I not repeating myself here after part three?  Find out in a fortnight.

- - -

Interested in reading this epic for yourself?  Then click right here to be taken to Titan Books' Transformers page and all their collected volumes of the American and British strips that made up one of the greatest comic runs of all time.  Of course there's nothing quite like reading the original comics though and you'll always find plenty on eBay too, so much so that they're even mentioned on eBay's introductory notes on buying and selling.  Happy reading!