Friday, 25 July 2014

#33: BETTER LATE THAN NEVER...?


When I picked up this issue of Oink! from my newsagent's I was 9 years old, right smack inside Oink!'s target age range (though it was by no means exclusive) and had already enjoyed over three weeks of summer holidays.  You see I was unaware at the time that England, Scotland and Wales worked their school terms a bit differently than us lot over here in "Norn Irn".  I'm still not sure of the exact way it's worked out in the rest of the UK but I do know it works out as basically the same amount of holidays in total, just at various interludes.  We'd enjoy a week off for Halloween, two weeks for Christmas, a couple of days half-term in February, two weeks for Easter and then a whopping nine weeks for the summer - all of July and August!

I can vividly remember actually getting this issue from the newsagent and instantly loving the fact Tom Thug was the cover star, but also being confused at the timing and my mum having to explain to me.  So there you go, Oink! actually taught me something.

Cover artist Lew Stringer sold his original artwork for this cover back in December 2012 but the post about this is still up on his blog here.  This was not only Tom's first foray onto the front cover of Oink! (and later he'd also appear on the cover of Buster) but also Lew's very first cover he'd ever been commissioned to draw for a mainstream comic!  So you're looking at a little bit of rich comic history right there folks.

Tom was the first strip inside too, taking up the top half of page 2 followed by a 3-panel Barrington Bosh He's Incredibly Posh and the following from Weedy Willy:


I've said it before but for a character who would outlast the comic itself it's strange to see Mike Green's Willy mostly in this short format (that sentence doesn't quite read right does it?).  But perhaps when the editor of Buster - or whoever made the decision of who would carry over to that comic after Oink!'s final issue - had a good look through Oink!'s character roster and saw the list of regulars, maybe there weren't all that many who could make the transition to what would be considered a more traditional and safer comic.  Well, when you consider this next regular strip was a fan favourite you wouldn't really disagree!

Written by co-editor Tony Husband and drawn by Les 'Lezz' Barton I was wondering when these anarchic punk rockers would make their first appearance!  Pig pals, prepare yourself for the very first episode of The Slugs (complete with yet another Oink! reference to a certain BBC DJ):


The Slugs would become one of the main strips very quickly and my old grey matter remembers them being the constant page 3 characters when the comic went weekly in January 1988, but more on that when it happens.  For now you can look forward to regular appearances from them on the blog no doubt.

When I started out on this blog I did clearly state this wasn't going to be a "best of" exercise.  For a start there'd be too much to chose from and then there'd also be characters appearing all the time at the expense of others.  After reading each comic it's a matter of selecting that issue's highlights and there's lots of various reasons why they may be chosen.  On more than one occasion before (here, here and here if you're interested) we've had unofficial 'Lew Stringer Specials' (phrase just made up there now, don't go looking for it) where we'd simply end up with a few different examples of his work in one blog update.

Today is another great example so you'd better be a fan, but then again what kid (big or small) isn't?  Starting off with that cover and now on to a huge fan favourite who, I'm ashamed to say, hasn't featured in comic strip form on the blog since #20.  So what better time to catch up with Pete and his Pimple than when he's telling us his life story (after all we've had Tom's in the 1987 Holiday Special) and if you ever thought the comic could run out of ways to have fun with a spot, think again:


Fans of Pete had great news coming soon too with a very special issue of Oink! coming up, but that's for another update so just stay tuned as always.  I don't like to ruin the surprise for new readers or those of us who are having trouble remembering in our old(er) age.

More Lew goodness soon but I'm going to String you along for a bit first (sorry) for everyone's favourite nursery rhyme from Davy Francis:


So back to the action and literally in this case as we welcome back none other than the titan porkster Pigswilla!  Last time we saw him was in his very first (and up to now, his only) adventure in the Halloween issue, Monster Mash, where he battled against a hellish creature made of school dinners.  Keeping within the theme of there being nothing more terrifying than school, it's time for the rotund robot to face up against the Menace of the Headmaster's Brain:


Lew has inadvertently perfectly captured one of Belfast High School's 1990s P.E. teachers there too, just so you know Lew.  Also, that first panel where the kids exclaim they're off school for "weeks and weeks and weeks...", that's another very specific memory I have, reading that and thinking "Well not really, you've only got about a month!"  We really were spoilt with our summer holidays!  But it's one of those Oink! memories that was still there even before starting to read these again, such was the impact of finding this out in this way as a child.

Back to the pig and I was a Pigswilla virgin before this strip and no pun intended but he made a big impression.  I was initially disappointed he didn't appear every fortnight but then it was always such a lovely surprise when he'd turn up and of course it meant he was kind of a headline act in those issues for me.  He'd even appear in The Oink! Book 1988, perfectly rounding off the perfect annual - which you'll get to see at Christmas and not during these summer months, he says as he does the appropriate raspberry-blowing and pulls an extremely childish face.

Rounding off our Lew Stringer love-in we've the issue's second Tom Thug strip and, shockingly, it's a full page!  Back in the 1st birthday issue during the classic strip which saw such a brilliant reference to comics characters from days gone by (you can read about it on Lew's blog right here) Tom pissed off Uncle Pigg so much he demoted him to a half-page story from then on.  True to his word that's exactly the format we've been seeing Tom in ever since.

Until now that is.  Not only is he the cover star, then the opening strip for the whole issue, but he's also back again on page 28 and with it all to himself.  His mum is still about and makes another appearance here, albeit not her usual calm and lovey-dovey self but who can blame her when she sees Tom Thug's End of Term Report:


Interestingly written by co-editor Mark Rodgers instead of Lew this time (this appears to have only happened once before so far, in another issue where we'd two Tom strips), he's still clearly in safe hands, even if some of those hands belonged to the Plops apparently.

Now like I said above there's no set rules on who appears in each update here on the blog and you'll have to trust me on this, as once again Jeremy Banx has come up with the goods in his Burp character's strip and left me with no choice but to include him yet again!  Taking up the high profile back page and in full colour I thought this just needed to be seen.  Not only because of the fact photographs are used to give it a surreal appearance in much the same way Monty Python used cartoons to have the same effect, not only because it's the actual Aliens Registration Office (as you can see in this list), but also because it seems particularly relevant in light of the results of certain parties in the recent elections in England.

Oink! - it's still relevant.  Always funny.

Not sure what happened with the printing of the first panel, but never mind that, just enjoy:


Ok, so while that may be page 32 done and dusted, I want to nip back just one page to round off this issue with Grunts.  This is a particularly good example of input from the readers and the kind of responses meted out by Uncle Pigg.  The joke sent in by Robert Huddart was shared by me for "weeks and weeks and weeks" afterwards:


Patrick Gallagher drew these pages and the guys certainly didn't speak down to the kiddies and that's what made the Grunts pages so much fun, we really felt like we were on a level footing with these characters and the people behind them.  Like I've said before, they just got us in a way no other comic did!  I especially love the letter from the headmaster, though if he did have such a strong empathy with Mr Big Nose I dread to think how he ran his school...

Right folks, that's it for now.  But before I sign off with some info about the blog, remember back in #28 Oink! told its young readers all about the complaint lodged against the Janice & John story and how Oink! had triumphed?  Well it didn't stop some stuck-up newsagents from still placing the comic on the top shelf apparently (though I must say my local one didn't and neither did I ever see it anywhere in my travels anywhere else other than amongst the kids' titles, but then again we didn't have a W.H.Smith over here at the time), so Uncle Pigg had a special message for those places - they wouldn't stop the children:


Nice one.

But for now that's it.  I will be back next week instead of a fortnight from now, as there's been some behind-the-scenes shenanigans going on and the blog is changing.  No, not a new look and I won't be deviating from the whole premise, but remember how I've said before the blog would be coming to its natural conclusion at the end of 2015 after all the issues etc. have been covered?  Well, that's a story for the next update.

See you soon.

Friday, 11 July 2014

#32: CAUSING A RACKET


I'm not a big sports fan, never have been.  Football/soccer bores me.  There, I've said it.  Now the Olympics I do enjoy, in fact I love them and it's the only time you'll see me glued to the screen for any kind of sporting event.  Back as a teen I took an interest in proper football (the American sort) after dabbling in John Madden on the Mega Drive and later followed the American basketball for a while.  I do keep active myself, running and swimming and I look forward to the next Summer and Winter Games, but that's it and so issues of a sporting theme were never going to grab me in the same way as others in Oink!'s run, but they'd a large audience to write for and so I went in to this one with an open mind.

Even with my limited sporting knowledge and even more limited enjoyment of a lot of it, there's still some nice treats in this latest issue and artist Steve McGarry follows up his previous sporting cover for #4 for starters, though the accompanying strip isn't great I have to say.  Inside it's a surprisingly mixed bag but the highlights are definitely the return of The StreetHogs, Weedy Willy's usual 3-panel strip is as good as ever (he hasn't had a full page in a long time now, strange for a character that would live beyond the life of the comic for a while) and Hadrian Vile continues his preparations for his baby brother or sister and as usual causes chaos, but at the moment he's even funnier because he's actually trying to do something he's not used to - being nice!

Now the 'Hogs will be appearing in their own posts very soon just like they did originally last year on the blog (click on their label on the left there to see their previous adventure) and back then another early addition to each issue of Oink! that had its own selection of posts were the Oink! Superstar Posters.  You can see them here and here.  Six of these were drawn by the 'Hogs' J.T. Dogg, but the last two were by Ian Jackson, who many would say was the signature artist of the comic.

Well Ian returns to the poster format and indeed another Oink! Superstar one at that for this issue and I don't need to say that this is another highlight of the issue.  Even though I have just said it:


Now, recently in the Oink! Facebook group, member Caroline Stokes shared the following old magazine advert:


Yes, Oink! has a very random sense of humour at times and this has rubbed off on those of us who grew up reading it, but there was method in Caroline's madness, as she'd remembered Oink! did a spoof!  As coincidence would have it, writer Graham Exton and artist Lew Stringer had indeed concocted the following for this very issue:


Only slightly more ludicrous than the original ad.

Excitingly this issue does see the introduction of one of my most fondly remembered strips.  Created by Rubbish Man's Haldane, it was a half-page regular strip in which we got to see two brothers, twins, take great pride in their work.  They really enjoyed their career, strived to be the very best at what they did, had found a niche industry to build a good reputation in and most of all knew how to have a good, light-hearted attitude in the workplace.  Surely really good role models for the UK's youth?

Certainly.  Introducing The Torture Twins:


Sticking with Haldane for a moment, way back in the depths of time that was #4 I introduced the blog's first Zootown tale by stating how the more docile creatures featured would never actually end up on the buffet menu.  That even though the carnivorous characters in each edition would make remarks towards their ingestion, there still seemed to be some kind of strange friendship towards the cuddly bear-type creatures.

Well I've been wrong before...:


In the last two issues I've featured Banx's brilliant Burp, the Smelly Alien from Outer Space.  Though he could have changed his character's sub-heading to the Gory Alien from Outer Space, made even funnier by the fact Burp himself seemed immune to what he was doing and the surreal nature of said gore.  With the surprise effects of his malfunctioning fast food machine in #30, followed by the inner workings (literally) of Ronald Reagan's head in #31 and then this issue's final outcome, I'm including his strip again in his own kind of Trilogy of (Unintentional) Terror.  Take it away one more time, Burp:


One of the best bits of information I found out from getting to speak to the Oink! creators online was that Cowpat County artist Davy Francis is also from Northern Ireland, just like me.  In fact I've lived in the same city for the past 12 years, though just moved away a couple of months ago - this is separate from finding out Davy lives there I should add!  So for me seeing his artwork now in the comic is extra special as it's officially from "local talent" as the Belfast Telegraph would put it.  Anyway, just thought I'd share as I thought this next one-off was a bit special too:


Tom's Toe first appeared back in #12 of the comic and I never thought we'd see him again, as he appeared to be very much a one-off strip to take the mickey out of the comic titles which artist John Greering usually worked on, with Whizzer and Chips taking the brunt of it in that issue.  Pleasingly, Tom has reappeared once or twice since then, for example in the Holiday Special.  Well here he's back once more, now with a sporting theme and once again it's quite clear it's having a good-humoured stab at its stablemate titles.

To show you what I mean I've split the page into two parts below.  Here's the first half:


Now in what you might call a "normal" comic this would've been the entire story.  The above would've been expanded to a full page, with Tom and his friends innocently playing football, bursting the ball, moaning their fun was all over and then Tom's unique ability producing that comic's "hilarious" climax.  "Hahaa, oh he made it into a football this week, that's great!  I wonder what he'll do next time?"

But this is Oink!

Oink! takes what the other comics would do and goes that bit further.  In this case, it answers the question of how exactly would that work then?!:


I don't remember Tom's Toe at all from my childhood so I'm not sure how often he appears but I do hope he comes back at some point, as he's a great antidote for the stereotypical comics of the day.  The fact he's drawn by an artist who would draw for those other comics all the time just makes him even more special!  Great stuff.

Even the comic's regular characters would sometimes throw us a curve ball and we'd get something different now-and-then.  Such as cut-out Christmas decorations of Tom Thug, a special mini-comic for Pete and his Pimple (to come up soon) or a frankly scary-looking Snatcher Sam mask.  But surely no other character had such a diverse amount of content than Chris Sievey's Frank Sidebottom.

Chris seems to have really enjoyed creating things for the kids to make or play with and he certainly didn't let us down with this issue's (deep breath) Frank "Windy" Sidebottom vs Elton John All-Star Cut-Out Snooker Game.  I challenge anyone to understand these rules:


I love the writing on the underside of the cut-out Elton John, "you can even"(!!) cut up other magazines or your own photos, like Frank was imparting something brilliant and unheard of.  It was also Oink! getting its readers to go and cut up everyone else's things too.

So there we go, that's it for now but I'll be back on Friday 25th July with an issue theme which really puzzled me as a kid, but which at the same time made me very, very happy to be living in Northern Ireland and not England.  What is it?  Come back and find out.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

#31: "WE'RE THE PIGS IN HAMERICA (WHOA)"


This issue has made me do something terrible.  Something horrific.  Something akin to the most delicate of medical procedures.  I had to take the issue apart!  Not just the middle two pages that we may have done as kids, nono.  No, this made me take apart the whole damn thing!  Why?  You'll see.

But first, how about that cover, eh?  Andy Roper returns after his superb The Spectacles of Doom from issues #22 and #23 with this take on the legend of King Kong - King Pong.  But as great as the cover is (and we'll return to Andy's artwork for the character a little down the page here) it's that logo which obviously stands out!  Despite the colour pink being symbolic of everything "girlie" when I was a boy the Oink! logo was the exception, and was a bold move by Patrick Gallagher, but it was the one thing in pink us fellas loved.

It was always fun back then to see something different being done with it though.

But I still won't wear a pink shirt to this day.

Now I know Mr Burp has featured quite a lot recently but the alien is on a roll, simple as that!  After his gory escapade last issue here he is again just casually helping by... well, you'll see how... I don't want to ruin the surprise.  Maybe his creator Banx was working through some anger issues at the time, or maybe he just wasn't a fan of Ronald Reagan, our special guest:


Yes, somewhat surprised me too!  But I do have vague memories of this one and the casual way in which Burp chainsaws the top of his head off.  You wouldn't see that in any other kids' comic!  But it was just funny, it didn't feel shocking or gory, it was just Oink!  A superb strip though.

Another character reappearing in this post after having only appeared on the blog a fortnight ago is Hadrian Vile, but instead of a look at vacuous celebrities he's taking on a altogether more serious subject, albeit in his own inimitable style...:


Mark Rodgers and Ian Jackson's creation is getting a baby sibling and we'd see the build up over the following months, with Hadrian doing his best to make his mark on his mum's pregnancy.  We'd also finally see the big day itself and the arrival of his potential protege in a special 3-page strip much later in the run, so keep an eye out.  In the meantime we'll check in now and again to see how it's all going, though I dread to think what kind of things that baby would hear from the outside world!

I've said it before but I'll ask it again - I wonder if Oink! had kept on running how this strip would've changed?  With the small act of Hadrian's age increasing by 1 in the title (with the comic's birthday issue) Mark and Ian committed to Hadrian growing up with the readers which in my view was a brave move.  It was certainly unique and I'm struggling to think of any other children's comic character that's aged in real time like that.  With the addition of a new baby it was now more than just the joke of changing the age for the anniversary issue and it's just such a shame the comic didn't last a few years longer to see where they would've taken this idea!

The Golden Trough Awards have featured randomly at times in the comic itself, never mind the blog, and have produced consistently brilliant strips.  In fact one of my favourite strips so far in the whole comic has been one of these - the one from what is probably my favourite issue so far - and now they're back in full throttle once more, as ever written by Tony Husband, but this time drawn by Pete Dredge who many may remember for the Master T strip in early issues, and who seems to have taken over as Awards artist from Ian Jackson and Tony himself from #28.

You have to admit, his art style just seems the perfect fit for a shady gangster tale somehow:


Take some time away from the blog and check out Pete's own website, full of fantastic galleries of his other work including 1-panels, comic strips and caricatures.  Be warned though, you'll want to read everything so make sure you've set aside enough time before Pointless comes on.

Pot shots are being taken all over the place in this issue against the Americans - nothing is safe.  From McDonald's in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, to seeing what the famous lady does in her spare time in The Statue of Liberty When No-one is Looking.  Pete and his Pimple go up against a Texan zit and superheroes are the order of the day in Hector Vector and His Talking T-shirt and The Incredible Hump, and the Americans celebrate meeting alien life when The Eagle has Landed (in Egypt!).

As superb as these all are, none sum up the attitude Oink! had towards the States quite like Banx's Mr Big Nose:


Could've been written today couldn't it?

The back page of this issue is actually upside-down but it's no simple printing error, it's a second front cover of sorts, as when you place the artwork the right way up having the staples on the left and the comic opening on the right just adds to this fake Time cover from none other than Frank Sidebottom:


Chris Sievey's strips under the guise of his alter ego Frank would always squeeze in famous friends and his celebrity lifestyle at every opportunity.  Of course as you'll have seen previously his "celebrity lifestyle" wasn't quite how many others would've described it and in real life Chris was happy to do small gigs and never craved the spotlight in the way his creation did.  But Frank's endeavours to become a global sensation had already proved successful - in Frank's mind anyway!  Hence the above "cover".

Okay, big news coming up but first we need to get back to that real front cover and that "giant ape-like pig"... bit of a stretch but go with it because the strip to follow features some brilliant Andy Roper artwork matched up with a snappy Mark Rodgers script.  The level of detail from Andy raises an already brilliant 2-page story to that of a real "event" strip and look out for the return of his The Spectacles of Doom soon!

But first, there's nothing quite like a biplane-skating giant ape-like pig monster to fill the gap:


Now, what's that big news?  And why did I have to take apart this issue so completely for this update?  Well, the answer lies in the 2-part "giant" (to our small hands at the time anyway) poster we got with it.  One part lay inside the middle pages as posters normally do, however the other part was inside the covers, across pages 2 and 31.  So, yes, this meant undoing staples and taking it all apart and, if you were particularly ambitious, threading those staples back together again to keep the remaining 24 pages together.  Or not, as the case probably was in most cases.

The subject of this unique DIY poster?  None other than The Streethogs!  Which also means we get to welcome back the artwork of J.T. Dogg!  Asides from the Crash special we haven't had the pleasure of his work since #19's final Ham Dare chapter, so it's a very welcome return because we now get to see his work every single fortnight for the foreseeable future, as this poster is a way of getting the porky pals' fans all "geared up" for the next issue and part one of The Day of the Triffics!

I'll be putting them up in parts like the previous adventure (which you can read in four previous posts - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4) but first here's that complete poster and a closer look at the individual parts, with brilliant technical information (kind of) on the bikes at last:


Lots of people comment that the humour in Oink! is still very much relevant today, all these years later.  It's still making people laugh, even those who are too young to remember some of those celebrity references or to have seen the movies or TV shows the comic spoofs.  But for our last strip this fortnight, starring everyone's favourite angry critic Mary Lighthouse, this feels particularly true because while she's very clearly talking to then-US President Ronald Reagan, it could just as easily be Dubya!:


Couldn't it?  Timeless strip there from the mind of Mark Rodgers and the hand of Ian Jackson.

In a fortnight we'll be back on these shores again for the sports issue which goes on sale on Friday 11th July.  Until then I'll be busy trying to piece this thing back together again........