Friday, 22 August 2014

#35: TRAVELLING TO THE OTHER SIDE

Cover artwork by Ian Jackson

Well here we are then with our first issue of the second half of Oink!'s run - the start of the final 34 editions.  Well that's a bit premature to be saying that, there's still so much great stuff to come after all, particularly over the remainder of this year (1987 in old money), but it's also noteworthy that with us moving into what would be the second half of the run (unbeknownst at the time of course) something big had changed.

By coincidence this was also the first issue to no longer be published by IPC Magazines.  This was where Fleetway took over and in hindsight, with what was to eventually befall the comic, it's an incredibly important transition.  Looking at this issue you'd not notice it unless you read the copyright blurb at the bottom of page 2 (bigger changes were to arrive with the very next issue however) and you may be wondering why I'm giving it such prominence right at the beginning of the post.

Fleetway was originally created by newspaper group chairman Cecil Harmsworth King and when he later purchased Odhams and Newnes publishers the IPC holding company was formed to oversee them all.  Eventually it was all rebranded under various parts of IPC itself with Oink! falling under IPC Magazines alongside all the other comics.  However in 1987, IPC sold off its comics by placing them into a separate 'Fleetway' company and selling the whole caboodle to Robert Maxwell's Pergamon Holdings Ltd.

Maxwell's company now owned Oink!.

Well, you see, Oink! was a hit for IPC and they certainly treated it as such, with an average of around 100,000 sales an issue.  But when the comics were sold off and Fleetway was 'reborn' under Maxwell a reorganisation took place across the titles.

Sales groups were formed.  I'm not sure of the exact makeup of these but by way of example Buster and Whizzer and Chips were placed alongside a couple of others into one group.  Oink! was placed into another which had a few different titles, one of which I know was Nipper (see also here).  The total sales of each group would be what counted now - if the group's total sales fell too far all titles within that group would be canned.  It's a strange system and I'm sure they had their reasons, though I fail to see how it could be seen as anything other than over-simplification of a huge amount of titles.

Just as the video game industry suffered a crash in the early-to-mid 80s (when booming sales led to too many bandwagon jumpers and too much crap being produced, with a 'crash' in sales the result) the British comics industry would end up kind of having one of its own.  Comics were big business around this time, but this opened the floodgates to so many titles over the late 80s and early 90s that individual sales began to suffer.  Maybe Maxwell's lot knew there were too many titles and wanted to trim them down the easiest way possible, but they certainly went about it the wrong way in my opinion if this is the case.  Oink! may not have been getting the sales of long-time stalwarts Buster or Whizzer and Chips with their quarter-of-a-million or so readers, but it was head and shoulders above the sales of the other comics in its new group and should've been treated as such by this 'new' Fleetway.

Regardless if this was the reason or not, the groups were now laid out and in the end this would be the first brick in the wall that'd stop Oink! dead in its tracks at a later stage.

We'll revisit this tale as things develop over the course of the comic's lifetime here in the blog, but for now it's back to the current issue and it's time to see off the school holidays with sun, sea, sand and selfies in our "Terrific Travel Issue".  Selfies?  In 1987?  Kind of:


Frank Sidebottom's holiday snaps had apparently been left on the train but luckily he could remember them and so set about drawing them up for the benefit of readers.  When I saw this one - given the influx of 'selfies' online these days - I just had to include it.  You see?  Oink! well ahead of the curve again, about 25 years before these became the thing to do.  Okay that's a bit of a stretch, but a good excuse to include it.

In recent issues a writer has come to the fore amongst the 3-panel strips the comic was so good at.  Howard Osborn has only featured once on the blog before (last issue in fact with his take on Roger Rental - He's Completely Mental) but his name has been appearing with more frequency in the actual pages.  This time around he's got at least five strips with his name attached, four of which are three-panels and I'm going to feature all these here.  The first is the latest addition to the list of Rotten Rhymes with his take on Baa-Baa Black Sheep:


Artist Davy Francis would also team up with Howard for my very favourite Greedy Gorb so far.  Now last time he appeared on the blog I did say how his strips would probably fall under the 'one trick pony' category if he were in another comic, but with Oink! his antics were always fresh and inventive.  While his own pun in this next strip would normally be enough to raise a chuckle, what stood out for me this time was just how many jokes the two of them fitted into just two panels!:


Short but superb and a highlight of the issue.  However Howard wasn't finished, not by a long way.  The other two of his strips I'm including are a one-off character for this special travel theme.  When turning the page and seeing the first one again I actually had a flashback to reading it as a child.  With puns in that Greedy Gorb strip to rival those of Graham Exton, Howard Osborn was obviously relishing his time on Oink! and would bring out even more groans in the readers with these two featuring Tommy Tyre (He Gets Around):



Just to nip back into the world of Davy Francis and his other creation now and the one which was the very first comic strip Oink! ever published within its pages.  Cowpat County was the first strip in the preview issue and you can read it right here if you haven't already.  They've appeared less frequently in the comic so it's always good to see the return of Farmer Giles et all and this time it's another Oink! crossover.

Back in #15 many new characters were introduced to the run.  As I've discovered with my readthrough, many of those classed as regulars might not be in every single issue however, such was the mass of characters and talent involved and the wish to keep it all fresh and seemingly random.  One such strip was Barrington Bosh - He's Incredibly Posh, who now makes his first appearance on the blog too.  His life was one of luxury, with staff to do everything from tying his shoelaces to actually replacing him in conversations as he was just too rich to talk to other people.

He was drawn by Roger Rental's Ian Knox, which shouldn't be a surprise given the similarities in the full names of the strips and here Ian and Davy teamed up to draw the strip together when Bosh finds himself somewhere a bit out of his depth:


Another regular in the Oink! sense of the word is the loveable rogue pensioner Psycho Gran.  Created by David Leach who continues to create new adventures to this day for her in her own comic, she usually took up half a page with her often violent take on retirement.  I could only ever remember her taking up a full page in the second Christmas issue with a back page mini-poster of her 'waiting' for Santa Claus, so I was delighted to see her in a full-page of comic strip right here in this issue.

Does that mean the violence is spread out more?  You know, thinned out so as to drag it over double the length of time?  Not quite!:


She should try coming here and using Northern Ireland's public transport system!

UPDATE: Have a read of the comments section for this post where you'll find some Psycho Gran trivia from her creator.

Recently I've featured some superb artwork by Viz's Simon Thorpe, which you should really check out in the label on the left there as none of it should be missed by any proper pig pal.  There was an incorrect myth surrounding the relationship between the two comics - that the adult title's creators resented the young upstart and claimed it was just a pale copy of theirs.  In reality the creators of the two comics knew each other, were fans of each other's work and would meet up upon occasion.  The very fact Simon, who is one of the editorial team at Viz, contributed to Oink! should prove this point.

I also think it's rather unfair to compare the two.  While they share similar traits such as an anarchic feeling, celebrity spoofs, false adverts etc at a time when other comics didn't do such a thing, they were very different and not just with their target audiences.  If you actually read both, to say Oink! copied it is like saying every single traditional comic such as Buster, Whizzer and Chips, Whoopee etc etc etc were simply copying The Dandy.  Each of those comics was a separate entity in and of itself yet fitted within a general genre of humour comics.  Even disregarding the different audiences of Viz and Oink! that's about as similar as they get - same genre (which they were the only two of back then and where the confusion probably comes from), both hugely enjoyable, but yet completely different.

Simon returns to Oink! here with a brilliant one-off strip for the travel theme, as we take off on an Arctic Adventure:


Now for many readers Pete and his Pimple was a highlight of every single issue.  This was definitely the case for me, that's for sure.  However, with this issue it was certainly so across the board (no pun intended) as Pete would take up over three full pages of the comic, including a double-page spread board game right in the centre.

Remember the Frank Sidebottom cut-out board game pieces from the Holiday Special earlier this year?  Well now it's the turn of Pete Throb.  The setup is simple - a possible cure for all forms of problematic acne has been discovered but as convenience would have it for a game there was only enough to cure one person of it.  Hence why Pete and his pimply pals (once again including his sister, Tom Thug's girlfriend) are set to battle their way across the globe.  The story behind the adventure is as follows, as always from the mind of Lew Stringer:


Jumping forward several pages to the middle of the comic and we're presented with this colourful game board, complete with many and various ways of forcing your piece around the board and back to the beginning again.  There's rules though!  Albeit it ones that do acknowledge this is a made up game for inside a comic:


Extremely inventive and even reading it now as an adult I can imagine the amount of fun kids would have had playing this while they waited for the next issue.  Silliness such as this just wasn't there in Game of Life was it?!

But that's not all.  Like the final cutscene when you complete a video game, this board game had a little something extra for the winner on the next page:


Fans of Pete and his puss should look forward to a future issue very soon when he gets his very own title!  Well, a pull-out mini comic anyway.  Now that's a definite highlight which will be featuring in its greasy glory right here!

To finish off the last issue with the nice shiny paper a very welcome return to the blog for another old favourite who I first included all the way back in #1's post - Rubbish Man.  Now accompanied every fortnight by Boy Blunder, Haldane's creation hasn't been seen in his regular Jimmy Bung guise for what feels like an age and this issue is no exception.  Deciding they need a holiday our intrepid (and inept) heroes remain as they are and head off on a special bus tour to "Hunt the Yeti":


As ever, Haldane twists the story into something completely unpredictable and hugely entertaining and I cracked up at the mention of the gas bill by the yeti.  Great stuff, it's been far too long since he was featured and I know of some blog readers who'll be very happy to see his inclusion.

There we go then, another issue down and a terrific run to come, so stay tuned for them and everything else planned here.  Thanks to you all for sticking around this long!

8 comments:

David Leach said...

Another great Blog entry, Phil. Just thought I'd mention some Psycho Gran trivia for you and ask you a question too. Question first. Was this the first full page, Psycho Gran story?

Now some trivia.

1. This was the first cartoon strip I ever drew which made my mother laugh and that I didn't need to explain. I said at the time I should quit now because I'd never better it.

2. It's the only piece of original artwork I drew I have up on my wall at home.

3. The number plate of the bus reads D4PKM which is a love letter to my then girlfriend, now wife Petra K. Manley, we're still together.

4. It's dedicated to the brother of an ex-girlfriend.

5. The bus was swiped from the great Paul Sample. I think it was an Ogri strip.

6. Personally, I think this strip marked the beginning of a maturity in my work, I was very proud of it at the time and still am!

7. The artwork measures A2 in size. It was all inked using my Rotring art pens, except for the handbag and the solid blacks which were done using markers and felt tip pens, as such those parts are fading.

H&K Leach.

Phil Boyce said...

Thanks for the insights David! I had a feeling there'd be some reason behind the licence plate but then dismissed it as me looking too much into it, ha!

Yes this was the first full page strip I've come across so far of hers and it really is a masterpiece David, and I'm not just saying that because I'm talking to you. Shame Come Dine With Me didn't feature that particular wall in your house!

David Leach said...

it did, briefly, it hangs by the left of my front door and is glimpsed as I welcomed one of the guests.

Andy Boal said...

That Barrington Bosh is very curious. You can tell Davy and Ian both live here, because it’s a classic Ian Knox nose but the art is definitely inked by Davy.

Phil Boyce said...

Does Ian Knox live here in Northern Ireland? It's signed by them both so they both drew it, just like the Weedy Willy and Tom Thug crossover was drawn by both Lew and Mike Green, but it doesn't necessarily mean they were in the same room to do so :)

Andy Boal said...

Yes, Ian's a Belfast guy (and still draws for the Irish News.) I met him at his exhibition in the Crescent Arts Centre earlier this year and discovered just how tall Tim McGarry was at the same time.

I think I posted about it somewhere on Comics UK, sorry if you missed it :(

Phil Boyce said...

No I'd no idea it was on, damn. Is that comics.co.uk yeah?

Andy Boal said...

www.comicsuk.co.uk :)