Friday, 5 September 2014

#36: A CHANGE IS AS GOOD AS A REST


He's not wrong you know, that Percy Plop fella.  As I mentioned last issue Fleetway Publications had taken over printing and publishing duties on the comic from IPC Magazines and one issue later changes were afoot.  Gone was the shiny, glossy high grade paper, replaced with newsprint and the pages were indeed of a slightly different size (slightly shorter and less wide, creeping towards A4 for you completists out there).  But, Oink! being Oink!, it came up with a superb excuse:

Peculiar Steve Gibson

Instead of just carrying on regardless and ignoring the changes, the creators saw the chance to really go wild with this issue, even coming up with a story behind the paper change which you'll see below. In reality Oink! had been printed on much higher quality paper than its fellow IPC comics such as Buster and Whizzer and Chips and with larger pages too.  When Fleetway took over it began streamlining as I've mentioned before and, after the introduction of sales groups (again, see last issue) some comics wouldn't see it through to the end of the year.  Another way it streamlined was by changing the paper stock across the board so that all titles would now be printed on the same sized pages and same grade of paper.

To give you some idea of the differences, below you can see the original sizes of Oink! and Whizzer and Chips circa 1986, with this newest issue of Oink! in the middle representing how all the comics would be printed from September 1987 onwards:


To be fair, the quality of the newsprint used from this point on for all of Fleetway's humour comics was a hell of a lot better (stronger, thicker) than the original stuff used in the Whizzer and Chips above and the reproductions of shaded greys still worked really well.  On previous newsprint there'd been no chance of this and everything was simply black and white or block colours, with Oink!'s different, shiny (and more expensive) paper lending itself brilliantly to glorious artwork.  Thankfully though Oink!'s art style transitioned well to this new paper thanks to it being of much better stock in terms of newsprint options, and though it wasn't quite as good as the original glossy stuff the web offset printing process used also helped.

Thanks to Lew Stringer for the inside info on the processes by the way.

I can remember picking up the next issue, #37 and being slightly disappointed the paper hadn't changed for just one issue to heighten the 'Oink! Goes Peculiar' theme of #36, but on the other hand my young brain (for whatever reason!) liked the fact it was more familiar to other comics readers now, maybe thinking more people would read it.  I don't know, it doesn't make sense but I can just remember thinking it!  Probably though, it was more to do with a change to the comic.  I always liked 'new looks' and refreshes in my comics as a kid (Transformers would do it every hundred issues or so and when it went to its version of newsprint it seemed to soak up the inks beautifully) and with the new-ish logo - now reduced in size and in a yellow band every issue - it kind of felt that way with the new paper etc.  Other Fleetway comics would get a brand new logo every-so-often but thankfully Oink! retained its iconic title while also freshening it up a little.

At least for now.  But more on that next year!

There's a sense of a comic with a 'new look' inside in the same way as #15 had.  That is, nothing had really changed but yet it felt like it was welcoming new readers, with Uncle Pigg introducing himself, and the first of three sets of free stickers in much the same way as the three-part poster in that earlier issue lured in readers too:

Free stickers and new cover designs ahoy

The free stickers with this issue

Hence the title of this post.  It feels brand new, an exciting new start not just with the cosmetic changes but the issue as a whole feels kind of similar to #15 - fresh, vibrant, a new beginning, as if the team had taken a well earned rest and come back ten times stronger!  Not that they needed to mind you.  But, these issues for the rest of the year (#36 to #44) hold a special place in my heart but I'm going to leave that for a separate post for now, so strong are the fond memories I have.  So as we get to the inside of this 'new feel' issue Uncle Pigg greets us on page 2 for the first time in a while, introducing us to him and the comic as I said above.  It sets in motion the changes brought on by the publisher quite brilliantly for us young readers at the time.  Imaginatively written by Mark Rodgers and hopefully introducing more young eyes to the skills of Ian Jackson as artist, off we go then:


Remember #8 when the "skeleton crew" took over the running of the comic for one issue while Uncle Pigg and his staff were on holiday and all the so-called errors that occurred during it?  Well that same idea resurfaces here, with strips printed upside down, the Grunts page having everything at a strange angle, wrong colours being used on stories etc., and at the bottom of such pages we had a little quarter-page panel with the Plops commenting on what was going wrong (that picture at the top was taken from the first one for example), with their frustrations growing as the issue went on.

Uncle Pigg would also infiltrate the strips as you'll see below in one example and which also resulted in Pete and his Pimple turning into Peter and his Perfect Complexion on the advice of Mary Lighthouse!  Other peculiarities have Rubbish Man battling against his deranged artist as the strip randomly changes from panel-to-panel, Mr Big Nose at his most original yet and a poster of the Mona Lisow by Leonardo De Pigci.

But first Tony Husband and Chas Sinclair, who have teamed up for some wonderful spoof adventure strips before (such as Lashy the Wonder Pig), collaborate again on a great piece.  One which definitely sends out a great animal conservation message for kids, whether that's in 1987 or the present day, albeit it in their typical Oink! way(!) - Tarzham the Apeman:


I suppose for new readers this whole issue could be seen as peculiar if they weren't used to its usual sense of humour and the spoofs it'd trot out every fortnight.  Speaking of trotting out a spoof:


That's got to be the worst setup for a pun I've yet used on this blog and I apologise whole-heartedly, but hopefully you can forgive me since it did give you a chance to read that by Ed McHenry, after all.

Now in the last issue in a strip I simply didn't have the space to include, The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile - Aged 8 5/8 (years) had the oft-disgusting little troublemaker's mother go "into Laybour!" and it was left with the family racing away in their car as "There's not enuff rume to tell you orl the exciting things wot happen neckst, so you'll hav to wate 'til neckst issyoo!".  So, what did happen next?  I've mentioned this exciting event before on the blog here and here, and it certainly wasn't the kind of thing we'd ever see in a kid's comic, never mind expect it in one as rebellious as Oink!  But then again I suppose it's just something else to set it apart, and it never talked down to its audience about such real-world subjects.  While I expected it to happen a good while later in the run, when it appeared at the end of his strip last time I thought this was it.  Surely this issue (written and drawn as ever by the usual Rodgers and Jackson team) with the changes that had happened, it'd be the perfect issue to see such a big change in the life of a favourite character?:


Perhaps not then.  For regular readers this is a great addition, completely undercutting the cliff hangar from last time!

There are two big, main highlights for me in this issue which had me giggling like a child of 9 all over again, although quite possibly moreso in my adult age if I'm honest!  These are the next two to be featured right here.  They're not only "big" highlights because they're some of the finest strips so far from two of my favourite characters, but also because they've taken over two whole pages each!  First up it's Banx with Burp.

For a while there Burp was featuring in nearly every blog post, simply because it made for fun reading how he was getting unintentionally gory.  Not unintentionally on the part of Banx obviously, but on the part of Burp himself.  As always, he's forever trying to find ways of being accepted but he'd somehow end up doing the exact opposite with whatever random human being he tried it with.  This particular strip starts strange enough and then just gets weirder as it goes along.  The double-length story affords Banx the time to really go to town and between this and Mr Big Nose he must surely be the king of surrealism.  Quite a feat for a children's comic - surrealism just wasn't something we were used to.  Yes, Oink! was enjoyed by people of all ages but it still had its target audience and we adored having such original humour strips as this!:


How do you make an already peculiar character amid peculiar situations even more peculiar?  Well there's your answer above.

Another creator who came out all guns blazing with the theme of this issue was Lew Stringer, who gives us two pages as well and this time it's Tom Thug's chance to shine.  Shine he does, even taking over cartoonist duties, and Lew gets to brings us even more plops.  This issue really is coming down with them, which is no bad thing at all as I always loved having them about.  In the comic I mean.

Now like I said earlier there were many pages in this issue where Ian Jackson's plops would get the bottom quarter (no pun intended this time I swear) to critique what Uncle Pigg was doing to the comic and they were getting more and more desperate as the issue went on.  So now here we are with Tom's strip and at first glance it looks like the same thing has happened here, with his strip coming a cropper too and the smelly assistants looking on from the bottom of the page - albeit drawn by Lew now.  The fact this was on an odd-numbered page (i.e. on the right hand side of the spread when the comic is open) cleverly helps give this impression, but in actual fact upon reading it you discover that's not the end at all!

Here then is both this and what we were greeted with upon turning the page over.  Enjoy!:


I say this far too often with Lew's work but that's genius!  I especially love the 'stock footage', as it were, that the plop tries to use to end the story - something quite a lot of our favourite American 80s TV shows did now and again.  It's a hard choice but if pushed that's my favourite strip in this issue and the best Tom Thug yet!  How do you better that?  I'll look forward to finding out.

Hmm... how to introduce this next Roger Rental, He's Completely Mental strip from Ian Knox...?:


Yep, that's right, sometimes you just got to let Roger speak for himself!

Before we wrap up the Uncle Pigg tale and say goodbye to this fabulous issue, we get to see the Plops and one of the piggy staff members trying to calm down our good editor to no avail.  Now with a crazed look in his eye they're screaming that he's messing everything up and how they can't stop him!  What follows this is a brilliant 'error' as we see none other than J.T. Dogg himself take over cartooning duties for Marc Riley's creation Harry the Head!  How brilliant is this idea!:


Ah but I can't leave it there!  What's about to happen?!  Well, turn over the page and you get this!:


Any issue that gives us a multi-page Uncle Pigg strip from Mark Rodgers and Ian Jackson is always going to be right up there as a favourite, with this issue's many additions of mini-strips for the Plops highlighting these fun characters and the highly original art style even further.  However, add in all those other strips above and you've got one of the very best issues to date!  Seriously, there's so much more brilliance here than I can possibly include without breaching rules over scanning whole issues in!  If you see this issue on eBay or elsewhere snap it up immediately!  It's worth the asking price - whatever it is.

I'm so excited by this issue and the ones to come and like I said I'll be putting up a special (for me anyway, it might bore you) post about them before the next issue.  My very favourite period from Oink!'s entire run has started and how!

The next issue goes on sale Friday 19th September, but just before I go I had to include one more thing and that's this drawing from the Grunts page, which was sent in all those years ago by a certain J. Sampson from Essex.  Who just so happens to be a member of the Oink! Facebook group these days!  Well done Jon and if anyone reading this ever got anything printed just let me know and I'll dig it out for you:


Speak to you soon.

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