Ah Frank Sidebottom and Marc Riley as Snatcher Sam, surely a match made in food heaven? Erm, okay, that wouldn't make much sense without that cover, but with that photo it's surely an enticing front page for pig pals. Frank seemed to constantly be on children's television at this time, making guest appearances on many shows across the land - my personal favourite memories are of him turning up on No.73, back when we used to have two-hour long live children's TV every Saturday morning instead of American cartoons and repeats of American cartoons.
With his star rising, the decision to make him a regular Oink! contributor (and strip star) was a superb idea. Not just because he was so "fantastic" but also as a piece of marketing genius as he fast became the celebrity face of the comic. Surely this cover would draw in the kids who had seen him on the tellybox but hadn't come across his cartoon strips yet? Well, possibly, if it weren't for the stickers covering most of the cover!
But then again, free gifts were such a big event back in the day that these would've drawn in the readers anyway, and then discovering that papier-mâchéd face beneath them would've been really exciting!:
Our next free gift would be a preview comic (quite fitting given how Oink! was the first to go that route) in #68, but we'll not dwell on that yet or else we'll all end up rather emotional...
While Frank's comic strips were always a highlight, this issue he'd appear again in a photo story with Snatcher Sam, the first time since the anniversary issue, #26. The Story Behind the Cover strip is not only split in two across the comic but, brilliantly, it's also split across two pages at the start of this issue. The first half-page is on the bottom of page 2, the second half-page on the top of page 3. The reason? Simple. Comic timing:
Then across the page you go...:
Splitting it like that stops your eyes from wandering further into the strip and ruining that surprise joke. Ingenious I have to say. Marc and Frank will pick that up again on page 31 and the pie would fly throughout the comic, appearing randomly in strips here and there thanks to Patrick Gallagher, as you'll see below. Editing a comic certainly isn't like this these days!
But for now the pie takes a back seat for the first part of another Oink! epic. We've had multi-part tales on the blog with The StreetHogs and Ham Dare: Pig of the Future, and for readers of the comic there was also King's Solomon's Swines which I didn't feature here. We also had the two-part The Spectacles of Doom which took centre stage in its first issue with a wraparound cover poster too, back in #22. Well, editor Tony Husband returns as writer once more, alongside artist Andy Roper with a full-colour five-part adventure starring our favourite inept hero Endor and his singing sword and magical glasses, starting this very issue.
As with all good sequel movies (and when I say good, I mean so-bad-they're-good) it's that classic "that one-of-a-kind thing you spent the previous story battling for wasn't the only one after all" plot. This time it's a mystical monocle and why don't we throw in an army of the dead, time travel and ghostly spirits into the mix too, just for laughs. Well okay then, but how about all of these in part one!:
This makes sense to me now. Not the story, I mean the strip as a whole. When it appeared before in the run I was surprised to see it in black and white and that it only lasted two issues. I was sure it was a long story and in colour - and here it is at last. This is one of those strips which stayed lingering in my memory just as much as the characters that appeared in every single issue, so I'm very tempted to skip ahead and see if it matches up to the enjoyment I can remember. But I'll just be patient like we all must be, and wait a fortnight until part two.
So far, so good though and Andy's action-packed artwork is superb once more, full of detail and if it weren't for the zany script by Tony you'd swear on first glance it was from an action comic. Tony really delivered the goods with the first Spectacles story and I'm eager to see where he takes us this time.
Oh, and just to clarify, I didn't make a mistake with the scanning of the first page there, Andy's name is cut off the bottom of the actual page too like that.
Burp is back for another belter of a two-pager, all perfectly setting up a final panel joke. Like Frank and Marc his strip is split in two across the comic but I'm not including him this time, but only for the reason that we've got some lovely big strips in this issue as it is and I couldn't let any one of these slip by. The smelly alien has featured loads recently so it's with reluctance he'll have to remain in the comic's pages this time around. But to make up for it somewhat, how about a bit of his creator Banx's Mr Big Nose instead?:
I was speaking to Cowpat County creator Davy Francis on the telephone the other day and we were discussing some of the great work Oink! produced and of course Jeremy Banx came up - how could he not. We both agreed that Mr Big Nose was just so unique and a perfect fit for the comic. Surrealism was just something we kids were never exposed to in comics, and I thank Jeremy for introducing us to this kind of humour at such an early stage. If anything, I'd say Mr Nose affected my humour more than any other, such a stand out character as he was.
Now don't get me wrong, the comic as a whole had a completely different sense of humour and I credit all of its creators with developing our young minds' giggle cells into the senses of humour we adult Oink! fans share today. It's just these Banx strips were so out there, so random and so far from anything we'd ever seen, they left a lasting impact.
Hang on. Did I say I was speaking to Davy Francis on the phone? Why would that be? Oh you'll find out. But back to the issue....
As well as Burp, we're treated to a half-page, one-panel Hadrian Vile's guide to Nayming Baybees, Charlie Brooker's further Adventures of Death who you'll see very soon believe me, Dead Fred takes pride of place in full-colour on the back cover, there's lots of additional plops with their usual puns spread throughout, Psycho Gran is back and there's the first part of the Jimmy Flynn strip. Or to give it its full name, Jimmy Flynn Jumps Out of his Skin! This was the strip introduced in the small three-panel preview last issue.
Jimmy, from Haldane, was a young boy who had the power to jump from his skin and run around like a skeleton. But only for a short period of time. The story starts with us being told, "As regular Oink! readers know..." before explaining what I've just told you. But we hadn't been told anything yet. This was the first time. Anyway, here it's the first part of his adventure and he appears in a haunted mansion and at every turn gets scared out of his.... well, anyway, I'm sure he'll make an appearance on the blog soon enough.
Now there's one character who, more often than not, I'll just have to include whenever he appears. He doesn't turn up an awful lot, but enough to have become a firm fan favourite over the course of the comic's run. As usual his strip is an event. As usual he's up against some horrible monster made of food of some sort. As usual the solution could never be guessed by the reader. As usual it's brought to us by the talented hands of none other than Lew Stringer. A standing ovation please for the magnificent (as usual) return of Pigswilla!:
Beware the Bread-Beast from Beyond was written by Lew as well, though we also appear to have Mark Rodgers' initials by the finger puppets, so I'm going to assume he had a hand (boom!) with the idea behind them.
Two characters I heavily associate with these favourite issues of Oink! are Haldane's Torture Twins. I vividly remember reading certain strips at my Aunt May's house. She wasn't really my aunt but my mum's best friend, but she got called that by the whole family. Every Thursday my mum and May would take it in turns to visit each other and eat biscuits, drink coffee and chinwag. I can remember reading some Oink!s in her house like it was yesterday and for some reason the Torture Twins in particular. It's strange what the mind remembers. I can also remember them having a conversation about Santa Claus while I was reading the Halloween issue of the comic, thinking I wasn't really listening. I can also recall reading Marvel UK's The Sleeze Brothers at her house, but I think that may have been the next year...
But anyway, this isn't one of the strips per se - I think - but it's too good for you not to see:
This next strip, again running to two pages, surprised me when I read this issue again. In The Oink! Book 1988 the team did a superb spoof of the Dandy and the Beano, taking well-intentioned pot shots at multiple characters from those two legendary British comics. Now while the book was already on sale at this time, and indeed would've been created many moons before being published, this next scan would've been the first time many of us saw Oink! take a clear swipe at either one of them, as most of us got our annuals at Christmas instead. (In fact, this was also the year I got the Dandy/Beano 50th anniversary book too, even though it was my brother that usually got Beano annuals. I think he'd just outgrown them at this point.)
Just as in the annual the title they 'earned' was the Deano. Here we see a superb Mark Rodgers take on Dennis the Menace where we see him... look, just read it first. I don't want to spoil the surprises:
Les 'Lezz' Barton does a superb job of emulating the art style of Dennis' strip at the time, right down to the title panel and the layout of the pages which would've made up the front and back of the real Beano. The comic logo itself here is absolutely spot on!
I've read on a blog online how these were allegedly "mean spirited" piss-takes, or drawn up by the "jealous" Oink! team. Nothing could be further from the truth. That particular blog then takes great pleasure in reminding us Oink! lasted two and a half years while those other two were still going at the time of the author's post. It's a fun spoof, not a full-frontal attack like he seems to think. I believe they may be just an over-protective Beano/Dandy fan, but the simple fact is that at the time many lovers of those comics enjoyed these joke versions from Oink! Just as I enjoyed the spoof of my favourite early-primary school TV show Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends in #15. Just as we enjoyed our favourite celebrities on Spitting Image, or even Bobby Davro or Gary Wilmot's takes on them at Saturday tea-times. (There's names you'll need to explain to your kids!).
No, these were fun spoofs of their kind of established sense of humour Oink! was throwing in the bin and reinventing. It was all par of the course for this comic and if anyone thought they were "mean spirited" or the creators were "jealous" of the success of the Beano, they were completely missing the point of Oink!'s fun and would definitely be better off not reading it at all. (Also remember if the comic had continued at IPC where it was treated as a hit instead of Fleetway the length of Oink!'s run may have been very different - I first mentioned this here and it comes up in other posts too, so keep reading.)
But for the rest of us we can look forward to more of this sort of thing later in the year. If you can't remember, or are new to Oink!, you've definitely got a treat in store in the first Book.
So time to round off this issue with the conclusion of our photo story on page 31. Before you read it though, it's worth noting the second page of the Deano above was page 24 of this issue, it just didn't have a page number. You'll see why:
That's our feast of an issue over in style. The next issue is a belter! Then the one after that is the Halloween issue which, alongside the Christmas one to come, I think was one of my favourites as a child. So great times ahead - it just keeps getting better somehow!
That next issue, the Great Games and Puzzles Issue goes on sale Friday 17th October.
Before I go, however, I can't stress enough how you need to come back to the blog this Monday. I'm really excited about the post I'll be putting up and I can't wait to share something with you all. Looking at that stats figure on the left I know there's a whole sty of pig pals out there reading this and as one myself I can put my trotter on my heart and say don't miss it! I'll be putting it up first thing on that morning before I head to work and, more than with any other post, I'd love for you to leave a comment under it, or at the Facebook Group (so join it if you haven't already). I hope to see you then, right here, at The Oink! Blog.