Thursday, 8 January 2015
#45: WEEKLY TREATS?
1988 started off in great form. My favourite comic had turned weekly! All the other humour comics were weekly and now finally Oink! had joined in. As a child I always assumed comics went from fortnightly to weekly once they'd reached a certain popularity, like a seal of approval from the buying public. In reality this wasn't the case.
Oink! had proven a success (and was certainly seen that way by IPC, even if it did only last two and a half years) and had great sales averaging 100,000 an issue at its height. All seemed rosy. But as I've already mentioned (in the post for #35) when Fleetway took over the publication of IPC's titles they decided to form sales groups of comics and if the combined sales totals didn't reach what was wanted then all those titles in that group would be cancelled. I'm not sure what other titles were in Oink!'s group asides from Nipper which had already been cancelled a couple of months before Christmas, but from what I've been able to piece together from various sources, including those who worked on Oink!, the rest of its group had fallen by the wayside by this stage.
Thankfully though our comic wasn't cancelled. Fleetway saw that it had legs, but while its sales were still good, their top titles such as Whizzer and Chips and, of course, Buster were selling up to 250,000 every single week! So the publishers decided to try to alter Oink! to increase its sales. The answer - going weekly. Possibly.
Some sacrifices had to be made, but we'll talk about them in a bit.
But firstly the whole idea of going weekly was basically to up the amount sold (we'd be buying two issues a fortnight instead of one after all) and bring in more money as a result. Then, with it being weekly alongside the more traditional humour comics the hope was it'd attract more readers too, again increasing the circulation and money. On the one hand it's a sound business idea, if you remember me mentioning it before Oink! was more expensive than other comics from the very beginning - not just because of the higher quality paper, it being produced independently etc., but also because it was fortnightly, as the higher price also helped offset the lesser frequency of new issues for publisher and newsagents alike.
It may have changed the paper quality and stayed at the same price since #36, but it was still fortnightly and was still of the highest independent quality! So now the idea was to bring it just a little more in line with the more traditional comics, at least on the outside looking in, and to build that established readership. Looking back now, it's great to think that Fleetway could easily have cancelled it at this stage in keeping with their new sales groups rules, but they saw something in it and wanted to work with the team to ensure its continuation while also preserving its humour and what made reading it different.
It wouldn't be the last such change for the comic for the very same reason, but for now we were very happy.
My mum was a bit happier too, the thought of buying double the amount of issues being softened somewhat by the decrease in price by 5p. For now anyway - again.
But enough of all this serious talk for a bit, let's crack on (or krak on) and see what the first issue of Oink! Weekly has to offer. I'm choosing the following full-page two-panel strip from editor Tony Husband first for a quick giggle to get us going:
There's a definite air of 'newness' about this issue, with a few new serials starting and Uncle Pigg even introduces us to the comic on page two with Grunts acting as a kind of silly contents page, just for this issue. Other strips such as Pete and his Pimple also have an air about them of aiming at new readers, and there is indeed something rather different about this issue which took a while to put my finger on when I was 11.
We'll get back to that after we've enjoyed the strips I've selected from this 45th edition of the greatest humour comic and it's Davy Francis' turn as he takes us back to Cowpat County with this half-page strip. After a few new names such as Ponsonby Claret the Know-It-All Parrot and Haldane's Incredible, Amazing (Bizarre) World (both of which are good of course) it's nice to see a familiar face in this very-different-feeling comic and, as per usual, Davy's final panel comes from left field (no pun intended):
As I've mentioned before the new weekly format lent itself perfectly to ongoing serials and quite a few of the team took this opportunity to explore this further. Tony almost changed Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins from a humour strip to an ongoing football-themed drama, but we enjoyed cheering on the underdog and hoping he'd win to show life isn't all about looks. Below you'll also see how Jeremy Banx decided to created a mini-series too, then there's the calendar for 1988 on the back page which readers could collect over this and the next five issues.
Also, Lew Stringer set in motion a very fondly remembered ongoing competition. In his Pete and his Pimple Lew asked the readers to send in ideas for a permanent cure for his larger than life zit problem. I'll be including some of these as we go along, as it was always fun seeing how some perfectly sound solutions were inevitably turned on their heads into complete disaster. Great fun, so check back every week to see if I've included any.
However, keeping to the subject of serials for the moment, Lew wrote the superb Ham Dare Pig of the Future as regular blog readers will know and now in its weekly state the comic was to treat us to its next epic pig tale - Sherlock Hams and the Hog of the Baskervilles. Full as ever with piggy puns and quick-witted dialogue a la the very best Stringer-serials, the script was also brought to life by the artwork of Ron Tiner who did the same to great spoofs all the way through Oink!'s run - such as joke versions of The Professionals (in my cherished #14), Superman and even David Attenborough.
What a brilliant start this is and now you've only a week to wait until the next episode:
In fact we go straight from part one of this story to the aforementioned Banx one. In amongst all the extra bits'n'bobs, books and Christmas cards, calendars and carols, #44 was tucked away on Boxing Day, the date on its cover. The Hogmanay issue brought with it the latest Butcherwatch Update and as I said it was kind of like a pilot episode in a way for this mini-series. It brought back to the pages of Oink! none other than the most terrifying butcher ever to walk the streets of Porksmouth - Jimmy 'The Cleaver' Smith and yet again we saw another piggy person meet their doom in an ingenious and gory fashion.
Banx's black sense of humour comes to the fore in this simply divine serial, heightened even more by the actual black framing of the piece. There's not even a title. It all combines to give it a wonderfully creepy feeling and the sombre nature of our hero (coupled with that strange black humour) makes for something... different. Different, but hugely enjoyable and very, very memorable:
There have been times where I've wondered into my childhood memories of this comic and told you about the actual time I read certain things back then. This is one particular time when a strip was just so good it stuck with me. My eleven-year old brain found this mesmerising. There's simply no other word for it.
If you're reading the pages from Oink! for the first time through this site, try to imagine yourself as a young child with this in front of you. I've said it before how Oink! formed the senses of humour of so many kids back in the 80s, when you've got such original humour strips as this you can see what I mean.
For the life of me I can't remember exactly what happened but I do know roughly how it ends and I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing this one develop over the next five issues.
Now for the bad news. Well two bits of bad news actually.
In going weekly two things had changed. The first was that there were no longer any themes. Whether this was simply because to create fifty-two differently themed issues every year would be deemed too difficult (fair enough) or whether it had something to do with fitting Oink! in amongst other comics a little better (without changing what made it 'Oink!') I simply don't know. The last time we'd gone without one in the regular comic was way back in #15 when it kind of relaunched and added a whole bunch of new characters to the roster. With some new additions such as the ones already scanned in or mentioned above, and with no theme, it felt like that again. But, moving into the next issue it was clear subjects were gone completely. But like I said it was understandable and after The Oink! Book 1988 we saw how it could actually work in its favour - a weekly slice of completely unpredictable goodness...
However, another change was the page count.
Oink! had always been a thirty-two page fortnightly comic, just like all the other weekly IPC/Fleetway titles. But on transitioning to double the amount of comics to churn out the independent Oink! Publishing Ltd had to drop the amount of pages by eight, meaning we were left with twenty-four. This wasn't mentioned in any of the hype or indeed in this issue, and it was only on my second read through as a child that I noticed it (the pages were no longer numbered) as I was sure it hadn't taken me as long to get to the end as normal.
The drop to 30p meant it had gone back to its original price from almost a year previous but it was still roughly 6p (doesn't sound like much but it was back then) more expensive than its stablemates, and now it'd a quarter less of the total pages to boot. It'd take a few issues for it to adjus, but soon it'd be rocking it's new slimline look and the whole thing would start to feel tailored to its size. But in this issue things do seem a little less random, a little less mad than usual. It seems to have been put together more like a traditional comic.
These days we're used to seeing a page full of quarter-page strips so it's important to remember other children's comics generally didn't do that back in the 80s, instead keeping most things to a full page or two, occasionally a half-page here or there. This issue of Oink! still has strips of various sizes, but they're all grouped together, like below here's the first half of a page of ones the same size:
Written by Mark Rodgers for Marc Riley, Harry the Head's strip is actually the best in a while and of course Zootown was always this size and both of these are brilliant, naturally! Even amongst the more organised comic the actual humour still shone out as something that bit different.
But it did feel more organised and so it felt like the edge had been taken off a bit overall. I can remember thinking that as a child too. But like I said it'd get better as the weeklies went on. With less pages to play with it must've been difficult to squeeze that Oink!-feeling in, that complete randomness, while also making sure there was plenty to read - hence why this issue has more full page strips. Perhaps throwing in all the smaller one gag features etc would've resulted in a feeling of less 'content', which they've masterfully avoided somehow.
(As a sidenote, I collected Marvel UK's Transformers comic too from around 1988 or so, long after it'd gone weekly. After Michael Bay's first movie I went back and completed my collection and noticed the first year's twenty-six issues were actually thirty-two page fortnightly comics, with two main strips, back-ups, humour pages, features etc in its mix of colour pages and black and white ones. When it went weekly it boasted of full-colour and it too went down to twenty-four pages, but it actually used this in its advertising, stating it was more streamlined, showing off it was getting rid of the superfluous features and concentrating on two strips and quality content instead. It worked and sales continued to grow.)
At the end of the day though, even with less pages per issue we were still getting two issues a fortnight and actually would be up sixteen pages if you think of it! Then, just as the comic had a new level of confidence with #6, just as it relaunched with new characters and talent in #15, just as it began a simply faultless stretch in the mid-twenties and then hit its golden age (for me anyway) with #36, so would the new format of Oink! Weekly hit its stride in a few issues, just in time for a special celebration. But for now you'll just have to trust me and enjoy the rest of the goodies which are here for us right now.
As you can see the humour hadn't lost any of its edge amongst the more traditional layouts and the Torture Twins from Haldane were always guaranteed to raise a smile, no matter what.
As for the rest of the issue, it's full-page goodness for Pete and his Pimple, Tom Thug, The Slugs, The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile - Aged 8 5/8 years (then again, he usually was), Frank Sidebottom, even Nasty Laffs and Specs and a double-pager for Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins. They're all terrific, but it's also meant there's less room for the other characters too and this was something which could cause a problem for a comic with so many various characters and strips, features and fake adverts. While they all fitted seamlessly into the larger comic thanks to the amount of pages and the fact they could all be of various sizes, would this now mean some would be dropped altogether?
OR, that we'd be treated to even more random choices of strip, not just in their size and placement but also in who would appear in each issue, when the weeklies really got going?
What do you think??
For now let's round things off with one of my favourite GBH Madvertisements and make sure you heed that final sentence and be back here on Thursday 16th January for more from Oink! Weekly: