Friday, 13 February 2015
#50: PIGS FLY - SO DOES TIME
Fifty issues. Fifty issues (plus an annual, a special, a preview issue and a pull-out) and I'm still writing. Might not sound like much but this daft comic from my youth was the first thing to keep me writing that my attention span hasn't given up on. So yes pigs can fly. But it also feels like no time since I was scanning in but a mere three pages (plus cover) of the preview issue and starting this blog in the first place, unaware of where it'd lead.
It's reignited my passion for writing so much I'm now planning (it's been a busy winter, but I'll be back with updates soon) a book on the very same subject while also working on my first novel. So it's time to celebrate as Oink! reaches its half-century and, suitably, it seems to have found its pre-iPod Shuffle button again as things get mixed up nicely and little surprises abound. Well worth picking up on eBay if you can.
While taking some competition winners on a trip to London to help promote the Oink! Smokebusters Special (which will be covered here at some point I promise) the editorial team and Chris Sievey took the chance to pose in front of Buckingham Palace itself for this fiftieth cover of Frank Sidebottom finally getting that knighthood he so rightly deserved. Kind of. As editor Patrick Gallagher told Dazed magazine's website:
"I had this Queen mask with me and I'm looking for someone to put it on so Frank could get down on his knee for the photo. Only one kid would do it so we had him with the Queen's face on and Frank being knighted... he paid twenty quid for it but obviously it was worth nothing. Frank got ripped off. Sometimes adventures with Chris became nightmares."
Inside the story continues with that very theme of getting ripped off (possibly inspired by the real Chris Sievey?) with a special guest appearance from Patrick and the Queen's right hand:
That quote from Patrick comes from an excellent interview he gave which you can read by clicking here if you haven't already. Well worth a read for any fans of the man himself or of our fave comic.
Fifty issues is something to celebrate though for a comic which a select few had far too much success in trying to get banned. The cover almost feels to me like a two-finger salute to those very people in its use of an image of the Queen herself. Great stuff. Milestone issues were always something to look forward to and I can remember #50 of The Real Ghostbusters but unfortunately many of my other favourites never made it that far. (One of my all-time greatest comic memories comes from collecting one which only lasted for six regular issues and a special.) The exception by far was Transformers with a whopping three-hundred and thirty-two regular issues of Autobot/Decepticon shenanigans, celebrating every fifty issues with wraparound cover posters, extra pages, longer strips... ah yes, they were some of the best issues.
The first few pages are familiar to anyone starting out with the weeklies, luring them in with a false sense of security before the mayhem begins. For this post covering the fiftieth Oink! let's take a look at our letters page this week shall we? As well as a couple of funny letters/responses the reason I'm including it is for the media clippings on the right. Oink! has done this before and it will again (on the cover no less) but I do like to include these whenever I can to show how positively it was received in the press, at least when some I'm-more-righteous-than-you people weren't trying to tarnish it:
It's strange to see these after reading fifty issues already as they read like the comic is still brand new. Of course with print deadlines you could expect a lengthy delay (in both the original reviews seeing print and then getting published back in Oink!) but it showed, in what would become Oink!'s final year, the comic's word was spreading and finally getting the recognition it deserved for its content, talent and comedy rather than undeserved controversy.
Of course, with the sales being seen as a great success to IPC originally, many at the time probably thought it was going to run and run and thus fifty issues would've still been considered its early days. Fleetway saw it as a success too, so it wasn't cancelled with its sales group stablemates, but unfortunately fiddling with a winning formula to increase sales even more would cost the comic itself dearly.
Someone I haven't featured in a while and who makes a grand reentry now with three pages of content is Ed McHenry, another favourite of mine. Regular puzzle producer he's drawn some brilliant strips and posters as well, including the first year anniversary party poster which you can see here. I'm very happy to say he's back with another such double-page spread below, sandwiched between two Lew Stringer creations in a kind-of 4-page Pete and his Pimple/Tom Thug crossover co-starring all your main Oink! favourites!
But first there's this:
It's the simplest of ideas that can stay with us isn't it? I can remember this, although I thought it was much later in the glossy monthlies, but it shows even with eight less pages than before Oink! isn't afraid to give over a whole page to a four-panel gag when it's this good.
Elsewhere we've also got a comic strip from Frank, a half-page text story I Climbed Mount Everest On My Own At Lunchtime And Lived! by Dr. Desmond Dangerous (and yes there's still room for the story after that title), a half-page one panel Weedy Willy, two and a half pages for Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins and the final part of your Sports for Swines calendar. There's also a delightfully illustrated Characters of Charles Dickhams page though I can't make out the signature of who drew it.
So just like Stella, Oink! has very much got its groove back and seems to have found its trotters in the new weekly format. Indeed the next issue would drop the 'Weekly' part of the front cover title and we're back to traditional Oink!-ness all the way! Before then though we need to wrap up Oink! Weekly's first Banx mini-series which uniquely enough killed off the heroic figure with a week still to go. But that doesn't mean Doctor Hieronymus Van Hellsong can't still be of use:
Now this is the kind of strip we want in Oink! from the likes of Jeremy Banx and proof positive the individual humour in the strips wasn't being toned down by the creators with Fleetway trying to tempt a larger base of younger readers. Jimmy 'The Cleaver' Smith will pop up again including on one of my favourite covers for the weeklies very soon.
You can't imagine the above appearing in something like Buster or Whizzer and Chips (the latter of which is the subject of more good-natured ribbing elsewhere in the issue in Charlie Brooker's A Check-Up) and the very same could be said of the same man's Burp this issue. While his Pet Specimen from Uranus seems to have disappeared from his strip for good now his internal organs are still stars of the show.
This time it's the turn of part of his external body though - his naval:
Now I just mentioned his pet hasn't been in the comic for a while and come to think of it the same goes for Roger Rental He's Completely Mental, Rubbish Man, Dead Fred and as we all know Mr Big Nose, all of whom haven't appeared in the weekly issues. But they're all back to celebrate Uncle Pigg's big day and most, although alas not Mr Nose, will return to comic strip form soon you'll be glad to know!
With a superb celebratory poster bringing these characters back to the pages drawn by Ed McHenry it's down to Lew Stringer to frame this within another crossover for two fan favourites as mentioned above.
Two Oink! megastars but there's only room for one it would seem. Having Lew's characters either side of the poster made this all the more special as it felt like a 4-page strip which just happened to open out into something you could stick to your wall. Pete and his Pimple and Tom Thug meet up once again on their way to the Oink! party and it's smashing stuff:
Told you the comic was going to celebrate it's fiftieth issue in style. Almost heartbreaking to think after all this fun there's only eighteen issues left, isn't it? Of course none of us knew this at the time. To us it was getting stronger again and getting better every week. It's cheeky, irreverent humour and widely different issues were here every single week. It really did feel like the fortnightly issue's strengths were back and being fired to us twice as much.
What wasn't to love? Hey each issue may have been thinner but we were still getting more overall. I'm really looking forward to the rest of these weekly issues now I have to say and seeing the brainless lump of Tom peering out from the cover of the next issue on my shelf just backs that up. We're in for a great ride.
To finish though, a little public service message. For all of the efforts of those aforementioned idiots, Oink! did a lot to teach good values to its readers and one of the strongest and most regular messages it'd get across to us children was the importance of not smoking. I never did even though my family all were at the time (my sister aside they've all given up by now I have to say) as I hated the way it smelled and how it made my throat feel when surrounded by it.
This was backed up by such pages as the one below in my favourite comic. When I became a teen I never started and never understood why anyone did when they knew what it did to them and those around them. But I'd like to think Oink! had some unconscious sway in keeping me smoke free over those years of peer pressure long after the comic folded. Hopefully it convinced many more not to take it up too.
It's a nice thought to think people were trying to ban a comic that would do such good amongst its readers, proving just how unstuck stuck-up people actually are:
See you next week folks.