Friday, 20 February 2015

#51: BRINGING OUT YOUR INNER THUG - AGAIN


Lew Stringer's latest cover starts off our latest issue in style and Tom Thug is pretty much the star of the whole issue here, taking over both the front and back cover as well as a page and a half of his own strip inside.  But hey what's not to love about that, right?  Oink!'s longest surviving character had been a fan favourite from the very beginning and just a little while ago in the post for the second Christmas issue I hope you took the time to print out and make your Tom angel for your tree.  If you did, get the printer warmed up again for the back cover, but we'll get to that later.

In a couple of issues Oink! would run a reader survey with a final question which, in hindsight, may have been predetermined before being written, leading to the biggest change in Oink!'s lifetime.  But on page two of this issue our esteemed editor Uncle Pigg starts off the Grunts reader contributions page with this little introduction to the issue:


Not sure what readership surveys he's on about at this stage, but the fact the audience was mainly made up of an older demographic than the original target may be a key reason behind that change I mentioned above.  Oink! was suitable for all but had naturally gained an audience taking in all age groups, very much the 'eight-to-eighty' sometimes bandied about when it's mentioned.  The problem was, while the comic had been selling well as a fortnightly, publishers Fleetway wanted to increase that and felt altering its setup slightly to appeal to more potential young readers would be the solution.  It wouldn't be the last time the comic would see change to try to appeal to a certain group, but we've this and another eleven issues to go until then.

This one certainly lays on the humour potential from a certain part of the anatomy, with 20-ton cowpats in the return to Cowpat County, there's Nasty Laffs and Specs getting in on the smelly act and on page three writer Tony Husband and artist Lezz's The Slugs see the silver lining in every gaseous cloud:


While it's good to see the aforementioned Cowpat County from Davy Francis back in the comic (and in full-page mode no less) and to see so much of Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins, Tom Thug and plenty of one-offs and GBH goodies, there's one strip which is completely missing and it's so obvious it leaps out at you when you turn that last page and The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile Aged 8 5/8 Years isn't there!  This is the first issue to not include him but having had to take a quick peak forward he definitely returns.

But the overall feel of this issue is, I have to say, that there's something missing.  Not just Hadrian (as much of a fan of his that I am) but just... I don't know... something!  I'm not being much use to you here as a blog writer am I?  I suppose it's the fact there's so many larger strips, such as those above as well as the start of the latest multi-part strip Billy the Pig, it doesn't leave much room for a good sized variety of other bits'n'bobs.  But hey that's meant to be the beauty of Oink! isn't it? - each issue feeling completely different.  So if you pick this one up as part of your own collection and know going in you're getting fewer, but longer strips you'll really enjoy it.

Though the exclusion of Hadrian is almost unforgivable!

Now while the following character was a permanent fixture within the pages of each issue and I've fond memories of enjoying his regular explosive adventures, Billy Bang hasn't featured much on the blog.  Nothing to do with a lack of quality in them, but now and again there's a genuine classic which just begs for inclusion and I couldn't let this one go.  Is it because of that final pun?  Or perhaps Wilkie's way with drawing that fish?  You can decide for yourself:


I'm not sure who wrote this one, who the two initials belong to next to Wilkie's name (I've already checked with Graham Exton and it wasn't him), so hopefully one of the many Oink! creators who read this can let us know.

Turning the page and seeing this next strip was an absolute delight I have to say.  Psycho Gran was always one of my childhood favourites and it still shocks me when I think of how few issues she was actually in, compared to the amount of issues there were.  Very rarely in full colour, David Leach's little old lady truly shines in this next full-page strip.

She's a granny who knows no bounds, whether it's throwing men off piers or going to war to collect her pension at the Post Office.  But now she's about to face her greatest challenge yet - the jungle.  Or is she?:


I've lost count of how many times she's brought us cheer in the pages of the comic by this point in the run but hopefully we've got more to come in the regular issues, but she definitely appears in this year's annual that's for sure.

Now previously we've seen how Davy Francis likes to add lots of little background gags to his Cowpat County and Greedy Gorb strips.  In particular any story which could have all or part of the tale set in a railway station seemed to be the perfect recipe for lots of extra jokes and puns.  Well, seeing what's going on in the background of this random little one-off from this issue there was simply no way I couldn't include it!  Written by someone whose name I hadn't come across yet, Hilary Robinson, Davy adds his own unique twists to Mabel the Model:


Hilary is yet another Oink! contributor from my own part of the United Kingdom, hailing from Bangor in Northern Ireland, joining Davy himself and Ian Knox.  You can read a bit more about her comics writing for 2000AD at her Women in Comics Wiki page by clicking here.

Printer ready yet?

Hope you have plenty of ink left too as the bright and colourful back page contains the first of a short series of Oink! character-themed masks.  On first glance these could be mistaken as a bit of filler material, similar to the endless pages of simple-to-put-together 'activity' nonsense a lot of modern comics have instead of actual comic strips.  But don't be so cynical dear reader, have you forgotten what comic this is?

This was back in the 80s when comics didn't need filler and what other comic would give you a mask of an elderly critic, a walking dead zombie and a thick moron thug?  Yup, the Oink! difference in effect as always.  So here you go, another Tom Thug cut-out goodie to go with your Christmas decoration:


UPDATE:  Yesterday when I posted this up I'd credited Lew himself as the artist here for the mask.  While the Uncle Pigg bit is obviously not his style, it's reused each week and I assumed the masks were by different artists, with this one by Lew.  Coming from the man himself though, it's not.  Looking at the rest of the masks, while it's obvious when it gets to Uncle Pigg and Mary Lighthouse that they're not Ian Jackson's drawings, the images of Tom, Dead Fred and Horace Watkins are ghosted so well (drawn by one artist mimicking another's style) they had me fooled into thinking Lew, Wilkie and Tony drew them.  Will have to find out who drew them all then!

These posts really are coming thick and fast and, while it was a shame Oink! didn't last longer in its weekly guise, I have to say if it had started off weekly for 60+ issues I'm not sure if I'd have covered every single issue on the day of release from the beginning.  The simple reason being it can be hard to cover a brand new (you know what I mean) issue the way I want to cover them, every seven days without fail.  Hopefully you appreciate the effort (I am planning two books and working full-time as well) and thanks so much for sticking around this long!

See you in another seven.

4 comments:

STEPHEN ARCHER said...

There is something lacking here; the cover was lazy, with the logo repeated an annoying amount of times. Also Tom’s stupidity is firmly established by this point so the gag about his not knowing Oink’s title achieves nothing. You’re right about Psycho Gran being a definite highlight, and a successor (of sorts) to Six Million Dollar Gran; after Wow’s merger with Whoopee in 1983, Gran and her pals simply doddered around. Boo! Each Oink was indeed a voyage of discovery even after the themed issues had ended so lack of inventiveness doesn’t explain it. The unfortunate conclusion isn’t so much that Oink was running out of steam but times were changing – and readers weren’t remaining.

Phil Boyce said...

Sorry to read you felt this way but I have to respectfully (and completely :D ) disagree. Back in the 80s doing a cover like this would've been anything but lazy. I've heard many a good thing said about this one in fact from fans online but we all have our favourites and least favourites :) Although, it's not really fair to say the joke falls flat because Tom's character is well established. It's the very fact he's well established that it works so well for me, it's not like an action comic with long developing arcs - Tom is a stupid thug and that's it :D Remember though, the covers are there not only for established readers but to appeal to new ones. I for one thought this cover was a feast for the eyes as a kid and still humorous today.

(Also, as a sidetone the readership wasn't falling as much yet as you seem to make out, but I'll be covering that in future posts. :) )

STEPHEN ARCHER said...

Fair responses all round but I still believe that Oink was rapidly (and, alas, unstoppably) becoming pigswill. Incidentally, my comments were based on having been a reader from first till last and becomingly increasingly dismayed at its decline, as opposed to so some ill-informed newcomer.

Phil Boyce said...

Fair response too sir :) sorry to hear you felt that way about Oink! in its weekly guise, I was a reader as a child from #14 and as an adult for the blog obviously from the beginning like yourself. It's had a few blips here and there, an odd issue which was good but not great but few and far between they've been, and the first four weeklies had lost their edge somewhat (as I've been mentioning in the posts) but with #50 it got its grunt back for me. And I personally love this cover. Though my favourite cover is still #6, with another Lew Stringer one coming up soon as a very close run second!