Thursday, 18 June 2015

#64: A WHACKA-WHACKA-WHACKA-WICKED ISSUE


I'm very much feeling the mood of this issue's cover and its accompanying strip right now and no it's not because of what I'm wearing.  No, really it's not, it's because right now my Apple TV is blasting out the Absolute 80s radio station and they're currently playing some very early 80s music, much of which still has that certain 70s flair to it.  Hence the title of this post.

Of course it's easy to take the hand out of the 1980s these days and its fashions and its style or lack thereof.  But every decade gets that after a while and the 2010s will be no different in the future of course, but the 80s I hold especially dear to my heart.  That decade had the best TV and music and it wasn't afraid to be daring and stand out with its clothing, unlike the instantly forgettable 90s which basically brought us shell suits and not much else.

But here's a unique take on things.  A 1980s look at the 1970s!

Police Vet had already appeared in a three-page strip in The Oink! Book 1988 but unfortunately I had to choose between it and the James Bong strip and 007 Oink!-style won out on that occasion.  However the character was to make a mammoth return in this, the second monthly issue, with not only the cover all to himself but also a huge six-page strip inside.  We'd see more lengthy stories as the monthlies settled in and more content made especially for the larger comic instead of hangovers from the weeklies.

Oink!'s own style was also changing and while Police Vet is a wonderfully silly strip which had already proven popular with readers of all ages, including the younger target audience, you'll see as we go through these issues that the comic was also trying to appeal to an older crowd too.  But first, after Wilkie's cover he brings us the brilliant Police Vet and the Foxy Chick which is written by - who else? - Mark Rodgers:


Now that's what the monthlies can bring you, folks - big, meaty and hilarious strips that just keep on giving and giving.  Superb stuff!  We just wouldn't have seen this before now in the regular comic.  Perhaps a multi-part story over a few issues but having it written and drawn for inclusion as one strip in the one issue changes the pacing and it's all the better for it!

Such a shame the character only ever made these two fleeting appearances in Oink! before hanging up the platforms for good, I would loved to have seen more from him.  As it is, if you've got the first annual (or indeed are collecting Oink! at the moment) grab it and have a read of Police Vet's first story, you won't be disappointed.

(I have to say at this point, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was on the other night and I can't help but feel a kinship between that movie and the above strip.)

Look out for some more strips in the mammoth category as we coast through the remaining issues, including some from your very favourite characters!  For now though we come back to the regular-sized contents of #64 and this next one is a right treat which surprised me upon turning the page.

As I've mentioned once or twice before Davy Francis is a local chap for me, us both living in Northern Ireland and previously I was delighted to see him collaborate with fellow countryman Ian Knox, who I had only just previously realised was from here too.  One other superb artist who I knew hailed from somewhere not too far from me was John McCrea.

John is renowned for his 2000AD work too and that comic really did help launch his career and catapulted him across the pond.  He's most famous for his work on the aforementioned title but his body of comics work is staggeringly good - Batman, Spiderman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, Deadpool, Judge Dredd Megazine... the list goes on.  However, here he is in Oink!

What?  Yes!  Written and inked by Davy but with the pencils drawn by John here comes Misplaced in Space, which I'm sure you don't need any introduction to if you watched Sunday lunchtime repeats of 1960s telly on Channel Four in the 80s.  (Flip me, this issue is really going for it with the time travel!):


What a treat to see two superb comics artists from two completely different genres of work, together on the same page in my favourite title!  I'd no recollection of this, though to be fair that's probably because as a child I didn't read the other comics John worked on at the time.  But now - wow!

If you'd like to see another 2000AD alumni take to the porky pages then click here to see none other than Dave Gibbons' work on a Lew Stringer script!  Or how about here to see the posts containing Kevin O'Neill's reknowned jaggy lines?

Now back in the 80s there was something which made the news every night for what seemed like an eternity.  At my age back then I didn't really know what it was all about though I do remember Spitting Image having many digs at it.  It was the Poll Tax.  It was a very important matter, I knew that much and I knew it would probably be something I'd have to contend with as an adult.

But that was going to be years and years away.  I would be all old and grown up and I didn't need to care about such things at age 10.  Well Oink!, as ever the educational publication, decided it'd take it upon itself (well, writer Howard Osborn did) to inform its readers about the new tax and exactly what it meant.  It certainly changed a lot of things.  It certainly had a lot of rules.

But fortunately I didn't own a parrot:


UPDATE: #67 contains more about this piece... as read out in the Houses of Parliament!

A quick scroll down and you'll see three scans (including the one above) with very little in the way of comic strip, yes?  Well that was always the beauty of Oink!, that you'd get some spoof text stories, quizzes and of course the madverts too.  But it has to be said this issue is rather heavy on the more text-based pages.  No bad thing at all but it is one more thing brought about by the change in direction.

Oink! had always appealed to a wide variety of readers, with the phrase "from eight to eighty" being used more than once for its readership age bracket.  But it also had its target audience to appeal to and, most importantly, be suitable for.  To begin with it was aimed at the eight-to-thirteen bracket and was a huge success with 100,000 average sales per issue, though it did fluctuate at times no thanks to the likes of WHSmith.  As regular readers of the blog will know, when Fleetway took over Oink! was placed in a sales group with other titles which were all cancelled over a short period of time.  With so many titles absorbed from IPC, Fleetway sectioned them into groups and if that group's combined sales weren't good enough all the titles would be canned.  But Oink! was doing well, even on its own.  But Fleetway wanted more and started fiddling.

It wasn't malicious - they saw Oink!'s good sales and saw potential for it to do even better so it changed to a weekly comic aimed more at the original audience, with the idea of the small changes attracting additional readers of the more traditional weeklies.  When sales didn't increase the comic's focus was shifted yet again.

The age of the readership stayed pretty much the same and it was noted how many older readers there were in their teenage or university years.  Hence the monthly.  Fleetway was now aiming at that audience to try to increase already-impressive sales again now that Oink! was in a group all on its own - it was just a different tactic.  Now with a bigger magazine-style feel to it the contents contained pages about the poll tax for example, or more pastiches of things which the young ones maybe wouldn't 'get' as much.  I certainly remember some spoofs falling short for me for the first time back then, and this issue even includes a Rotten Rhyme poem which is quite clearly a good example of what I'm trying to say.  But more on that below.

Whether Oink!'s shift to a younger feel with the weeklies (even though we children were extremely happy with the original format anyway) alienated older readers is debatable, as the weeklies still seemed to be attracting that older crowd and of course the monthlies wouldn't have had these changes if they'd stopped buying it.  But the monthlies certainly did lose readers, this can't be denied, and Oink! would be cancelled after only six of them.

What happened?  When and how did the readership fall?  Which age brackets were affected at what stages?  A story for another time, we're here right now to celebrate this comic, not get weighed down with such things, so let's get straight back to it shall we?

While it was still suitable for the kiddies (that never, ever changed) it did give us some big meaty reading every month and I do remember sitting down and really sinking my teeth into each of these monster comics and especially loving such pages as this next one.  With more room to play with the Charlie Brooker-scripted multiple choice quizzes could now really stretch their muscles.  Accompanied by some great Steve Gibson artwork just as they were in their much smaller guise in the weekly comic, it's time for us all to take a deep breath and assess our health.  A very serious topic that.  Well it would be normally:


GBH were still with us thankfully and Charlie continues with this next page too, writing a great new ad for the swindling conmen and their brand new investment scheme.  The photos are supplied by Jim Gallagher of the clan Gallagher, the same bloodline as Patrick.

Charlie's work is so prolific in these issues he'd really hit his stride early for a kid still in school when he started out.  I can only guess at the time of writing that by now he'd finished his education (at least for a while at least) and was working substantially for Oink!, as each and every issue was jammed with pages he'd written, or drawn or both!  No wonder he went on to such fame, he was a hard worker right from the off and had a great testing ground and place to develop his humour and style right here.  These days it's still great to hear of how new writers and artists are breaking into the action comics world via 2000AD, such a shame we don't have an independent title such as Oink! anymore where the same could happen for humour comics in a creator-owned environment with such wonderful mentors.

What a blast to start off your career this way (and no I don't mean this way below!):


The next strip comes to us from the lovely sunny climes of the Bahamas, home to Oink! writer (and by now photographer) Graham Exton.  Back in issue #61 we saw Graham appear alongside editor/writer Mark Rodgers in a special double-page photo Madvertisement for GBH when Mark and his partner Helen Jones vacationed there.  It'd be a crying shame to only do the one thing for the comic with all that lush scenery wouldn't it?

Well here we are then with a photo story taken on one of the tropical beaches in what could only have been paradise, with Helen and Mark appearing alongside each other!  It's great to see the two of them together in the same strip, making the ending even funnier nowadays when I know who these two people actually are and of their relationship.  Brilliant stuff.  Coupled with Graham's writing it makes for a very special one-off strip which I just had to share with my fellow pig pals:


Helen has been wonderful on the Facebook group and also with myself personally for the blog in sharing some lovely stories of Mark and the rest of the Oink! team - it always sounds like such a crazy, wild and incredibly fun time.  Of course this translated over into the feel and comedy in Oink! and the end product was simply the greatest comic I've ever read and by far the funniest.  Even though many of them never met each other, the more stories I hear from the likes of Helen and the creative team the more it feels like they were still one big family.

There really has been nothing else like it, has there?

Just before we finish off I've got a couple of the smaller strips to share just to show how the comic hadn't really changed that much to us regular readers.  We'd been with it all the way through, seeing it evolve and develop slowly for the most part (as all comics and magazines do), so even though this had been a big, sudden change, for me at the time it'd simply been a slightly larger evolution and was still the same old Oink! I had always loved.  I was sure it would carry on and on and on, and would evolve again in its new monthly guise (which we do see over these six months) and could even change again in the future.  The only constant in life is change after all.  So Oink! had transformed and would do so again in its long life, changing with the times as it were.

A nice thought.

But anyway, here's a wee Rotten Rhyme of the more traditional type from Kev F before I tell you about the one I mentioned above:


So what was so different about the other one?  Well in a Rotten Rhymes for Modern Times we had a full page drawing from Ed McHenry of Humpty Dumpty on his wall, surrounded by kids eager to make him into a chocolate Easter present.  Called Humpty Dumpty by Hans Christian Sociologist it went like this:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
He was caught by surprise by some clever young muggers
He didn't realise kids could be such... anti-social juvenile delinquents displaying hostile tendencies aggravated by deprived backgrounds and squalid environmental conditions.

Don't get me wrong, Mark Rodgers comes up trumps but I do recall it going over my head somewhat as a child and not really getting the humour involved.  Nowadays I do of course, but back then I did find silly-looking dinosaurs funnier:

by Marc Riley

Still have that fascination with dinosaurs to this day, hence me planning a third trip to Jurassic World this weekend.  Don't think Chris Platt would approve of the attire though for his raptor pack.

Elsewhere in this issue if you can pick it up (though these are more rare and harder to find) Tom Thug is planning on leaving school and getting ready for the big bad world in one of two strips (plus there's a double-page Pete), the team of Charlie Brooker and Jim Gallagher take on Smashed Hits, there's the first mention of the Oink! books Crackling Tales (which I'll cover at a later point) in the form of a competition, Simon Thorpe adds to his ever-growing collection of Oink! movie posters with "Butcher" Dungdee, the reprints go up to four pages with the next two Oink! Superstar Posters and the classic Watery Down, and Kev F makes going for coffee in a proper coffee shop hilarious even to this day!

So here we are again at the end of another massive monthly edition and this is just the beginning of the treats in store as the team sink their teeth into the new Oink!  The early deadlines are no longer an issue - the results of the writers and artists shifting focus to the bigger comic finally comes to the actual pages - and boy are you in for a fun time in just four weeks:


Yes that's right they've returned!  Did you think their second adventure was their last?  Nope, they're back and every single part of their adventure is spread like lard across the pages of the one issue!  So don't dare miss a bulging new post when #65 goes on sale on Thursday 16th July.

Before then there's a couple of great bits of NEW OINK! MATERIAL news this weekend and then the second part of Beyond Oink! next Wednesday.  So I'll definitely see you very soon.

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