Thursday, 16 July 2015

#65: (STREET)HOGGING THE LIMELIGHT


How many times has Ian Jackson drawn Terry Wogan by now?

Well here's Ian's last cover for Oink! sadly enough.  Chris Sievey, Tony Husband, Haldane, Patrick Gallagher and J.T. Dogg all share the honours of the very last Oink! covers over the next few issues and the remaining book and specials to come, but the artist many of its contributors gave just as much credit to as the comic's three editors bids us adieu right here.  Not to take away from anyone else who worked hard on the title but Ian's art is synonymous with the comic and his versions of Uncle Pigg, Mary Lighthouse and Percy Plop are the definitive ones.  He did help create them after all.

From Hadrian Vile to The Golden Trough Awards and everything in-between, his unique style helped Oink! stand out from the shelves and into the hearts of pig pals everywhere.  As a child his art style was Oink! and it's been a shame to see so little from him lately.  Just as much of a shame is the way Uncle Pigg has been sidelined to the letters page and Mary is nowhere to be seen anymore.  With hindsight now the comic does appear to be losing its identity somewhat and instead has morphed from the fortnightly heyday into something trying to fit in with other titles on the shelves (first the younger comics with the weeklies and now the more mature ones) instead of treading its own path.  From cover-to-cover you'd not exactly lose count of the piggy-themed parodies for one thing.

Ian's lack of input goes hand-in-hand with that of Jeremy Banx and while I did enjoy the monthlies as a child and lapped up the large-scale strips from other contributors, especially Lew Stringer, I can see now why I wasn't quite as giddy with excitement come release date.  Don't get me wrong I still went to pick it up on that morning without fail, but it was more of a leisurely stroll to do so than the Olympic-style run there and back.  As I've said before, when it turned monthly I never thought it was about to end and just assumed it'd morph and change over the years to come.  But by the time #68 came along I wasn't completely surprised by the outcome.

But what we do have in these issues is what's important right now and this one in particular is taken over by one serial... er, I mean one single strip!  More on that after this first double-page scan.

I mentioned Lew above and while even bigger strips of his made appearances in the next few issues (news on that below) he was already bringing us multiple strips from characters and sometimes delightful two-page stories, as in this case.  Hadrian Vile had been unique in that his age had increased as Oink!'s did and we saw the addition of a baby to the family unit, who I'm sure we would've seen more of if his series had continued.  But he wasn't the only one to fly in the face of comics convention.

Comics characters are like Stewie Griffin - never growing up.  They stay put in that particular part of their lives where we've grown accustomed to them.  Babies stay babies.  School kids stay in school.  Or do they?  Lew isn't kidding when he says this is another Oink! first, put it that way:


In the previous issue we'd seen him try to apply for work and in the chapters to come how he manages with his first tentative steps into adulthood.  Would this have happened if Fleetway hadn't changed the format of the comic to this new monthly one aimed at the older Oink! readers?  Well no, this was a deliberate change for the new format as Lew has confirmed with me (thanks Lew) and he believes it may have actually been Mark Rodgers' idea.  For the monthly title I think it works and even though my ten-year-old self was still in primary school I enjoyed seeing the 'older' bully get his comeuppance!

Of course once Tom made the transition to the pages of Buster for its younger audience he was plonked back into school.

Now, I always try to scan in no more than a certain amount of pages from each issue for this blog, as I've explained before I've been approached to scan in whole issues but I never will (so please stop asking).  I'm dead set against piracy of any kind and while these comics are only available through second-hand sellers at the moment, with the characters belonging to their individual cartoonists they could release collections any time they want and I won't take away from any potential sales.  The team have been really supportive (as were Egmont when I set the blog up I have to say) and so I try to make sure no more than a quarter of each issue gets scanned in.

However this month that'd mean the whole post would be taken up by one strip, so I've cheated and included just three others, but some previous issues have been quite a bit less than a quarter of the total page count (which is my limit) so we'll say it balances out.

Previously Mark Rodgers' superb telly serial spoof The StreetHogs followed that cliffhanger-based format of the shows he was pastiching and we got one hilarious double-page spread each issue over a period of time.  They were huge highlights of the fortnightly Oink!s, appearing in two stories so far and finally here they are in their third and sadly final outing.  But don't be worrying if you're thinking waiting a whole month with one of the increasingly ludicrous cliffhangers is too long because the whole shebang is right here in one issue!

As mentioned at the very end of the previous epic way, way back in #35 (which you can read in its own post) here finally is Malice in Underland.  Want some more good news?  After their first sequel ran to only four issues, compared to their premiere's twelve, you're getting a little more this time.

Very obviously written and designed to follow the previous idea of running over a few issues - six in this case - they've been slightly edited so as they're not telling us to come back 'next issue' anymore and the final two parts further down in the post actually look a little unfinished as far as the titles go, with a photocopied name on the top-left being quite subdued compared to the usual bright logo.

However, the actual tone of the story feels somewhat different and older, much in the same way as Tom above.

In the two previous Oink!s there were some elements I've mentioned which didn't quite hit the mark with my younger self.  They were isolated cases in each of those editions and didn't take away from the issues overall, it basically boiled down to a few gags which flew over my head as a young 'un.  Now while I can't remember exactly how this next strip went down at the time, I can certainly remember the artwork vividly and I don't just mean because it's of the usual exemplary standards of the insanely talented J.T. Dogg.  I can remember there being a green version of a certain late former Prime Minister, for example:


Don't fret, I'm not leaving it there.  There's some great strips in this issue, not least the one attached to the cover, Ye Prophecies of Nostrahamus, as well as some great full-page one-offs from Davy Francis, a three-page Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins which has him meeting the Abominable Snowman, Pete gets a magic spell cast on his greasy appendage and gets to 'meet' his Pimple and there's a very funny look at the TV of the time with a page from the Radio Swines.

However the reprint content goes up by a couple of pages and takes the sheen off an otherwise great issue, it has to be said.  But let's keep positive and surely no amount of reprints could wipe the smile off your face after reading this next half-page, as we take a quick break from all the 'Hog action and enjoy this little addition to Haldane's Bizarre World series:


I also see Haldane's Torture Twins, despite being only half a page as well, get front page billing again as with the previous two monthlies.  Perhaps torture as a comedy tool was seen as something which might appeal to the audience they were going for.  They're always comedy gold, we know that already, but it's interesting to see out of all the varied content they're up front and centre again.

But now it's back to the one-issue serial that is Malice in Underland.

So in the parts above did you get the same feeling as I did when reading this recently?  The comedy references to the characteristics of members of parliament seem a little out of place in a comic we've been used to appealing to both young and old.  Despite watching Spitting Image as a child I very much doubt the above jokes made much of an impact on me.  To me it's definitely something which the teen market would appreciate more than the readers who were my age at the time.  This shifting of the target audience did have good intentions, just as it had when it shifted with the weeklies, but instead of attracting newer readers it just meant those who had grown up with the comic (yes it was only a couple of years but you get my drift) to this point were leaving it.

We'll cover that next time though as we prepare for the final issue, for now let's concentrate on the here-and-now and roar back into the thick of it with Dirty Harry, Hi-Fat and Emma Pig... though unfortunately no Hoggy Bare.  Surely a spoof of a pimp character from Starsky & Hutch would've been perfect for the older audience?

Something I found annoying about the first handful of the modern day Marvel movies, and which was one of the reasons I personally stopped watching them, was that each villain was yet another 'bad version of the good guy'.  (Only Knight Rider can get away with doing that three times!)  For me it became boring and repetitive, but in the days of cliffhanger TV serials we loved seeing the same bad guys again and again, always coming back from the dead in more elaborate ways with increasingly daft plots for world domination.  Readers of the previous stories will probably know where I'm headed with this:


Ah yes, Don Poloney the mafia butcher is back and it's great to see some continuation from the previous story with his appearance linked to The Triffics.  He was a brilliant baddie for Oink! and written in a way by Mark which perfectly captures the nuttiness of those television series he's taking the hand out of superbly.  But also in its own way the StreetHogs strips were now beyond simple spoofery and had come to own this style of storytelling by this point.  So much so I keep forgetting they were initially a spoof at all!

We've been building towards this climax and as per usual the final episode is a bit bigger, taking up the final three pages of the comic.  It makes for a suitably funny ending with a twist and it's such a pity they'd never return in the promised fourth story.  We can only imagine what schemes Don would've cooked up next after reading this:


I've had to leave out a few other strips I had originally intended to include here because of the amount of pages the StreetHogs took up, but to be honest there was no contest when I saw this next one nestled inside the comic.. oh sorry, "magazine".

In the last issue and before that in #61 we saw the results of partners Mark Rodgers and Helen Jones' holiday to the Bahamas to visit Oink! writer Graham Exton.  It was a delightful surprise to see yet another photo spread here and this could be the best one yet.  Starting off with a GBH madvertisement, then a deserted island tale, now we're covering music videos, ghosts, a dog and an atomic bomb.  Naturally.

This time written and photographed by Helen, starring Mark and Graham and a bucket, it's time to meet the terrifying Ghost of Voodoo Island:


With the other strips above feeling very much like they were targeting the newer readers, this instead is classic Oink! at its absolute best and a genius piece of comics work.  Can you imagine being in the Bahamas, running about taking these photographs for a kids' comic and knowing you're getting paid for it as part of your job?  Fantastic.

We come to the end of another issue and that's us halfway through the monthlies already.  When I flicked forward to get a gist of what they would include so I could give you a little preview, one of the things I mentioned was the later issues having huge, multi-page strips written specifically for this new format, featuring some of your favourite characters who previously wouldn't have been given as much space.  There's one such character who certainly suits a BIG amount of space that's for sure!  He only made a handful of appearances but comes back big-time in #66.  It's none other than Pigswilla, as you can see in this next issue page from Lew Stringer:


Not quite sure how he's "raunchy" though... (that bit wasn't written by Lew.)

You'll notice the next issue goes on sale 20th August which is actually five weeks away instead of four, but hey that's how the calendar works out when you're releasing your comic on a specific day rather than a specific date.  If the giant metal porker's past is anything to go by it'll be worth the wait...

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