Wednesday, 8 July 2015

BEYOND OINK! 3: BIG COMIC FORTNIGHTLY

<< GO TO PART TWO: THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS

Before 1987 I'd never really read any comics annuals and Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends were the main reading material over the Christmas period.  Their annuals were highlights of that fortnight off school every single year with prose stories and activities, not comic strips.  But then towards the end of 1986 I started to collect my first comic from #14 of Oink! and within a year I'd started reading Thomas' own brand new fortnightly title too.  It was clear to my parents that comics were going to be a big thing for me.

1987 was also the 50th anniversary year for The Dandy and The Beano (well The Beano's was 1988 but the big year was marketed as 1987 - DC Thomson had a book to sell for Christmas) and my brother was the one who in all previous years had been bought both their annuals as he read the latter every week.  I'd read bits and bobs of them but had never really gotten into them like he had, not due to a lack of quality or anything but more because I didn't really read comics.  However, he was now growing out of comics (we all make mistakes) and with me collecting two of my own by that stage I'm now certain his moving on from them was why the special double-celebration book was given to me that Christmas morning.  Not that I'm complaining, I absolutely loved it!  (I still own it.)

But another book had also caught my parents' eye in the shop when they were making their list to Santa Claus for me.  A book containing a whopping 256 large pages with a solid hardback cover and all for just £3.25?:

Picture from Comics UK

To put that into context the 84-page Oink! Book 1988 was only 30p cheaper.

This book was awesome and that's a word I wouldn't normally use, but as a child I remember it was the only way I could describe it.  I hadn't spotted it in the shops or anything before that morning when I lifted it out of my stocking.  The sheer size and weight of it in my small hands was staggering and as I flicked through it the excitement rose at the amount of comic strips inside.  No wonder Santa had put this in my stocking, separate from my Thomas and Oink! annuals downstairs in the living room, as it kept me in bed for a lot longer before rushing to wake the rest of the family up.

Only now as an adult and searching the internet for a copy of this brilliant book have I discovered there was one the year before too, The Big Comic Book 1987!  I'd no idea, I thought I'd jumped on at the starting point but obviously not.  While the 1988-dated one was the first of three giant Big Comic Books I'd end up with, the Big Comic wouldn't keep itself confined to just a collection of hardback treasures, because six months later Fleetway took this very successful book of former owner IPC's material and turned it into a brand new comic.  I for one was overjoyed to see it pop up on my newsagent's shelves in a fortnightly 52-page format for only 35p:

Picture from Comic Vine

Well I say "brand new" but the reason this comic could provide so much content for such a low price was simple - it was all reprints.  The books and then Big Comic Fortnightly were packed from front to back with reprints from Buster, Cheeky, COR!!, Jackpot, Krazy, Monster Fun, Whizzer and Chips, Whoopee, WowKrazy and Jackpot.  I'd no idea which strips were from which original title and to be honest for a lot of them I still don't, but that wasn't the point.

I can vividly remember every other Saturday settling down to this big hefty comic and silence would fall over the chair in my corner of the living room for a good while until I'd finished every single page.  I'd start by flicking and reading my favourite characters before starting again from the beginning and working my way through.  Those were good days.

In fact I recall there was a children's Saturday morning show on at the time called On the Waterfront and the theme tune to it has stuck in my head ever since.  This is because I'd be up early in the morning watching cartoons before the show began, then I'd watch a bit while having my breakfast, before rushing to the shop to pick up my latest comics.  On the way to the shop one morning the theme tune had become stuck in my head and on my way home I'd replaced the words of the show in the song with the title of this comic.  It's been in my head ever since.

I never kept any issues of Big Comic Fortnightly so for this post I went scouring the internet just like I had for The Real Ghostbusters and instantly found it impossible to get a hold of the first issue and, more importantly, that first book of mine the 1988 annual, hence the screenshots above.  I was, however, able to secure a lovely dozen or so editions from various points in the comic's run of issues that I collected from 1988 to 1990.  Below are a selection of the covers I've scanned in and instantly you should be able to get a feel for what the comic was all about - fun:



Ah, the obligatory Christmas issue with the snowy logo.  I miss them.

The cover came on a lovely glossy, thick, high quality paper stock and contained coloured strips with the interior 48 pages printed on black and white newsprint, but with these all being strips from classic comics from previous years it just seems to suit it a lot better than if it was printed on the same paper as early Oink! for example.  Does that make sense?

Below I've included some of those pages I'd have read first every fortnight but I just can't show you them all, there's far too many.  Some favourites I don't have the room to include would have been the likes of Frankie Stein, Odd Ball, Mustafa Mi££ion, Sweeney Toddler, Book Worm, Paws and Joker.  But as hard as it has been to leave them out, the decision to include the classics below was a no brainer for the ten-year-old in me, starting with some unwilling billionaires.

Unwillingly rich?  The Bumpkin Billionaires were indeed mega-rich but they didn't want a penny of it and each issue we'd see their latest ploy to get rid of all of their money to the chagrin of their bank manager, only for them to ultimately end up with even more by the end.  Drawn by Mike Lacey here's an example of this Whoopee (then later Whizzer and Chips, then Buster) take on The Beverly Hillbillies:


Anyone who knows me will know of my love of sharks.  Even though it'd be a couple of years later before I'd see Jaws for the first time properly, which would see the beginning of that lifelong fascination, I was aware of it from my family watching it when I was a lot younger and just looking out for the big scary fish.  So when Gums popped up in the book and comic here I may not have been aware of how much more I'd enjoy him later on in life, but there was still something which pulled me right in (or is that 'right under'?) with this rather pathetic great white shark.

John Geering has brought his charming art style to Oink! and you can see his contributions on this very blog by clicking here (obviously scroll past this post as it'll pop up again too).  Usually he'd be making a joke out of the other comics he worked for but his work in them was always fun.  Gums in particular is a treat and these strips first appeared way back in the 70s in Monster Fun, a fondly remembered title among fans which unfortunately didn't last too long before merging with Buster.  This brings me on to my next point about Big Comic Fortnightly, but first take a little dip into this character's world:


Gums even made a kind of unofficial cameo in a comic from a completely different publisher!  John drew a certain superhero for DC Thomson and when a story called for Bananaman to outwit a shark there's an uncanny resemblance to the outcome.  You can read the strip in question by visiting Peter Gray's Comics and Art blog right here.

One thing which could stick out like a bit of a sore thumb was the fact some strips hadn't aged all that well.  The strips were already quite old at this stage, many coming from the previous decade and you could tell.  Teachers caned pupils, the speech patterns of some characters could sometimes be a bit twee and in some the humour itself just seemed old fashioned with an outdated joke winding up a story.  This wasn't a huge problem, it only reared its head now and again, perhaps a few times per issue but with such a huge amount of content there was always going to be a few which wouldn't quite hit the mark as much as others.  (I hope you'll agree the ones I've chosen don't fall into this category.)

Reading it now though the surprising thing is how little it's all aged since the 80s.  Perhaps that's because I'm in the right frame of mind when reading back over these comics from my childhood - rose-tinted glasses and taking myself back to those days when writing this blog - and perhaps today's kids would think it all a bit safe, but it's still quality stuff.  At the time I did think it was a more conventional kind of humour comic, it never made me laugh out loud in the way Oink! did, but I was certainly grinning from ear-to-ear every issue.

From rose-tinted glasses to x-ray ones (you saw that coming didn't you?) and another alumni of the Monster Fun comic and once again from the pen of Mike Lacey.  When his optition Mr I. Squint gave him a special pair of glasses, young Ray found himself able to see through anything from walls to skin and he used this to his advantage like any good comic star, in X-Ray Specs.  He never used them for anything other than good natured fun and wouldn't get into trouble for using them, often helping others instead in some comical way where everyone would come together in a happy ending.  The one I've included here though is one of those rare occasions where he uses them in a more selfish way and in the end has to take cover because of the outcome.  For that it's a great little addition to his huge array of strips and another favourite of mine:


Something you'd often see were little edits to strips which had mentioned the title of the original comic they were made for, or the year in which they were published.  One example is the Krazy Awards page in one of these issues which blatantly blacks over the left-hand side of the letter 'K' to make it into an angular 'C'.  Below is another, drawn by Oink! editor Tony Husband by the looks of it, which I've scanned in at a slightly larger scale so you can zoom in and take a look at every time the words "Big Comic" are mentioned.  You can see they don't quite fit and how they've been stuck over the original words.

Above, the Santa Claus cover by Sid Burgon may look like an originated cover but it's actually a reprint too and the comic he's reading has been edited.  Out of all the issues and books only the very last annual would have an original cover.

The comic didn't try to hide the fact these strips were all from classic comics so it was funny to spot these little changes when they cropped up:


Something else Big Comic Fortnightly included was a lot of the original first appearances of fan favourite characters but without the first few issues to hand I didn't think I'd get to see any of these.  I'm very glad to see I've been proved wrong.

Robin Good was a take on a very obvious English legend and was a very funny one to boot.  Starring in Jackpot comic he made a great choice of reprint here even if he didn't appear in every issue.  Drawn by J Edward Oliver to great effect with that typed speech which was very 'in' at one stage, this is his first appearance from Jackpot, although not his first in Big Comic Fortnightly, which ran strips out of order and for the most part that never really mattered and added to the random nature of each issue.  Note the large caption at the top to explain it though.

You'll enjoy this one, even if just for the opening paragraph which has got to go down in history as comic strip gold!:


When picking these I'd no idea which comics they came from so it's nice to see upon researching them I've actually chosen a varied selection, with the next one being from Cor!!.  To back up what I said earlier about the age of the material, Cor!! ran from 1970 to 1974 before merging with Buster like so many others, but I find Chalky's strips have stood up to the test of time.  They may look aged when you see how people are dressed or the old-fashioned policeman in this strip below, but the humour is still spot on and could be written today and just set in the 70s.  Brilliant stuff from Dick Millington here:


Chalky went with the transition to Buster and in 1981 was actually voted by the readers as more popular than that comic's title star.  Buster also appeared in every issue of Big Comic Fortnightly but I have to say I preferred the creative little guy above too.

Funnily enough, when Buster finished in the year 2000 after quite a few years as a reprint-only title the very last page was a new one with several panels describing what happened next for some of the top stars now there was nothing more to merge into.  Oink!'s own Tom Thug appeared, as did Chalky who we saw being arrested for vandalism after all those years of drawing on public spaces.  He accepted what he'd done and asked for another 92,487 cases to be taken into account too!

Here's a quick treat for Oink! fans:


That's none other than Ed McHenry bringing us a little one-off (so I've no idea which IPC comic it appeared in) the likes of which we could easily have found in the pages of Oink! itself.  Indeed there's a few funny quiz sections in Big Comic Fortnightly from Ed, which should come as no surprise to pig pals everywhere.

Speaking of Oink!, with it being a relatively new comic at the time and the oldest issue having only been released two years previous I knew its characters would never appear.  Of course these days I now know Oink!'s contents was creator-owned and this was a fundamental difference between it and its stablemate comics, so Fleetway didn't own them, the writers and cartoonists did.

Big Comic Fortnightly was a lucrative comic for the publishers alright.  They owned all of these characters, all of these years and years of hard work and they didn't have to pay out any royalties or pay to use any of it.  It was extremely cheap to make so while "52 pages for 35p" may have sounded like a bargain (and it was), you can guarantee Fleetway were still laughing all the way to the bank.

In one I do remember it plugged a very special issue to come and my young brain hoped it would see the addition of characters from other comics to give it a bit of a shake and reinvigorate it.  Not that it needed it, but I longed to see Oink! stars in there as I'd missed those early issues.  However, while I was disappointed initially to see what that special issue was, upon reading it I changed my mind and it was a brilliant issue!  The reason?  It was ace cartoonist Reg Parlett's 85th birthday and the comic celebrated by having an issue dedicated to his work.  It was a lovely thought.

I'm going to show you my final scan and then round off the post with what happened to this superb comic in the end.  Back in #27 of Oink! writer Graham Exton left a comment in relation to the Jake's Snake strip which was a spoof of Sid's Snake from Whizzer and Chips.  Graham mentioned how he found the snake a bore to write for and it'd be given to new writers to try them out for a while before moving them on to other characters.  Reading back over these now they are all pretty average but this one I actually particularly like so I've included it, as we see the invention of the selfie about 30-odd years before anyone else:


As per usual with 80s comics Big Comic Fortnightly had its fair share of summer specials etc. and the books would carry on until the 1994 edition.  The comic itself lasted for a whopping 170 issues, remaining fortnightly right the way through to #169 before relaunching itself with #170 as a 100-page monthly for £1... for all of one issue.

It never turned into a weekly but instead had a sister publication called Funny Fortnightly join it on the shelves which was identical in everything but name.  Released on alternate weeks it was like having a weekly title which was great, until the latter comic turned into Funny Monthly and folded a while later.  The former kept going strong for a few years more though.

Then after that first (and last) monthly issue of Big Comic Fortnightly (well, Big Comic Monthly) it too disappeared, as did The Best of Buster Monthly, The Best of Whoopee Monthly and The Best of Whizzer and Chips Monthly and a few weeks later BVC appeared on the shelves.  Short for "Big Value Comic" it contained 68 pages of reprints for 95p every fortnight.  Got to wonder why they bothered changing it instead of just stopping the other monthlies and keeping Big Comic Fortnightly going, don't you?  BVC lasted six months before it disappeared too.

I stayed with the comic for a couple of years.  I remember the 50th issue and my final book was the 1990 one, released for Christmas 1989.  I've very fond memories of this particular comic and its books and I'd highly recommend it for any comics collectors out there.  If you'd like to sample a whole load of IPC's classic range they're all here so it'd still save you a fortune even today, instead of trying to collect a wide selection of different titles.  It could be a very collectible comic and for those of us born around a certain time it'd make for a very long-lasting ear-to-ear grin, that's for sure.

NEXT TIME

For my next Beyond Oink! the title of this series of posts couldn't be more accurate, as you'll find out in two weeks.  What is it?  Well again I'm only going to hint with this little section from the cover of #1.  Nothing like starting small and building from there, eh?:


See you soon.

14 comments:

Lew Stringer said...

Very interesting to read your opinions on Big Comic, Phil. At the time I always wondered if the reprints might seem too dated for kids, but it sounds like it didn't bother you too much.

Andy Boal said...

There was one final reboot of Big Comic after BVC, and that was Buster Classics. I think that when they merged everything into BVC it was an attempt to freshen things up, but it had got a bit past it. Rather a pity, because BCF was great, and I still pick up the old “Best of…” comics when I see them (Jim gets the odd one in Atomic Collectables, but I’ve never seen Oink there)

Looking back at the Big Comic annuals and the Funny Fortnightly Annuals, there was actually a difference in content. Big Comic focussed on the 1970s and early 1980s, but Funny Fortnightly was more early 1970s and even stuff from the Power comics and early Busters.

On artists, that episode of the Bumpkin Billionaires might possibly be by Jimmy Hansen, who cloned Mike very closely at that stage, but Chalky was by Dick Millington. Gordon didn’t take Chalky over in Buster until the late 1980s.

Peter Gray said...

Like the Beano I found the comic very exciting to buy..I had a order of this at the newsagent...When Funny Fortnightly came out that was another exciting moment...reread the first issue many times...it was so hard waiting a fortnight..
I always liked the feature how it all began...seeing how the character started....Reg Parlett special Big comic is another highlight...

Phil Boyce said...

Now and again it was obvious how old some of them were but for the most part the comedy was so well written originally it didn't matter.

Phil Boyce said...

Hi Andy, thanks for the comments. I see what you mean, by the time of Buster Classics the comic did encapsulate all of them as they'd all merged into it of course and I do think Fleetway was trying to exploit that with Classics. But the idea of having an umbrella title covering all of their (and IPC's) back catalogue unfortunately ended with the closure of BVC. I never bought a copy and only found out about it recently as I'd stopped BCF after two years anyway.

The idea behind Funny Fortnightly was basically the same and for us kids, the only real difference was the title, but what you mention is interesting and you never know... it may be covered in a future post...? ;)

I wanted to make sure I researched the artists where possible and checked a few different sources (people are surprisingly very friendly on the internet when you mention Big Comic Fortnightly!) as very few of the strips were signed. For example you're right Dick Millington did draw Chalky early on but it appears BCF pulled from all over the character's timeline as I was informed this was Gordon's work. Peter Gray (who just happens to have commented also!) has a wonderful blog and compared the drawings here - http://petergraycartoonsandcomics.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/chalky-is-top-of-pops.html but of course I'm learning as I go here (for Oink! and everything else) and am always up for finding out more information about these wonderful strips, so if it turns out it wasn't Gordon I'm happy to correct.

Phil Boyce said...

Hi Peter, yes I remember getting excited with Funny Fortnightly came along, it was basically like getting them weekly now. I had them both on order too (like all the comics in this series of posts) and it'd be nice to get a hold of the Reg Parlett special again I have to say, though I've yet to see it pop up on eBay or the likes.

Andy Boal said...

Yeah, if you check the style it matches the 1981 cover style by Dick Millington (a strip obviously rearranged from a normal single pager) - I've a feeling it was me who told Peter that! I'm not sure what year Gordon Hill took over, but I think it was about 1987, and with such a large canon of Dick Millington work it may never have made it into BCF which rarely went beyond about 1984 and tended to stick to the 1970s - I don't think it ever reprinted anything from Wow or School Fun.

Reprints in the early 80s tended to be from the Arthur Martin era, but as Dick took over in the late 70s, they became available. Dick also did his own lettering, which is the final giveaway that it's him.

The fun thing about the early BCF was that the cover had a different design every week. Unfortunately, within a year it had become a fixed masthead plus five sample panels design - such a pity.

STEPHEN ARCHER said...

A year or so before BCF’s launch I wondered, “Why don’t they bring out a ‘Best of … everything Monthly’?” following on from the other “Best ofs” that were going great guns at this time. I admit my motives were wholly selfish; all I knew about, say, Knockout and Monster Fun was what I read in annuals. BCF gave me a door to the past that I otherwise just didn’t have. It also reintroduced stories that WERE from ‘my time’ i.e. 1980 onwards, such as Jackpot (not quite Cheeky; ended too early that year for me to have read it, outside of copies in my GP’S waiting room!). Proof positive that dreams can come true.

Peter Gray said...

I've got it..Reg Parlett special..it was a lovely thing they did...if only they did this for other artists...But still a lovely tribute..
Classics from the comics was starting to do tributes to artists also..But not the whole comic..

Glad I wasn't the only person excited by Big comic and Funny Fortnightly.. :)

Phil Boyce said...

Thanks Andy, yes I was doing some research both at home and during breaks in work on the Chalky strips and as well as an individual telling me it was Gordon, I also checked Peter's blog. The formatting was a bit strange but it seemed to match up with the information I was given by the other comics fan. However, now upon checking Peter's blog on my Mac the formatting is correct (it's the work computers obviously, not your blog Peter) and the information appears next to different pictures, so I've corrected that now.

Glad you enjoyed the post and the comic, Stephen, looking back now it's great to know such classic strips were being so appreciate by children at the time.

I'll be keeping a look out for that Reg Parlett special, Peter. Even though I'm not intending to start collecting BCF now (the dozen or so I have for this post will do fine, though a few other titles I'm covering will be) it'd be nice to read that issue again with adult hindsight.

Andy Boal said...

And to confuse matters totally, Niblet has found the copy of Whizzer and Chips where Mr Hill was identified as Bob!

Peter Gray said...

I would buy the Funny Fortnightly if they come up..lots of old stuff..and from comics like Valiant..etc..
As my collection has grown Big comic is not needed in my collection now...kept a few like you..

Peter Gray said...

read it again..
the magician one is from Krazy comic..
the father Christmas one is from a Jackpot Christmas cover...

looking forward to your post on Funny Fortnightly...like the detail you put in...

Phil Boyce said...

Thanks very much Peter, they were fun to read again after all these years.