Thursday, 15 October 2015

#68: THE FINAL (PORK) CHOP

On the evening of Saturday 15th October 1988 I walked down to the newsagents while the outside world began to darken for the night.  It was almost tea-time and before the shop shut I needed to get my latest issue of Oink! to enjoy that night.  Before heading to the counter to pick up my reserved copy I did the usual thing of browsing the large comics shelves to see what was about and I spotted "Oink!" in small letters on something else.  Lifting it up I saw it was the latest issue of Buster with the headline "Oink! stars join... Buster".  Oh no, it couldn't mean...?

I didn't bother trying to find Oink! itself on the shelf and instead I retrieved my copy and once paid for I noticed the awful news above the logo:


While in the Beyond Oink! series I've covered some post-Oink! comics I went on to buy which were abruptly cancelled, this was the first time it had happened to me.  I knew how long comics such as The Beano and The Dandy had been going for, as well as 2000AD, Eagle, Roy of the Rovers etc, even newer titles such as The Transformers had been on sale for a few years at this point, so I just assumed once a comic started and became successful that was it, it'd be around forever.  The other comics I'd started collecting by this stage (Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, The Real Ghostbusters and Big Comic Fortnightly) were certainly being enjoyed en masse and so too had Oink! been, so this was a complete shock.

I also bought the first merged Buster comic with my pocket money (my reserved comics were bought for me, hence why I was limited to how many I could have at once!) and when I got home I quickly flipped through Oink! #68.  Surely they were just guest-starring in the other comic, right?  Surely it was just an advertising thing for Oink!, right?  Surely "The Last One" on the cover meant something else, like the last monthly issue just, yeah?

Nope.  Right there at the top of page four were the horrible, horrible details:


While it was written and drawn by Michael Peek in such a way as to be as light-hearted as possible, my heart sank.  I can vividly remember being completely down about this, saddened beyond belief and it took until the next weekend for me to actually get around to reading the comic, I was that bad, as I just didn't want it to end.  I'd loved this comic and its characters since the very first issue I'd picked up almost two years previous and, while I'd eventually read back over them all a few months later and realise just how much had changed since the fortnightly heydays, at the time I just couldn't believe this was it!

I knew the annual would be delivered via Santa at Christmas, but in the newsagents' it felt a lot thinner than the previous year's.  I also knew there'd be a holiday special the next year, but that was a lifetime away for a ten-year-old.  To not get my regular piggy fix just wasn't right.  I considered the fact three of the strips would now be in the weekly Buster, which was still cheaper than Oink! had ever been and thought about reserving it so as to get my fix, but I ended up not doing so and you'll find out why soon (see the end of this post for more details).

The thing is, when I eventually did read this final issue I discovered it was arguably the best of the monthly titles by a country mile!  So for now let's try not to be too down about the fact this is the final regular Oink! comic post on the blog... ever... ever, ever, ever...!  Ahem, sorry don't know what came over me there {sniff}.  Let's concentrate on the contents of this fun issue instead, shall we?

First up is the free gift.  Well I don't need to go into too much detail here as it's already received its own post all to itself, which you can read by clicking here.

The Oink! issue started in fine form with the usual second page of four mini-strips and they were a particularly excellent little collection this time around.  They certainly cheered up the little version of me when I eventually opened that front cover again.  Quick, concise gags all hitting the target, the perfect example of how the comic may have changed and evolved over time, becoming a completely different beast to the Oink! we'd previously loved, but it was still soaring high quality-wise in comparison to any other humour comic out there for us.

Check these excellent little strips out from Marc Riley (Doctor Mooney He's Completely Looney), Davy Francis (Doctor Madstarkraving), Kev F (Rotten Rhymes) and Ed McHenry (Wally of the West) and have a little chuckle to get you going:


With Uncle Pigg already off we didn't get any final letters section from him, in fact only a few pages actually acknowledged the comic was coming to an end.  However, it does seem fitting one of these was the creation of Tony Husband, who along with Patrick and Mark Rodgers had created the comic in the first place.  Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins had been with Oink! from the preview issue and had appeared in some form in every single issue.  Starting off as a typical Oink! humour strip with some great instances of sheer horror at his appearance, even from his own parents, the strip moved on to serialising his life and the struggles he faced in a world where so much is based on looks.

There were still the comedy moments but the strip had become something to inspire us kids and, instead of laughing at Horace's misfortunes, soon we were giggling when he came up trumps because of his features.  Then the strip morphed again into the ongoing tales where he'd prove the point to us that looks are simply skin deep, there's more to people than just what they appear on the surface and we definitely shouldn't judge people we meet based on that initial reaction - no matter how comical it may have been in the world of Horace.

Through trials and tribulations ranging from his football career, to radioactive monsters and travelling the world with his equally-ugly girlfriend Mandy, he fought to be accepted and in the end always was.  For a comic which had caused controversy before, and for a strip which had started out as having a bit of fun with a character uglier than anything even his parents could cope with, the Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins strips ended up being almost a drama serial which taught us some great life lessons without ever feeling like it was doing so.

This was Oink!  It never patronised, it never spoke down to us and it also expected us to be intelligent enough for its humour and for what it could teach us through that humour.  There are plenty of examples of how this wonderful comic did this, but it did it in such a different way the critics never caught on.  Neither did we as we read it, but it all sank in and reading all of these fantastic sixty-eight issues back it's clear to see this now after growing up with it.

For the final issue there's no big multi-page tale for Horace but instead a simple one-page strip with he and Mandy coming to terms with the end of their story.  It's sweet really and feels like a fitting end to one of the comic's top highlights:

That last sentence isn't the fault of my scanner by
the way, that's the way it was printed in the comic.

As I've said before there were three characters who'd make the transition to Buster and Uncle Pigg told us above who was making the transfer.  Surprisingly there's no Weedy Willy in this issue but we do have an outing each for both Pete Throb and Tom Thug.

In a way this is the end of Tom's story despite him appearing for many years in the pages of the sister publication.  Like Horace he's been in the pages of Oink! from the start and appeared in every issue, special and annual, even the computer game.  He was easily one of the top fan favourites and from being a school kid who took ten issues to tie his shoelaces to leaving school and heading out into the big bad world he's now ended up with the one thing he feared the most:


Tom was indeed inside that Buster comic I'd also bought but his strip was altered to take him back to school, a change brought about by the younger readership.  So, wrapped up like an Egyptian mummy would be the final part of Tom's ongoing tale before we travelled back in time to see him in the classroom again.  Of course we'd see him in the Oink! specials and annual but they're one-offs and not part of what seemed like an ongoing story in the monthlies, and never made reference to whether he was in school or working.  But even before Lew Stringer took Tom out of school his strips developed over time, more recurring characters appeared like Wayne Brayne, his girlfriend and sister of Pete Throb, Zitty Zeta and even Tom's sweet mother.  He gave up being a bully for a couple of issues, he tried to form the toughest gang the world had ever seen in another short arc and he crossed over with Pete a few times throughout the run.

While many humour comics characters remain rather one-dimensional by their very nature, Lew was always able to somehow inject great characterisation into his.  Just look at Tom for example; the inept bully who'd always come a cropper, showing us what brain-dead idiots bullies really are.  In lesser hands Tom would've been a one-trick pony, possibly still amusing but in no way laugh-out-loud issue-after-issue and while it could be argued we didn't really know anything more about him than we did at the start, that's not the point.  Lew's characters always felt like they were more rounded and developed, such is his talent for drawing us into them and the scenario built up around them.

We did see the likes of Horace above develop and the strips change dramatically as time went on and The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile also changed a little over time when the baby came along and he started to slowly become older.  In humour comics we're not looking for in-depth background stories or fully-fledged in-depth bios, so it takes a great skill to have the readers of such comics make a real connection with who they see on the page, never mind a bully!  So kudos to Lew, and in fact the whole team.  It just proves how much care and attention went into crafting Oink!

Further to this Tom's journey through the monthlies had certainly been unique and he'd been the character with the most changes made to his strip for the slightly older reader in mind.  Not only had he left school but he'd signed on for the brew and above got a (short-lived) job.  When did you ever hear of any of that happening to a humour comics character?  As Lew proclaimed on his strips, it was "another Oink! first!".  Normally characters remain frozen in time but as Oink! proved this didn't need to be the rule and we pig pals lapped this up.  It wasn't something humour comics editors had really considered before and it took the brilliant team behind this comic to have the faith in the young readers that we'd go along for the ride.

We sure did.

But it's not all big finale strips from long-established characters.  Like I said it's actually the other way around and acknowledging the end of the regular comic is kept to an absolute minimum, possibly because most of the other strips were already finished and ready to be published, even Tom's doesn't mention it.  However if it had been more frequent it may have brought the readers down and instead there's much to smile about before we reach those final pages.  There's not even a reprint in sight, most likely thanks to there now being a surplus of strips with no #69.

I've included no less than three mini-strips from Ed McHenry this time around and there was even more from him in the issue.  Ed could turn his hand to anything from double-page puzzle spreads and full-colour-full-page-yet-only-three-panel (phew) 'toons, to one-off gags and ongoing series such as Igor and the Doctor and Wally of the West.  It was also fun to see some of his older work (and Tony's) pop up in a few issues of Big Comic Fortnightly when I covered it.  It's clear he's simply a master of the art form.

Featuring his very distinctive style then is this quick little random outing:


Typical Oink!, this was just placed randomly amongst a couple of adverts for stamp collecting and practical jokes catalogues, yet I can remember it from all those years ago.  It's instant little classics like this which I think I missed the most when I tried out Buster but that's a tale for another time.

Now there was no way I couldn't include one final Madvertisement from those gangsters at GBH and they pulled out all the stops here with a full-on cruise ship holiday for us to remortgage our entire family's homes for.  Not too sure who wrote the script but it's been lovingly crafted by Simon Thorpe in all its cutaway glory.  A suitably fantastic middle-page spread to see the comic off with, it's full of so many great little details I beg you to take five minutes to peruse this before you continue:


Just goes to show, even with all their get-rich-quick schemes (for themselves, not the readers obviously) it was Uncle Pigg who sailed away in the end to a luxury island from the sales of one comic title.

I wonder if he's still on that island somewhere... maybe that's his kids who like to swim and play with the humans in those viral videos we've all seen.

But anyway, back to the subject at hand and one of the people brought on quite late in the comic's lifetime, as mentioned before, was the unique Kev F Sutherland.  While I missed the work of some of those who'd helped turn the comic into the one it was, such as Ian Jackson and Jeremy Banx, Oink!'s ability to always entice exciting new talent has to be admired.  Kev's work is synonymous with the comic in my eyes and one of my favourites of his was the Meanwhile... series.

Not linked in the slightest other than with the title, they could be of any length, feature any subject, have many jokes or as in the one below build up to one great gag:


Did you spot the cameo from one of The Three Scientists from the strip in #66?  He seemed to make appearances in the background of all of Kev's strips in these final issues.

Kev has quite a few pieces here, as if he'd created many for possible future issues and when the axe fell maybe the editors decided to use as many as possible.  There's nursery rhyme spoofs, television advert spoofs and a superb three-page strip entitled The Plop Factory - The Studios of Britain's top record producers Sock, Bacon and Waterworks.  It's an incredibly relevant strip even today in this world of endless TV talent shows and well worth the price of admission on its own if you can find this issue on eBay.

That could be a problem though, as this seems to be a particularly tough one to track down and will normally only show up when someone is selling a large collection of Oinks! all in one go.  Unfortunately by this time sales had dropped quite dramatically, the changes made by Fleetway to a winning formula having the opposite of the desired effect, so much fewer copies were published.  By this time the three editors were working away on their next project too, one which was originally to be a spin-off of the successful piggy publication but which ended up as a completely separate entity.  If Oink! had been left to carry on as the popular fortnightly, something original publishers IPC were more than happy with, who knows what could've become of the proposed Oink! franchise, but sadly we'll never know.

As it stands though, even as attentions were redirected and a lot of what made me a fan in the first place had either disappeared or been changed beyond recognition, it was still a fitting swan song to a comic which dared to be different.  Some of our faves had survived the changes brought about by the interference of the newer publishers and while some didn't necessarily mention the finality of their strip, they still read like they were bringing us something special to see them off with, such as with Tom above.  While Mr Thug getting a new job and ending up in hospital on his first day felt like closure to his recent strips, Lew gave his other creation Pete and his Pimple a suitably epic finale, even if it was in dream form:


It was also a nice gesture to see the names of those people whose ideas couldn't be used and did you spot the little in-joke with the reference to the position of Oink! on the comic shelves?

Pete's strip would continue in Buster for a relatively short period of time and one key defining feature would be dropped altogether, but more of that is to come so stay tuned.  Or just scroll down past the next strip in fact.

The final strip I'm featuring should surely be a large, epic tale of some sort, yes?  Some big grand gesture to see off the last regular comic post of the blog.  Well, no actually.  Some of the biggest laughs I've had in reading back through these a whopping twenty-seven years later have come from the mini-strips, the little pieces of perfect humour slotted randomly throughout each edition.  One character who seemed to generate a lot of these outbursts was Ed McHenry's Wally of the West who I've already included at the top of this piece.  But as a final example of the quick wit and lunacy of not only Ed, but of Oink! as a whole, this seemed like the perfect choice:


There we go then.  So...

...IS THAT ALL FOLKS?

Two-and-a-half years ago I'd bought a huge set of pristine condition Oink! comics and Lew Stringer innocently suggested I read through them on the date of their original release.  From that came the idea of sharing this experience with a blog and hoping I'd actually see it through.

Now, not only have I indeed seen it through but I've found out so much more about my favourite comic of all time than I ever thought I would.  I've made some great friends through this, both fellow readers and, amazingly, amongst the creators!  I've been amazed at its popularity and seen many rediscover Oink! for the first time since their childhood just as I did, with many sharing it with their own children who have lapped it up.  I've had wonderful feedback from some amazing comics professionals and it's spurred me on and reignited my passion for writing again for the first time in many, many years; something I'll be continuing with, all thanks to Oink!

I'll be writing up a proper look back at the blog and the journey I've taken through it at the end of the year, but before then there's still two monthly additions with 'new' strips coming your way first of all.

The regular comic has come to an end and it is indeed a sad day.  However in five weeks I'll be taking a look back at those first four issues of Buster and the continuing adventures of Pete and his Pimple, Weedy Willy and Tom Thug.  Buster would only advertise the merge on its cover for a measly four issues and it was never officially called 'Buster and Oink!' unlike previously cancelled comics, so join me on the third Thursday of November (19th) to have a look at what happened next.

Then in December look out for two posts covering the second and final annual, The Oink! Book 1989 as we celebrate Christmas with Uncle Pigg et all in a book which may have been a lot thinner than the previous year's but which still contained some real gems.  Thankfully this sees the return of some classic characters and cartoonists, including that Burp strip I've been mentioning since the preview issue!

The Beyond Oink! series is also continuing with a further two comics from my youth and there's also going to be a special one-off post on a subject dear to the hearts of many in the industry today.  Also watch out for another look at the Oink! computer game (the first was in the Crash post last year) but this time from the perspective of Commodore 64 users and Zzap!64 magazine.  This particular post will also be launching another pet project of mine, kind of like a pilot for another blog... I'd say that's 'clever marketing' if it was anything more than a happy coincidence.

So still plenty to come in 2015 right here in a big send off for Oink! and I hope you'll stay around for it.  To see the regular issues off though is this, the final page of the last issue.  With the rear of the comic taken up by an advert for Fleetway's annuals, here's Michael Peek with a quite ironic "No1 in a new series" and the comic's last words:



8 comments:

STEPHEN ARCHER said...

I had an almost identical experience. On the 22nd (don’t know why you got yours earlier) I received the usual batch of comics from my nan; there were Oink and Buster individually, but with the former also on the latter’s cover. It was upsetting naturally, but it didn’t feel like a massive kick in the teeth. I’d seen many comics fall since 1980; this was Buster’s fourth of the decade. I was only a week from turning fifteen; maybe I was just growing up. What hurt was that it felt like the Oink experiment was over – because, of course, it was.

Patrick Gallagher said...

Brilliantly done Phil!

As with the comic itself, it's sad to see it end.

No doubt you'll be delighted to hear the message I've had from Uncle Pigg:

"Phil, you did a fantastic job with your blog over the past 3 years and it humbles me to say a big "thank you" for reminding the world of my creative genius and utter brilliance. And by the way, Patrick was not responsible for the announcement illustration of page 4, but Mick Peek, you useless chump".

Phil Boyce said...

Haha you can thank Uncle Pigg for me and I'll make the correction, was very reminiscent of your own stupendous work at crafting his illustrious features on the pages of his amazing comic, so I thought it was you. Mike must've referenced your craftsmanship. (That should be grovel-ly enough for Uncle Pigg...)

Phil Boyce said...

It was definitely out on the 15th, you had me worried there so I checked back again on #67 and it confirmed the release was that date for the final issue. It was sad to see it end but IPC have said they saw it as a success so maybe we shouldn't be too down, after all it brought us so much joy for those years.

John Pitt said...

Well I have gone through those same feelings with mergers time and time again over the years. However, you can be proud of the way you have immortalised every issue of Oink! for everyone to go through time and time again on your brilliant posts. I was so pleased to read over on Lew's that you intend to carry on blogging. So a huge "Well done, Phil!"
I shall nos click on a few links and see where they take me today....

Phil Boyce said...

Thanks very much John! I have to say I'm quite proud of this blog, it's really become so much more than I ever thought it would. Yes, definitely it'll be carrying on, plenty to take us through to the end of the year and then... well, wait and see.

Thanks again and enjoy clicking!

STEPHEN ARCHER said...

In 1986 I’d sing Oink’s praises to anyone who’d listen; I’d play the flexi disc endlessly on my nan’s record player and even lent it to one of my favourite teachers! He found it funny but distorted (don’t know whether I’d overplayed it or he missed the point, but I won’t say anything against Mr Starr). To say comics would never be the same again isn’t quite right; there never HAD been a comic like Oink. True, we’d had Cheeky and DCT had occasionally been experimental with Nutty and the often (undeservedly, in my view) overlooked Cracker; but Oink was more than just sprinkling a little wackiness into an otherwise standard comic. It was bold and pigging fantastic – I could plainly see that Oink was knocking down the skittles of convention all the time – and a lot less like Viz than some would have you believe.

George Shiers said...

That went quickly