Monday, 14 December 2015

THE OINK! BOOK 1989 (PART ONE) - OLD DOGG, NEW TRICKS!

Oink! comic itself may have finished back in October with its final monthly issue, but then in November we enjoyed some Buster-esque strips from Tom Thug, Pete and his Pimple and Weedy Willy and now here we are in December with The Oink! Book 1989.  It's all worked out quite perfectly, taking us right up to the end of the year with one final regular outing for our very favourite comics characters, kicking off with another eye-catching cover:


I can vividly remember as a child being somewhat disappointed the first time I saw this book in the shop, for a stupid reason in hindsight.  I was actually disappointed the cover was drawn rather than being a model, as if more effort had gone into the previous year's front page, but just look at that lovely J.T. Dogg art!  Young me really was rather daft.

I was always a fan of his work and it's only grown on me more with age.  I've spent a lot of time going over all the lovely details in his work on The StreetHogs, Ham Dare and those Oink! Superstar Posters from the early issues before including them in the blog.  This glorious cover is no different.  After the huge pig face from last year the second book definitely riffs on that idea but this time it looks like the butchers have finally taken over!  Could it be the battle against the barbarians has been lost?  Why else would one be front-and-centre and taking pride of place on the cover of Oink!?

There's the clue; this is Oink!  There's always more to it and just like last year the rear cover would have its own picture instead of being a copy of the front like other annuals.  Another clue lies in the picture above but you'll have to come back next Monday 21st December to see what lies on that back page.  The very fact there'll be another piece of J.T. Dogg artwork to enjoy should be good enough reason for any discerning pig pal.

For now though what can we expect from the inside of this book?  As advertised in the comic there was a cut in the amount of pages, down from eighty interior pages last year to just sixty-four which was a bit of a kick in the teeth when the other Fleetway annuals had kept their 112-pages, yet this was the same price!  Not that Santa Claus had to worry about price, naturally.  The pages themselves may be nice, bright and of a good quality shiny stock, but they're definitely not of the standard of the 1988 book and aren't as thick, giving the impression of the book being even thinner than the previous annual than it already is.  Also, in a cursory glance through it to begin with there's ten pages of reprints from the preview issue and the early regular fortnightlies.  As a child I hadn't had a chance to read any of them at this stage so I didn't mind at all but was still aware of the fact this meant only fifty-four of the interior pages were new material, only six more than a monthly issue.

Work on an annual will start the year before publication, so in this case that would've been right back when Oink! was still fortnightly, before the first annual had been unwrapped by many children on Christmas morning.  The logo is obviously the original and the last page on the inside where Uncle Pigg et all sign off makes mention of the regular comic, so they didn't know its fate when most of this was written and drawn (hence why we're treated to so much Ian Jackson goodness when he barely featured in the monthlies).  But there's a possibility a lot simply wasn't finished when the writing was on the wall for the comic and the three editors started developing their next project.

The next two specials would also include a mixture of brand new material and reprints.  Some make mention of the special they're in but there's every chance some were meant for this annual and were held back, so the publishers would have enough material for the extra editions without having to commission a lot of new material.

It certainly makes for a strange book.  There's very little in the way of mini-strips so a lot of the new material is made up of multi-page strips, alongside full-page ones which deliver one great gag, as well as a series of mini-posters of the most dangerous butchers from across the UK.  When you ignore the reprints (as this time around I've already read them) it makes for a very quick read.

But this is Christmas and let's not get bogged down shall we?  Because it may be quick, but what a read it is!

Uncle Pigg may have decided against chiseling the names of the book's contributors in stone this year, relying on more conventional cards instead, but when opening the book it was just such a joy to see the jagged, wonderfully colourful and uniquely Oink!-like artwork of Ian Jackson again:


Mary Lighthouse aside, don't they look so happy to be drawn by the pen of Ian again?  Even the plops seem overjoyed.  It's certainly a bright and breezy start (though hopefully not too breezy, the smell of those plops can get about a bit) and it's great to see the names of contributors we've seen very little of recently after the comic started changing formats.  We're still in for a treat folks, so let's dig in and I'm starting on the very next page.

Someone who hadn't appeared in the previous annual was Charlie Brooker and he certainly made a name for himself in the comic with not only some very imaginative and very funny characters, but also with some superbly crafted scripts for GBH Madvertisements.  Last year we had Snatcher Sam introducing us to the GBH Book Club but here we've got some hilariously bad props taking centre stage pretending to be some truly awful toys.  Well, it is Christmas after all:


I remember my sister collecting the Sindy toys when we were all a lot younger and one day it was all being sold on in the old fashioned way of putting an advert in the local paper and having potential buyers coming round the house.  Everything was laid out on the snooker table and she had everything from a house to a sports car, so when I saw this page a few years later it was a particular highlight of the book for me.

The GBH pages were always amongst some of the most imaginative in the comic and the time and effort put into some of the models, fake book covers, "toys" etc was great.  They deliberately look like they were cobbled together in a couple of hours but I'd bet in reality a lot more effort went in to think these up!  On this occasion co-editor Patrick Gallagher advises they were most likely created by in-house artist Mike Taylor, the first to be hired by the editorial team, who has featured a couple of times before on the blog.  The ideas behind GBH items were always highly original and, most importantly, incredibly funny.  Making terrible items on purpose for these fake adverts must've been a great laugh at the time and us readers really appreciated them - we still do if the reactions on the Facebook group are anything to go by anytime one is shared over there.

This next strip was a real pleasant surprise to come across.  Way back in the mists of time that was March 2014 a strip called The Spectacles of Doom appeared for the first time in #22, the Magic and Fantasy Issue.  Written by co-editor Tony Husband and drawn spectacularly by Andy Roper it was actually a two-part tale charting the story of nice-but-dim Prince Endor whose sole job was to be the Guardian of the Spectacles of Doom, a job he seemed particularly bad at as they'd already been stolen by the first panel.  Introducing Walf the one-eyed floating wizard and Slash the singing sword it was a superb spoof of the mythical quest stories of so many novels and movies that had come before.  Indeed, in the 80s these seemed to be everywhere and I can remember loving these strips as a result of seeing, and enjoying, so many of these sorts of films.

Anyway, it proved a hit with the readers and so Tony and Andy brought it back for a whole five issues and in colour from #38 where we found out that Henry, the mad optician of Bong had also created the Monocle of Mayhem, which provided just enough of an excuse for another epic quest.  Could lightning really strike three times?  Those two strips are absolute classics in the history of Oink! and surely tempting fate with a third quest would be just too much?

Pfft!  Have you learnt nothing from this blog?

Behold the third and final Spectacles of Doom with the same dynamic creative duo returning once again to thrill us, astound us and, most importantly, make us laugh!  Five whopping pages, all in full glorious colour and with a double-page spread that needs to be seen in the flesh (so to speak) to really appreciate the sublime colouring.  Remember last time how we were treated to a double-page climactic fight scene with lots of lovely little touches?  Well prepare to take in lots of great detail all over again and throughout.  Welcome back, Endor:


Ingenious stuff with a fantastic surprise ending I think you'll agree.  Brilliant randomness from the mind of Tony, all brought to life by the expert hand of Andy.  They certainly made a superb team and the only downside is that they didn't team up more often!

Unfortunately of course, contrary to that final caption, there would be no further adventures but he certainly went out on a high (mountain - boom boom!).  However, someone who'd appear here in the annual and would return for one further adventure was everyone's favourite Dan Dare spoof.

Ham Dare - Pig of the Future was always one of those very fond childhood memories which stuck with me all the way through my life, and was always one of the first things that popped into my head when I reminisced about Oink! or tried to explain this weird and wacky comic to others.  He's just the perfect example of what this was all about.  His strips had laughs galore, they lampooned the more traditional comics, they were top-quality stuff and the artwork was incredibly enjoyable.  Oink! to a tee.

His stories were also my first exposure to that particular style of art.  J.T. Dogg's work on Oink! is so highly treasured it gets its own section on his website, and you can clearly see why.  I'm very pleased to say this annual contains quite a bit of his work, something I was feeling a bit of a withdrawal from, seeing as how the last StreetHogs all appeared in the one issue a good few months back (and no, the reprints of his posters in the monthlies don't count).  Not only do we have the front and rear covers, we've also got two great strips and I've decided to include both in this very post.

First up let's get back to that daring pig of daring dos.  From the first time I clapped eyes on his premiere strip back in #15 I was a big fan of everything about them, however I'm surprised to see he never actually returned in an ongoing serial again.  I'd always had it in my head he came back at least one more time in a cliffhanger-esque fashion but he was kept in the sty until special occasions, such as last year's annual, this one obviously and he'll return next year in the Holiday Special, taking over the cover no less.

Another surprise when revisiting his strips for the blog was to find out Lew Stringer was the man behind the script, feeding J.T. Dogg the superb scenarios which he then took and flew with.  There's something specific about this strip which I needed a bit of clarification on first though and so I asked Lew if the amount of colour pages was pre-determined.  He told me that indeed it was and co-editor Mark Rodgers had informed him the first two pages would be in full colour, with the remaining one in black-and-white.  Normally a comic would just carry on and we were used to this happening in action comics, but Oink! could never have been accused of being normal:


Personally I think that's genius, the way the colour change is actually referenced within the strip.  While on the one hand you could ask why just one more page of colour couldn't have been given over to Ham Dare at the expense of something else, when you see the annual and the amount of great, wonderfully painted artwork throughout then the joke above is a wonderful compromise and actually makes it all the more unique and funny.

If you were paying attention and, like both the young and old versions of me, you'd read through the contributors' names being held up by Uncle Pigg et all right at the top there, you'll have become giddy at the inclusion of so many wonderful cartoonists and writers.  One particular favourite of mine who was mentioned but who I had trouble finding in the book was fellow Norn' Irish fellow Davy Francis.  The reason he's initially hard to find is simple; he didn't draw anything for this book.  Instead he wrote a wonderful festive tale with a difference for Mr Dogg to draw.

Previously Oink! had lampooned a very specific work of Raymond Briggs, that of his seminal The Snowman and it's 'Walking in the Air' theme.  Both have featured on the blog, with the first being right back in #28 in a strip written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Mike Green called The Snow Bloke.  More fittingly in last year's Christmas issue #43 none other than Davy Francis himself brought us his own interpretation of the classic tale, using the same strip name as Mark had.

On both occasions the fictional piggy author Raymond Piggs was part of the title and just as the work of one Ron Dibney made various appearances in Oink!, Mr Piggs returns here for Farver Chrismuss.  Even though annuals typically go on sale in the summer, they're very much geared towards being Christmas presents for the young readers and Santa Claus certainly had a great sense of humour in bringing me these Oink! books, especially seeing as how he was the butt of a joke or two in both.  While last year we were led to believe the jolly red-suited man was in fact wearing an inflatable body suit and underneath was actually one of the scariest souls you ever did see, this year we're treated to a more traditional Santa.

Well, I say traditional, but you've got to remember what you're reading:


I hope this has got you into a suitably festive mood folks because there's more to come in just seven days when, on my birthday no less, I'll bring you more highlights in the second part of my look at the second Oink! Book.  It'll also be the last regular post featuring scans from the very best humour comic ever, but don't be too down-hearted as it's definitely going out on a high!

The blog comes full circle next Monday 21st December and in the meantime I hope you're enjoying the season... and that Santa has his alarm set.

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