Monday, 31 December 2018

POSITIVELY 2018


As 2018 draws to a close tonight and I pour a beer to enjoy Jools Holland's Hootenanny, I look back on 2018 with a fondness.  It's been a tough year, starting out unemployed for several months certainly didn't help, and I just didn't know what I wanted from the rest of my life.  It wasn't a pleasant feeling all round really.  But despite all this, it's ended up being possibly the best year in a long time.

It finishes with one of the greatest Christmases I've ever had, a tight group of friends around me, good news delivered to some over the Christmas period that finished the year on a high.  I find myself in a new job since August, fitting in, enjoying the company I work for (haven't been able to say that very often in my life) and a new found focus on what I want to do with the rest of that aforementioned life.  Not a bad turnaround, eh?

A big part of that is going to be this blog and hopefully you've enjoyed the changes that have happened in the last few months.  There's more to come and plenty more classic comics to cover.  Don't forget about the Instagram (where that 'Best of 2018' collage above is from) and Twitter accounts to keep up to date with plans for here and what modern comics I'm reading too.  The festive season continues into January with annuals aplenty to read about, so stay tuned and I'm really looking forward to what 2019 has in store both with The Oink! Blog and Beyond and with another certain project of mine (below), which you'll be able to check out on my own personal social media accounts (@PhilEdBoyce on both of the services above).


Happy New Year pig pals, let's hope the world as a whole can have a good one after what 2018 has brought us!  But let's not get down, it's time to celebrate new beginnings, make resolutions and watch a New Year countdown recorded a few weeks ago.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

MORE FESTIVE FRIVOLITIES FROM LEW STRINGER

Over on his own blog, Oink! cartoonist Lew Stringer has been sharing some highlights from the long list of Christmas themed strips he's created over the years.  Of particular interest to readers of this blog are the posts featuring fan favourites Tom Thug and Pete and his Pimple.  The latter features in a rhyming story from Oink!'s second festive issue (and one of my very favourite comics of the entire run), #43.  However, Tom's got two entries and they're both strips from his time on Buster comic so, unless you followed him into the pages of that comic for the several years he was there after Oink! folded, these will be brand new to you too, just as they were for me!

Lew has very kindly given me permission to cross-post these here, so below are the strips in their entirety and some comments from Lew too, taken directly from his blog.  At the bottom you'll also find details of what other Christmassy tales Lew has reprinted for us, all with direct links to their own posts over at lewstringercomics.blogspot.com.

Lew: "Here's a Christmas Tom Thug page I did for the festive issue of Buster in 1990!"


"Here's the Pete and his Pimple strip I did for the Christmas issue of Oink! in 1987!  I really enjoyed doing this character.  Created, written, drawn, lettered by me."


"For my final choice of my past Christmas strips, here's Tom Thug again with his festive story from Buster in 1992.  Tom had proven to be one of the comic's most popular characters so he was awarded this double-length story for the Christmas edition!"


"May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and thank you for following this blog!"


I hope you had a very Merry Christmas too Lew and that the new year brings more joy your way and plenty of comics work, so you can continue bringing us joy!

Pig pals, if you haven't done so already get yourselves over to Lew's personal blog site where you'll find updates on his newest work, retrospectives on previous characters and so much more!  For example, you can see those classic seasonal strips Lew has shared this December featuring Brickman (2005), a Mad Ad from The Dandy (2012), Vampire Brats (Buster, 1989), Postman Prat (The Dandy, 2011), Robo-Capers (The Transformers, 1986), The Daft Dimension (Doctor Who Magazine, 2016) and Team Toxic from Toxic (unsurprisingly) from 2008!

A festive treat indeed and I'm looking forward to seeing what Lew has in store for us in 2019.  You'll find out first by following his blog!

Finally, don't forget you can check out Oink!'s very own Christmas issues on this blog (#17 and #43) as well as those two classic annuals that filled our stockings full of fun and laughter, The Oink! Books 1988 and 1989.

Friday, 28 December 2018

JURASSIC PARK #7: IN ITS STRIDE

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The Christmas festivities are still upon us but there's no rest for Dr Alan Grant and Dr Ellie Satler as they track down missing velociraptors, or for Jack Tenrec and Hannah Dundee as we meet a new race of people in the far future, or even for the Tyrannosaurus rex and the cunning deinonycuses millions of years ago.  That can mean only one thing, it's time for the next exciting issue of Dark Horse International's 1990s comic book version of Jurassic Park.  Yes, this issue would've appeared in the shops a few days before the big day for most of us due to the way distribution worked at this time of year, but today was the actual release date so here we go.  Michael Golden took over cover duties and his creations are superb, for example this month with the natural world's predators combined with the circuit boards of the computers used by mankind to bring them back to life, perfectly summing up Jurassic Park.

As I mentioned last time, the comic wasn't originally an ongoing title in the States, instead it was split into various mini-series (though would later become an ongoing monthly) and the first one was called Raptor, made up of only two issues, the first one of which had the Aftershocks story in it.  This story was split into a few parts by UK editor Dick Hansom who, for whatever reason, decided to use the mini-series title here instead of the story title, with no explanation.  It was all rather confusing to this teen, but let's move on.  This second instalment of Steve Englehart's sequel tale gives nice little updates on some other characters which actually track with the as yet unwritten sequel book and movie, then sees Alan and Ellie on the hunt for the 'raptors, which maybe isn't the smartest of ideas.


There is sound logic here though.  As the InGen Corporation try to recapture the dinosaurs across the island in order to open up scientific experiments on them and sell access/results for profits, they've chosen to ignore Alan's protestations that the 'raptors are loose on the island and breeding.  Of course, Alan is right and there's some genuinely suspenseful moments as the couple search a cave at the beach on the opposite side of the island.  The pencils and inks team of Armando Gil and Dell Barras (apologies for not mentioning the inks last month!) excel themselves in these scenes with the dark and gritty nature of the caves bringing a great deal of atmosphere .  This is punctuated by some lovely moments between the pair before a brand new character literally pops up.


George Lawala may be yet another big game hunter for us who've watched all the movies by now, but remember this story was the first official continuation of the original movie and so we hadn't met any such characters yet in The Lost World.  Amongst the darkness of the caves, Renée Witterstaetter gives his entrance a burst of surprising colour to match his surprise entrance.  George knows who he's come across and immediately recognises them as a threat to his income so gives chase through the caverns of Isla Nublar.  This makes for some tense scenes as he gains on them and he's almost upon them when they run around a corner and instantly come face-to-face with the very creatures they were looking for, a family of velociraptors!  Thus ends the second instalment at only eight pages, but what a rollicking set of pages they are!

With Xenozoic Tales taking up two more pages for a total of ten, then Age of Reptiles having two more again, some may think the comic has a bit of a cheek to call them bonus strips on the cover.  But as I've said before the three of them really do go hand in hand to produce an overall title that just works.  You've got to put this into perspective, when Jurassic Park was released dinosaurs were suddenly everywhere and JP was leading the way, so it was only natural its comic would bring together other dino-themed strips.  Think about it, one is set in the distant past when the creatures from the park actually roamed the Earth, the headline strip is in the present day when they returned from extinction by the manipulations of human beings, then finally there's the next strip when they've mysteriously returned yet again in the far future.  What a great line up.


That strip from the far future is of course Mark Schultz's Xenozoic Tales.  Here we have the second part of Benefactor, although it's simply called Xenozoic Tales: Chapter Four here and the strange creatures who captured Hannah Dundee last month turn out to have a name; the Grith.  Evolved from ancient dinosaurs they work with the planet to preserve it and fight against climate destruction.  They're a peaceful race who have developed a level of trust with our hero Jack Tenrec, and Hannah's supposed kidnap was actually the only way they could save her life without her running off in fear.

They can't talk, or even think as we do and instead communicate through centuries-old lettered tiles Tenrec found deep underground.  Having no idea what they were ever used for it's a funny touch that they're Scrabble pieces!  The Grith's senses have told them they can trust Hannah in the same way as they do Tenrec, though the same can certainly not be said of the rest of the human race.  The man who had been pretending to help Hannah as a trap to kill both her and Tenrec (and who the Grith saved her from) meets a grisly end which finishes off this instalment with a dark, edgy tone that I really liked.  I'm getting into these stories and may have to add their collections to future comics shopping lists.


Finally it's the turn of the sublime Age of Reptiles.  Another independent, creator-owned comic book this is also written and drawn by the one person, in this case movie industry artist Ricardo Delgado with colours by James Sinclair (Xenozoic Tales is written and drawn by creator Mark with colours by Christine Couturier) it continues with its mesmerising story of two packs of dinosaurs, the Tyrannosaurus rex and deinonychus groups.  Back when I first read #6 in the 90s I assumed the latter group were velociraptors and it was only when this issue arrived I realised I was wrong.

After killing a brontosaurus for food but being chased away by a large T-rex, the deinonychuses are after revenge.  They follow the rex to his nest, but first we get a lovely few pages of him making his way there himself and it's quite the journey.  Just look at these images below!  This is simply stunning work, absolutely gorgeous in every single way.  You could skim over the strip every month since it's all wordless, but you won't.  It's all in the imagery and that's the genius of it, you won't want to skim it, you'll want to relish every tiny detail.  By the end you'll be amazed at the lack of even descriptive captions as you'll have been transported to another era and been told a really entertaining story without them.


The story takes its time setting things up and isn't afraid to spend a few pages showing the rex's journey, but all is not as it seems.  The other pack has followed him and while he sleeps with his mate, alongside his former mate and child (the dynamic between this group all portrayed with glances and body language) they sneak into the nest and steal all of the unhatched eggs.  This issue's instalment ends with the deinonychuses leaping a chasm with the eggs, the rex coming to a sliding stop, unable to make the jump and roaring into the air in anger and frustration.  From a simple tale of hunters and prey last time to something with more depth and a real story with real characters, I can't wait to see how this develops.

Before we leave the age of these particular creatures, a quick example of the character-driven nature of this wordless strip.  The baby rex is playing with some prey in the background when we get back to the nest, perfecting his own hunting techniques.  But just as we focus in on him the meal gets away at the last moment, the final panel below capturing the pissed off young hunter perfectly.


What a superb issue!  The editing is spot on, with the stories all cut off at exactly the right points, which is especially successful with the Jurassic strip itself; the first and second parts of the one US story feeling like very different beasts as a result.  It's a thrill to be reliving this comic again and it's only a disappointment to know it wouldn't keep this fun format for very long.  That's for a future post, in the meantime it's almost the New Year and it's going to be a good one, but before I go here's a photo of this issue's competition for the Nintendo Game Boy game which I've previously mentioned I was completely addicted to around this time!  This has brought back some very happy memories indeed, a very fun little title that I'd love to have a go on again.


Lots more to look forward to in 2019 and Jurassic Park #8 will be right here on Friday 25th January.


Wednesday, 26 December 2018

TRANSFORMERS: PLAGUE OF THE INSECTICONS


Yet another special Transformers UK edition for Christmas 1986 saw parts of the previous year's annual repackaged as a little one-off book.  It wasn't the only one Marvel UK released as you'll see, all made up of reprints and bound together in a lovely glossy cover.  More below, but don't forget tomorrow (Thursday 26th December) the weekly issues continue on the blog's Instagram account.  It'll appear here on Thursday 3rd January 2019 as part of the next monthly roundup which will also contain this below, the annual from yesterday and the Christmas issue from last week.

Loads to enjoy.  Hope you do.


POTI: Trying to find an exact release date for this special has proved impossible, but I do know it was for Christmas 1986 so many fans will have received it in their stockings alongside the annual.  Today seems as good a day as any to cover it.  It's nothing long-time Transformers fans wouldn't have seen before, being two strips and a puzzle page from last year's annual.  Even the cover is a reprint from that book.

But puzzle page aside what's here is gold standard all the way!


When originally written the Insecticons hadn't arrived on Earth yet, but now in the weekly they have and here they cause rampant death and destruction worthy of the American President getting involved. This was a precursor to the formation of the government agencies the US comic created in '86, so we got a little bit more background here in the UK.  Also, a rare appearance for Roller (who is actually part of Optimus Prime) and some creepy imagery of a hypnotised Ravage add even more excitement.  A downbeat, serious ending just heightens the threat.

A brilliant read.


The other reprint is And There Shall Come... A Leader!, a political story set on Cybertron millions of years before the Transformers arrived on Earth.  Optimus is being held back from attacking the Decepticons pre-emptively and the story centres around the decisions being made by the Autobot leaders while Prime and his troops are being cut down.  Another excellent story which, just like the one above, belies the childish impression the series of books were to give out when placed on the shelves side by side!

It may be all reprint and you'll own it all already if you have the 1985 annual, but the completist in you will enjoy it nonetheless.  Another essential item to track down.

Cover by John Ridgway
Plague of the Insecticons! art by Mike Collins and Jeff Anderson, with colours by Gina Hart
And There Shall Come... A Leader! art John Stokes and colours by Gina Hart

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

TRANSFORMERS ANNUAL #2: A MEGA(TRON) READ

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!


I hope you've all been having a great day today and are having a festive season to remember.  Now, with all the turkey, ham, roasties, stuffing, sprouts, bacon lardons, carrots, cocktail sausages, mushy peas, gravy, apple sauce, cranberry sauce and gravy in your stomachs (just me?) it's time to lie down with your latest Christmas annual.  Or at least it would've been back in the 80s and 90s and in 1986 in particular there was a certain book sliding down chimneys across the country along with the rotund fella.

After the first annual last year and its many puzzles, games and the like, this year Marvel and Grandreams get down to the nitty gritty and, apart from a (very fun) quiz in the middle, it's stories from cover to cover.  Below are some photos from this great little book and the mini write-up which is also up on Instagram today.  Don't forget there's a special edition tomorrow and then the very next day (again!) there's the next issue of the weekly comic too.  Enjoy your Transformers UK Selection Box this week here on the blog (or on the social media account itself) and then don't forget you can check out the monthly roundups so far in the comic's own section which you can access here.


ANNUAL #2: With a similar cover to last year's annual, though more aligned to the comic's version of the characters rather than the toys, and yet again by an unknown artist you'd be forgiven for thinking it'd be more of the same, with loads of silly childish fillers. But nope, this is a lot more like the comic and is packed with stories.  Just the one quiz, which is a neat addition which I enjoyed doing (forgive my writing, collectors!) but the rest is all stuff to read this year.

That gorgeous inside cover spread by John Higgins is just incredible, isn't it?  Beautiful stuff and what an intro to this annual.  Shame it's a book of two distinct halves, with the first two text stories and the first strip being a bit silly and, well, crap.


There's actually only two strips in here, the rest are all text stories which is rather different for a Marvel annual but after the first ones the second half of the annual is absolutely fantastic.  Seriously!  State Games involves gladiatorial games on Cybertron and the formation of the Decepticons and it's really atmospheric stuff and a (no pun intended) cracker tale.  The artwork on this is uncredited which is a huge shame as they're brilliant pieces of comic art!  The last text story, called simply The Mission may not be set at Christmas itself but it's got snow which is close enough for this reader.  It's a very funny tale and a great way to end a good festive read.

The other strip is a stunner though.  With art by Transformers supremo Geoff Senior and colourist extraordinaire Gina Hart (the best combo the comic has at this stage in my opinion) it sees the return of fan favourites the Dinobots as they experience defeat over and over.  They're dreaming you see, still in an unconscious state of repair since the Dinobot Hunt story and it's just the perfect tale for these five.  It's packed with action, stunning imagery and yet also manages to pack in a lot of characterisation in its 11 pages, with a thoughtful ending that has me eager to see their return to the weekly.


So yes, the first few stories may have been a better fit for last year's annual, but the other 50% more than make up for it and if you can track it down on eBay they're more than worth the entrance fee.

Come back tomorrow on Boxing Day for a special which was released for Christmas 1986 too!

Cover and text story illustrations by unknown artists
Inside cover layout by John Higgins
To A Power Unknown art by Will Simpson, colours by Josie Firmin
Victory! art by Geoff Senior and colours by Gina Hart

Saturday, 22 December 2018

TRANSFORMERS #54 FREE GIFT: TEAM TOYS

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Another bonus blog post for Transformers UK fans, once again being shared on the same day as its posting on the blog's Instagram.  This time it's for a free gift I was finally able to get hold of.  I may have covered the issue already back in Month 7 of the series, but I couldn't let this slide and everything below will be added to that month in due course.

In case you missed it, 1986's Christmas issue was posted up two days ago on the date of its original release, that year's annual will be with you on Christmas Day itself and there's a special edition on Boxing Day too.  So stay tuned!


#54 FREE GIFT: When I read this issue back in March my issue didn't have the pull-out special to introduce the Special Teams, but I've recently been able to get a hold of an issue with it intact, so here's an extra post to show it off to you.  Unfortunately I don't know who created the cover, even if it was Marvel or Hasbro, but it's very toy-accurate so I'm guessing the latter.  The strip itself is pretty woeful and acts solely as a way to get the newly released toys into the comic as quickly as possible, with their own stories not due for a while yet.

Much better is the poster this free gift folds out into.  It must've been exciting for young readers at the time and I can just imagine many studying it in detail, trying to decide which combination they were going to commit their parents' money to!  I only ever had one of these individual toys, Drag Strip, but I remember loving it and him being one of my favourite Transformer toys even though he never could combine with anything else.

Nowadays the poster acts as a lovely retro advert for these classic toys so here's a closer look at it.  Did you own any of these yourself?  Did you collect any whole teams and get to combine them?  Let me know in the comments.


Cover by an unknown artist, most likely for Hasbro
Strip art by Barry Kitson and Tim Perkins, colours by an unknown artist