Monday, 24 July 2017

COMING UP...

Hi everyone.  Things have been a little quiet on the blog recently but that's all about to change.  I've had a busy old time of it but recently I've been putting the time aside for the site and am excited about what's to come.  You can look forward to more regular updates, a broader area of interest, while keeping Oink! at the centre of it all, naturally, as well as new ongoing series and more.  I sincerely hope you'll find plenty to keep you coming back.

It's all good saying these things of course, so I thought I'd do a little preview for you.

'RELIVE OINK!'

First up the The Comics page at the top-left there has been a constant since day one near enough.  It's a quick and easy way to find any issue of Oink! that I've covered, in order and separated into different categories so you can read back over the highlights.  However, right from the very beginning there were extra posts dedicated to The Street-Hogs and the Oink! Superstar Posters, then as the years have gone on I've written more and more posts with extra content, behind-the-scenes information, loads of Christmas goodies, new material etc.  Add to these the fact the blog is going "beyond" and covering more than just Oink!, it's important to me to have all of the content for the star title be accessible from one central place.  So you'll see a completely redesigned section (yes, a full section not just one page anymore, there's a lot of Oink! stuff in here now!) where you can relive the greatest humour comic of all time to your heart's content.  This has taken longer to organise than I thought as it requires some HTML programming beyond Blogger's standard layouts and it doesn't help that Photobucket have decided they're no longer going to host photos to be used on other sites.  So I'm going to have to move a whole sty full of images from all over this blog to another host too.  But it'll all come to pass soon!

'THE BEYOND OINK! COLLECTION'

During the monthly issues of Oink! I wrote a series of Beyond Oink! posts about the other comics I placed a regular order for in my comic-reading youth of the mid-80s to the mid-90s and I found some of these stood up really well today.  I'd kept a few issues here and there from the days I first read them, but for the majority I had to chase issues down on eBay.  I was pleasantly surprised how some could be enjoyed just as much, or even more, now as an adult in the same way as my Marvel UK The Transformers collection which I'd read through about eight years previous.  When the blog series was over I sold some of the titles off again but kept a few, knowing in the back of my mind I wanted to know how these stories panned out and that I'd eventually get around to collecting them.  Now that time has come so there'll be dedicated sections not only for the aforementioned Robots in Disguise in both their 80s and current movie forms, but also three titles rarely (if at all!) covered online, namely Ring Raiders, Wildcat and Dark Horse's UK comic of Jurassic Park.  Throw in the yearly annuals for Big Comic Fortnightly and Funny Fortnightly and fans of the popular Beyond Oink! series should all have something to read as I put the pieces together for each of these collections, with the aim of covering them in a similar way to Oink! once complete.

'FURTHER BEYOND'

In that initial Beyond Oink! post I mentioned the fact there were other comics I'd maybe bought an issue or two of but never actually collected regularly.  It wasn't because they weren't any good, it was simply the fact there were so many great comics being released around that time.  Of course not all were terrific but the ones I read I really loved, but having so many titles being released it simply wasn't possible to collect them all.  There were new series I read about in my other comics which sounded amazing but I couldn't get because I was only allowed so many at once (I can understand that now!), some I bought an issue or two of before my attention was grabbed by something else on the shelves, or sometimes there were just too many comics to choose between that there'd be some I'd wanted but would never read.  The UK industry was releasing so many comics sales were thinned out across the board and it meant there were some stunning comics which unfortunately simply got passed over by the kids of the day.  Now I have the chance to become even more ridiculously addicted to eBay and build up that dream comics collection I never had, now with the very best material I missed out on first time around.  What will this section include?  How does Transformers spin-off Death's Head, Dragon's Claws, The Sleeze Brothers, Visionaries, Super Naturals and Judge Dredd sound?

'SELF-PUBLISHING'

Contrary to some dark and dingy corners of the internet, the UK comics industry is alive and well and offering a massive variety of different kinds of comics for different kinds of readers.  Mainstream, graphic novels, independent publishers, digital comics, small press...  What I've become very interested in recently for my own reasons are self-published comics.  This has exploded in the UK in recent years thanks to modern technology and I've already been able to sample some simply superb examples; at the Enniskillen Comic Fest this year I bought Vampire Free Style from Jenika Ioffreda and recently on the blog I've covered a few various comics from Oink! alumni Lew Stringer in the form of Combat Colin #1, Brickman Returns and Derek the Troll.  I've taken a look online and the work being produced by some of the small press creators is exciting stuff.  Perhaps the fact Oink! was an independent comic (albeit printed by a mainstream publisher), was so original and took risks with creator-owned content is the reason I'm so interested in these.  Or perhaps it's because self-publishing is something I'm interested in myself!  Either way I've decided collecting some of this will make up another section of the relaunched blog and I can't wait to see what I can get my teeth into.  I've already got the 2000AD-inspired Sector 13 and some David Leach titles to write up and plenty more to come after that.

OVERALL...

I'm not turning my Oink! Blog into a general comics review site, not at all.  The site is expanding beyond its original remit because my own comics collection is growing beyond that one slice of anarchic 80s humour, so the blog will be adhering to those headings above... at least until I cover them for a while and it evolves again.  Who knows what the future holds after all, I certainly didn't expect all this from this silly little blog!  It's evolved naturally over the years of covering the piggy publication, now I'll also be collecting some of the comics I read as a result of Oink!, as well as those I wished I'd collected and now the intriguing small press comics I personally want to look into.  This will very much be my own personal comics blog so you won't see any negative reviews here simply because I'm only going to be collecting those I already know I'll like. That doesn't mean I won't be honest with praise or criticism though, of course I will (just as I have been with Oink! all along).

I'd better get finishing off what I've started then, but I hope you'll return with me soon and enjoy the new material and take part in comments sections etc.  See you later!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

COMBAT COLIN #1: SEMI-AUTOMATIC REVIEW


First up I just have to say what a delight it was to open the envelope containing this comic and see this character slide out after all these years.  When I began collecting Marvel UK's The Transformers way back in 1988 it'd already been going steady for 191 issues prior, so Combat Colin had established himself for quite a while after coming over from the pages of the cancelled Action Force.  This was another feather in the cap of Lew Stringer's stalking of me throughout the comics I collected as a kid, having already appeared in Oink! and The Real Ghostbusters.  His inclusion brought familiarity to this new weekly title for me and I thoroughly enjoyed Colin and Semi-Automatic Steve's adventures throughout the rest of the comic's long life.

You can imagine my thrill then when Lew announced a while back that he'd be following up his successful self-published Brickman Returns and Derek the Troll reprint titles with not one Combat Colin comic, but a series of them.  Aiming to have six issues in total, hopefully with two a year in the pipeline, this first issue takes all of Colin's original Action Force misadventures from across forty-three issues and repackages them into one volume.  I've only ever owned three issues of that title when about ten years ago I read through my (at the time newly-collected) The Transformers collection and its epic story from the 80s and early 90s.  Those few Action Force comics were the issues where the two comics had crossed over for one story, so apart from those few Colin strips all of this was going to be brand new to me.  Nostalgia for the character aside then, would these produce the laughs when read today, thirty years later?

What do you think?:

Part 3 of 'One of Our Milkmen is Missing!' (yes, really)

Clearly there was never any need to worry.  Not that I had been, mind you.  The humour remains timeless just like Lew's work in Oink! (and that comic as a whole) and there's plenty of chucklesome moments throughout, beginning for me with that fantastic front cover.  I love the design with the smaller Colin in the top-left reminiscent of the Marvel UK graphics and the main image with its War of the Worlds-esque War Machines.  Oh, and you'll never guess the solution on page 2!  As for the inside, the first handful of pages are made up of quick gag strips and they're very enjoyable but after that we start getting into the meaty multi-part adventures, the style of which I'd loved so much in The Transformers.

Above you can see one of the parts of the first ever Combat Colin serial which ran for six weeks and culminated in a full-page finale.  Even from this early stage all the classic ingredients are there such as groan-inducing puns, ridiculous cliffhangers, equally ridiculous cliffhanger resolutions, wild scenarios, crazy baddies and unexpected twists and humour from as far out of the left field as you could possibly get.  There's even one told in Lew's trademark rhyme.  It isn't long before each and every instalment takes up a full-page... well, apart from one double-page spread.  Regular baddies make ridiculous reoccurring appearances and as Colin settles in to the whole cliffhanger serial approach there's more and more opportunity to spoof that genre.  For example one of the recap panels simply states, "The story so far: Colin and Steve's vilest villains have ganged up... blah, blah... death trap of feathered barrels and acid pit... blah blah... should have bought last week's Action Force... blah, blah, etc... etc...".  Brilliant!

There's plenty of memorable moments I'm looking forward to again in future issues, but from these strips my favourite has to be the six-part The Mystery of the Missing Pyramids.  Perhaps it's because I'm a sucker for anything to do with Ancient Egypt or maybe it's simply the lunacy of it all.  From the opening on a hijacked plane, to last minute heroics that don't quite work out, flying pyramids, kung-fu penguins and a mummy named Arnold, it's chaotic and crazy from start to finish with barely a panel that doesn't hit the funny bone.  (Oh, and no, I didn't make a mistake by including penguins there in a story about Egypt.  Trust me, it works.)

A page from my favourite story of this issue

Fans of Colin and Steve will be in their element here and shouldn't pass this up.  At only £3.50 plus p&p it's a bargain for a 40-page comic of such quality.  The strips are just as strong as you'll remember so don't be worried about reading these today without the rose-tinted glasses.  For newcomers who haven't read any of these before then you're in for a real treat, because this is a superb introduction to Lew's work and the even more epic, more insane strips to come from the pages of The Transformers over the next few years.

If it sounds like I'm gushing somewhat then yes I'll admit I am.  But you've got to remember I was already a huge fan of this character over so many adventures previously, loving all of the ones I'd read again about a decade ago just as much as the first time around.  It'd be like one of my favourite Oink! characters getting a reprint book of their strips, I'd know going in it was going to be a treat.  So yes, I'm gushing and I'll happily admit that.  This blog is only about the comics I enjoy after all.

There's a couple of little extras included in here too, such as an introductory page which will serve as an actual honest-to-gosh letters page from issue two onwards.  Fantastic stuff and it will lend a real retro feel to events and take readers like me right back to writing in to our comics as children.  I'm sure there's plenty of adults who'll read this and wish to take the fun opportunity to do so once again all these years later, although there's no clue as to whether it'll be Lew answering the letters himself or whether he'll hand it over to one of the characters.  I'm sure you can guess which one I'm hoping for and I'd bet I'm not alone in that either.

For this issue though we get some background information on how Lew got the job on Action Force and the creation of Colin, as well as some details on the development of the strip throughout its lifespan and beyond, even after the robotic war comic was laid to rest.  There's also a very funny fact-file on Colin and some footnotes under certain strips, including one where Lew displays concern about how some of the humour on that particular page could be seen today, plus every strip is annotated with information on which issue it was originally published in and the date.  Finishing it all off is an advert for Lew's other comics and even a 'Next Issue' panel:

Get your letters in now for #2 at Christmas (hopefully)

All told it has a lovely feel to it and I don't just mean its high quality paper and glossy cover.  It feels like a complete comic in its own right rather than a simple collection of reprints, the whole package coming together rather wonderfully.  As a fan already it's neat to have all the Action Force strips together in one issue and The Transformers ones kicking off separately, while for those new to Colin it works as a great, solid premiere issue of a new comic.

It's the kind of publication I'm sure we'd all love to see on newsagents shelves, but this is 2017 and the world has changed but in my view it's been for the best.  There's still plenty to entertain the actual kids on the shelves, while for them and children of all ages today's technology has resulted in such a huge, varied and vibrant self-publishing scene here in the UK.  So much so, that going online now in search of comics to purchase (and support) almost feels like taking those Saturday morning trips to my local newsagents and scouring the huge array of quality comics on offer anyway!

Back to this particular comic and if you're interested (and I'm going to assume you're sane enough to be interested) you can click here to go to Lew's online shop to buy this issue and his other titles right now!  Or there's further information about Combat Colin #1 on both Lew's personal comics work blog and his Blimey! blog on the British comic industry past and present.

To finish with, for all pig pals reading this there's even a few references to a certain other comic for you to find too, just in case you needed any further incentive:

Just one of several little Oink! appearances from Colin's run

Now get going troops!  Get buying!  We all want issues two to six!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

IT WAS PIGGIN' EVERYWHERE: OINK! PRESS CLIPPINGS

If you've been reading the posts about each individual issue of Oink! you may have come across this cover already:


Drawn by the always-superb Ian Jackson, it's actually the little quotes to the left of Uncle Pigg I'd like to draw your attention to.  Unlike the Booker Prize reference along the strap line these quotes are genuine ones from the British press of the day.  To us young readers Oink! already stood out amongst the crowd for us, with its original sense of humour, mixed-up format, spoofs, art styles... basically, everything!  But in the wider world it had got noticed too and not just for the ultra-conservative WHSmith placing it on their top shelves.

In a pre-internet world, word would spread a lot slower.  So by the time the press had caught on to Oink!, written about it, published their snippets, had their articles noticed by the Oink! team and then had them reprinted in the comic, it was into its second full year before we started seeing many quotes and clippings appear celebrating what we all already knew.  To illustrate this passage of time the cover above is from the very issue which would have that "questionnaire" which "asked" readers if they wanted Oink! to continue as a weekly or a thicker monthly.  We all know what happened there. So despite this issue proudly proclaiming rightful success in previous press reviews, a mere seven months later we'd be reading the last issue.

As I've always said, Oink! was a success and it was the coming in of Fleetway and their shake-up of all their comics titles which saw Oink! change and eventually lose readers.  Obviously it was all with the best of intentions but unlike IPC who were happy with Oink!'s 100,000 sales per issue on average, Fleetway instead felt it wasn't enough and wanted to increase that figure.  (Their reasoning behind this has all been covered before, starting here.)  We know the ultimate end result, but the important thing is to remember just how successful Oink! was seen to be at the time and that's the whole point of this post.

Below are all the press clippings from the actual pages of the comic throughout its run and, while it may have taken a while for the mainstream to catch on, right from the off Mark Rodgers', Tony Husband's and Patrick Gallagher's creation was catching on within certain circles:

From #10

Grunts page in #15 and The Cult did indeed get a
full interview in the next issue as Oink! fans!

#22's Magic and Fantasy special

Oink! was definitely making an impact amongst the music scene of the time and there was a simple reason for this, on top of it just being a superb read of course!  Oink! was edited together in Manchester, a real hub of British musical talent and Tony, Patrick and Mark were well known in the city for previous work.  They'd also brought in Marc Riley to work on the comic, who was in the band The Fall and through the connections this team had within this hive of music creation our favourite comic was getting read by some very influential people.

It may have had a target audience of 8-11 year olds for the marketing leaflets but it was always intended to appeal to all, to not talk down to the kids and to have more sophisticated humour alongside the slapstick.  We could literally have grown up with the comic if it'd lasted longer.  In later issues Uncle Pigg would tell readers how the readership included teens and young adult students and I wonder how many of them decided to give this comic a go in the first place because their pop icons were reading it.  Celebrity endorsement may not seem like a big deal today, but back in the 80s and for something that many looking in from the outside may have seen as a kids-only title, this was something special.  These weren't staged quotes with money being handed over, these were genuine readers!

SHUSH PHIL, JUST SHOW US THE CLIPPINGS!

#25 saw the first clipping from a newspaper and these would continue to appear sporadically throughout the rest of the run, showing just how well received the comic was with the public in terms of popularity and when being reviewed by the wider media.  There were those who criticised its sometimes rude humour, its poking fun at establishment figures and who campaigned against it being displayed with all the other children's comics.  I've covered that before in-depth, particularly the Janice and John strip and the reaction from a couple of parents, but at the end of the day some people (and they still exist today) felt they should dictate what others could read.

Rebellious humour was the order of the day with Oink! and kids were lapping it up!  As you can see from these clippings the press got this.  Today I imagine the likes of The Daily Mail and The Sun would be writing long, convoluted articles about how unsuitable it is for kids for no other reason than to rile up their readers, as they do.  But thankfully it seems most of the press of the day welcomed the refreshing new take on comics and saw it for what it was; an innovative comic that may have had an anarchic quality but which was ultimately harmless, appealing to the qualities of 80s kids rather than the humour of their parents, and a comic that was genuinely funny to all who read it no matter their age.

"Hilarious", "fresh", "heading for the comic strip Hall of Fame", "outstanding new arrival"... I agree!

#25 and The Guardian are on board

Uh-oh, Patrick gets into trouble with the boss while promoting
the special Smokebusters edition given free to schools in the
north of England (from '87 Holiday Special)

#37 really went to town to show off Oink! being reported
on in the 'adult' world.  Half of a two-page Grunts was given
over almost exclusively to press clippings.

Good example of the delay I mentioned above, as
this clipping from the Sunday Times was actually
in Oink! Weekly #50.  Plus yet more musical press
coverage!

Just two issues later and Oink!, at the ripe old age of
52 issues, is voted in as a new entry in Escape magazine.
Only 15 issues later we'd be waving goodbye though.

To help introduce new readers to the new monthly
Oink!, #63 had a selection of prime pork cuts from
a selection of the British press.

Oink! certainly made its mark and now, thirty years later I'm so proud of the fact this blog has proven so popular with pig pals old and new, with the pages of this comic being enjoyed all over again.  It continues to be fondly remembered, cherished by many and from comments received here and on various social media it's leaving its mark all over again.  (Some bleach should get rid of that.)