Wednesday, 27 May 2015

BEYOND OINK!


Oink! is not only my favourite comic, it was also my first.

Before it came along I still loved to read, mainly The Railway Series by The Rev. W. Awdry which I had a big collection of amongst my other children's books, but I hadn't collected any comics.

Not that I was a stranger to them.  My brother got The Beano every week and every Christmas Santa would bring my brother and I the annuals of it and its companion The Dandy.  He also collected Roy of the Rovers (though I'd no interest in football so never read it) and one of my sisters would buy Look-In which was a kid's version of TV Times, focussing on the programmes the younger viewers would like.  It contained some strips and I'd read and enjoy the Knight Rider ones mainly.  I also knew of some friends who were into their Transformers comics in a big way.

I was more of a partwork reader as far as regular publications go, with Story Teller and Story Teller 2 being top quality story magazines and cassettes, the tales told by some top talent such as Tim Curry, Bernard Cribbens, Brian Blessed and many more.  We really had the best reading material as children in my view, after all for many of us it was our number one activity.  These led on to Discovery and Quest which brought history and science to children in an enjoyable fashion too:

Picture courtesy of World of Artworks

But Oink! brought something different to my life - the world of comics.  Ongoing fun in a fortnightly package and the newsagent's shop was jam-packed full of them.  Compared to today's selection for children, my local shop had three shelves running the length of the whole store all filled with comics of every genre.  What's more, they were full of reading content rather than filler and free gifts were a rarity.  They were also genuine 'free gifts' rather than cheap tat making up most of the cover price like today.

From the age of eight when I started with #14 of our porky publication, right through to my late teens I bought so, so many comics from that shop.  A lot of these were random issues rather than collecting individual titles because when I got my pocket money I just had to go and buy comics to read!  The odd issue of titles such as The Punisher, Marvel's Bumper Comic, Whizzer & Chips, Super NaturalsDeath's Head, The Sleeze Brothers, Visionaries.. and these are just the ones that popped into my head right now.

But there were a dozen titles I collected religiously as a child.  Ones which would be placed in the 'B' box behind the counter in Mr & Mrs Clark's shop, filed under 'B45 Boyce' and which wouldn't be kept there for very long before a young boy ran in to pick them up.

Over the next while I'm going to be taking a fortnightly (for the most part) look back on these eleven other comics titles published between 1987 and 1994 that grabbed my attention.  Some were a lot more successful than others, for example my two particular favourites lasted only six and sixteen issues each!  But what were they?

A glimpse of the first non-piggy publication

You'll have to come back in a fortnight's time on Wednesday 10th June to start finding out!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

#63: NOW WITH ADDED MUSCLE

Well here we go folks with the first of our final half dozen issues and the monthly Oink!s:


That looks a bit different, doesn't it?  So what did you all think about this when it happened?  While Oink! did change somewhat for the weeklies, this was the biggest (and final) change it'd see.  Originally we'd 32-page fortnightlies full of regular characters and backed up with mini-series and one-offs, then an evolution to 24-page weeklies with fewer regular characters but still chock-a-block of the more random content and now we'd seen another change.  However this time it's more like a complete transformation over the course of these six issues, starting with Uncle Pigg welcoming us to his new "magazine".

#63 would come at us with glossy pages once again and there's also more of them - 48 in total!  Yes that may only be the same as two weekly issues but it's still a hell of a chunk of piggy goodness to be getting on a regular basis and as a child I loved that fact and loved the new look.  To begin with anyway.

My own favourite period of Oink! as regular readers will know was between #36 and #44 (more information here) and, while the comic starting off all shiny and glossy was a lovely change for humour comics at the time (compare it to the smaller, rough pages of the likes of Buster and even 2000AD that it came bagged with), those newsprint fortnightlies were just perfect to me due to their content.  It then made the 'specials' all the moreso with their gloss.  This meant, at the time, these monthlies felt like getting a big, fat Holiday Special every issue.

Fleetway weren't strangers to monthly titles with the likes of The Best of 2000AD having been released by now and the two comics shared more than just their bulk and page stock, unfortunately.  But more on that below.

So what kind of Oink! do we have from here on?  Surely we'd now have all our regular favourites back alongside the other elements thanks to the extra room available?  Well the simple answer to that is no, believe it or not!  We'd see some of them return in special one-off strips but others were still gone for good.  The later monthlies would find their own identity and arguably could be compared with some of the very best of the comic's past issues, but these first couple - this one in particular - really does feel more like two weeklies stapled together.

There's probably a good reason for that, as with deadlines etc this most likely has been made up with material originally destined for the more streamlined weekly issues.  With the writers and artists working on content specifically for the monthly titles you'll see a shift not only in the size of the strips in later issues but also the tone of some of the content.  You'll see what I mean as we go along.  It all makes for a very different feel to the comic for the last four or five issues.  Is that a good or a bad thing though?  Well for me that all depends on whether you're 37 or 11.  You'll see what I mean over the months to come.

Back to the present, in a manner of speaking anyway, and let's kick off our double-whammy of Oink! goodness with Ed McHenry's Wally of the West shall we?  Why not:


Wow - Fleetway certainly have a convoluted way of saying "monthly", don't they?  (Joke!)

Now back in the 80s I wasn't what you'd call mad on music.  I do remember my brother and sisters listening to the charts every Sunday afternoon on the radio and watching Top of the Pops on the main TV in the living room, much to the chagrin of our parents, and I had a fondness for Stevie Wonder and Boy George's music.  But apart from that it wasn't until the early 90s that I began to develop my own musical tastes, much of which was ironically 80s-based.

This was because my siblings had collected the early (including the first) Now That's What I Call Music cassettes and The Hits albums during the previous decade and now I found myself getting them handed down to me.  This started me off and from there I discovered more music of the time, mainly through ITV's The Chart Show after whatever kids' programme was on every Saturday morning.  Right Said Fred, Eternal, the Super Mario Bros movie soundtrack... ah my first tapes and CDs...

But anyway I've digressed as usual.  Oink! was no stranger to mocking the current musical trends but the next one really did slip by me at the time as I've absolutely no recollection of listening to any of his music.  Perhaps he simply wasn't for my age group, and perhaps that was a sign of Oink!'s changes towards a different demographic.

Of course in later years I'd hear a few of his songs, though the tune to the following one escapes me at the moment but it doesn't make it any less of a fine spoof, written as ever by Mark Rodgers and drawn by new-to-Oink! Michael Peek:


At one stage even Weedy Willy would see a guest appearance by the inspiration behind the above page, but that's still to come.

One character who began as a one-off, then delightfully reappeared randomly here-and-there was the Wonder Pig by which we'd come to know by a variety of different monikers.  This time he's going by the name Larry and while there's no writing credit I'm going to give it to Tony Husband who penned all the previous scripts for this charming little pig and Chas Sinclair's equally charming penmanship.

Back to a double-page spread and glorious full colour, Chas' work is the perfect companion to Tony's take on some favourite types of childhood books.  But what's this!  His master hasn't fallen down a pit?:


I roared when I got to that panel on the second page, that recurring joke never failing to entertain.  If you're a bit lost when I say that just click on the Lashy the Wonder Pig label on the left there (under Stuff in the Sty) to see what I mean.

Above, Michael Peek made his artistic debut in our comic with the Morrissey single cover and what a superb piece of drawing it was.  With Simon Thorpe's front page and feature below it's clear to see Oink! attracted some serious talent!  Michael returns again here with the latest madvertisement from GBH who, after spending so long trying to get at our money through selling us everything from dodgy books to dodgy holidays, are now cutting out all that fuss and going right to the source!

The following is a commercial presentation from the bank of Burkleys and the mind of Howard Osborne:


Before moving on to that fantastic Simon Thorpe piece I've already mentioned, I wanted to include the following two little quarter-page strips.  To show you how the comic was still producing just as wonderful as ever shorter strips as it was the bigger spreads, to show you that some regular ones were still with us, and naturally to show the wonderful talent of the ever-funny Davy Francis.

Cowpat County was the very first strip to appear in Oink!, on page three of the preview issue no less - check it out here, then Greedy Gorb came along in #15 when the comic introduced its second wave of characters (his first appearance on the blog was way back in #19) and both stayed put for the most part ever since.  Fan favourites through-and-through, some of the weeklies felt a bit odd without them but here they're both back in this special first monthly comic and keeping themselves lean and trim (well, as lean and trim as Gorb can be) with the kind of quick-firing gags we loved from Davy.  Always a treat:



Right, so like I said above Simon Thorpe is just a wonderful artist and it was a delight picking up this issue now for the blog and seeing that well-remembered front cover after all this time.  A Thorpe cover!  At long last!  Unfortunately it'd be his only one but it was accompanied by the following hilarious - and obviously beautifully painted - double-page spread.

This was the 80s and a certain actor was gaining international stardom right at the beginning of his illustrious career.  However, back in 1988 that career was ripe for sending up and Mark Rodgers hits the nail right on the head with this one.  I don't think anyone could've predicted Schwarzenegger's career from then on, never mind Schwarzenhogger's!:


Notice as well, unlike comics today, there's no photocopying in that 'Consistency' section!  Brilliant stuff there and it looks a treat as a double-page spread in the comic, once you've removed the double-sided Oink! Superstar Posters from the middle pages that is.

What?

Oink! Superstar Posters?  Yes.  Oh the last ones were fantastic weren't they?  They were indeed.  Are these by J.T. Dogg as well?  You betcha.  Great, I can't wait to see some brand new Dogg poster artwork!!  Well....  we'll get to that.

First though, a quick return to a supporting character in the second of two Pete and his Pimple strips from this issue.  Yes, we've got two whole strips for Pete Throb and another two for Tom Thug as well this issue, more proof that #63 had been put together from material destined for the 24-page weeklies.  But hey, it means double the goodness from one of Oink!'s most prolific cartoonists, Lew Stringer and that's always a cause for celebration in my book.  Or blog.

As you know readers had been sending in possible solutions to Pete's pimply predicament for quite some time now and while his new girlfriend Spotless Suzie was perfectly fine with his zit (she worked as a compost analyst on a Y.T.S. course don't you know) even she must find times when it just simply gets in the way.

So this issue Suzie helps pick out a solution from the bulging suggestions pile and for a little while (about a half a page actually) we get a brand new comic strip as a result, alongside a cameo from Lew himself no less:


You know that old adage "If it seems too good to be true it usually is"?  When will Pete ever learn?  Well as it happens, and thankfully for us, he never does and look out for some mammoth Pete and his Pimple strips coming very soon!  (I'm not talking about double-page spreads either, pus pals.)

I didn't think Pete's love life would make an appearance again and below is the return of a particular favourite I thought we'd seen the last of too, but first we take a little detour thanks to Kev F because Meanwhile, at the fish market...:


I can hear your groans from here.  More very funny stuff from Kev soon but, um, "meanwhile"... hmm, the next page I've included could make me look rather silly.

Back in #56 I went on a bit about how we'd seen the last of The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile Aged 8 5/8 (years), with it replaced by the Vidiots series in the later weekly issues.  It was such a shame that possibly my favourite strip in the whole comic had come to an abrupt end without any kind of finale and I'd even mentioned how, for his last regular comic appearance (he'd still appear in the Holiday Special with his holidays snaps), he didn't even look at us - possibly too broken up and didn't want us to see him shed a tear.

Well my quick flick through the monthlies to check upon a comment left on the blog stating that was the end of Hadrian seemed to confirm the worst, but here he is again to prove me wrong.  Sort of.  Yes, the diary is back but this is definitely his final appearance and it's in no way a finale of any sort, so I can only assume it's one which was held back for whatever reason from the weeklies, possibly due to lack of space and the aforementioned series of television-inspired back pages.  Maybe they did intend for it to return to this format until the move to the new comic where he'd be sadly lacking.

But for now here's a nice surprise turn from Hadrian and his baby sister, writer Mark Rodgers and artist Ian Jackson (another name we'd end up seeing a lot less of now):


What a delight to have him back even if it is only this once.

There were a few other elements of previous Oink!'s we'd see return in the monthlies, though I'll stop short of using the term "making a comeback", as they weren't exactly "making" anything.  As I said above there was something else beyond the print schedule and chunkiness of the comic Oink! had in common with Fleetway's The Best of 2000AD Monthly title - reprints.  Now obviously the 2000AD monthly we can forgive, the very reason for its existence was to reprint classic stories after all, but the regular Oink!...?

By the last year of the 80s and the early 90s other comics I collected at the time would also start using reprints as a way of filling up their page quota but Oink! was the first - definitely for me anyway.  I wasn't aware until later monthlies that this was happening, as the ones in this issue I hadn't actually seen yet (the first two Superstar Posters and the first Transformers spoof, Transformoids) but yes our "big, fat" Oink! was now being padded out with reprints from only two years previous.  It may only be six pages but still, once I realised this it felt like we weren't quite getting what was promised and I felt a bit cheated.

As we moved into the 90s many comics would go the reprint route as readerships fell and cutbacks had to be made.  Fleetway even published two very lucrative fortnightly comics based solely around the idea so this was certainly a sign of the times to come.  But as our comic was one of the first to start doing this it was a sticking point for quite a few Oink! fans, especially when the amount of pages had been hyped up.

I think it does stay at this amount so I'm not sure why they settled on forty-eight pages when only providing forty-two of new material.  Why not do forty or forty-four and have all brand-new content without having still relatively recent content being reprinted again?

But hey, the issue is still jam-packed with brand new goodness, such as the multi-part Dallasenders Motel photo story with children in the main starring roles in a story which ramps up the soap opera cliffhangers to preposterous levels (possibly originally to run over several weeklies as each part has a 'Previously' and 'Next Time' box), Batbottom and Bobbins get their own showbiz gossip column which in no way is from that there place Timperley, Greedy Gorb, Wally of the West and The Torture Twins all get more than one outing too, Roger Rental makes his long-awaited return and Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins starts a new adventure which this time has nothing to do with football (which pleased me no end in 1988 and today in 2015).

So that's the first of the new look Oink!s, so what's next?:


Police Vet is a definite highlight to look forward to - our first multi-page strip created specifically for the larger comic, so make sure you're back here in four weeks.  Four weeks?!  My goodness that's a long time isn't it?

Well you may want to return next week first for the start of that thirteen-part series I'll be writing which will take us right through to the end of the year.  It'll start off fortnightly too so hopefully it'll help fill the gaps between Oink!s, but what's it all about?  Come back next Wednesday 27th May to find out.  Personally I can't wait to share these with you!

Until then have a great Bank Holiday weekend piggies.

Monday, 11 May 2015

THE FINALE BEGINS!

Don't let the Monday blues get you down, there's a big, fat porker on its way to you right here:


Oink!'s climax begins Thursday 21st May!