Friday, 18 April 2014

#26: HAPPY HAMMIVERSARY


Tony Husband introduces us to Oink!'s first birthday issue (not sure if it celebrated its second in an issue and unfortunately the regular comic never had a third) with a rather sinister looking Uncle Pigg and inside I dare you to find any strips that miss the mark!  I've been saying rather a lot recently how issues are standing out and the simple fact is Oink! was now really hitting its stride.  1987 was a marvellous year for the comic, the only one where it'd be out all year long and it just keeps going from strength to strength!  I do remember as a kid looking back at the issues in the 20s and 30s as some of my faves, so it'll be interesting for me now to see how they, and the following issues up into the 60s, stack up to my now-adult eyes.

But for now this is a treasure trove of delights, with some of the strips themed either around the comic's own anniversary (of the release of the free preview issue, a week before #1 actually went on sale on 3rd May) or the birthday or anniversary for a character in their own lives.  Some examples not included here are Dead Fred's Death Day, a birthday "treat" in Zootown and Billy's Brain makes a brief return for a puzzle page (right after I'd noticed he'd gone missing).

It's roughly a 50/50 balance, with half not following the theme but each and every one feels hand-picked to really showcase what the comic is capable of.  Perhaps with the Holiday Special having just gone on sale this could've been a lot of readers' first issue, so they really were in for a treat.  One such non-themed strip is this one-off special from Dave Jones, set in "Porksmouth", the town which was always the butt of jokes in Oink! as it was the home of Mary Lighthouse in some of her own stories.  For now though, it's the setting for The Pied Piper of Porksmouth:


READER ADVISORY:  Now regular blog readers will know of the unnecessary hoopla from certain corners of society which came about after #7, but in this case I feel a little caution is needed for our next appearance of everyone's favourite pensioner, David Leach's Psycho Gran.  If you've just eaten, or have just come off a roller coaster, or have just had to endure the EastEnders omnibus, then I advise you let your stomach settle somewhat before proceeding:


I did try and warn you, so don't come crying to me!  Right below this was Greedy Gorb munching on a whole birthday cake at the end of his strip (bad choice of word there), so he mustn't have seen what had just transpired above his head...

One thing I loved about Oink! was how "interactive" it was with its readers, and this was before "interactive" became the most used word of the 1990s!  Most comics would have a standard letters page, with some having a character replying to the readers, something The Transformers did wonderfully and which resulted in some hilarious and very sarcastic responses at times.  Humour comics kept that going but they printed even smaller snippets of letters amounting to no more than a couple of sentences or maybe a drawing.  As always, Oink! was different.

Grunts was the name of the page given over to the readers every issue and these could contain everything from rude jokes for Nasty Laffs and Specs, pig-related clippings from local newspapers, photographs, the messy bedroom competition in the early days, to the usual letters and drawings.  Oink! was forever asking the readers to get in touch for one reason or another (as you'll see below at this time Butcherwatch was a long-running idea) and every time we wrote in we'd to include the three things we loved the most about each issue.

I don't know why but I never wrote in.  I did mess up my bedroom just for a photo, but then had to wait for the rest of the film to be used up, then developed, then sent back to us... by this stage I'd forgotten all about it.  I can remember having drawings or letters published in Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, Teenage Mutant "Hero" Turtles, The Real Ghostbusters (and later in life Commodore Format and Edge), but for some reason never sent anything in to my favourite comics - Oink! and The Transformers.  No idea why.

Anyway, below is a special 2-page edition of Grunts which shows the kind of randomness you could expect and it's a nice round-up of the various things people sent in over the first year:


Unlike other comics, Grunts would also appear in specials and annuals, so those readers included in them must've felt extra special as kids!  But surely nothing could beat actually appearing in an Oink! comic strip?  Well that's exactly what three extremely lucky readers managed to achieve in a very special competition which didn't actually appear in its pages, as Uncle Pigg explains below.  As well as winning an actual prize, they also got to meet Marc Riley as Snatcher Sam and Chris Sievey as Frank Sidebottom in their own photo story Don't Play It Again, Sam! which is presented here to you now in all its garishly recoloured splendour:


Now the next strip I want you to see, Tom Thug, I'm not going to include.  The simple reason is that its creator, Lew Stringer, has already written about it on his own blog at Lew Stringer Comics.  It's a wonderful thing, from Tom's explanation of the title of his strip for Wayne, to the great dream sequence caption that I'm not going to ruin for you!  This is also the perfect excuse to get you all to try out Lew's blog if you haven't already, and from there you can also access his website and eBay account where you could pick yourself up some original artwork for your walls.  In addition, Lew also has a second blog about comics in general rather than his own work in them, called Blimey! It's another blog about comics! (which is also a link on the left there under "Pig Pals").

So for Tom's latest just click Lew's logo here to read it and a bit of insight into how it came about:


Lew's insights into his work can be fascinating and must surely be saved as a favourite resource on the computers of budding cartoonists.  Back to this issue and Banx also has some invaluable tips for them with full step-by-step instructions on how to draw his Mr Big Nose.  Drawing pads at the ready:


Hahaa that last caption, the voice it put in my head for the monster... Brilliant stuff!

Hadrian Vile appeared in the holiday special, the post just before this one, but he's back again so soon simply down to the fact I thought this one-and-a-half pager was so good.  His poor parents.  I can remember one time, still to come, where we'd actually see them as a happy family unit but until then it's the usual sour scours over his latest antics written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Ian Jackson:


Notice a change to the title of the strip there...?  Yup, Hadrian was ageing along with the comic and was now over 8 rather than 7.  I wonder if the comic had continued would we have eventually seen him hit puberty?!

One more story from the back page now before we return to the depths of the issue for one final treat. Remember Sooty and Sweep?  Of course you do:


I know it's a spoof, but it's got it wrong on this occasion... because for me it was Sooty who was always the one that I thought was "kreep"y as a child, just something about him I could never watch...

But anyhow, that final treat.  Taking pride of place in the centre pages of this issue is this delightful poster from artist Ed McHenry (based on a concept by Mark Rodgers) featuring all our favourite Oink! stars from the first 52 weeks of the comic's life, including some which were early characters who were to disappear from the run before even getting this far.  Can you name them all?  And if you can, can you tell me who the hell that is between Nasty Laffs and Specs, and also behind Weedy Willy?  Seriously, if you do know please leave a comment.

Anyway this may be the 1st anniversary party poster, but

"Happy 28th birthday Oink!":


Next issue, the pets special, goes on sale Friday 2nd May.

Monday, 14 April 2014

SUMMER SPECIAL #1: UNCLE PIGG NOSE BEST


It's a time for celebration with Oink! about to party for its 1st year anniversary and the first (of four) summer specials.  Around this time of year all the major comics would get a summer or "holiday" special, an extra thick (usually) issue on nice shiny paper - the perfect way to keep us kids quiet on long train journeys.  I can actually remember reading this on a train heading somewhere on a trip and showing off the cover to whoever was with me.  But of course, with Oink! already being a glossy fortnightly would it be as special for us already-spoiled readers?  Actually, yes, as it feels like an ever-so-slightly thicker paper, so couple this with the increased page count of 48 and it does feel satisyingly weighty - a high quality read and no doubt, and all starting off with a fabulous Ian Jackson cover!  I love this!  And this wouldn't be the last time modelling clay of some sort would feature on a cover of a special Oink! - in fact it'd appear on my very favourite Oink! of them all, as you'll see later in the year.

I decided a recent visit to the hospital, and the hospital waiting area, was the best time for me to read this in preparation for this post and it really is one of the very best issues so far.  Rather than the majority of strips following a theme (some do take the route of stories based on summer holidays) it's a delightfully random selection of fantastic and "out there" ideas from the creme-de-la-creme of British comics writers and artists.  A few pages in and you realise you really don't know what to expect next.  While this is true of any issue of Oink!, it's even more so here and this was a wonderful surprise.

We start and end proceedings with a Mary Lighthouse strip, or so it seems, but it's not long before a cruelly funny twist of fate brings her together with you-know-who, as written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Oink!'s legendary Ian Jackson:


You'll see the conclusion soon but not in this post, as you'll see below.

We've got a few returning characters in this who we haven't seen in a while.  Annuals and specials are created a long time in advance and this could account for the return of such early characters as Nigel & Skrat the two-headed rat, Billy's Brain (who I thought ran for longer - maybe he returns at some stage or just appears occasionally from now on) and Pete's Pup, the mammoth-sized pet dog and his forever-tortured human family.  Tom's Toe also makes a reappearance, who we've only previously seen in #12 back in October last year, and here Tony Husband and John Greering keep the overly-cheesy spoof of other IPC comics going in fine form.  Even Bony Hart is back!

But it's Graham Exton and Jeremy Banx's fault that I received strange looks from other waiting patients at the hospital a couple of weeks ago.  Banx's artwork lends itself wonderfully to random little one-offs alongside his established regular characters, and the blog has featured some examples of these in issues 10, 12 and especially #13.  But here not only did we get a one-panel full page Mr Big Nose elsewhere in the comic but we were also treated to this, written as I say by Graham Exton:



Well, after reading that delightfully crazy strip I was already chuckling into myself, being very discreet, then I carried on and only a few pages later...:


That was it, as soon as I saw the title I erupted in the middle of the waiting room.  You know that short, sharp and very loud noise you make when your body wants to laugh but you try to catch it just a second too late?  Yep, that.  Surrounded by a lot of very serious looking people all tired of waiting for so long, I don't think my enjoyment of the NHS waiting area went down too well.  So thank you Graham and Jeremy.  Worth it though.

In #23 we'd the pleasure of Oink! taking some old photographs and creating some hilarious captions for them, completely changing their original intent.  The same idea is brought back here in six profiles of Oink's Piggin' Crazy Readers.  Is this an accurate description of all of us who grew up with the sense of humour this comic implanted in us?  You be the judge:


Now when you go on holiday what do you do with your heavy cases?  Do you lug them around yourself?  Does your loved one offer to do it for you?  Or do you make sure you've got money to tip the porter at your hotel?  What if, instead, you just brought a friend:


Haldane's Zootown is always a reliable destination.

In the special we'd actually a rather special (yes the same word twice in a sentence but it's fitting) contribution from megastar Frank Sidebottom in the shape of a 2-page board game, all very unfairly balanced against anyone who chose to be Little Frank.  The idea was that the evil "Kilvertians" had invaded and Frank and his pals were going to battle them in their rocket of metal bins.  This was prefaced with a comic strip and, after Frank had left a note for his mum to put his tea in the oven because he'd be in space, we were treated to these rather charming cut-out pieces for the game, as ever drawn by Frank's creator Chris Sievey:


The Thunderbird one is my favourite I have to say.  Chris' artwork does have a certain something which I think I appreciate all the more now as an adult, or maybe that's just the nostalgia, or simply the fact I didn't know he did all his own work for Oink! when I was a kid.  Anyway, a delightful addition to the special.

Have you ever used the Comixology app on our mobile or tablet?  I've used it for the new Transformers comics and let's not forget Psycho Gran is also back in a brand new comic all of her own through them as well (catch up here).  One thing the app version of their website allows you to do is to view each panel of the comic one-by-one as a full-screen image.  While it's a feature of the app I'd turn off when reading Transformers because the artwork is very dynamic - panels are different shapes and sizes and overlap so sometimes you'd miss part of the excellent artwork - for humour comics such as Psycho Gran it can work a treat.  Each panel comes up as a huge image on my iPad, leaving the punchline hidden until the very end, stopping any accidental glances from spoiling the joke when you turn over a page.

A digital Oink! could benefit greatly from something like this.  For example just imagine the next strip in that format and you might see what I mean:


Add in some dramatic musical tone with each new panel and I think it'd be a winner.  Just as Oink! was revolutionary for its time, it could be again with all of the new technology available.  Oink! was a comic for children like nothing before it and there's so much potential out there in the digital realm for the way comics could be interacted with, but really nothing is changing.  With the new digital-only markets out there and Psycho Gran already back, I just keep thinking there's a market there, a gap, and potential to change things around just like Uncle Pigg did 28 years ago.  And I can think of no better pig for the job.

But I digress...

This is also the first time I've noticed Haldane writing a script for another artist to draw, this time it's by Pete Dixon who we haven't featured yet here.

And speaking of David Leach's little lady:


Wonderful to look back on these original adventures of her's and know she's still alive and kicking today.

Our final strip for now is a welcome return to the blog for regular Hadrian Vile and this time it's his "Hollyday Diary" we're being treated to.  Brought to us by the usual team of writer Mark Rodgers and artist Ian Jackson here's what happens when you try to take him to the beach... and to be fair he was simply trying to have some father-son time:


Scanning back over this post before I finish this would normally (hopefully) make up an entertaining enough post for you all for an issue of Oink!  But this is the summer special and there's more to come!  These highlights are only from the first half, the first 24 pages and, after the 4-page GBH holiday brochure that makes up the middle, there's more delights to come.  These include a 3-page Burp! to look forward to and a 4-page epic that'll bring out all those nostalgic feelings you have for 80s gameshows and celebs.  Um.... well, trust me, it's unmissable!

So when will you not be missing it?  Given this is a holiday special and technically is meant to last that bit longer... come back next month for the second half when, with any luck, the sun will be shining and all those people who bitch about the rain and wind in winter will be bitching about the sun and lack of wind.  And the following month there's another treat alongside the regular fortnightlies... but I'm keeping shtum for now.

Until then though, remember this coming Friday 18th is Oink!'s birthday issue and it's a classic.  Hopefully see you then.

Friday, 4 April 2014

#25: BACK IN THE PLAY PEN


It'll be almost time to catch my breath, right after this issue in fact, since I'm no longer behind schedule, although there is the matter of an extra special Oink! but I'll mention that at the end.  In the meantime here's the toys and hobbies issue and of course that instantly conjures up images of scientific experiments, voodoo and torture.  Or at least it does if you're Hadrian Vile or his artist Ian Jackson by the looks of it.

But what's this?  35p?  "Thirty-FIVE!?  How dare they?!"  Yup, it had to happen eventually and now, one fortnight away from the 1st anniversary edition Oink!'s had to make the jump and take its first price increase.  It's strange to look back now at how different titles were priced.  When Oink! was released it was 30p, yet its stablemates Buster and Whizzer & Chips at IPC Magazines were only 24p, and when the price went up 5p with the pigs, the others only went up 2p.  I remember by the time Oink! folded at the end of the following year Buster was still only 28p.  Was it because Oink! was independently made?  Was it the glossy paper?  Or simply what was worked out by all involved?

Looking back I remember every time a new comic would launch it'd be a few pence more expensive.  When Marvel's The Real Ghostbusters came out it was more expensive than their Transformers, even though both were the same size and shape, while Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends from Marvel was also more expensive yet had less pages.  Maybe it was simply easier to introduce slightly higher prices with new titles than to increase the current ones by that amount.  Or maybe, as I said, each title had its expenses, target audience, projected figures etc worked out by everyone.  Who knows?  My mum definitely wanted to know why every time they went up.

But really, when you think 35p... it's unbelievable isn't it?  How on earth could this be produced to such high standards and only cost this much?  It's nothing!  Ahh the days of getting 50p pocket money and being able to buy a comic and a Mars bar.  Long, long time ago that.  (Though my "reserved at the newsagents" comics never came out of pocket money so I was quick to learn to place an order once I liked something!)

Now, when people hear that Oink! could be cheeky and a little bit rude, they instantly think of bodily functions, but come on is that really what we found funny?  Writer Mark Rodgers and artist Mike Green certainly seemed to think so with Fatty Farmer:


We were kids!  Of course we found it funny!  Fatty Farmer (original tagline: "He's a whole lot calmer") had been introduced in the kinda-relaunch issue #15 when a raft of newbie characters were with us for the first time.  But don't for one minute think this was a cruel strip where the comic took the mickey out of his being overweight.  On the contrary, he'd use his figure to win battles over bullies or, like above, just to have a good time for example.  A miniature feel-good strip and a nice addition.  Though if he ever did any actual farming we never saw it.

If you cast your mind back to the revenge-themed issue #9 you'll probably remember the back page and that nightmare of Mary Lighthouse's after she'd eaten her bacon buttie.  Well actually if you've read that issue once you're most likely to be unable to forget that back page!  Brilliantly crafted and terrifying in equal measure, the unique artwork of Jon Langford hasn't been seen nearly enough so it was a great thrill to see him return in the pages of this issue with The Terrible Toys, which is written by Mark Rodgers also:


And actually that's not the scariest Santa Claus you'll see on the blog, trust me!

We settled back down into more familiar territory after this with Mr Big Nose, Harry the Head presenting cut-out pieces to make your own balloon Harry and Hadrian Vile telling us about his favourite pastimes - slug racing, "bilding a howme-mayde volkaynoe", making disgusting sandwiches and hiding his dad's slipper.  Wonder what certain groups these days would make of a comic making fun of parents smacking their children?

Oh and in case you're wondering, the "fantastic cut-out zeo-trope" is a Frank Sidebottom page where you could create your own animated Frank, one of those round toys with slots in them that when you spin it all the images inside look like they're moving.  Add in the Harry the Head stuff and a cut-out stage and puppets and there wouldn't be much of this issue left if you actually created these things!

Now, last time, I did mention fans of Lew Stringer would have plenty to look forward with this issue and I'm going to place them all right after one another here, even if that isn't exactly the way they're positioned in the actual comic.  We've already seen Music-Mad Jo getting hit by a lorry because she was too busy listening to loud music on her personal stereo (remember them?) and the road safety message that came with that.  Poetically written, Lew returns now with another rhyming tale and again there's a lesson to be learned, Oink!-style, in Hey! Do You Need a Hobby?:


About a decade ago I was a train conductor and in my 4 years there I saw many a trainspotter and appeared in I-don't-know-how-many home videos and photographs as my trains arrived or left stations (when I first began we still had the manually opening doors where we needed to have our heads out the window at such times), never mind when I was the guard on a steam special!  They weren't quite as bad as our protagonist above, but I have a feeling one or two were only ever a few coffees away from it...

From a returning theme to a returning character and it gives me great pleasure to welcome back Specky Hector the Comics Collector.  When he appeared in the war-themed issue (#20) I was sure I recognised him as a regular but in the comments left by Peter Gray and Lew himself I thought maybe I was mistaken, as it seemed he appeared in Buster after that and had just originated in Oink!  Maybe he'd appear once or twice, but I hoped it wouldn't be too long until he did.  Thrilled, he's appeared already just 5 issues later, with a guide which will speak to many of us I'm sure, whether you only collect specific titles off eBay as I do, or are a hardened collector, or even just watch The Big Bang Theory!:


Finally from Lew is another surprise, a second part to last issue's Tom Thug strip.  Okay, so not a surprise to you as I mentioned it last time, but as I said before I didn't know it was a story which was to get an actual resolution.  Of course Tom couldn't remain that way forever but this is a neat way to bring him back, and we get the additional pleasure of seeing Satan back in his own little mini-strip too:


Nice to see Ian Hislop make a special celebrity appearance there as Wayne, or is that just me?

Another nice little one-off drawn by Ian Jackson now, only this time with actual words.  A simple little strip but made nonetheless charming in its own "Oink!" way by the artwork - the jaggy lines and Ian's style lending it a special "something" which, as with all his work, you just can't take your eyes off:


A couple more of those little quarter-page strips being featured this time around as this issue has a very high level of top quality quick jokes hitting the mark, and there can be none more guaranteed to do just that than the Ian Knox-drawn Roger Rental, this time written by Mr Rodgers:


And just before we reach the exciting news I started this post off with we introduce another new regular character to the blog.  First rising in the keep fit issue (of all things) and making his first reappearance since, Dead Fred definitely returns regularly as he's another one of those characters that stayed with me.  Here written by Mark Rodgers and always drawn by Wilkie (who did that superb war cover for #20), Fred was exactly what it said on the tin - a dead body.  A walking zombie who was just trying to fit in with everyday life... despite rotting away he'd kept his sense of humour about it!:


No particular Fred strips spring to mind from the time of publication all those years ago but I look forward to rediscovering them again, after all the character has to have stayed with me all these years for some reason.

Well then that's us again.  It's great to finally give you an issue on the actual date it hit our newsstands 27 years ago, after all that was the whole point of this when I first started a year ago.  Yes, a whole year almost.  And it's this special anniversary which we'll be celebrating with the next issue which goes on sale Friday 18th April.

Ah but!  Uncle Pigg is especially happy, as not only is he celebrating a full year of the world's greatest comic but there's also the first ever Oink! Holiday Special which went on sale at the same time as this issue here!  Just think of all that extra money he made for his birthday (on top of all those extra 5p's too):

Drawn by Tony Husband

So while it's a full fortnight once more until the next regular issue, look out for the first of two posts for the special before then.  After all, it is a big fat pig of a comic so one post just wouldn't do it justice.

See you back here soon (again).