So after the food of the Christmas holidays (one of the highlights of my year, every year if I'm honest) and most likely the liquids of the New Year festivities the magazine shelves of newsagents up and down the land become, ironically enough, fat with titles on one subject. It's the time of each and every year when men and women make those resolutions, the gyms become busy for a month, and January's top-selling magazines lecture their readers on exactly how bad they were for enjoying themselves the previous few weeks.
1987 sought to bring a remedy to that - Oink!'s special Keep Fit issue, beginning with that "strong" cover from Banx. To be honest though, #19 doesn't always hit the mark, but when it does it outshines all the competition as per usual. I know I always said the blog wouldn't be a "best of" but I'm making the exception here for this issue to show the lean, mean comedy machine pumping at the heart of this edition.
Now speaking of lean and mean, and the fact this was the 1980s, what kind of fitness instructor will that conjure up in your imagination? I can bet you got the leotard right. But probably not the rest:
Less Mr Motivator, more Mrs Lotafat-or. Oh my word that was terrible. Sorry. I won't do that again.
So after your workout you'll be needing a rest in front of the telly and the old fashioned Saturday morning serial format of Ham Dare would surely suffice. But he's dead, right? Reduced to a bunch of Tescos Finest. Well, the solution from Lew Stringer and drawn by J.T. Dogg is eloquently simple:
Yep so that's it from Mr Dare for now and while he may only have been present for 5 issues compared to the 12 in total for the Streethogs (now you know why they got their own series of updates on here!), he's just as fondly remembered and will definitely be back at a later stage, so keep your trotters off that dial!
Another new character who appeared alongside the glut of new attractions in the sort-of relaunch issue #15 was another creation from the mind of Cowpat County's Davy Francis and one who would stay with us all the way through Oink!'s run from then on - reader favourite, Greedy Gorb - He'd Eat Anything!:
Gorb would become a highlight for me personally and I'd look forward to his diet tips in every issue. Though while you'd hope kids wouldn't copy his attempts to satisfy his hunger (in the 80s we had a thing called "common sense" instead of "Health & Safety") there were occasions when Oink! would give out a very clear message, knowing how popular the comic, its characters and its humour were becoming with the young readers.
I remember in a much later issue a story to tell kids to take care of their teeth had a profound effect on me that'll I'll get into when it comes up later this year, but in this issue with it being all about fitness there could be only one nasty habit that would be the butt of the next Tony Husband strip (no pun intended I swear, I wasn't going there after that failed Mr. Motivator pun):
This kind of acts as a precursor to the Smokebusters Special, a limited edition issue of the comic which was given to some select schools in England, but we'll keep that for another time. Unsurprisingly, I doubt the press and the pressure groups who unfairly attacked Oink! gave much publicity to that special or the strip above.
Recently on his Facebook page Lew Stringer was reminiscing about the fact that it was 30 years to the month since he went fully self-employed as a comics writer and artist, back in 1984. I grew up never far from a comic which featured Lew's work, not just in Oink! but also in Marvel UK's action comics The Transformers, Action Force (and then 'The Transformers & Action Force' when the latter one folded) and then the more comedy-based The Real Ghostbusters comic. Robo Capers, Combat Colin with Semi-Automatic Steve, Blimey! It's Slimer, Pete & His Pimple, Tom Thug, Pigswilla... it's an absolute pleasure to be able to talk to the man behind these strips nowadays online, and one of the (many) joys of doing this read-through is being able to discover little one-offs which pop up now and again.
The next one is one such example. Never to appear again, as he was simply created for this themed issue, he'd be gone as quickly as the cereal he's based on:
Here's to many more years of Mr Stringer's imagination keeping us all entertained!
Couple of special strips for you now, starting off with Scouting for Boys, which isn't a prelude to a later pop group but rather a boys' own exercise regime, with very official-looking artwork by Mike Taylor:
After all that hard work, Oink! shows its gentler side, with the tale of a ballerina with a wooden leg, whose only dream was to compete, to dance and to be happy...:
The artwork is very similar to that found in such comics as Bunty and other girls' titles, you'll be unsurprised to read since Oink!'s artists were just fantastic at mimicking those they were parodying. Les Barton does a top job here and he'd become a regular contributor later with those anarchic rockers The Slugs under the name 'Lezz'. Sadly he passed away in October 2008, but he left a legacy of cartoons not just in Oink!, but in other IPC/Fleetway titles such as Whizzer & Chips, and outside the children's market in Punch, Private Eye and many more.
You can read more about this remarkable artist here in an obituary in Lew Stringer's Blimey! blog:
And Les' son, Bob, wrote the following article for The Guardian after his passing:
Going back to the Wanda with the Wooden Leg story, I noticed it was written by the unstoppable talent that is Mark Rodgers, and Helen Jones, a name I've never encountered before in this or any comic. However, Hadrian Vile seems to possibly know her, if this panel from his story in this issue is anything to go by:
|Part of Hadrian Vile written by Mark Rodgers, art by Ian Jackson|
By the way, did you notice the letterer in the Wanda strip...?
Now before we finish, just time to introduce another new character, who appears here for the first time. But it's not just the character who's new and of great importance. His creator's name may be familiar to you:
Freddie Flop was the first of the creations of one Charlie Brooker, and yes I mean that Charlie Brooker. Now a staple of BBC and Channel 4 television in the form of his own series Screen/Weekly/Games/News Wipe or as the best bit of Ten O'Clock Live and the like. He also writes regular columns for The Guardian and was the creator of the dark comedy Black Mirror. I love his sardonic and often quite brutal sense of humour, but as a teenager and while he was still at school he contributed to Oink! by sending in some unsolicited material and his work soon became some of the highlights of the comic! What a first job, and talk about a kid's dream come true! Transmogrifying Tracey, The Adventures of Death and Clint Gritwood the Trigger-Happy Cop are still to come but they're worth the wait.
Welcoming Charlie's first strip to the blog makes me feel like the collection of characters (Dead Fred started in this issue too) is really gelling with all of my best memories of Oink!, so I'm really looking forward to seeing where we go in the #20s, and this is definitely the year where Oink! was at its peak. For me anyway. It was the only year in the comic's life where it'd be released all year long (having started in May 1986 and ended in October 1988) so let's look forward to "1987" and the very best full year of comic goodness I can ever remember.
Speaking of looking forward:
With all of the war centenary programmes flooding the BBC at the moment it'll feel very appropriate to be reading this next issue at this time. So see you soon for it.