Friday, 27 February 2015

#52: FRANKLY SUPERB


Chris Sievey opens the latest issue, or rather entertains us before the opening, with the first cover to be drawn by his hands.  As a child I always loved the uniqueness of his - or should I say Frank Sidebottom's - strips but I really don't think I gave them the appreciation they so richly deserved.  As an adult I'm a huge fan and can see in every detail the care and attention that went into each and every panel.

Oink! editor Patrick Gallagher told me about how Chris would slave over his artwork for the comic and the length of time he'd spend on creating it and all the splendid details he'd add.  He really did love his young audience.  But let's get away from the regular strips for a second and would you just look at that cover!  Click on it to make it bigger and the JPEG format still doesn't do it justice.  If you have this issue or can buy it somewhere take a moment to look at every inch in front of you.

Those buildings in the distance each with individual windows.  The woodwork design in each fence post.  That amazing sunset over the cityscape.  I have no idea how long this took Chris, all I do know is that it was sitting in my collection and I'd admired it from afar, but now seeing it properly, seeing it up close, it's become one of my very favourites of the whole run.  Chris will also bring us the cover of the very final regular Oink!, so I'm looking forward to that nice big glossy monthly cover later in the year now!

Inside we see the comic finally entering the list of top reads with Escape magazine and Uncle Pigg welcomes us with "It's Oink! - the riotous read that's breaking every record for piggin' popularity!  Get hip - get reading, dummy!" and that's just what we'll do with the second part of editor/writer Tony Husband and artist Lezz's The Slugs and their adventures at Eurovision.  It's a controversial one, this one.  Well, for me anyway.

I can't remember this strip personally, but reading it now I'm not 100% sure if I'm comfortable with it.  Sure it's a good one and we're all used to bare bottoms in Oink! by now, but there's a word which I'm not too sure about:


Doesn't seem like much now, but when the target audience was around the ten years of age mark, should "crap" be in there?  I'll leave it up to yourselves to decide.  There was certainly no Janice & John-esque controversy at the time, maybe it just slipped by.  Do you think a bit of a hoo-hah would've erupted over its use (followed by those three bare bums of course - those complainers and Mail readers love to get angry about them) if it'd been noticed?  Who knows, in this day and age the word can be heard on daytime TV (Top Gear's James May's faux swear word of choice is "cocking" at 8pm on a Sunday too), but would you see it in a kids' comic?

It perfectly fits with the strip though as I read it now and with Oink! sort of fitting into that whole punk rocker rebel thing, while other humour comics were content being safe British pop music in comparison.  The verdict is out personally, but it's positively a memorable one!

So back to Frank now and that exclusive showbiz headline.  Has John Peel really left the BBC?  Why yes, yes he has and Frank has the scoop!  He's also got all the biz on Springsteen signing an album deal with a Timperley company too!  How are these for Oink! exclusives, eh?  Wow!  Must learn more, so read on:


Very clever and probably not a kick in the teeth off how the British press assemble their headlines even today.

Just before sitting down at my Mac to write this post tonight I caught up on last nights Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe and this series has been, I have to cliché, laugh-a-minute.  Everything from his own sardonic wit and cutting analysis of the week's news, to Philomela Cunk and the Russell Brand spoof have all been spot-on.  The only complaint I have is that the series is so short, with next week's sixth episode also being the last.  For a topical comedy show it's only ever topical for the shortest amount of time.

I've gone on at length about how young Charlie was when he worked on Oink! and how it was his first paying job, but I never expected his name to feature so heavily in the comics.  As well as his own creations such as The Adventures of Death and so on he wrote scripts for such huge, established talents as Lew Stringer which you can read in #47, and other British comics alumni.  Another superb example, he wrote the actual script for the fan favourite movie poster spoof of Ghostbusters in #40 too for Simon Thorpe!

Recently he'd also (as if he wasn't already doing enough) taken to writing a few of Oink!s quizzes such as Patrick Boar's Space Quiz, Are You Paranoid? and in this issue Are You A Compulsive Liar? in which the whole point of these quizzes was turned on its head.  In similar features in adult magazines at the time the reader would answer a series of multiple-choice questions and be assessed based on which letter they picked as their answer the most.  In this 'Liar' quiz all the 'A' answers are patronisingly honest, right down to the 'D' answers which are ridiculously false.  So you'd think by answering "mostly A" you'd be assessed as being very honest, "mostly B" as being moderately honest, "mostly C" as being a bit of a fibber (try a career in journalism or politics it says) and... well you get my point.

But when it gets to the "mostly D's" what are you expecting?  To be called the Compulsive Liar the title of the quiz is testing for?  Not quite:

"MOSTLY Ds:
You are probably thinking I'm going to say you're the world's greatest liar, but I'm not!  If you were a great liar, you would have answered all 'A's, and pretended not to be a liar!"

So there!

In this issue he also turns his hand to marketing the latest and greatest item from the brains at GBH for their customers with no brains, aided by some gloriously coloured art from Wilkie:


I also mentioned Death above and for good reason, as his latest Adventure is a treat also:


My eyes instinctively lingered on that penultimate panel.  Comic timing in a comic strip.  Genius.

I have to wonder if Oink! had continued in either this or its monthly guise, would Charlie have continued on with a cartooning career?  Would we have his wonderful columns in The Guardian (his and Victoria Coren-Mitchell's being the only bits I read of the site to be honest), his Screen Wipe and Weekly Wipes on the telly, his superbly crafted Black Mirror stories on Channel Four or indeed the best bit of the same channel's 10 O'Clock Live?

This is a superb issue all round and if the weeklies carry on like this then no wonder I've so many fond memories of Oink! quickly piling up in my bedroom back in 1988.  I've shown you but a small selection and there's much more to come in the next ten issues.

On another positive note, recently pig pal Jayne Gaymer asked on the Facebook group which issue of Oink! contained her attempt at a solution to Pete and his Pimple's spotty problem.  Fellow fan Alex Gray found her in the Winter Special from the end of 1989, but in trying to help I had a quick scan through the monthly issues I own and I have to say I'm looking forward to them!  Yes as a child I didn't like the fact it was out less frequently and yes there were only six before the comic folded, but with hindsight there's simply a huge amount to recommend about them in their own right!  But that's enough teasing for now, that's all to come later in the year.

For now I'll leave you with this back page gag from Tony Husband which raised a giggle with me and I'll be back next week with #53, naturally.  But also check out the blog sometime before then, probably on That Day I Get Around To It, when there's some ABSOLUTELY SUPERB NEWS to write about.  Ta-ra for now chucks:

Friday, 20 February 2015

#51: BRINGING OUT YOUR INNER THUG - AGAIN


Lew Stringer's latest cover starts off our latest issue in style and Tom Thug is pretty much the star of the whole issue here, taking over both the front and back cover as well as a page and a half of his own strip inside.  But hey what's not to love about that, right?  Oink!'s longest surviving character had been a fan favourite from the very beginning and just a little while ago in the post for the second Christmas issue I hope you took the time to print out and make your Tom angel for your tree.  If you did, get the printer warmed up again for the back cover, but we'll get to that later.

In a couple of issues Oink! would run a reader survey with a final question which, in hindsight, may have been predetermined before being written, leading to the biggest change in Oink!'s lifetime.  But on page two of this issue our esteemed editor Uncle Pigg starts off the Grunts reader contributions page with this little introduction to the issue:


Not sure what readership surveys he's on about at this stage, but the fact the audience was mainly made up of an older demographic than the original target may be a key reason behind that change I mentioned above.  Oink! was suitable for all but had naturally gained an audience taking in all age groups, very much the 'eight-to-eighty' sometimes bandied about when it's mentioned.  The problem was, while the comic had been selling well as a fortnightly, publishers Fleetway wanted to increase that and felt altering its setup slightly to appeal to more potential young readers would be the solution.  It wouldn't be the last time the comic would see change to try to appeal to a certain group, but we've this and another eleven issues to go until then.

This one certainly lays on the humour potential from a certain part of the anatomy, with 20-ton cowpats in the return to Cowpat County, there's Nasty Laffs and Specs getting in on the smelly act and on page three writer Tony Husband and artist Lezz's The Slugs see the silver lining in every gaseous cloud:


While it's good to see the aforementioned Cowpat County from Davy Francis back in the comic (and in full-page mode no less) and to see so much of Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins, Tom Thug and plenty of one-offs and GBH goodies, there's one strip which is completely missing and it's so obvious it leaps out at you when you turn that last page and The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile Aged 8 5/8 Years isn't there!  This is the first issue to not include him but having had to take a quick peak forward he definitely returns.

But the overall feel of this issue is, I have to say, that there's something missing.  Not just Hadrian (as much of a fan of his that I am) but just... I don't know... something!  I'm not being much use to you here as a blog writer am I?  I suppose it's the fact there's so many larger strips, such as those above as well as the start of the latest multi-part strip Billy the Pig, it doesn't leave much room for a good sized variety of other bits'n'bobs.  But hey that's meant to be the beauty of Oink! isn't it? - each issue feeling completely different.  So if you pick this one up as part of your own collection and know going in you're getting fewer, but longer strips you'll really enjoy it.

Though the exclusion of Hadrian is almost unforgivable!

Now while the following character was a permanent fixture within the pages of each issue and I've fond memories of enjoying his regular explosive adventures, Billy Bang hasn't featured much on the blog.  Nothing to do with a lack of quality in them, but now and again there's a genuine classic which just begs for inclusion and I couldn't let this one go.  Is it because of that final pun?  Or perhaps Wilkie's way with drawing that fish?  You can decide for yourself:


I'm not sure who wrote this one, who the two initials belong to next to Wilkie's name (I've already checked with Graham Exton and it wasn't him), so hopefully one of the many Oink! creators who read this can let us know.

Turning the page and seeing this next strip was an absolute delight I have to say.  Psycho Gran was always one of my childhood favourites and it still shocks me when I think of how few issues she was actually in, compared to the amount of issues there were.  Very rarely in full colour, David Leach's little old lady truly shines in this next full-page strip.

She's a granny who knows no bounds, whether it's throwing men off piers or going to war to collect her pension at the Post Office.  But now she's about to face her greatest challenge yet - the jungle.  Or is she?:


I've lost count of how many times she's brought us cheer in the pages of the comic by this point in the run but hopefully we've got more to come in the regular issues, but she definitely appears in this year's annual that's for sure.

Now previously we've seen how Davy Francis likes to add lots of little background gags to his Cowpat County and Greedy Gorb strips.  In particular any story which could have all or part of the tale set in a railway station seemed to be the perfect recipe for lots of extra jokes and puns.  Well, seeing what's going on in the background of this random little one-off from this issue there was simply no way I couldn't include it!  Written by someone whose name I hadn't come across yet, Hilary Robinson, Davy adds his own unique twists to Mabel the Model:


Hilary is yet another Oink! contributor from my own part of the United Kingdom, hailing from Bangor in Northern Ireland, joining Davy himself and Ian Knox.  You can read a bit more about her comics writing for 2000AD at her Women in Comics Wiki page by clicking here.

Printer ready yet?

Hope you have plenty of ink left too as the bright and colourful back page contains the first of a short series of Oink! character-themed masks.  On first glance these could be mistaken as a bit of filler material, similar to the endless pages of simple-to-put-together 'activity' nonsense a lot of modern comics have instead of actual comic strips.  But don't be so cynical dear reader, have you forgotten what comic this is?

This was back in the 80s when comics didn't need filler and what other comic would give you a mask of an elderly critic, a walking dead zombie and a thick moron thug?  Yup, the Oink! difference in effect as always.  So here you go, another Tom Thug cut-out goodie to go with your Christmas decoration:


UPDATE:  Yesterday when I posted this up I'd credited Lew himself as the artist here for the mask.  While the Uncle Pigg bit is obviously not his style, it's reused each week and I assumed the masks were by different artists, with this one by Lew.  Coming from the man himself though, it's not.  Looking at the rest of the masks, while it's obvious when it gets to Uncle Pigg and Mary Lighthouse that they're not Ian Jackson's drawings, the images of Tom, Dead Fred and Horace Watkins are ghosted so well (drawn by one artist mimicking another's style) they had me fooled into thinking Lew, Wilkie and Tony drew them.  Will have to find out who drew them all then!

These posts really are coming thick and fast and, while it was a shame Oink! didn't last longer in its weekly guise, I have to say if it had started off weekly for 60+ issues I'm not sure if I'd have covered every single issue on the day of release from the beginning.  The simple reason being it can be hard to cover a brand new (you know what I mean) issue the way I want to cover them, every seven days without fail.  Hopefully you appreciate the effort (I am planning two books and working full-time as well) and thanks so much for sticking around this long!

See you in another seven.

Friday, 13 February 2015

#50: PIGS FLY - SO DOES TIME


Fifty issues.  Fifty issues (plus an annual, a special, a preview issue and a pull-out) and I'm still writing.  Might not sound like much but this daft comic from my youth was the first thing to keep me writing that my attention span hasn't given up on.  So yes pigs can fly.  But it also feels like no time since I was scanning in but a mere three pages (plus cover) of the preview issue and starting this blog in the first place, unaware of where it'd lead.

It's reignited my passion for writing so much I'm now planning (it's been a busy winter, but I'll be back with updates soon) a book on the very same subject while also working on my first novel.  So it's time to celebrate as Oink! reaches its half-century and, suitably, it seems to have found its pre-iPod Shuffle button again as things get mixed up nicely and little surprises abound.  Well worth picking up on eBay if you can.

While taking some competition winners on a trip to London to help promote the Oink! Smokebusters Special (which will be covered here at some point I promise) the editorial team and Chris Sievey took the chance to pose in front of Buckingham Palace itself for this fiftieth cover of Frank Sidebottom finally getting that knighthood he so rightly deserved.  Kind of.  As editor Patrick Gallagher told Dazed magazine's website:

"I had this Queen mask with me and I'm looking for someone to put it on so Frank could get down on his knee for the photo.  Only one kid would do it so we had him with the Queen's face on and Frank being knighted... he paid twenty quid for it but obviously it was worth nothing.  Frank got ripped off. Sometimes adventures with Chris became nightmares."

Inside the story continues with that very theme of getting ripped off (possibly inspired by the real Chris Sievey?) with a special guest appearance from Patrick and the Queen's right hand:


That quote from Patrick comes from an excellent interview he gave which you can read by clicking here if you haven't already.  Well worth a read for any fans of the man himself or of our fave comic.

Fifty issues is something to celebrate though for a comic which a select few had far too much success in trying to get banned.  The cover almost feels to me like a two-finger salute to those very people in its use of an image of the Queen herself.  Great stuff.  Milestone issues were always something to look forward to and I can remember #50 of The Real Ghostbusters but unfortunately many of my other favourites never made it that far.  (One of my all-time greatest comic memories comes from collecting one which only lasted for six regular issues and a special.)  The exception by far was Transformers with a whopping three-hundred and thirty-two regular issues of Autobot/Decepticon shenanigans, celebrating every fifty issues with wraparound cover posters, extra pages, longer strips... ah yes, they were some of the best issues.

The first few pages are familiar to anyone starting out with the weeklies, luring them in with a false sense of security before the mayhem begins.  For this post covering the fiftieth Oink! let's take a look at our letters page this week shall we?  As well as a couple of funny letters/responses the reason I'm including it is for the media clippings on the right.  Oink! has done this before and it will again (on the cover no less) but I do like to include these whenever I can to show how positively it was received in the press, at least when some I'm-more-righteous-than-you people weren't trying to tarnish it:


It's strange to see these after reading fifty issues already as they read like the comic is still brand new. Of course with print deadlines you could expect a lengthy delay (in both the original reviews seeing print and then getting published back in Oink!) but it showed, in what would become Oink!'s final year, the comic's word was spreading and finally getting the recognition it deserved for its content, talent and comedy rather than undeserved controversy.

Of course, with the sales being seen as a great success to IPC originally, many at the time probably thought it was going to run and run and thus fifty issues would've still been considered its early days.  Fleetway saw it as a success too, so it wasn't cancelled with its sales group stablemates, but unfortunately fiddling with a winning formula to increase sales even more would cost the comic itself dearly.

Someone I haven't featured in a while and who makes a grand reentry now with three pages of content is Ed McHenry, another favourite of mine.  Regular puzzle producer he's drawn some brilliant strips and posters as well, including the first year anniversary party poster which you can see here.  I'm very happy to say he's back with another such double-page spread below, sandwiched between two Lew Stringer creations in a kind-of 4-page Pete and his Pimple/Tom Thug crossover co-starring all your main Oink! favourites!

But first there's this:


It's the simplest of ideas that can stay with us isn't it?  I can remember this, although I thought it was much later in the glossy monthlies, but it shows even with eight less pages than before Oink! isn't afraid to give over a whole page to a four-panel gag when it's this good.

Elsewhere we've also got a comic strip from Frank, a half-page text story I Climbed Mount Everest On My Own At Lunchtime And Lived! by Dr. Desmond Dangerous (and yes there's still room for the story after that title), a half-page one panel Weedy Willy, two and a half pages for Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins and the final part of your Sports for Swines calendar.  There's also a delightfully illustrated Characters of Charles Dickhams page though I can't make out the signature of who drew it.

So just like Stella, Oink! has very much got its groove back and seems to have found its trotters in the new weekly format.  Indeed the next issue would drop the 'Weekly' part of the front cover title and we're back to traditional Oink!-ness all the way!  Before then though we need to wrap up Oink! Weekly's first Banx mini-series which uniquely enough killed off the heroic figure with a week still to go.  But that doesn't mean Doctor Hieronymus Van Hellsong can't still be of use:


Now this is the kind of strip we want in Oink! from the likes of Jeremy Banx and proof positive the individual humour in the strips wasn't being toned down by the creators with Fleetway trying to tempt a larger base of younger readers.  Jimmy 'The Cleaver' Smith will pop up again including on one of my favourite covers for the weeklies very soon.

You can't imagine the above appearing in something like Buster or Whizzer and Chips (the latter of which is the subject of more good-natured ribbing elsewhere in the issue in Charlie Brooker's A Check-Up) and the very same could be said of the same man's Burp this issue.  While his Pet Specimen from Uranus seems to have disappeared from his strip for good now his internal organs are still stars of the show.

This time it's the turn of part of his external body though - his naval:


Now I just mentioned his pet hasn't been in the comic for a while and come to think of it the same goes for Roger Rental He's Completely Mental, Rubbish Man, Dead Fred and as we all know Mr Big Nose, all of whom haven't appeared in the weekly issues.  But they're all back to celebrate Uncle Pigg's big day and most, although alas not Mr Nose, will return to comic strip form soon you'll be glad to know!

With a superb celebratory poster bringing these characters back to the pages drawn by Ed McHenry it's down to Lew Stringer to frame this within another crossover for two fan favourites as mentioned above.

Two Oink! megastars but there's only room for one it would seem.  Having Lew's characters either side of the poster made this all the more special as it felt like a 4-page strip which just happened to open out into something you could stick to your wall.  Pete and his Pimple and Tom Thug meet up once again on their way to the Oink! party and it's smashing stuff:


Told you the comic was going to celebrate it's fiftieth issue in style.  Almost heartbreaking to think after all this fun there's only eighteen issues left, isn't it?  Of course none of us knew this at the time.  To us it was getting stronger again and getting better every week.  It's cheeky, irreverent humour and widely different issues were here every single week.  It really did feel like the fortnightly issue's strengths were back and being fired to us twice as much.

What wasn't to love?  Hey each issue may have been thinner but we were still getting more overall.  I'm really looking forward to the rest of these weekly issues now I have to say and seeing the brainless lump of Tom peering out from the cover of the next issue on my shelf just backs that up.  We're in for a great ride.

To finish though, a little public service message.  For all of the efforts of those aforementioned idiots, Oink! did a lot to teach good values to its readers and one of the strongest and most regular messages it'd get across to us children was the importance of not smoking.  I never did even though my family all were at the time (my sister aside they've all given up by now I have to say) as I hated the way it smelled and how it made my throat feel when surrounded by it.

This was backed up by such pages as the one below in my favourite comic.  When I became a teen I never started and never understood why anyone did when they knew what it did to them and those around them.  But I'd like to think Oink! had some unconscious sway in keeping me smoke free over those years of peer pressure long after the comic folded.  Hopefully it convinced many more not to take it up too.

It's a nice thought to think people were trying to ban a comic that would do such good amongst its readers, proving just how unstuck stuck-up people actually are:


See you next week folks.