Thursday, 30 April 2015

#61: FORWARD TO THE PAST ONCE AGAIN


Another Burp cover so soon?  You'd better believe it!  Jeremy Banx brings another superb introductory page only a fortnight after his last appearance front and centre of newsagent shelves.  It would also be his last - for both alien and artist.  It relates to a special two-page Burp strip inside and you'll be happy to know I've included it too, but we'll get there eventually.

You'll have noticed a little trend creeping into Oink! recently.  I've been talking about the fact the comic was appealing to a very wide demographic but how Fleetway wanted it to refocus on younger readers, believing this was key to increasing it's already hit audience of roughly 100,000 per issue.  But you'll have read and, in the case of some previous issues like this one and this one, seen for yourself how Oink! acknowledged this.  (The former was Uncle Pigg's pimply opener to Grunts, the latter last week's banner above the title.)

This trend continues here with the front cover directly marketing itself to the teen audience.  The reader survey in #54 did include an age section but as I said at the time it looked like the change to come was already in motion, another piece of redirection by the publisher to increase sales, only this time for a different audience again.  Can a comic survive so much change so quickly?  Especially when the original format was such a hit for the previous publisher?  Well we know the answer to that, and in two issues time you'll see that final phase of Oink! appear.

For now let's mosey on inside #61 and we're greeted on the prime real estate of page three with a one-off Charlie Brooker creation.  80s Radio DJs were obvious fair game for Oink!, with many other one-off strips tearing into the profession, John Peel contributing and also brilliantly taking the hand out of himself, Steve Wright winning a not-very-prestigious award (again, with John) and of course David Leach's Dudley Dull DJ character.

It'd be easy to say this had been done to death but Charlie comes up trumps here with another spin on the idea with the simply-titled Dave the DJ:


A few issues ago I mentioned a future Pete and his Pimple strip where a poor plop would be the focus of attention in Mr Throb's endless quest to cure himself of his massive zit.  Well here is that very strip.

Lew Stringer's plops certainly seem to have more weight and smell to them.

Hang on.  That doesn't sound right.

Lew's plop drawings seem to have more weight and 'smell' to them here.  Whereas they'd normally be a solid black colour, Lew seems to have taken care to really flesh them out, if you'll pardon the expression.  Out of all the things Oink!'s overly-righteous critics complained about the plops got a free pass.  But for any newer readers with this issue there could certainly be no doubt what these little blobs actually were - faeces.  Especially with them hanging out in a toilet-shaped club and with their own little community on the pavement in this story, they could easily star in their own strip every issue and my preference would be for Lew to be the artist!

A great little slice of what made Oink! great, this is the perfect page with them and one of the comic's most popular characters joining forces in a story about zits and poo, and all from a reader's original idea:


This week I reached out to the members of the Facebook group as last year sometime a pig pal received a fantastic present from, I think, his dad.  It was a framed page of Oink!, the very favourite one of the recipient and he couldn't have been happier.  It was a lovely idea from his father and we were all a little bit jealous.  Well it has finally come to the printed page, from the mind and hand of Simon Thorpe the king of Oink!'s movie spoof posters:


The group member didn't get back to me in time and I've searched the photos but to no avail.  If he does I'll throw up another post to show you and you can all be jealous too.  I have to say it looks wonderful in a frame.  That's thanks to Simon's superb artistry once again, something he carried off with aplomb and I can only imagine how long he spent hand-crafting these for us lucky, lucky readers.

Speaking of the group, a while ago the Oink! team were sharing scans and photos of some wonderful behind-the-scenes goodies, such as unpublished strips, early character designs and even editorial letters and personal Christmas cards sent between them at the time.  Some of the stories they shared were great and if you haven't already I heartily recommend you join up.

This was around the time the Frank movie arrived in cinemas across the UK, starring Michael Fassbender under the papier-mache face for the duration of the whole film.  While discussing this at the group Oink! writer Graham Exton commented on how Michael had appeared as Ron "Machete" McHetty in a GBH holiday madvertisement.  I assumed we'd see a young child in one of these, so you can imagine my surprise when this turned up:


What a brilliant (m)ad!  Written by and starring Mark Rodgers with the photographs taken by his partner Helen Jones, it looks like they had the most fun creating this superb centre-page spread.  In no less than the Bahamas too!  Why did they go so far for this?  Was GBH really making that much money?  Well no, this is the home of Graham, and Mark and Helen were visiting on vacation when they took advantage of the scenery for Oink!

That can't be Fassbender, he'd be a small child!  So why would Graham have said that... well the obvious answer is that's actually Graham who was likening himself to the chiselled good looks of Prometheus' android.  I messaged him to ask for clarification and immediately embarrassed myself as the wording came across like I actually thought that was the future Hollywood star back in 1988.  Nothing like a cringe-worthy moment with one of your childhood heroes, eh?

To be fair, as Graham said to me Michael wouldn't even have been born at the time, never mind being a young child in a GBH ad!  So yes, I needn't have asked at all, no matter the wording, but my grey hair is always in denial about just how long ago Oink! was.

So yes, that's Graham above there too and one-by-one we're getting to see the Oink! crew in the flesh (as well as their own interpretations in this year's Holiday Special), which is as good an excuse as any to include this picture from this week's Grunts page of editor/writer/cartoonist Patrick Gallagher.  Yes we've seen him before a few times on the blog but I couldn't let this go by without showing you:


Back to our cover star now and it brings me great pleasure to bring to you a double-page Burp strip from Banx.  We used to get this in every issue in what I called Oink!'s Golden Age, then in #58 we were treated to a gloriously coloured return for the Pet Specimen from Uranus.  Here we get a bit of a mix of both, not quite full colour but the 1950s example and Burp and his time machine being the only things in colour are a nice touch.

Burp is about to do his greatest good deed yet.  Instead of trying to help a neighbour or a city, now he's going to bring his 'A'-game and help the entire planet in one go.  How?  You'd never guess.  But then again, you should never try to guess where a Jeremy Banx script is going to go, have you not caught on to that yet?:


From Burp's final cover to Hadrian Vile's final appearance!  Now now, don't weep too much he'll be back with some holiday snaps in the second part of this year's Oink! Holiday Special (read the first part here) but as for the regular comic this is it, his final contribution and at the time of publication you'd have finished the special by now anyway.

It was a shock to see his diary disappear from the weeklies as he was always one character I remembered being there right up to the final issue, or so I thought.  Then again I thought the same of Mr Big Nose too.  Hadrian's Vidiots series, while good, was no substitute for a proper comic strip in the style we'd become so accustomed to.  It was also very similar to a previous page he had way back in #30.

In that issue we had Hadrian Vile's Interleckshual Guide to Famous Peeple - sound familiar?  We even have some familiar faces from that one turn up in this issue's final Vidiot:


While those previous special pages were just a break from the fortnightly diary, here they'd become a replacement and so Hadrian would end up denied a final strip or a send off of any sort when the comic came to its end (which is in just seven issues time!).  But he still remains as one of my very favourite and most fondly remembered comics characters of all time, and yes I mean across all comics, not just Oink!  Writer Mark Rodgers and artist Ian Jackson had created something truly original, imaginative and, most importantly, extremely funny with The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile.  As I said before I would love to have seen the strip continue in real-time for many more years, just as it had in those first forty-four issues and so it's with a heavy heart but a cheery smile full of memories that I say a fond farewell to the little horror.

(Is it ironic his last appearance doesn't even include his actual face?)

To finish this post on the inside back cover of this issue the usual newsagent reservation coupon is accompanied by a copy of a classic photo and a caption, which as always places it in a completely different scenario.  Another funny way to end the issue, but do you notice anything missing compared to previous ones?  (I've featured a couple in the posts for #49 and #54):


Thanks for reading folks, see you next week!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

BELCHING OUT NEW MATERIAL: NEW BURP BOOK ON THE WAY!

A few weeks ago Oink! fan favourite cartoonist Jeremy Banx shared some photographs of a proposed but ultimately abandoned Burp book project from 1987 during the height of Oink!'s popularity.  Approached by his agent with an aim to produce a series of "Asterix-style" titles, said agent had actually been touting it around publishers.  Jeremy recently received the book back and I'm very happy to say he shared some images on the Facebook group:




According to Jeremy he was surprised to rediscover the fact the book was actually finished and you never know there may be the possibility this may see a digital release sometime in the future, but as exciting as it is to see this it's not the most exciting news I have for you today!

Jeremy also informed us he's currently working on a Burp prose book for release digitally, along the lines of his hilarious Frankenthing which was released at the start of the year.  The new Burp book has already been written and is now in the editing stage (which Jeremy says translates as "completely rewrite") and then it's still to be illustrated.  But what this means is that a brand new, lengthy Burp adventure is out there, written and will be coming to your screens at a date to be announced.

New Burp!

This is fantastic news and means that's two Oink! characters who will have made a very welcome return, with David Leach's Psycho Gran out there in #1 of her new comic and #2 being worked on at the time of writing.

However, if you want to get your hands on some new smelly alien goodness right now then just click on the picture below to go to the official Byrp Gifts (no, that's not a spelling mistake) page at Zazzle and pick yourself up some brilliant t-shirts, mugs and iPhone cases!:


Exciting times ahead pig pals, keep an eye right here on the blog for more news soon!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

#60: TWO YEARS LATER...


Before I start on this issue, which has been a belter, I just want to say the same thing I said this time last year - thank you.  Thank you to all those who have read this blog over the past two years and who have given me such lovely feedback both here and at the Facebook group.  Two years ago today I wrote a post for something which was just going to be a fun little thing to do every other week and now it's grown into something huge.  Just a few days ago the blog reached 50,000 views, something beyond my wildest imagination when I began, so thanks to one and all again.

There may only be a handful of regular issues left but it won't be the end of the blog, no not at all.  Personal circumstances have delayed the start of the work on the book but with things all settled there'll be news soon.  If this is new to you, just click here to read my previous post when I decided to officially announce it.  It's going to be an exciting time and there's some special memories I'll be sharing over the summer too in addition to all this right here on The Oink! Blog.  But for now it's back to the latest issue:


The Slugs from Lezz make it to the front cover is glorious (or not so glorious) colour and inside they've got an equally colourful poster in the middle pages.  They don't appear in strip format though and while they may be "The Sensation of '88" they, like most (but not all) of the regulars of Oink! at this stage, have to take their turn in the back seat while others get the strip space with the twenty-four pages of our favourite comic.

By way of example their usual strip page is taken over by Barrington Bosh He's Incredibly Posh, someone more used to short gags, but here he's got a full page to himself and it's a delightful read.  But it did get me thinking about those readers the publishers wanted to try and attract with the new format for the weeklies - that is, those young readers who Fleetway felt preferred more traditional comic layouts with the same characters on the same pages every week.  'Familiarity' was key.  By this stage though the concept had almost been completely abandoned, with only a few characters appearing in the same space - although even The Slugs (who were normally there like clockwork on page 3) were bumped this time.

We'd already read how Oink! was still attracting an older audience, the same mixture of old and young that the fortnightlies did, so was it a matter of the editors just going back to their own direction like they did under IPC?  To me, Oink! just didn't work as well when it was trying to be more traditional in its contents lists, but unfortunately twenty-four pages just isn't enough to share amongst the great cast list the comic had along with all the random one-offs and spoofs we loved so much.  So we've seen some regulars being dropped completely, others only turning up once in a while.

My point here is, what would new readers make of an issue they picked up randomly?  With something more traditional and safe like Buster or Whizzer and Chips you'd know what you'd just read was indicative of the next issue, and the one after that, and the one after that... but Oink! wasn't.  No one issue was the same as the one before or after when it was fortnightly, and thankfully for us long-term readers this had become the case again after the first ten or so weeklies.  But a new reader could read an issue and think that was everything Oink! had to offer, they'd not know about all the other charcters, or the fact a lot of the content was completely interchangeable and random.  Maybe it's only because I was a long-term reader, but it feels to me now that the fortnightlies contained everything which made Oink! what it was, but it'd actually take someone to read a few of the weekly issues to get the full picture.  Could the page reduction be detrimental to bringing in the new readers?  What if that particular issue's mix didn't gel with them as well as others may have.  Would they have given it another chance, not knowing the next issue could be completely different?

Food for thought for those of us who like to look into the bigger picture of our favourite titles.  But enough of that, let's get back to that content.

It's the end of an era now folks.  The very final chapter, not just for this prequel story, but for the character as a whole because it's time to bid a fond farewell to Jeremy Banx's Hieronymous Van Hellsong.  After last week's 'exit', this feels almost like an epilogue rather than the actual climax, but that doesn't detract from another surreal look into the imagination of one of the fans' most loved cartoonists:


He may only have appeared in twelve pages altogether but Van Hellsong is a fan favourite, make no mistake.  It's heartbreaking to know we've said goodbye to so many Oink! characters already and we'll be saying goodbye to more as we move on, but at least they're going out on a high.

Speaking of pages, I've often been asked why I didn't include strip 'x' or strip 'y' from a certain issue.  Or why the complete issues simply aren't available online to download or on this blog.  The answer is simple, I don't own these.  When I started the blog I was always aware that Oink! was creator-owned. This was something else which set it aside from other children's comics of the day, in that each character and strip was owned by those who created them.  If the issues were made available illegally online that'd be stealing from those very people we say we're a fan of, people who have the right to those strips and to actually make money from them if they so wish, as is their right.  After all they worked extremely hard on them.

The title of the comic is copyrighted to Egmont these days and I did check with them first of all about the idea behind the blog - to have highlights from each issue with the consent of those who worked on it (never more than a quarter of the content was a general rule I set myself).  Egmont liked the idea so much they even linked to me on their Classic Comics site - see here and this is reflected on the copyright notice at the bottom of the page.

I obviously haven't been able to talk to every single creator, though I have been extremely fortunate to be able to befriend many online.  If any one of them ever objected to any of my scans it'd be removed, but no one has ever done so and indeed they've told me time and again how much they love the blog and rereading Oink! through it.  It makes me quite starstruck at times I have to say!  My forthcoming book is also not going to simply be me scanning in a load of reprints and trying to sell them, but there'll be more details of that soon and again the creators, writers and artists have been overwhelmingly positive with my plans.

So when having to choose highlights I've always said it wouldn't simply be a 'best of' as that's too subjective and I've no right to say what are the definitive strips.  I wanted to make sure each issue was well represented, with a great cross-section of its contents which in turn would hopefully reproduce a bit of that chaotic randomness from post-to-post which we loved so much reading from issue-to-issue.  Some issues would have more included than others and it wasn't simply about including exactly a quarter of the amount of pages, but just what felt right in each post.  It's hard to explain as it's been a very organic process as I've gone along, with each issue having various amounts of pages jumping out at me for inclusion.

This issue may look like it's got an awful lot of its contents into this post when we're only talking about twenty-four original pages, but by coincidence it actually adds up to exactly eight pages' worth.

Anyway, I hope that answers some of the questions you've raised.  Meanwhile, while I've been wittering on Kev F has been in the kitchen:


If there's any more of these little gems I may just have to include the 'Meanwhile...' title in the tags.

What's been a delightful surprise for a couple of issues now has been a regular page for a certain Wonder Pig.  Usually popping up infrequently as double-page spreads he's been returning every week now, but that hasn't meant he's decided on a regular name yet.  If you're looking for any of his other adventures you can read some of them by clicking on the "Lashy" tag in the Stuff in the Sty section down the left-hand column there.  That was his first name.  His latest is Lappie but what hasn't changed is the lovely characterisation he gets from the pen of Chas Sinclair.  (Just look at that last panel, those simply-drawn floppy ears add so much to his demeanour - it's just natural talent on the part of Chas.)  There's no writer credit, but as Tony Husband has written all of his previous adventures we'll run with it being him on this one too:


His master didn't fall down a hole!

The next strip from Lew Stringer has a story behind it but you should read the Tom Thug page first.  Then when you read the behind-the-scenes tale it'll be interesting to see what you think about a rare piece of Oink! censorship:


Something being censored certainly doesn't sound like Oink!, but there was a panel above which in its original form Fleetway thought they'd simply have to change.  No prizes for guessing which panel, but it may surprise you to see what they took out and how in the end they actually made it worse by comparison.  To read the full story just click here to go to Lew's post all about it on his Lew Stringer Comics blog.  Don't worry, we'll wait for you.

So you're back and what do you think?  In a comic with bare bottoms, fart jokes and (of all things) plops it seems strange this particular windy gag was deemed too much.  But I agree with Lew, it makes the end result worse.  Why is her hat blowing off?  In anger?  At what?  Tom wasn't meant to be mooning her but that's now the impression, backed up (but not intentionally obviously) by the punchline.

A strange case indeed.

So hands up who remembers our next star:


Another of Charlie Brooker's many, many (many) creations, Transmogrifying Tracey had a simple set up - a girl who could transform into absolutely anything.  Nope, there was no origin story, no daft explanation, it was simply a matter of fact that Tracey could instantaneously change into anything she desired.  It'd often get her into mischief and her gift would be used against her to punish her, but sometimes she'd get the last laugh and teach others a lesson too.

Taking the 80s sensation of Transformers to the Nth degree, if fans' wishes of a return from Oink! was ever to materialise she'd fit right in with today's comics audience, as that sensation has returned to its own Nth degree!  It was just such a wonderfully silly premise, it's hard to explain why I loved this character so much, but I think it was just the insanity of it all.  That's a pretty good way of summing up Brooker's work on the comic though when you line up all of his creations beside each other - each and every one just would not have worked in any other comic.

Now and again a glorious piece of artwork pops up which I simply don't know the origins of.  Sometimes other Oink! artists have been able to name those behind them and I'm hoping the same can happen here:


A cheeky little poem which I'm sure raised plenty of smiles amongst us back then but did we really appreciate this beautiful page when we were young 'uns?  I certainly hope so.  It reminds me a little of Dave Huxley's work (for example here and here) and also of that fine Watery Down strip, but if anyone out there can help me officially identify the artist so I can give them the credit they so rightfully deserve, please get in touch.

UPDATE:  Well I was right with the Watery Down connection.  Oink! co-creator and editor Patrick Gallagher left a message on the Facebook group to let us know who the extremely talented artist was.  It was none other than Patrick's own neighbour, a lady by the name of Ann Martin.  I've also updated the Watery Down strip in #6 at long last.  Glad to let the pig pals know whose work this is, Ann more than deserves the credit!

Time to wrap things up for this week and for the first two years of the blog.  I still can't get over the fact I've kept this going for so long.  When I started I was living in a different house (and have moved twice since)and was in a different job.  I wasn't doing anything creative and for pointless net surfing I was using a crummy, slow laptop prone to crashing, now I'm all kitted out with my Mac Mini and iPhone with an office space in my house and I'm writing a book!  Regular exercise was something to kid myself about when making new year resolutions, now I'm running and swimming and in the best shape of my life (with lots of improvement still possible believe me).  My whole life has changed.

Lots of that change has come about because of this blog, because of Oink!  To be chatting with the creators and cartoonists was something beyond my wildest dreams back then, now I've been chatting with them online, on the phone and meeting them in person!  Previous blog and website ventures never lasted, but with Oink! I loved it so much it reignited my passion for writing and a yearning to follow those dreams again.  I can't express how much I owe this wonderful comic for this experience and for what is (hopefully) to come.

I'll leave you with two classic mini-strips from Haldane (Zootown) and Ed McHenry.  Both made me laugh out loud and so I feel they're the perfect way to round off what has been both a great issue and a very special, personal post: