When I picked up this issue of Oink! from my newsagent's I was 9 years old, right smack inside Oink!'s target age range (though it was by no means exclusive) and had already enjoyed over three weeks of summer holidays. You see I was unaware at the time that England, Scotland and Wales worked their school terms a bit differently than us lot over here in "Norn Irn". I'm still not sure of the exact way it's worked out in the rest of the UK but I do know it works out as basically the same amount of holidays in total, just at various interludes. We'd enjoy a week off for Halloween, two weeks for Christmas, a couple of days half-term in February, two weeks for Easter and then a whopping nine weeks for the summer - all of July and August!
I can vividly remember actually getting this issue from the newsagent and instantly loving the fact Tom Thug was the cover star, but also being confused at the timing and my mum having to explain to me. So there you go, Oink! actually taught me something.
Cover artist Lew Stringer sold his original artwork for this cover back in December 2012 but the post about this is still up on his blog here. This was not only Tom's first foray onto the front cover of Oink! (and later he'd also appear on the cover of Buster) but also Lew's very first cover he'd ever been commissioned to draw for a mainstream comic! So you're looking at a little bit of rich comic history right there folks.
Tom was the first strip inside too, taking up the top half of page 2 followed by a 3-panel Barrington Bosh He's Incredibly Posh and the following from Weedy Willy:
I've said it before but for a character who would outlast the comic itself it's strange to see Mike Green's Willy mostly in this short format (that sentence doesn't quite read right does it?). But perhaps when the editor of Buster - or whoever made the decision of who would carry over to that comic after Oink!'s final issue - had a good look through Oink!'s character roster and saw the list of regulars, maybe there weren't all that many who could make the transition to what would be considered a more traditional and safer comic. Well, when you consider this next regular strip was a fan favourite you wouldn't really disagree!
Written by co-editor Tony Husband and drawn by Les 'Lezz' Barton I was wondering when these anarchic punk rockers would make their first appearance! Pig pals, prepare yourself for the very first episode of The Slugs (complete with yet another Oink! reference to a certain BBC DJ):
The Slugs would become one of the main strips very quickly and my old grey matter remembers them being the constant page 3 characters when the comic went weekly in January 1988, but more on that when it happens. For now you can look forward to regular appearances from them on the blog no doubt.
When I started out on this blog I did clearly state this wasn't going to be a "best of" exercise. For a start there'd be too much to chose from and then there'd also be characters appearing all the time at the expense of others. After reading each comic it's a matter of selecting that issue's highlights and there's lots of various reasons why they may be chosen. On more than one occasion before (here, here and here if you're interested) we've had unofficial 'Lew Stringer Specials' (phrase just made up there now, don't go looking for it) where we'd simply end up with a few different examples of his work in one blog update.
Today is another great example so you'd better be a fan, but then again what kid (big or small) isn't? Starting off with that cover and now on to a huge fan favourite who, I'm ashamed to say, hasn't featured in comic strip form on the blog since #20. So what better time to catch up with Pete and his Pimple than when he's telling us his life story (after all we've had Tom's in the 1987 Holiday Special) and if you ever thought the comic could run out of ways to have fun with a spot, think again:
Fans of Pete had great news coming soon too with a very special issue of Oink! coming up, but that's for another update so just stay tuned as always. I don't like to ruin the surprise for new readers or those of us who are having trouble remembering in our old(er) age.
More Lew goodness soon but I'm going to String you along for a bit first (sorry) for everyone's favourite nursery rhyme from Davy Francis:
So back to the action and literally in this case as we welcome back none other than the titan porkster Pigswilla! Last time we saw him was in his very first (and up to now, his only) adventure in the Halloween issue, Monster Mash, where he battled against a hellish creature made of school dinners. Keeping within the theme of there being nothing more terrifying than school, it's time for the rotund robot to face up against the Menace of the Headmaster's Brain:
Lew has inadvertently perfectly captured one of Belfast High School's 1990s P.E. teachers there too, just so you know Lew. Also, that first panel where the kids exclaim they're off school for "weeks and weeks and weeks...", that's another very specific memory I have, reading that and thinking "Well not really, you've only got about a month!" We really were spoilt with our summer holidays! But it's one of those Oink! memories that was still there even before starting to read these again, such was the impact of finding this out in this way as a child.
Back to the pig and I was a Pigswilla virgin before this strip and no pun intended but he made a big impression. I was initially disappointed he didn't appear every fortnight but then it was always such a lovely surprise when he'd turn up and of course it meant he was kind of a headline act in those issues for me. He'd even appear in The Oink! Book 1988, perfectly rounding off the perfect annual - which you'll get to see at Christmas and not during these summer months, he says as he does the appropriate raspberry-blowing and pulls an extremely childish face.
Rounding off our Lew Stringer love-in we've the issue's second Tom Thug strip and, shockingly, it's a full page! Back in the 1st birthday issue during the classic strip which saw such a brilliant reference to comics characters from days gone by (you can read about it on Lew's blog right here) Tom pissed off Uncle Pigg so much he demoted him to a half-page story from then on. True to his word that's exactly the format we've been seeing Tom in ever since.
Until now that is. Not only is he the cover star, then the opening strip for the whole issue, but he's also back again on page 28 and with it all to himself. His mum is still about and makes another appearance here, albeit not her usual calm and lovey-dovey self but who can blame her when she sees Tom Thug's End of Term Report:
Interestingly written by co-editor Mark Rodgers instead of Lew this time (this appears to have only happened once before so far, in another issue where we'd two Tom strips), he's still clearly in safe hands, even if some of those hands belonged to the Plops apparently.
Now like I said above there's no set rules on who appears in each update here on the blog and you'll have to trust me on this, as once again Jeremy Banx has come up with the goods in his Burp character's strip and left me with no choice but to include him yet again! Taking up the high profile back page and in full colour I thought this just needed to be seen. Not only because of the fact photographs are used to give it a surreal appearance in much the same way Monty Python used cartoons to have the same effect, not only because it's the actual Aliens Registration Office (as you can see in this list), but also because it seems particularly relevant in light of the results of certain parties in the recent elections in England.
Oink! - it's still relevant. Always funny.
Not sure what happened with the printing of the first panel, but never mind that, just enjoy:
Ok, so while that may be page 32 done and dusted, I want to nip back just one page to round off this issue with Grunts. This is a particularly good example of input from the readers and the kind of responses meted out by Uncle Pigg. The joke sent in by Robert Huddart was shared by me for "weeks and weeks and weeks" afterwards:
Patrick Gallagher drew these pages and the guys certainly didn't speak down to the kiddies and that's what made the Grunts pages so much fun, we really felt like we were on a level footing with these characters and the people behind them. Like I've said before, they just got us in a way no other comic did! I especially love the letter from the headmaster, though if he did have such a strong empathy with Mr Big Nose I dread to think how he ran his school...
Right folks, that's it for now. But before I sign off with some info about the blog, remember back in #28 Oink! told its young readers all about the complaint lodged against the Janice & John story and how Oink! had triumphed? Well it didn't stop some stuck-up newsagents from still placing the comic on the top shelf apparently (though I must say my local one didn't and neither did I ever see it anywhere in my travels anywhere else other than amongst the kids' titles, but then again we didn't have a W.H.Smith over here at the time), so Uncle Pigg had a special message for those places - they wouldn't stop the children:
But for now that's it. I will be back next week instead of a fortnight from now, as there's been some behind-the-scenes shenanigans going on and the blog is changing. No, not a new look and I won't be deviating from the whole premise, but remember how I've said before the blog would be coming to its natural conclusion at the end of 2015 after all the issues etc. have been covered? Well, that's a story for the next update.
See you soon.