Friday, 29 November 2013

#16: BOPPING TO A DIFFERENT BEAT

Cover art by Steve McGarry

A picture resembling a megastar whose performances these days are loved by so many, his talent shining, his songs enjoyed, with a huge fan base and who even has Hollywood calling.  The other picture is a spoof of George Michael.

But first, that free gift.  Burp and Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins take centre stage on the rock face by Ian Jackson and again a random selection of the 'general public' can be seen running across the top, my personal favourite being a rather portly Santa just in time for the next issue.  More on that below.  I can remember adding this to the first one on my wall and being stunned at how big it'd be once finished.  (I was a lot smaller back then.)


UPDATE: A very generous blog reader got in touch about eight months after these posts were originally published and passed on his complete calendar poster to me.  It's in immaculate condition and I dedicated an entire post to it (for a very special reason) which you can read by clicking here.

Back to the comic and I remember as a child this issue was met with rather mixed feelings as I wasn't really into music back then and so this themed issue's jokes and caricatures didn't really gel with me.  Asides from George Michael.  Always like George Michael.  But I'd no idea who a lot of the others involved were and there were less of our regular characters involved than normal, so it certainly was - still is - a strange little issue but there's still some classic pages in here.

And a lot of text.

There's certainly a lot to read here for a kid, with less strips but some funny articles, one-off specials, a fake interview with "Gorge" Michael, an actual interview with 80s band The Cult, and the following from legendary BBC D.J. John Peel(!):

Illustrations by Tony Husband

I have to say that was pretty neat and a lot of fun.  But we've still got our strips and this issue we'll kick them off with one who hasn't appeared here in a while - the "Smelly Alien From Outer Space", Burp from Banx:


Be warned that tune, albeit the original lyrics, have been stuck in my head for much of the day.  Though maybe I should've written that warning before the cartoon.

One very strange addition this time round is a competition to win - and I quote - "a pop concert in your own home!".  Really?  Yep, no joke, no spoof, this is a genuine honest-to-gosh competition to win a concert in your house.  Sounds great doesn't it?  Just answer a few easy questions, complete the tie-break "in no more than 12 words" thing that 80s comics loved so much and you were in with a chance of actually meeting Le Lu Lus (Robots, Computers, Dance and Song (apparently)).  Erm, who?

Now, I may have been a bit clueless about music back then, but the endless tunes bopping out from my brother and sisters' rooms had an effect on me and nowadays I absolutely adore 80s tunes and I still don't know who these people are meant to be.  But still, can't be a bad prize for a kid!  Wonder how it went…?

Speaking of wondering, ever wondered who actually invented rock'n'roll music?  Bet it's not who you thought it was:

by Lew Stringer

Commercial break time.  Haven't done one of these in a while.  Fancy the latest threads, want to be transported back to the time of fan clubs, pen-pals and the like?  Then here you go, along with a rather fetching photograph of editor Patrick Gallagher:


Now you'll have seen our next character once before right here in #4 and his little appearances in Tom Thug's own strip were always memorable.  But every-so-often creator Lew Stringer would give Satan the cat his own little strip at the bottom of Tom's pages where he'd suddenly acquire a voice, not that it made him any more lovable!:


Now before we head towards our big introduction and our back pages we should catch up with Pigby and Ham Dare, our daring duo are back (bacon) and this ends with what an old school friend of mine, who was a huge comics fan and read such titles as 2000AD and Eagle, described even back in the day as simply “classic”:


Writer Lew Stringer and artist J.T. Dogg sum up, for me, the very best of Oink! with that last panel - inventive writing, superb original artwork and hilarious mickey-taking.  Come on, how can seeing the "Weakun" on a "Flying Pan" not raise a smile??

There'll be more from the porky pair next issue as the story continues and it looks like his could very well outdo the StreetHogs for me if I'm honest!  As much as I loved them, this speaks more to me as it's having a go at known characters and is hitting all the right notes so far, and only two parts in!

So working our way to page 31 and above the 'next issue' caption we've got two little strips from Mary Lighthouse and that madcap nutter Roger.  The usual credits apply here obviously, with Mark Rodgers writing a quick joke at Mary’s expense paired with Ian Jackson’s sharp pen work, as well as the ever-original Ian Knox who gives us another insight into the wonderful brain of Master Rental:



But now on to our star feature for this issue.  Yep, you thought that honour would go to Ham Dare every fortnight for the foreseeable.  Well, not to take away from the team behind him of course but there's a certain star of music and stage who with this issue became a permanent fixture in Oink!

As a child he always seemed to be on the TV, whether it was on random CITV programmes or on my personal favourite, Saturday morning's No.73.  Back then I'd no idea he was a stand-up comedian who'd go on to have his own TV show from his garden shed and a string of hilarious songs.  Created by Chris Sievey, the papier-mâché head of Frank Sidebottom would entertain kids and adults alike for many years to come.

A few years ago though the sad news was released that Chris had passed away.  It was this news, reported on the BBC's website, that brought back all those lovely memories of his comic strips in Oink! which in turn made me go hunting for my old issues (I'd only a couple plus the first annual as it turned out) and I ended up rekindling my love of this title all over again through eBay.  Frank led me right back to Oink! and it's because of him that I'm even here at all talking about all of this.

Recently a new statue of Frank has been unveiled in his hometown of Timperley, which was covered extensively in the news and next year there's two - that's right, two - movies coming out!  One is a feature-length documentary which even features Patrick above - sans wig - and will cover Chris/Frank's highly detailed pages in Oink! in there too and the other is a Hollywood tale starring Michael Fassbender in the pivotal role!

But it still comes as a surprise to many that he had his own pages within a regular comic back in the 80s.  Some know he did some work for books and promotional material, but not a regular stint in Oink! and even I was surprised when I only found out a couple of years ago he did every single page himself, from concept to writing to artwork to colouring.  I always thought he'd a hand in them but assumed they were drawn up by someone else, with perhaps some touches by Frank.  But no, they're all him.

So here we go, Frank's very first page.  And without a comic such as Oink! I highly doubt as kids we'd have been treated to such lavish work and to his "fantastic" ideas on a regular basis.  It's just the perfect fit.  I'm sure you'll agree:


Welcome aboard Frank.  You're sorely missed in this world and I hope I can do my little bit to reintroduce your work to a new audience here on the blog.  Look out for a lot more over the course of the comic, folks.

And that's us.  A very random and strange issue there, but the next one I can actually remember very well from being eight years of age (and turning nine) as it's our first Christmas issue!  I've very fond memories of the TV Times-esque cover, the Christmas TV listings and the Uncle Pigg story in particular.  Please do come back on Friday 13th December as it'll be a lucky day for pig pals as I'm very, very confident I'll be reading one of my very favourite issues ever of the world's greatest comic.  See you then.

Friday, 15 November 2013

#15: NOT A NEW LOOK


Yes part of that cover may look a bit familiar to regular visitors to the blog and on hindsight it's quite apt this was the image of Uncle Pigg I chose for the title, as this issue feels almost like a relaunch of Oink! now that it's established itself as a hit.  Introducing a lot of new characters and foregoing the usual idea of having a binding subject for the content (maybe in order to welcome new readers), this is topped off with the first part of a huge free poster calendar for the forthcoming 1987.

Unfortunately this is only one of two free gifts from the entire run I don't own at the time of writing (the other being the Wildcat preview issue from #68) but many, many thanks to Kevin Tuson at the Facebook group who very kindly took photographs of his posters and sent them to me so I could share them on here.  Really appreciate that Kevin, as I'm sure the readers here do too!  Parts 2 and 3 are the ones I own but below is Kevin's and he's also supplied the completed calendar which you'll see when you get to #17.  A huge 3-part poster by Ian Jackson?  Any wonder I loved this comic from the offset?!


UPDATE: A very generous blog reader got in touch about eight months after these posts were originally published and passed on his complete calendar poster to me.  It's in immaculate condition and I dedicated an entire post to it (for a very special reason) which you can read by clicking here.

Inside the front cover we also found out how this glossy-paged comic (this being only my second issue as a kid the page stock was still a lovely novelty for a humour title) could afford such extravagances, with naked piggy artists, writers and accountants shivering in the cold - clothes were part of the sacrifices made to afford it all apparently, but Uncle Pigg was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and sporting an early Santa hat.  Christmas was coming early for him and the readers and we'll see below exactly the extent to which he passed on such good feelings to his staff.

But first, a decidedly "introduction for new readers"-feeling Mary Lighthouse strip on page 3:


Writer Mark Rodgers, artist Ian Jackson and indeed the whole Oink! crew's strips seem tailored towards new readers and for me this was perfect back in the 80s with this being my second issue.  This may also be why in my old(er) age I've always assumed certain characters had been there from the beginning but in reality this issue is the first outing for classics such as Davy FrancisGreedy Gorb (He'd Eat Anything), Rodgers' and Lezz's Hyperactive Harriet (Fastest Girl in the World!) - a lot more entertaining than Billy Whizz trust me, Rodgers' and Dave FollowsSally Scowl (Her Temper's Foul!) - I'm sure Billy Bang wasn't happy with that(!), Rodgers' and Mike Green's Fatty Farmer (He's a Whole Lot Calmer) and a personal favourite of mine Hector Vector and his Talking T-Shirt from Banx.

All of the above will appear at some stage in future blogs but we've got lots more in this issue from our already established regulars, as well as two particular newbies I've included for obvious reasons.

We also had an apparently "New Character!" in the shape of Billy Buzz, a bee who was sickly sweet and seemed a bit too traditional on first reading it this week… but then the strip ends with Uncle Pigg swatting him with a piece of paper after being stung and so ended Billy’s career, never to appear again.

But a lovely surprise here comes from another strip drawn by the legendary Tom Paterson who supplied some brilliantly inventive work for some of the earlier issues including the preview edition and the very first regular issue.  Written (as ever) by Mark Rodgers, it's the details that count so take your time and relish all of this one-off, Mister Cheese:


Now in previous posts (here, here, here and here - flip I do repeat myself don't I?!) I may have mentioned an upcoming spoof strip of what was at the time my all-time favourite television programme.  It was so funny to see this next strip as a kid and I can so clearly remember the moment I came across it for the first time and over the course of those two weeks reading it over and over, laughing and loving the fact Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends (as it was known in its Ringo Starr days, you know, when it was okay to call the main human character The Fat Controller) was having the mickey taken - it'd never happened before after all, and Ralph Shephard's work on yet another spoof is, yet again, great fun:


Thomas... I mean, Sammy was on page 10 and just across, on page 11 in case you didn't know, was the first full strip from one of what would become Oink!'s longest running characters.  Appearing in a brief footer strip underneath Tom Thug in #6 it was now time for Pete & His Pimple to finally take centre stage.  Exciting times!:


Lew Stringer's famous creation would carry on into the pages of Buster after Oink! folded, though in a slightly sanitised form - as you’ll see in future posts that pimple wasn't shy of the occasional popping in this comic and if you've never seen these strips before just wait until that happens!

Later issues would even see an ongoing theme of readers sending in suggestions on how to cure the pimple.  None would be entirely successful of course, with some making it even worse, but every one won a “Piggy Prize” and we'll get to them eventually.

Pete will return soon in the blog but for now cast your eyes over the panel below his strip.  This has surely got to rank as one of the strangest competitions ever to grace a comic.  And I'm only talking about the prize, nevermind the rest(!), drawn by editor Tony Husband:


Ok, so now it's time for something… well I can't say "different" as that wouldn't really narrow it down, but anyway instead of making you wait like I did with the StreetHogs I've decided to post up each instalment of the following story within each actual issue post.

Following the success of the 'Hogs and the superb artwork of J.T. Dogg, Oink! moved on to their unofficial "sibling" strip, another epic multi-part parody told in double-page spreads, this time written by Lew Stringer.  IPC’s very own Eagle and 2000AD comic hero Dan Dare was now the target and all I can say is this must've been the most fun to write and draw.  It's certainly great fun to read.

Ham Dare: Pig of the Future (Part One):


He's another character who'd finish their tale and then disappear for a while, only to return later in the run as an established reader favourite.  He was my first encounter with Dogg's drawings and so was even more special to me for that reason.  Remember at this stage I hadn't seen the Oink! Superstar posters (which you can check out here and here) either, so this blew me away and for me StreetHogs were his second set of characters.

But anyway, for now we'll leave our heroes for a whole 14 days and we'll pick up where we've left them in #16.

Just as we did in #9, it's time for a little puzzle break with artist Ed McHenry:


Some toughies there, eh?  Well if that was too much like a cerebral workout maybe you'd be better off in the company of our next star, again from the mind and hands of Mr Stringer, the latest instalment in the obviously full and fulfilling life (if the first panel is anything to go by) of Tom Thug.  And it looks like even this regular strip, which goes right back to the preview issue, is introducing a new character too!:


Hmm… that little panel at the bottom (no pun intended, sorry) bares (again, no pun intended, sorry) a striking resemblance to a certain Mr Butt Face from Toxic, also by Lew.  You can read up on him here if you’re interested, on the artist's own Blimey! blog.  I’ve never read Toxic but having read Lew’s blogs for a long time now I remembered this guy’s, um, face.  Even the hat is similar, so must have been a cheeky (okay, I meant that one but still, sorry) idea which stuck with him for some time to come.

Skimming on through some more of the new characters, as well as Rubbish Man’s memoirs and an anti-smoking Pigg Tale, we come to the very first appearance of a true Oink! legend.  These humble beginnings gave no indication of just how popular a little old granny would become.  Of course that may have had something to do with a certain characteristic of her’s.  The subtle name gives it all way - David Leach’s Psycho Gran!:


Among my grey memory cells Psycho Gran still resides, so much so that I remember exact strips and jokes and I’m looking forward to discovering 'new' ones now too.  David Leach is another example of the exemplary talent Oink! attracted and he's worked on such titles since then as Brain Damage and Toxic Crusaders, as well as editing and scripting for such brilliant licenced characters as Ren and Stimpy, Beavis and Butthead, and even Spongebob!  However for me Psycho Gran is my favourite and I was so pleased to see a huge framed picture of her in his living room when he was a contestant on Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me this year.

The little old dear is also, despite her age back in Oink!, still on the go and has been brought back to the world of comics by David recently in a few various special one-off titles these past couple of years and now in the regular digital comic Aces Weekly.  Oink!'s characters were creator-owned unlike other comics, so long may she reign.

UPDATE: It seems she wasn't content with Aces Weekly and has only gone and starred in her very own digital comic!  Yes, brand new Oink! character goodness, which you can read all about by clicking here!

I’m going to finish off with the back cover, again another full colour strip from Lew Stringer (his previous back cover Tom Thug has featured before in the post for #8) and his great colour work shines once more.  Regular readers of his blog will remember this from a post in March this year which contains Lew's own insights into the creation of his one-off strip.  Continuing on from page 2, here’s the real inside scoop of how the world’s greatest comic came into being every fortnight:


I can think of one or two places I've worked where this isn't too far from the truth…!

Now before I go, let me just tell you a little about our next issue.  #16 goes back to our familiar themes and it's the turn of pop music, which considering this is the 80s should be a treat!  Big fan of 80s music here.  But, and this is a biggie, it's also the beginning of another superb chapter in the life of the comic.  While this issue may have introduced a wealth of new characters, #16 brings with it a true superstar, a megastar, a "fantastic" character I remember waking up to every Saturday morning on No.73 on ITV, whose creator sadly passed away a few years ago but who has recently been commemorated with a superb statue in his home town.  It's a great start to a very unique (even by Uncle Pigg's standards) contribution from a hugely talented artist - a contribution to the world which many today don't realise exists.

So be here on Friday 29th November when the next issue goes on sale.

Friday, 1 November 2013

#14: POPPING THE PIGGY CHERRY

This is exciting, this is a very special update for me.  The cover of this issue looked familiar, and not just in the usual "I've seen it on the Facebook group or when I'd bought them a few years ago before selling them on again" kind of way.  Now I know I definitely had the huge 3-part poster starting in #15 when I was a kid, so the closer I got the more I was sure that was going to be my "first" issue.  But then as I read this one I recognised and remembered more and more... like the promotional bit for the free poster and how it was worded, the fact Weedy Willy was a small 3-panel strip, the back page strip, the Frogman story and most definitely the detective page which is below.

A quick check with a couple of friends at the group that this particular page hadn't been reprinted later in the run and I had it - the first issue I ever owned as a kid!  Ladies and gentleman, I'm very, very happy to introduce you to #14 of Oink!:


The more I look at this Banx cover the more I can remember getting my hands on it all the way back in 1986 and suddenly that whole "reading these 27 years later" thing I'm doing here feels like an awfully long time ago!  More than anything so far in this blog this issue has been a real trip down memory lane and has made me long to jump forward to those issues I know I still hold dear as my favourites, but I won't, I'll stick to the rules and for now this issue will more than suffice.

We haven't actually had a proper strip from Mary Lighthouse (excuse me?!) and she kicks off proceedings on page 3 (oh no, nonono!!) ... calm down!  This is all I meant, from Mark Rodgers and Ian Jackson as always:


Crime might seem like a strange topic for a kids' comic to tackle, but tackle it they did and they came up trumps throughout.  Mary had nothing to worry about, the message was very clearly that crime doesn't pay, with criminals and bullies meeting their comeuppance in highly imaginative ways throughout, or a thief turning private detective (as you'll see below), but also having a little joke at the local bobbies along the way.

Speaking of comeuppance, Tony Husband took this to a whole new level with this issue's Golden Trough Awards!:


This was me sold on Oink!  I knew this comic wasn't going to be like anything else - I loved the above and Tony's artwork, plus having Hadrian Vile on the opposite page cemented this in my young mind.  Then it was on to introducing me to my first spoof, which was of a certain television show my dad and brother used to watch and enjoy.  It never appealed to me but I knew of it, enough to appreciate when the piss was surely taken:


If there'd been a comic (and if there was I apologise for not knowing) for The Professionals itself, this superb artwork from Ron Tiner wouldn't have looked out of place I have to say.  The fact it's in such a lovingly crafted spoof is a real joy.  Ron would return to Oink! with other spoof strips so you haven't seen the last of him here, but for now just savour the above before you turn against me with what's coming up next.

Regular readers will no doubt remember the achingly funny puns of Fish Theatre in the animal-themed #6 from a few months back.  Well the person whose fault it was... I mean, the person who came up with such brilliant puns, Graham Exton, decided to revisit the idea of trying to set a groaning record amongst readers with a murder mystery set on the Orient Express drawn by Roger Rental's Ian Knox.

Murder in the Orient Express Dining Car.

With vegetables:


(Graham talks to us again briefly about the use of so many puns in one strip in the comments section,  folks!)

If you can peel your eyes away from that overload (one too far?) my own young eyes then came across my first Oink! photo story.  I honestly don't remember the above, but my first encounter with Snatcher Sam, while not up to his usual tricks, was something else.  Going through this issue I'd say about 30% of it was still in the recesses of my mind somewhere and I can remember my reaction to my first Snatcher Sam but for the life of me this strip doesn't ring a bell.  But my word, after Graham's puns above you may need to go and get a coffee before you proceed here...:


People sometimes doubt me when I say this comic still makes me laugh as an adult and that I mean out loud, not just inside my head.  If any proof was needed, the panel on the second page above where he literally gives the gorilla his gun had me roaring when I read it for this update.  Sam's still got it!

Marc Riley as Sam was one of my many favourite characters and his contributions remain as highlights for me all these years later.  And this issue introduces another highlight, though on a different level.  For every hero needs a nemesis, every goodie needs a baddie, every piggy editor needs a terrifying butcher.  Though Uncle Pigg would never meet him in a strip, Oink! had it's very own definition of evil...

Butchers were always the butt of many jokes within the pages, but this issue would introduce one which would become infamous in future issues and I can remember a particularly brilliant front cover and the 'Wanted' pages in the second annual.  Below doesn't give any indication of the chilling tales to come for Jimmy 'The Cleaver' Smith from Banx, but believe me Oink! fans will remember him!:


I can almost sense the shudder reverberating around the UK, so best move on for now, but try not to have nightmares... and check your front door locks before bed pig pals.

This next page lit up my eyes the moment I came across it while reading this issue.  This is 100% recognised from my childhood.  A little detective work later (suitably enough) and this was the conclusive proof this was indeed my first issue.  I may even frame this comic's cover you know... but I digress.

Have a good look at this next page.  It's a brilliant piece from Mike Roberts, but there's a riddle here.  As an 8-year old I spent forever trying to figure this out, determined I wouldn't look at the answer until I got it myself.  I can actually remember lying in bed with the lamp on, on a school night no less, and eventually giving up and checking the answer.  Needless to say I laughed and then couldn't believe I'd missed it.  So here you go and the answer is in the comments section so you're not tempted to peek!


I'm going to include the 'next issue' box on this occasion (though the poster was promoted elsewhere in the issue) for a very special reason, but first I'm going to finish off the strips with this from the back cover.  Even though it was just the end of another issue for Mark Rodgers and Ian Jackson, to me The Hold-Up was a great sign-off from my first encounter with the piggy fortnightly and ensured I'd be back in two weeks time.  This was the final bit of convincing, rounding up a hugely enjoyable read.  I was hooked and I'd have a regular order at my local newsagents very quickly:


Hopefully you'll join me again in two weeks yourself and if you need any more convincing how about a new epic, not only drawn by the StreetHogs' very own J.T. Dogg but also written by Tom Thug's creator Lew Stringer?:


That's right, Ham Dare is back!  Well, almost.  And a nice little reference there to the fact some of the more conservative newsagents like W.H. Smith were placing Oink! on the top shelves, as I've mentioned before.  Also, new characters, big free gift... sounds like a big push from the creators is on the way here.

Next issue goes on sale on Friday 15th November, now I'm away to enjoy this one again!