Wednesday, 24 June 2015

BEYOND OINK! 2: THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS

<< GO TO PART ONE: THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE AND FRIENDS


An incredibly simple advert but it can't be denied it's a powerful and attention grabbing one.  This appeared across Marvel UK's comics range in early 1988 but it was only about eight or nine years ago that I saw it for the first time when collecting a certain other 80s title which you'll read about soon.  Back in 1988 I learned of this great new comic a different way.  But first, let's rewind a little further to Christmas 1987.

At some point prior to this I'd discovered Filmation's Ghostbusters cartoon on video in my local rental store (somewhere I frequented every single Saturday as it was closed on Sundays so you got to keep the tapes for two days instead of one).  It was typical Hanna-Barbera stuff and as well as the human 'busters it included an ape and his flying car.  Seriously.  I heard of a new cartoon coming out in the early part of the year based on the movie Ghostbusters and I was looking forward to seeing more than just the episodes on that video.  However, my school friends looked confused when I asked if they'd used a real ape or a man in a suit for the film.  I learned that the cartoon was to have "The Real" added to the title as it was based on the original film which pre-dated the cartoon I'd known, and a few days after Christmas ITV showed the movie one night at 9pm.  (The addition of those two words to the title were actually necessary for legal reasons, even though Columbia's movie had come first.)  I can vividly remember sitting on my bed so I could watch it on my brand new Pye 12" portable TV in a dark room and I freakin' loved it!  In early January the brand new cartoon started on Mondays at 4:20pm (we remember such silly things don't we?) and I was hooked.

Then about a month or so later the family was watching Surprise, Surprise together and Cilla and Bob (with Spit the Dog) made a dream come true for a budding young artist when they took him to draw a page for Marvel UK.  The page was for the brand new comic The Real Ghostbusters and this was how I first heard about it.  I jumped for joy!  I remember recording this segment and watching it back, pausing it and standing right up to the screen to see the cover date to work out when it'd be out but on that Saturday morning a couple of weeks later my dad came back from the newsagent's empty handed.  He told me they'd still to open one bundle of comics so to try later.  I was doubtful it'd be there.  Had I worked it out wrong?  The date was a fortnight from that day but that was the way Marvel's comics worked, showing the 'expiry' date (my phrase, not theirs) of that issue - basically the date of the next one.  I wondered down about an hour later (my patience isn't great) and low-and-behold I got it!

Finally here was my very own Marvel UK comic (Thomas didn't really count as Marvel).  I'd glanced enviously at some of my friends' Transformers comics, hearing them discuss the long, epic storylines and seeing all this superb artwork and their huge piles of dozens and dozens of issues.  But I'd never fancied jumping in, so here was my chance to catch a brand new comic of similar ilk right from the word go.  Or so I thought.


That picture of the first issue is actually an advert from another comic, but apart from the two red and yellow banners it's exactly the same as the premiere issue's eye-catching cover.  It came with a lovely metal badge which adorned my schoolbag for months, it was printed on the same smaller-than-A4 pages that the Thomas comic used but it had twenty-four pages, the same as Transformers etc and all in full glorious colour.  But whereas Transformers had one main story taking up nearly half the comic and one smaller back-up strip, you can see above the first issue's cover boasted of no less than four stories!  How on earth...?

Well as it turns out The Real Ghostbusters comic was going to play more to the film and cartoon's comedy side but with much shorter, self-contained strips rather than ongoing stories.  As the series progressed it'd settle down into a formula of two comic strips of four or five pages each and a text story taking up three or four pages in the middle.  Some issues would boast of four (or even five!) stories, meaning less pages each and it wouldn't be unusual for some to only run to two pages, providing a simple set up for a good old-fashioned pun.

The inclusion of text stories wasn't new to me thanks to the previous comic I've covered, but for titles such as this aimed at the late primary school to teenage market it certainly was.  Yes, older comics had them, but at this stage in the 1980s they'd all but disappeared and to see them again was a slight disappointment when I opened #1.  I'd wanted the same as Transformers and for a minute or so I felt short-changed.  That changed as soon as I read it though!

It was just so damned entertaining!

Now for this blog I went and bought three issues from a local comic shop in Belfast a couple of months ago as I never kept any (which surprised me!) and I ended up with #3, #14 and #156, all picked deliberately as you'll see.  But you're bound to be wanting to read some of it aren't you?  Patience my friends, patience.

The earliest issue I could get my hands on

The first issue had me sold and a regular order was placed.  The stories were so imaginative and funny, I loved it immensely.  While the cartoon loved to take its time to set up stories and could on occasion build up a great, epic scenario, the Marvel UK comic matched its humour perfectly and having a few different stories with their own funny ending each issue was great!  Also included were fact-files on the main characters and later the ghosts, a letters page with Peter Venkman at the helm, Spengler's Spirit Guide and a mini Slimer strip.  But let's take a look at a strip first.

Cover by Andy Lanning and Dave Hine

From #14 the comic went weekly (it didn't waste any time!) and the first of these issues had one eleven-page story split into two parts, along with the obligatory text story.  The first two pages of this are below, written by one of the comic's main writers John Carnell who also worked on many of Marvel's new range of strip and text licenced titles such as Thundercats, Galaxy Rangers etc, as well as the superb American-format The Sleeze Brothers and the mature-themed Strip.  Andy Lanning was one of my very favourite artists on The Real Ghostbusters as his style was much different than the rest and had this real nice, chunky feel to it.  He also co-created The Sleeze Brothers with John and has brought his considerable talents to everything from Death's Head II to Judge Dredd.  Readers of modern-day Titan Magazines comics may also recognise the name of the letterer, as Steve White has gone on to edit many of their titles, such as the Transformers comic which launched alongside the movies:


It's been said since the comic's days that the team who worked on it were extremely close.  It was edited at the beginning by launch editor Richard Starkings, who'd been a letterer with 2000AD, a writer with Marvel and then in the 1990s founder of Comicraft, a California-based studio which trained and employed letterers and designers and provided their services to numerous publishers.  Some of the regular creatives included writer Ian Rimmer (editor of IPC's Scream throughout its run, editor of Transformers and writer on titles such as Hulk, Zoids, Roy of the Rovers and Spiderman), artist Brian Williamson (Tharg's Future Shocks, 2000AD and Judge Dredd), writer John Freeman (Doctor Who, Motormouth and Warheads) and none other than infamous 2000AD writer Dan Abnett (creator of Marvel's Knights of Pendragon and writer of - deep breath - Judge Dredd, Anderson Psi-Division, Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper and Lawless - the new Judge Dredd Megazine character - amongst many, many more!).

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  With a comic which lasted 193 issues and with so many stories to tell, the pool of talent it collected together was immense.  The regulars did later state they had a blast with it though.  For a licenced title they had a lot of freedom and sometimes the joke was thought of first and the story built around it!  It worked though.  Beautifully.

Dan Abnett had a big task it must be said though as in each issue was the latest instalment of Spengler's Spirit Guide.  In the movie Egon Spengler had made reference to Tobin's Spirit Guide and while I'm not sure if the cartoon mentioned it (only season one is currently available) the comic ran with the idea and had a reference series of their own.  Often mentioning the tome from the film, these text pages may have looked very serious (the design stayed the same throughout) but they were absolutely hilarious.  Featured all the way through the fortnightly and weekly issues Dan wrote them all - over one-hundred-and-eighty, never running out of imagination, never lacking the laughs and always a highlight of each and every edition.

They usually tied in to a story from the same issue, so with #14's story dealing (in typical Ghostbusters fashion) with the four horsemen, Dan had decided they weren't the only galloping riders for the end of time:


Much later in the run (this next page is from #156) the comic would also include a lengthy series of pages based on true urban legends, if that's not an oxymoron to describe them as such.  There's no writing credit here unfortunately and this is the only one I have to scan in but it shows you what they were doing.  It certainly added a suitably spooky feeling to an otherwise comical weekly outing and at this time with the British humour strips, the text stories and the serialised American stories (see below) this added yet another dimension to the comic.  I do remember being a fan of these and they became the first thing I'd read each week:


At its height The Real Ghostbusters was a truly great comic and I can't undersell that.  The variety and quality of the contents was superb and reading back on these (particularly this later issue) I can see now as an adult just how much value for money there was.  There's a wealth of different reading material here, you could never get bored moving from one style to the next, and the amount they crammed in (without ever sacrificing that all-important quality) puts a lot of today's licenced comics to shame.

Issues 1 and 14 being the exceptions, most of the issues' covers related to the prose story within (with the cover usually reprinted at the beginning of the tale), which alternated between two different styles.  One issue would see a text story told in the usual fashion of the writer as the narrator, mainly focussing on one part of a bust or one moment in the life of the team.  The Judge Dredd Megazine does this type of storytelling to this day, with a text story in some issues taking up the same amount of space and also telling a very focussed tale.  It works a treat.  If you think about it there's no way to tell a bigger, more elaborate story with a long setup when you're talking about a limited amount of space and words.

Below is one such example (including both cover and interior versions of the artwork) from that later issue in the run.  I don't want to say too much yet, I'll let John Freeman's writing show you what I mean by the above:


 

Even with only two pages and a rather large font, John takes time to give us a unique introduction which sets up how he's going to tell this particular story.  It provides a lovely, funny insight into how the good people of New York now took all this ghost busting in their stride and the back and forth between that and the tour information is inspired.  Also dealing mainly with two of the team instead of them all lets us have a little humorous banter and Egon's character is perfectly captured with the dictation.

These days John also runs the superb comics resource website http://downthetubes.net and if you're in any way interested in any modern comics titles it's a great way to keep up to speed.

In alternate weeks, by the way, the text story would be the latest instalment of Winston's Diary and would be just that - a story told in diary form by the character Winston Zeddmore and they were just as much of a delight.  In fact it was one of Winston's in the very first issue that convinced me the inclusion of text stories in a comic was the way forward for the Ghostbusters!

As an aside, the cover art became more and more elaborate as it went along, especially the colouring. Some are truly beautiful and are masterful pieces in their own right!  The following link doesn't contain them all unfortunately but it can certainly give you an idea of what I'm raving on about:

http://www.comicvine.com/the-real-ghostbusters/4050-40083/

Marvel UK were the first to launch a tie-in comic to the new cartoon series, before a comic was released in the States!  In America it wasn't Marvel who got to delve into the world of four parapsychologists for the entertainment of children, it was NOWComics.  Their run was more traditional, with roughly twenty or so pages for each story per issue, it ran for a few years and a couple of volumes.  It even reprinted some of the Marvel UK stories as back-up strips and for special issues, which was a bit unique!  Over here it'd be over a year before we'd see any of their stories travel across to us though.

Around #80 or so the sequel movie Ghostbusters II was released and the comic serialised NOW Comic's adaptation, entitled The Real Ghostbusters starring in Ghostbusters II.  It ran for several issues and thanks to me missing it in the cinema this was how I first experienced it.  The comic still had a brand new, contained British strip, the text stories and Spirit Guide but having a huge multipart story was a big deal and I simply adored waiting impatiently for each new part to come.  Even though the comic had won me over with its format from the premiere issue and I'd never longed for serials anymore, this changed my mind.  It was yet more variety and complimented the other contents.

I was delighted then to see the American strips continue for some time afterwards, with each split over roughly three or four issues.  They actually took up more space in the comic than the Marvel strip and they had a very different feel, more akin to the cartoon itself.  Below are a few pages from part of a story in #156.

The USA back-ups would continue well beyond the foursome's adventures, as you'll see after these scans there'd be a different kind of support strip to come:

 
Unfortunately no credits in this issue

I remember the cartoon shifted after a few years to be split into two parts during Saturday morning TV shows such as Get Fresh and SM:TV and the title became Slimer! and The Real Ghostbusters.  I never knew why until recently when I found out the cartoon's last season changed its target demographic to a slightly younger one and became an hour in length in the States, where Slimer (the team's loveable - except if you're Peter naturally - pet ghost) had his own cartoon for thirty minutes, followed by the Ghostbusters for the second half.  We only got the ghost busting half so the title never made sense and I was also unaware that the green blob had his own comic!

It was made by NOW and then released over here under the Marvel label as a monthly for over a year but it passed me by completely until it merged with my comic.  The Real Ghostbusters and Slimer! then split his stories like they had the strips above over a few issues at a time.  They were okay but I preferred the 'busters rather than Slimer and his silly friends.  They weren't terrible though and there was something charming about them in a way.

But we'd already had a Slimer strip ever since #1.  Marvel's action comics had a tradition of having a comical strip somewhere in each issue.  With Transformers Oink! cartoonist Lew Stringer brought us Robo Capers, Action Force brought us Lew's Combat Colin (who then made the transition to the former title when they merged and can be seen in new adventures today in Aces Weekly) and now this comic brought us Blimey! It's Slimer written by John Carnell and drawn by Lew.  I'm seeing a pattern, are you?:


Later Bambos took over the writing and drawing of the cartoon but I just had to include one of Lew's, naturally.  Slimer also became a bit of a mascot for Marvel UK, appearing in all the mentioned titles above and as the cover star of the short-lived It's Wicked, Marvel UK's weekly humour comic in the vein of The Beano and The Dandy.

The Real Ghostbusters remains one of my very favourite comic titles and today it reads incredibly well as a very funny and truly different series.  It ran for an impressive 193 issues, but I think I dropped off not too long after the later issue above.  I'm not sure why, it could be because by that time I was collecting quite a few comics and had to sacrifice one in order to collect another, but I'm not sure.  Before I'd stopped reading it though, it had begun reprinting some of the British strips but still had plenty of new material.  For its last half a dozen or so issues it went monthly (sounds familiar) and was 100% reprint, with no text stories and no Spirit Guide or Blimey! It's Slimer.  It didn't even have an editorial anymore, just the same picture of the Ghostbusters on page two every month.

During its time it captured so many readers in its trap and spun off into brilliant annuals that I remember very, very fondly!  They had hugely fun strips, some spectacular artwork for their text stories and brilliant extras.  I can remember curling up into bed during the nighttimes over Christmas and New Year a few years in a row and very happily losing myself in them.  Add in the usual Collected Comics seasonal specials which reprinted strips from the regular comic, then the Puzzlebuster(!) monthly which was basically a themed puzzle compendium and the fact they and Slimer were the main stars of the Marvel Bumper Comic (a fortnightly reprint collection of Marvel UK strips) and they were absolutely everywhere!  Marvel UK made no secret that they were a real money-spinner for them and insanely popular.

Thanks to the comic having for the most part individual stories it's really easy to dip your toes into now if you never have before, as you won't have to worry about collecting a huge amount of them before being able to sit down and read them.  Go on, grab yourself a few random issues - with the talent pool behind it you'll not regret it, I promise.

To finish with, one of these issues had an advert on the back page which took me right back to Christmas mornings and many nights spent playing with my favourite action figures, Ecto-1, Ecto-2 and tubs of ectoplasm on my bedroom floor:


NEXT TIME

Beyond Oink! will be back in a fortnight's time with the next comic I placed a regular order for with my local shop, just a couple of months after starting Ghostbusters.  It was one which I could completely blame my parents for, though my mum didn't actually mind adding this one to the three comics I was already regularly collecting.  I just hope my scanner can cope with it, as it's going to be...


UPDATE:  John Freeman has now placed an article about this very post on the Down the Tubes website which includes further insight into The Real Ghostbusters and is well worth a read right here.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

FRANK SIDEBOTTOM - FIVE YEARS ON

Photo by Karin Albinsson of VIVA magazine

Can you believe it's been five years today since we lost Chris Sievey, the genius behind the papier-mâché mask of Frank Sidebottom?  Since then we've seen a bronze statue erected in the infamous Timperley, a fan-made documentary is in the works and there's been a movie based on the character released in cinemas too.  During his lifetime he was the face of children's television and I've fond memories of him on No.73 and his own shed programme.

But while he was a rather unique musician and stand-up comedian as well, for pig pals such as myself his main role will forever be within the pages of Oink!.  Approached by co-editor Patrick Gallagher Chris became something of a figurehead for the comic, a real-life celebrity and TV and radio star in the guise of Frank who could help publicise the comic as well as contribute gloriously hand-crafted strips, often coloured with felt-tip pen!  If you're new to the blog please take some time to explore his tag under Stuff in the Sty on the left there to see the kind of pages he brought to Oink!.

There's a fantastic interview with Patrick all about Chris and Oink! on the Dazed and Confused magazine's website which I've covered before here.

But this also marks my rediscovery of Oink! since my childhood.  After many years of many comics I got to that stage where I grew out of them for a while and when moving out of home I threw away a lot, only keeping some special issues such as premiere ones or those with my letters in them.  For Oink! I never had the first one but I did keep the last issue and The Oink! Book 1988, which you'll know is my favourite childhood book of any genre if you're a regular reader here.  For some reason I also kept #45 but no others.  When I saw the tragic news on the BBC website of Chris' passing I dug out what I had and was gutted I hadn't kept any more.

A good dig around eBay and I bought a few of the early issues, loved them to pieces and set about getting them all.  Hence my journey to where I am now had begun.

It's sad to think of those Oink! contributors and creators who are no longer with us and I hope by doing this blog their work and memories can be both rediscovered by those of us they helped raise, and discovered for the first time by many more.  It's certainly been heartwarming to see such great reception to their Oink! work from both adults and children today who never got a chance to see it all before.  May all the Oink! teammates who are no longer with us rest in peace, and know they've left a legacy of something truly 'Fantastic'.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

ACES WEEKLY - NEW PSYCHO GRAN!


Yes that's right, along with her own comic book series (more news on that below too!) that psychotic little old lady is also popping up with brand new material in the digital comic, Aces Weekly.  Never heard of it?  Well let me introduce you two...

Each 30-page issue comes to you direct to whatever digital device you choose, whether that's your desktop computer, a Retina Display iPad (I mention it because it just looks sublime on that display), smart TV, or phone if you're feeling especially cruel to your eyes today.  As the title would suggest it's also weekly, so who said British comics were dead?  This weekly format lasts for seven issues at a time, which completes a whole volume of stories and then it takes a fortnight's break before launching back with the next volume and another raft of great comics from some truly amazing talent.

Oink!'s very own Lew Stringer and guest artist from #64, John McCrea, are amongst those contributors, the former resurrecting his Action Force and then Transformers Marvel UK humour strip, Combat Colin.  As if that's not exciting enough for the kid in me, David Leach has brought back Psycho Gran too!  There's just no keeping this little lady in retirement is there?


It all starts innocently enough but it doesn't take long before a manic cyclist decides to pick on what he perceives as a soft target.  He couldn't be more wrong, in more ways than one!  I'm obviously not going to ruin it for you but needless to say this five-page strip is an instant classic - it's probably one of my all-time favourite Psycho Gran strips - and with Aces Weekly being so cheap anyway it's a bargain just to get some brand new material for this wonderful lady (and for Colin of course), never mind the huge amount of other content available.

So how do you go about buying it and seeing what happens next?  Simple, just go to acesweekly.co.uk where you can subscribe to all seven issues of the current volume for a paltry £6.99 (€7.99) and every week you'll receive a brand new issue direct to your device.  That's 210 pages for that amount which also includes extras, original art sketches, scripts and more.  You can also buy all the issues in previous volumes all at once for the same price in special bundles on their site.

PSYCHO COLLECTION

Psycho Gran appears irregularly and David shall be pulling together all her adventures from Aces Weekly into the second issue of her own comic which will be out by the end of the year.  "Second issue?"  Where have you been?  Click here for the post from when her first issue came out last year and down the left of this screen you'll see a picture you can click on to take you to Comixology's site to buy it for yourself.  Another bargain of over twenty pages of dedicated Psycho goodness for only £1.49.

David's full-colour artwork is sublime throughout both the first issue and this new strip - really, it's that good!  Pick up a copy of either to see what I mean and in particular this Aces Weekly one has a full-panel near the end which is just hilarious even on its own.

Oink! lives on in the pages of this superb anthology of humour, action, science-fiction and more and for anyone who grew up on the comics from around this time you'll see a great selection of names you may remember.  Two I spotted were Phil Elliott and Bambos, but where from you may ask?  Well that'll be answered in the second part of Beyond Oink! this coming Wednesday.  Aren't I a tease?

Thursday, 18 June 2015

#64: A WHACKA-WHACKA-WHACKA-WICKED ISSUE


I'm very much feeling the mood of this issue's cover and its accompanying strip right now and no it's not because of what I'm wearing.  No, really it's not, it's because right now my Apple TV is blasting out the Absolute 80s radio station and they're currently playing some very early 80s music, much of which still has that certain 70s flair to it.  Hence the title of this post.

Of course it's easy to take the hand out of the 1980s these days and its fashions and its style or lack thereof.  But every decade gets that after a while and the 2010s will be no different in the future of course, but the 80s I hold especially dear to my heart.  That decade had the best TV and music and it wasn't afraid to be daring and stand out with its clothing, unlike the instantly forgettable 90s which basically brought us shell suits and not much else.

But here's a unique take on things.  A 1980s look at the 1970s!

Police Vet had already appeared in a three-page strip in The Oink! Book 1988 but unfortunately I had to choose between it and the James Bong strip and 007 Oink!-style won out on that occasion.  However the character was to make a mammoth return in this, the second monthly issue, with not only the cover all to himself but also a huge six-page strip inside.  We'd see more lengthy stories as the monthlies settled in and more content made especially for the larger comic instead of hangovers from the weeklies.

Oink!'s own style was also changing and while Police Vet is a wonderfully silly strip which had already proven popular with readers of all ages, including the younger target audience, you'll see as we go through these issues that the comic was also trying to appeal to an older crowd too.  But first, after Wilkie's cover he brings us the brilliant Police Vet and the Foxy Chick which is written by - who else? - Mark Rodgers:


Now that's what the monthlies can bring you, folks - big, meaty and hilarious strips that just keep on giving and giving.  Superb stuff!  We just wouldn't have seen this before now in the regular comic.  Perhaps a multi-part story over a few issues but having it written and drawn for inclusion as one strip in the one issue changes the pacing and it's all the better for it!

Such a shame the character only ever made these two fleeting appearances in Oink! before hanging up the platforms for good, I would loved to have seen more from him.  As it is, if you've got the first annual (or indeed are collecting Oink! at the moment) grab it and have a read of Police Vet's first story, you won't be disappointed.

(I have to say at this point, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was on the other night and I can't help but feel a kinship between that movie and the above strip.)

Look out for some more strips in the mammoth category as we coast through the remaining issues, including some from your very favourite characters!  For now though we come back to the regular-sized contents of #64 and this next one is a right treat which surprised me upon turning the page.

As I've mentioned once or twice before Davy Francis is a local chap for me, us both living in Northern Ireland and previously I was delighted to see him collaborate with fellow countryman Ian Knox, who I had only just previously realised was from here too.  One other superb artist who I knew hailed from somewhere not too far from me was John McCrea.

John is renowned for his 2000AD work too and that comic really did help launch his career and catapulted him across the pond.  He's most famous for his work on the aforementioned title but his body of comics work is staggeringly good - Batman, Spiderman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, Deadpool, Judge Dredd Megazine... the list goes on.  However, here he is in Oink!

What?  Yes!  Written and inked by Davy but with the pencils drawn by John here comes Misplaced in Space, which I'm sure you don't need any introduction to if you watched Sunday lunchtime repeats of 1960s telly on Channel Four in the 80s.  (Flip me, this issue is really going for it with the time travel!):


What a treat to see two superb comics artists from two completely different genres of work, together on the same page in my favourite title!  I'd no recollection of this, though to be fair that's probably because as a child I didn't read the other comics John worked on at the time.  But now - wow!

If you'd like to see another 2000AD alumni take to the porky pages then click here to see none other than Dave Gibbons' work on a Lew Stringer script!  Or how about here to see the posts containing Kevin O'Neill's reknowned jaggy lines?

Now back in the 80s there was something which made the news every night for what seemed like an eternity.  At my age back then I didn't really know what it was all about though I do remember Spitting Image having many digs at it.  It was the Poll Tax.  It was a very important matter, I knew that much and I knew it would probably be something I'd have to contend with as an adult.

But that was going to be years and years away.  I would be all old and grown up and I didn't need to care about such things at age 10.  Well Oink!, as ever the educational publication, decided it'd take it upon itself (well, writer Howard Osborn did) to inform its readers about the new tax and exactly what it meant.  It certainly changed a lot of things.  It certainly had a lot of rules.

But fortunately I didn't own a parrot:


A quick scroll down and you'll see three scans (including the one above) with very little in the way of comic strip, yes?  Well that was always the beauty of Oink!, that you'd get some spoof text stories, quizzes and of course the madverts too.  But it has to be said this issue is rather heavy on the more text-based pages.  No bad thing at all but it is one more thing brought about by the change in direction.

Oink! had always appealed to a wide variety of readers, with the phrase "from eight to eighty" being used more than once for its readership age bracket.  But it also had its target audience to appeal to and, most importantly, be suitable for.  To begin with it was aimed at the eight-to-thirteen bracket and was a huge success with 100,000 average sales per issue, though it did fluctuate at times no thanks to the likes of WHSmith.  As regular readers of the blog will know, when Fleetway took over Oink! was placed in a sales group with other titles which were all cancelled over a short period of time.  With so many titles absorbed from IPC, Fleetway sectioned them into groups and if that group's combined sales weren't good enough all the titles would be canned.  But Oink! was doing well, even on its own.  But Fleetway wanted more and started fiddling.

It wasn't malicious - they saw Oink!'s good sales and saw potential for it to do even better so it changed to a weekly comic aimed more at the original audience, with the idea of the small changes attracting additional readers of the more traditional weeklies.  When sales didn't increase the comic's focus was shifted yet again.

The age of the readership stayed pretty much the same and it was noted how many older readers there were in their teenage or university years.  Hence the monthly.  Fleetway was now aiming at that audience to try to increase already-impressive sales again now that Oink! was in a group all on its own - it was just a different tactic.  Now with a bigger magazine-style feel to it the contents contained pages about the poll tax for example, or more pastiches of things which the young ones maybe wouldn't 'get' as much.  I certainly remember some spoofs falling short for me for the first time back then, and this issue even includes a Rotten Rhyme poem which is quite clearly a good example of what I'm trying to say.  But more on that below.

Whether Oink!'s shift to a younger feel with the weeklies (even though we children were extremely happy with the original format anyway) alienated older readers is debatable, as the weeklies still seemed to be attracting that older crowd and of course the monthlies wouldn't have had these changes if they'd stopped buying it.  But the monthlies certainly did lose readers, this can't be denied, and Oink! would be cancelled after only six of them.

What happened?  When and how did the readership fall?  Which age brackets were affected at what stages?  A story for another time, we're here right now to celebrate this comic, not get weighed down with such things, so let's get straight back to it shall we?

While it was still suitable for the kiddies (that never, ever changed) it did give us some big meaty reading every month and I do remember sitting down and really sinking my teeth into each of these monster comics and especially loving such pages as this next one.  With more room to play with the Charlie Brooker-scripted multiple choice quizzes could now really stretch their muscles.  Accompanied by some great Steve Gibson artwork just as they were in their much smaller guise in the weekly comic, it's time for us all to take a deep breath and assess our health.  A very serious topic that.  Well it would be normally:


GBH were still with us thankfully and Charlie continues with this next page too, writing a great new ad for the swindling conmen and their brand new investment scheme.  The photos are supplied by Jim Gallagher of the clan Gallagher, the same bloodline as Patrick.

Charlie's work is so prolific in these issues he'd really hit his stride early for a kid still in school when he started out.  I can only guess at the time of writing that by now he'd finished his education (at least for a while at least) and was working substantially for Oink!, as each and every issue was jammed with pages he'd written, or drawn or both!  No wonder he went on to such fame, he was a hard worker right from the off and had a great testing ground and place to develop his humour and style right here.  These days it's still great to hear of how new writers and artists are breaking into the action comics world via 2000AD, such a shame we don't have an independent title such as Oink! anymore where the same could happen for humour comics in a creator-owned environment with such wonderful mentors.

What a blast to start off your career this way (and no I don't mean this way below!):


The next strip comes to us from the lovely sunny climes of the Bahamas, home to Oink! writer (and by now photographer) Graham Exton.  Back in issue #61 we saw Graham appear alongside editor/writer Mark Rodgers in a special double-page photo Madvertisement for GBH when Mark and his partner Helen Jones vacationed there.  It'd be a crying shame to only do the one thing for the comic with all that lush scenery wouldn't it?

Well here we are then with a photo story taken on one of the tropical beaches in what could only have been paradise, with Helen and Mark appearing alongside each other!  It's great to see the two of them together in the same strip, making the ending even funnier nowadays when I know who these two people actually are and of their relationship.  Brilliant stuff.  Coupled with Graham's writing it makes for a very special one-off strip which I just had to share with my fellow pig pals:


Helen has been wonderful on the Facebook group and also with myself personally for the blog in sharing some lovely stories of Mark and the rest of the Oink! team - it always sounds like such a crazy, wild and incredibly fun time.  Of course this translated over into the feel and comedy in Oink! and the end product was simply the greatest comic I've ever read and by far the funniest.  Even though many of them never met each other, the more stories I hear from the likes of Helen and the creative team the more it feels like they were still one big family.

There really has been nothing else like it, has there?

Just before we finish off I've got a couple of the smaller strips to share just to show how the comic hadn't really changed that much to us regular readers.  We'd been with it all the way through, seeing it evolve and develop slowly for the most part (as all comics and magazines do), so even though this had been a big, sudden change, for me at the time it'd simply been a slightly larger evolution and was still the same old Oink! I had always loved.  I was sure it would carry on and on and on, and would evolve again in its new monthly guise (which we do see over these six months) and could even change again in the future.  The only constant in life is change after all.  So Oink! had transformed and would do so again in its long life, changing with the times as it were.

A nice thought.

But anyway, here's a wee Rotten Rhyme of the more traditional type from Kev F before I tell you about the one I mentioned above:


So what was so different about the other one?  Well in a Rotten Rhymes for Modern Times we had a full page drawing from Ed McHenry of Humpty Dumpty on his wall, surrounded by kids eager to make him into a chocolate Easter present.  Called Humpty Dumpty by Hans Christian Sociologist it went like this:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
He was caught by surprise by some clever young muggers
He didn't realise kids could be such... anti-social juvenile delinquents displaying hostile tendencies aggravated by deprived backgrounds and squalid environmental conditions.

Don't get me wrong, Mark Rodgers comes up trumps but I do recall it going over my head somewhat as a child and not really getting the humour involved.  Nowadays I do of course, but back then I did find silly-looking dinosaurs funnier:

by Marc Riley

Still have that fascination with dinosaurs to this day, hence me planning a third trip to Jurassic World this weekend.  Don't think Chris Platt would approve of the attire though for his raptor pack.

Elsewhere in this issue if you can pick it up (though these are more rare and harder to find) Tom Thug is planning on leaving school and getting ready for the big bad world in one of two strips (plus there's a double-page Pete), the team of Charlie Brooker and Jim Gallagher take on Smashed Hits, there's the first mention of the Oink! books Crackling Tales (which I'll cover at a later point) in the form of a competition, Simon Thorpe adds to his ever-growing collection of Oink! movie posters with "Butcher" Dungdee, the reprints go up to four pages with the next two Oink! Superstar Posters and the classic Watery Down, and Kev F makes going for coffee in a proper coffee shop hilarious even to this day!

So here we are again at the end of another massive monthly edition and this is just the beginning of the treats in store as the team sink their teeth into the new Oink!  The early deadlines are no longer an issue - the results of the writers and artists shifting focus to the bigger comic finally comes to the actual pages - and boy are you in for a fun time in just four weeks:


Yes that's right they've returned!  Did you think their second adventure was their last?  Nope, they're back and every single part of their adventure is spread like lard across the pages of the one issue!  So don't dare miss a bulging new post when #65 goes on sale on Thursday 16th July.

Before then there's a couple of great bits of NEW OINK! MATERIAL news this weekend and then the second part of Beyond Oink! next Wednesday.  So I'll definitely see you very soon.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

HOLIDAY SPECIAL #2 (PART TWO): BACK BY PLOPULAR DEMAND



Welcome back to the second half of the 1988 Oink! Holiday Special and finally I can show you this amazing wraparound cover poster from ace illustrator Paul Sample.  It goes right around the stapled spine so you'll have to excuse the fact there's a few millimetres missing in the middle there, but what a fantastic treat for trotters to hold when picking this up from newsagent shelves.  I'm sure it attracted plenty of new readers too!

Going back over the first half again and then reading these twenty-four pages it's quite startling how much had changed since the previous year's special, with much more in the way of one-off strips and less from our regular favourites.  Don't get me wrong we all loved the random nature of Oink!, but since the weeklies its contents had certainly shifted focus and not even the additional pages of this or the monthly title saw the return of more regulars.  The monthlies would see the extra page count being taken advantage of with much larger strips to savour, but this special feels much more Mad-like with its focus.

Contrary to popular belief it was Mad magazine which inspired Mark Rodgers in coming up with Oink! in the first place and not Viz.  But Oink! had carved its own identity from the very first issue and worked hard at it, but now it definitely had the feel, as I said above, of more following the trend of the random titles which had appeared in its wake rather than leading the way.  Now, when I say that I just mean in its general quantity of contents of course, it was still miles ahead with the quality of said contents!

Mentioning the high quality of the strips, this is a perfect time to show all you Haldane fans this very special page.  As highlighted last time, the creative team were taking a little quarter-page each to tell us a bit about themselves in their typical fashion.  Indeed, while it's all written for a laugh and completely fictional, what they chose for their profile could possibly give us some real insight into them!  David certainly sees himself as a somewhat adventurous chap that's for sure!

His panel is sandwiched between two of his own strips, Zootown and Torture Twins, making a delightful page for his fans:


But wait, no Rubbish Man?  Actually, no, he seems to have been one of the casualties in the reduction of pages to the weekly comic and with this special following on from them (released when the comic was in that phase of its lifetime) he's also conspicuous by him absence here.  But!  Ah, but... that doesn't mean we've seen the last of him by any means.  In fact how does a multi-page strip and a superb Rubbish Man cover sound?  Keep tuned to the blog this autumn then, you smelly fans.

A couple of the writer/artists to contribute profiles this time round are Marc Riley and Ed McHenry.  With Oink! from the very beginning, Marc's musical career would see him jetting off to the United States around this time, so while his strips remained in every issue they were normally only a quarter of a page and written by others such as Mark Rodgers.  I have to say though, Harry the Head certainly suited the quick gag format and was at his best around this time, featuring on quite a few pages in this special too.

Ed was as prolific as ever though and in the first half of this special he brought us a wonderful double-page spread of one of his much-loved Oink! quizzes.  Below then are how both of these long-term Oink! contributors saw themselves in 1988, with Ed in particular looking to be in the sort of mess I always assumed all cartoonists get into.  Am I wrong?:



Now I've gone on at some length during the regular comics about the sad, sad demise of probably my favourite comics character of all time - Hadrian Vile and his diary.  Only appearing in a series of back pages where he'd give his guide to various forms of television in recent weekly issues, then disappearing for good apart from a surprise additional strip in #63, I was so pleased to turn a page in this special and see him back on form with a page the likes of which would've been a nice change of format for one issue during his regular diary strip.

But alas as it stands here it's a final fond farewell instead.  Mark Rodgers and Ian Jackson would've created this page while his strip was still in every single issue of the comic and so wouldn't have known they were innocently creating what would be our final encounter with the little loveable brat.  In fact Ian's work was largely absent from the regular Oink! at this point, and asides from an edition of the monthlies yet to come the artist who many saw as "Oink!" was no longer penning much for the comic he helped so much to create the style of in the first place.

Such a shame and a huge loss to the ongoing title and at the moment I'm not sure why this was the case.  But for now let's not get bogged down with that depressing fact and instead enjoy this great little collection of holiday snaps from Hadrian and his ever-tortured family:


When building up to the first part of this special I announced how a certain 2000AD character would get the spoof treatment yet again from our favourite comic, but it's actually only now that we get around to seeing the number one law enforcement officer of the future finally meet his real match.

Has Oink! shown him getting reunited with his evil brother Rico?  Has he been forced out into the Cursed Earth again to face muties and rats surfing on bits of rock?  (Seriously, that happened.)  Or has another apocalypse befallen Mega City One?

That latter one is the closest to the truth as one certain little old biddy meets Judge Dredd completely by accident, courtesy of David Leach:


I'll have to share this post on the forums over at Rebellion's 2000AD site, they'll love that!  Speaking of which, if you're a reader of the Galaxy's (Second) Greatest Comic and take part in the discussions over there you'll find me in the parts of the forum dedicated to the actual comics under the name of JudgeOiNK!, though if you'd spotted that name and the attached avatar you may have already guessed it was me, to be fair.

While this comic has the classic Oink! logo and would still have been on the shelves at this point, the monthly issues had begun and brought with them not just a different title banner but also more changes to the make up of the contents, which had already changed so much since the fortnightlies.  One sad omission from #63 onwards was Jeremy Banx.

I don't just mean less of his strips appearing such as Mr Big Nose not coming to the weekly comic, I mean the fact there was simply nothing from him at all!  No big noses, no smelly aliens, no wonderful one-shots with cursed mummies or stuffed children.  Zip.  Zero.  Zed.  Nothing.  It's almost heartbreaking (I'm sure I've said that a bit too much recently) and is another string to the bow of those who dismiss the monthlies so readily these days.  I can see their point in that it became a very different comic, but it was still good fun.  But... on the other hand the absence of a lot of the favourite characters and contributors is a hard one to take during this run-through.

Burp was a huge fan favourite - that part is an indisputable fact - so having him just suddenly stop is a very strange thing to happen indeed.  I'm sure there were reasons for Jeremy no longer working on the comic but they're unknown at the exact time of writing this.  Burp and Banx fans can rejoice now, however, with a brand new (at the time) two-page strip which sees him at his sometimes-surreal, sometimes-gory, sometimes-strange, but also funny best:


Burp wasn't done with Oink! yet however.  Thankfully, just like these specials, the deadlines for annuals are set a long time before publication.  We've seen parts of the first annual appear a full seven months before it was published and the second annual would also have the classic logo even though it came out during the new-look comic's days.  What this means is that while he was no longer a cartoonist for the regular Oink!, Banx's alien would reappear once more in The Oink! Book 1989 in a huge, epic tale which I've alluded to before many times as a personal favourite.

The bad news of course is that as of the day of writing this post you've got one-hundred and ninety-four days to wait until you see it.  Oh well, he's worth the wait, particularly for me!

Rounding off the special is the second of two Grunts sections and one reader had taken to sending in a certain newspaper clipping with none other than an original Oink! creator standing beside someone everyone in the United Kingdom would recognise.  As well as some politician:


The Smokebusters Special had appeared at this stage in schools in the north of England but unfortunately it's a very rare thing to get a hold of these days, usually selling for sums which are just too far beyond my pay level, but I have faith that it'll be added to the blog at some stage.  Just as I have faith I'll one day be able to sip my Wispa Hot Chocolate from that Oink! mug I treasured so much.

There's a very interesting story behind the Smokebusters edition which will appear in print at another time, but for now how about we tail off this post with how that Patrick Gallagher person above described himself in great detail in his own profile:


With that the second Oink! Holiday Special comes to a close.  Five monthly issues, two more summer specials, a winter special and one annual to go folks, all jam-packed with quality but not much left to cover so don't miss anything; place a regular order at your computer or iPad now!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

BEYOND OINK! 1: THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE & FRIENDS

<< GO TO INTRODUCTION

Okay so that may not have been the title you expected to see as being the first one Oink! led me to.  After all, Oink! was aimed originally right at my age group, 8 to 13 year olds, while Thomas the Tank was definitely meant to be read by those a couple of years younger.  But there's a reason:


This is a common sight even to this day in my hometown of Whitehead where the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland have their headquarters.  Growing up and being exposed to this every weekend of the summer blew my mind as a young child and I fell in love with them and the books about trains with faces on sale in the gift shop.  Those books were The Railway Series by the Rev W. Awdry, a series which would eventually become Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends on TV.

I was obsessed.  Big time obsessed.  I had every last piece of merchandise my parents (and Santa) could get their hands on - including those finely detailed Hornby electric sets - and the most common sounds from my family home became that slightly out-of-tune theme music and the voice of Ringo Starr.  I had a huge collection of books too, like the Ladybird Tell-A-Tale ones which came with cassettes, I'd all the Grandreams annuals and of course most of The Railway Series itself.  But even though the programme started and became an instant phenomenon in September 1984 it wasn't until October 1987 that it became its own fortnightly comic.

It fell to Marvel UK believe it or not, known for its action series, to release the title onto the shelves.  I can still remember innocently walking down to Clark's newsagents in Whitehead to get my Oink!, I walked in front of the dozens and dozens of comics (remember those days?) to see if it was there and then stopped suddenly.  There was a new comic on the shelves and I jumped for joy!:


I grabbed my Oink! from the newsagent who had it behind the counter for me, ran home and told my mum who dutifully gave me 35p and I instantly ran all the way to the shop and back again!  As I've said before, this was the same price as the thirty-two pages of Oink! at the time, but this was a lot thinner at only twenty pages and on much smaller paper too.  But it was full colour, glossy and of course a licensed product so did I really care?  No.  Though my mum might've.

These aren't in great condition by the way, I've only got two issues remaining and they were very well read back in the day.  This one is also missing the bottom of the cover as inside there was a token to cut out to join The Thomas Club and receive a membership pack, which I would send off for the second I got my hands on the required three tokens.  I remember the 'emblem' was basically a bit of shiny card (like a badge without the safety pin) but the rest was very high quality for a freebie from a comic.  Also check out that subscription for a full year - only £9?  Now that'll make you feel old!  (It's actually a whopping 10p saving per year on going to the shop every other week, although Marvel always used to do this and the big saving was the postage, delivered to your door instead of paying the newsagent for its delivery service):


I remember reading this and knowing it was a comic for a younger audience than Oink! but that didn't stop me and a regular order was placed as I bought #1, before even reading it (and wrote the reservation name on the top of this one myself to match the rest).  It wasn't a comic strip format but rather a pictures-and-captions one like The Railway Series itself, with the two main stories (for the first year adaptations of the ones the TV series had covered) being made up of four pages - one large panel for the first page of each story and four panels per page after that.  They condensed the stories further and were quite simplistic in comparison to the originals or the TV adaptations but I still lapped them up.  There'd also be a two-page text story as well as activity pages, a letters page and a two-page pull-out mural in the middle which would connect on to the end of the previous issue's.  This ran for at least as long as I collected the comic, running right around my bedroom wall:


(I dutifully ignored the questions aimed at the younger readers and just concentrated on the ever-expanding drawing.)

After those simply amazing models on the original TV series and the beautiful artwork of The Railway Series books, the drawings in the comic were rather basic but it was creating its own identity and world, based on those stories on the TV which in turn were based on the books.  It was after all a comic and a comic should interpret the world in a comic form, which to my young mind was exactly what they achieved:

An original illustration from The Railway Series

Some of the stunning model work I grew up with on TV

Part of the premiere issue's first story

I've found out while doing a little research for this post the person adapting the stories for the comic was a man by the name of Andrew Brenner, who would also take to writing all of the original stories from #27 onwards when they'd caught up on the TV show.  The TV series was so elaborate to produce that we only got a new series of thirteen episodes - two stories an episode - every two years, so by the time even the third series premiered I'd grown out of it.  But instead of adapting further stories from The Railway Series the comic went off on its own, even creating new characters and giving the spotlight to those we'd only seen briefly before, as well as having multiple-part stories which would run for several issues.

Interestingly I found this snippet of information from www.sodor-island.net while trying to find the name of the writer and artist:

"... at the time of season three of the TV series, David and Britt (Allcroft, Executive Producers) were under contract at the time that new Thomas stories had to be in print before being adapted to television, hence why Christopher Awdry (the Reverend's son, who the tales were written for in the first place) wrote (the book) 'More About Thomas the Tank Engine' for series 2.  Instead, the producers opted to "borrow" some of Andrew's magazine stories to be adapted as TV episodes - with no credit given."

Ouch.  What a thrill to have your work produced for the TV show after adapting its tales for two years, but to get no credit?  Again, ouch.

The main artist for the comic was Tim Marwood and his artwork evolved as the title went on, with his own style coming through rather than copying the trains exactly from the show.  His Island of Sodor however always remained his own creation, but as a child I was already used to it being very different between the original books and TV.  This comic was probably his most prolific work as he stayed with it for a whopping twenty-one years until he passed away in 2008.  He brought much joy to my young life and the bright and breezy nature of his Thomas world was a delight.

By way of example, compare the first issue's drawings above with the one below from #31.  The buildings covered in snow are delightfully drawn and coloured and Thomas himself has slightly different proportions to his previous, or TV, incarnations.  It has more of a 'comic' feel to it now and is still a treat for even my now older eyes:


I collected the comic for at least two years as I think I can recall #50, but there are definite issues I do remember.  One of them was the first special which was called Collected Stories 1.  Marvel UK would have 'Collected Comics' for its action titles for each season of the year, reprinting stories into one volume.  I can remember staying over at my nanny's house and lying in her huge spare bed reading over that first special, with its incredibly glossy cover (it shone!  Think back to the Oink! Winter Special if you ever had it) and the thick, high quality paper inside.  I can even remember the smell of it strangely enough.

As I've discovered throughout this blog it's the most random of memories that can stay with us but the final one for this post is an obvious one.  A fortnight before Christmas 1988 this arrived on my lap (Marvel always dated their issues with the release date of the next one, kind of like an expiry date for the current issue):


I started to read it on the couch, my mum and dad were in the kitchen making lunch and then they were rudely interrupted by high-pitched squealing.  This noise was coming from yours truly:


It wouldn't be the last time I'd see my name in print in a comic or magazine but it was the very first.  I can still remember that excitement and there's my membership number for that club too!  I carried that membership card
e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e and even after getting in there as quick as I did there were still 10,000+ quicker kiddies.

My two remaining issues of this were kept because they were the premiere issue of a comic I held dear to my heart as a child and then of course because of my drawing.  Both are very tattered and their covers have come away from their spines, but I'll never bin them.  I've had to buy a few other titles for this series of blog posts but for Thomas they were already here and always will be.

Now seen as a magazine, meaning less stories and more activities etc and cheap free gifts, the title still steams its way to the comic shelves every fortnight to this day courtesy of Egmont.  According to their subscription page the current issue on sale is #693.  Blimey!  Have any other licensed titles ever lasted as long?  Of course the series itself is a lot different now, when I caught it a year or so ago when my nephew was watching it was all simplistic CGI instead of those fine models, they all had different voices and they bloody sang!  But hey, my Thomas was the one when I was the right age, the youngsters of today love what they're getting and I'm sure it'll continue to evolve to changing tastes.  Though it's pretty amazing for this British institution to still be going so strong I have to admit.

NEXT TIME

That's my first non-piggy flashback, but join me again in two weeks for the second part of this series.  My next comic would appear into my life a short five months after Thomas began and I also collected it from #1, which was released on 26th March 1988.  It ran for an impressive 193 issues and was again from the Marvel UK stable.  I've blocked out part of the title here, I'll reveal all in two weeks on Wednesday 24th June:


Each of the first eleven parts of this thirteen-part series will appear one week before and one week after each monthly Oink! so it works out to a nice fortnightly format, though there will be one exception when there's a five week gap between Oink!s, but oh well.  So come back next week for #64 of the regular Oink! and, oh yes, this weekend for the second part of the Holiday Special!