Thursday, 31 December 2015

THE OINK! BLOG

A simple title for a simple post.  I can't believe I've completed the task I set out for myself back in April 2013, nor that I've been writing on here for a whopping thirty-two months already.  On the one hand I feel like asking where has the time gone, yet on the other it feels like this blog and I have been inextricably linked together forever.  It's that latter feeling which sums up this post.

I set up the blog in just a few days after having the original idea, to ensure I'd get the preview issue up on the correct date.  It was all very rushed to begin with and like many of my good ideas I was sure it'd probably flit away after a few months but I'd have a ball while my attention span stuck with me.  But it's still here and I've now reached the point where I initially thought I'd be ending the blog, with all the regular issues covered, the final annual written up and then the last three specials were also to be covered in a series of posts before the end of 2015.  But as you'll know by now those specials will be included around the dates we originally got our hands on them instead, just like the other issues, and the blog will be going off in a new direction in the meantime very shortly.

Farewell second logo... what's next?

It just became part of me.  As I've always said Oink! helped in no small way to define my sense of humour and was a huge part of my life when I collected it back in the late 80s.  Doing the blog I found a real passion in writing about it which in turn fired up my passion for writing in general, leading me now to what I have planned for the future.  Yes I created this blog, but I also feel like I owe it a debt of gratitude in a strange way.  It's redefined what I want to do with my life and the person I am.  It's brought with it a raft of new friends, opportunities and aspirations.  For anybody in my personal life whom I've met for the first time since starting this it's ended up helping form their impressions and knowledge of me.  It's a hugely important part of my life now.

I'm not saying it'll continue indefinitely.  There's a new project I'll be covering on the blog from January onwards and that will take a long time (maybe even as long as the blog has been going so far) but after that who knows.  Maybe there'll be something else Oink!-related to write about or maybe when that writing project is finished that'll be it and I'll be on to pastures new.  But whatever happens, The Oink! Blog means so much to me; it is me.  Wherever I may go in the future it'll have all started right here with that first tentative post on Tuesday 23rd April 2013.

The Christmas season is over.  What next?

HIGHLIGHTS

I'm not blowing my own trumpet here.  I'm not going to list the "best posts" or anything like that, I'm not that big-headed.  But there have been some occasions these past few years which I have simply relished.  Key moments which have been definite personal highlights of writing this blog and as I wrap up the comic coverage (and the first chapter of the blog if you will) I wanted to share some of these with you.

GROWING


Inside that first calendar year there were many favourite moments within the actual comic, such as my reuniting with favourite characters and cartoonists, seeing the comic develop its original ideas and feeling its confidence grow into the title I had so many fond memories of.  I had to be patient and not skip ahead and so every fortnight I opened up another 'new' issue and was delighted by the contents.  But the two above were my definite early favourites and I would still hold them aloft as the perfect examples of Oink!

Those very early initial issues were refreshingly rough around the edges in comparison to other humour comics of the time (and of today!) but when I sat down to read #6 I had no idea what I was about to read.  Met with what is still my favourite cover of the regular comic, by Ian Jackson, this issue saw Oink! fully find its feet.  It all came together perfectly and every single page was faultless.  I roared laughing on more than one occasion and when I'd finally finished I had a mammoth task ahead in having to select key pages, but it was worth it.  The Oink! team's confidence was sky-high and this seemed to leap off each and every page and the series gathered momentum from there, with classic issue following classic issue.

When I got to #14 many weeks later I was met by a particular You Are The Detective page and, after suspecting as such while reading earlier pages, the conclusion was drawn that this had been my first issue as a child.  It was an extremely personal post and changed how I wrote about my favourite comic, simply because I really felt like I was now covering that old favourite comic!  Each issue brought back memories of not just the strips themselves but of reading them, of key childhood moments and of family.  I started to share these on the blog, not really sure how it'd go down but I simply kept writing what I felt I'd want to read myself.  It seemed to work and the feedback I've received throughout has been fantastic.  By way of example on 16th October this year, two years after I made that writing decision, this comment appeared on the blog of Lew Stringer himself.  I was elated:


I'm not going to dwell on the feedback as that would make this feel too self-indulgent, but thanks to all who have taken the time to contact me via email, comments here, on Twitter and Facebook.  You've helped spur me on and I can't thank you enough for even reading what I've written!  Thank you.

ANNIVERSARY

After battling with computer problems which delayed any new posts for a couple of months I slowly started to get back into the thick of things and got caught up on late posts by the time the first birthday issue of Oink! came around.  It was when this milestone occurred that I started to get the positive feedback from both fellow pig pals and those who had made us into pig pals in the first place.  I couldn't believe what I was being told; fans of the same comic were really enjoying my blog and reliving Oink! through me, their kids even enjoying it for the first time by becoming regular readers here!  Then the professional writers and artists started to tell me how much they enjoyed what I was doing.  I got to speak to Patrick Gallagher and later Davy Francis on the phone, who reminisced at length about their time working on the comic; that was simply fantastic!  Lew, David Leach, Jeremy Banx and others shared their enjoyment of the blog and of going back to those times.  Then this arrived in the post from Tony Husband himself!:


I couldn't believe it all.  It was quite overwhelming.  To this day I still can't quite believe people enjoy my writing as much as they do, but the anniversary spurred me on and, nudged along further by my very good friend Andy supplying me with a brand new Apple Mac Mini(!) for the express purpose of writing (click here), I decided I was going to grab that childhood/teenage/20-something dream by the horns once more.  But this time I wasn't going to let go!

Originally I was working on a digital novel based around a story I'd sketched out many years ago but as the year went on I realised I'd already been researching, collecting information and writing about a subject very dear to my heart.  It was the perfect subject for a brand new book.  You may remember I mentioned it towards the end of 2014 but there's been nothing since.  Well what do you think the next phase of the blog is going to be all about?  Check back here on 5th January 2016 for more on this!  But needless to say it's the beginning of something new to me and it's all thanks to those few months around the time of Oink!'s birthday celebrations on the blog.

GOLDEN


To some the loss of glossy pages in the fortnightly Oink! took away from their favourite comic, but for me this was just the beginning of something amazing.  The issues in the final quarter of 1987 (or 2014 in this case) signalled what I called the golden age of Oink!  Every single issue was simply perfect.  There wasn't a single 'miss' in any of the contents.  They had that funky new look on the cover, some amazing new talent had joined in the fun, the subjects and extras were spot-on and my favourite childhood book was finally going to be read after all those years!

The Oink! Book 1988 would be covered over three posts in the Christmas period, I also got to meet Davy Francis in person and acquire some of his amazing original artwork (covered here), my book project was (at the time anyway) coming along nicely with the first annual as my main inspiration, and the blog had lots of nice little extra posts popping up thanks to new information coming to light from some of the comic's contributors.  It ended up not only being my favourite period of time Oink!-wise out of its entire run, but also my favourite time on the blog to date.  Christmas is by far my favourite time of the year anyway, but to have these magnificent issues and everything going on with the blog in the months preceding it that year just made it the most enjoyable of times.

Out of the past few years I look back at this time most fondly.  I had so much to do on the blog and had the greatest amount of fun.  That's not to take away from anything since, but this took some beating and if I had to pinpoint anything as a highlight of this experience it'd be those few months.

BEYOND

With Oink! going monthly for its final issues I wanted to come up with something to fill the gaps in-between them.  Initially it was going to give me time to work on my new project, but I didn't want the blog to come across as being neglected.  Initially I was going to split each issue into two and cover them fortnightly, or have an addition post with one of the larger strips a week or two after each issue was covered.  But I felt this would go against the original basis of the blog and so instead I came up with the idea of covering the other comics I collected as a child and teenager.

Beyond Oink! was born with good intentions and I enjoyed it immensely but it also had the knock-on effect of taking up so much of my time (I have little enough time to work on the blog as it is) that the writing project was put on indefinite hold.  But boy was it worth it!:


Oink! was the first comic I'd ever read properly, certainly the first bought specifically for me and the first I'd ever collected.  It started me on a path to some amazing titles and I had a blast covering them every fortnight over six months this year.  Researching them, discussing them with the likes of John Freeman and Lew Stringer who helped me identify artists etc., reading them (obviously!) and then writing them up and sharing these forgotten treasures was a delight.  The reception was brilliant.  I loved the fact these comics brought people to the blog, who'd enjoy the memories and leave comments, or even discover them for the first time.  Some of these titles had next to nothing about them online (people seemed particularly happy to see coverage of Wildcat for example, and Ring Raiders was a huge favourite of mine with nothing on the 'net at all!) so I felt an insane amount of pressure to do them justice.  But in the end I wrote as a fan of them and kept to the style I'd developed with Oink! and while there were plenty of very late nights and a severe lack of sleep to meet the deadlines I'd promised, I would do it all over again.  Great fun!

A highlight-of-a-highlight though has to be the post for The Real Ghostbusters (click here).  It was only the second comic to be covered and it was a thrill to receive comments from John (who had written for it) and others from the creative team.  I'd been thrilled when Lew or John had written a post previously when I'd launched the blog or it'd hit its first birthday, but now I saw my work being shared throughout social media by comics professionals, including those who had worked at Marvel UK on this comic.  It began a pattern for the following posts and it meant every two weeks I was in awe at who was reading it!

It'd been created to fill the gaps between Oink!s but ended up being a major highlight for this fan of these terrific comics.  Seeing it being shared and praised was like having the star letter in every one of these titles!

2000AD

I've featured links before to sites and blogs of those who used to work on Oink! and upon occasion when a new title by one of them is released I've covered these too, such as Jeremy Banx's Frankenthing and David Leach's Psycho Gran.  As the blog has run on I've even been asked if I'd like to write up a post for a new comic and it's always a delight to do so.  I've seen it as a huge compliment that these professionals would ask and send me review copies.  Me!

In 2014 the website for Dazed and Confused magazine got in touch as well, as they were putting together a series of articles marking the anniversary of Chris Sievey's passing, were interviewing Patrick Gallagher and were asking if I could supply the images.  You can read about this here.  All of this taken together I'm very privileged to be in the position where I can help and it's a lovely thing to be asked; after all I'm just a pig pal like anyone else, but it is a nice way of recognising how the blog is seen by others.

Thanks to Lew's Blimey! blog I'd started collecting 2000AD in September 2014 and very soon became a huge fan.  Through it I ended up meeting some new friends who meet once a month in Belfast for a few drinks and a discussion about the latest issues and happenings in Mega-City One.  As many of you likely know, John Freeman runs the Down the Tubes website which is a fantastic resource for all things UK comics related.  A fan-made documentary film called Future Shock: The Story of 2000AD had been produced but was taking a long time to get released on DVD.  As such they were doing the rounds throughout the UK at film festivals and the like, with Belfast's Queens Film Theatre suddenly popping up on their radar back in August this year.  We all went to see it and a day or two later I got a lovely message from John asking me if I'd review it for his website!

Again: me!  I jumped at the chance, as this would be my first bit of writing outside of my own blog.  Now I'm always one to say I don't read many film reviews and the like as I find a lot of reviewers quite snobbish, always rubbishing the same movies because it's seen as the-right-thing-to-do and an awful lot of them have closed minds, or think their opinion is gospel because it's in writing.  The last thing I wanted to do was write a review which was going to come across as 'fact'.  I wanted to keep within my style of writing I'd developed here on The Oink! Blog but also in keeping with the style of some of the best video game magazines I used to collect years ago - Commodore Format, Cube and nRevolution in particular.  There's a reason I mention them.  They were written in such a way that, while they gave a final score, the actual writing of the review itself told you whether you personally would like the game or not, regardless of their own views.  Basically, they treated their opinions as actual opinions and knew everyone was different.  They were fun but intelligently written.

I wanted to bring a bit of that to the table and for it to come across as an actual opinion piece, not criticising for the sake of criticising and not preaching about whether it was any good or not.  It was also to be a certain amount of words in length (though after I'd cut it down John did say this was a rough estimate, but I still kept within it), so it was a challenge I relished.  Writing a few drafts and then editing it down several times taught me a lot and I'm extremely pleased to have it in print on John's site.  You can read it (if you like) by clicking on the image below:


Or even better, you can now buy the film by clicking here.

No pun intended but this was a thrill, so thanks to John for the chance to do this and for believing I could.

In addition, my piece on the current UK comics industry (click here) was also posted up in its entirety by John on the Down the Tubes site here.  I must be doing something right!

END

It might sound strange to say the end of the blog's run-through is a highlight, but it really is.  Because I did it.  Under three years may not be much compared to other blogs but it's a milestone for me alright!  For someone with a bad attention span and who would give up on projects far too easily in the past, for me to get through it all is a highlight in itself.

But it was all rounded off by some wonderful messages from those involved in Oink!, as well as from readers of the blog and fans of the comic, then at Christmas I received some wonderful items from Davy Francis and Helen Jones as documented previously.  You can read about these by clicking here and here respectively.

I've got one more trick up my sleeve... or rather Davy does but we'll finish with that below.

Firstly, I hope the highlights above haven't come across as too self-indulgent; I'm not trying to say "look at me, aren't I great".  In fact, it still amazes me that the blog is as popular as it has become and that people enjoy it as much as they do.  I wanted to do justice to this wonderful and very important UK comic and I hope I've been able to do so.

No, these highlights are just a personal selection of my time working hard at this wee site.  There have been many surprises along the way and I'd been thinking recently about my journey from creating a fun little diversion with a daft idea, to what it's going to become in 2016 and what I'm going to be doing myself as a result of this blog, so I thought I'd write my thoughts up.  Okay, so that in itself is a little self-indulgent, but aren't we allowed to be now and again?

I never expected so much would come out of this blog and I have to say I would still continue to grow ever more excited about it and the opportunities it's created even if it were to end now.  Thank you for coming along for the ride and when you (hopefully) return on Tuesday 5th January to see where it's headed you'll see exactly what these highlights have meant to me.

Thanks again folks!

To end with then, how about a little exclusive strip from Davy Francis?

As well as popping round to my office to hand me that great Cowpat County piece, Davy reappeared the next week with the following page.  It's a funny little item on welcoming in the 21st Century, written and drawn by him sometime in the late-90s.  He did explain he wasn't sure what publication it was for originally, but it unfortunately remained unpublished.  Well fortunately for us, as The Oink! Blog has yet another exclusive new piece of work from one of the comic's top creators!

Enjoy folks and I hope you all have a very happy and prosperous 2016.:

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

THE OINK! MUG (INSERT LOTS OF EXCLAMATION MARKS HERE)

(Warning folks, this post includes a ridiculously happy blogger getting all excited over a cup.)

Back near the beginning of the month I showed you the prettily-wrapped box which had arrived in the post from Oink! co-editor/creator Mark Rodgers' partner and Oink! star Helen Jones.  I wasn't allowed to peek until Christmas Day itself and so I very impatiently awaited the big day.

I visited my parents over the holiday season, spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day with them and we've a traditional way of opening our gifts on the 25th.  We'll open our main presents to each other first thing in the morning, then go around my old hometown visiting my sisters and their families, delivering all the presents I bring down from the big smoke of Belfast every Christmas Eve.  It's only after all this and after the big Christmas dinner that the three of us sit down around the tree and open the rest of the presents from each other, the rest of the family and our friends.  So it wasn't until nearly 4pm when I was able to finally tear my way into the package Helen had sent over.

Not that these traditions stopped my mum from trying to get me to open it from the moment we were all eating breakfast!  The suspense was killing her but I wanted to savour the build-up and save it with the rest.  When I finally did unwrap it I found this delightful little storage box (which my mum tried to steal after Christmas) and inside it a mountain of bubblewrap.  A good dig about inside and I found a very well protected certain piece of Oink! merchandise I'd almost given up on obtaining:




It might sound a little silly to get so excited about this, but when I collected Oink! as a young 'un this and the record were the only pieces of merchandise I ever asked for.  The mug was treasured and used throughout my teens right up until I was nineteen, when it was used as my personal mug in my job at the time. Three of us were let go suddenly from that job and I never got my mug back.  Ever since I started this blog back in April 2013 I've been checking eBay for the Oink! mug on an almost daily basis and in all that time I've only ever come across one, but I saw a small crack on it and the seller refused to pour water into it for a test so I had to let it go.

I've mentioned it here a couple of times before and right back at the very beginning I mentioned how my own checklist didn't include any other merchandise, just the mug.  To quote myself, "Gotta get my mug back!".  I've also mentioned it once or twice (I may be leaving out a few other times there) on the Facebook group and Helen took notice.

Languishing at the back of her sideboard (Helen's words) she remembered I'd been after one and popped it off to me as a fabulous surprise Christmas present.  I know you'll be reading this Helen, so once more thank you so very much!  It was very kind of you and I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate the thought and of course the mug itself!

I hope you've all had a wonderful Christmas and that you'll join me again on the last day of the year for a look back at some other highlights of mine from the past few years doing this blog, before it all changes in 2016.  Enjoy the rest of the festive season.  I certainly am!:


Thursday, 24 December 2015

A VERY MERRY COWPAT CHRISTMAS!

So here it is, Christmas Eve at last and I do sincerely hope all pig pals are enjoying the festivities and that each and every Oink! fan has a wonderful Christmas Day tomorrow.

Before I head on though there's the little matter of what was in that envelope I revealed a couple of weeks back:


First up, last year Oink! cartoonist supremo Davy Francis of Greedy Gorb and Cowpat County fame, as well as innumerable other strips, popped into my place of work (we work around the corner from each other as it turns out) and left a fantastic Christmas card which he'd created.  I was thrilled to be one of the recipients and I shared it on the Facebook group at the time but for whatever reason didn't get around to doing so on here.  This was also around the time I shared on this blog the great original pieces of artwork I'd acquired from Davy, which you can peruse by clicking here.

As you can see below the card was a wonderful piece of cartoon art centred around Christmas in Belfast, our home city.  Unlike other cards it survived the 5th January cull and was placed inside a box amongst the Christmas decorations to lie in wait for this year's festivities, where it now has its temporary living space on top of my new Commodore 64 set-up:



This year however Davy has outdone himself and inside the new envelope was a wonderful hand-drawn piece featuring Giles the farmer alongside an assortment of animals and Christmas characters, and there's also a certain hungry young fellow joining in the fun too.

Thank you so much Davy!

I love this.  It may be a fan's wish to obtain original art from their favourite comic, but it's surely a fan's dream come true to receive an original piece!  My dining table retro gaming table backs on to my kitchen door at the back of my living room, so to show off the picture below I dug out a frame and made a proper Christmas decoration of it.  Just like Tom Thug on top of my tree I can see this being brought out every year too:



Davy not only made my day when he appeared with these two years in a row, he made my Christmas this year!

Once again I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas and I'll see you back here in a few days when I'll reveal what Helen Jones' mystery package is all about too.  (That's still a surprise in waiting for me tomorrow.)  Enjoy yourselves and, of course, don't forget to pig out!

Monday, 21 December 2015

THE OINK! BOOK 1989 (PART TWO) - COMPLETING THE (HAIRY) CIRCLE(S)

<< GO TO PART ONE


Well here we are, at the very final regular update in line with the original plan of this blog, even though this annual came out in August and many of us wouldn't have got it until Christmas, but you get my drift.  (Last year I withheld the book until Christmas Day and below I explain the scheduling of this one.)  We've gone from the preview issue all the way through to this second book and it'd be the last time we pig pals had regular access to the wonderful world of Oink!, with only three further specials to come, although we thought at this point there'd only be the one.  Those specials will appear on the blog in due course around their original release dates, but for now you may make the most of these next four strips because until next spring this is your lot!

Only four strips?  Yes, but as explained last time this annual is chock full of multi-page stories and one in particular I've waited a long, long time to include.  But we'll get to that next, first up we're travelling back to the Lewniverse one final time (at least until next time) and not only do we have Pete and his Pimple popping up alongside Tom Thug, making up two of the three surviving Oink! members who were now appearing weekly in Buster, but another fan favourite Lew Stringer creation also joins in just for the fun of it.  Well, that and to save the world, naturally.

Yes folks, Pigswilla is also back and this really is for the final time as he unfortunately wouldn't grace the pages of the piggy publication's specials over the following couple of years.  His final strip was a mammoth epic which you can read back in #66 and it really was an amazing finale for the Gozilla-spoof, even though we never knew at the time it'd be his last.  Such a lovely surprise to see him pop up here unexpectedly and even nicer to see Pete back to reading Oink! instead of that other title, so enjoy this one folks, as it'll have to keep you going for a while:


From that point on the moon was never made of cheese for me.  Though try explaining that one!

Right back at the very start of this blog, in only the second post I ever wrote, I made mention of the next strip.  Back when I covered the preview edition with only a few pages one of them contained the first appearance of Burp the Smelly Alien from Outer Space, creation of the insanely talented writer and cartoonist Jeremy Banx.  The character disappeared when the comic went monthly but I always knew he'd be returning to the blog at the end of the year in a huge strip (eight pages!) and one which was very personal to me.

To quote myself from that preview issue post:

"The last strip I'm scanning in from this issue ... is a character who was very dear to my heart, seeing as how in the second Oink! Book he'd teach me about puberty ... but more on that when we get to that stage".  At that stage is where we find ourselves now.  You sure you want to carry on reading?

Since beginning this blog I've had the pleasure of being able to chat to some of the wonderful creative team behind this most enjoyable of comics, Jeremy being one of them.  I remember mentioning the fact his strip had taught a young, impressionable me about certain changes to come as I grew into my teenage years and I think he was both shocked and dismayed, joking about how he was concerned for my well-being!

Oink! meant so much to me as a kid and quite clearly it still does or else I wouldn't be doing this blog in the first place, never mind after all this time, and there were certain things which stuck with me right through to adulthood.  Just like fellow reader Caroline from the Facebook Group I also sing the Oink! version of Christmas carols to this day, for example.  Well only a couple of years after Oink! finished I hit that time of life when changes started to happen and it can be somewhat confusing, and even though we all went through various things we never really talked about it with friends or anything.  At least, us guys didn't.  At around this time I decided to have a read over my Oink! books again as I hadn't over those couple of years (distraught at it being cancelled, obviously) and I came across the following Burp strip.

I remembered reading it back at christmas 1988 and enjoying it, especially the usual little Banx touches and the breaks in the action to detail the ludicrous weaponry, as they were such imaginative and funny designs.  But then, at the age of thirteen I saw it in a completely different light and simultaneously thought "how did they get away with this?" while laughing my head off!  I have a very distinct memory of completely erupting with laughter and when you read it I'm sure you'll spot at which panel this occurred.  Suddenly things also made sense and if Burp had to go through it, then so did I!

After it you'll either have a laugh at my expense or you may also be a bit worried about me and wondering how on earth that taught me anything:


Ah well, we can all look back and laugh at our younger selves can't we?  No shame!

See this is why the annual has been covered now instead of on Christmas Day and the days afterwards like I did last year.  I knew the Burp strip would be included somewhere and with the 21st being my own birthday I thought it'd be great to have it published again today after all these years.  But then I thought it'd also double-up as a great way to close the circle of Oink! coverage, having been referenced in the first issue to be covered on the blog and then included in the very last regular one.  So there you go folks, we've come a long way together and there it is at last, ending up as a rather important strip for the blog too.

The larger-scale strips in Oink! were always something unique, something which set it apart from other humour comics.  There were a lot of things which set Oink! apart, but even to this day you won't really see huge strips like these in humour titles, either in one edition or spread across several like The Spectacles of Doom and StreetHogs etc.  With quite a few in this book it gives it a more mature feel initially, as you'd normally expect shorter, more direct strips in books aimed primarily at kids.  As mentioned previously work on the book would've started a long time before the move to the monthly title, which did indeed change its target audience to a slightly more mature one, but Oink! never spoke down to us and was enjoyed by everyone alongside the main demographic of us youngsters.  We were used to these big strips and their more mature form of humorous storytelling appearing alongside the slapstick and quick gags.

The lack of those smaller strips is felt however and so we're left with a book which when reading it now as an adult does feel more in line with a slightly older audience, not that we really caught on at the time of course.  For example, this next strip is another cheeky one and would've sat perfectly in any issue of Oink! but here in the book, sat amongst the larger strips and the overall feel of this annual, it has an air of being created with more of the teen market in mind (and a smelly air it is too).  But of course this wasn't the case as artist Ian Jackson had all-but-left Oink! when it went monthly and he and writer Mark Rodgers had created it before that stage as simply something we kiddies would find cheeky and very, very funny:


It's such a shame Oink!'s time card had already been marked and that the book ended up with a page cut and the inclusion of reprints.  Filled with all the same random bits'n'bobs as the first annual it would've gone down as another instant classic annual!  As it stands what's in here is top notch and amongst some of the very best pages of humour comics work ever created in my honest opinion; superb scripting, extremely funny throughout, with stunning artwork and gorgeous colours, it's an absolute feast for the eyes if you can get a hold of it; a treasure trove of hilarious beauty.  It just feels like it has the makings of the perfect sequel to The Oink! Book 1988, one which could even have bettered that amazing edition if what's here is anything to go by!  But when you turn that final page you can't help but think it feels somewhat unfinished.  Such a shame, but don't discount it like I've seen some pig pals do.  Instead get yourself on to eBay and buy both - you won't be disappointed and you'll be amazed at the content here!

As well as what I've covered there's a series of Uncle Pigg's Barmy Butcherwatch mini-posters all by different artists, Frank Sidebottom becomes "clamboy" in his take on the superhero formula, there's a fantastic Rupert the Pear children's story spoof over three whopping pages to get your teeth into, an imaginative Psycho Gran where she takes on a Godzilla-type monster, some great Oink!-style puzzles in a double-page spread from Ed McHenryTom Thug also has his own story and there's the return of some classic strips in brand new Zootown and The Golden Trough Awards.  See?  Worth every penny.

Only the final inside page and the back cover to go.  It's been a blast reading those strips above, hasn't it?  But you're thinking this has been a very short post, when in reality it hasn't.  There you go, that's the book summed up perfectly.

But yes, at the end of the book is where we find ourselves already but two superbly drawn pages await, from two of my very favourite artists and ones who every Oink! fan adored.  Saying that, that kind of sums up this whole post when you see whose work I've included!  Last time we saw Uncle Pigg and the rest of the team, as well as Mary Lighthouse, welcome us to the book and there was no greater thing than seeing that Ian Jackson page leap out at me on Christmas morning back in 1988.  He finishes off the book with equal aplomb although those final words, poking out from Mary's mouth in the final panel, were particularly heartbreaking to read at the end of 1988 with no actual comic left!:


I've hinted before the blog is going to go off in a new direction in the new year.  I'm not going to be simply dragging it out, desperately trying to think of something to write about just to fill up the blog with posts.  In fact, the original plan was to shut it down and have it remain online in its finished state, but you'll find out on Tuesday 5th January what's next in store for the site.  I'm really excited about the future and I hope you'll continue to join me here to see something in particular develop.  But enough of that, for now here's the wonderful back page from J.T. Dogg and the truth behind that front cover.  Take a look back at the cover (it's at the top of the page, you needn't go far) and the background looks slightly patterned, wouldn't you say?  Well, here's the answer to that clue:


Don't forget to come back over the festive period for some extra pieces (as detailed here) and there may even be another extra post, non-Oink! related but one which I do want to share, something I received for my birthday today which I just have to let you see!  Stay tuned and I hope Christmas is continuing to be a good one for you all this year.

I'll be back on Christmas Eve.

Monday, 14 December 2015

THE OINK! BOOK 1989 (PART ONE) - OLD DOGG, NEW TRICKS!

Oink! comic itself may have finished back in October with its final monthly issue, but then in November we enjoyed some Buster-esque strips from Tom Thug, Pete and his Pimple and Weedy Willy and now here we are in December with The Oink! Book 1989.  It's all worked out quite perfectly, taking us right up to the end of the year with one final regular outing for our very favourite comics characters, kicking off with another eye-catching cover:


I can vividly remember as a child being somewhat disappointed the first time I saw this book in the shop, for a stupid reason in hindsight.  I was actually disappointed the cover was drawn rather than being a model, as if more effort had gone into the previous year's front page, but just look at that lovely J.T. Dogg art!  Young me really was rather daft.

I was always a fan of his work and it's only grown on me more with age.  I've spent a lot of time going over all the lovely details in his work on The StreetHogs, Ham Dare and those Oink! Superstar Posters from the early issues before including them in the blog.  This glorious cover is no different.  After the huge pig face from last year the second book definitely riffs on that idea but this time it looks like the butchers have finally taken over!  Could it be the battle against the barbarians has been lost?  Why else would one be front-and-centre and taking pride of place on the cover of Oink!?

There's the clue; this is Oink!  There's always more to it and just like last year the rear cover would have its own picture instead of being a copy of the front like other annuals.  Another clue lies in the picture above but you'll have to come back next Monday 21st December to see what lies on that back page.  The very fact there'll be another piece of J.T. Dogg artwork to enjoy should be good enough reason for any discerning pig pal.

For now though what can we expect from the inside of this book?  As advertised in the comic there was a cut in the amount of pages, down from eighty interior pages last year to just sixty-four which was a bit of a kick in the teeth when the other Fleetway annuals had kept their 112-pages, yet this was the same price!  Not that Santa Claus had to worry about price, naturally.  The pages themselves may be nice, bright and of a good quality shiny stock, but they're definitely not of the standard of the 1988 book and aren't as thick, giving the impression of the book being even thinner than the previous annual than it already is.  Also, in a cursory glance through it to begin with there's ten pages of reprints from the preview issue and the early regular fortnightlies.  As a child I hadn't had a chance to read any of them at this stage so I didn't mind at all but was still aware of the fact this meant only fifty-four of the interior pages were new material, only six more than a monthly issue.

Work on an annual will start the year before publication, so in this case that would've been right back when Oink! was still fortnightly, before the first annual had been unwrapped by many children on Christmas morning.  The logo is obviously the original and the last page on the inside where Uncle Pigg et all sign off makes mention of the regular comic, so they didn't know its fate when most of this was written and drawn (hence why we're treated to so much Ian Jackson goodness when he barely featured in the monthlies).  But there's a possibility a lot simply wasn't finished when the writing was on the wall for the comic and the three editors started developing their next project.

The next two specials would also include a mixture of brand new material and reprints.  Some make mention of the special they're in but there's every chance some were meant for this annual and were held back, so the publishers would have enough material for the extra editions without having to commission a lot of new material.

It certainly makes for a strange book.  There's very little in the way of mini-strips so a lot of the new material is made up of multi-page strips, alongside full-page ones which deliver one great gag, as well as a series of mini-posters of the most dangerous butchers from across the UK.  When you ignore the reprints (as this time around I've already read them) it makes for a very quick read.

But this is Christmas and let's not get bogged down shall we?  Because it may be quick, but what a read it is!

Uncle Pigg may have decided against chiseling the names of the book's contributors in stone this year, relying on more conventional cards instead, but when opening the book it was just such a joy to see the jagged, wonderfully colourful and uniquely Oink!-like artwork of Ian Jackson again:


Mary Lighthouse aside, don't they look so happy to be drawn by the pen of Ian again?  Even the plops seem overjoyed.  It's certainly a bright and breezy start (though hopefully not too breezy, the smell of those plops can get about a bit) and it's great to see the names of contributors we've seen very little of recently after the comic started changing formats.  We're still in for a treat folks, so let's dig in and I'm starting on the very next page.

Someone who hadn't appeared in the previous annual was Charlie Brooker and he certainly made a name for himself in the comic with not only some very imaginative and very funny characters, but also with some superbly crafted scripts for GBH Madvertisements.  Last year we had Snatcher Sam introducing us to the GBH Book Club but here we've got some hilariously bad props taking centre stage pretending to be some truly awful toys.  Well, it is Christmas after all:


I remember my sister collecting the Sindy toys when we were all a lot younger and one day it was all being sold on in the old fashioned way of putting an advert in the local paper and having potential buyers coming round the house.  Everything was laid out on the snooker table and she had everything from a house to a sports car, so when I saw this page a few years later it was a particular highlight of the book for me.

The GBH pages were always amongst some of the most imaginative in the comic and the time and effort put into some of the models, fake book covers, "toys" etc was great.  They deliberately look like they were cobbled together in a couple of hours but I'd bet in reality a lot more effort went in to think these up!  On this occasion co-editor Patrick Gallagher advises they were most likely created by in-house artist Mike Taylor, the first to be hired by the editorial team, who has featured a couple of times before on the blog.  The ideas behind GBH items were always highly original and, most importantly, incredibly funny.  Making terrible items on purpose for these fake adverts must've been a great laugh at the time and us readers really appreciated them - we still do if the reactions on the Facebook group are anything to go by anytime one is shared over there.

This next strip was a real pleasant surprise to come across.  Way back in the mists of time that was March 2014 a strip called The Spectacles of Doom appeared for the first time in #22, the Magic and Fantasy Issue.  Written by co-editor Tony Husband and drawn spectacularly by Andy Roper it was actually a two-part tale charting the story of nice-but-dim Prince Endor whose sole job was to be the Guardian of the Spectacles of Doom, a job he seemed particularly bad at as they'd already been stolen by the first panel.  Introducing Walf the one-eyed floating wizard and Slash the singing sword it was a superb spoof of the mythical quest stories of so many novels and movies that had come before.  Indeed, in the 80s these seemed to be everywhere and I can remember loving these strips as a result of seeing, and enjoying, so many of these sorts of films.

Anyway, it proved a hit with the readers and so Tony and Andy brought it back for a whole five issues and in colour from #38 where we found out that Henry, the mad optician of Bong had also created the Monocle of Mayhem, which provided just enough of an excuse for another epic quest.  Could lightning really strike three times?  Those two strips are absolute classics in the history of Oink! and surely tempting fate with a third quest would be just too much?

Pfft!  Have you learnt nothing from this blog?

Behold the third and final Spectacles of Doom with the same dynamic creative duo returning once again to thrill us, astound us and, most importantly, make us laugh!  Five whopping pages, all in full glorious colour and with a double-page spread that needs to be seen in the flesh (so to speak) to really appreciate the sublime colouring.  Remember last time how we were treated to a double-page climactic fight scene with lots of lovely little touches?  Well prepare to take in lots of great detail all over again and throughout.  Welcome back, Endor:


Ingenious stuff with a fantastic surprise ending I think you'll agree.  Brilliant randomness from the mind of Tony, all brought to life by the expert hand of Andy.  They certainly made a superb team and the only downside is that they didn't team up more often!

Unfortunately of course, contrary to that final caption, there would be no further adventures but he certainly went out on a high (mountain - boom boom!).  However, someone who'd appear here in the annual and would return for one further adventure was everyone's favourite Dan Dare spoof.

Ham Dare - Pig of the Future was always one of those very fond childhood memories which stuck with me all the way through my life, and was always one of the first things that popped into my head when I reminisced about Oink! or tried to explain this weird and wacky comic to others.  He's just the perfect example of what this was all about.  His strips had laughs galore, they lampooned the more traditional comics, they were top-quality stuff and the artwork was incredibly enjoyable.  Oink! to a tee.

His stories were also my first exposure to that particular style of art.  J.T. Dogg's work on Oink! is so highly treasured it gets its own section on his website, and you can clearly see why.  I'm very pleased to say this annual contains quite a bit of his work, something I was feeling a bit of a withdrawal from, seeing as how the last StreetHogs all appeared in the one issue a good few months back (and no, the reprints of his posters in the monthlies don't count).  Not only do we have the front and rear covers, we've also got two great strips and I've decided to include both in this very post.

First up let's get back to that daring pig of daring dos.  From the first time I clapped eyes on his premiere strip back in #15 I was a big fan of everything about them, however I'm surprised to see he never actually returned in an ongoing serial again.  I'd always had it in my head he came back at least one more time in a cliffhanger-esque fashion but he was kept in the sty until special occasions, such as last year's annual, this one obviously and he'll return next year in the Holiday Special, taking over the cover no less.

Another surprise when revisiting his strips for the blog was to find out Lew Stringer was the man behind the script, feeding J.T. Dogg the superb scenarios which he then took and flew with.  There's something specific about this strip which I needed a bit of clarification on first though and so I asked Lew if the amount of colour pages was pre-determined.  He told me that indeed it was and co-editor Mark Rodgers had informed him the first two pages would be in full colour, with the remaining one in black-and-white.  Normally a comic would just carry on and we were used to this happening in action comics, but Oink! could never have been accused of being normal:


Personally I think that's genius, the way the colour change is actually referenced within the strip.  While on the one hand you could ask why just one more page of colour couldn't have been given over to Ham Dare at the expense of something else, when you see the annual and the amount of great, wonderfully painted artwork throughout then the joke above is a wonderful compromise and actually makes it all the more unique and funny.

If you were paying attention and, like both the young and old versions of me, you'd read through the contributors' names being held up by Uncle Pigg et all right at the top there, you'll have become giddy at the inclusion of so many wonderful cartoonists and writers.  One particular favourite of mine who was mentioned but who I had trouble finding in the book was fellow Norn' Irish fellow Davy Francis.  The reason he's initially hard to find is simple; he didn't draw anything for this book.  Instead he wrote a wonderful festive tale with a difference for Mr Dogg to draw.

Previously Oink! had lampooned a very specific work of Raymond Briggs, that of his seminal The Snowman and it's 'Walking in the Air' theme.  Both have featured on the blog, with the first being right back in #28 in a strip written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Mike Green called The Snow Bloke.  More fittingly in last year's Christmas issue #43 none other than Davy Francis himself brought us his own interpretation of the classic tale, using the same strip name as Mark had.

On both occasions the fictional piggy author Raymond Piggs was part of the title and just as the work of one Ron Dibney made various appearances in Oink!, Mr Piggs returns here for Farver Chrismuss.  Even though annuals typically go on sale in the summer, they're very much geared towards being Christmas presents for the young readers and Santa Claus certainly had a great sense of humour in bringing me these Oink! books, especially seeing as how he was the butt of a joke or two in both.  While last year we were led to believe the jolly red-suited man was in fact wearing an inflatable body suit and underneath was actually one of the scariest souls you ever did see, this year we're treated to a more traditional Santa.

Well, I say traditional, but you've got to remember what you're reading:


I hope this has got you into a suitably festive mood folks because there's more to come in just seven days when, on my birthday no less, I'll bring you more highlights in the second part of my look at the second Oink! Book.  It'll also be the last regular post featuring scans from the very best humour comic ever, but don't be too down-hearted as it's definitely going out on a high!

The blog comes full circle next Monday 21st December and in the meantime I hope you're enjoying the season... and that Santa has his alarm set.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

SPOILT PIG!

Does that sound like an insult?  Because it's certainly not, as it's aimed towards myself!

Last week I received a telephone call at work from none other than Davy Francis who said he was dropping something into my building's reception for the blog.  Getting stuck on another call I wasn't able to run straight down to see him but when I did I found an envelope with my name on it:


What's inside is now taking pride of place amongst my decorations but I'm waiting to show it off here on Christmas Eve, when I'll be scanning in something Davy made last year and which I shared on the Oink! Facebook group at the time.  Trust me, it's worth the wait and is the perfect post for that day.

But then I also heard from Helen Jones who asked me for my address because she'd like to send me something.  I had no idea what it was and Helen wasn't for revealing anything!  A few days later and this arrived to cheer up my Monday this week:


Argh!  The wait for the post was bad enough but now it has to sit under my tree for another two-and-a-half weeks until I find out what's in it.  The suspense is killing me but I'll share it with you all after the big day.  Helen suggested posting about it, so I'm certainly intrigued...

With these sitting in my living room and the lights sparkling, along with only two working days left until I'm off for Christmas and having received such a lovely response for the post I put up last night about the UK comics industry, I'm a very happy pig pal.  Seriously, the comments on the blog, the Facebook group and those that have taken the time to privately message me, they all mean so much when I think about how I started the blog out as a daft wee idea what seems a lifetime ago.  I'm so proud of this wee site, so thank you all for the positive feedback.  Now get out there and buy a comic or an annual or three!

Speak to you soon.

Monday, 7 December 2015

UK COMICS: ALIVE AND KICKING (THE BUTTS OF TROLLS)

So what's this all about?  Last year I published a post about Save the Children's Read On Get On campaign, which focussed on how important it is for parents to ensure their children are getting at least the minimal amount of reading time every day.  The event was a huge success I'm very glad to say and when speaking with my parents about it they confirmed how much comics had helped me develop my own reading skills further as a young boy alongside my books.  In addition comics inspired me creatively throughout school and beyond, even if it did then take until I was in my mid-30s to take it seriously!

A quick look through any supermarket or the one sole newsagent we have here in Belfast and I see a treasure trove of titles for today's kids to pick up in the same way as I did, definitely an improvement over just a few years ago.  Add in the vibrant and exciting small press scene we have these days, as well as digital comics, and the potential is there for children to be enjoying comics as I did many, many years ago and to benefit from them in the same way.  And all that is without even mentioning the dedicated comics shops and all the imported titles!

Yes we're focussing on UK ones here.

Save the Children know the importance of good
reading skills (flyer from 2014)

The thing is, the British comics industry has come under attack in recent years from people whose main goal is to bring it crashing to its knees and put everyone in it out of work for their own selfish reasons.  They'll never achieve their ludicrous goal obviously, but they're the ones who shout the loudest, as trolls usually do.  You may have come across websites, forum posters or blog writers who proclaim the UK comics industry is dead, that it simply doesn't exist and believe-it-or-not they're able to word these things in such a way that some readers who think these people are some authority on the subject believe them.  And woe betide anyone who disagrees!  At the end of the day not only are they trying to put adults off buying UK comics but they're happy to try to take this brilliant way of developing reading skills away from the children.

When they do decide to "review" the latest comics they don't buy them, they steal them by using illegal scans (god forbid they'd spend any money of them) and completely miss the point, complaining about how they don't appeal to them in the same way as the comics of their childhood did.  They kind of answer their own complaint there, don't they?  These people are in their 50s and 60s and these comics are aimed at today's children.  Not that they recognise this, of course, that'd stop them from complaining.

They'll also try to discredit anyone who points out their falsehoods by claiming the only people who say the UK comics industry even exists are only doing so because they've a vested interest.  They'll say it doesn't exist and its supporters are only saying these positive things because they're getting paid by that industry for work.  Do you see the gaping hole in their theory there too?  Because it seems lost on them.

Nevertheless, I've no vested interest and here I am writing this post.  I'm not getting paid by anyone to write this blog and I can't even place adverts up (Oink! doesn't belong to me after all and so rightfully I can't make money off someone else's product).  It's the trolls who have the vested interests.

Why are they doing this then?  Surely there's a reason?  Well yes.  I'm not saying this is the case with them all but there's certainly some, the ones who seem to complain the most, who were either never able to crack their way into the comics industry for themselves or who did have a career but through their own mistakes, or unwillingness to adapt to the modern ways of working in the field, no longer do. They blame the industry for what did or didn't happen, even attacking anyone successful in it nowadays too, and claim the only reason they can't get work is because there is none as the industry here in the UK is "dead".

I think even Mary Lighthouse would struggle with their reasoning and their tactics above when the shops look like this:

Apparently none of these comics and comic-magazines
in Belfast's sole newsagent (Eason) exist.
Must be a mirage that my iPhone also picked up.

This is my local Asda, which is small compared to most.
Not only are there kids' comics in the big display but those
bottom shelves run way, way past that trolley.

These are also British comics, but they're in a shop in Malta!
If there's no UK industry how can we be exporting them?
Thanks to John Freeman from Down the Tubes for these shots.

But scenes like these don't stop them, so instead they attempt to argue their point when presented with pictures like these by stating a 'comic' must fit a very particular, very narrow pre-set format.  Taking their arguments together a comic must be a weekly humour title aimed at kids, with cover-to-cover comic strips and must be purchased from a newsagent.  To you and me that's just one type of many various types of comic and while it was once the main format it no longer is.  But wait, they go further.  On top of that they say digital comics don't count because they're not in print, neither do small press comics as they've got too small a print run and aren't available in a newsagent.  They've also said books don't count either, nor do graphic novels, comics featuring imported strips and all the comic strips in magazines such as Doctor Who MagazinePrivate Eye or in newspapers apparently don't count as working in the UK comics industry either.

See what I mean about trying to pigeon-hole what a 'comic' is meant to be or indeed what counts as working in the industry?  Ridiculous, isn't it?  If we took their arguments as gospel then my own childhood was all a lie!

Now this blog was created as a dedicated Oink! one, a humour comic packed from cover-to-cover with strips and I don't think even it being a fortnightly would makes it fall foul of their rules.  But I've also covered some other titles here both in my Beyond Oink! series of posts about the other comics I collected at the time and in the posts about new content from Oink!'s creative team.  Taking a look back at just the titles covered in this blog and taking into account these apparent rules it's clear I've been wrong and I'll need to go back and edit them all!

Who knew innocent Thomas the Tank Engine could be such a bare-faced liar!  Calling his publication, which continues to this day, a comic when it didn't include any strips?  These picture-panel stories may have been eagerly anticipated every fortnight but what a scamp he was to proclaim that on the cover of the premiere issue and suckering us all into believing it was a comic.

The Real Ghostbusters may have been here to save the world but can we really trust them when Marvel UK marketed this as a comic when only roughly 50% of it was strip?  Never mind about the hugely enjoyable text stories, the hilarious Spengler's Spirit Guides and the fascinating looks at real-world urban myths (among other features), they conned us into buying it!

Well now don't we all feel a little bit silly when we proclaim we collected the Marvel UK version of The Transformers?  With about half of all the stories being imported from the US those editorial teams must've had an easy time of it, only working on half those 332 issues, after all any issues that only contained American strips apparently weren't put together by anyone in the UK industry.  Who knew?  I feel cheated, I don't know about you.

Thunderbirds The Comic?  'The Comic'?  Tut tut Tracy family, you're meant to have been role models for not just us kids in the 90s but for a whole generation before then too!  Yet about a quarter of your high-quality fortnightly was made up of intricate cutaways like above, or fact-files, text features and Thomas-like picture-panel stories telling the future history of your family.  I don't care how enjoyable it all was, I now know it wasn't a comic.

In addition to all that, what about the likes of Havoc and Jurassic Park, both of which solely printed American strips.  The former imported ones we'd simply not had the chance to read on this side of the pond, repackaging them into bite-sized chunks and creating a fun weekly anthology.  The latter remained monthly like its American counterpart but cut the main strip into chunks and backed it up with other dino-themed stories such as the stunning Age of Reptiles strip as well as text features on the novel and movie in those early issues.  Both referred to themselves as British comics, UK versions of the originals, which required British editors and designers amongst others to bring them to the shelves.  Or maybe these roles also don't exist and the only people who work in the comics industry are writers and artists etc.

Lunacy.

(Oh and as an aside, The BeanoThe Dandy and Buster are usually held aloft as the finest examples of top-quality British comics, and so they should be, often used to back up the silly rules.  But in their early days they featured text stories, and adventure ones at that too!  So obviously these leaders in the British industry only became comics later on then?)

Comics in the 80s always had a mix of features, strips and otherwise, it's what made our titles different here in the UK and in fact when I tried some American titles as a child I found them lacking because they had just the one strip and nothing else.  Such was the way I was brought up on UK comics.  We loved them and, yes, I'm taking the mickey above with those pictures obviously, but I'm making the point about not only how ridiculous these rules are but also how hypocritical they are, coming as they do from people who collected these comics themselves or even worked on them!

But what about these rules of theirs that apply to the new way of producing comics these days?  How about those brilliant new comics the Oink! creatives have brought us over the past couple of years?

I'll have to rethink how I've written about this on the blog (for example here).  It's what's called a "digital comic" and I've placed that in quote marks because it's what I was told at the time, but now I know better.  It's not printed on paper so it's not a comic.  It may be cover-to-cover humour strips, it may have taken David Leach a year to write, draw and colour it all and be available on an app and website called Comixology but don't be fooled; it's all a conspiracy to get your hard-earned £1.49.

Now I enjoyed this immensely when it arrived in the post but I'll have to have a quiet word with creator Lew Stringer about how he's advertising it on his blogs.  After all, it arrived in the post!  It's not available in newsagents and even though it certainly looks like a comic in every respect, and a very high-quality one at that I might add, it was all for naught because the way I purchased it forbids it from being a comic.  Such a shame, but there you go.

It's weekly.  Check.
It's cover-to-cover strips.  Check.
It's suitable for all.  Check.
It's digital.  {Insert Family Fortunes' 'X' noise here}
Oh well.  So close!

I'm having a laugh with this but that's the only way you can view these rules and these people who wish to attack and tear down the UK industry.

Books don't count?  So all those graphic novels that win awards and get turned into hugely successful movies aren't comics?  Did our annuals as kids not count?

Comics aimed solely at kids are the only ones that count?  Then why are they even reading comics at all?  Also this means 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine also don't count?

I could go on and on but these are just the examples of things I've collected myself.

SUPPORT THE UK COMICS INDUSTRY

I haven't even mentioned the convention scene!  It used to be we'd be lucky if there were a couple of comics conventions a year in the UK but now we've got them nearly every single week!  Below are pictures from the London Film and Comic Con and the Lakes Comic Art Festival (2014) showing two very different events, of which there are so many and of many different sizes, taking place everywhere from large cities to small towns, the likes of which are now a regular occurrence across the country:

Thanks to Lew Stringer for these photographs.

Even Belfast has conventions now! We
never had any before now! Click here to
read Stevie Robinson's report from one.

Yes, the one on the top-left is a film and comic convention but it doesn't matter, despite the desperate claims to the contrary in some dark corners of the internet, who I'm assuming would even dismiss the San Diego Comic Con because the movie and TV industries now attend too?  Or they say things like it's only those fans of retro comics who attend because there's nothing for UK fans to see otherwise. Are you getting tired of these terrible excuses to get out of admitting they're wrong?  So am I, so that's it.

When you hear someone say "support the UK comics industry" don't be thinking they're saying it because it's on its knees or anything!  Go back five years and the shelves were adorned with plastic toys with a slim, badly-produced magazine attached but that's no longer the case.  These still exist but they're in the minority.  Many may be bagged and have gifts but what's inside is great content for your kids; comics strips, text stories, picture-panel tales, activities... basically, fun while reading!  Isn't that the most important thing?  There's loads out there for adult collectors like always (did we disregard Watchmen back in the 80s by the way?) but for your young 'uns there's a wealth of great stuff out there.

The music industry evolved and changed beyond all previous recognition with the advent of Steve Jobs' iTunes but maybe all those music sales don't count either because they're digital?  No, of course that's not the case, but it's the equivalent of saying that when these people state digital comics don't count.  Digital comics have allowed us to enjoy a huge array of completely original titles which publishers simply wouldn't have taken a chance on and have allowed small independent creators to release their titles globally!  Similarly the small-press comics industry, which has always existed and been celebrated, has expanded massively thanks to modern technology and it's easier than ever to get a comic title published this way.  Don't get me wrong it's still a lot of hard work, we want quality after all, but while the print runs are smaller (hence "small press") the large variety of original titles out there should be celebrated instead of being brushed aside!

There are loads of sites to read up on, my personal favourites being John Freeman's Down the TubesLew's Blimey! blog and the aforementioned Other Worlds Than These from my friend Stevie Robinson.  Lew and John have written multiple times about the true state of affairs in the UK comics industry and the vast array of goodies on offer, so save them and keep yourselves up-to-date, pig pals.

I believe the UK comics industry is in the middle of a renaissance in the same way as the music industry was when it embraced digital and in much the same way as the TV industry is at the moment thanks to services such as Netflix etc.  The magazine industry will get there eventually but the comics industry is evolving and changing, as any industry needs to do, it's finally starting to follow the music industry's lead and the British creators are leading the way.  It's a very exciting time.

HAVE YOURSELF A VERY MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS

So this Christmas why not buy a few annuals or Christmas specials for your children's stockings and support the UK comics industry.  Support it and then the people who work in it will be able to create more of what you and your children love!  The small people in your life may even wish to take up comics reading regularly as a result and, believe me, they'll thank you for it forever!