OiNK! #20: BAY OF PiGS

As with the crime theme in OiNK #14 (my first ever issue), having a humour comic based around war may seem odd at first. But pig pals and regular readers of this blog will know we had nothing to fear because as per usual the team grabbed the subject with both hands, and actually have created one of the best issues yet. It kicks off with Eric (Wilkie) Wilkinson‘s brilliant front cover featuring parachuting pigs sneaking up on enemy trenches during World War One. I always liked Wilkie’s art style, it was unique and had a real texture to it.

He continues the story inside with a double-page spread as soon as we open the issue. The Forgotten Heroes tells the tale of a British regiment in their last desperate days before being overrun by the enemy. A cunning plan is developed to fly hundreds of soldiers over the enemy and parachute down for a successful surprise attack. But not just any soldiers, the army were going to use pigs! This is a brilliant spoof of the kind of strips we’d have seen in Battle or today in Commando comic, but beware the horrifying twist in the tale (tail).

I definitely didn’t see that coming, not in the pages of this comic that’s for sure. While clearly as pig pals we should feel sorry for how it all ended it’s a very funny picture to see the pile of sausages with the posthumous medal on top. Although, it could be argued the strip was also making a point about the pointlessness of war, something Mr Big Nose certainly shouts about later in the issue, as you’ll see below. Wilkie only joined OiNK last time and he’s already making a name for himself with original, clever and most importantly very funny strips.

In recent years to be a geek has become very chic. It wasn’t always the case of course. I was fortunately never bullied for reading comics back in my later years in grammar school, there was just some good natured ribbing. That’s not to say others didn’t have to put up with narrow-minded kids trying to have a laugh at their expense. For all those comics fans Lew Stringer created Specky Hector, the Comics Collector, a stereotypical comics fan who in this case gets the upper hand over the bully in typical Lew fashion.

Hector would only appear one more time in the pages of OiNK in a special guide to collecting comics but he would pop up occasionally in the pages of Buster after OiNK folded. As recent as 2020 he also appeared in the Battle special from Rebellion when this strip was reprinted in colour. Then, just last year Lew brought us a little update on Hector in a special piece of art commissioned to raise money for the War Child charity, and you can check it out for yourself by reading the blog post.

There isn’t a single panel here without a genuine laugh-out-loud moment

Davey Jones is synonymous with Viz comic and his contributions to OiNK were always manic, packed to the page edges with jokes, sight gags and the zaniest plots imaginable. There are three of his larger strips in particular which from memory are not only clear highlights of the issues they were published in, but of the entire OiNK series. The first of which in here. Called Bridge Over the River Septic it’s the (nearly) true story of a British army camp in Africa during the Second World War and their brave plan to capture a Nazi base positioned across the dangerously named river.

Of course, in the end the river is a quaint little jungle stream, complete with a delicately decorated bridge. There isn’t a single panel here without a genuine laugh-out-loud moment, whether it’s the looney plotting, the stark-raving mad general of the British troops, the caricatures of the enemy, or the multitude of background gags that surely must be a tip of the hat to the legendary Tom Paterson. (Keep an eye out for the factory in the background.)

My two favourite bits here (there are many) is that aforementioned factory and the brilliantly named General Von Manwenttomow! When signing his larger strips Davey would often label himself in soft daft way, sometimes even making a joke of his allegedly terrible writing talents. But his genius can’t be mocked. Starting off pretty insane, somehow Bridge Over the River Septic keeps building on this, getting zanier with each scene. It may only be a page-and-a-half but it’s so full of jokes it feels far longer. I mean that in a good way of course; there’s just so much packed into this space.

Other highlights include regular characters being inspired by the events of war, like Tom Thug building himself a wooden tank and Hadrian Vile assembling his own army against the local school bully. There’s a poster depicting a Wild West battle between pigs and butchers and The Golden Trough Awards parodies The Great Escape which you can see a couple of panels of below, next to part of a spread called Famous Last Words!

I’m sure most of you will at least have heard about the story King Solomon’s Mines or its central character, Allan Quartermain, seeing as how the classic book by H. Rider Haggard has been adapted into several movies, comics, television shows and radio plays. The movie I remember enjoying on Saturday afternoon TV was the tongue-in-cheek adaptation starring Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone and the ever-brilliant John Rhys-Davies. It was released in 1985 and a year later OiNK saw it as the perfect target for the next multi-issue epic.

Written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Ron Tiner, King Solomon’s Swines is a five-part serial and the first such strip to be drawn by someone other than J.T. Dogg. Ron’s style suits the story perfectly and to me brings a certain Tintin feel, which of course is exactly right for this story of a lost temple. The lead character is renamed Sir Herbert Quarterbrain and he takes his niece and nephew with him, who end up victim to all of the traps as the explorer himself remains unscathed. Here’s chapter one, called The Temple of Gloom, an obvious spoof on a similar style of movie series.

Funny names, clumsy sidekicks, pig-themed relics and the ignoring of all the danger signs as heroes in these stories often do, it’s a good start. It also stands out in this issue for another reason. I’ve mentioned before how most, but not necessarily all of the contents of each OiNK would follow the theme, some issues more than others. The obvious Christmas issue aside, this war theme seems to be the one that’s really got the creative juices flowing because King Solomon’s Swines is the only strip in the whole issue that breaks from the subject (the serials always did, for obvious reasons).

It’s one of those pages you could show to someone by way of describing exactly what OiNK was

Continuing right to the very last page, the back cover has a little moral tale for the young readers. The year after this in 1987 I received the 50th anniversary book for The Dandy and Beano. A large portion of it was dedicated to the comics during wartime and it was a fascinating read to see how they not only survived those years, but how they kept the children company. They contained rousing little tales of heroism among children which would connect with the readers of the 1940s, relating the ongoing war to them in ways they could understand.

OiNK decided to have a go at one of these. The result is Jim and Joe, A moving tale of War and Friendship. Drawn by Chas Sinclair it’s sung to the tune of ‘Two Little Boys’, but even if you can’t place that tune in your head it’s still a great laugh and a perfect end to the issue. In fact, it’s one of those pages you could show to someone by way of describing exactly what OiNK was, and why it was so adored by so many of us in the 80s.

That may be the final page but it’s not the last word on this issue. Before we get to that, I just have to say this has been a brilliant issue. With all but one of the strips keeping to the subject, while being so completely different to each other, it really shows the dynamic range of talent OiNK’s editors Mark Rodgers, Tony Husband and Patrick Gallagher had been able to assemble. It feels like the most confident issue to date and with some of the best themes yet to come it bodes very well indeed for some hilarious reading throughout 2022.

The next review will be of the Valentine’s Special and that’ll be here on Monday 7th February, but I’ll just dip back inside this issue for that last word I mentioned, in fact the last word on war in general, and it’s from Jeremy Banx and his Mr Big Nose.

COMiNG UP: OiNK! #20

Tomorrow on the blog the next OiNK review explodes on to your screens with #20, the War Special! War? As a subject for a children’s humour comic? Yup, and every single strip (bar one) takes the theme and runs with it! From a brilliant front cover by Wilkie and his strip about forgotten war pigs, to a hilarious spoof of wartime movies by Davey Jones and Jeremy Banx‘s Mr Big Nose to sing us out, it’s not to be missed.

Not that you could miss it of course, it’s not like it’s only going to be on the blog for a day, it’ll be there forever for you read, but I’ve digressed ever so slightly. There’s also the start of a brand new multi-issue comedy adventure strip with King Solomon’s Swines which is bound to bring back many happy memories for readers of OiNK in the 80s and for fans of 80s adventure movies!

Be here tomorrow, Monday 24th January 2020 for OiNK #20!

SUPER NATURALS #7: LICENSED TO THRiLL

After the festive cover for #5 and the fantastic montage that made up last issue’s, this Super Naturals cover by Sandy James is initially a little disappointing. But that’s only because of the comparison to the more elaborate ones that went before. It may be a lot simpler but it does focus on possibly the best of the evil Super Naturals so perhaps it’s a sign of some really fiery content. We’ll see. Inside, The Doll remains in its position as our first strip and the opening page includes this fantastic image by way of a recap.

As well as looking great, there’s another good reason behind this image of the doll looming large over the house; the little wooden murderer doesn’t actually appear in the strip this issue. Regular readers might’ve felt a little short-changed if his evil face wasn’t included somewhere, but quite possibly it was more to clue in new readers to we were dealing with. This issue’s chapter focusses entirely on Simon Wickham as he searches the house on his own, so this recap panel reminds us of the larger story and the implications of the doll’s continued survival.

Also, it’s just such a brilliant, atmospheric picture.

While the dummy doesn’t appear, this chapter has what is arguably one of the most memorable moments in Super Naturals’ whole run. Those caterpillars above make a gross reentry into the story just a few panels later as Simon thinks to himself that his chicken tastes a bit “odd”. Queue the following image which made me gag a little at the thought, I’ll admit. I do hope Francesc Masi knows how some fans reacted the artwork he produced.

Once recovered from this shock the rest of the story has Simon make his way into the cellar of the house after hearing a noise from underneath the floor. Convinced the doll is trying to scare him into inaction, he braves the dark and makes his way down. The floor is a sea of caterpillars and, after Simon becomes trapped in a crumbling staircase, they begin to crawl all over him before a cackling shape starts to rise up out of them for this issue’s cliffhanger.

Apart from the gross-out moment above, the main purpose of this chapter appears is to build upon some of the already established mysteries, such as the fate of previous foster child Alan, who is described as having met some terrible but undefined end because of the doll. Most likely in relation to this is the fact the Marshall’s cellar door is boarded up with several planks of wood. Simon has been told no one has been down there for years. Is this where Alan met his doom? Is this where the doll was trapped? Or originally found? A shocking but ultimately intriguing chapter that heightens anticipation for what could come next.

The additional features have moved up from the second half of the comic. There’s another one-page Ghostling Tale in which a scientist perfects some form of death stare to kill any living thing by looking at it. He kills his cat and several plants before looking in the mirror to congratulate himself, with predicable results. Serves him right for the cat. On Spooks‘ letters page a reader asks for Anneka Rice to be placed into the Tomb of Doom because of her continuous smile. But it appears Spooks (or should that be editor Barrie Tomlinson) is a bit of a fan. There’s also an advert to hype up the new Eagle and Battle weekly when Battle folded after a successful run of 664 issues since its creation in 1975!

A high-speed escape down a mountain on top of a log and coming face-to-face with a giant mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger

The Scary Cat Challenge has a lot to live up to this issue after the last stunning strip we were treated to last time thanks to Massimo Belardinelli‘s art. Food For Thought is based upon an idea sent in by reader Daniel Bridge of Hull. The artist is unknown at this time, although they’re definitely the same one who drew the strip featured in the very first issue. It involves a school visit to a life-size prehistoric model village and one of the kids sneaks off to rest behind some rocks away from his class on a hot summer’s day. We see this exact location in prehistoric times as rather clichéd cave people summon their god to bring them food.

Some kind of portal in time opens and they see Kenny Warren, our school kid. Initially thinking he’s a god, they soon turn on him as a trickster when he can’t produce any food for the starving group. They give chase and the main bulk of the strip is his attempt to flee, involving a high-speed escape down a mountain on top of a log and coming face-to-face with a giant mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger.

Yes, he really did just say he was always good at tobogganing! In the end it’s the usual scenario where Kenny wakes up just before he’s killed by the cave people, figuring out it’s all a dream before he spots something spooky which suggests it really happened. In this case, he still has snow on his shoes. It’s all rather tame after the spectacle in #6 but for the target audience it had a high stakes chase and big, scary prehistoric beasts so I’ll assume it went down a treat at the time.

The Legend of the Super Naturals is now in the middle of the comic and continues to build on the lore. Lionheart and Thunder Bolt materialise in England and Burnheart naturally tries to incinerate them. However, even though they’re in a weakened state from their transference (see last issue) no harm comes to them because they’re in their secondary state. Each character has their original human ghost form and their solid, real world animal form. In between is this “secondary state”, their humanoid shape but baring the features of their animal totem. It’s while in this form that they can unleash their hidden magical powers.

This is the most interesting of the various layers the comic has been adding to what the toys established, and it means the cool holograms weren’t just for looks anymore. No longer are the battles just simple fist fights and magic spells, each of their forms carries advantages and disadvantages for all of them and I just hope this can be built upon further before the final edition. The battles in this issue are certainly a step up from all that came before! It’d be such a shame to see all of this potential go unrealised, much like fellow holographic toy franchise comic, Visionaries.

We’ve also had a change in artist which I failed to mention last time. The first chapter’s creepy art was expertly crafted by John Gillatt before Dave D’Antiquis brought a more action-packed approach to the strip. Now, regular contributor to Barrie’s comics Sandy James takes the helm. Known for his full-colour covers and posters, at first I didn’t recognise the art as his, simply because it’s unusual for me to see his work in black and white (he also drew a fantastic full-colour strip for Ring Raiders). The solid line work, this version of Skull and the panel showing the Tomb of Doom (of which he drew a poster for #1) are classic Sandy.

Speaking of his posters, this page below takes up the middle pages and takes a break from the usual individual character portraits to bring us the evil Super Naturals’ vehicle, the Bat Bopper. Tonka were renowned for their toy trucks and the ones in the Super Naturals range looked they would’ve been great fun to have as a kid.

After seeing it munch its way through a wall at the end of last issue’s The Curse it’s confirmed here that it’s a sentient being in its own right. The ghostly face on the front was a superb three-dimensional hologram on the toy and I remember the adverts featured it rearing up on its back wheels as described here. As always Sandy has produced a very colourful, fun poster and it’s probably my favourite so far thanks to it being much more detailed than previous ones.

Moving on to our more light-hearted strip, Ghostlings. Drawn by Anthony Williams, Spooks takes up arms (geddit?) against the future human tribe’s enemies. In fact, he even gets a little bit carried away with all of the bravado in this funny moment as the last of the Crevice-Crawlers makes its escape.

The human Troggers still claim all of this was foretold and want to elevate Spooks to be their leader, to protect as they reclaim the surface. But Spooks knows he can’t abandon his comrades and so uses the fact he’s about as typical a ghost as you can get and disappears, materialising outside. However, he then has to sneak past the guards because he’s used up all his energy and can’t disappear again. This must mean he can’t even slide through walls (or in this case the rocks) like a ghost normally would until he recovers.

Initially I thought the cliffhanger didn’t make any sense (you can see it below). My first reaction was one of confusion, I’ll admit. He’s a ghost, surely the rock would just pass through him. But rereading his dilemma above I’m going to assume the fact he can’t disintegrate himself or pass through the rocks is the basis for the cliffhanger, as he could actually get crushed now. Of course the perpetuator of this falling boulder, Weird Wolf wouldn’t have known all this, so it still begs the question why would he think this would hurt a ghost.

I’m well aware I’m probably overthinking this children’s comic. But that’s the thing with reading these childhood favourites without the rose-tinted glasses. We may remember the wonder and enjoyment these comics brought and reliving those feelings is great fun, but we also can’t help but view them through jaded adult eyes. I think I’m right though about Spooks’ energy being low and that’s the reason behind the ending. I have faith the answer will be forthcoming in 14 days.

The final strip continues Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat‘s Christmas Day quest to find the Tomb of Britannicus in 19th Century London and unleash his dire curse upon the world. As I predicted last time the human soldiers the good Super Naturals Lionheart, Eagle Eye and Spooks find themselves up against can cause them no harm in their primary form but their Ghost Finder vehicle is vulnerable. They can’t lose their transportation or they’ll never catch or defeat Skull in his. They also can’t transform into their animal forms because they could be gunned down, but most importantly to Lionheart they can’t scare the men away, not when the soldiers have guns and in their panic could hurt each other.

In the end, as the terrified men realise their bullets are simply passing through the so-called “fiends”, their commander takes charge with a sword, only for a very apologetic Eagle Eye to grab him by the throat, instantly putting the man to sleep. He tries to explain to the troops that they’re here to help and he salutes them as he leaves, but he knows how fear and reason make bad bedfellows and so he casts a “Blessing of Forgetfulness” over them and they fall asleep too. It shows how they have to be more thoughtful in their dealings with us humans, not just simply blasting through in the name of the greater good. It’s quite refreshing, actually.

So the tomb has been found and as Burnheart goes to stand guard outside (knowing Eagle Eye will sense where they are) he leaves his flame gun behind so his leader can unleash the curse. We’ve seen reference to their weapons running low and having to recharge their magical energies in previous issues. It makes for a funny moment when the magical power of Burnheart’s gun runs out, leaving the all-conquering Skull and his frightful Ghostling quite literally left in the dark as to what to do.

The Doll’s skin-crawling moments aside this issue might be short on the frights but it’s been a really entertaining read nonetheless. With more being established about the licenced characters the writers (most likely Barrie Tomlinson and James Nicholas at least) are really getting to grips with them and it shows. I could easily have said the non-licenced strips were the highlights in most of the previous issues but here the Super Naturals themselves have reclaimed their namesake comic in three highly entertaining tales that have left me eager for more.

It’s just as well #8 is already sitting here on my shelf waiting to be devoured for the next review on Sunday 6th February 2022. A curse upon you if you’re not here on that day.