It was 1984, two years before the launch of OiNK and Lew Stringer was asked by IPC Magazine‘s Group Editor of humour comics Bob Paynter if he’d like to contribute to the brand new comic. At this point Bob hadn’t asked for it to be renamed from its original moniker of ‘Rrassp!’ yet (after seeing several pig related items in it), but the first draft of the dummy issue had been produced and it was slowly coming together.
Bob was looking for more cartoonists to add to the mix who could bring their own unique style of humour and art to the mix. OiNK was to be very different in every conceivable way to IPC’s other comics and they were putting a lot of money and resources behind its launch. As such, it was the perfect launching pad for those trying to break into mainstream funnies.
Brand new characters often take a while to get right and Tom looked more like Frankenstein’s monster in this concept than a school bully!Lew Stringer
At this point in his career Lew had produced some strips for Marvel UK and towards the end of 1984 would begin contributing the regular Robo-Capers for The Transformers. By the time OiNK launched he’d be a well known name to fans of those comics, but this wasn’t yet the case.
A “dim skinhead bully character” was suggested to Bob and according to Lew he suggested in return, “Perhaps his dad could be pushing him to be a bully to follow the family tradition, to inherit his boots”. This will sound familiar to anyone who has read the review of the OiNK preview issue.
This initiated Lew’s development of what would eventually become Tom Thug (What a Mug!) in OiNK. “I knew IPC liked puns on existing concepts and it sounded a bit like Tom Thumb,” he explains.
Previously on Lew’s personal comics blog he shared his very first rough sketches of Tom from 1984 and with his very kind permission I’m able to share them with you here now on the OiNK Blog as we look forward to the full review of #1.
You’ll see how the original idea was somewhat different to the character we all came to know and love in the regular comic. As Lew explains, “Brand new characters often take a while to get right and Tom looked more like Frankenstein’s monster in this concept than a school bully!
“Anyway, after a few more sketches, I eventually gave Tom a rounder look and something I felt comfortable submitting. Bob only wanted to see the strip in a pencil stage at this point, and here’s the actual artwork I sent him.”
This is the original roughed out page which showed Bob what Lew’s first story idea would be, setting the foundations for what would hopefully become a regular strip. Bob decided to rewrite the script a little, which Lew says tightened things up and created a better build-up to the punchline.
A lot of the content of this dummy comic made its way into the free preview issue. Remember as well that when Lew and Bob spoke an earlier version of the issue had already been created, so this gives an idea of just how long new comics could take to be developed, approved and finally given the green light for publication.
Tom proved incredibly popular with OiNK readers, including this one, regularly making it into reader’s lists of favourites. When the comic finished he was one of only three characters to make the transition to Buster alongside Lew’s Pete and his Pimple and Mark Rodger’s/Mike Green‘s Weedy Willy. Incidentally, Tom crossed over with both in the pages of OiNK, but he was the only one to last beyond six months in the merged comic.
He quickly became one of Buster’s most popular characters too, something which editor Allen Cummings acknowledged in a letter to Lew in 1990. The “Brats” mentioned here is a reference to The Vampire Brats, another Buster strip Lew was drawing but which was written by Mark Rodgers and later Roy Davis.
In fact, across both comics Lew ended up creating an incredible 440 strips for the “dim skinhead bully character”.
At the time some parental groups felt OiNK’s contents were a bad influence on children and even these days I read the occasional comment online from someone who is confused at having a school bully as the main “hero” of a strip. But he was never the hero.
As Lew put it himself on his blog, “The intention of making him the villain of the story was to act as some contrast to all the goody-goody characters in IPC comics. The idea being that the reader would be laughing AT the character, rather than with him, and more importantly to act as some form of catharsis for readers who had been bullied in real life.”