Full disclosure: I am not a football fan in any shape or form. But that hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for this fourth issue of OiNK, released during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. It kicks things off with this Steve McGarry cover of Harry the Head being on the receiving end of said kick, however there’s not an awful lot of football-themed content inside, especially compared to issue three or those to come. This is fine by me.
Anyone who grew up around the time of OiNK should be aware of the Sue Townsend books The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 and the subsequent TV adaptation. Pig pals should also know where I’m going with this. It’s finally time to welcome a favourite character of many readers and one who would appear in a whopping 64 out of the 77 OiNKs published. With Mark Rodgers writing and Ian Jackson illustrating, this was the tale of a young boy intellectual. Or so he liked to think. Fascinated by bogies and creepy crawlies, disgusted by girls, he detested school and thought he was smarter than everyone else, although the most atrocious spelling ever to grace a children’s comic belied this. It is of course The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile – Aged 7 5/8 (yearƨ).
Before the days of desktop publishing this must’ve been very fiddly to put together but the end result is hilarious and was appreciated by all who read and enjoyed his strips. As the comic progressed so did his age, which you’ll see gradually creep up over the next couple of years. This real time nature was unique and at one stage his mum even became pregnant, actually remaining so for a period of time instead of having the sudden appearance of a baby sister to shake things up.
Alongside the diary Hadrian would write guides to a variety of subjects like “Tellyvision” and the “Orkistra” to share his apparent superior knowledge about everything. He’s one of the characters who pops into many people’s heads when they think back to OiNK and rightly so. Watch out for more from him as we go along.
“Each story is guaranteed to end with a bang. Billy Bang is pure dynamite! This is an explosive character.”Mike Knowles, creator of Billy Bang
One character I only saw a couple of times in my youth was Pete’s Pup. Remembered by many as a regular, he starred in half a dozen of these early issues before initially disappearing and it’s surprising to find out he only appeared in nine issues altogether, including one reprint. The monstrous shaggy mutt must have made quite the impact on young minds. Physically, he definitely did so for the family he lived with.
Pete’s Pup was brought to life by late cartoonist Jim Needle and was his sole contribution to the comic. A resident of Jericho in Oxford, Jim was a regular newspaper cartoonist and graphic artist, working in many local publications. His signature style was energetic and larger-than-life, much like his canine creation. Jim sadly passed away in May of 1997.
This issue also sees the introduction of another iconic character, even if he was just another star’s pet. Satan the Cat would sometimes get his own mini-strip under Tom Thug‘s but most often would be seen in the background of the main story. The Street-Hogs‘ informant Hoggy Bear is under attack from the butcher mafia boss’ plastic bags, Harry the Head‘s star turn on the cover comes at a price and in The Golden Trough Awards: Vengeance of the Gnome-Men we have possibly the creepiest set of garden ornaments ever, courtesy of Ian Jackson. Just a few of this issue’s highlights.
Billy Bang is another of those characters rhymed off by former readers when they reminisce about OiNK, but unlike Pete’s Pup he became a mainstay of the comic and appeared in almost half of the issues, sprinkled through the run. Originally created by Mike Knowles but killed by a variety of other writers, he’d later be drawn by Eric ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson.
However, in these early editions he was brought to life (and destroyed and brought back to life and destroyed and brought back to life) by Shiloe aka Simon Donald, co-creator and later co-editor of Viz and the man behind such characters as Sid the Sexist. The name he used to sign his work came from a band he was a member of called Johnny Shiloe’s Movement Machine.
In every issue something would make Billy angry. This anger would build and he’d eventually explode. Sometimes this would result in a pun, sometimes the aftermath of his blowing up would be the gag, as in the strip above. Inconceivably he’d somehow be whole again the next issue, just in time for the same thing to happen all over again. In lesser hands the fact this was the sum of his strip would’ve resulted in a short run, but somehow the writers kept coming up with new jokes for this simplest of premises.
Mike himself seemed surprised at the longevity of his creation when he waxed lyrical about Billy in a short piece for the Comics Bulletin website in 2015. UPDATE: Since writing this review the site has been closed down. Above is a quote from Mike from that interview.
Tom Thug fans were in for a treat this issue. Not only did he have his usual full-page strip (complete with the first appearance of Satan), he also popped up again in a half-page section called Play Football the Tom Thug Way! Using his usual powers of persuasion and his excellent football skills, Tom shows us how to guarantee success at the game. We all know that’s not really the case, but it’s always fun to see it all fall apart for a bully.
This marks the only occasion Tom was written by someone other than his creator Lew Stringer. Obviously Lew would bring it to the page but in this instance the script itself was written by co-editor Mark Rodgers.
On the inside back cover is possibly my favourite page of OiNK, period. I’m a little obsessed with sharks and their preservation, thanks mainly to Steven Spielberg‘s seminal summer blockbuster (and its 3D sequel) and the effect it had on me as a teen. To this day it’s still the perfect blockbuster movie, inspiring so many copycats and, more importantly for us, spoofs and jokes on the subject.
While I can hold up several characters as perfect examples of this favourite comic of mine, if someone were to ask for just one strip, one single cartoon to sum up OiNK’s humour it would be this glorious full-page, four-panel silent offering. Written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Ian Jackson, keep an eye on all the little details, especially that seagull.
I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at this over the years but it’s no exaggeration to say it still makes me laugh. It’s just the perfect example, isn’t it? All the incidental details like the fish blowing up its own beach ball, the noise made when it’s let go, the innocent-looking seagull circling in the water, the running starfish and the fact a giant white shark pops out of such shallow waters. The facial expressions, the jagged lines, the colours, all combine into something that’s so perfectly ‘OiNK’.
For the subject of this issue being something I’m not a fan of this has been an excellent read. Indeed, if this had been the first issue I’d spotted on the newsagent’s shelves when I was a child I might not have picked it up because of that subject! That would’ve been criminal, because I’d have missed out on some genuine laugh-out-loud moments here. On that note, it’s time to close this issue and impatiently await the next, which centres itself around a spooky Make-Your-Own-Adventure game involving Barry the Butcher and The Unfair Funfair.
That next issue is up for review on Monday 28th June 2021.
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