While the main event of this fifth issue of OiNK is the Unfair Funfair adventure game and there’s no theme as such, there’s an overall feeling of celebration inside, a celebration that the comic was proving to be a hit among its target audience. It contains the first contributions from readers, with a few small jokes and drawings scattered throughout, there’s a photo story showing us the kind of kids who were reading OiNK and reference is made to their letters in some of the strips.
Things begin with Mary Lighthouse on page two as per usual and something stood out in its last panel. The image of Mary and the words Uncle Pigg is shouting were definitely not by strip artist Ian Jackson, so I asked Patrick Gallagher about it. In Mark Rodgers‘ original script the mass of letters was meant to be hate mail for Mary but IPC Magazines didn’t like this reference and asked for it to be toned down. It was changed to reference fan mail for the comic which I think is actually funnier. You can compare the two ideas below.
I love the set up with Mary receiving three complaints and calling it an outcry. It all feels very contemporary. After all, that’s how The Daily Mail still operates today, isn’t it? This strip would coincidentally end up quite prophetic. While it’s obviously a joke, it’s strikingly similar to something the comic’s editors would face after a certain story is published in #7, but we’ll get to that later.
Directly below this on the same page is a character whose name is somewhat direct. In fact you could say it’s a bit on the nose. Mr. Big Nose would introduce surreal humour to the young audience in a way that really shouldn’t work in a children’s comic, but it did. One issue he could be showing us gravity is actually invisible creatures holding everything down, or he’d be ignoring an alien assassin by reading the newspaper, or playing Rambo in a school play of Little Bo-Peep, or having his vacuum cleaner turned into a dolphin.
Mr Big Nose’s strips followed no rules and the more absurd the situation, the more bizarre the juxtapositions, the more they didn’t make sense the funnier they were. With no barriers in his way, Jeremy Banx‘s imagination was on full display and this kind of humour would also start to spill over into his Burp the Smelly Alien strip in later issues too.
Appearing in almost every one of the fortnightly issues of OiNK Mr Big Nose would sadly disappear with #45, the first weekly edition. However, including specials Jeremy would end up crafting 42 completely different tales for us to enjoy, and enjoy them we did. That dolphin’s name often gets quoted by pig pals online to this day!
So as I said at the top of the review this issue brought with it the first contributions by OiNK’s readers. The regular space for these was the Grunts page but it only contains one drawing this time and some made up letters to Uncle Pigg from imaginary readers for a laugh. Soon enough it would be full to bursting with readers’ celebrity spoofs, photos, newspaper clippings of pigs in the news, poems and of course jokes for Nasty Laffs and Specs.
These two little panels aren’t on the letters page, instead popping up right at the beginning of the issue on page three. Rather than simply printing the written letters sent in OiNK would illustrate them too, which would just spur on the young readership more. Who wouldn’t have wanted to see their joke turned into a cartoon strip?
“You smell awful! You must be a City supporter!”Random human to Burp the Smelly Menace from Outer Space
Interestingly, OiNK also printed input from readers in their holiday specials and annuals, something no other annual I collected as a kid ever did. While my Marvel UK comics had standard letters pages answered in very entertaining ways, IPC (and later Fleetway) would often encourage their readers to send something different. Barrie Tomlinson, editor of many action adventure comics was always asking readers to contribute to a wonderful variety of features on his letters pages. But OiNK went even further and just let them send in whatever they wanted!
So who were these young readers, these so-called “pig pals”? Time for Terry Wogham to investigate.
Terry Wogham was a series of photo stories in the earliest issues where a real pig interviewed a series of top celebrities. Of course, we’d often only see these special guests from his eye level, so the comic could get away with only showing their legs and torso. For this issue though we got to see the faces of those interviewees, a selection of Typical OiNK Readers.
Like looking in a mirror. The strip contains all three of OiNK’s creators. Mark Rodgers can be seen wearing the bald cap and bandana with a toothless mouth drawn over him, then that’s him at the bottom left of the final panel, with Tony Husband and his son Paul behind him. Patrick Gallagher is in the middle of the back row, with his former wife Ann to the right (his left), then Ann’s brother James who was also an OiNK photographer. In front of James is his wife Alanna and in the middle of the front row is Tony’s wife, Carole.
So who remembers those Make-Your-Own Adventure books? For the uninitiated I’m referring to children’s novels designed to be read in a non-linear fashion, very much like the text adventure games on home computers at the time. At the end of each page you’d be given a choice of where to take the story next and the corresponding page numbers for each choice, the idea being to make it to the end of the adventure alive. For example the character could be faced with a spooky house or a haunted forest and they could decide to turn to page ‘x’ to enter the house, or page ‘y’ to walk towards the forest.
The format was ripe for an OiNK parody. Bringing the idea of The Unfair Funfair to life was artist Ralph Shephard, fresh off his excellent riff on The Transformers in #3. He would also go on to draw one of my all-time favourite spoofs from the comic, but that’s a tale for another review. His previous colourful style is replaced with black and white for the most part which suits the setting perfectly with its lovely feeling of spooky mischievousness.
Just like the books this was based on, the cover proclaims “You are Barry the butcher”, but surely that’s the last thing an OiNK reader would want? How can a butcher be the hero of the adventure? Read on, try the game and find out for yourself.
After you’ve tried a few of the options I’m sure you can probably guess what the note on the Grunts page said. To quote Uncle Pigg, “You are Barry the butcher … and I am the fairground owner! Whatever choices you make, you’ll still end up in the swill!!! Told you it was an Unfair Funfair! Hurr hurr hurr!!” Well, the clue was in the name after all, but it’s still fun to try out all the options. Even though you know what’s going to happen next, making those different choices just to end up reading the same panel again and again is the whole point and what makes it so funny.
Besides the blockbuster main event, other highlights include Nigel and Skrat the Two-Headed Rat, Noel Ford‘s weird creations who only appeared in half a dozen issues believe it or not. I say that because I’ve very vivid memories of them! New thief on the block Swindler Sid pops up in Snatcher Sam, Uncle Pigg brings readers up to date on Hoggy Bear‘s predicament in The Street-Hogs before heading home, and while trying to make new human friends Burp‘s breath gets him into hot water.
The final highlight I’m pulling out of this issue’s hat is Tony Husband‘s lovable character, Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins. To anyone new to OiNK the title of this strip might give them the impression of a clichéd comics character with one certain feature or ability that would be played for easy laughs. But as always with OiNK, created as a reaction to such tired comics ideas, there’s a lot more to it than that.
Horace’s strip would alternate between funny, contained stories and ongoing serials showing his struggles at simply trying to live his life. The early stories featured funny scenarios centred around his appearance, but never in a cruel way. He could scare off a monster by complete accident and end up the hero for example and he never seemed to lose his upbeat outlook at life. This issue’s strip sees his parents try to hide his looks from his visiting wealthy uncle, only for it backfire on them and their assumptions.
As OiNK continued the strip matured into an ongoing serial involving Horace’s football career. At times he’d get down about his looks, his treatment by others and how cruel the world could be, but he was a strong individual and we’d cheer him on every fortnight. His story even had a proper ending when the comic finished and a very happy one at that.
Whether it was intended or not, I remember Horace teaching me not to judge anyone by how they look, a strong message for anyone but in particular for a child reading it and getting swept up in the laughs and the adventure. I never felt lectured, never thought Tony was even trying to do any of this, but it’s what I took away from it and as such I believe he was an important part of my development as a child.
On that note it’s time to place this fifth issue of OiNK back onto the bookshelves and look forward to the next edition in a fortnight’s time. Issue six is the Animal Crackers issue and it certainly is a cracker! There comes a time in any comic’s early life when it all just seems to click, to gel together and prove its potential and I’ll tell you all about that moment in OiNK’s run on Friday 12th July.