WiLDCAT: iN REAL TiME

OiNK launched itself into the world with a preview issue, something new for IPC Magazines in the 1980s. When its final issue rolled around (now published by Fleetway) it in turn contained a free preview for a brand new comic, coming full circle as Uncle Pigg sailed off into the sunset.

During OiNK’s two-and-a-half year run and 68 regular issues we were treated to a total of 12 free gifts, each one a special treat and this was probably the best of them all. It felt like my first comic was passing the baton to a new kid on the block, and that new kid was Wildcat.

After 11 years 2000AD had matured along with its audience, appealing more to parents who had grown up with it than the ten-year-olds and young teens it was originally aimed at. Quite violent by the standards of the day some of its contents was no longer deemed suitable for such young eyes. (This is something Rebellion have tried to counter with the 2000AD Regened series in recent times.) Fleetway saw a chance to launch a new sci-fi title aimed at 80s children within that original target audience bracket and so they approached Group Editor of Sport and Adventure, Barrie Tomlinson.

At the time Barrie was editing such comics as Eagle and Roy of the Rovers. The previous year he’d also launched Super Naturals which is coming to the blog very shortly and in 1989 fellow real time read through comic, Ring Raiders. But these are just a small part of his incredible career.

You can’t get much more shocking than Earth exploding, killing billions and leaving only several hundred survivors on a hastily crafted spaceship

Barrie came up with the idea of a storyline which would run through all of its the strips, a storyline launched with a dramatic, shocking event to pull readers into the concept. Well, you can’t get much more shocking than Earth exploding, killing billions and leaving only several hundred survivors on a hastily crafted spaceship in a desperate search for a new world. In some ways it may sound slightly familiar to fans of Battlestar Galactica, but it was in no way inspired by that series. Besides, at the time the original 70s version of that show hadn’t been successful and wasn’t known to those of us Wildcat was being aimed at.

Inside each issue we’d follow the adventures of four teams as they navigated our species’ potential new home, a planet found only after an extensive search. Each strip would be named after the team’s leader; we had research scientist and Wildcat creator Turbo Jones, the mysterious warrior Kitten Magee, former mercenary Loner and last survivor of his alien race Joe Alien. We’d also get glimpses inside the orbiting Wildcat in complete tales which would build up into a Twilight Zone-esque series of stories, often leaning towards a kind of claustrophobic horror.

The idea was we’d eventually realise this planet wasn’t the right place to settle, so the comic would move on to another and another, with an almost endless variety of different stories to tell. But it wasn’t only in the comic’s story that Wildcat was innovative, it was truly groundbreaking in its choice of characters. Barrie was adamant he wanted strong female and black leads, which we got in the magnificent Kitten Magee and Loner who were easily my favourite characters.

The team working on the comic included such renowned names as Ian Kennedy, Vanyo, James Nicholas, Massimo Belardinelli, José Ortiz, David Pugh, Enrique Alcatena, Joan Boix, Jesús Redondo and Ron Smith. Make no mistake, this was a quality comic and one I just had to have on regular order! I was allowed a maximum of four comics on my reservation list at the newsagent’s and in October 1988 these spaces were filled with OiNK, The Real Ghostbusters, Big Comic Fortnightly and Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, so when OiNK was cancelled logically I had a spare place on my list. Well, that’s how I was able to wrangle it with my parents anyway.

It’s heart-warming to see how highly regarded Wildcat is with comics fans young and old

I adored every issue and was crestfallen when #12 told us it was merging with Eagle comic. How could this happen again and so soon after OiNK’s demise? It may have been described as being for younger siblings in the pages of 2000AD but it never felt that way and never spoke down to us. Perhaps it’s marketing made it sound unappealing to older teens, which is a real shame because it reads so well today. But the whole point of Wildcat was to go after the younger readers who were becoming more interested in video games and TV and who didn’t have their own sci-fi comic.

It’s heartwarming to see how highly regarded it is with comics fans young and old these days thanks to its solid, layered storytelling and gorgeous art. Wildcat‘s legacy is solid and it’s about to join the OiNK Blog with its own real time read through on Friday 15th October 2021 when I’ll be taking a closer look at the preview, followed a week later with the first fortnightly issue.

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