The first special edition of OiNK arrived alongside #25 and a fortnight before the first birthday issue. It was surely a time for pig pals to celebrate. An absolute treat, the 1987 Holiday Special is a “big, fat” comic made up of 48 pages and is chock full of our favourite characters and loads of one-off content all linked to the summer holiday vibe. It kicks off with possibly one of my very favourite comic covers of all time; a brilliantly set up photograph of a model clay Uncle Pigg lounging in his hammock, cooled off by critic Mary Lighthouse who, along with everything else, is a cardboard cut out.
It’s a piece of pure genius from Ian Jackson and so distinct is it in my memory I can recall taking it with me on holiday a few months after I got it to read all over again, the cover drawing attention and laughs from some of my older siblings. I think one or two of them actually read it as a result. Of course, this wasn’t the last time modelling clay was used to produce an OiNK cover. In fact, it would create the most memorable one of all, one that would be the face (literally) of what remains my favourite childhood book to this day, The OiNK! Book 1988. You’ll see that towards the end of the year.
The first interior highlight for me is a double whammy of strips featuring a character we’d only see in this issue. They’re written by Graham Exton, a writer who contributed so much to OiNK and who was instrumental in the creation of some of its characters. It’s barmy, completely ridiculous and so perfectly captured by one of my favourite cartoonists, Jeremy Banx. Jeremy’s artwork lends itself wonderfully to random one-off strips and he has a hilariously surreal sense of humour. Put these two OiNK titans together and you get Herbert Bowes, a man with a dog up his nose!
You wouldn’t have seen the likes of this in any other summer special on the shelf, that’s for sure. While OiNK would never fail to surprise us, regular readers were accustomed to the random nature of the comic and I do wonder what those who picked up the specials for a holiday trip, or who received the annuals for Christmas without having read the comic would’ve thought. I’d love to have seen their reactions and, if my friends were anything to go by, hear their surprised laughter.
Speaking of surprising laughter.
Back when I was writing the previous blog I took this edition to the hospital with me one day to pass the time in the waiting room before my appointment. I had a little chuckle inwardly to myself over Herbert Bowes and moved on, but then a few pages later something rather embarrassing happened which I simply had no control over. Billy Connolly once spoke about what he called “real laughter”. Not the “ha, ha, ha” kind, but the loud, involuntary noise that can erupt from our mouths when something surprising really hits our funny bone. Surrounded by a lot of very serious looking people in that waiting room, I was in completely the wrong place for that to happen. Then I turned the page and saw the title of the next strip.
I erupted. It was only for a second because I caught myself and tried to stop it coming out but it was too late. In hindsight I’d have been better letting it happen, at least everyone else would’ve actually known I was laughing! Instead, what came out was a loud honk before I closed my mouth, my body shaking a little from wanting to carry on. I have no idea what they all thought of me, I could feel them looking but my gaze never left the comic, too embarrassed to look up. I’m not one to care about what other people think of me, but I can’t help wonder. I mean, you should’ve heard that honk.
It was worth it though. I quickly scanned the rest of the special to see if there were any other surprises in store from this character but alas there were none. Graham and Jeremy’s creation would unfortunately never reappear, even though Graham tells me a third episode was planned in which Herbert had the Starship Enterprise up his nose. Despite this being a one-time appearance he’ll remain a memorable addition to OiNK.
The same can be said of the next little treasure, a half-page strip written by David Haldane and drawn by Pete Dixon, this being his sole contribution to OiNK. This is also the first time I’ve noticed the Rubbish Man and Hugo the Hungry Hippo‘s cartoonist writing for anybody else. I can’t help but read this while in my head increasingly dramatic music accompanies each successive panel, that final reveal never (never, ever) failing to make me laugh, no matter how often I see this.
Only in OiNK.
While the focus for me with this edition is very much the one-offs, the special strips and features produced to accompany us on our hols, some of the regular characters have some classic stories to tell. My favourite is The Hollyday Diary ov Hadrian Vile in which he, his dog and his parents head to the beach. Written as ever by Mark Rodgers and brought to life by Ian Jackson this is arguably the funniest strip yet for the eight and five-eighths-year-old and it’s a ton of fun.
It all starts off innocently enough. For once, Hadrian isn’t making mischief as the story begins. In fact, for the most part his intentions are actually good, apart from the outrageous lie he tells when those good intentions land him in hot water. So it begins with him spending some quality time with his dad, burying him in the sand as a lot of young children love to do, while his dad catches forty winks in the sun. It’s after he returns from collecting his usual array of disgusting things that it all takes a turn for the worse.
My two favourite moments here are when Hadrian returns to find nothing but his dad’s hat and the worst thought that enters his mind is being sent to bed without supper. Then directly below is that hilarious panel of a passing stranger frantically racing the tide to free the poor man from the sand. The middle panel of his mum standing with folded arms glaring down upon Hadrian would become something of a running joke in the regular comic too. As the other family members became more prominent we’d see this expression often and it was funny every time.
Time to have a quick look at a smorgasbord of highlights this special edition offers up. Rubbish Man is on holiday and even though we have a giant fried egg monster I can’t help but laugh at the jokes at the expense of English vacationers (and where they choose to holiday). When a young Tom Thug tries to bully a baby we get the origin of his bent nose and in Sgt. Barnpot and his Screaming Maniacs the lead character thinks we’re still at war with everyone because of comics, and Lew Stringer takes a little shot at the ever-merging titles of the day.
It appears even our resident alien Burp isn’t a fan of English tourists (both Rubbish Man’s and Burp’s cartoonists are English) and on his trip around the galaxy his holiday snaps produced uproarious laughter in kids everywhere (well, it did for me anyway) and we’ve a Frank Sidebottom board game which could be played with some absolutely lovely player pieces. The Thunderbirds one is my favourite. Finally, Tom’s Toe made a very welcome return in a story about pollution and climate change which had a rather unique solution to the ever-growing problem.
As well as Tom there are a few other returning characters. In reality this would’ve been because work on specials always starts a long time in advance. Producing an extra, larger edition of a comic is great but working on it can’t disrupt the regular editions, so work begins very early. When this commenced a lot of these characters were still regulars or semi-regulars in the fortnightly. Billy’s Brain is in here, even Bony Hart makes a reappearance and one of the more memorable early characters pops back up, Jim Needle‘s Pete’s Pup.
It’s strange for me to think this was my first encounter with the monstrous shaggy dog as a child. He would also appear in the birthday issue released two weeks after this special hit shelves but after that he’d only return for a reprint in the second OiNK Book. I became reacquainted with the comic in my 30s, but right up to that point in my mind he’d been a main character. Weird.
Now, let’s move on to what was surely be the main event for many comics fans. At the time I was unaware of who Kevin O’Neill was but today I know the man as something of a legend in the industry. Drawing the image of Tharg on the cover of the very first 2000AD he would go on to produce incredible work for OiNK’s stablemate, most memorably the stunning Nemesis the Warlock. In 1986 his whole style proved unsuitable for the American Comics Code Authority but thankfully DC went ahead and published his Tales of the Green Lantern anyway. Later, he would create Marshal Law and team up with Alan Moore for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. For OiNK’s Holiday Special he drew a four-page parody called The Game is Greed, written by Mark Rodgers.
Lew Stringer was friends with both Kevin and Dave Gibbons, another legendary comic artist who’d appear in the pages of OiNK. They’d meet up frequently at London comic marts and when Lew found out Kevin was a fan of OiNK he asked him if he’d like to contribute. His first strip was actually a collaboration with Lew called The Truth About Santa for The OiNK Book 1988, then later he drew this brilliant script by Mark, but early deadlines for specials and annuals being what they are this was the one that saw print first. I may not have known who he was but I adored the very unique art style and I can remember lying in bed late at night (having already read the comic that morning) pouring over all of the funny details for a long time. I’d never seen anything like this.
Kevin’s sharp lines, exaggerated action and gorgeous colours really pop, making the strip stand out in even the quickest of skims through the issue. This is no small feat for an issue of OiNK. My inner 80s child had a field day reading this and spotting all of the contemporary celebrities we were so used to seeing on our television screens. Younger readers today who may not know some of them will still get plenty of entertainment out of this thanks to its manic pace, dark humour and chaotic atmosphere.
Mark’s script gives Kevin plenty of opportunities to embrace the chaos and bring his kinetic energy to the art with aplomb. My personal highlights here are the caricature of Billy Connolly on the first page, the greed of Mr and Mrs Baldmoron, the moment he’s stripped to the bone by the piranhas and of course that hilarious alligator (oh sorry, “scaly amphibious ant”) complete with Ted’s assistant showing it off from inside its mouth and the purse handles on its back! I’ve said before how the humour in OiNK stands up so well to this day. This strip hasn’t aged one bit and feels like a perfect modern parody of the time period. One of the very best OiNK strips since I started this whole read through.
We finish off with that old tradition of the family holidays, the puzzles and in particular the word searches that were meant to keep the kids quiet. Being OiNK, this is a somewhat unique variant on the theme. The story behind the cover is that Mary Lighthouse (critic) has found herself stranded on the same desert island as Uncle Pigg and she’s going somewhat barmy. Well, more so than usual. There’s no list of words to find, you just have to try to spot as many as possible and one definitely stands out. In typical fashion for this comic the solutions to the puzzles are just as funny as trying them out.
There we have it, the first special edition of OiNK. There’ll be more of them to come, one very soon in fact. The year 1987 was the only one during which we’d have a regular comic from beginning to end, fortnightly all the way through, with some nice extras, merchandise releases, special pull-outs and more, all culminating in the book at Christmas. What a time to be a pig pal! You’ve only a week to go until the review of the Birthday Issue. That’ll be here from Monday 18th April 2022. Catch you then.