OiNK! #35: TRAVELLiNG HALFWAY

With Ian Jackson back on cover duties off we go with the second half of OiNK’s run. Of course, we didn’t know this was the case at the time. As far as the (much) younger version of me was concerned the comic was going to run and run just like Beano or The Dandy; with OiNK being my first comic I had yet to experience any kind of cancellation. There’s so much great stuff to come over the remainder of this year in particular (1987 in old money) but first I want to touch upon something, a change which seemed so small and insignificant but which would ultimately decide OiNK’s fate.

By coincidence Fleetway Publications took over from IPC Magazines at the exact halfway point in the comic’s eventual 68-issue run and it’s only with hindsight that I can say it was an incredibly important moment. Looking at #35 you’d not notice it unless you read the copyright blurb at the bottom of the Grunts letters page so you may be wondering why I’m giving it such prominence right at the beginning of this review.

A wonderful selection of input from the readers which co-editor Patrick Gallagher tailored to the theme of the issue, that of travel. You could almost see this issue as a mini holiday special or as a follow up to last year’s summery #7. You’ll see the change in the blurb at the bottom of the page too.

Fleetway was originally created by newspaper group chairman Cecil Harmsworth King and when he later purchased Odhams and Newnes the IPC holding company was formed to oversee them all. Eventually it was all rebranded, OiNK falling under IPC Magazines alongside all the other comics. However, in 1987 IPC sold off its comics by placing them into a separate ‘Fleetway Publications‘ company and selling the whole caboodle to Robert Maxwell‘s Pergamon Holdings Ltd. Maxwell’s company now owned the independently crafted OiNK.

OiNK was a hit for IPC Magazines with average sales of 100,000 per issue

OiNK was a hit for IPC Magazines with average sales of around 100,000 per issue and they certainly treated it as such. They were also very happy with the buzz one of their titles was generating in the press and the celebrity endorsements it attracted. This didn’t stop it being victim to some reorganisation under the new company though, but we’ll get to that in a future post and I’ll touch upon the importance of the next issue (and the immediate physical changes to the comic in particular) in its review. But for now let’s get back to the comedy with my favourite Greedy Gorb strip.

Greedy was usually written by his creator and artist Davy Francis and I dare say most (if not all) of the background jokes here were also added by Davy. The main set up and joke were written by Howard Osborn this time though, who actually has no less than five strips to his name in this one issue alone. Howard worked in law in some administrative capacity according to co-editor Patrick Gallagher. He would actually write his OiNK material after work whilst having a pint in a pub!

There can’t have been many pig pals who wouldn’t have had Pete Throb as one of their favourite characters

In any other comic Gorb could’ve become very repetitive but in OiNK that was never a concern and his mini strips were highlights of every issue he was in, especially when there were so many gags squeezed into such a small space. The main pun would’ve been enough anywhere else but Davy always liked to give us plenty of value. My personal favourite there (although it’s hard to choose) would be the teeny tiny wings on the Flying Scotsman.

Elsewhere, a one-off character appears in two separate strips, both written by Howard. This is the best of the two and it appears Howard is trying to give pun masters Davy and Graham Exton a run for their money with Tommy Tyre (He Gets Around), drawn by Mike Green.

I know I’ve already described Greedy Gorb as one of my regular highlights but there can’t have been many pig pals who wouldn’t have had Pete Throb as one of their favourites. Lew Stringer’s Pete and his Pimple was one of the most popular strips and featured in crossovers with Lew’s other creations Tom Thug and Pigswilla, later in the run the strip would include a weekly competition asking readers to send in their outlandish pimple cures, he’d make the cover in an image that required the OiNK logo to be altered for the issue and he’d even get his own pull-out comic! Phew.

Following on from his collaboration (of sorts) with Tom just a fortnight ago, this issue brings us a full board game, Around the World With 80 Zits. As well as taking up the middle pages with the game there’s a strip introducing the scenario behind it, complete with cut out figures to use as player pieces, a bit like Frank Sidebottom’s in the first Holiday Special. This certainly wouldn’t be the last time we’d get a cut out game either.

So the set up is simple and the race for the miracle cure is on. The game is a wonderful, full-colour spread complete with so many ways to force the players around the board you could get dizzy playing! Just look at square number eight and follow its instructions to see what I mean. The only thing more cruel than that one is square 44! I never did play it as a kid because I didn’t like to cut up my OiNKs but I can imagine the laughs to be had for those that did.

To be fair the instructions contain the first clue that this isn’t going to be your normal board game, not when they include the words, “tough luck”. I love all the little details around the route, containing everything from palm trees to the South Pole, a kangaroo to a yeti. There’s even a drawing of Blackpool Tower, a trademark holiday destination for many of Lew’s comics characters over the years. That’s understandable when you find out it’s a favourite place for Lew himself to visit in the real world.

After the game we get a bonus mini-strip as a conclusion to the race, with the winning character’s face conveniently obscured so no matter who wins they can pretend it’s their fate being portrayed.

Of course it had to have a twist ending, have you not been paying attention to these comic reviews so far? Definitely the best game the comic has produced so far, although it would have stiff competition in just a couple of issues from now. Still, with taking in so many random locations it’s the perfect main event to this travel special. Other characters were out and about too, as you’ll see in this selection of highlights from elsewhere in the issue.

On the back cover Frank Sidebottom had left his holiday snaps on the train so was forced to draw them for memory, Rubbishman and Boy Blunder discovered the truth on their terrifying ‘Hunt the Yeti’ trip, Hector Vector and his Talking T-shirt visited a brilliantly named drinking establishment, the Grim Reaper made his first appearance in The Adventures of Death while buying a helicopter for his “reclaiming work” and Hadrian Vile’s life was about to change forever, a situation which he handled in his usual inimitable style.

After a break for a few issues David Leach’s fantastic Psycho Gran is back and she’s making up for lost time with a full page of her own and it’s almost a silent comedy. Usually taking up no more than half a page, it’s great to have a larger strip and it really is chock full of fun. David squeezes in as many panels as he can, each one intricately detailed as the little old dear goes through a situation many of us may find familiar.

Okay, so her solution isn’t exactly conventional or familiar, but I do love the panel where she lifts the weapon out of her tiny bag after searching through it in the previous one. The lack of background, the angel of its composition and her tongue sticking out as she concentrates are all brilliant, all of these little things combining to make this moment stand out. Genius.

I remembered her taking up the back page of a Christmas issue of OiNK with a funny image of her waiting for Santa Claus (reminiscent of David’s Psycho Gran Versus series in recent years) and a large section of the second annual was devoted to her too, so it was a nice surprise to find her given a full page strip in the regular comic. Here’s hoping for more.

After the wonderful Sownd of Music spoof movie poster in #29, Simon Thorp returns to bring us a strip this time, entitled Arctic Adventure in which a narrator tells a captive audience the fantastical tale of the world’s greatest fur hunter. Now, if this sounds a bit off to you and if you’re asking why OiNK would tell such a tale in a comic which lampooned butchers and hyped piggies up as heroes, you wouldn’t be alone. Obviously there’s more to it and reading Simon’s story I was just waiting for the twist, which was hugely satisfying.

Two particular moments (asides from the obvious one) stand out for me here. The first is panel four, where the caption tells us of how he’d track so many beautiful and exotic creatures down… and shoot them. The other is when he “bravely” loads his machine gun, a weapon the polar bear would have no chance against, and then his terror when it won’t fire. I think this strip perfectly sums up how cowardly sports hunters are.

In recent years I’ve seen countless images going viral on social media of big game hunters with smug grins next to the carcasses of beautiful animals who they’ve slaughtered with their high-powered weaponry, posing like they were so brave to shoot a defenceless creature, like it took so much effort beyond simply twisting their cowardly finger around a trigger. I think Simon’s Arctic Adventure perfectly sums up these sorts of people.

The next issue will surprise you but some of the changes weren’t liked by everyone

Finally, as we say goodbye to the glossy paper for now (more on that next time) it’s fitting that the technicolour Street-Hogs: Day of the Triffics gets to have its finale first. As stated before this was my first exposure to the ‘Hogs as a kid, their previous adventure having already ended by the time I discovered OiNK, so to me this had felt epic. However, readers of the original 12-part story may have felt somewhat disappointed that things were coming to an end already, the story lasting only a quarter of the time.

With what had looked like Jimmy ‘The Cleaver’ Smith‘s entire toolbox flying through the air towards them at the end of last issue’s strip, I wondered how on Earth they were going to get out of that one with less than a second to spare (apparently). I don’t know why I keep trying to guess. Mark Rodgers’ script would always come up with something so ridiculous and J.T. Dogg’s artwork would portray it so perfectly, the randomness of their insane escapes was the main reason I loved them so much!

It all ends with a ‘Coming Soon’ caption, but their next serial wouldn’t be seen until the last days of the comic, their multipart tale all packed into one of the big, fat monthlies. It’s a very different beast of a tale, but definitely worth the wait. Speaking of waiting, that’s what we’ll have to do for more OiNK highlights as we’ve reached the end of another review. The next issue will surprise you but some of the changes weren’t liked by everyone. Personally, these issues to come are my very favourites so I can not wait! Watch out for a special personal post about them over the next two weeks and then #36’s review will be here from Monday 5th September.

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