We’re in the midst of OiNK’s Golden Age now and the Great Games and Puzzles Issue is another corker, kicking off with Ian Jackson’s cover where he gives us his take on some favourite characters by other cartoonists, namely Jeremy Banx’s Burp, David Leach’s Psycho Gran, Marc Riley’s Harry the Head and Chris Sievey’s Frank Sidebottom. The colourful banners seem to be doing the job of covering over the empty space normally reserved for the logo before the redesign in #36, but they work, hyping some of the contents inside.
A few years ago a pig pal by the name of Becky Armstrong shared a photograph of this cover on social media and it was only through this that David Leach saw it for the first time, not previously aware his creation had made the cover or indeed been drawn by the incredible Ian. Becky kindly sent David the issue as a result! The OiNK community really is the best three-and-a-half decades on. Let’s open this up, shall we?
Once again we get a Frank Sidebottom and Snatcher Sam (aka Marc Riley) photo story, albeit a much smaller one than last time, but when it’s so brilliantly crafted and as funny as this it doesn’t need any more space. Every time these two get together in the comic their friendship really does shine and I think that sets these apart, they’re always just so much fun!
A few pages later Marc brings us a little puzzle corner for his character, although it appears it’s more of a suggestion box than a competition and his other creation Harry the Head also takes a starring role in this issue. He’s got an important part to play in the competition promoted on the cover and sliding onto page two he hasn’t had a chance to get there yet, so Uncle Pigg gives him a boot and we see him flying through the issue. We’ll get back to him further down the review.
During this period of OiNK more strips than ever kept to the themes, giving each issue a really unique identity to every other OiNK (never mind compared to more traditional comics on the shelves). You’re completely aware of the theme running throughout, somehow making each issue feel even more jam-packed with content. One exception to the rule is the ongoing serials such as The Spectacles of Doom Vs The Monocle of Mayhem, part two of which is in here.
During part one it looked like our inept hero Endor, his singing sword and glasses were going to be vastly outnumbered by the evil Gash and his hordes, so this chapter is all about evening the odds in that traditional fantasy adventure movie fashion of meeting allies along the way with ever more ridiculous names, from ever more ridiculous places. More than ever this strip feels like the spoof of 80s magic and fantasy films The Spectacles of Doom was always meant to be, thanks to the fertile imagination of writer Tony Husband.
The quick succession of gags that really land is quite surprising. We shouldn’t really expect any less from Tony but even for him this is on another level. Known for his freeform art, here Tony’s scripting shines through, his character descriptions are original and hilarious and it must’ve been a hoot for Andy Roper when he got the script and got to bring them to life. The laughs come thick and fast and this is just one part of five! If we ever get a reprint book of OiNK the collected Monocle of Mayhem story would definitely be a highlight.
David Haldane’s Rubbish Man has been with us since the very beginning and he now seems to be accompanied by Boy Blunder every issue. From memory this wouldn’t last but for now it’s two-for-one as they battle their version of Batman’s eponymous Riddler, The Puzzler. I remember watching the 60s Batman show as a very young child and while my siblings and parents hated it for how silly it was, I was the target audience and I loved it.
In particular I remember the puzzles that had absolutely nothing to do with the final solution and the completely unbelievable way Batman and Robin would solve them. David has obviously been inspired by these scenes and parodies them perfectly. So perfectly in fact, this one page is umpteen times better than the television series that inspired it. As an adult Rubbish Man definitely stands up better today!
There are lots of little gems throughout this issue and not just from our usual mini-strip cast, the random one-offs are all top notch too. Standing out from the crowd is Time for A Game of Scrabble by the comic’s resident youngster, Charlie Brooker. There’s another myth surrounding OiNK, this time about Charlie and how he’s embarrassed by his early cartooning but this is yet another tall tale that can be put to bed (alongside the well-worn ‘Viz for children’ rubbish). Who could be embarrassed by making us laugh so much?
Some other highlights include perfect posh pronunciation in The Slugs, a puzzle section from Pete Throb that had all of us copying the side panel as kids (and adults) and there’s some genuine laugh out loud moments as we take a look at our Puzzling, Mysterious, Unexplained, Amazing World (including another comical shark which I had to include).
Below, a close look at a panel from Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile – Aged 8 5/8 (yearƨ) may raise some eyebrows with pig pals. What’s that he’s eating? It can’t be! Not in OiNK! I’m not the only one to pick up on this as a future Grunts page will attest. Anneka Rice made a guest appearance on the letters page in an issue of Super Naturals and she’s now popped up in one of its sister comics, complete with a cheeky caption from Uncle Pigg.
Finally, ace OiNK (and Frank Sidebottom’s official) photographer John Barry created a page of fully mocked up fake board games for a funny GBH Madvertisement (“Well beyond the call of duty!”, as Patrick Gallagher told me). Take a closer look at that Plopopoly panel and you’ll see the board, cards and even the strange die (with an 8 side) have all been crafted to great detail! All for just one small photo.
This issue contains the very welcome return of Frodo Johnson, otherwise known as the Dice Maniac, Lew Stringer’s parody of fantasy role players and 2000AD spin-off magazine, Dice Man. It’s somewhat bittersweet because this was his last of only two appearances, but at least unlike his previous adventure (in #22) this time he’s in full colour. For the uninitiated, to Frodo life is the ultimate adventure and no matter how mundane the task how he goes about it is up to the throw of his dice. Of course, his trusted dice should not actually be trusted.
This is OiNK, so naturally with it being set in the countryside it had to have a cowpat and an accompanying pun at the end. What a shame the character would never return, he had the potential of being something of an OiNK spin on traditional strips, but alas this would be all we’d ever see of any potential he had. With the Dice Man magazine only lasting five issues Lew tells me he didn’t think Maniac would be relevant anymore and thus he was created as a limited character.
Last but certainly not least you may have noticed Marc Riley’s Harry the Head flying past one of Rubbish Man’s panels above. You saw him on the cover then on page two our esteemed editor gave him a kick to get him to his own page near the back of the comic. It was a hell of a kick because he makes a cameo in (or beside) no less than four other strips and the Grunts page.
Harry appeared alongside Jeremy Banx’s Burp, his creator Marc Riley’s own Doctor Mooney He’s Completely Looney, Mark Rodgers’ and Mike Green’s Blank Sinatra and Davy Francis’ Cowpat Country only this time it’s just a quick strip as an excuse to have Harry land as he does. Uniquely, it was by Marc and Patrick Gallagher instead of Davy, Patrick credited as ‘Calorgas’. According to Patrick, “Marc was pretending to be really pissed and trying repeatedly to pronounce my surname ‘Gallagher’, but all he could manage was ‘Calorgas’”.
The reason for Harry’s harrowing journey? A special competition to promote, with no less than 100 of Matchbox’s memorable Madballs to give away to lucky pig pals. I remember having one but I’ve no idea which one it was, although I don’t think it was any of these three below. I believe I also had a teeny tiny squishy one too, or maybe that’s just my mind playing tricks on me. Below you’ll also see OiNK co-creator/co-editor Mark Rodgers with one of the Madballs he took on a camping holiday at the time.
The photo of the rugby ball sitting on top of this issue is fellow pig pal Ross Murdoch’s, one of the lucky 100 winners! I think most of my friends had at least one Madball and I even recall spotting a Marvel UK special in a newsagent at one stage too. They were really fun to kick and throw about since they’d bounce and roll in such unpredictable ways, but they were incredibly well made and were more than up to the battering they took! Even though the competition ran in other Fleetway comics too, looking at them they’re the perfect fit for an OiNK contest, aren’t they?
This is a brilliant issue! Again. OiNK was going from strength to strength but elsewhere in Fleetway’s range something had happened that would affect our treasured piggy publication. When they had taken over IPC’s comics, Fleetway grouped all the titles into various sales groups. Because there were so many of them and the market was shrinking, tracking individual sales was out. Instead, if any particular group’s combined sales weren’t up to par every comic in it would be cancelled.
The likes of Buster and Whizzer and Chips etc. were selling over 200,000 a week and were placed in one group. OiNK was unfairly (in my eyes) placed into a different one alongside the likes of Nipper. OiNK was selling 100,000 a fortnight, far beyond the others in its group and in September the last of its siblings was canned which left OiNK on its own. By Fleetway’s rules OiNK should’ve been cancelled at this point, but its own sales saved it. However, the publisher wanted more and so they forced a big change on the team which would take effect in the new year. We’ll come back to that then.
For now, that’s us for another issue and I’m really excited for the next one to come. A glorious Ralph Shephard cover that takes full advantage of the extra space from the smaller logo is one of the very best in the run, which is rather fitting because #40, the second Hallowe’en edition is one of the very best issues! I’ve got particular memories attached to it and I can’t wait to read it again. Fittingly enough its review will be here on Monday 31st October 2022.