OiNK! #44: END OF AN ERA

Happy New Year to one and all! Wait, what? That can’t be right, it’s still Boxing Day! Actually, this second Hogmanay issue of OiNK was released even earlier, before Santa came to visit all of us pig pals. Boxing Day was the official date on the cover but with publishers closed for the holidays (and the shops themselves closing their doors for more than one day back then) comics and magazines are released earlier than normal over the festive period. I received my subscriber copy of Edge’s January issue weeks ago!

As such, this OiNK came out during the week before Christmas. I’ve no way of telling which day I received it in 1987 and I’m just going to stick with the cover date on this occasion, so while you recover from a day of eating and prepare for another, put your feet up, pop the paper hat back on your head and have a giggle with some highlights from OiNK #44, our last fortnightly issue!

I personally didn’t read this until Boxing Day as a child, although The Slugs finally making the cover (drawn as ever chaotically by Les ‘Lezz’ Barton) was very tempting. But even back then I wanted to wait until I’d read my OiNK! Book 1988 first. In fact, Boxing Day that year brings back many happy memories of sitting down and reading the annual cover-to-cover after dipping in and out over the course of Christmas Day, then in bed that night finally grabbing this issue.

For young me the highlight wasn’t the theme, the festivities and the crazy parties our characters got involved in, instead it was all about the future of the comic. This was the big change I eluded to in #39’s review after Nipper, the last comic in OiNK’s sales group was cancelled. Given publisher Fleetway’s rule that if a whole group’s sales weren’t up to par then every title in it would be cancelled, would OiNK’s own impressive sales possibly save it from cancellation? Uncle Pigg had some news for Mary Lighthouse (critic) on this front, as written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Ian Jackson.

So while the other titles had been canned, and OiNK’s own sales may not have been in the same league as Buster or Whizzer and Chips, as an independently produced comic fortnightly sales of 100,000 weren’t to be sniffed at. But Fleetway (and retailers) wanted more. Doubling the amount of issues equals doubling the sales, right? Much hype had been made of the comic’s transition to a weekly in recent issues and I’ve included a couple of examples in the posts for #41 and #43.

I can remember the excitement of this moment after enjoying the Christmas issue and the book, the fact it was now going to come out every single week was almost too much for my young mind to handle! The price decreasing by 5p softened the blow for parents somewhat too. We were unaware of certain changes to be made to the physical comic and its contents but for now let’s enjoy the final issue in my own Golden Age of OiNK, and the return of the increasingly shocking Butcher Watch!

Given what would come from Jeremy Banx in a new mini-series in the weekly OiNK, this dark strip acts almost like a precursor, reminding us just how twisted the evil butcher Jimmy ‘The Cleaver’ Smith really was. Have to give him points for imagination though. This would come to the fore with Jimmy as a regular character for at least some of the weekly issues. I was engrossed as a kid and now as an adult I find it all deliciously funny in a most ridiculous way.

Let’s take a look at some other highlights of our last 32-page issue, shall we? After joining OiNK in #15 Psycho Gran has racked up quite the list of examples of being a sweet but naughty (to say the least) old dear. Surely she couldn’t have been that bad? David Leach sets the record straight this issue. The Tale of Wee Jimmy Riddle tells us a horror story about a phantom haggis and on the Grunts page an old random line in a Diary ov Hadrian Vile from #12 gets picked up on by a reader following recent events.

Tom Thug and Pete and his Pimple were two of the comic’s strips that would make their way into the pages of Buster by the end of 1988 and when OiNK goes weekly they’d permanently be full-page stories rather than surprising us every issue with strips of various lengths, which I have to say I preferred. With the more random nature we were sometimes treated to lengthy stories with a great pay off, sometimes a quick gag. This next one falls somewhere in between.

So long Mr Big Nose, it’s been funny, surreal, confusing and memorable in equal measure

Now that I’ve read this I have clear memories of giggling away at it on at least one of the many occasions I read and reread my OiNKs back then. Lew Stringer always said the whole point of Tom was for there to be a strip where the bully (and the usual intelligence level of a bully) was the butt of the joke every single issue. I don’t think there’s any better example than this one right here.

The teeny, tiny small strips were always a joy in OiNK and pretty much guaranteed to raise a laugh, as well as breaking up the larger contributions to each issue. Another character who would pop up in strips of various length was Barrington Bosh, He’s Incredibly Posh who was always drawn by Ian Knox and scripted by a variety of writers. This time it’s Keith Forrest who uses Barrington’s posh accent to great effect here. Small, simple but brilliantly crafted.

He’s entertained us ever since #3, introduced us to surreal humour, was never predictable and of course brought us the dolphin named Keith. Jeremy Banx’s Mr Big Nose was about as unique as you could ever get in a children’s comic and is one of the most fondly remembered characters from OiNK as a whole. I’ve always said a collection of his strips would make for one of the funniest books you could read, even now 35 years later. Which makes the fact this is his final issue all the more sad.

He wouldn’t even pop up in any special or annual, this is it, the final Mr Big Nose! The weekly comic would have fewer pages and Jeremy would continue with Burp and that aforementioned mini-series featuring Jimmy. I originally thought perhaps the weekly comic was aiming at a younger audience (there’d be promotional crossover strips in Buster and Whizzer and Chips) and the surreal humour of Mr Big Nose wouldn’t be a good fit, but that Cleaver series is very dark indeed so it can have been that. 

But at least he goes out in style.

Explain that one! Of course, the best of his strips defied explanation and while I’m saddened to know I won’t be reading any more of his wonderful half-pages, this is the perfect example to end on. That final line could almost be taken as a little sign off. With space at a premium in the weekly and Jeremy already committed to two full pages it could just boil down to something having to give and unfortunately Mr Big Nose stepping aside to make way for other cartoonists and their creations. So long dear friend, it’s been funny, surreal, confusing and memorable in equal measure.

To end on, a little nursery rhyme. Innocent little stories for kids. Nothing could possibly be twisted with these, surely? The Rotten Rhymes series periodically popped up throughout OiNK’s run and proved nothing was sacred. Many of these quick little rhymes (often ending by tossing away the need to rhyme at all) have proven surprisingly memorable. How many have pig pals recited in the years since? Here’s the latest in the series and the first one to be written and drawn by Charlie Brooker.

Well that’s it. Not only is this the end of the issue, it’s also the end of the only year in which we had regular OiNKs from beginning to end, it’s the end of it in its original form and it’s the end of what I called OiNK’s Golden Age. That’s not to say what’s to come isn’t great of course! It takes a while for the comic to settle into the new weekly version  of itself (same when it turns monthly later next year) but when it did it was easily the best weekly out there.

It’s just that this period of time, between #36 and this one and including The OiNK! Book 1988, were just so good they could each be listed as examples of the very best OiNK had to offer. If all issues were ranked I think these would all be at the top of that list, and we got to enjoy them in one glorious chunk, one after the other. I’ve had a fantastic time reliving these and, while there are changes ahead, we’re still going to be getting weekly OiNK reviews for the first five months of the new year.

More OiNK is always good! Right?

The review of OiNK! Weekly #45 will be up on the blog on Saturday (yes, a change of day) 7th January 2023, just 12 days from now!

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