OiNK! #45: SLiMLiNE SOWS

The best time of the year may have ended, the decorations may be back underneath the stairs and it may feel like there’s nothing but cold, dark winter ahead, however in 1988 (and in 2023) there was some light in the form of the now-weekly OiNK. I’ve previously covered how this came about, so now it’s time to concentrate on the comics themselves and it wasn’t clear to ten-year-old me that changes had already been made to the winning formula. We’ll get to them in a bit.

It was so exciting to think I’d be getting a brand new OiNK every single Saturday and I’m sure I wasn’t the only pig pal who was feeling that level of anticipation, so with this being an important issue who else could draw the cover but Ian Jackson and alongside the green logo its eye-catching and memorable. Just to note, it may say ‘Every Friday’ on the cover but Fleetway’s comics would be released the working day before (the date being the Saturday after the day on the cover, I know it’s confusing!) so OiNK Weekly was actually published every Thursday, young me just didn’t realise and continued to collect his comics on Saturdays (my Marvel UK comics were published Saturdays).

There were so many characters I couldn’t wait to see twice as much of and The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile – Aged 8 5/8 (yearƨ), written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Ian, was high on my list. A highlight of every single issue there was so much to enjoy, from Hadrian himself and the way he told his story to the atrocious spelling and the jaggedy art. Given the format of a kid’s diary if anything it suits the weekly schedule even more than before.

A little mini-series here, plenty of one-offs there, the fun, random nature was one of those things that set OiNK apart

Readers across the land had just gone back to school after the excitement of the Christmas break and Hadrian was no exception, but at least his antics while trying to solve a homework question would soften the blow somewhat for us. Indeed it did, although I’m not too sure there was any softening of that landing for Tuby Watson. This fan favourite would also be subject to changes very soon but for now it was great to have a diary entry every week!

Disney cartoon characters had been the subject of OiNK’s spoofing before, most recently in The OiNK! Book 1988 which we’d just got our trotters on Christmas Day. Over the first few weeklies it seemed this was going to become a regular occurrence. Unfortunately it only lasted a few issues but that’s the nature of OiNK, right? A little mini-series here, plenty of one-offs there, the fun, random nature was one of those things that set it apart. That, and how it would treat such beloved, cuddly and wholesome characters as Winnie the Pooh.

Written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Chas Sinclair, Windie the Poo was the best of this short series (the others would be called The Jungle Chapter and Sow White and the Seven Plops) and it was given the banner title of ‘OiNK! Piggy Parodies Present’, possibly to explain its place in the comic for those new readers they hoped would be jumping on here. Much like #15 and #36 this issues feels like it’s designed to welcome in new pig pals.

Sherlock Hams is one of two new multi-part serials beginning this issue, Uncle Pigg introduces us to OiNK on page two with Grunts acting as a contents page for one issue rather than containing letters and some regular characters such as Pete and his Pimple definitely feel like they’re introducing themselves. Lew Stringer also took this chance to set in motion a very fondly remembered ongoing contest.

Readers were asked to send in their ideas to cure Pete’s giant, unsightly pimple once and for all and while some would do so with ideas taken from the real world, as the weeks went on they’d get more and more crazy, really showcasing the minds of the fans! The Slugs, the first strip of the issue, also ended with a competition, although it was in place of an actual punchline unlike Pete’s and Frank Sidebottom made a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo in Ponsonby Claret’s second and sadly final appearance.

Last time we mourned the end of Mr Big Nose’s time in OiNK but Jeremy Banx’s Burp is still going strong and now he also brought us Doctor Hieronymous Van Hellsong, a new six-part mini-series based around the same dark, twisted humour we loved so much in his Butcher Watch updates, such as the one last issue which now feels like a precursor to this new strip. Even the black framing helps give it a creepy feel to begin with, then you continue reading and the ridiculous ways Hellsong dispatches his foes will have you laughing.

It’s classic Banx. Taking his surreal sense of humour, adding tons of atmosphere and then almost spoofing that very same atmosphere with the hilarious antics of our new hero as he solemnly describes his job. It’s brilliant stuff! My ten-year-old self found this captivating and of course very, very funny. If you’re new to OiNK try to imagine reading this at that age. You can see why I’m insistent that OiNK helped form the sense of humour of many when you have such strong strips as this.

For a new weekly schedule some changes had to be made to the make up of the comic

It all ends with that ominous shadow and the set up is complete, ready for the showdown to come. One of the best strips from OiNK’s whole run and a highlight of the weeklies, Jeremy would bring the character back for a second mini-series after a great reception from readers. In a later review I’ll take a closer look at the more serialised format of the weeklies and this will form a big part of that.

For a new weekly schedule some changes had to be made to the make up of the comic. I wouldn’t notice the biggest one until I finished reading it, another wouldn’t be obvious until next week, but I was very aware that it felt more ‘organised’ for want of a better word. So much planning went into making previous OiNKs feel randomly put together and, while we do have plenty of little one-offs here, most strips are full pages, while half-pages are all kept together in groups and the mini-strips all placed onto one page.

It’s nice to see Harry the Head back to being a simple gag strip again instead of trying to have serialised cliffhangers every issue and the others are all on top of their game too. Always interesting to see how the writing duties would often change for each strip, such as Mark Rodgers writing Marc Riley’s Harry and Davy Francis writing Marc’s Doctor Mooney while his own creation Greedy Gorb is written by Griffiths+Kane. Keeps things fresh.

Nowadays this makes it all feel very much like a more traditional comic, although to be fair when compared to the traditional comics of the time (and their almost exclusively full-page or double-page strips made up of regular characters only) it still stood out as very different. But even back then it just felt a little less ‘OiNK’-like. As the weeklies went on this would change back to more of what we’d been used to, so the team could’ve just been keeping it a bit simpler for now to get ahead of the new weekly schedule. That other change was more of a shock though.

Would potential new readers fork out more for fewer pages if they weren’t aware of how much OiNK crammed in?

Back in 1988 I was surprised I finished the issue so quickly and originally put it down to just enjoying it so much that it flew by. But something made me check the amount of pages when I noticed there were no page numbers anymore. To my dismay OiNK was now 24 pages instead of 32! It’s only from reading the Crash magazine interview with co-editor Tony Husband last year that I realised this had been the original plan for OiNK before it was agreed to do a larger fortnightly.

The price reduction didn’t mean much to us kids but it did appease my parents somewhat and in the end we were getting 48 pages every fortnight. As I’ve discussed previously the idea was to increase sales (we’d be buying twice as many) but OiNK was still more expensive than its stablemates and now had less pages. Originally it had the same amount but was printed on larger, glossy paper when the others were smaller newsprint. Even when the paper changed with #36 it still felt worth the extra cash. OiNK was created independently so was always going to be a few pence more, but would readers fork out more for fewer pages, especially if they were new and weren’t aware of how much OiNK crammed in?

This change had worked before to phenomenal results when Marvel UK’s Transformers comic changed from a 32-page fortnightly to a 24-page weekly at the end of its first year and sales skyrocketed. Although, by the end of those fortnightlies there was so much awful filler material it was a blessing to have a more streamlined (and now full-colour) comic. Weekly OiNK would also get to that stage of just feeling like a more streamlined experience packed with excellent content, rather than a thinner comic. But would it be too late by then for regular readers? Stick around to find out.

The issue wraps up with the first of six calendars for 1988, one of which would prove a bit controversial. For now, we’ve reached the beginning of what is essentially the third of four very different phases of OiNK’s run and I’m looking forward to seeing what positive changes the weekly format brings as it settles in. Join me just seven days from now on Saturday 14th January 2023 (Thursday back in 1988) for the next real time review.

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