It’s time for another celebratory issue of the world’s greatest, and funniest, comic. OiNK reached its 50th issue on this day 35 years ago, although technically speaking if you count the special editions this is actually the 55th edition, but let’s not quibble. Not only that but it feels more like the OiNK of old again. With the team caught up on the new weekly schedule characters no longer appear on exactly the same pages anymore, there are more wonderful one-offs and everything is put together in recognisably random fashion again like the fortnightlies.

This is signalled by a move away from the simplistic yellow covers and a fantastic full-page photograph of Frank Sidebottom receiving his knighthood from the Queen, in reality a young passerby. As co-editor Patrick Gallagher told the Dazed website, “I had this Queen mask with me and I’m looking for someone to put it on so Frank could get down on his knee for the photo. Only one kid would do it so we had him with the Queen’s face on and Frank being knighted. He paid twenty quid for it but obviously it was worth nothing. Frank got ripped off. Sometimes adventures with Chris became nightmares.”

Ed McHenry first appeared in OiNK #4 and has contributed to 18 issues and the first annual so far, including many a puzzle page. After an eight-issue absence he makes a grand reentry with Ringo Pig and Golden the Wonder Horse. A beautiful daft full-page strip that signals the beginning of a glorious run of work from Ed. In fact, he’ll contribute to every single issue (including all specials) from now on. His Wally of the West was always a favourite. He’ll be popping up soon on the blog.

But Ed isn’t done with this issue yet as he also drew the wonderful poster in the middle pages that marks the 50th issue with a party for all of OiNK’s main characters, but it doesn’t sit in the issue in isolation. Instead it’s sandwiched between two Lew Stringer strips, namely Pete and his Pimple and Tom Thug who cross over for this special occasion (they also did in #34). Pete’s strip is a bit of a two-for-one deal in the story department, firstly trying to take Lovely Lucy to the party and this backfiring, before he runs into Tom outside the shindig itself.

The Lucy part of the strip sets up the pimple’s ability to suddenly flare up without warning, in case you’d forgotten, before it’s used at just the right moment as a way to see off the thug that is Tom, launching us (literally in his case) to the full-colour poster by Ed in the middle pages.

Ed also drew the similarly celebratory poster for the comic’s first birthday, although there it was called an ‘anniversary’ party and here a ‘birthday’ party, which seems the wrong way round. Co-editor Mark Rodgers provides the scenario and script for the chaos reigning here. A script for a poster? Unlike the previous poster which was designed as a portrait of the comic’s stars, this is more like Rubbish Man’s New Year’s Party from #44, taking a snapshot in time of the party in progress.

As I’ve said before I always love seeing different cartoonists’ takes on characters created by others and this is a smorgasbord of just that. Ed does a wonderful job of representing a wide variety of characters created by his colleagues while giving each that McHenry twist. Nice to see Mr Big Nose make a cameo after he was dropped from the comic (last appearing in #44) but he’s not the only one I’m happy to see. Roger Rental hasn’t been seen since the latest Christmas issue (and will only make one further appearance in a monthly), and upon seeing Rubbish Man here I’m suddenly aware he also hasn’t been seen in the weeklies! In fact, just like Roger he’ll be back once more and that’s it.

It’s sad to realise some of those included no longer have regular character status

Patrick tells me, “Largely it was the contributors who made the decision to rest certain characters. In the case of Rubbish Man, David Haldane was still busy with his other work. For example in #50 he contributed Torture Twins, Zootown and Haldane’s Amazing, Incredible, Bizzare World. Ian Jackson and Jeremy Banx were also very busy on their other work outside of OiNK and since we had a healthy stockpile of other artists’ material building up, we were never short to allow them a break.” At this stage they’d no idea OiNK was going to fold and fully expected the likes of Mr Big Nose to return later.

Even though it’s sad to realise some of those included no longer have regular character status there are a lot of laughs to be had with this poster, such as Burp’s upset tummy (perhaps still upset from the oyster incident), the punch bowl, a selection of awful puns and even though it’s most likely a coincidence I did laugh at the use of the word “frazzle” to describe the little pig on the receiving end of Billy Bang’s temper, given how Frazzles are a bacon flavoured snack! After the poster we’re treated to the end of the crossover tale. This issue is the gift that keeps on giving.

Even though it’s not, this has felt like a four-page story starring Pete and Tom which just so happens to co-star a lot of the others. It really was something special for a milestone issue and it ends on a perfect note with Tom’s strip. The moment he crashes to the ground from not realising his braces are elastic gave me a chuckle and of course it would have to end on a few more puns, just to round everything off nicely. There are plenty of highlights in this issue, of which this is just one.

All in, this is the issue where the team really settled into the new format. In fact, from next week the ‘Weekly’ would be dropped from the logo on the cover, cementing the fact it was now well-and-truly a weekly comic alongside it stablemates. Alongside the celebrations in #50 Hieronymouos Van Hellsong’s strip ends with Jimmy ‘The Cleaver’ Smith using poor Hellsong to escape in suitably silly fashion and the ever-reliable Billy Bang’s strip ends with one of the best gags he had written for him.

Fleetway Publications may have decided to produce double the amount of OiNKs in order to produce more sales, bringing it in line with the likes of Buster and Whizzer and Chips but that didn’t mean OiNK wasn’t going to continue to take the Mickey out of its sister publications. Whizzer and Chips in particular was the example they’d use to dress down traditional comics as staid and formulaic. Who can forget the wonderful Tom’s Toe from #12 drawn by none other than John Geering himself?

Next to follow in this OiNK tradition (of not following comics tradition) was Charlie Brooker. Still at school while working on OiNK, Charlie would become more and more prolific throughout this last year of the comic (even writing for Lew in #47), not missing a single issue and contributing more with each one. Both The Adventure of Death and Transmogrifying Tracey would continue to pop up now and again, he’d write a ton of quizzes and text features for the monthlies, has a five-issue run of The Swinelight Zone coming up very soon and on top of all that still had time for little one-off additions such as The Check-Up here.

At the back of this issue comes a little public service message and while the Smokebuster Special isn’t mentioned it neatly ties in to the free edition, recently handed out to school kids in the north of England. For all of the efforts of those people who wanted to ban OiNK or have it banished to the top shelves of newsagents, OiNK had more examples of using humour to teach good values to its pig pals than its contemporaries, so those aforementioned critics were just doing potential readers a even bigger disservice.

Fifty issues of a comic in the late 80s was not to be sniffed at

I hated smoke. Everyone in my household did it (even if my parents weren’t aware that my siblings were). I hated the smell. I hated the way it scratched at my throat. I hated the way it made my clothes (and me) smell when I visited friends whose parents didn’t smoke. As I’ve said before I never knew about the Smokebuster Special at the time but additions such as this Madvertisement for John Slayer Specials just reinforced my feelings – while also producing a laugh at the expense of smokers, naturally.

Just like the dental hygiene-related Trendy Wendy strip from #42 a few months ago, these anti-smoking jokes made an impact on the young version of me, staying with me throughout my formative teenage years. Would I have relented to peer pressure if it hadn’t been for OiNK? I doubt it, but this certainly helped keep me on the straight and narrow, if only for the fact I didn’t want to be the butt (no pun intended) of the jokes . I’d remember them at opportune moments throughout my teens as a result.

Fifty issues of a comic in the late 80s was not to be sniffed at, especially for one such as OiNK which was unlike anything that had come before, and which had faced a complaint to The Press Council and been subjected to the whims of conservative shop owners and critics alike. The cover of this issue feels like a dig at those self-proclaimed stalwarts of decency in its use of a royal image honouring the comic. Little did we know there were only 18 issues to come after this. It’s heartbreaking to think of that now in hindsight. Best make sure we don’t miss any, right?

Out of all the comics I had a regular order for back then only a few saw this milestone (OiNK – 68 issues, Transformers – 332 issues, The Real Ghostbusters – 193 issues, Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends – still going with 819 issues at the time of writing!). That didn’t mean I loved the others any less of course; one of my all-time favourites lasted only 6 regular issues. At the time of OiNK #50’s release it really did feel like it was here forever, that nothing could stop it and with a new found confidence in the weekly I couldn’t wait for the next 50!

In a few issues there’ll be a look at the positive feedback the comic had received in the press to counteract those aforementioned eejits, reinforcing that feeling of the comic’s success and it being here to stay. OiNK would now go from strength to strength as a weekly, finally producing wildly different issues once again. The next one of these will be reviewed next Saturday, 18th February 2023.

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