The first cover drawn by Chris Sievey, better known as Frank Sidebottom, is a delight of what must’ve been time-consuming details. As a kid I always loved his unique style but I don’t think I gave it the appreciation it really deserved. Look at the panelling in the wooden fence and each individual window in those distant buildings, never mind the brilliant colour work all completed with felt tip pens. I’ve already discussed previously that co-editor Patrick Gallagher told me how long Chris would spend perfecting his OiNK work, and you can see that right there on the cover to #52.
On the Grunts page, under a list of the most popular characters (every reader who wrote in was asked to include a coupon with their top three strips) is news that some of those listed will be returning in new mini-series soon, namely Street-Hogs, The Spectacles of Doom and Rubbish Man. In #50’s review I touched upon characters some cartoonists had rested. It’s interesting to see the once-regular Rubbish Man alongside two strips that were always mini-series. Perhaps this was how they’d get around having fewer pages for the large amount of characters readers wanted to see.
So, what about those showbiz scoops of Frank’s?
My favourite part of this is the difference between the Springsteen headline and what the story actually is; it’s very clever and very funny, reminding me of those headlines you’ll see from certain websites where every word has a capital letter. You know the type. Nice to see the Smokebusters still going strong after first popping up in #46 (and of course the special edition) and the huge headline on the cover is reduced to a tiny side panel with another hilarious non-story behind it all, aping the tabloid press of the day. (Of the present too.)
Elsewhere there’s a fantastic photo collage of Frank’s time recording a sketch for Saturday morning children’s TV show No.73. I loved that show and the page in question will be part of a special post later in the year. That’s all I’m going to say for now, other than it’ll be worth the wait. Back to the issue at hand and underneath a three-quarter-page Pete and his Pimple (backing up what I said for the last two issues about the return of a more varied layout to the comic) is the latest Cowpat County from Davy Francis.
Last week we had a full-page colour strip, now a quarter-page black and white mini-strip but fans wouldn’t have felt short-changed. This was the nature of OiNK; your favourites could pop up irregularly, in different formats from longer stories to quick gags such as this. It’s great to have that feel of the fortnightlies back again and to be enjoying it on a weekly basis. Davy is a master of the quick gag strips so that’s another reason I wasn’t disappointed to see Cowpat County in a much tinier space this time, because I knew I was guaranteed a good chortle.
The highlight of this issue for me is Jeremy Banx’s Burp. That shouldn’t be a surprise, I’ve never made a secret of the fact I’m a huge fan of Jeremy’s work, especially his strips for this particular smelly alien from outer space. But if you cast your mind back to the previous review, when I was delighted to see the return of Alvin and found the now-sentient coffin so funny, you’ll understand why this week’s strip was a particular thrill to read.
As always with Burp’s pages it’s very funny from the offset, giving us this surreal experience of a tax assessor coming to his UFO as if that’s a completely normal thing to happen in this man’s day-to-day working life. In fact, as he’s presented with ever more bizarre creatures he doesn’t run off as we’d expect, instead he just gets angrier, the “This is going to cost you, lad” response to the Pet Specimen from Uranus being a particular highlight.
That surprise return is just one of three (well, more if you count his internal organs), having disappeared over the last several months. In earlier issues always seen dangling from Burp’s belt, here Jeremy even gives us an answer to where he’s been. In what must be one of Burp’s many inventions the specimen can now go anywhere he pleases, giving us a reason as to why he hasn’t been seen dangling. But it’s the other two characters I loved seeing again the most.
Alvin popping up again was a hoot, so certain was I that we’d seen the last of him (I’ve been wrong on that before, right regular readers?) but then to see the coffin, after I said how funny it would be to see these two even just hanging out in the background of future strips, is just hilarious! The coffin even has a name now. I know I’ve said this before but this is one of my very favourite Burp strips, but only because it works so well after reading all of the previous instalments. It’s a great pay off that we didn’t even know we needed.
Cherry-picking some other highlights from the issue I’m not sure how I feel about the word “crap” in The Slugs. While according to Uncle Pigg last week the audience for OiNK was changing from what was originally intended and it was always meant to be the punk rock of children’s comics, it was still a children’s comic. Can you imagine if Whizzer and Chips used this word? It’d have been all over the tabloids. So yes, I’m not sure how I feel about that. We’ll see how the comic evolves over the next while and come back to this I think.
Elsewhere, there’s a wonderfully dark yet silly moment as Billy the Pig continues his search for his rustled family, and in Tom Thug there’s a surprise return for big brother Ernie who first popped up seven days ago. This time he’s off for good though, when we find out he’s charged with being AWOL and in his final panel the character we’ve come to know for these two issues disappears completely! Speaking with Lew, he’d forgotten all about Ernie. He was never mentioned again, even in all the years Tom was a regular in Buster.
Billy Bang, Brian Luck He’s Really Unlucky, a quiz called Are You a Compulsive Liar?, Transmogrifying Tracey, The Adventures of Death and a GBH Madvertisement all have one thing in common in this issue. They’re all written by Charlie Brooker. This is a phenomenal feat for someone still at school, to be writing so much for a mainstream comic. We obviously know of his incredible talent and genius comedic writing in later years but one look at this GBH Azid page and you can see even as a teenager he was already there!
This is simply a brilliant page, Charlie’s excellent script expertly brought to life by Eric ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson and his unique textured style. Obviously the OiNK editors saw something in the young Black Mirror creator to give him his first paying job in the first place, but with how many times I’m seeing his name already (I knew he contributed a lot to the later monthlies) it’s clear they were impressed with him from the offset and were asking him for more. This is becoming a fascinating look into the early career of one of my very favourite television writers.
We’ll stick with Charlie for one more strip I think and the return of The Adventures of Death, one of those favourite not-as-regular-as-you-remember regular characters. Death was in every edition for six issues to begin with but as Charlie’s repertoire expanded the Grim Reaper became one of several of his creations he had to split his time between. Remember folks, he was still at school! It appears he’s now becoming one of OiNK’s main contributors though. Personally, Death is still a favourite character after all theses years.
I found myself lingering on that penultimate panel. That’s genius comic timing in a comic strip. I can’t help but wonder if OiNK had continued on in this guise and lasted longer than it ultimately did, would Charlie have continued as a contributor, and more so would he have continued with a cartooning career? We’ll never know. What we do know is what Charlie did after OiNK’s eventual cancellation. He produced cartoon art for CeX before moving on to writing for PC Zone magazine, including a comic strip.
From here it was a natural progression into TV’s Games Republic, which led on to his writing for such shows as Channel Four’s The 11 O’Clock Show and the infamous Brass Eye paedophilia special. At the same time he created his TV review column Screen Burn for The Guardian. These career paths would culminate in Screen Wipe, a BBC series I adored and really miss. A phenomenal career which all began with our piggy pink publication.
Patrick’s reservation coupon rounds things off as usual and it’s been another fantastic read this week. I’m even getting used to the 24-page format. There’s more crammed in as the team get used to the frequency increase, so it taken longer to read than the first handful of weeklies. Great stuff. The next OiNK has one of the best covers of the whole run. If you thought what Lew Stringer did with the logo last week was something special, just wait ’til you see what he does with it in just six days on Friday 3rd March 2023. (1988 was a leap year, so we’re missing a day.)