As sure as the sun sets at the end of each day, every January the great general public invest their hard earned cash in gym memberships, magazines with their promise of beach bodies, and so-called ‘detox’ juices. By February everything will be back to normal, the weight loss and fitness resolutions will be long forgotten and they’ll have come to the realisation that our livers will do for free what those juices proclaim to do for extortionate amounts of money. It’s oh-so predictable, but that can not be said of this issue of OiNK when they decided to take aim at this tradition.
The Keep Fit Special kicks off with this Jeremy Banx cover of Arnold Schwarzenhogger, who would “be back” in the first monthly issue over a year later. Look closely at Jeremy’s colouring and you can see the individual strokes, even where he’s leaned heavier at the beginning or end of each. When you look at the picture as a whole they merge together into a lovely shaded image. I enjoy seeing these old covers and the individual elements like this, much like the felt tip pens used by Chris Sievey on his Frank Sidebottom pages.
The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile kicks things off and our pint-sized menace finds himself in the situation of being forced to exercise. Heaven forbid. I loved swimming at school, but much like Hadrian it was less about doing lengths and more about just having fun in the water. His teacher isn’t having it, but soon finds himself in need of saving thanks to Hadrian, though to be fair he wasn’t wearing his glasses. I’d always assumed his eyes were roughly the size of his frames, to see them drawn by Ian Jackson this way is so funny.
But there’s something even funnier here, though it might not be immediately apparent. It certainly wasn’t when I read this as a child. OiNK’s co-creator/editor Mark Rodgers wrote the script as always and the name of one of Hadrian’s friends wasn’t simply plucked out of the air by the hugely talented writer. In real life Mark was Helen Jones‘ other half. In recent years Helen and I have chatted about those days and I even received Mark’s OiNK mug as a Christmas gift! (Helen also sent me some information on a particular event in OiNK’s history which I’ll be sharing later this year.) I asked her about those panels above and she told me, “Can’t say I’m surprised.” It does makes the strip even funnier!
In the 80s exercise routines were a regular part of breakfast television, most famously presented by Lizzie Webb and Mr. Motivator. While we sat bleary-eyed, eating sugary cereal, trying to get the energy for the walk to school, they’d be jumping up and down in their lycra and shouting towards the camera, urging us to do the same. Needless to say we just watched. OiNK’s take was much more accurate.
Given the amount of food I’ve put away over the Christmas holidays (not to mention the amount that’s still to be eaten) this really speaks to me. It’s an on-point spoof of what everyone is really thinking when they tell themselves they’re going to get fit in the new year. It’s also the first contribution from prolific OiNK cartoonist Eric (Wilkie) Wilkinson, whose most famous character was friendly zombie Dead Fred who also makes his debut this issue. Wilkie would go on to contribute to 39 OiNKs altogether, often giving us more than one strip per issue and in #20 you’ll see one of his best.
“Wha-? This isn’t a real pig!”The Weakun
Alongside the workouts our breakfast television included repeats of the ludicrous 60s Batman series. While it always felt more like a spoof of Batman rather than an actual adaptation of the comic, OiNK took old cliffhanger serials such as it and others and spoofed them further. First we had the Street-Hogs, told over a whopping 12 parts, then in #15 was the first adventure for Ham Dare, Pig of the Future which comes to its conclusion here. It may have been a much shorter story but it was no less enjoyable. In fact, I’d say each episode has been packed with many more gags than the ‘Hogs had.
Last issue the penultimate chapter ended with The Weakun‘s soldiers gunning down our fearless hero, several lasers firing through his body. This scene is repeated in the first panel below. He must be dead. There’s no way even writer Lew Stringer could have him survive that, surely? Actually, no there’s not. He didn’t survive those blasts. The solution to the cliffhanger is even more ludicrous than that would’ve been.
Sight gags, puns, exaggerated British wartime gusto and one silly plot twist after another fill every panel in what is a hilarious conclusion to Ham’s first OiNK outing. (I particularly liked the repeat of the speedy entrance from the first episode.) I’m going to miss Ham and Pigby, but while they do return for three more adventures later this was the only one to be serialised across more than one issue. In fact, they don’t return to the regular comic at all. Instead they pop up in both of the OiNK Books and the third Holiday Special (released several months after OiNK’s cancellation), all of which are multi-page strips with plenty of gorgeous J.T. Dogg artwork to savour. Hurry back Ham!
Another character who debuted alongside Ham back in #15 was the fondly remembered Greedy Gorb – He’d Eat Anything, a creation of Cowpat County‘s Davy Francis. Food-loving comics characters were nothing new, with some examples that immediately come to mind being Garfield and Bash Street Kids‘ Freddy. But Greedy Gorb took over-eating to new extremes. There were no lasagnes or slap up feeds of sausages and mash anywhere to be seen and that tagline was taken quite literally.
Gorb’s diet would get increasingly bizarre, surrounded by Davy’s trademark puns and background gags. He became a firm favourite of mine and I’d look forward to seeing what he’d eat next. This would mostly be to satisfy his hunger, but at other times he’d choose a specific item to eat for another reason (such as the kitchen clock so his mum loses track of time and he misses the start of school). He would appear in 33 issues altogether and would even give Davy the opportunity to draw his first comics cover.
In the middle of the issue is The OiNK Cross-Country Race, billed as ‘Excitingly Dangerous’ on the cover. OiNK would give us a few various board games over time, some favourites being one with a Pete and his Pimple theme, one drawn by Frank Sidebottom and a version of Happy Families. I’d forgotten all about this one though.
Drawn by John Geering, it’s definitely more rough around the edges than later games but I think that adds to the madcap nature of it all. It includes every excuse under the sun to stop the players or send them back several places. It’d take an awful lot of luck to reach the end of this one in any decent amount of time. It’s fun to see John let loose, unrestricted by the conventional drawing techniques he’d have to apply in the pages of the more traditional comics he worked for at the time.
A couple of other quick highlights from this issue has Weedy Willy doing a very good example of me when I’ve tried new ways of getting fit in Januaries past, and smelly alien Burp takes the start of a new year as an opportunity for a check up with his doctor.
There’s one strip in this issue that I’ve already shown you on the site. Mark Rodgers and Helen Jones wrote the very funny Wanda with the Wooden Leg as their take on the girls’ comics of the day (it’s presented by Bumty comic). The artwork looked like it was taken straight from those titles, so it worked perfectly. It was illustrated by the amazingly talented Les ‘Lezz’ Barton who sadly passed away in 2008. You can read about Lezz and read the full strip in the Remembering Lezz post here.
When Uncle Pigg‘s skeleton crew took over production of the comic for #8 some butchers sneaked their way on to the pages, beginning a new series by Jeremy Banx called Butcher Watch Updates, a spin on the Crimewatch television series. The updates told readers to “watch out for your snout and mind your rind” and soon they were sending in reports of seeing the crazed butchers in their local shops. One in particular was reported more than the others. In #14 Jimmy ‘The Cleaver’ Smith had made his first appearance in one of the updates and he immediately struck a chord with readers.
Rounding off this issue is the introduction of another new character. He would only appear sporadically and in eight issues altogether, but his debut is kind of a big deal with the gift of hindsight. That’s because the cartoonist behind him was none other than Charlie Brooker. He’d sent in some strips to Patrick, Tony and Mark and they were so impressed they gave him a regular gig. Not bad for a teenager! The strip below was something of a trial and we wouldn’t see his work again until #32, but after that he was part of nearly every edition, contributing to 37 altogether.
Of course you’ll all know Charlie now from his television work, having created such amazing series as Screen Wipe and Black Mirror. However, he was still at school at the time of OiNK so kudos to him for sending in some samples, and hats off to the team for recognising his talent. Charlie would go on to create such strips as Transmogrifying Tracey, Clint Gritwood the Trigger-Happy Cop and fan favourite The Adventures of Death. But Freddie Flop was his first and a strong debut.
I was always a fan of Charlie’s OiNK strips and as the comic continued he’d contribute more and more to each issue, particularly the monthlies where he’d often write for other artists too. He’d even write a Pete and his Pimple story for Lew Stringer. I always enjoyed his art style and his strips were consistently funny, Death often being a highlight for me. It’s exciting to finally see his work in this read through.
So 1987 was off to a great start and would only get better, culminating in my very favourite OiNK of them all. The next edition is a war special. I’d say this might sound like a strange subject for a kid’s humour comic but I’ve said that before and the team have shown how they can continuously pull these off with aplomb. So be back here on Monday 24th January 2022 for #20.