Not many pig pals will have seen the OiNK Smokebuster Special before and until last year neither had I, apart from the occasional photo of the cover as part of a heavily overpriced eBay auction. Then last year someone finally listed it at a sensible amount and I was able to snap it up. It’s been sitting in my OiNK collection between #46 and #47 ever since and now, after 35 years, I’ve been able to read it at last. I can’t tell you how excited I’ve been at the thought of reading a brand new OiNK all these years later! Was it worth the wait?
A little background first. Co-editors Patrick Gallagher, Tony Husband and Mark Rodgers teamed up with Project Smoke Free to produce this special 16-page edition to give away to school kids in the north western region of England. It’s good to have the logo on glossy paper again I have to say and inside we get mostly all new strips which don’t hold back in their messaging. In fact, I’m quite surprised at just how hard-hitting some of the humour actually is, such as with the very first strip called A Tale of Two Sisters by Tony.
In fact, all three of OiNK’s editors, as well as Chris Sievey aka Frank Sidebottom, smoked at the time but they still wanted to try stopping the children who looked up to their characters from making the mistake of starting themselves. One cartoonist who never started the habit and was more than happy to contribute was Lew Stringer and his Tom Thug seemed the perfect fit. Tom was someone who liked to present himself a certain way and would be stupid enough to think being seen smoking cigarettes would help with his image.
“I remember being commissioned to do an anti-smoking story for Tom Thug,” Lew told me. “I’ve never been a smoker and hate the damage it does to people so I didn’t hold back. I enjoyed doing my page and hopefully the comic had the desired effect on kids. Comics shy away from such things now but anti-smoking strips were commonplace in the comics I grew up with.” This strip is also notable for featuring a girl who actually likes Tom… for a whole three panels!
In Lew’s own blog post about such strips from the 60s he mentions one which featured a character telling the reader what they could afford to buy if they weren’t paying for cigarettes. That’s exactly what Frank does with his page in this and between him and Tom they cover the lighter end of the spectrum of content. Much more of it deals with the ultimate consequence of smoking. In fact about half of the comic drills home the fact that smoking leads to death. Like I said, it really doesn’t hold back.
Jeremy Banx certainly doesn’t either with his double-page Burp strip, particularly on the first page. Starting off with a silly little panel of him hoovering the lawn it soon gets very serious indeed. Yes, he’s talking to his lungs who are having a crafty smoke behind the outside loo, but the actual words Jeremy puts into Burp’s mouth are very serious indeed. They’re even accompanied by factual captions giving more context, something you don’t expect in a children’s comic.
Then again, this was an OiNK created to be supplied to schools, so ideally it needed to educate the kids on the dangers of smoking, alongside the laughs, and Jeremy really went to town on teaching the pig pals (and potential pig pals) about the background to the nasty habit. Of course, the second half of the strip sees it descend into more typical chaos and we get yet another weapon creation of Burp’s (remember the tractor beam?), this time it produces a somewhat accurate result, at least until they set themselves on fire.
Finishing off with the internal struggle (literally in his case) that comes with being an alien with sentient organs this is the main highlight of the special edition for me. Not that it’s lacking in others of course. Mike Peek brings his unique art style to a quiz, overseen by an equally unique version of Uncle Pigg that I just love and a smoking taxi driver gets a shock when he asks his passenger why they think smoking is unhealthy.
Even though this issue never made it into the hands of the larger OiNK audience there’s still a Grunts page with reader contributions and there are a couple of reprinted strips from the regular comic which fit in perfectly. The first is Plopeye the Sailor from #9 in which he ends up wheezing and exhausted trying to look after a baby because of the pipe he’s forever smoking. The second is a Pigg Tale from #15 called Up In Smoke, written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Dave Follows.
It begins with young Pete learning what a conscience is, imagining it as a little elf character who lives inside his head telling him what’s the right things to do in life are, and the things which are wrong and he should never do. As he grows up the elf becomes more to him though, developing into an imaginary friend who’d continue to represent his inner thought processes whether he liked it or not. The stage is now set and we see Peter as a teenager and under a bit of peer pressure.
Yep, like all good lengthy OiNK one-offs it was a set up for perfectly atrocious pun. I have to say when I was a teenager I didn’t see any of this sort of peer pressure. None of my closest friends smoked and I must’ve lived in some form of personal bubble because only when meeting up years later with many of those friends did I find out it was more common than I’d thought. Even though this was a reprint its setting means it could easily have been created just for this schools special.
Towards the back of the comic is a madvertisement for a spoof cigarette brand with a skeleton as their mascot and in Addict!! a young woman tells us all the reasons why she smokes, showing us how contradictory her reasons are; smoking to relax but also when she’s stressed, when she was happy and when she became ill she smoked more because she was worried. She ends up at the pearly gates begging St. Peter for a fag. Just before this is a quick Health Warning drawn by Les Barton (Lezz).
There’s a little copyright notice on page two which states this issue of OiNK was published by Project Smoke Free at the North Western Regional Health Authority. In fact, it was printed by the OiNK editors themselves and thousands were handed out to schools free of charge. Patrick told me it was such a success that the school boards wanted it to go national and requested up to 1,000,000 copies for distribution! There was no way the OiNK guys could handle that amount so they approached OiNK’s publisher, Fleetway.
Fleetway told them to leave it with them and then nothing happened. The reasons are unclear. But what a wasted opportunity! Imagine the publicity a million free copies throughout schools in England would’ve brought to the regular comic. Imagine the sales spikes. But nope, the success of the Smokebuster Special ended with this one unique edition. If it had gone nationwide imagine the shock of those in the press, not to mention the pressure groups, who criticised OiNK as being a bad influence on children.
A funny story is linked to this issue. In #46 of OiNK we saw Frank Sidebottom with a bunch of pig pals promoting their anti-smoking message. The press were on hand that day and even Junior Health Minister Edwina Currie showed up, as shown in #47. However, once the kids were on their trains home the OiNK editors and Chris Sievey (Frank) all lit up! The press was still there to catch the moment too. I don’t think Uncle Pigg would’ve been too happy with that funny moment, do you?
This Ian Jackson image makes up the back cover and rounds things off nicely with a nice, subtle message from our editor. It’s been great to finally get my hands on this 35 years after the fact and to have some new OiNK material to read. I didn’t expect that in 2023! Check out #46 and #47 (the review of the latter will be up three days after this post is published) for more on this and if you’d like to see another special free edition of the comic there’s also the Crash magazine edition from 1987 to check out.