Tag Archives: Ian Jackson

OiNK! SMOKEBUSTER SPECiAL!: RARE FUN

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.

The press were on hand that day and even Junior Health Minister Edwina Currie showed up

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.

OiNK! #46: BACK SO SOON?

Lew Stringer brings us his second OiNK cover (#33‘s was the first cover of his career) which perfectly sums up the very different and eclectic range of characters the comic had compared to its peers, even if Roger Rental He’s Completely Mental on the bottom row isn’t inside and wouldn’t actually return until #63! The first of three covers with a yellow background and a banner coaxing in new readers to the now-weekly OiNK, it’s by far the best of the three.

Inside there’s a definite feeling of a more traditional comic creeping in. Not only are strips of different lengths all corralled together like last time, but all of the returning characters are on the same pages. This isn’t very OiNK-like at all, so thankfully it’s only a temporary situation as far as I can remember, perhaps because of the sudden increase in workload for the editorial team. Thankfully, after a handful of weekly issues OiNK does return to its much more randomly generated feel.

For these handful of issues The Slugs would be the first strip readers would come across after Grunts. The punk band, written by co-editor Tony Husband and drawn by Les Barton (‘Lezz’) were the perfect introduction for new readers, with the scratchy art and the punk mentality behind OiNK itself on the page for all to see. However this story is a little different, while still perfectly compatible with the characters and the set up.

Tony Husband was making a clear point to young minds through anarchy and comedy

OiNK had its fair share of critics at the time who said it was a bad influence on kids, but they clearly never actually read the comic because it often got serious messages across using humour children would appreciate. Tony is an absolute gent in real life, a man whose passion for fairness to all creatures, human and otherwise is clear on social media posts. With this Slugs strip back in 1988 he was making a clear point to young minds through anarchy and comedy. Brilliant stuff.

There’s another specific message OiNK liked to get across to its pig pals on occasion, one which resulted in an extra edition outside of the regular comic and you’ll be able to check that out in just a few days, but I’ll get to that in a bit. First up, one of the very best Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile – Aged 8 5/8 (yearƨ) strips out of the whole run. For the most part the family are pushed into the background and we get to focus on Hadrian himself innocently playing in the snow.

Another little reference to Stinky Exton there after OiNK contributing writer Graham Exton who was great friends with writer (and co-editor) Mark Rodgers. Never has a creation married writer and artist together as perfectly as Hadrian Vile, with Ian Jackson’s unique style capturing the spirit of the character and humour so sublimely. I can also sympathise with being wrapped up like a burrito by parents at that age, although thankfully it never produced this end result.

The anonymous backside on the cover wasn’t the only bare bum to be brandished by Lew Stringer as none other than Pete Throb would bare all in his strip too. With only hours until the school disco Pete finds himself at a loss as to what to do with his enormous pimple in such a short period of time. He can’t exactly dance with anyone with this third wheel of a zit! One daft idea lands him in trouble, as per usual, but this leads on to an even more unexpected outcome.

It’s all innocent enough, yet OiNK was the only kid’s comic you’d have seen anything like this in, never mind on the cover! I also like the colouring used here, just the flesh colours which highlights the pimple and a yellow for the balloons, which I originally thought was to match the colour of the pus, but this turns out to be a sickly, gross brown colour. Nice. Also, that second subtle pun surprised me, I thought using the word “shower” to describe a group of people (usually daft people) was a Northern Ireland thing!

Lew also writes the continuing adventure of Sherlock Hams in The Hog of the Baskervilles, jam-packed with groan-worthy puns and gags. Other highlights include Uncle Pigg finally answering the query I myself had when I read #39’s Hadrian Vile strip, but thankfully Ian wasn’t fired for getting into a jam (sorry). David Haldane had occasionally given us some strange factoids from around the world (also in #39 as chance would have it) and it’s now a regular feature. Also, Horace (Ugly Face) Watkin’s ongoing soap-like strip ends on a cliffhanger that would make even Emmerdale jealous.

Back in #32’s review one of the stand out moments was when Jeremy Banx’s smelly alien Burp, forever trying to befriend humans on his strange new home, gave life to a child’s teddy bear believing he was saving its life rather than creating a new one. Of course it didn’t have a happy ending, not when there was opportunity to have a hilarious and horrific one as the girl proceeded to play with the newly sentient bear in the most childlike of ways.

This resulted in the strip finishing with the bear screaming as limbs were torn off, blood spurted everywhere and threats of burying him in the garden were made. I mentioned back then it wasn’t the last we’d see of this character. I’m delighted to say the time has come for him to contact Burp again in a desperate attempt to save himself from the torture of being treated like any other toy. Can Burp come to the rescue in time?

That poor bear. But it wouldn’t have been the same if he’d been rescued and it makes for a brilliantly funny and (clearly) final appearance. The ‘Little Obedient Woman About the House Play Set’ is also a nice dig at the clichéd stereotyping of boys’ and girls’ toys which was so prevalent back then, something that’s thankfully improved since. Just this past Christmas my friend’s four-year-old boy was ecstatic when Santa Claus brought him the toy kitchen he’d asked for, so things have definitely improved.

OiNK’s three co-editors (and Chris Sievey inside Frank Sidebottom) all smoked in the 80s but they were keen to ensure the young readers didn’t make the same mistake

Something else that’s improved since the 80s is the abundance of smoke we’re subjected to. At the time my parents both smoked (they stopped about twenty years ago now) and secretly so did all of my siblings. I always hated it and never started, but growing up with it I guess I got used to it whether I liked it or not. Thinking back it really was everywhere and even as a child I remember being in restaurants or family bars on special occasions and the air was thick with it. I couldn’t cope with that these days!

Thankfully, when I was in my 20s the introduction of the smoking ban across Europe soon made its way here and overnight things improved dramatically. So much so that it’s quite rare for me to see anyone smoking these days (because of this I can definitely smell them before I see them). Despite the fact that OiNK’s three co-editors (and Chris Sievey inside Frank Sidebottom) all smoked in the 80s they were keen to ensure the young readers didn’t make the same mistake.

These photos were taken at the end of a day meeting some pig pals to promote their anti-smoking message, something they’d done with the release of a very special free edition of the comic, the OiNK Smokebuster Special. This was given away to schools in the north of England but unfortunately was never distributed further afield despite its success (although this was Fleetway’s fault, not OiNK’s, read the review to find out more). As such, this is obviously a rare issue and was incredibly difficult to get a hold of.

I say “was” because I finally got my trotters on it last year. I wasn’t even aware of it until a handful of years ago and have yet to read it, saving it for the review. That time has finally come and with this page above as my cue I’ll be reading the special 16-page OiNK before the next regular weekly issue, so watch out for it on the blog in a few days. But first up, with the themes gone so too were the enjoyable Next Issue promos, but in their place came a series of brilliant newsagent coupons under the banner of ‘Great Moments in History’.

I don’t know of anyone who actually had to use these, we simply asked for our reservations. While other comics I collected such as Marvel UK’s Transformers and The Real Ghostbusters would just reprint the same coupon every issue, OiNK used it as a chance to get one more laugh out of us. There are some brilliant ones to come so I intend to show them all.

Right, well there we go, our second weekly OiNK done and dusted. The next couple of issues would keep to the yellow theme on the cover as mentioned above but next week’s is horrible. I must warn you, it really is one of the ugliest comics covers you’re ever likely to see! You’ll have to wait until Saturday 21st January 2023 (oh pipe down, it’s only seven days away) to see what I mean, but before then check back here on Wednesday 18th January 2023 for the review of the OiNK Smokebuster Special!

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.