As a child one of my regular orders at the newsagents was for Fleetway’s Big Comic Fortnightly, which I collected from #1 for a couple of years after receiving a giant book the previous Christmas (the 1988 volume). I didn’t know until deciding to collect the books for the blog that there had actually been another the year before; when it had hit the shelves originally I hadn’t even discovered OiNK (my first comic) yet. Now I’ve been able to complete the collection of eight huge tomes that make up the Big Comic Book series, released between 1986 and 1993.
While they’d have been available since the end of the summer, it was Christmas Day when most of us would’ve received these so I’m going to cover one each festive season. (At least you know the blog will be about for a bit now!) While OiNK was more in tune with my sense of humour than more traditional humour comics, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of smiles and a few chortles to be had here. With 256 pages it’s a cliché to say it but there is something for everyone. Here are a few of my own personal highlights.
I can’t remember these first characters from the fortnightly or books as a kid, but that’s probably more a lack of memory on my part. Happy Families is drawn here by Dick Millington and I’m sure it can resonate with many of us around this time of year. The Happies are made up of Mum, Dad, Grandad, Sharon and the twins Vicki and Dicky and the scenario is much like the rest of the book’s comic strips, a simple but effective one; in Happy Families a small disagreement over something very unimportant would escalate until the whole family was at war with each other.
As with much of the contents in the book this is only one of several Happy Families strips, although most of the others end up so rowdy the police get involved. The stories can vary from them all being at each others’ throats by the end, all of them being punished in some way, or one or two of them getting sweet revenge on the rest of the family. Yet at the start of each new strip they’re back to loving one another again. Families, eh? These strips may even have been somewhat cathartic for some readers’ parents or older siblings on Christmas Day.
Regular blog readers will know I’m a sucker for a comical shark in the pages of OiNK due to my obsession with the creatures. This stemmed from my favourite movie of all time, Jaws which inspired teenage me to read up on the real fish and decades later I’m still fascinated. In fact, my favourite ever page of OiNK was a parody of Jaws in #4 but even the top comic of all time has to take a bow to the following star of Monster Fun.
When I started collecting Big Comic it would still be a couple of years before I’d see the best film ever made but I always loved Gums. I was reading this funny strip very obviously inspired by that movie before I saw it. After I did eventually watch Jaws I just enjoyed this toothless version even more so as a result. Gums was originally created by writer Roy Davis and artist Robert Nixon, the above strip is taken from Buster after Monster Fun folded and is drawn by John Geering (who also contributed to a handful of OiNKs).
To me he was always a Geering character. John gives such fantastic, expressive gestures to Gums who thought he was a terrifying monster of the deep, but the cast of recurring characters who lived with him weren’t exactly quaking in the depths. The best thing was that Gums would sometimes triumph in his schemes which kept things fresh. With quite a few strips in this one book, it’s clear he was a fan favourite. Our next character also originated in Monster Fun.
Kid Kong’s original artist was also Robert Nixon, although this Buster strip is drawn by Rob Lee and alongside Gums he lives on today in Rebellion’s seasonal Monster Fun specials in new stories by new artists. Originally an escapee from a zoo and much larger, he was shrunk down to make it easier to write stories in a family home setting, although still having to stoop down to fit in Granny Smith’s house. Granny was chronically short-sighted and hard of hearing, mistaking Kong as her own.
As enjoyable as these have been so far, not all of the contents hit the spot as much as these examples. Some haven’t aged well, in fact some of those I read at the time hadn’t even aged well by the late 80s. But whether it was the latest book or the fortnightly comic there was enough content to ensure plenty of enjoyment and the odd chortle from a favourite character. It’s a cliché, but the sheer size of Big Comic meant every reader would have some favourites and get a lot from each volume. Just don’t be expecting OiNK levels of guffaws. Unless you’re reading Gums, of course.
In recent years Ken Reid’s Faceache has had something of a resurgence, from a gorgeous hardback collection to new strips alongside the two stars above. Created for Jet comic but (yet again) a later star of Buster, Ken’s style is instantly recognisable and upon first glance may seem very traditional, very DC Thomson-esque to the uninitiated. But you soon realise these are very different to pretty much everything else in this book!
The humour has a different feel to it, not least thanks to the creative ‘scrunges’ Faceache pulls off. This juxtaposition works, the strips feel fresh even today with a unique art style. Ken’s work really pops, really stands out, which is no small feat in such a huge book where everything is black and white on cheap paper stock. However, if you’re scanning through a Big Comic Book these really do stop you in your tracks.
I’ve happy memories of the following family from my time with the fortnightly comic and they’d often be the first strip I’d read, the endings almost always guaranteed to raise a laugh. The Bumpkin Billionaires originated in Whoopee and told the tale of a family of Beverly Hillbilly types who had won billions of pounds on the pools (the family-friendly weekly sports betting which predated the lottery, kids – Phil) but who hated the lifestyle changes the money brought. Every story would show us another hare-brained scheme of Ma, Pa, Billy and Daisy‘s to get rid of all their cash, much to the disgruntlement of their bank manager.
Mike Lacey brought these loveable rogues to life and the physical comedy of the main characters was always a hoot. Most of the time the family’s plan would fall apart in the final frame or two and they’d somehow end up with even more money than they started with. I’ve included the one above because it was one of those rare occasions when things actually worked out in their favour. Well, I’m assuming these were rare occasions, I certainly can’t remember this happening regularly and I’ve fond memories of trying to work out what was about to go wrong for them.
Do you remember CBBC programme Grange Hill? My siblings watched it but I never did, although the theme tune is still seared into my mind. Whizzer & Chips came along with its own interpretation, Strange Hill which as a name I absolutely love. Teech was the poor sap trying to educate the wee monsters, who in this case actually were little monsters; a class full of spooks, ghouls and tiny versions of famous Hollywood creatures. I thought this particular example would be a good one to include on this blog, can you tell why?
Tom Paterson, who brought us a few ingenious early OiNK strips, is the perfect choice for these manic scripts with such a varied ensemble cast, and his trademark smelly socks, little squigly creatures and descriptive word bombs are all evident by the bucketload. These little extras always made his strips classics for me and his were the only ones I read in my brother’s Beanos. I’ve always said it’s unfortunate he was too busy to contribute more to OiNK where surely his work was a perfect fit.
Drawn by Sid Burgon, Lolly Pop was an entrepreneur with an endless range of businesses and an equally endless supply of money. However, while his businesses thrived the same couldn’t be said of his relationship with his son Archie, who was a regular kid after a regular life, who just wanted to play and spend time with his dad. With his dad being so preoccupied with his factories, Archie’s unsupervised attempts of leading a normal life and wanting to win his father’s attention would inevitably lead to a variety of disasters.
It also didn’t help that despite being an obvious millionaire Lolly Pop was rather miserly to say the least, preoccupied with saving his wealth, leading to Archie being somewhat neglected. Although to be fair it was only attention that Archie felt starved of. Originally in Whoopee, Lolly Pop is one of the stronger series in this book and there are stories involving Lolly Pop Toffees Ltd, Lolly Pop Movie Studios, Lolly Pop’s Garage, Pop’s Tyres, Lolly Pop Wood Products and Lolly Pop’s Record Company over five 2-page strips.
“Ha! No playpen can hold Sweeny!”Sweeny Toddler
To finish the review, there’s one perennial favourite that surely everyone loves no matter which generation they’re from. Another character appearing in new strips today, even illustrated by one of his original artists, Sweeney was the tearaway toddler who would cause havoc in not only his own home but all across town, with his ever faithful canine friend Henry by his side. Sweeney Toddler was originally created for Shiver and Shake comic and drawn by Leo Baxendale, then through mergers he’d go on to star in Whoopee, Whizzer and Chips and (of course) Buster.
There’s a reason Sweeney lasted as long as he did. Quite early on the brilliant Tom Paterson took over drawing duties and OiNK’s very own Graham Exton became Sweeney’s writer in the early 80s. They made the perfect team and during that time the strip rose to ever greater heights. The strip below is drawn by Tom but is before Graham. By the time Graham joined Tom’s style had developed to include all those lovely little sight gags he became synonymous with, like those in Strange Hill.
Overall, the first Big Comic Book is a success. Financially it was a huge success! It (and its fortnightly spin-of) cost next to nothing to produce since Fleetway owned the rights to all of the contents (we would never have seen any OiNK material as a result since most of it was creator-owned) and used cheaper paper stock, enabling the books to be much thicker with a retail price similar to a regular annual.
While some of the strips haven’t stood the test of time as well as others, there’s not really any that won’t at least raise a smile, making it a very pleasant reading experience. Needless to say, if you see this on eBay or in a second-hand charity store snap it up. With this amount of silly comics stuffed inside you should find plenty to keep you amused no matter your tastes.