How many of you can remember coming downstairs on Christmas morning and seeing this cheery face staring back at you? I’d been giddy at getting my hands on this ever since I saw it in my local newsagents a few months previous. It really stood out with its glossy soft cover in the sea of cardboard hardbacks. Inside, all 80 interior pages are made of a thick, high quality stock, giving the book a heavy, expensive feel. Co-editor Patrick Gallagher tells me, “The higher-quality paper stock of the book was the idea of Bob Paynter at Fleetway. Bob was completely on our wavelength and knew it would appeal. The floppy glossy cover and back also seemed to really suit the enlarged shots of the plasticine pig face and bottom models Ian Jackson made by capturing the detail so well.”
Before this I’d read some of my brother’s Beano annuals but to my young mind they felt just like regular stories but with bigger panels to make them last longer. But The OiNK! Book 1988 was, as ever, different. This first book packed in as much as it possibly could to every single page. As a result, it may have had roughly 30 pages less than its contemporaries but it had so much more to read and enjoy. It all began with that famous cover, especially when you flipped it over but we’ll get to that later. While it didn’t really sink in as a kid, that claim on the bottom right is bold and of course completely correct. Inside, a special bookend of Uncle Pigg and Mary Lighthouse introduced that team to readers.
This was innovative for a time when signatures in humour comics were rare, but OiNK’s young readers knew the names of their favourite cartoonists thanks to its creators Patrick Gallagher, Mark Rodgers and Tony Husband and their wish to shakes things up. As an adult I can’t help but look at this page in wonderment at the list of talent involved! It really was a selection of Britain’s best and it was all for us kids. We were spoiled. I also love how the chiselled words work their way around the characters and speech balloons, which makes zero sense to the chiseler!
It’s a wonderfully varied read, containing strips from our favourite regulars, some returning stars of early issues, spoofs of those other annuals I mentioned, puzzles (not filler here but typical OiNK-style funnies) and even letters and drawings from readers, something annuals just never included. So how on Earth am I going to choose a few highlights? There’s just too much brilliance on offer. It’s been painstaking but I hope I can do it justice with this selection.
This is one of my most memorable pages, with Marc Riley as the not-at-all inconspicuous burglar, Snatcher Sam in GBH’s Book Club, a take on those book and video clubs that were so popular in the 80s and 90s. Magazines and comics were filled with them, promising cheap titles to begin with as you sign yourself up to buying a certain amount at full price over a year. I was a member of the Britannia Video Club, remember them? That’s why I loved this so much, along with the usual over-the-top nature of the GBH madverts and just look at all those book covers they’ve created for the photograph. Now, 35 years later it’s the effort put into these daft pages that I really appreciate.
Released for Christmas 1987, this was the year I was hearing a lot of rumours in the playground about Santa Claus. Thankfully I soon found out they were just rumours when he left my book under my parents’ wardrobe before Christmas because demand for it was so high and he didn’t want to disappoint me. The rumours of his existence were soon to be put to bed conclusively with a script by Lew Stringer that’s spectacularly brought to the page by 2000AD stalwart Kevin O’Neill, who we sadly said goodbye to earlier this year. But there’s more to The Truth About Santa than we probably wanted to know as 10-year-olds.
There’s an image that’ll stay with you. Or haunt you. I remember this being the strip any friends who read this book at the time seemed to laugh at the most. I may have been the only one of my closest friends who collected OiNK but they all enjoyed reading my issues and in particular this book. In fact, in the year 2000 when I decided to return to college at the age of 23 the book ended up shared around that class too. I can’t remember how it came up in conversation originally, but I dug it out from my cupboard and it made its way around most of my fellow media students, each one of which raved about different aspects of it.
To this day it’s still one of my favourite books (of any type) of all time and my favourite from childhood, and in fact this is my original copy from back then, only one of three OiNKs that survived various clear-outs (by my dad) and moving out years later. Its timeless comedy is a testament to that talent it boasted about on the cover. Just like the regular comic it sets itself apart from the other annuals. While they’d have had huge multi-page versions of their regular strips, here for the most part OiNK kept them to the size they’d normally be, meaning there was a hell of a lot more of them than other books.
Annuals are created far in advance of their release dates so when this one was being put together the ever fantastic Tom Paterson was still a contributor to the comic. Written by the pun-tastic Graham Exton, Eric Knicker the Whacky Vicar may only have been a tiny quarter-page strip but it left a lasting impression on little me during Christmas 1987 as I tittered and giggled and shared the joke with friends and family. A lot better than any cracker joke.
So yes, the annual kept to the format of the comic, only more so. It’s a delight to see the creative team took the opportunity to simply cram much more in of what made OiNK so great in the first place. For a child of ten there was just so much to enjoy. We even got a short Ham Dare strip. Normally a character of multi-issue serials, here his two-page story is a hoot and is followed by this wonderful cutaway of his and Pigby’s ship.
Written by Lew Stringer and drawn by the incredible talent that was J.T. Dogg (Malcolm Douglas) it’s chock full of little details that my young eyes really enjoyed pouring over; kind of like the book itself encapsulated into two pages really. My favourite parts here are the comfy chair and its very dangerous sidestool, and the middle of the spacecraft showing the difference between our heroes, with Ham’s gym next door to Pigby’s very full pantry.
A quick note about the title box at the top of the spread. It makes a great point! My Transformers and Real Ghostbusters annuals would have had “pin-ups” and “mini posters” and I always wondered if anyone actually cut up their fantastic annuals, losing whatever was on the backs of those pages to the walls of their room. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one at the time who thought this was a ridiculous idea.
A quick glance over some other highlights now. Ron Dibney’s Dumb Ol’ Duck reveals another side to himself, Police Vet makes his debut (he’d return in the monthlies the following year) many years before Jim Carrey took on a similar role and Star Truck makes a very welcome return. Just as in #3 the crew make their presence felt throughout the book in between chapters of their own strip. Here, Mark Rodgers literally pops up as Captain Slog in one of Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins‘ pages.
Pigswilla only appeared in seven issues of OiNK altogether but he was still a firm fan favourite, so naturally he had to appear in the annual, with Specky Hector Comics Collector (with added surname) making a funny cameo I’d forgotten all about. Early in the book Frank Sidebottom found out Little Frank had used up all his felt tips and gave him until page 69 to fix the situation, which he does, sort of. So young me lent them both a hand, or at least started to it would appear.
Hadrian Vile’s usual diary entries take a back seat to a selection of pages chronicling his Interleckshual guide toe Nacheral Histry, although he does take some short cuts to get from the evolution of life to the 1980s. His usual know-it-all persona is, as always, hilariously wrong in almost every way. In his fortnightly diary he was the most intelligent person in any room, in his own mind anyway and here his guide to everything from dinosaurs (the hilarious looking Tyrannosaurus rex above is a highlight) to Ford Sierras.
In fact, after spending the first two parts of his guide covering prehistoric Earth he only has one page left to finish up and so this third page makes the leap from the ice age to the aforementioned car in the blink of an eye, clearly skipping millions of years as completely uninteresting. It’s all hilarious, as you’d expect from Mark Rodgers, made all the more special with full colour Ian Jackson art. In fact, so good is it that when the weekly comic itself gets going the diary will eventually be replaced with a series of similar guides.
1987 also saw the 50th anniversary of The Dandy (with Beano’s to come in 1988) hence why OiNK took aim at DC Thomson’s comics with regular digs about how old the characters would really be, such as #38’s Deano. In fact, I received the commemorative 50th anniversary book alongside my OiNK! Book (and The Big Comic Book 1988), although in hindsight I think it was originally for my brother but he stopped reading comics not long before Christmas. Oh well, his loss was my gain.
Returning to that spoof comic name, here the OiNK team take it to even greater heights (although this was probably created first) with a mini-comic inside the annual featuring such characters as Dennis the Pensioner and his dog Flasher, Desperate Old Man and the The Lash St. Old People. All are very funny and then we get a double-page spread of no less than five spoof strips which as a kid were funny, but as an adult are hugely surprising because four are drawn by none other than John Geering!
John was a regular artist for DC Thomson, in fact that’s the publisher he’s most closely associated with, most famously for Bananaman and Puss’n’Boots. To see him take on some of DCT’s characters in OiNK just makes these even funnier than they already were in my opinion. I do remember showing these to my friends who were huge fans of The Beano at the time, in fact I may have gloated a little! Can you blame me?
Unfortunately, I simply don’t know who ‘Philip’ is at the time of writing. His work only appeared in two OiNKs (this and #9), here with Boffo the Bore and two other like-minded strips called Georgie & Zip’s Party and Postman Fat and his Slightly Flat Cat. He’s not mentioned on the intro page either, but needless to say I’m always on the hunt for more information on OiNK’s creation so when I find out I’ll let you know. After The Deano and a ‘Fun-Hour’ pre-school comic we get another special section for adventure fans.
Eagle-eyed blog readers may recognise the brilliant caricature of Roger Moore on the first page from a previous issue (although I didn’t spot this first time around). If you go and take a look at the TV listings page in OiNK #17 you’ll see a tiny part of this image was used the previous Christmas. In it you can even see the OiNK logo behind Roger’s face so it just goes to show how far in advance this was created. This is something that continues to this day. If you follow the likes of Lew Stringer on social media or his own blog he’ll often show us snippets of annuals he’s working on over a year before their release.
I’m a huge James Bond fan, although this only happened when all the Goldeneye hype hooked me in the mid-90s and I started renting out whatever films I could from the local video shop. It was discovering Timothy Dalton as Bond that sold me, whose first film was only released the same year as this book, so the previous 007 (and his type of films) was still the target of this fun, frantic strip written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Tim Thackery.
This was Tim’s sole contribution to OiNK. An illustrator and graphic designer he actually went on to work on CBBC animated series Minuscule Milton with Ian Jackson. Tim told me how he sees this James Bong strip now looking back: “A long time ago, but yes, that was me. Not my best work , but I was a bit pushed for time on it and had to knock it out at a fairly rough level.” Personally I love the art style here as it matches the nature of the strip and brings a real sense of pacing and chaos to the proceedings. You can check out Tim’s official website here.
“She eats pickled herrings in bed and I saw her kissing the window cleaner!”Keith Disease
The Adventure Section also contains that Police Vet strip I mentioned above, a GBH madvertisement for their ‘Personal Hand-Glider’ capable of speeds of up to 100mph (downwards) and another strip, Ena Blighty’s Five Go Adventuring Yet Again. An annual will never have a theme in the same way as the regular comic did at the time, although the festive season does come up a lot obviously. These dedicated sections feel like mini themes, three for the price of one in fact, and are some of the best pages in the whole book.
One character, or rather two, I always found incredibly funny were Hector Vector and his Talking T-shirt. Unfortunately, Jeremy Banx’s strip made its last appearance in #35, disappearing when the comic changed publishers and gave itself a bit of a face lift. With new characters and cartoonists and the very best issues the team ever produced I hadn’t even noticed these two weren’t in amongst the madness, until they popped up here in this brilliant, larger strip.
As pig pals knew, this wasn’t a strip where the brat got his comeuppance at the end of each story; we never knew who’d come out on top between the pair. For their very final appearance I have to admit I was happy to see it was Keith Disease (the t-shirt) who had the last laugh as they were always the best examples of Jeremy’s creation. There were plenty of laughs to be had in this particular strip but it was always that very final panel that had me in creases. It still does.
It’s with a heavy heart but a smile on my face that we come to the end (almost) of the review of the very best edition of OiNK the team produced. This has been both the most fun and yet hardest thing to write so far on this whole blog. It’s been great fun to finally get the chance to reread this book and to tell you all about it, but incredibly difficult to pluck out just a few highlights to try and sum it up. I hope I’ve been able to do it justice. Two more chuckles to go though. First up, the opposite page to that great opener drawn by Ian Jackson.
A couple of puns, funny art and a grinning Uncle Pigg reminding us (and telling those who were introduced to OiNK with the book) of his fortnightly comic, even if it wouldn’t be fortnightly for much longer. It’s a perfect end to a perfect book. It’s such a treasured item for me these days that it came with me to a comic con where Lew Stringer and Davy Francis signed it for me, and when Patrick Gallagher visited me at my home a few years back he added his. I intend to get the inside covers covered with as many squiggles as possible.
With that, I’m going to close the back page over now and here’s why ten-year-old me pestered my parents, my siblings and any visitors to our house over the holidays that year.
The plasticine cover was a step up from Ian’s for the first OiNK! Holiday Special and is probably the most iconic OiNK cover of all, with a story to tell. “When we sent in the transparencies of the pig face and bottom with the artwork for the printer to process, Bob Paynter didn’t spot that the pig’s star-shaped bum was partly exposed and not completely hidden by the pig’s curly tail,” explains Patrick. “It was only when the proofs came back from the printer that Bob spotted it and deemed it too rude to be published. So we had to get photographer Ian Tilton to retake the shot with the pig’s tail completely obscuring the star-shaped bottom.”
It’s still a cheeky cover and perfectly encapsulates OiNK’s unique, naughty yet innocent sense of humour.
From showing off its covers and hearing the raucous laughter of anyone I could grab over that festive season, to rereading it in my 20s, 30s and now 40s, lending it to friends many years after OiNK was a distant memory… this book will never, ever get old. It’s OiNK in its purest, most concentrated form. Every page feels fresh and new, like it was written this year, not 35 of them ago. Receiving my favourite issue of the regular comic, the Christmassy #43 and this back-to-back made my Christmas in 1987, and reliving them has done it again in 2022. If you’re reading this post on the day of publication I hope you have a wonderful day and a very Merry Christmas!