Tag Archives: Les Barton (Lezz)

OiNK! #38: A FEAST OF FUNNiES

A cover that would surely stand out on the shelves, a full-page photograph of Frank Sidebottom (aka Chris Sievey) and Marc Riley as his alter ego Snatcher Sam getting into what appears to be a food fight, with a promise of a full story inside. Frank never seemed to be off our television screens at the time, so having him in OiNK was a major coup for the comic, having him on the cover even more so. Well, it would be if his face wasn’t covered with those wonderful stickers, of course.

Our third and final set includes the same ‘Stick with OiNK’ on the back as previous issues and an array of stars with Burp, Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins, Harry the Head and Frank himself on the good quality, bright yellow stickers. The butcher one in particular I remember, I think it ended up on our fridge back in 1987 but not for very long. We wouldn’t get any more free gifts until the final issue, a gift that would lead me directly to my next comic obsession.

The Story Behind the Cover strip was the first time we’d seen Frank and Sam in a photo story since #26 (something which used to be a regular occurrence for Sam in the early issues) and here it’s split up into three small chunks, with the conclusion on page 31. However, the first two parts are also split up over the opening pages, the bottom half on page two and the second at the top of page three. Why? Comic timing (no pun intended).

Have you ever turned over a page of a comic and something towards the end of the strip catches your eye? Or have you ever been reading a page and your eye happens to wonder just for a split second when something further down comes within eye level, revealing the big gag early? (Just me?) I love how this stops the strip at the point where Frank’s turn of phrase suggests something very different to what actually happens, then the gag lands when we start on the next page.

That pie thrown in the final image would be seen throughout the comic thanks to co-creator/co-editor Patrick Gallagher as it wings its way to the inner back page. The pie isn’t the only addition to some pages, there are little plops here and there with suitable puns, much like we had in the very earliest issues, in particular the preview issue. These were added to the previous two OiNKs too, adding to that feeling of newness I described during #36’s review.

We’ll get back to that at the end of the issue, as intended. As I mentioned in the OiNK’s Golden Age post this was my very favourite time in OiNK’s run, mainly because all of my very favourite characters, writers and cartoonists were present in almost every issue. One character who’d I’d always thought was a regular from the moment she first appeared was Psycho Gran by the insanely talented (and all round decent feller) David Leach.

Old Lady Psycho appeared seemingly randomly from #15 up to this point, partly because David didn’t know she was to be a regular character until that issue was published. Her Maniacal Majesty was at her most prolific in these latter fortnightlies, in fact apart from the next issue she’ll be in every one until OiNK turns weekly, when she unfortunately disappears, only popping up in three of the regular issues after that. Although her appearance in the second annual is not to be missed! So she’s another reason to enjoy the rest of this year’s issues.

A loveable character, often the subject of body shaming his cheery demeanour would see him get one over the bullies

Also introduced in #15 and advertised as a regular was Fatty Farmer, normally written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Mike Green. Farmer appeared in five issues, then this is only his third appearance since and he’d only have three more after this. He was a loveable character, often the subject of body shaming he’d never let it get to him and his cheery demeanour would see him get one over the bullies every time.

Here however, he’s eaten a load of cream cheese just before bedtime and, playing on the old tale of cheese giving you nightmares if you eat it late at night, he drifts into a disturbed sleep in Fatty Farmer’s Nightmare! A Blubbery Bonus. This time the script has been written by new OiNK scribe Vaughan Brunt, with Mike as ever providing the art. Written as a rhyme it starts off silly and just gets sillier.

I’m a sucker for a comical shark and Mike doesn’t disappoint here. For a start trying to strangle a shark is funny enough, never mind the giant, crazy eyes, lack of pectoral fins making it look like a long, silly sausage and the little “Dunslop” sign on the front of its rubber body! This was the only time Fatty Farmer got a full page to himself and I think it’s Mike’s art that really makes it. It could’ve been written for any character but Mike brings such ‘character‘ to the lead it feels like a perfect fit.

Other highlights of this issue include Burp making a perfect political statement three decades early, Death’s hilarious reaction to an unwelcome visitor, our dense-but-buffed Endor and his magical spectacles being woken from their apparently cuddly sleep when the Monocle of Mayhem is stolen by a ghost and Pete giving us a hint as to why he may have that pimple in the first place.

A quick note on those last two panels. This was the first appearance for new serial Jimmy Flynn, a boy who was “bathed in a weird light from a flying saucer” and ever since could make his skeleton jump out of his skin to go and investigate spooky goings-on. Each strip would hype a ‘Special Guest Star’ in the title too, only for that special guest to appear inconsequentially in one panel, as Larry Hogman (Larry Hagman, Dallas) does here.

This issue saw the very first contribution from none other than Kev F Sutherland. A prolific cartoonist in OiNK’s weekly and monthly issues (his work would make up about a sixth of the final issue!) this was the only time his art would be seen in the fortnightlies but it’s great to see him join the fray at last. A small, quarter-page three-panel Madvertisement riffing off the McDonald’s TV adverts of the time, not only is this Kev’s first OiNK strip, it’s his very first published work.

So a little bit of comics history right there. Kev went on to be a cartoonist in titles as diverse as Beano, Toxic, Doctor Who Adventures and Red Dwarf Magazine. Today he also visits schools to teach comics creation, performs with socks puppets as The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre and you can check out his 17-part podcast series Comic Cuts – The Panel Show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

When you’re a heavy, building-sized robotic pig there’s no way you can’t make an impact

I’ve been looking forward to Kev’s time in the comic and forgot all about this little strip. Having proven himself we had to wait until #49 to see him again but it’ll be worth the wait. Some of the very best strips in the monthlies are from Kev; The March of the Killer Breakfasts and a simply brilliant strip about three scientists discovering time travel are stand outs from those final issues. Kev also had a series called simply Meanwhile… which would have a completely different scenario every time, all linked together by nothing more than his unique art style and even more unique sense of humour. You’ll see some of those next year.

One character who didn’t appear too often, showing up for just five regular issues and both annuals, but who made a huge impact with readers and remains a fan favourite to this day was Pigswilla. Then again, when you’re a heavy, building-sized robotic pig there’s no way you can’t make an impact. He returns this issue in Beware the Bread-Beast from Beyond. As you can see Lew Stringer’s gorgeous colour work has returned, as has his rhyming storytelling.

It’s all very funny, that exclamation by the Bread-Beast at the top of the second page along with his facial expression made me genuinely roar! You know you’re in for a treat when you turn a page and find Pigswilla is in the issue and we were never let down. The strip ends with cut-out finger puppets and by the initials it appears Mark Rodgers had a hand (boom! boom!) in those. It wasn’t the first time OiNK featured such things and Lew would do something similar to brilliant effect with his Combat Colin strip in Marvel UK’s Transformers a few years later.

The next strip takes up two pages, although it’s not a double-page spread, instead we turn over for the second half. This isn’t for comic timing this time, instead it means they can be presented as the front and back covers of a spoof comic. When I read this issue for the first time since childhood I was surprised to see it because the first annual had a superb, multi-page spoof of The Beano and The Dandy and it would’ve been on sale at this time (although most of us didn’t get it until Christmas, of course). Nevertheless, here’s the first time OiNK took a direct swipe at DC Thomson’s best-seller with The Deano.

This was all a well-meaning jest, a parody of the long established comics. As OiNK writer Graham Exton once told me parody is when you poke fun at something you admire, satire is something different, and these were always intended as parodies. For example, this was written by co-creator/co-editor Mark Rodgers who (according to Graham I should add) would always have a Beano Book next to the loo for guests in his house to read while they did their business.


“There’s a new butcher in town, gang! Let’s splat him!”

Scramble

Brought to life by Les ‘Lezz’ Barton, it emphasises the running gag that the comics were tired and had been going on too long with the volume and issue numbers, and it all goes rather dark on the second page. I’m not referring to the lights being turned off, let’s be clear Dennis has just minced and eaten his pet dog! Then again, we are reading a comic which advertised burgers made of butchers in its preview issue so the precedent was set.

Percy Piglet turning the light out will actually get mentioned in our final highlight from this issue but just before that here’s the winner of Granada TV’s Scramble competition as promised. I actually prefer runner up Ian Marshall’s Professor Foible but I wasn’t judging and when the winning strip is that of a gang of punk pigs it’s clear this was always going to be the winner. After all, co-editor Tony Husband was (and still is) a huge fan of punk music and always saw OiNK as the comic equivalent.

I’m sure Michael Spencer of Poynton was thrilled to see his work in the comic, introduced by Uncle Pigg and the plops on the previous page. You can’t fault the imagination on show and it reminds me of the comics my friend Roger and I made for each other in school, which were usually riffs on Marvel UK comics such as Transformers and The Real Ghostbusters. From memory, Roger created The Battleoids and School Busters, while mine were called War-Bots and The Real Smokebusters. Hmm, definitely not as original as Michael’s strip.

Time to round off this issue’s review with the conclusion of our photo story starring Marc Riley as Snatcher Sam and Chris Sievey as Frank Sidebottom. The custard pie has made its way through the comic to end up splattered all over Sam so the OiNK photographer finally gets their shot. In response the reluctant cover stars plot revenge and this is where the reference from earlier comes back to funny effect.

The lucky young star here who got to meet some of the OiNK team was Scott Steward, neighbour of Patrick Gallagher‘s. Thanks again to Patrick for the info and as always he’s sent along a recent photograph to show us Scott as he is now. Hello Scott!

That’s our feast of an issue at an end and it’s been a belter from start to finish. It should come as no shock that I think the same of the next one, at least from memory anyway. After that will be the Hallowe’en issue which (along with the Christmas edition later on this year) I seem to recall was one of my very favourite OiNKs of all time. So good times ahead then! The next OiNK review, of the Games and Puzzles Issue will be here on Monday 17th October 2022. See you then, pig pals!

OiNK! #34: PIG PALS, HO!

This latest issue of OiNK marks the end of an era and a particular milestone in the comic’s run, neither of which we were aware of when we first bought it back in 1987. First up, this would be the final issue published by IPC Magazines, the company which took that initial chance on the whole concept and it had paid off for them! IPC were very happy with OiNK’s sales of roughly 100,000 per issue, the press coverage and the celebrity endorsements it had inspired. But now changes were coming, as you’ll see soon.

As for the milestone, it couldn’t have been foretold at the time. OiNK would run to 68 issues altogether so after reading this edition I’m now officially at the halfway point of the regular issues (just 18 days before this issue, 21st July was the halfway point date-wise too). Where has the time gone? I’m particularly looking forward to the remaining issues from this year because they include some of my very favourites and of course there’s also the first book, but I’ll go into that in more depth in a future post.

‘Butch-arr the Ever-Cleaving’ on Ed McHenry’s cover is just hilarious

The Next Issue promo in #33 starred Weedy Willy so it’s rather strange to see a distinct lack of him in this issue. The adventure theme isn’t as prevalent as previous subjects, in fact most of the regulars ignore it or just tangentially relate to it. Thunderpigs is the main themed strip but unfortunately it’s not the best. There have definitely been (and will be) better spoofs, many of the jokes here are rehashes of previous ideas (the main gag is a saturation of overpriced merchandise) but it did produce Butch-arr the Ever-Cleaving on Ed McHenry’s cover which is just hilarious.

I think OiNK’s three-panel strips would make a great digital collection of quick-fire, random, spontaneous gags, guaranteed to have plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Probably my favourite strip amongst all of these mini marvels was Roger Rental, He’s Completely Mental. Written by a variety of people throughout the run but always drawn by Ian Knox, Roger’s entry for this issue was written by Howard Osborn whose work I haven’t featured on the blog yet.

A prolific writer for the comic, his scripts would appear in 19 issues altogether, although he’d often contribute a few strips to each one. First appearing in #23 and staying with OiNK through to its conclusion, Howard’s name would be attached to many of the mini-strips from here on.

From a writer’s first blog appearance to a punk band’s.

OiNK has been described by co-creator/co-editor Tony Husband as the punk band of comics. With him being a fan of the music genre, I can see where Tony is coming from. OiNK came out around the same time as the MADchester music scene and was seen by many as an integral part of it thanks to the likes of Frank Sidebottom, Marc Riley and the music superstars often photographed reading it. Even when OiNK was cancelled after two-and-a-half years Tony said it was better for it to burn out than fade away, that punk attitude at the forefront right to the very end.

With this attitude it was only natural that a strip starring a punk band would eventually make its way onto the pages. Their first appearance was actually last issue, when a straight laced local band were subjected to punk music and made a startling transformation into The Slugs. Always written by Tony and drawn by Les ‘Lezz’ Barton, The Slugs would be regulars in 24 OiNKs, only missing the occasional issue until the end of the weeklies, never making the shift into the monthlies for some reason. They’d quickly become a fan favourite and this sophomore strip shows why.

For me, rather than Thundercats, the main highlight of this issue has to be the following.

While it may not be linked to the theme either, Tom Thug Meets Pete and his Pimple is a hilarious addition and something of a surprise because until I read OiNK a few years back for the original blog I’d no recollection of this happening. We’ve already seen Zeta in a Tom strip before in #13 when he crossed over with Weedy Willy, but only now do we find out she’s actually Pete Throb’s sister. (How could we not know!) Between Tom’s attempts to appear spotty, to the very satisfying ending for both characters, this was surely a hit amongst pig pals at the time!

Lew tells me he simply approached co-editor Mark Rodgers with the idea of having Tom and Pete finally meet and was given the green light. He didn’t want to do it in a typical Beano style though, where one would simply guest star in the other’s strip. Instead, Lew wanted it to be more of an event, giving them equal billing in a larger than normal strip. “I liked the flexibility of OiNK allowing things like this,” Lew told me. “Readers never knew what to expect and anything could happen in each issue.” How true. We loved it!


“Slurp! Slurp! That’s nectar, that is – slurp!”

Burp’s bath tap

As always, here’s a quick glance at some individual panel highlights from the issue, beginning with Burp’s plumbing problem, The Amazin’ Spider-Guy has some very authentic special skills and in The Street-Hogs our not-very-well-disguised baddie finally reveals himself. Thought to have drowned in a vat of his own apple sauce back in #11, instead Don Poloney just ate his way out, hence his somewhat different shape. There are some absolute treats in this issue.

Interestingly, in the 2000s Lew would go on to draw the real Spider-Man in Marvel Rampage and (after its cancellation) Spectacular Spider-Man with his Mini Marvel humour strips, following in the tradition of Marvel comics such as Transformers, Action Force and The Real Ghostbusters to include funnies from Lew. If only Panini would include such extra treats in their monthly Spider-Man and Batman comics we get today. To see some examples of Lew’s Mini Marvel strips you can check out this post on his personal blog.

As mentioned on the previous Grunts page, this issue includes the latest Butcher Watch update from Jeremy Banx, although now it’s been renamed Cleaver Flash! This is in response to how the young readership had taken to the terrifying villain, Jimmy ‘The Cleaver’ Smith who’d originally been just another butcher when he first popped up in #14. This character and his attempts to cull the pig population of our newly porcine-friendly UK had really captured the imagination.

When you think about how pigs were depicted as citizens of the world in OiNK it was a bold move by Jeremy to depict Jimmy as so relentless, the black blood on these pages (Jimmy was always standing in pools of the stuff) all the more shocking and as a young pig pal these strips were the perfect mix of thrills and laughs. The victim’s ridiculous story while his face is constantly obscured by the microphone raises the giggles, followed by the slaughter of the piggy police, then the final reveal and the ending has us almost hearing that blood-curdling scream.

No comic character is as creepy as Jimmy ‘The Cleaver’ Smith and I think it’s clear Jeremy had great fun pushing the envelope as much as he could in a kid’s comic with him. It’s all rounded off with that famous tagline under the final panels. With this, the Lewniverse crossover and The Street-Hogs we’ve obviously had our fill of fantastic double-page spreads for a fortnight, right? Wrong. This issue we were spoiled with larger strips and on the middle pages was yet another treat, The Styeux Tapestry, led into with this introduction.

If you remember your history, you’ll know the Bayeux Tapestry depicted the events that led up to the Norman Conquest of England, with the Duke of Normandy challenging King Harold which of course led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. While the introduction sets the historical scene, containing as many name puns as you could hope for, the main event is something else! Written by Tony Husband and so brilliantly brought to life by Eric ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson, this is just a wonderful middle-page spread indeed.

Historical satire isn’t something you’d expect to see in your average humour comic, but just to complete the cliché OiNK was not your average comic. (If you haven’t caught on to this by now there’s not much hope for you.) To this day I think this would look superb in a fancy frame, something to give the illusion of a serious piece of art until whichever visitor to your home takes a closer look. If anyone asks you to describe OiNK and you’re struggling to summarise its uniqueness, I say just show them this. The Styeux Tapestry perfectly sums up the sense of humour we grew up with.

We come to the end of yet another review and I’m excited for what’s ahead. Most of my memories of OiNK from the 80s come from the second half of the run and my favourites are from the latter half of 1987, the very year I’m covering right now in this real time read through. The issues to come over the next five months have stuck with me all these years and I’ll be going into more depth about that in an extra post soon. As for #35, the Terrific Travel Issue review will be here on the blog from Monday 22nd August 2022.

OiNK! #29: MUSiC TO MY EARS

Okay, so full disclosure before we kick off this review: I bloody love 80s music! During that decade, as the youngest of five children I heard a constant stream of music coming from the bedrooms of my siblings. Sunday afternoons would find them all in one bedroom listening to the radio chart show, and Top of the Pops gathered the family together every week (usually with complaints from the parents). One-by-one as my brother and sisters moved out in the 90s they’d leave their cassettes behind and I began to discover my own musical tastes. Decades later songs from the 1980s fills up the majority of my Apple Music library.

So with that in mind I’m very happy to introduce you to #29 of OiNK, the Nasty, Noisy Music Issue which kicks off with another fun Ian Jackson cover and more free postcards. Having Ian’s jagged, colourful Uncle Pigg serenading critic Mary Lighthouse promises much hilarity inside and it’s not a spoiler to say that promise is well kept. Prolific OiNK cartoonist Lew Stringer brings his two famous creations Pete and his Pimple and Tom Thug to the pieces of card tucked away in the centre of the comic, and thus began pimples and bird droppings zooming around the world’s postal services in the summer of ’87.

Upon opening the comic the first thing I saw on the Grunts page was an apology to a Madonna fan club for a cheeky reference to the pop star back in #16, the previous musically-theme Pop Music Issue. You can see the original ‘Celebrity Lookalike’ they ran with the so-called apology underneath. Of course, the club members should’ve known better, or perhaps they would’ve fully expected Uncle Pigg to make a joke of it somehow. But they definitely should’ve provided their address, that bit of ridicule was completely their own fault.

I always loved the variety of input from readers on the Grunts pages and this is a great example. If you ever featured in the pages of OiNK do drop me a line in the comments here or on the blog’s social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook). I’ve a list of every contribution made by readers so I’ll happily dig yours out. I have to say I do particularly like the ‘Set of LPs’ promo here too.

Just a few turns of the page later there’s the latest photo story but this one has some very special guest stars. Post-punk band The Mekons were headlined by Jon Langford, a musician and artist who had already contributed some brilliantly anarchic art to OiNK. He and Marc Riley are good mates and at the time were putting together a tribute album to Johnny Cash, an album that’s even been attributed to reviving Cash’s career! (The cover of which was drawn by Jon with help from Mike Taylor, an editorial assistant and artist on OiNK.)

For this issue Jon wasn’t just going to draw a strip, he was going to star in it and he brought his bandmates with him. Going by the name The Mekoneros it took place in the Wild West (filmed in Yorkshire) and was set to a song about ‘The Devil’s Herd of Pigs’. Jon himself stars as Bad Jake and looks to be having the best time gurning to the camera and, as with all OiNK photo strips, exaggerating every movement and story beat.

This wouldn’t be the last time we’d see The Mekons in a photo story either, they’d come back to fight off dinosaurs (well, cheap dinosaur toys) in a trip to the distant past in that typical OiNK fashion of not being convincing whatsoever. From memory it’s a good ‘un so I’ll most likely be including it here when the time comes. Keep your eyes peeled for that one.

Jimmy (The Cleaver) Smith’s look was perfect, a fantastically creepy design that thrilled the young pig-loving readers

Next up Tony Husband pens a ghost story which is brought to the page by artist Les ‘Lezz’ Barton. It keeps all of the usual trappings of a ghost story while weaving in the theme of the issue and having a genuinely laugh-out-loud ending. A staple of ghost stories are the lone figures found to return time and again to one particular place, often performing a particular action from their life or accompanied by a horrible, terrifying noise, perhaps related to the moment of their death or a past traumatic event. 

I love Tony’s take on this idea with it’s fresh twist, while also answering the question of how exactly would you describe the noice bagpipes make?! Tony expertly plays up to traditional ghost stories and stereotypes with affection and gentle digs, from the initial set up to the overuse of the phrase “the noo”, with that ending providing the biggest laugh of course. 

Jeremy Banx brings us a Butcher Watch Re-update (after all a simple ‘Update’ or ‘Part Two’ is just too normal) on the whereabouts of notorious butcher (and the comic’s in-house nemesis) Jimmy ‘The Cleaver’ Smith. Now established as a firm fan favourite, Jimmy would appear randomly for the rest of the comic’s run, even in a regular strip in the weekly issues as the villain of a piece about a famous butcher hunting pig. Jimmy’s look was perfect, a fantastically creepy design that thrilled the young pig-loving readers.

That panel with the caption about the possibility of him being in the reader’s house, while he silently clambers in through an open window at night is especially unsettling. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a criticism about unsettling images in a kid’s comic, not at all, we lapped this up! We loved the shudder up our spines that strips like this gave us and the more horrific Jimmy’s antics were the better! Of course, there was never anything actually unsuitable, he was more like our version of a good Doctor Who villain for the kids; someone to thrill us from the safety of our comic’s pages.

Just before we move on I had to include another of Jeremy’s classic characters, Mr Big Nose. Co-editor Tony Husband once told me he loved Jeremy’s work so much because he would just let his mind go wherever it led, and that’s just the best way of describing his OiNK work. Here, Mr Big Nose is putting on a sold-out concert where he hums popular songs, because of course he would.

The joke is right there in the first panel of the strip and it’s just played out again and again over the next four. But it doesn’t get stale. In fact that’s what I find so funny about it, how we get example after example of the ridiculous set up. Genius. As always.

Other highlights this issue include educating the young ‘uns about classic music with Beethoven, in The Golden Trough Awards piano lessons bite back, there’s a special (and I quote) “Psy-Psy-ss-Psycho-o Gr-Gr-an-Gran Rap’ and Helen Jones and Graham Exton make cameos (whether they like it or not!) in Hadrian Vile.

Madonna’s face isn’t the only link back to #16’s pop music theme. That issue also had the most unique competition I’ve ever seen in a comic, to win a pop concert in your own home. Le Lu Lus were fans of OiNK and contacted the team about collaborating. This ultimately resulted in Martin Benster from Pretwich and his friends (as well as his poor mum) watching a performance of the band in the comfort of their own house. Best of all this wasn’t just announced on the Grunts page, instead a full strip was created so Martin could actually appear in the comic, with his mum as part of the punchline at the end.

On the back cover is a glorious colour pin up from Simon Thorp and it’s just the first in a line of spoof movie posters that would become fan favourites over the next several months. From RoboChop to Butcherbusters, Simon’s brilliant take on popular movies with a piggy twist are some of the most requested pages for inclusion in this blog. He kicks off his semi-regular series with The Sownd of Music.

Simon even includes credits, with everything reworded into piggy puns and ploppy parodies, right down to the little production company name beside the title and his take on Cinemascope. Back when movie posters were all hand-painted rather than photographs these really felt close to the original designs. However, even with all that hard work Simon has put into creating that brilliant image I laughed the most at the simplest little joke, the movie’s certificate; adding just one lower case ‘i’ ends the issue with one of its best gags.

That’s us for another two weeks. The next issue of OiNK is very special indeed. Do you remember those silly award categories readers were asked to send in nominations for back in the Hogmanay issue at the start of the year? It’s nearly time to find out how they all voted. It’s a who’s-who of 80s celebrities and culture, all brought to life by none other than Spitting Image! It’s an absolute hoot and the highlights will be here in the next review from Monday 13th June 2022.