A few days ago I published a blog post called ‘OiNK’s Golden Age’ where I explain I believe the issues that make up the rest of this year are the very best of OiNK‘s run, and it all kicks off with #36, the OiNK Goes Peculiar issue! New paper, new size and a new cover design signal the beginning of the time I’ve been looking forward to since I started this real time read through in April 2021, and to celebrate Uncle Pigg even gave us some free stickers.
The issue itself is one of the best OiNK produced with highlights including the craziest Burp yet, Tom Thug taking control of his own strip and J.T. Dogg bringing his art style to a character you wouldn’t expect. I’ve distinct memories of this issue and many of the ones to come between now and the end of the year. To say I’m excited for this would be a massive understatement. Let’s hope it lives up to those memories! You can find out in the review, which will be here from Monday 5th September 2022.
With Ian Jackson back on cover duties off we go with the second half of OiNK’s run. Of course, we didn’t know this was the case at the time. As far as the (much) younger version of me was concerned the comic was going to run and run just like Beano or The Dandy; with OiNK being my first comic I had yet to experience any kind of cancellation. There’s so much great stuff to come over the remainder of this year in particular (1987 in old money) but first I want to touch upon something, a change which seemed so small and insignificant but which would ultimately decide OiNK’s fate.
By coincidence Fleetway Publications took over from IPC Magazines at the exact halfway point in the comic’s eventual 68-issue run and it’s only with hindsight that I can say it was an incredibly important moment. Looking at #35 you’d not notice it unless you read the copyright blurb at the bottom of the Grunts letters page so you may be wondering why I’m giving it such prominence right at the beginning of this review.
A wonderful selection of input from the readers which co-editor Patrick Gallagher tailored to the theme of the issue, that of travel. You could almost see this issue as a mini holiday special or as a follow up to last year’s summery #7. You’ll see the change in the blurb at the bottom of the page too.
Fleetway was originally created by newspaper group chairman Cecil Harmsworth King and when he later purchased Odhams and Newnes the IPC holding company was formed to oversee them all. Eventually it was all rebranded, OiNK falling under IPC Magazines alongside all the other comics. However, in 1987 IPC sold off its comics by placing them into a separate ‘FleetwayPublications‘ company and selling the whole caboodle to Robert Maxwell‘s Pergamon Holdings Ltd. Maxwell’s company now owned the independently crafted OiNK.
OiNK was a hit for IPC Magazines with average sales of around 100,000 per issue and they certainly treated it as such. They were also very happy with the buzz one of their titles was generating in the press and the celebrity endorsements it attracted. This didn’t stop it being victim to some reorganisation under the new company though, but we’ll get to that in a future post and I’ll touch upon the importance of the next issue (and the immediate physical changes to the comic in particular) in its review. But for now let’s get back to the comedy with my favourite Greedy Gorb strip.
Greedy was usually written by his creator and artist Davy Francis and I dare say most (if not all) of the background jokes here were also added by Davy. The main set up and joke were written by Howard Osborn this time though, who actually has no less than five strips to his name in this one issue alone. Howard worked in law in some administrative capacity according to co-editor Patrick Gallagher. He would actually write his OiNK material after work whilst having a pint in a pub!
In any other comic Gorb could’ve become very repetitive but in OiNK that was never a concern and his mini strips were highlights of every issue he was in, especially when there were so many gags squeezed into such a small space. The main pun would’ve been enough anywhere else but Davy always liked to give us plenty of value. My personal favourite there (although it’s hard to choose) would be the teeny tiny wings on the Flying Scotsman.
Elsewhere, a one-off character appears in two separate strips, both written by Howard. This is the best of the two and it appears Howard is trying to give pun masters Davy and Graham Exton a run for their money with Tommy Tyre (He Gets Around), drawn by Mike Green.
I know I’ve already described Greedy Gorb as one of my regular highlights but there can’t have been many pig pals who wouldn’t have had Pete Throb as one of their favourites. Lew Stringer’s Pete and his Pimple was one of the most popular strips and featured in crossovers with Lew’s other creations Tom Thug and Pigswilla, later in the run the strip would include a weekly competition asking readers to send in their outlandish pimple cures, he’d make the cover in an image that required the OiNK logo to be altered for the issue and he’d even get his own pull-out comic! Phew.
Following on from his collaboration (of sorts) with Tom just a fortnight ago, this issue brings us a full board game, Around the World With 80 Zits. As well as taking up the middle pages with the game there’s a strip introducing the scenario behind it, complete with cut out figures to use as player pieces, a bit like Frank Sidebottom’s in the first Holiday Special. This certainly wouldn’t be the last time we’d get a cut out game either.
So the set up is simple and the race for the miracle cure is on. The game is a wonderful, full-colour spread complete with so many ways to force the players around the board you could get dizzy playing! Just look at square number eight and follow its instructions to see what I mean. The only thing more cruel than that one is square 44! I never did play it as a kid because I didn’t like to cut up my OiNKs but I can imagine the laughs to be had for those that did.
To be fair the instructions contain the first clue that this isn’t going to be your normal board game, not when they include the words, “tough luck”. I love all the little details around the route, containing everything from palm trees to the South Pole, a kangaroo to a yeti. There’s even a drawing of Blackpool Tower, a trademark holiday destination for many of Lew’s comics characters over the years. That’s understandable when you find out it’s a favourite place for Lew himself to visit in the real world.
After the game we get a bonus mini-strip as a conclusion to the race, with the winning character’s face conveniently obscured so no matter who wins they can pretend it’s their fate being portrayed.
Of course it had to have a twist ending, have you not been paying attention to these comic reviews so far? Definitely the best game the comic has produced so far, although it would have stiff competition in just a couple of issues from now. Still, with taking in so many random locations it’s the perfect main event to this travel special. Other characters were out and about too, as you’ll see in this selection of highlights from elsewhere in the issue.
On the back cover Frank Sidebottom had left his holiday snaps on the train so was forced to draw them for memory, Rubbishman and Boy Blunder discovered the truth on their terrifying ‘Hunt the Yeti’ trip, Hector Vector and his Talking T-shirt visited a brilliantly named drinking establishment, the Grim Reaper made his first appearance in The Adventures of Death while buying a helicopter for his “reclaiming work” and Hadrian Vile’s life was about to change forever, a situation which he handled in his usual inimitable style.
After a break for a few issues David Leach’s fantastic Psycho Gran is back and she’s making up for lost time with a full page of her own and it’s almost a silent comedy. Usually taking up no more than half a page, it’s great to have a larger strip and it really is chock full of fun. David squeezes in as many panels as he can, each one intricately detailed as the little old dear goes through a situation many of us may find familiar.
Okay, so her solution isn’t exactly conventional or familiar, but I do love the panel where she lifts the weapon out of her tiny bag after searching through it in the previous one. The lack of background, the angel of its composition and her tongue sticking out as she concentrates are all brilliant, all of these little things combining to make this moment stand out. Genius.
I remembered her taking up the back page of a Christmas issue of OiNK with a funny image of her waiting for Santa Claus (reminiscent of David’s Psycho Gran Versus series in recent years) and a large section of the second annual was devoted to her too, so it was a nice surprise to find her given a full page strip in the regular comic. Here’s hoping for more.
After the wonderful Sownd of Music spoof movie poster in #29, Simon Thorp returns to bring us a strip this time, entitled Arctic Adventure in which a narrator tells a captive audience the fantastical tale of the world’s greatest fur hunter. Now, if this sounds a bit off to you and if you’re asking why OiNK would tell such a tale in a comic which lampooned butchers and hyped piggies up as heroes, you wouldn’t be alone. Obviously there’s more to it and reading Simon’s story I was just waiting for the twist, which was hugely satisfying.
Two particular moments (asides from the obvious one) stand out for me here. The first is panel four, where the caption tells us of how he’d track so many beautiful and exotic creatures down… and shoot them. The other is when he “bravely” loads his machine gun, a weapon the polar bear would have no chance against, and then his terror when it won’t fire. I think this strip perfectly sums up how cowardly sports hunters are.
In recent years I’ve seen countless images going viral on social media of big game hunters with smug grins next to the carcasses of beautiful animals who they’ve slaughtered with their high-powered weaponry, posing like they were so brave to shoot a defenceless creature, like it took so much effort beyond simply twisting their cowardly finger around a trigger. I think Simon’s Arctic Adventure perfectly sums up these sorts of people.
Finally, as we say goodbye to the glossy paper for now (more on that next time) it’s fitting that the technicolour Street-Hogs: Day of the Triffics gets to have its finale first. As stated before this was my first exposure to the ‘Hogs as a kid, their previous adventure having already ended by the time I discovered OiNK, so to me this had felt epic. However, readers of the original 12-part story may have felt somewhat disappointed that things were coming to an end already, the story lasting only a quarter of the time.
With what had looked like Jimmy ‘The Cleaver’ Smith‘s entire toolbox flying through the air towards them at the end of last issue’s strip, I wondered how on Earth they were going to get out of that one with less than a second to spare (apparently). I don’t know why I keep trying to guess. Mark Rodgers’ script would always come up with something so ridiculous and J.T. Dogg’s artwork would portray it so perfectly, the randomness of their insane escapes was the main reason I loved them so much!
It all ends with a ‘Coming Soon’ caption, but their next serial wouldn’t be seen until the last days of the comic, their multipart tale all packed into one of the big, fat monthlies. It’s a very different beast of a tale, but definitely worth the wait. Speaking of waiting, that’s what we’ll have to do for more OiNK highlights as we’ve reached the end of another review. The next issue will surprise you but some of the changes weren’t liked by everyone. Personally, these issues to come are my very favourites so I can not wait! Watch out for a special personal post about them over the next two weeks and then #36’s review will be here from Monday 5th September.
When I picked up this issue of OiNK from my newsagent back in 1987 the theme confused me somewhat. I live in Northern Ireland and here our school holidays worked a little differently to those in Great Britain. I think it worked out as basically the same amount across the year but our summer hols were a full nine weeks, all of July and August. So waiting until 25th July for a School’s Out theme seemed very strange until my parents explained.
I loved the fact Tom Thug was the cover star at last but unbeknownst to me it was also the first time cartoonist Lew Stringer had produced a cover for a mainstream comic! So you’re looking at a little piece of comics history right there. Eagle-eyed readers will spot a couple of cloud-like lighter patches in the sky but they aren’t clouds. They’re actually the result of water damage when the roof of OiNK’s Manchester offices leaked! Mainly covered up with the log, I never knew this until Lew told me.
You can check out the original artwork to this cover on Lew’s own blog too.
We kick things off this fortnight with a wonderful double-page spread of The Skool Holliday Diary ov Hadrian Vile (Aged 8 5/8) written by Mark Rodgers and as ever drawn by Ian Jackson. Having Hadrian’s strip in colour was always an event and this one in particular is a treat, as Hadrian takes us through all the ways in which these weeks bring so much freedom. He lists all the things we could now do and all those you no longer had to worry about. It’s a heartwarming tale of childhood freedom, until you look at the pictures.
As ever, Hadrian’s view of the world differs greatly from the reality, especially the reality for his long suffering parents. This is definitely one of my favourite Hadrian strips with every single panel containing hilarious sight gags to go along with the already funny, misspelled text. Lots of lovely little details too when you look closer, such as a Burp-like alien costume, the traffic cone atop the trimmed bird hedge and dad’s foot about to step down on a skate right at the top of the stairs, among many others. Classic stuff.
Next up is Jeremy Banx’s Hector Vector and his Talking T-Shirt, otherwise known as former spoilt brat Keith Disease, forever doomed to live his life as a cheap and tasteless t-shirt print after he was cheeky to a genie. It appears poor, innocent Hector himself is rather doomed as well if this issue’s strip is anything to go by, when he realises it’s got to the stage now where the curse has forever fused them together! (It would be like having an internet troll strapped to your chest!) This makes a shopping spree for a summery Hawaiian shirt a bit of a chore.
Nothing annoyed the eternally grumpy Keith more than Hector’s constant joyfulness and positive outlook in even the most dire of circumstances. You’d think having a foul-mouthed t-shirt forever trying to ruin your life so it can have a laugh at your expense would test the patience of even the jolliest of souls. But more often than not Hector would find solutions to his predicaments, which doubly annoyed Keith, both because his scheming didn’t work and because Hector refused to let Keith get to him!
Some other highlights of this issue include Pete and his Pimple reflecting on his life story, making his pimple wilt out of sight (out of sight being the operative phrase), Rubbish Man catching Boy Blunder skipping school (the story ends with him attending summer school for thick super heroes, tying it back into the theme) and Pigswilla returned in Menace of the Headmaster’s Brain which contained some trade secrets about our teachers.
I can remember that line from the Pigswilla prologue, “No more lessons for weeks an’ weeks an’ weeks!” although until now I couldn’t recall which strip, or even issue, it was from. I just remember thinking England didn’t really have that many to shout about, so used was I to our nine weeks. Of course it’s a ridiculous thought, six weeks is still a long time, but I was very young and felt sorry for the English pig pals!
More laughter from Lew comes in the shape of a double dose of Tom Thug this fortnight. He has a half-page strip following on from the cover on page two and towards the rear of the comic he finally returns to his full page allowance (after Uncle Pigg cut him down in #26), with most of it taken up with his wonderful school report card, full of top marks and encouraging comments. I know what you’re thinking, that can’t be right? It is. I just didn’t tell you who wrote it.
In a rare occurrence this particular story of Tom’s is written by Mark Rodgers, the first time this has happened since #4, another issue where Tom had two strips. I particularly love how he just stumbles across a very handy box of blank report cards, an overly convenient plot device that’s perfectly played up to. Not only is Tom our cover star, with two strips inside it’s clear he was a fan favourite and continues to be to this day. As well he should. I always did enjoy the character of his mum, the total antithesis of the rest of her family, but here Tom is able to push even her patience to breaking point.
There are more and more occurrences of jokes from these issues that I’m realising have stayed rent free in my memory over the years. I always loved the Rotten Rhymes series and there was one favourite that stood out above all others. It was a lovely surprise to see it pop up in this issue, and an even lovelier surprise to see it was actually by Davy Francis, an absolute gent who I’ve been able to meet a few times in recent years and who also lives in sunny Northern Ireland (as I do, in case you didn’t know).
Simple. Daft. Funny.
Speaking of jokes that have stayed with me, there’s one on this issue’s Grunts page which, believe it or not, I had to have explained to me back then. This seems so ridiculous now but at the time I didn’t have (nor did any of my friends have) a pet rabbit. Stay with me. Needless to say once I knew what the joke meant it was repeated ad nauseam to everyone I met.
Patrick Gallagher would put these pages together and this is a particularly good example of the material sent in by readers and the cheeky responses they’d get in return from Uncle Pigg. From catching out someone’s porky pies about the annual, to our editor questioning the identity of a letter writer after they say they’re a headmaster, plus news of another Butcher Watch which were always looked forward to.
This is on page 31 and just over the other side, taking up the high profile back cover is our resident smelly, but ever friendly, Burp. Despite something clearly going wrong with the colouring process in the first panel it’s still a wonderful page, even incorporating London’s Alien Registration Office, although repurposing it for actual aliens. This is a perfect example of two things; an OiNK strip that’s just as relevant today as it was at the time (as much as we’d prefer that wasn’t the case), and how important the comic was in my formative years. Have a read and you should see what I mean.
On the surface OiNK was just a cheeky, irreverent comic, full of rude jokes, satire and plops on its staff, but it was so much more to us and not just in the much vaunted (and rightly so) humour, which spoke to us a lot more than traditional comics. Dig a little deeper and you’d find its morals right there on the page, dressed up in comedy and anarchy of course. But whether it was anti-smoking messages, not judging people on their looks (Horace Watkins for example) or even dental care (I’ll show you that one when we get there), they left their indeliable mark on me. The message in this Burp strip is quite obvious and one which I firmly stand behind to this day. I like to think OiNK had a trotter in that.
“Some shops think OiNK is so clever that they won’t display it with the kids’ stuff!”
Just before we round things off for this issue do you remember back in #28 how OiNK told its young readers all about the complaint to The Press Council about #7’sJanice and John story, and how the council didn’t uphold the complaint? Well, that didn’t stop WHSmith from placing OiNK on the top shelves with the likes of Viz, far out of reach of the intended audience. My local newsagent didn’t do this and at the time there were none of that chain in Northern Ireland, but it can’t have helped sales in Britain. So Uncle Pigg decided to tell his readers about it next to the order coupon, with what I like to think is the real reason for why pig pals may not see it in the shop.
With that we come to the end of another OiNK review and can you believe it, next time we’ll be halfway through the entire run! That halfway point will be reached with the Amazing Adventure Issue, not to be confused with the Magic and Fantasy Issue back in March. There are some exciting developments coming for the comic over the next couple of months, developments I for one can’t wait for. For now, pop back anytime from Monday 8th August 2022 onwards for the next issue.