It’s great to finally be reading the issues I enjoyed so much as a kid and this is one I’ve really been really looking forward to, what with me being such a fan of the season. As a child I remember the TV Times magazine being a staple part of my television viewing, even though it only had ITV and Channel Four inside it, and the Christmas issue was a bit of an event when it arrived. Today the only time I’ll buy a TV listings magazine is Christmas, there’s something wonderfully nostalgic about it nowadays. Back in 1986 OiNK‘s TV Tips sat proudly alongside the family’s TV Times in the magazine rack for the whole of the school holiday. I insisted upon it.
What a present the free gift turned out to be too. The third and final section of the calendar for 1987 came with this issue and when linked to the separate parts from #15 and #16 it dominated my bedroom for the whole of the next year. It was subject to many pen marks when crossing off dates and highlighting birthdays, but it was treasured. Below are photos of the final part and the finished calendar I’ve been able to acquire again, proudly taking centre stage on the wall of my office, impatiently waiting for a year the dates will match up.
The issue is packed with Christmassy strips, spoof toy adverts, cards and decorations to make, Christmas stories and more. I know it’s only going to get harder from here on to pick out a few highlights, this issue is proof of that but after long deliberations here’s the selection box of piggy perfection. To set the mood for the festive frivolities is Roger Rental, He’s Completely Mental drawn as ever by Ian Knox.
I think that sets things up for us rightly.
So a comic with a comical take on TV listings magazines on the cover just has to follow that up on the inside and we weren’t to be disappointed. Blog readers who were alive in the 80s will find this next page particularly funny with references to a lot of the shows we’d have enjoyed ourselves back then, as well as those during which we’d have retreated to our bedrooms to play with our toys but which were favourites of our parents.
So what was on offer for us on TV? Some aspects really weren’t that much different than today. Cartoon movies, The Snowman, as well as the inhabitants of Albert Square refusing to have a merry one even back then. We may have had a festive special of Knight Rider instead of Doctor Who but the clichés about the television schedules at this time of the year aren’t a new thing, as OiNK proves here.
To be fair I’m actually a fan of Christmas telly and I think no matter the amount of cracker (no pun intended) specials and film premieres are broadcast people will carry on with the same old complaints. Interestingly, that Roger Moore James Bond illustration by Tim Thackeray was drawn for the first OiNK annual, which wouldn’t be released until the next year! (You can just about make out the OiNK logo above Roger’s head.) Just goes to show how far in advance those books were created.
Let’s not forget about the true meaning of Christmas. I’m not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination but I’m a big kid for this time of year. To me, it’s all about those nearest and dearest to me and thanking them for being in my life for another year. It’s about presents of course but I get just as much of a thrill out of giving to those I love as I do in receiving from them. It’s a time to be grateful, to be happy, to feel loved and to share that love.
In other words, the true meaning of Christmas is ripe for OiNK to tear to shreds.
Written by Mark Rodgers and drawn by Davy Francis, Blue Xmas takes the foundations of any good Christmas story and builds upon them with plenty of laughs along the way, before it’s all flipped on its head in the final panels. A poor boy who won’t be receiving any gifts for Christmas tries to raise some money so he can buy his mum a present and through it all he finds that the joy of giving is better than receiving, only for him to be punished for his goodwill!
From memory I could’ve sworn this was in one of the annuals but here it is in the regular comic. A good few years back now I had the pleasure of meeting Davy for a chat and had the chance of purchasing some of his original OiNK artwork. One of the pieces was the first page of Blue Xmas which is now up on my wall. I thought I’d show you a few highlights of this strip now.
In the comic the strip featured two-tone colour, all the faces being quite aptly blue, but on the original drawing you can see it was black and white. You can also get a real sense of the amount of work Davy put in; in the title box you can actually see the pressure put on the page by Davy’s colouring-in of this solid black first panel. Those groups of lines he always used for backgrounds look even more time consuming in full-scale (this is about twice the size of the pages of the comic) and you can also see some of the correction fluid used to change a speech balloon to one with frosty icicles.
A quick look at some of the other highlights of the issue now, starting with Harry the Head‘s big adventure taking him into space, The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile sees the school pantomime descend into chaos and this particular panel had me laughing aloud, and the Christmas Quiz has a real head scratcher for you. Then in Ham Dare, Pig of the Future there’s more parodying of the all-British adventure comics of the day and that image of Ham looks so much like Dan Dare I think artist J.T. Dogg could easily have taken over the strip in Eagle!
I admit that well into my adult life I’d always assumed Mrs. Claus’ name was Mary! I know this was mentioned in a Charlie Brown Christmas Special (thanks to Wikipedia) but I wonder if OiNK was where I originally got that idea. Anyway, moving on.
The commercial breaks during those Christmas programmes are usually filled with Boxing Day and New Year sales adverts for all those people not happy with what their loved ones gave them. Getting in on this racket is none other than OiNK’s in-house catalogue company, GBH with their very own Christmas Catalogue for the following Christmas! This is definitely the best so far, complete with photographs of children enjoying (well, in theory) the dodgy toys and a background image by Mike Taylor complete with a very unhappy snowman and a very smug fox.
This particular madvertisement was written by both Mark Rodgers and Patrick Gallagher and this is Mike’s first contribution to OiNK. A renowned ‘zine illustrator, Mike would go on to provide more lovingly crafted work for 13 issues altogether, being most prolific during the comic’s weekly phase.
Patrick directed the photo session which must’ve been hilarious to be a part of. His brother James was the actual photographer and the Barbie toys belonged to his sister Bernie. The two children featured are Patrick’s cousins, Erin Claffey and her brother Patrick, the rest of the toys belonging to them. On a side note I remember having that Castle Greyskull toy myself and many years later being told by my parents they had to make the trip all the way from Belfast to Dublin in order to get it that particular Christmas!
A few issues previous to this Lew Stringer introduced us to Tom Thug‘s mum. When it was announced she’d be appearing both Tom and his father were terrified. Who on Earth could do that to the two biggest wannabe bullies in OiNKtown? What kind of bully was the mum, to make these men shake in their bovver boots? As it turns out Mrs Thug was the kindest, sweetest and most affectionate woman you could imagine and that’s what put the fear of god into them. It was a funny twist and here she’s putting Tom to sleep on Christmas Eve, the morning after which she’d end up very happy with what can only be described as a Christmas miracle.
One thing I always like about Christmassy comics is seeing favourite characters within that setting. We all have our own Christmas traditions for the big day itself and sometimes it feels like we’re getting an insight into the cartoonists’ traditions, maybe from their own childhood, or at the very least maybe what they think our traditions were. These were always extra special strips and one cartoonist who never disappoints with a snowy logo is Lew.
A little extra note, according to Lew he originally had Tom actually shoot Santa but Mark Rodgers said it should be a dream so as not to upset kids. Lew says, “Mark was 100% right and it worked out far better”.
While it only ever snowed once for December 25th when I was a child we expected all of our strips to be covered in the white stuff and Lew always seemed to go that extra mile in this regard. Whether it was Tom and Pete in OiNK, or Combat Colin and Robo Capers in Transformers, you could be assured of a white Christmas in the pages of your comics. Nice to see Satan the Cat back in his own little mini-strip too and to have it all finished off with crackers and holly, and that little man at the top keeping the pages clear is a funny little touch.
“I normally manage to cadge a free, slap-up meal at Christmas time!”Mr. Big Nose
This issue is really making my Christmas all over again 35 years after it did the first time, and now it’s time the main event, a wonderful multi-page Uncle Pigg strip, one of only two times this would happen in the whole of OiNK’s run. Written by Mark Rodgers and of course drawn by Ian Jackson this four-page story is spread throughout the comic, even appearing as a subplot in Rubbish Man.
The plot has our editor declaring he’ll take his staff out for a Christmas treat, but the free gifts and competition prizes have drained the piggy bank. But as luck would have it, at that exact moment a flyer pops up offering a £10,000 reward from Santa Claus if anyone can find Rudolph who has gone missing. Donning his best Sherlock Holmes-esque getup Uncle Pigg leads his team into the snow and immediately stumbles upon a clue. But not all is as it seems.
I can remember reading this back then and loving every panel of it, wondering why we didn’t get at least a full-page like this every issue. I don’t know how many times I read it, but it was so witty and the art so funny it was definitely more than a few. I even remember lying in bed on Christmas Eve reading it yet again (even though the next issue had already arrived by that point, see the bottom of this review for more on that) just before going to sleep, or at least trying to fall asleep with the excitement of the night, which this only added to.
As the story continues there’s one madcap mishap after another, such as above when Percy Plop makes a welcome guest appearance. Yes, the script is funny but Ian’s style heightens every piece of slapstick such as the policeman skidding on Percy, forcing Uncle Pigg’s assistant deep into the snow. In the end our heroes follow the trail right back to the OiNK offices which Mary Lighthouse (critic) and none other than Santa Claus himself have commandeered. Why is Santa working with Mary? Read on.
In hindsight it’s a bit strange to have Santa team up with Mary, but when you think about it he isn’t meant to bring toys to the naughty children, is he? Children who like rude jokes, bare bums on their comic covers, puns about plops and stuff like that. But in the end Uncle Pigg and the OiNK crew won through and showed him we were all just as deserving. The present he refers to is Patrick Gallagher‘s cut-out mobile on the back cover “for people who hate Xmas”, which is a very strange thing to put in a children’s comic. It’s more revenge on Santa for the story, but still, I remember thinking even at the time it was a little weird. Surely no one in OiNK’s target audience would hate it!
So that’s us at the end of a superb issue, a very special Christmas treat and a great stocking filler in itself if you can throw a hint at any loved one to search for it on eBay in time. With everything wrapped up (again, no pun intended) in time for the holidays there’s just time to squeeze in Jeremy Banx‘s Mr. Big Nose, another highlight of this issue that has stayed in my memory for decades and it’s a joy to see it again.
The next issue of OiNK had an on-sale date of 27th December but as per usual with Christmas comics and magazines it was released earlier than normal, what with the comics publishers shutting for the holidays, distributors working limited hours and back then our shops actually shut for days at a time to give the staff time off too. So our New Year’s editions would always arrive before Christmas, but I’ve no way of knowing exactly when so I’m just going to stick to the on-sale date.
That means the Hogmanay (appropriately enough) issue of OiNK will be reviewed right here on Monday 27th December 2021. I hope to see you then.