On this day 35 years ago in 1988 this comic appeared in shops across the land but little was I to know, as I went into my local newsagent’s to collect OiNK, that a special additional Tom Thug strip by Lew Stringer was hiding inside Whizzer and Chips just a little way down the shelf. Back when OiNK was fortnightly and it had just started to open my eyes to the world of comics, if the family were going anywhere and an OiNK wasn’t due Whizzer and Chips would usually be my second choice. The set up, pretending to be two separate comics (16 pages of Chips in the middle pages), seemed different enough to appeal to me.
I’ll admit it wouldn’t have had me laughing out loud like the piggy publication that introduced me to the medium, but it did make me smile and I’d have the occasional chortle to myself. It felt like it had tried something different years previous but without rocking the boat too much, whereas OiNK was tipping the boat upside down and daring the waves to crash into it. This particular Whizzer and Chips came with a free gift, always enticing for new readers, and inside they’d be met with a special crossover strip as a promotion for its sister title, itself having recently turned into a weekly.
The stars you see here are Sid of Sid’s Snake fame from the Whizzer half and in the stripped top is Shiner, a classic character from Chips (which was my favourite half by the way), plus Odd-Ball of course. Found on page 30 of the issue, this was in the Whizzer half of the comic. Interestingly, the end of this strip led directly into a mini-series for Tom which began in OiNK #54 the following Thursday. #53 had gone on sale one day before this, so the “on sale now” is actually incorrect, but I’m guessing this was more of an error on the part of editorial planning rather than Lew’s.
Tom was one of the few OiNK characters that could be mistaken for a more traditional comic star, although obviously the humour was much more original; the fact a bully was the star of the strip for example, although he was never the hero and always got his comeuppance. Indeed, Tom was one of three OiNK stars to transfer to Buster comic when OiNK folded and would continue to appear in that title until it ended over a decade later!
The intention with this strip (and a Pete and his Pimple one to come in Buster in a couple of weeks) was to increase OiNK’s sales. IPC Magazines had been very happy with its average of 100,000 copies sold every fortnight, but when Fleetway Publications took over they forced it to go weekly to increase its numbers. As a result ,the OiNK team had to reduce the amount of pages to keep up and the winning formula of every issue’s contents being themed had to be dropped, as were some regular characters. All of this resulted in sales dropping rather than increasing (slow clap for Fleetway there), hence these promotions.
The Tom Thug crossover was Lew’s sole contribution to this legendary comic (a title which itself would fold into Buster a few years later) and you can read about his being asked to contribute to it in a post on his Lew Stringer Comics blog. Of course, this wasn’t actually the first time an OiNK character featured in Whizzer and Chips. Sort of. I say “sort of” because I think it’s safe to say Uncle Pigg didn’t really co-star on the cover to the issue published on 26th April 1986, making Tom’s the first true crossover as far as I’m concerned.
The issue above came in a piggy pink bag also containing the full-sized preview issue of Mark Rodgers’, Tony Husband’s and Patrick Gallagher’s masterpiece. Buster also came in the same bag but didn’t mention OiNK in any way on its cover, once again proving to me Whizzer and Chips and OiNK were kindred spirits of a kind, the former having tried something different but unfortunately had failed to move with the times. It’s still a fondly remembered comic to this day though and rightly so.
As mentioned above Pete Throb would also get the chance to promote OiNK in Buster which you’ll see on Sunday 19th March 2023. With these two Lew Stringer creations chosen it’s already clear which characters Fleetway would deem most suitable for the merger to come, although of course at this time no one knew OiNK would no longer be a regular comic by the end of the year. How sad, but there’s plenty to enjoy before then!
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!”
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.