Wednesday, December 19, 2007
20 Year Flashback: Oink! Book 1988
In the first of a short series looking back at annuals from Christmases past, our first look into the Christmas Time Vortex takes us to 1987, and the relatively rare Oink! Book 1988.
Firstly, some background to the comic itself...
Oink! was a comic published by IPC from 1986 to 1988 which broke away from the traditional British comic formula. This was at the encouragement of IPC editors who felt that by the mid-1980s the usual ingredients of harmless slapstick fun and jolly characters were beginning to show their age, particularly reflected by falling sales on the traditional weeklies. (At one stage IPC were considering publishing Viz, but both parties couldn't agree on the direction of the comic as some senior IPC management clearly didn't grasp what Viz was about. Viz, obviously, went on to great success regardless.)
Oink! was packaged outside of IPC by three editors; Mark Rodgers (a freelance IPC scriptwriter), Patrick Gallagher (a cartoonist for, amongst other things, men's magazines), and Tony Husband (well known cartoonist). Based in Manchester's Princess Street, the Oink! studio had creative control over the comic and commissioned freelance artists and writers not previously associated with British children's comics, such as Banx, Ian Jackson, and David Haldane.
Relatively new comic artists were also asked to contribute, including Davy Francis, Davy Jones, and myself. At a 1984 meeting with Bob Paynter, the Group Editor of IPC's humour comics, he commissioned me to create a character for the new comic (which was then using the working title Rrasspp! - give or take a few consonants). I submitted Tom Thug, Wot a Mug, a thick school bully whose schemes always backfired, - who became Oink's most enduring character.
Although some considered Oink! to be an attempt to do a "junior Viz" in some respects, that was never the remit. Editor Mark Rodgers (a genuine talent now sadly no longer with us) always told me his influence was Mad Magazine.
After two years in development, Oink! (as it was now known) was launched in 1986. The first fortnightly IPC comic (when their other titles were still weeklies) and the first not to have tv promotion. However, the format was glossy and the content unlike anything seen from the major publishers before. There was no house style and no formula. Although there were a set of recurring characters and strips, much of the content would change from issue to issue, ensuring that Oink! always remained fresh and unpredictable.
However, by issue 8, trouble was brewing. For some unspecified reason WH Smith pulled the comic from the children's section and began shelving it elsewhere. At this time, there was no "adult comic" section so Oink! was placed in the most inappropriate places. Next to a caravan magazine one week, or beside Nursing Times another week. This did nothing to help sales. (I should mention here that Oink! never featured any profanity, sexual innuendo, or anything likely to make it considered anything other than a cheeky kid's comic. However, issue 8, - the one that was first pulled, - did feature a parody of the Queen, and I for one have always wondered if this in itself was considered offensive by such a bastion of the establishment as WH Smith.)
Despite whatever damage the strange shelving policy had on Oink! IPC still decided to publish an annual in 1987. Unlike the rest of the line The Oink! Book was a softback, and just 80 pages, but it was crammed with all new material and plently of colour.
Oink's mixture of parody, cheekiness, and bizarre humour gave its contributors ample opportunity to enjoy themselves with this book. Although Tom Thug was my regular strip, I also contributed numerous scripts for the comic which other artists illustrated. For The Oink! Book 1988 I wrote Ham Dare, Pig of the Future (superby drawn by Malcolm Douglas under his alias J.T. Dogg) and The Truth About Santa (drawn by the exceptionally talented Kev O'Neill, who I'd personally roped in for a couple of Oink! jobs).
Pigswilla, the giant robot pig, was a character I did occasionally for the regular comic and he made an appearance in The Snowman of Doom two-pager in the book. Twenty years on it's a strip I'm still very pleased with and which combined all the elements of humour, absurdist sci-fi, and comedy-adventure that I most enjoy putting into my work.
Being the young upstart of British comics, Oink! was never very deferential to the establishment, particularly to older comics. The Oink! Book contained a satire on The Beano, called The Deano by the Oink! editors and various artists, including original I-Spy artist Les Barton. With characters such as Boffo the Bore, Little (Old) Glum, and Dennis the Pensioner, the theme was that the Beano was past it. Although this parody was in reality created with great affection for the old comics it may not have come across that way. However, twenty years on The Beano is still around while Oink! is long gone.
The Oink! Book also parodied nursery comics with Fun-Hour "The picture paper for pre-school pillocks". Cover featuring The Tragic Roundabout. No form of children's entertainment was ever safe from satire in the pages of Oink!
Davy Jones, now an editor on Viz in which he regularly contributes, started his professional comics career on Oink! (Previously he had contributed strips to John Freeman's Scan fanzine.) For The Oink! Book he supplied The Revolt of the Sweet Cuddly-Wuddly Soft Toys. As manic a strip as he ever drew, with cuddly toys rising up to fight their oppressors, - little girls in pigtails mostly. "Daddy! My talking doll just called me a CENSORED!" (sic)
The Oink! Book 1988 was set to be the funniest book on the shelves, - of the shops that stocked it. Apparently Smiths insisted on changes to the back cover first. A close up of a plastercine pig's bum had to be discreetly covered by its tail. (A fair complaint, I think.) However, even after Oink! complied, Smiths still refused to stock the book. They wouldn't even put it in the humour section. That same year, Ade Edmonson's book boldly titled How to be a Complete Bastard was on prominent display in Smiths, which apparently they had no problem with.
This must have affected sales of the book but there was a follow up annual a year later. However, the regular Oink! comic had folded by then, merged into Buster. Those readers who diligently searched the shelves for Oink! always seemed to enjoy it and their response was always enthusiastic. Under different circumstances perhaps it could have led British humour comics into a new era. Not clones of Oink!, but new comics attempting something fresh. As it was, it marked IPC's last attempt to break out of the mold, and their next title was the comparatively gentle and safe comic Nipper. It didn't last long.
Today, the sort of humour that Oink! attempted 20 years ago is alive in Toxic and even in established comics such as The Dandy. However, many kids still like the more traditional comic humour so perhaps it's true that children don't like change. Perhaps Oink! was too unpredictable in its content for the majority of its readers? The one character that had the most longevity from Oink! was Tom Thug, which ran for a further 10 years in Buster. Although I created Tom with some differences to the usual "naughty kid" theme it was still the most traditional of the Oink! strips. (Not that I'm ungrateful for its popularity of course.) At the end of the day, producing new comics is always a gamble, but Oink! was definitely worth the effort.