Friday, December 28, 2007

70 Year Flashback: Film Fun Annual 1938


The traditional Christmas children's annual has it's origins in the early 19th Century with books such as The Christmas Box published in 1828. However this was a book of text stories and verse, not comics, but it and later titles such as the 1866 Chatterbox Annual (based on the children's paper of the time) helped to establish the concept of the hardback Christmas annual.

According to Alan Clark's excellent comics history book The Children's Annual (Boxtree 1988) the first "comic annual" (ie: featuring comic strip material) was The Playbox Annual in 1909 which featured Tiger Tim (also to star in his own annual). The book was published by The Amalgamated Press, who would come to dominate the Christmas annual market, - and continue to do so in later years as Fleetway and as IPC.

The Amalgamated Press annuals flourished in the 1930s with popular weeklies such as Illustrated Chips, Jester and The Funny Wonder having their own spin-off annuals. Film Fun, A.P.'s successful weekly featuring the movie stars of the day had been launched as a comic in 1920, but the first Film Fun Annual didn't appear until 1937.

Whereas the weekly Film Fun was entirely black and white newsprint, the Film Fun Annual 1938 had 160 pages with a full colour hardback cover, and contents printed with sections in colored ink on good quality white paper. (Not a drop of black ink on the interior pages; instead it'd be dark blue throughout one section, brown throughout another, then green, purple,... you get the picture. A crude attempt at offering coloured contents but it worked.)

Without further ado, let's take a look at some of the contents...

The book kicked off with a brand new beautifully drawn Laurel and Hardy strip by George William Wakefield (or Bill Wakefield as he was often known). Wakefield was the regular artist of the strip in the weekly and also provided the artwork for the cover of the annual.



Only 60 of the book's 160 pages featured comic strips. The rest were shared by text stories and photographs of movie stars of the day. (Proving that reduced comic content in media-based annuals is nothing new.) The strips all ran to four pages each, although some were reprints from the weekly, editing two stories into one adventure. (Film Fun also sometimes updated reprints by pasting on new caricatures of up-to-date film stars over the faces of older past-it characters, but I don't know if that practice was used in this annual.)

It's understandable that A.P. would devote so many pages to photographs. For a start, it was cheaper than paying comic artists, but it was also an opportunity to show photos in better clarity than the cheap newsprint of the weekly comic could offer.


Editor Fred Cordwell reputedly had some taboos that he wouldn't allow to be shown in Film Fun. Allegedly this was mainly due to weird superstitions about octopuses which he considered bad luck, but he'd have any cleavage whited out too. However, it didn't stop him adding a bit of glamour to the first Film Fun Annual in the form of a photo spread on "Stars who have danced their way to fame". Presumably not the euphemism of "dancing" sometimes used.


Some of the strips in the book featured a Christmas theme, such as this Wheeler and Woolsey adventure involving presents, snow, Christmas pud, "poor kids", and a slap-up feed:


Suggesting a humour comics plot revolving around child abduction to a children's comic editor today would probably do you no favours but in 1937 the Joe E. Brown strip All At Sea turned kidnap into a comedy farce. The boy, a heir to a fortune, was abducted solely for reasons of blackmail, and appears oblivious to any danger, but it still seems an odd subject matter from a modern perspective.


As is sometimes the case with some modern annuals, the back cover of Film Fun Annual 1938 featured an advertisement. In this case, promoting Atora Beef Suet and canned plums ("in heavy syrup"). No doubt a luxury in 1937. This picture is supposed to be appetizing but 70 years on it looks quite revolting. Somehow it reminds me of a scene from the morgue in CSI.


There you have it; over the past week or so a (very) brief look back at the changing styles of 70 years of Christmas comic annuals in the UK. Hope you've enjoyed it.
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas! It's Combat Colin!

The Flashback series concludes after Christmas with a visit to 1937 but for now let's catapult through the Comics Time Vortex to Christmas 1989 and this old Combat Colin strip of mine from Marvel UK's The Transformers No.250. Merry Christmas Readers!

60 (ish) Year Flashback: The Wonder Book of Comics


This book is a bit of a mystery. Published by Odhams, some sources date it to 1951, but the content looks a little older than that and the only copyright line inside reads "Copyright S.949.V", which presumably means 1949. If there was a dust jacket on the book it's been lost, but copies sold on eBay also seem to be missing their dust jackets so perhaps it never had one. Even more confusing, some copies (such as mine) have a maroon cover whilst others are green, but with the same content. (I can only assume the book was reprinted hence the different colours.)

The Wonder Book of Comics then, c.1949, was a chunky 320 page hardback containing a variety of material for children of all ages. Nursery-level strips ran alongside adventure text stories, and slapstick comedy strips. The pedigree of the contributors was first class: the best comic artists of the day (Roy Wilson, Walter Bell, Basil Reynolds, Tony Weare) plus the most popular children's writers of the time (Enid Blyton, Frank Richards, Captain W.E. Johns). Odhams clearly intended this book to represent the cream of the crop in children's reading matter, - in much the same way that 2008's forthcoming new comic, The DFC, intends to do by mixing in comic artists and children's authors.

With far too much material and not enough time for a detailed study of the contents, here's a selection of some of the best pages...

Roy Wilson contributed the artwork to Chums of the Circus featuring Chiff and Chuff, two mischievous clowns. Wilson was the top comic artist of the Amalgamated Press comics and the "house style" that new artists were encouraged to follow. His influence can still be seen today.


Sammy Smart the Schoolboy 'Tec invents a burlgar deterrent that certainly couldn't be shown in children's comics today; nails in a strap laid on the floor for the victim to walk on. A nasty shock for the French master who lets out "a shriek of pain, but in a foreign tongue"! But the discarded belt punctures the car tyres of the real burglar, so that's alright then.


Airman Al the Gadget King was a similar character to The Dandy's Screwy Driver in that he'd create labour saving devices that would often backfire. Drawn by Basil Reynolds this strip is pure quality.


Comedy sailors always seemed popular in comics of this period so the book had Breezy Bob and Jolly Jim which I think was drawn by Sam Fair although it looks very similar to the style of Allan Morley (but he's not credited in the book). Any clarification on this would be appreciated.


The text stories in the book had some wonderful illustrations, such as this page by Edgar Spenceley for the story Finger Wings.


The text story artwork that has the most impact though, in my opinion, are these pages by Will Nickless for the story The Portuguese Pirate. Superb figure work and an interesting line.



There's more info on Will Nickless on Steve Holland's blog here:
http://bearalley.blogspot.com/2007/01/will-nickless.html

I'll probably revisit The Wonder Book of Comics at a later date to showcase more pages as it does seem quite a unique publication. If anyone has more information on this comic curiosity please add a comment.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

50 Year Flashback: Annuals for Christmas 1957


By 1957 Amalgamated Press' Radio Fun weekly was looking somewhat old fashioned compared to Hulton's Eagle and the modern cartoon styles of Davy Law and Leo Baxendale in The Beano. This wasn't helped by the Radio Fun Annual 1958 featuring a cover painting of Benny Hill doing that annoying pointy thing that only entertainers think is so hilarious.

The book itself however was still a bargain for its 7/6d price (37 and 1/2 pence), with 192 pages crammed with comic strips and text stories. Even though the "house style" of the Amalgamated Press books had changed very little since the 1930s the quality of the contributions were consistently high.

Sadly all the strips in those days were uncredited but included the work of industry regulars such as Roy Wilson and Reg and George Parlett. The format of the humour strips was to pack in as many gags and slapstick situations as possible. However such strips based on celebrities sometimes only had a tenuous connection with their actual media personalities and were generally just about good guys helping out people or getting themselves in and out of comedy situations. Nevertheless, the strips were still good examples of traditional British comics and often displayed an art for sequential comedy which has mostly been lost in modern comics.


A sorry aspect of comics of this era were the racial stereotypes which littered the pages. Radio Fun Annual 1958 was no exception with Issy Bonn introduces his famous Finkelfeffer Family being a stereotypical Jewish family. According to Denis Gifford's Encyclopedia of Comic Characters (1987) "Jakey Finkelfeffer" was a character of Jewish comedian/singer Issy Bonn's act and Radio Fun editor Stanley Gooch had the idea to develop it into a comic strip family. Despite excellent artwork by Bertie Brown, the phonetic pseudo-Jewish dialogue of the strip makes it quite embarrassing. The fact that a British comic was still making fun of the Jews so recently after the Holocaust displays some considerable insensitivity.


Radio Fun
's most popular adventure strip appears to have been The Falcon, a character very similar to The Saint in many ways. In the 1958 annual the book reflected the "flying saucer" fad by having The Falcon and reporter Wendy Dale taken to Planet X by the very human-looking occupants of such a craft. Although The Falcon thwarts an attempt by a rebel to steal the plans of the flying disc and invade Earth there's little danger or excitement about the whole affair. (The 17 page strip actually looks like a reprint as some panels have clearly had artwork added to extend them for the book's format.) It was well drawn but certainly not up to the standards seen in rival comic Eagle at that time.


Presumably Radio Fun's intended readership was slightly older than that of Beano or Dandy as the book didn't shy away from showing pretty girls with shapely legs at any opportunity. In The Beverley Sisters strip the trio crash their car into a moat and after a bath hide their modesty with wet towels. Interestingly such flashes of flesh would be discouraged by Fleetway editors in the 1960s, an otherwise more liberated decade!


The TV Fun Annual 1958 was also published by Amalgamated Press but had less pages than its companion title at only 128 pages. The reason being that some of the content featured full colour strips. With Arthur Askey (himself an old Radio Fun character) bursting through a circus hoop on the cover and a painting on the back cover of singer Petula Clark swinging on a jungle vine over a river full of cattle is it any surprise that this era of comics inspires parodies in Viz today?


The book kicked off with a Professor Jimmy Edwards strip using the same Radio Fun formula of sight gags and wordplay every few panels until the strip filled the required page count. Some of the gags must have felt corny even then, but the relentlessness of the patter ensured the story kept lively.

Again, "pretty girls" were on display to hook the older readers, even more here than in the Radio Fun Annual. Shirley Eaton the Modern Miss in Merry Moments was the first up flashing a fine pair of calves (not the sort Pet Clark was swinging over though) and falling into a Teddy Boy's groin area years before she'd be dallying with James Bond and meeting a fate under gold paint.
Further on in the book Sally Barnes Our Little Lady Make Believe ended up winning a beauty contest giving the artist the opportunity to draw plenty of leggy contestants.

On page 86 Diana Decker, The Cutie Queen of the TV Screen, slips on a polished floor in her near-transparent nightdress. None of it anywhere near the level of provocative material one would find in Fifties humour mag Blighty! but glamour was clearly added to the comics to inspire a similar interest. Still, at least the women were often shown to be resourceful, particularly Petula Clark risking life and limb to rescue a native boy.

What's quite noticeable about the book is that white Anglo-Saxons are mostly drawn in a near-realistic style by the artists. This was expected for strips based on celebrities of course. However, it becomes quite disconcerting when practically every ethnic character in the book is drawn as an archaic stereotype. In Ben and His Buddies, (which doesn't appear to be based on any actual tv characters) the kid gang comprises boys who are American, Native American, black, and Chinese. The American boy Ben is defined by dressing as a cowboy and saying things like "Yahoo!" but the others have appalling racist dialogue such as "I'll gib dem a drop ob my Mammy's fish-oil". The relatively handsome Ben is the leader whilst the un-named Buddies have the stereotypical rubber lips or buck teeth.

Another strip is even worse. Mississippi Max and His Axe (again, not based on any tv character) looks like it may be a reprint, but what the editor thought he was doing putting it in a book published in 1957 is anyone's guess. The racial caricature of Max is so extreme he looks barely human with his shiny black nose and lack of ears. Once again, the ethnic character is subservient to the white kids of the strip.


Today's anti-PC brigade may defend it with cries of "That's how things were back then" but in actuality any editor in 1957 with a degree of social awareness should have realized that such material would be unsettling to any immigrant children reading the book. Pandering to outdated ignorant attitudes may work for sales of newspapers but I doubt TV Fun Annual would have sold any less copies if it hadn't included such material.

Thankfully the racist imagery was in the minority and the book mainly featured the variety of subjects that such annuals were famous for: a busy content of humour, adventure, text stories and features that would have kept many children occupied on Christmas Day 1957.

*************************************

Today marks the one year anniversary since I began this blog. May I take this opportunity to thank every one of you who has visited this site over the past 12 months (over 38,000 hits!). I hope you've enjoyed my ramblings and will continue to visit and comment in 2008. Best regards, Lew

Friday, December 21, 2007

40 Year Flashback: Annuals for Christmas 1967


By the 1960s the hardback comic annual was a well established Christmas present for British kids. From late August onwards stockists such as WH Smith and the Co-Op would have waist-high piles of annuals of every title. The buzz of excitement at walking into a store and seeing that year's latest books stacked high was the moment for many children that Christmas was on its way. (And how the weeks dragged by until Christmas morning when those anticipated annuals - and some surprise ones too - were unwrapped.)

Almost every weekly comic had its own annual, and there were many others too (such as spin-off annuals or one-off titles based on cartoons or tv shows). Numerous publishers produced these much loved books, including Fleetway, DC Thomson, City Magazines, Odhams, and World Distributors. Here's just a few of the best annuals that children would have enjoyed on Christmas Day 1967...

Smash! Annual 1968
Published by Odhams, this was the second annual based on their popular Smash! weekly. Although the Odhams books were relatively slim at 96 pages, every page was either in full colour or red spot colour. Unusually, this annual kicked off with a comic strip on its covers, which in itself drew attention to the book. (Some earlier Dandy Books had also featured cover strips but I believe this Smash! Annual was the only book that year to do this.)


The cover strip, a funny but self-indulgent promo for the annual itself, featured a selection of Smash! characters including Grimly Feendish, Bad Penny, Fatty (from The Nervs), Tuffy McGrew, Charlie (of Charlie's Choice), Ronnie Rich and a few of The Swots and The Blots (with Teacher). The artist was Graham Allen, a talented regular with a genuinely funny style but whose work has unfortunately often been mistaken for Leo Baxendale. (Allen could also turn his hand to a "straight" style, and later drew Please Sir! for Look-In and Typhoon Tracy for Tiger and Jag.)

At the time, Graham Allen was also the regular artist on The Nervs and Tuffy McGrew and also illustrated those strips for this annual. Other regulars included Gordon Hogg on Ronnie Rich, Artie Jackson on Danger Mouse, Mike Brown on Bad Penny and Stan MacMurty on Percy's Pets.


The annual also featured new stories of Smash's resident adventure strips The Rubberman and The Legend Testers, along with adventure strips created specifically for this book The Curse of the Ka and Joe Innocent. Curiously, although the companion Odhams annuals such as Pow! Annual and Fantastic Annual featured Marvel reprints (as did their weekly editions of course) no American reprint material appeared in Smash! Annual, despite The Incredible Hulk and Batman being some of Smash's most popular strips.


TV Century 21 Annual that year marked a significant change for the book. Now co-published with Century 21 Publishing Ltd the annual took on a larger format and a distinctive design throughout, utilizing the availability of full colour photographs supplied by the studio. (Also adopted by the other Century 21 annuals for 1968, such as Captain Scarlet and Lady Penelope.)


Although the colouring of the strips was quite garish (and sadly nowhere near as qualified as the colour art of the weekly) the strips were exciting, dramatic, and with a couple drawn by Ron Turner suitably proficient.



Contents included comic strip versions of Stingray, Thunderbirds, and Fireball XL5, alongside psuedo-news items for the year 2067. All in all, capturing the futuristic essence of the weekly.


Whist TV21 looked towards an optimistic 21st Century, traditional annuals such as The Beano Book 1968 continued with the usual high quality mixture of humour and adventure strips.

The book contained a number of interesting items including a Lord Snooty lead strip by Dudley Watkins which featured his version of The Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, and Minnie the Minx - characters not normally associated with him.

The book also included an adventure strip starring The Iron Fish. This popular series had been running on and off in The Beano for years and by 1967 the Iron Fish (dexterous submersible vehicles mastered by Danny and Penny Gray) had been equipped with the ability to fly. (With the tenuous reason they were flying fish, see?) This obviously gave the strip more scope outside battling smugglers in diving suits and the like. For the 1968 Beano Book, The Iron Fish encounter a flying saucer... although disappointingly it turns out to be piloted by mundane human crooks who had stolen a benevolent professor's invention.


The most intriguing item in the annual was a 16 page Bash Street Kids story. Within a framing story drawn by Gordon Bell, the Kids take over The Beano office and run the comic their way. The result - an issue of The Beano taking up 8 pages of the book itself - mixes up the characters, featuring Biffo the Menace, Roger the Minx, Lord Dennis, The Bash Street Bears, Punch and Rosie, Minnie Whizz and The 3 Plums. Bizarre stuff and great fun for readers.


There were of course many other annuals published for Christmas 1967. These were just three of the most distinctive ones. To see the rest of that year's offerings, and many more from other years, visit this link:

http://www.tonystrading.co.uk/galleries/annuals/1968.htm

Thursday, December 20, 2007

30 Year Flashback: 2000AD Annual 1978

2000AD was launched in February 1977, so the decision to produce a related annual that year must have been made fairly early. (Annuals appear in the shops in late August and are assembled months before that.) Thirty years on, 2000AD endures, published every week, and has gained a loyal fanbase. The traditional 2000AD annual has been replaced by a now-traditional 100 page Christmas triple issue, but its content - a varied mix of strips and features, - remains constant.

As 2000AD was a young comic 30 years ago, the first 2000AD Annual was a little more traditional than subsequent books would be. The cover, by Gerry Woods, looked like a generic Fleetway annual and its 128 pages featured content fairly similar to traditional IPC boys' adventure annuals. However, the 2000AD style wasn't easy to subdue, and the comics distinctive artists still managed to make an impact.

Only a few of the weekly's artists made it into this first annual. Whether this was because the rates were lower or because they simply weren't asked is unknown, but it was common for IPC annuals to feature artists not normally associated with the weekly versions. However, the book kicked off in good style with a full colour 10 page Dan Dare strip drawn by regular artist Massimo Belardinelli. This new version of Dare was unpopular with the purists but Belardinelli's skill at illustrating alien creatures made him a natural for this modern interpretation.


Belardinelli was also the artist on a one-off sf story The Dream Machine which also ran to 10 pages. Unfortunately in those days IPC had a tendency to use spot colour on some strips, usually red or blue, but Dream Machine was coloured with a garish orange.

The orange spot colour was also used on one of the two Judge Dredd stories within the book. Both drawn by Mike McMahon, one of the regular Dredd artists from the weekly, the second story (in black and white) was a sequel to the Judge Dredd strip from issue two, featuring the criminal Whitey Logan.


Kevin O'Neill, then working on the staff of 2000AD, supplied the three page short story Hunted for the annual. I've always enjoyed Kev's distinctive style (even right back to a couple of gags he drew for Cor!!) and this must have been one of his first strips for 2000AD. Kev's style has always evolved and matured and Hunted looks completely different to today's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. However even this early work shows Kev's ability to create grotesque aliens, - and drawing the animal-like hind legs of the hero would have been good practice for his later design for Nemesis the Warlock.


No credit boxes appeared on the strips back in those days, (I think Kev was the instigator of that later) but Kev and Keith Page managed to sneak in their signatures on their pages. The other strips carried no identification but John Richardson's style is evident on one of the M.A.C.H. 1 stories.

Nestled between strips such as a ghosted Harlem Heroes story and White Fury (a prequel to Shako the killer polar bear from the weekly) were the usual IPC features that always padded out the annuals. In this case it was an article on the Space Shuttle and a page about space theme stamps. (IPC seemed obsessed with the notion that their readers were stamp collectors as their boys' weeklies always featured adverts for stamps.)

No work by Dave Gibbons, Carlos Ezquerra or Brian Bolland featured in the book but overall, the 2000AD Annual 1978 was a close representation of the weekly at that time. It still seemed more creative and energetic than the other IPC annuals of that year, and Belardinelli's aliens probably gave a few kids nightmares on Christmas Day. But I bet they were back for more the following week, buying the next issue of the comic.

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.

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