Oink! was a radically different children's comic that ran from its preview issue on 3 March, 1986, (given as a free gift to readers of Buster comic), to 10 October, 1988, its 69th issue. Oink! featured a number of often tasteless parodies of the sort of strips that usually ran in humour comics at the time. It cost 30p, was printed, unusually, on glossy paper, featured a number of articles as well as strips (though these were just as mad as the strips), and even spoof adverts. It started off as a fortnightly comic, each issue being themed, which enabled all sorts of one-off features related to the theme. As time went on, though, the search for themes became harder and harder, and costs forced changes. With issue 25, the price rose to 35p, and the issue after that was the first to be printed on normal 'matt' paper. A bigger change at the end of 1987 saw Oink! go weekly and return to 30p, but was a thinner comic, and had given up on the themes.
It wasn't long, either, before the price returned to 35p. Readership began to fall, and Oink! was re-launched with issue 62 as a big, glossy, monthly. Costing 70p, this didn't help stem the tide and six months later, Oink! was cancelled. Its creators went on to television, for the children's show Round the Bend, which was set in a sewer.
Throughout its lifetime, Oink! had suffered from moral majority types condemning it as unsuitable for children - it had been conceived in part as a sort of children's Viz1. The newsagent chain WH Smith even made the priggish decision to exile it to the top shelf! With all this to contend with, it was really a great achievement for Oink! to have lasted as long as it did, especially in the late 1980s, a time when children's comics in Britain were in seemingly terminal decline. And with the tiresome format changes out of the way, let's look inside a (made-up) copy of Oink! to see the sort of things you could expect to find within...
The Major Strips
These strips could be expected to have a page of their own each week. (Though not always. Nothing was that simple in Oink!).
Drawn by Jeremy Banx, Burp was an alien who had come to live on Earth for reasons that were never explained. Burp was smelly, covered in boils that would explode in people's faces, and carried a mysterious specimen around in a jar. His most bizarre feature was that his internal organs were capable of independent actions, and that he could survive with them being elsewhere. His liver, for instance, set up a major international crime syndicate before being arrested by Burp's left kidney (which had super powers). Liver was thrown in prison, and it took months before Burp freed him because he felt 'a bit poorly'. Sometimes, Burp would go on journeys into space and quite innocently inflict misery on other worlds, or bring it back to Earth.
This was the traditional 'naughty, lovable, roguish kid' format turned on its head. Drawn by Lew Stringer, Tom was a genuinely messed up psychopath with a cat called Satan, determined to show how hard he was. He was hindered in this by his absolute lack of any intelligence - in the first issue, he was going out to cause bovver, but was held back for 11 issues by the problem of how to tie up his bootlaces. In later issues, he succeeded in leaving his house, but usually he only ever put one person in hospital - himself. Tom was the longest-lived Oink! character, surviving the comic's demise and being transferred to Buster. Unfortunately, there, he was treated as a naughty, lovable, roguish kid.
Pete and his Pimple
Another Lew Stringer creation, Pete Throb was cursed with acne like nobody else. Part of him (usually his nose, but sometimes his rear) would suddenly flare up with a gigantic zit that was as big as he was. The strip often centred around his attempts to persuade a lovely girl called Lucy not to notice the pimple, and would then end with it bursting all over her. Failing that, the pimple would burst over anybody else in the strip. In later years readers were invited to send in their own suggestions about how to cure the zit, which needless to say never quite worked properly. Pete was also transferred to Buster, but didn't last long there.
DJ, comedian and sometime TV presenter Frank Sidebottom joined Oink! in issue 16 and stayed until the end. For those not in the know, Frank was a 'real' man, who wore a gigantic papier-mache head, and, before Oink!, sometimes appeared on the Saturday morning TV show Number 73. In Oink!, Frank sometimes appeared in photo-stories, sometimes in strips he drew himself, and sometimes his own gossip column2. Declaring himself to be a megastar, Frank would go around his hometown of Timperley with his puppets. These were: Little Frank, a smaller version of himself, whom he constantly bullied; Little Denise, Little Frank's girlfriend; Little Buzz Aldrin, an American space puppet LF met on the moon; and Amoeba Frank, the one-cell puppet. The strip would also often feature those naughty aliens, the Kilvertans ('We love lard'), and the Fish Men from Planet X4.
Horace 'Ugly Face' Watkins
Horace was ugly. Really, really ugly. Drawn by Tony Husband, his strips were a sort of soap opera, telling one long, constantly evolving story. This featured his girlfriend, Mandy, who was as hideous as he was, and his footballing adventures - the two things that took his mind off being ugly. Few people messed Horace around because most ran away at first sight of him. The early Horace strips were quite excellent. He would do things like help a farmer out by scaring the chickens into laying eggs, or rescue a ghost train threatened with bankruptcy. Unfortunately, in later issues, Horace was treated with too much pity by Oink!, and his strips became quite serious, though the stories were still great.
The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile aged 8 5/8 years, woz abowt a sientfik geenyus who lett us reed hiz diary to show us how cleva he reeely woz... You get the general idea. Hadrian's bad spelling was far from the only joke, here though. Mark Rodgers and Ian Jackson created a truly, well, vile, little boy. Hadrian liked to collect slugs and then feed them to his friends, Tubby Watts and Stinky Exton. His favourite people in history were the Borgias. When his mother became pregnant, Hadrian started putting nappies on his dog, Bowser. If he had an unwanted guest, Hadrian would glue cornflakes to his face, and claim to have a terrible skin disease. When his sister was born - well, 'tipikerl baybee smels' were heaven to him.
Harry the Head
Drawn by Marc Riley, better known as DJ Mark Radcliff's sidekick, Lard, Harry was a boy sadly lacking in limbs. And torso. Why this should be, and how he could survive without a heart or digestive system was never explained. (He did eat, but where did the food go?). Still, this didn't stop him (with the help of his mate Barney), from saving the world from the appalling Plonko Monsters (who exploded on eating bananas), becoming a massively rich oil baron, and becoming a secret agent (well, who else could infiltrate enemy headquarters disguised as a hedgehog?). In later issues, Harry's strips tended to be three-framers. A bit of a shame, really.
Willy was a skinny as a rake, and utterly devoid of strength. This fact did not deter him at all from his pursuit of a girl called Mandy (who looked nothing at all like Horace Watkins' Mandy), though he went to all sorts of lengths to hide his weediness - balloons, self-help courses and sport. (His shot-put personal best stands at 2 1/2"). Poor Willy's attempts would almost always backfire on him - he once mixed up his Valentine's gift to Mandy with his dog's gift to his girlfriend, so Mandy ended up with a dead rat. But, deep down, Mandy liked Willy. So sometimes he came out on top. When the bullies hassled them on the beach, Willy came up with a fantastic way of getting back at them - he borrowed a JCB and dumped tons and tons of sand on them. Willy also joined Buster on Oink!'s demise, but, like Pete, he didn't last long.
Most comics feel the call for a superhero at some time, and Oink! was no exception. David Haldane's Rubbishman was gifted with the power of being totally disgusting. He could fire rotting vegetables at evil master criminals and his rocket boots were powered by compost and his own unhygenic feet. His superhero allies included Snailman, the world's most boring superhero, Frozen Chicken Man, who lived in permanent fear of puppies, and Captain Hatstand, whose only super power was an ability to disguise himself as a hat stand. (He described it as a disguise, in spite of the fact that he actually was a hat stand). Rubbishman later gained a sidekick, Boy Blunder, a youth with no powers whatsoever, unless you count an ability to borrow 'pow!' effects from Batman comics. Boy Blunder wanted to be as brainless as Rubbishman, and was certainly just as incompetent.
The Slugs were quite a late addition to Oink! They started off as a trio who specialised in Bach, until they accidentally listened to a hardcore punk record, and made a radical change from their previous musical style. They became, frankly, unlistenable, screaming songs about poo all the time. Their adventures included being accused of beating up Terry Wogan on live TV (it was a genuine accident), being put in quarantine when they tried to tour the USA, and getting into the Eurovision Song Contest by farting so much all the other bands ran away from the heats. At Eurovision, they happily scored 'nul points' with a song about how much they hated Eurovision.
Hector Vector and his Talking T-Shirt
Wouldn't it be great if your T-Shirt could talk to you? You'd have a friend who could go everywhere with you. In this Banx strip that dream came half true for Hector Vector. The print on his T-Shirt could talk, but it was of a punk who hated him. Consequently, the T-Shirt would miss no opportunity to yell insults at thugs who happened to be passing, so as to enjoy the pleasure of Hector being put in hospital. This caused no end of misery for poor Hector, who had endless difficulty trying to get the T-Shirt off. He could do this, but was too nice to burn the T-Shirt at such times, though it was never explained why he ever put it back on. Still, it gave Hector his one weapon against the T-Shirt - the threat of dying it pink.
This wasn't technically a major, as it never went above half-a-page, but was such a regular feature it belongs with the majors. Banx would allow himself ten minutes to come up with an idea for what Mr Bignose would be doing each issue, then draw the result whatever it was. Surreal? Very. Mr Bignose as a chess piece on an infinite board surrounded by pieces of the other colour, Mr Bignose explaining his fear of flying and then taking off for no reason, Mr Bignose being invisible, but only from one angle, Mr Bignose training a fish to be his slave, Mr Bignose humming live to a huge audience, and so on. You really have to read his strips to understand the world Mr Bignose lived in.
The Minor Strips
These strips appeared quite often, though not necessarily regularly, and rarely, if ever, went above half a page in length. There isn't usually as much to say about these as the majors.
Torture Twins - Two men in a medieval dungeon found funny ways of making prisoners' lives even more miserable. They utilised potatoes and upholstered armchairs for their horrible ends.
Igor and the Doctor - Igor worked for a greedy mad scientist in a distant castle. What they did there was anybody's guess, though they tried restoring old masters for money by digging up school graveyards.
Hugo the Hungry Hippo - A truly gigantic hippo, Hugo ate office blocks, tall buildings and motorways. He ate an asteroid once.
Greedy Gorb - Greedy would eat anything. Trains, benches, fridges, it didn't matter (though nothing on Hugo's scale). He also had an extremely long tongue. Greedy was one of the strips drawn by Davy Francis.
Doctor Mooney - Was Completely Looney. His patients would say they thought they were vampires, and he would cower under his desk with a crucifix. That or ask them to lower their trousers because he could do with a laugh.
Psycho Gran - An octogenarian psychopath, she would inflict endless misery on granddad, Mickey Mouse, Judge Dread and, well, anybody. Worst of all was when she hid in a giant cake in sexy lingerie.
Dead Fred - A rotting skeleton, Fred liked playing with different parts of himself as they fell off, hence his new line in finger puppets. Could impersonate Michael Jackson.
The Adventures of Death - Death's hobby was chopping people's heads off. He particularly liked to use his scythe, of course, but could utilise helicopters. At his worst when War had hit him for no reason, or Famine had come round and eaten everything in his larder.
Roger Rental - Was Completely Mental. If told to hang out the washing, Roger would do so, from a gallows. If told to wash his hands, however, he would peg them up to dry afterwards.
Billy Bang - If anybody made Billy really angry, he would literally explode with rage. He also happened to have a very short fuse, and idiotic parents.
Cowpat County - The good yokels of Cowpat County lived simple lives. Everything smelled of dung, and they were happy that way. They had trouble with cities, particularly the concept of public toilets.
Barrington Bosh - Was Incredibly Posh. So much so that he and his girlfriend had servants to take care of the tedious lovey-dovey stuff on their behalf. His house was huge, but as for the taxes: 'We don't have rates, only mace'.
Zootown - An ordinary town populated entirely by cultured wild animals. The strips were usually along the lines of one of the big cats explaining to a monkey that he mustn't take it personally when he got eaten.
When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth! - Dinosaurs would do stuff, basically. The strips were sometimes related to them being dinosaurs, but here's an example of a complete strip:
Baby - Mummy, why is Granny such a funny shape?
Mummy - How dare you be rude about your Grandmother. Anyway, when people get old, their bodies change, they stoop a little, that's all.
Baby - Ho, ho. And there was me thinking she'd been run over by a bus. [Cut to shot of Granny's mangled remains.]
Oink! ran a few mini-series in its time, which were often spoofs of other strips. Here are a few notable examples.
Streethawk goes porcine. The Streethogs, Dirty Harry, Emma Pig and Hi Fat, together with their friend Hoggy Bare, patrolled New Pork City, protecting the newly-enfranchised pig citizens from the evil schemes of Don Poloney, the Mafia Butcher, and his wicked plans of apple sauce and the dreaded Triffics3.
Ham Dare, Pig of the Future
Colonel Ham, with his sidekick Pigby have saved Earth a number of times from the plans of the evil reptilian Wekun. Their boss, Sir Hogbert Guest, never quite understood what the problem was.
Jumps out of his Skin. When aliens gave him the apparently useless ability to live as a skeleton for a few hours after being frightened, Jimmy took a job as a ghost hunter. In this role he was able to rescue the souls of many lost pigs from the evil Phantom Butcher.
The psychic detective, who had brushed with the devil itself, now faced his toughest job yet, the butcher of butchers, Jimmy 'The Cleaver' Smith (see below). Unusually, this story ended in the abject failure and death of its hero.
Some Oink! characters didn't appear in their own strips (or rarely did). Let's meet some of them.
The Editor of Oink!4 besides being the meanest individual in publishing - he openly said that he wasn't interested in anything but money, and his writers and artists said they couldn't afford to celebrate Christmas because of him - was dedicated to the destruction of butchery. He even recorded a song, the Oink! Psycho Rap on the subject. His other endless campaign was against those who wanted such filth as Oink! banned, of whom more in a minute. But he loved his readers. After all, he knew who put the money in his Swiss bank account.
Uncle Pig's assistant was just one of the many plops who worked in the Oink! offices. (Yes, precisely the sort of plop you're thinking about. He lived in a toilet.) Percy was married to Prissy Plop. He spent most of his time in Oink! asking the readers why he was so 'unplopular'. He wasn't, but that wasn't the point. The point was that he did little else but turn up on various pages making 'ploperation, ploposal, plopinion'- style puns. Which was perfect. He was actually very plopular.
Mary Lighthouse (Critic)
Mary patrolled that pages of Oink! campaigning against all sorts of smut, and trying to get the comic banned. Often, she would appear with Uncle Pigg, asking him how he could have made the revolting story that had just appeared (or on one occasion actually was appearing), and Uncle Pigg responded by doing something even worse to Mary herself. Mary was basically a case of art mirroring life (see the introduction, and this article for the woman she obviously lampooned), and in a way had the ultimate victory (see the introduction again). She holds the distinction of having been drawn by more artists than any other Oink! character, due to her habit of butting into strips to object to the language.
Jimmy 'The Cleaver' Smith
Most butchers are mercenaries, in it for the money. Jimmy the Cleaver was in it for pleasure. More pigs had met their ends at his hands than any one else's, and readers were invited to help track him down, as were a number of characters. Like Van Hellsong, their attempts all ended tragically. Jimmy always evaded the Pork Police (who were admittedly incompetent enough to mistake Hector Vector for a butcher). Jimmy remains at large to this day and must be considered highly dangerous, provided you're a pig5. He has been hurt once. He found it... most invigorating.
Sam was such a career criminal that he couldn't actually manage to use anything he hadn't stolen. Though he was sometimes drawn, by various artists, Sam usually featured in occasional photo-strips, played by Marc Riley (who never drew him). Sam was at his best so-starring with Frank Sidebottom, who once captured him, with the help of Oink! readers, and then forced him to listen to a collection of Black Lace songs. His current whereabouts are, as ever, unknown, but may well owe something to the 'competition' he ran, asking how, if somebody robbed the local bank, he could make a clean getaway. Any readers who helped him could expect to win one of hundreds of records6 he was offering.
Nasty Laffs and Specs
Nasty and Specs were the mouthpieces for any nasty jokes the readers sent in, originally in Grunts! (see below), but later with their own page (which co-starred The Musical Plops). Nasty would always be the one telling the jokes in order to upset the weedy Specs, who would be grossed out by the punch-line, unless Nasty hit him. What's black, white and red all over? A panda on fire!
There was a great deal of other weirdness in Oink!, which was not in the form of a standard strip. Here is an attempt to explain some of it.
Grunts! The Page for Pig Pals
This was Oink!'s letters page, and the residence of editor Uncle Pigg. Here, readers would be invited to send in any porcine cartoons they had come up with (Trotterham Hogspur Football Club being just one example). Once featured a letter asking Uncle Pigg why he didn't have a letters page.
Really Sensible Quizzes
This was Oink!'s version of those quizzes where you answer multiple choice questions to find something out about yourself. This being Oink! the subjects included 'Are you a Trainspotter?', 'Are you Invisible?', and 'Do you smell of Rancid Aubergines?'. One of the potential conclusions was usually something like 'No, you are not invisible. You are, however, very stupid if you have to do a quiz to find this out.' This once took a different direction with 'Do you do Quizzes?'. The conclusion was 'yes', regardless of what you did in the quiz.
GBH. The company's name says it all, really. These were adverts for often dangerous trash at insanely high prices. The yuppie 'Pile-O-Fax' was in fact a rubber band, the flower show gardens were graveyards, and the kipper tie was literally a kipper. For some reason they said in the advert that their Santas would climb down your chimney and nick your video. Kids could join their bank, which would get rid of all the boring money so they could concentrate on having fun. (Hopefully), nobody ever answered these ads.
Haldane's Amazing, Incredible, Bizarre World
The artist of Rubbishman and Hugo the Hungry Hippo took readers on a journey around the world to meet and learn of the strange customs of the people in it, its remarkable history and its fascinating fauna. Alternatively, this was a load of madness that Haldane made up. Did you know that Marco Polo enjoyed dressing up as a chicken? That, every St Swithen's day, Eskimos stand on top of their igloos and sing 'Wake me up before you Go Go'? That the boy Pharaoh Tutti Frutti ordered the building of a six thousand feet high, seventy thousand ton garden gnome? (One night it was stolen). Well, you do now.