On this day, 28 October 1978 … Whizzer and Chips underwent a few design changes in the 1970s. It started out with a bold, large, banner title – a big, red ‘Whizzer’ running across the top of the front page, with a smaller ‘Chips’ underneath. Then came the versions with the Slippy the Snake ‘W’ on the ‘Whizzer’, and pictures of Whizz-kids and Chip-ites doing battle either side of the logo, first against a triangular background and then running diagonally upwards against a white strip. In late 1979 it all became a bit curvy and bubbly, and as the 1980s progressed there became more variation and unpredictability about how the title was displayed from week to week.
But it’s the design of this week’s comic – which lasted for about eighteen months between April 1978 (when Whizzer and Chips incorporated Krazy), and October 1979 – which prompts quite an emotional response in me. It’s not the most exciting of designs. It’s a very blocky template, with the comic’s title in a rectangle at the top of the page – Whizzer and Chips in the same typeface, and the once-unfettered Krazy constrained in a circle to the right – and the heads of Sid and Shiner benignly smiling at readers (once they would have been at each other’s throats). The Sid’s Snake strip occupies about 55% of the space below, with the remaining 45% advertising one of the characters within.
Inside, the comic continued to follow a consistent design. Chips was the comic-within-a-comic, on which Shiner always took the front page. Both Whizzer and Chips ran an editorial, cartoons and letters page on their second page, and then the familiar stories ran in each: Super Store (with its store-front shaped page layout), Timothy Tester, 12½p Buytonic Boy, Lazy Bones, Sweet Tooth, Happy Families, Odd Ball, Whizz Wheels, Tiny Tycoon and Joker in Whizzer, and Paws, Run, Rogan, Run!, Sammy Shrink, Shiver and Shake, Money Talks, The Krazy Gang (on the centre pages), Hit Kid and Fuss Pot in Chips. Nothing surprising, nothing particularly wacky or controversial. We knew exactly what we would get in each week’s issue, and I loved that. I was fascinated by it.
I was eight years old when this comic was published. Around this time my family – my two parents, my younger sister and I – had a few appointments with a family therapist. I’m not quite sure what it was about, as it’s not something my parents want to go into; I’ve no recollection of anything particularly dramatic going on, although I know I was having some problems at school and there were concerns about me being a bit introverted, withholding and too much of a daydreamer. I mention all of this because my only memory of these sessions at the therapist’s office are of the practitioner (a man who I picture now as looking exactly like Sigmund Freud) seeming very interested in my obsession with comics, and in particular with my passion for making them. While he was talking to my parents I would sit and create comics, using piles of drawing paper and felt-tip pens that he provided.
Sometimes these would be comics that sprang entirely from my imagination, with their own names and story titles, but mostly they would be Whizzer and Chips, and faithfully would follow the design template described above. I knew the exact number and correct order of the pages, I knew how to draw the title of each story (and those – such as Joker – which were predictably unpredictable in the style of their weekly logo), and I knew where the adverts usually appeared and where to write the date, prices (in the UK, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia) and printer’s info. What seemed to fascinate the therapist – and I remember him trying to interrogate me on this – was that I only ever produced the design template for each page: the order of stories, the layouts, the panels and the logos for each story title. I never filled in any of the story panels – no pictures and no captions, just empty boxes.
I didn’t just do this at the therapist’s office; I did it at home as well – I must have produced loads of these skeletal publications. Today, if I see a pile of clean white A4 paper and a packet of colourful pens or pencils, I feel a Pavlovian desire to get folding and drawing boxes. My parents asked me about the lack of stories as well, and I don’t think I was ever able to answer them. I often intended to put in the stories, but just felt a bit of a block when it came to do so – as if it should be somebody else’s job. I feel that they and the therapist saw great significance in my empty pages, that they were indicative of me being retentive and unable to express myself effectively. There’s probably some truth in that, as those were characteristics of mine at the time (and occasionally now), but I like to think they were also just early signs that I was destined to become an editor – a publisher, somebody who facilitates the communication of those who are gifted to write. Someone who creates and manages the spaces for others to fill. Which is what happened – in books rather than comics, which will always be a slight regret, but I feel that I’m fulfilling my destiny and I’ll be forever grateful to Sid, Slippy and Shiner, to Whizzer and Chips with Krazy, and to whoever created that simple-to-copy page design which so fascinated me as a child.