Ten things I learned from the first issue of Whizzer and Chips
A few weeks ago I posted a brief ‘On this day’ item about the first issue of Whizzer and Chips. I thought it worth noting the launch of one of Britain’s best-remembered humour comics, and one whose run neatly covers the 1970s and 1980s period that are the focus of my blog (with a little bleed on either side – it ran from 18 October 1969 to 27 October 1990). It was also the first comic launched by IPC under the management of their new humour division, after the company separated humour from adventure (Whizzer and Chips’ companion paper Buster still comprised a balanced range of humour and adventure stories).
However, I didn’t have the comic itself so it wasn’t much of a blog post, just a cover image borrowed from the Comic Vine website. I’m pleased to say that I now have access to a copy of issue one and it’s such a lovely comic – and in many ways a revelation to me, as I’m far more familiar with the publication Whizzer and Chips would become after its merger with Knockout in 1973 – that I wanted to share it here.
Only a small handful of the characters and strips that I enjoyed as a reader in the mid-1970s are here in issue one. I recognise Sid’s Snake, Odd Ball, Harry’s Haunted House, Wear ‘Em Out Wilf and The Champ. But a massive 22 stories here had ended by the time this became my comic, so reading this copy for me is a bit like looking through photographs belonging to my mum and dad taken before I was born, accompanied by that slight sense of awe and ego-shock that there was a real world with real people and real lives before my own existence.
With kind permission of Rebellion, who now own the Whizzer and Chips copyright, the scans below comprise the entirety of the comic (please don’t reproduce it all elsewhere without Rebellion’s agreement). And I’ve compiled a list of ten things I discovered from reading it now, over forty-seven years after it first hit the newsagents’ shelves.
1. There is no Shiner in this issue – he didn’t appear until week two – but, more shocking than that is the first appearance of Sid’s Snake on the front page of Chips! Of all the Whizz-kid and Chip-ite raids into each other’s pages that would follow over the next two decades, the Chip-ites would struggle to top the fact that Whizz-kids’ gang-leaders Sid and Slippy were the very first characters to appear in their comic.
2. Somewhat irresponsibly, the instructions for detaching Chips from Whizzer read: ‘Grip whole of “Chips” in right hand and pull away from staples’. That’s keen, but also sounds a recipe for carnage. No wonder copies of issue one are so difficult to find. I don’t have the second or third issues of Whizzer and Chips, but by the fourth week the instruction had changed to a more sedate: ‘To separate “Chips” from “Whizzer” open up staples in centre pages’.
3. This isn’t unique to Whizzer and Chips of course, but the 6D half-a-shilling price tag is always interesting to see for someone like me who grew up only ever knowing decimalised currency. Seeing it here prompted me to check how long it lasted in this form. For the record, Whizzer and Chips was priced at 6D for almost exactly a year, before its cover dated 10 October 1970 offered two prices: 7D or 3 new pence. The dual-pricing lasted until April 1971, after which it was marked at 3p only. It’s a good thing the 12½p Buytonic Boy didn’t join the comic until 1978.
4. With Sid’s Snake not moving to the front page until issue two, the very first comic strip to appear in Whizzer and Chips was the clever Me and My Shadow, a Terry Bave-drawn strip that plays on Jungian theories of the negative-aspects shadow that lies within our unconscious.
5. The second strip to appear was Odd Ball. This strip ran for virtually the entirety of Whizzer and Chips’ twenty-one year run and then for another ten years in Buster, including an appearance this century, in the final issue dated 4 January 2000. But I never really appreciated that Odd Ball was a handy piece of alien tech, as revealed in this origin story.
6. There are a few stories in here that I recognise from later appearances – reprints, I presume – in other titles. The Spectacular Adventures of Willy Bunk appeared in Whoopee! in the mid-1970s, while Slowcoach took a bit longer to re-emerge, as reprints in Buster in 1984. I’m sure I’ve seen Mike Higgs’ Space School somewhere else too, but possibly just in an annual or holiday special.
7. Ron Turner is a terrific artist who has drawn a number of adventure strips for both humour and adventure comics over the years. Doctor Who fans will recognise his inimitable style from his work on TV Century 21’s The Daleks strip in the 1960s. He had a particular talent for streamlined, gleaming metal spaceships and there’s a wonderful example here in the first episode of The Space Accident, which pre-dates Jet comic’s Von Hoffman’s Invasion with its giant animals theme.
8. Denis Gifford is a name that many people will recognise although perhaps more for his work as a historian of comics and other popular media than as a hugely-talented artist. Most of his illustrated work was produced in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, so he falls a little earlier than the comics I collect. But his Steadfast McStaunch ran for a year or so in Whizzer and Chips and is a unique strip combining story and puzzles in a visually-arresting style. As Lew Stringer points out in this informative article on his Blimey! blog, Gifford’s Steadfast McStaunch had an earlier incarnation in early 1950s Knockout.
9. Although Whizzer and Chips was in a sense IPC’s first pure humour comic, it still had a good number of ‘adventure’ strips which wouldn’t have seemed out of place in Buster. I’ve already mentioned The Spectacular Adventures of Willy Bunk and The Space Accident, but watch out below also for Kings of the Castle, a Mike White-drawn tale of a pearly Cockney clan who inherit a Scottish Laird’s castle, and Tom Kerr’s The Stealer, a strip with an intrinsically sixties feel about a chirpy lad looking after an unworldly, spacecraft-building professor.
10. Ten points isn’t really enough to list all the treasures I discovered in this comic. In total, it contains a massive 27 strips (eight of them by the prolific Terry Bave), many of them on double pages, and plenty of which hardly made an impact of the comics scene of the 1970s. Give a Dog a Bone, Puddin’ Tops, Karate Kid, Ginger’s Tum, Parker the Parky, Hetty’s Horoscope, Aqua Lad, Fred’s Family Tree … this is the first appearance on this blog for all of these stories, and more. But they are the forerunners of the hundreds of brilliant comic creations that would grace the pages of IPC comics over the next twenty years or so, and are as accomplished, funny and expertly-drawn as any that would follow.
Thank you George Shiers for the artist credits comprehensively listed as part of his excellent Whizzer and Chips blog.