This month, writer/illustrator Nick Cross talks about the British humour comics that shaped his childhood.

When I was asked to write this column, I thought about choosing a subject that was august and literary, which made me look clever. And then I thought "Nah!" I was also helped with my choice by Louie Stowell’s Inspirations column from last month, in which she professed a love for the comics of Alan Moore and 2000AD. While IPC Fleetway Comics also published 2000AD, the titles I want to focus on were much more light-hearted.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, IPC Fleetway had a huge stable of comics, many of them with one word titles followed by an exclamation mark. Whoopee! Wow! Oink! Cor!! (that one had two). The comics roster shifted and morphed as tastes changed, with titles regularly being absorbed into each other whenever reading figures dropped. But all of them were characterised by their anarchic humour, colourful characters and low-stakes plots. For a kid growing up in a difficult home environment, these comics (along with DC Thomson titles like The Beano and The Dandy) provided a welcome escape from reality.

Once a week, a couple of IPC Fleetway comics would drop onto our doormat, along with the daily paper. Ignoring the newspaper (it was the Daily Mail!) I snatched up the comics and devoured them in one sitting. My favourite IPC Fleetway title was Whizzer and Chips, which had the clever conceit of being two comics in one – Whizzer on the outside and Chips as a pull-out in the middle. The two titles had a fierce rivalry, with readers encouraged to identify as either a Whizz-Kid or a Chip-ite, and characters regularly 'raiding' the other comic by appearing unannounced in stories. I was a Whizz-Kid through and through, although I did grudgingly read Chips as well (we had paid for it, after all). Sid (with his pet snake Slippy) was the brave leader of the Whizz-Kids, while the Chip-ites had to make do with some boxer wannabe called Shiner.

Fifteen or so years later, a friend and I made our first fanzine, called CheeseCrank. In homage to Whizzer and Chips, we ran with the idea of two rival fanzines, which were stapled back-to-back, allowing record shops to display them with either the Cheese or Crank side uppermost. We sold all fifty copies, so maybe some of that IPC comics magic rubbed off on our project.

One issue of an IPC Fleetway comic called Krazy made a big impression on me, and I can still remember the script for several of the stories. Krazy also had a back cover that was meant to disguise the comic as something else, to fool parents and teachers. For instance, the one I had, rolled up to look like a glass of Coca Cola. Nowadays, the comic would probably be more acceptable to adults than the sugary drink!

As the UK’s taste for humour comics declined in the late 1980s, IPC Fleetway’s roster was sold on several times, first to Robert Maxwell and later to Egmont. The rights currently reside with Rebellion Publishing, who are doing a great job of reprinting comics like Buster and Cor!! in new digital editions. Of course, I grew up too, moving on to more challenging material like the DC Comics Vertigo line, and graphic novels by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Art Spiegelman and (Louie Stowell’s favourite) the peerless Alan Moore. But it was the energy and irreverence of those cheeky comics from IPC Fleetway that first opened my eyes to the potential of graphic storytelling.

So here I am, forty years later, working on my first proper graphic novel as a writer/illustrator. The story is very different from one you might have found in Whizzer and Chips, but I hope the humour and spirit of those publications shine through.

Nick Cross is a writer/illustrator with a mission to bring visual storytelling to all age groups, particularly young adults. As well as being Words & Pictures' Blog Network Editor, he is an Undiscovered Voices winner and was honours winner of the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for fiction.

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