“As someone who was born and grew up in the north of England, I feel that a love for cheesy chips is somehow wired into my DNA,” says illustrator Sarah Hingley about her choose your own adventure zine dedicated to the most delicious of augmented spuds. Readers of The Quest for Cheesy Chips must keep their wits about them as they select which scenario to pursue, ushering them towards culinary ecstasy or tummy-rumbling peril. Will you have all your money stolen by a seagull or get knocked out by a barm cake swung by former shot-put champion Doris, or will you gorge yourself on the fried food of the gods?
As a child Sarah loved creating stories with her sisters and flicking through choose you own adventure books trying to suss out the best endings and lamenting the ones which lead to disaster. Since beginning design collective 2B Or Not 2B and making comics with her sister, she realised that her love for creating silly scenarios leant itself well to this format and decided to make her own. “The advantage with this style of narrative is that you really have to make the story many-layered and add twists and turns to keep the readers on their feet,” Sarah tells It’s Nice That. “I particularly enjoy creating a choice that seems good at first but actually leads to an entirely different and perhaps doom-ridden outcome.”
The format required a lot of extra planning, with Sarah creating multiple flow charts to make sure each choice connected to another in a way that made logical sense. And why, if you even needed to ask, cheesy chips? As well as her passion for the foodstuff – something that endlessly bemused her friends when she relocated to London, Sarah finds chip shops a great source of inspiration. “I was greatly influenced by their signage (which often includes a fish-related pun), the wonderful array of characters that visit for dinner and the fried food that happily sits behind a window waiting for people to pick it.” As well as riffing on traditional designs, the project also afforded her the joy of creating her own dream fish and chip shop, Thank Cod For That.
Describing her style as “not perfect unless it’s wonky”, Sarah’s drawings exude fun and a touch of chaos. “I would rather that my characters have a jolly face or an interesting design rather than an anatomically perfect nose,” she says. “Humour is also a big influence on my work, and I love hiding little details in the background of drawings, whether that is a character that might turn up later or a pun on a shop sign.” Working in pen and ink because of its ability to record detail in the tiniest of strokes, Sarah often finds inspiration from the wonderfully absurd woodcuts found medieval texts and the strange creatures and people that reside there. “I hope that my drawings manage to convey that similarly creepy but fun aesthetic,” she says.
One challenge of the zine was making the character of the reader deliberately vague so that the audience felt immersed in the story. “You see a shoe here, a hand there but I try not to give too many indications of body shape, size and gender so everyone can be involved,” Sarah says. Opting for ketchup red inks, the project was the first time that Sarah had used Risograph printing. “It gives the work such a lovely texture and vibrancy, and the limited palette meant that I didn’t have to be too precious with colouring in my line art.”
Through her surreal chip shop and its far-from-normal inhabitants, Sarah hoped that her that a world devoid of cheesy chips is a sad and desolate place indeed. “The true route to happiness is working through challenges that come your way and rewarding yourself with the tastiest fried goods you can get your greasy fingers on,” she says. “It is a moralistic tale at heart, albeit wrapped in newspaper and squirted with sauce.”