Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The comic's style parodies the strait-laced British comics of the post-war period, notably The Beano and The Dandy, but with very adult language, crude toilet humour and either sexual or violent story lines (and often both). It also sends up tabloid style newspapers, with mockeries of letters pages and daft competitions with rubbish prizes. It also often satirises current events and politicians, and pretends to be obsessed with celebrities; most (but not all) celebrities actually enjoy being mentioned in it. It has spawned numerous rivals, none of which have managed to seriously challenge Viz's popularity.
Many Viz characters have featured in long-running strips, becoming well-known in their own right. Characters often have rhyming or humorous taglines that are equally well known, such as Roger Mellie, the Man on the Telly, or Finbarr Saunders and his Double Entendres. Others are based on working class stereotypes, such as The Fat Slags, Biffa Bacon and Sid the Sexist.
In a recent lavish coffee-table book celebrating 25 years of Viz, cartoonist Graham Dury is quoted as saying: "We pride ourselves on the fact that you're no cleverer when you've read Viz. You might have had a few laughs, but you've not learnt anything".
The comic was started in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1979 by Chris Donald and his brother Simon. It came about at around the time, and in the spirit of, the punk fanzines, and used alternative methods of distribution such as the prominent DIY record label and shop Falling A Records which was an early champion of the comic. The first 12 page issue went on sale for 20p (30p to students) in a local pub that hosted punk gigs, and within hours the run of 150 copies had sold out. What had begun as a few pages, photocopied and sold to friends, became a publishing phenomenon.
After a few years of steady sales, mostly in the North East of England, circulation had grown to around 5,000. In 1985 a deal was signed with Virgin Books to publish the comic nationally every two months. In 1987 the Virgin director responsible for Viz, John Brown, set up his own publishing company, John Brown Publishing , to handle Viz. Sales exploded, and at the end of 1989 passed 1 million, making Viz one of the top ten biggest selling magazines in the country. Inevitably a number of imitations of "Viz' were launched but these never matched the popularity or success of the original.
Sales steadily declined from the mid-1990s to around 200,000 in 2001, by which time Chris Donald had resigned as editor and passed control to an "editorial cabinet" of regular contributors. In June 2001 the comic was acquired as part of a £6.4 million deal by I Feel Good (IFG), a company belonging to ex-Loaded editor James Brown , and increased in frequency to ten times a year. In 2003 it changed hands again when IFG were bought out by Felix Dennis.
This section features letters sent in by readers, often in the form of obviously fictitious anecdotes or various observations, such as the "children say the funniest things" type. Many make observations about celebrities (especially ones who have recently died) or current events.
Often letters are printed that criticize Viz, accusing it of "not being as funny as it used to be", condemning it as being offensive or of complaining about the frequent price rises. These are often published and sometimes even framed in a small section titled "Why I Love My Viz!", blatantly mocking The Sun newspaper's habit of printing (positive) comments in little frames titled "Why I Love My Sun!"
There are often invitations for readers to submit pictures, such as the request for examples of "Insincere Smiles", whereby people sent in pictures cut from newspapers and brochures of celebrities and politicians caught smiling in a manner that looks utterly insincere and forced (Tony Blair featured at least twice.) A similar series was of men who were wearing absurdly ill-fitting wigs.
A long-running segment has been the Top Tips, reader-submitted suggestions which are a parody of similar sections found in women's magazines that offer domestic and everyday tips to make life easier. In Viz, naturally, they are invariably impractical or ludicrous. Some tips that are for ridiculous motives, such as how to convince neighbours that your house has dry rot , whilst others are for possibly sensible motives but with ridiculous and impractical suggestions of how to go about it, such as "convince your neighbours you are a rich, successful and workaholic stockbroker by leaving the house at 6:00am, not getting home until 10:00pm, never keeping social appointments and dying of a heart attack aged 40."
A more recent trend is for extremely sarcastic tips to be offered that are observations by the readers regarding other people's behaviour, such as someone (obviously a barmaid) who suggested male pub customers who are "trying to get into a barmaid's knickers" should "pull back your tenner just as she reaches to take it when paying for a round. It really turns us on."
Spoof Adverts and Competitions
Viz has had many different spoof adverts for various items, such as ornaments, dolls, china plates and novelty chess sets. These poke fun at the genuine adverts for such items in magazines found in Sunday newspapers. Naturally, the ones in Viz are absurd, such as a breakfast plate that depicts Lady Diana's face in the middle of a fried egg, and "Little Ted West", a teddy bear dressed to look like serial killer Fred West. Recently, Viz actually manufactured some of these items for real and sold them, including a china plate that depicted "The Life Of Christ...In Cats", featuring tacky pictures of a cat in various stages of Jesus's life. A long running gag has been adverts for sheds, or rather surreal types of sheds ("TV Sheds", "Shed Bikes", "Shed Snakes", etc.).
Adverts for loan companies have been parodied frequently since approximately 2000, usually with an absurd twist, such as ones aimed at vagrants, offering loans of between 5 and 10 pence for a cup of tea. Roger Mellie has frequently starred in such spoof advertisements, both in separate sections in Viz and also his own strip. Mellie is portrayed as someone who is willing to endorse any product whatsoever for money or freebies (similar to Krusty the Clown in The Simpsons.)
Genuine competitions have been run by Viz, with proper prizes. One of the earliest was a competition to win 'a ton of money' a pointed satire of tabloid newspapers promising huge cash prizes to boost circulation - the prize was in fact a metric ton of one and two pence pieces equivalent to a few hundred pounds sterling. Recently they were giving away a plasma screen television provided by the producers of Freddy Vs. Jason. Viz poked fun at the movie, describing it as "shite", in the competition description, which lead to the producers refusing to hand over the prize for insulting their film.
Another spinoff was "Roger's Profanisaurus ", a thesaurus of (often made up) rude words, phrases and sexual slang submitted by readers. It has been published as a book, complete with a foreword by Terry Jones.
Most issues feature one or two Photo Strips. These parody the format of supernatural and true love British comics such as 'Chiller' and 'Jacky' targetted to young girl readers that were popular in the late 1970s and the 'real life dilemma' photo strips often found in tabloid newspapers. One example is a young woman who is conviced the spirit of her dead husband has possessed the family dog and after some soul searching begins a sexual relationship with the dog. A running joke in these stories is that they often feature a car accident in which one of the characters is run down - in every case, the same man is driving the car, and always responds with the same line: "Sorry mate, I didn't see her!".
Recurring or notable one-off strips include:
- Aldridge Pyror – a pathological liar whose lies are ludicrous, such as The Nolan Sisters living in his fridge
- Badly Drawn Boy – the singer is named after a one-off Viz cartoon character, who was indeed very badly drawn
- Baxter Basics – an extremely amoral and sexually deviant Conservative MP who first appeared at around the same time as John Major's Back to Basics campaign, and a transparent statement on the hypocrisy of politicians
- Biffa Bacon – a boy and his Geordie family, all of whom are violent psychopaths. This was very much a parody of The Dandy`s Bully Beef and Chips cartoon strip.
- Big Vern – a stereotypical London gangland career criminal, who is convinced the most ordinary everyday activity (a trip to the supermarket, say) is in fact a major criminal "job". Every episode ends with him taking his own life for the most trivial of reasons – "you'll never take me alive, copper!"
- Billy the Fish – half man, half fish, he is a star footballer despite being drawn with no legs (he does apparently own a pair of football boots , but it is not clear why). He is a satire on, or homage to, the popular football comics of the 1960s and 1970s – Roy of the Rovers and so on.
- Black Bag – a black bin liner which lives the exciting life of a sheepdog; a parody of The Dandy's Black Bob
- The Bottom Inspectors – a parody of Hitler's SS, or perhaps the Stasi. A fascist organisation who knock on people's doors in the middle of the night and inspect their bottoms. Any transgression is dealt with arbitrarily and cruelly.
- Buster Gonad and his unfeasibly large testicles
- The Critics – pretentious and shallow high-culture critics who lampoon the perceived elitism of the "chattering classes "
- Cockney Wanker – a swaggering, bigoted Londoner who speaks in rhyming slang. The character is loosely based on actor Mike Reid and presenter Danny Baker.
- "Crap Jokes" – a diverse range of verbal and visual puns or one-liners, usually deliberately corny or old. The most well known of the Crap Jokes are seemingly endless "Doctor, Doctor" gags, with the reader's sympathy drawn to the endlessly hapless straightman Doctor.
- Desert Island Desk – a dialogue-free strip about an office desk which has been marooned on a desert island .
- Doctor Poo - a spoof of Doctor Who depicting the title character unable to find a toilet in the whole of space-time.
- Drunken Bakers – two alcoholic bakers, who, because of their affliction, hardly ever manage to bake anything.
- Eight Ace – an alcoholic who drinks "Ace" beer (eight cans for £1.49)
- Farmer Palmer – a paranoid farmer whose catch phrase is "Get orf moi laaaand!"
- The Fat Slags – two enormous women with huge appetites for sex and chips
- Felix and his Amazing Underpants – a boy with underpants with amazing powers
- Ferdinand the Foodie - self-proclaimed culinary expert and restaurant critic
- Finbarr Saunders and his double entendres – a boy with a good ear for homophones (he's homophonic – Fnarr fnarr)
- Fru T. Bunn - a "Master Baker" who makes his own sex dolls out of gingerbread
- Gilbert Ratchet – a boy who can invent anything, usually to solve people's bizarre "problems" as he comes across them. However, his inventions invariably cause far more problems of their own. Usually the entire premise of the strip turns out to be a misunderstanding.
- Grassy Knollington – schoolboy conspiracy theorist
- "The Gypsies" – an infamous strip seemingly aimed to solely offend the Roma, about a group of Gypsies who descend on a middle-class front garden and steal and vandalise everything in sight, with the approval of the local council. The next issue contained a 'cut-out-and-keep' apology, subtitled "what every gypsy's been waiting for!"
- Jack Black – a young amateur detective who gets people "busted" for minor technical transgressions
- Johnny Fartpants – a boy endowed with extreme flatulence
- Luvvie Darling – a melodramatic self-important actor
- Major Misunderstanding – an elderly, immaculately dressed reactionary who misunderstands everybody he meets, and consequently bewilders them with his right-wing rants.
- Mickey's Miniature Grandpa – a senile old man, convinced that he's four inches tall
- Mickey's Monkey Spunk Moped – a motorised scooter which uses simian semen as fuel
- Millie Tant – angry feminist
- The Modern Parents – and their long-suffering children
- Mr Logic – ("such is my name, therefore one may infer that this strip is in some way about me") a serious young man with no sympathy for other humans. Mr. Logic was inspired by Chris Donald's own brother, Simon, who was much later diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.
- Mrs Brady the Old Lady – spends all her time exaggerating her age and complaining about the young people of today and how things were different in her day
- Nobby's Piles – about a character with incredibly bad hemorrhoids.
- Norbert Colon – an old miser
- Paul Whicker , the tall vicar. A deliberately crudely-drawn cartoon of a misanthropic vicar.
- Postman Plod "The Miserable Bastard" – a bad-tempered postman with a serious attitude problem
- Raffles, Gentleman Thug – a late 19th century aristocrat who behaves like a stereotypical 21st century thug
- Roger Irrelevant ("He's Completely Hatstand") – a young man with a very strange mental problem where he continually produces irrelevant and surreal streams of language and behaviour
- Roger Mellie ("The Man on the Telly") – a foul-mouthed and violent TV presenter
- Rude Kid - one frame strip where a young boy answers the most polite request with a rude word or phrase. This comic actually predates Viz, featuring in some of the proto-Viz fanzines created by Donald in the 1970s.
- Sid the Sexist – a young man with no sexual experience who boasts of his success with women
- Spoilt Bastard – a fat, ungrateful boy who manipulates his weak-willed mother
- Student Grant – a student at Fulchester University who is determined to be fashionably "right on" and a left-wing radical, though when things go wrong, it's always his "bourgeois" rich parents that bail him out. Very popular with students
- Suicidal Syd – a manic depressive
- S.W.A.N.T a crack paramilitary police team with "Special Weapons and No Tactics" which parodies American SWAT teams.
- Terry Fuckwitt – the stupidest boy ever.
- Tinribs – a badly constructed "robot"
- Tommy "Banana" Johnson – an influential early strip
- Victorian Dad – a father who applies strict Victorian values to himself and his family, even though they are living in the present. This also appeared during the Back to Basics campaign, and could be seen as a satirical commentary on it
Many strips appear only once. These very often have extremely surreal or bizarre storylines, and often feature celebrities. For example: "Paul Daniels' Jet-Ski Journey to the Centre of Elvis", and "Arse Farm – Young Pete and Jenny Nostradamus were spending the holidays with their Uncle Jed, who farmed arses deep in the heart of the Sussex countryside...". The latter type often follows the style of Enid Blyton and other popular children's adventure stories of the 1950s.
Most of the stories take place in the fictitious town of Fulchester. Fulchester was originally the setting of the British TV programme Crown Court before the name was adopted by the Viz team. Billy the Fish plays for Fulchester United F.C. The Internet domain fuck.co.uk was at one time held by fans of Viz who claimed to be promoting the Fulchester Underwater Canoeing Klubb.
Viz also lampoons political ideas - left-wing ideals in strips such as The Modern Parents (and to an extent in Student Grant), and right-wing ones such as Victorian Father and numerous strips involving tabloid columnists Gary Bushell and Richard Littlejohn ("Richard Littlecock"), portraying them as obsessed with homosexuality, political correctness and non-existent left-wing conspiracies to the exclusion of all else.
To this end, Viz invented a fictitious councillor called Hugo Guthrie , representing the real Black Country town of Tipton. Guthrie would be cited in spoof news stories as designing all kind of manic and incompetent schemes for the town, involving such ideas as a Disneyland to be called TiptonDisney. Guthrie may be based on the real inter-war councillor Doughty who infamously told his council clerk to buy two urinals for the town park, on the basis that they could then breed from them.
Viz in other media
Some of the characters have had their own television series. They are:
- The Fat Slags
- Roger Mellie (featuring the voices of Peter Cook and Harry Enfield)
- Sid The Sexist
- Billy The Fish
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