In November 1979, DHSS clerk Chris Donald, his 15-year old brother Simon and old school friend Jim Brownlow put together a 12-page comic fanzine in a bedroom of the Donald family home in Jesmond, Newcastle. The initial 150 copies of Viz Comic – ‘rude, wacky, music, sick’ – sold to punters at local pubs, discos and music shops.
Within a decade, Viz had become a publishing and cultural phenomenon selling over a million copies and spawning a host of imitators.
30 Years of Viz – a new exhibition at London’s Cartoon Museum which starts on 4th November – celebrates the art, irreverence and brilliant bad taste of Viz Comic. The exhibition of over 80 original drawings features all the key characters, many of whom have become ‘icons’ in their own right: Roger Mellie – The Man on the Telly, Sid the Sexist, The Bottom Inspectors, The Fat Slags, Finbarr Saunders and his Double Entendres, Johnny Fartpants, Spoilt Bastard, Suicidal Syd, Mrs Brady – Old Lady and The Modern Parents. Some characters such as Drunken Bakers and Billy the Fish – the goalkeeping half-man, half-fish – are both loved and hated by readers in equal measure.
Also on show will be a selection of classic Viz ‘tat’ including The Queen Mother’s Teeth, The Life of Christ in Cats Plate and The Elvis Presley Dambusters Clock Plate of Tutankhamen.
Viz remains one of Newcastle’s most famous exports. Many of the characters are obviously Geordie as revealed in the way they speak, sometimes requiring readers to write in for translations. Much of the comic’s humour involves lampooning earnest features from classic British comics – strips with obligatory rhyming titles (Roger Mellie – The Man on the Telly), spoof photo-romance stories, surreal send-ups and bogus advertisements.
And, of course, there is nothing Viz enjoys more than taking a tilt at the ‘sacred cows’ of British culture like the Royal Family and celebrities such as Sting and Bono, and this talent for mockery has always delighted its fans and outraged its critics.
Since the time of Hogarth, satirists have been drawn to the human capacity for squalor, self-destruction and self-delusion. Unlike Hogarth, the Viz artists profess no higher moral purpose: their aim is to entertain not educate. As Graham Dury, one of the longstanding artist/editors admits,”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”.
• 30 Years of Viz: An exhibition of original artwork, 4th November – 24th January 2010
Images from top of item: the cover of Viz Issue 116, featuring the Fat Slags by Simon Thorp; the Pathetic Sharks – Cover 126 – by Simon Thorp; and Gilbert Ratchett, 2005 by Davey Jones. Art © Fulchester Industries