Viz

A high Viz-ibility comic

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I first came across that disgusting (yet sometimes incredibly funny) rag called Viz at the age of 15 or 16 when a copy (owned by a chap called Donagh McCullagh and ably assisted and encouraged by Paul McGrade, neither of whom I’ve seen for some time) was doing the rounds of the 4th year classrooms.

The idea that a comic could contain bad language, extreme violence (albeit rather surreal cartoon-style violence), biting satire and “adult” humour (although adolescent or schoolboy/student humour may be a more appropriate description) was a novel one.  Another major appealing factor was that I’d read more traditional children’s comics of the day like the Beano and Dandy in my youth, but Viz went a step further by employing a similar style, yet creating grotesque parodies of these familiar characters.

 20 years later I’m still an avid reader…

Billy Connolly, when questioned about his style once said words to the effect of “I’d like to think I’m ‘dangerous’. I’d like to imagine there’s a 15-year old somewhere listening to one of my tapes, but he’s got the volume turned down low, because he doesn’t want his parents to know”. It was a similar illicit thrill with Viz. Smuggling copies into your bedroom under the noses of your parents was all part of the adventure.

It was during that time of life when there are certain things you can’t legally do. So buying Viz at the newsagents was like the thrill of getting served alcohol on licensed premises or being admitted to an 18 cert film when you’re still only 17¾.

As well as the traditional comic strip stories there are also of course the Joke newspaper tabloid-style headlines of bizarre celebrity scoops, letters from readers and handy tips.

Biffa gets hoofed in the "knackaz" once again.

Biffa gets hoofed in the "knackaz" once again.

I remember once being tortured while driving down the M25 to a wedding in Kent by my highly irritating passenger (who incidentally is also an occasional contributor to this blog) who consistently asked the question “what does the tattoo on Biffa Bacon’s mum’s arm say?” I felt like deliberately crashing the car just to put a stop to this. My passenger remains unrepentant to this day.

The multitudinous characters and stories which have graced the pages of Viz over the last 30 years are too numerous to mention here, but I’ll touch on a few of my favourites.

Jack Black and his dog – parody of the boy’s own adventure story or Enid Blyton style Famous Five adventure, sending up the right wing attitudes and xenophobic conservative values espoused by such children’s literature of the day.  In the standard formulaic plots young Jack Black and his dog are perpetually on summer holiday at his Aunt Meg’s cottage in some idyllic rural village, the type of place where strangers, particularly foreign ones aren’t tolerated.  Jack notices that one of the locals (or a recent incomer to the area) has been acting strangely of late and some unusual events are occurring in the village. With the help of his faithful dog and the local friendly bobby Jack unravels the mystery, which is usually something ludicrous involving Nazi war criminals, Islamic fundamentalists or drug and prostitution rings. The guilty party is generally brought to justice by meeting an unpleasant end at the hands of the enraged villagers. Cruel, but not that far removed from the stories it sends up.

It’s not just the political right who come in for ridicule though. There is “The ModernParents” – Malcolm and Cressida, parents whose obsession with political correctness, rights for indigenous peoples and social minorities, third world issues and alternative new age lifestyles leads to ridiculous situations much to the bemusement of their long-suffering children.  A magnificent parody of the liberal middle class type parents whose hypocrisy is always exposed at the end of each story.  There’s also Millie Tant, a stereotypical radical lesbian feminist who regularly becomes victim of her own highly strung principles. 

Millie Tant

Millie Tant

One of the comic’s most celebrated stories has to be “Biffa Bacon”, a character loosely based on Bully Beef from the Dandy. The Bacons, a dysfunctional family from the north-east of England who thrive on extreme physical cartoon violence. Mutha, Fatha (and occasionally Uncle Dekka who get their kicks from inflicting pain on their long-suffering son Biffa on the flimisiest of pretexts, who in turn takes it out on unsuspecting members of the public. But unlike the Beano et al, where the tormented underdog finally gives the bully his come-uppance there is rarely any justice at the end. Biffa or the innocent bystander usually ends up in a worse state than they started. In effect, Viz often subverts the traditional comic formula by letting evil triumph over good, thus reflecting real life much more accurately!

The fact that the dialogue is spelt phonetically to reflect the Geordie dialect makes it all the more authentic.

Roger Mellie (“the man on the telly”) – a foul-mouthed, bigoted, lecherous drunken TV presenter who despite (and often because of) his constantly atrocious behaviour always manages to maintain his lucrative broadcasting career. Not that far-removed from reality when you think about the high jinks of the despicable Jonathan Ross and his Houdini-style escapes from public justice.

Roger Mellie

Roger Mellie

Then there are the characters with ludicrous attributes such as Buster Gonad the boy with giant-sized testicles who often finds himself in excruciatingly painful situations, Felix and his amazing underpants , Finbarr Saunders, a boy who finds highly suggestive sexual innuendoes within the most innocuous phrases, like an extreme version of the “Carry On” films or the “saucy” English seaside postcards.

Mr Logic – a socially inept individual obsessed with  pedantry– who usually pays for his blinkered literal mindedness by getting beaten up or killed at the end of each story, yet returns in the following month’s issue as if nothing had happened.

Suicidal Syd – constantly depressed, but always fails his suicide attempts, then discovers that life isn’t so bad and decides to make a fresh start, only to come to a sticky end through bizarre and totally unexpected accident.

plodPostman Plod – a lazy, bad-tempered postal worker who takes pleasure in opening other people’s mail, skiving off work and playing football with the parcels in the sorting office – an ingenious send-up of the children’s character Postman Pat.

The comic has come a long way since the days of a few photocopies pages stapled together and sold by two brothers in the pubs of Newcastle.

And yes, some of the sexual and scatological humour ranges from the distasteful to the downright disgusting and is not always pleasant to digest, but Viz will be Viz.   Long may it continue to be!

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No Tyne like the present

The Millennium Bridge across the Tyne on the pound coin

The Millennium Bridge across the Tyne on the pound coin

I made my first trip to the legendary city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (or to give it its preferred modern moniker Newcastle-Gateshead, reflecting both the north and south bank of the river)  last week for a conference on records management – and didn’t regret it.  My limited knowledge of the north-east of England had been drawn largely from the popular stereotypes as depicted in Viz comic, The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedershen Pet.  Much of this depicts a rather grim, violent place, but I discovered a thriving modern city proud of its industrial past, steeped in history and looking forward to the future.  The city’s renaissance of the last few years is reflected by the recent developments on the south bank of the Tyne (ie the part known as Gateshead) such as the Sage theatre (which as one conference speaker pointed out resembles a giant silver slug), the former Baltic Flour Mill, now an art gallery and the luxury riverside flats which have sprung up.

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And there’ also of course the marvel of post-modern engineering design, the Millennium Bridge, a curved bridge which lights up at night, regularly changing colour.  It was only on receiving change at a corner shop which yielded a pound coin, on the reverse side of which was the bridge itself that I finally realised that this image had been in and out of my pocket for all these years.

And one popular stereotype is in fact true – they do go out in t-shirts in freezing cold, wet weather.