The comic's style parodies the strait-laced British comics of the post-war period, notably The Beano and The Dandy, but with incongruous language, crude toilet humour, black comedy and either sexual or violent story lines. It also sends up tabloid newspapers, with mockeries of articles and letters pages. It features competitions and advertisements for overpriced 'limited edition' tat, such as a cat that "shits its own weight in gold", as well as obsessions with half-forgotten celebrities from the 1970s and 1980s such as Shakin' Stevens and Rodney Bewes. Occasionally it satirises current events and politicians, but has no particular political standpoint. Its success has led to the appearance of numerous rivals crudely copying the format Viz pioneered; none of them has managed seriously to challenge its popularity. It once enjoyed being the fourth most popular magazine in the UK, but circulation has since dropped to just over 300,000 (from 1.2 million). This is mainly because its comic remit has become broader and its format more commonplace, but also partly due to the fact that price has increased sharply to £3 (as of issue 178) and it is now published 'monthly' ten times a year. The falling circulation and rising cover price are often referenced in the comic itself, often by disgruntled contributors to the letters page.
Some of its comedic devices, for example, generating the illusion of an entire comic-strip "universe" with a "one off" strip, often based on a surrealistic pun, were widely employed in the earlier and now-defunct American humour magazine National Lampoon, which was itself more or less a sophisticated version of Mad Magazine.
In a recently released 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".
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. To meet the demand, and to make up for Brownlow's diminishing interest in contributing, freelance artist Graham Dury was hired and worked alongside Chris Donald.
After a few years of steady sales, mostly in the North East of England, circulation had grown to around 5,000. As the magazine's popularity grew, the bedroom became too small and production moved to a nearby Jesmond office. Donald also hired another freelance artist, Simon Thorp, whose work had impressed him. For over a decade, these four would be the nucleus of Viz. 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 one million, making Viz for a time one of the biggest-selling magazines in the country. Inevitably a number of imitations of Viz were launched but these never matched the original in popularity, and rarely in quality.
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" comprising his brother, Simon, Dury, Thorp and new recruits Davey Jones and Alex Collier. 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 Dennis Publishing.
Soon after, Simon Donald quit his role as co-editor, in an attempt to develop a career in television.
Much of the non-cartoon material such as the newspaper spoofs are now written by Robin Halstead, Jason Hazeley, Joel Morris and Alex Morris, the authors of The Framley Examiner' and by James MacDougall and Christina Martin.''
For a complete list, see List of Viz comic strips
Many Viz characters have featured in long-running strips, becoming well-known in their own right, including spin-off cartoons. Characters often have rhyming or humorous taglines, such as Roger Mellie, the Man on the Telly, Nobby's Piles, Johnny Fartpants, Buster Gonad, Sid the Sexist or Finbarr Saunders and his Double Entendres. Others are based on stereotypes of British culture, mostly via working class characters. In addition to this, the comic also contains plenty of 'in jokes' that refer to people and places in and around Newcastle upon Tyne.
Many strips appear only once. These very often have extremely surreal or bizarre storylines, and often feature celebrities. For example: "Paul Daniels's 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. Several strips were single-panel, one-off puns, such as "Daft Bugger", which featured two bored, disinterested men engaged in the act of buggery; the buggerer then states that he has forgotten his car keys (thus making him "daft").
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. There is an innuendo in the name. 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. (A significant number of strips, most of which centre on child characters, are set in the fictional Barnton.)
One of the most pun based strips was "George Bestial", which centered around famous footballer George Best committing bestiality. The strip was discontinued after the death of Best.
Viz also lampoons political ideas - both left-wing ideals, in strips such as "The Modern Parents" (and to an extent in Student Grant), and right-wing ones such as "Baxter Basics", "Victorian Dad" and numerous strips involving tabloid columnists Garry Bushell ("Garry Bushell the Bear") and Richard Littlejohn ("Richard Littlecock" and "Robin Hood and Richard Littlejohn"), portraying them as obsessed with homosexuality, political correctness and non-existent left-wing conspiracies to the exclusion of all else.
In keeping with the comic's irreverent and deliberately non-conformist style, The Duke of Edinburgh was once parodied as a culturally insensitive, dim-witted xenophobe in a one-off strip "HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and his Jocular Larks" which centred on the Duke making outrageously ill-informed comments to a young Chinese victim of a residential housing block collapse.
Occasionally, celebrities get the 'honour' of strips all to themselves. Billy Connolly has had more than one devoted to him trying to ingratiate himself with the Queen; Harold Shipman and Fred West got their own strip as rival neighbours trying to kill the old woman next door and trying to foil each other's plans (Harold and Fred - they make ladies dead! ); and Bob Hope had a strip of him trying to think up amusing last words for him to utter on his deathbed (but ended up with just a load of swearing). The singer Elton John has also appeared frequently in recent issues as a double-dealing Del Boy-like character attempting to pull off small-time criminal scams such as tobacco smuggling, benefit fraud and cheating on fruit machines. Most recently he was seen posing as a window cleaner and conning customers to pay him, before being mistaken for a Peeping Tom and given a thorough hiding. The strips always end with Elton being beaten at his own game by one or more of his musical contemporaries from the 1970s and 80s. Other celebs to have been featured in their own strips include Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand, Esther Rantzen, Stephen Fry, Noel Edmonds, Jimmy Saville (as the headmaster of "Pop School", as "Sir Jimmy Savile, the Owl" and in "Jimmy Savile's Haunted Head"), Johnny Vaughan, Boy George, Freddie Garrity, Steve McFadden, Morrissey (constantly finding daffodils stuck into the seat of his trousers, in parody of his appearances on Top of the Pops), Busted, Eminem, Big Daddy and plenty more.
In 2002, British comedian Johnny Vegas sold the exclusive rights to his wedding photographs to Viz for £1, in a sarcastic dig at celebrity couples who sold the rights to their wedding photos to glossy magazines such as OK! for anything up to £1million. Viz subsequently printed the 'exclusive' photos of Vegas' big day in their next issue. He claims he never received the money.
Sprinkled throughout each issue are spoof news stories, serving to lampoon the tabloid media and obsess over celebrities. 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.
There were also fictitious stories of normal events one might find in the paper; for example, one issue of Viz featured a small write-up of a wedding. However, in true Viz style, the wedding featured a lecherous groom marrying his pregnant (and significantly underaged) girlfriend, eyeing up her younger sister while being called a "cradle-snatching cunt" by her father (with the resulting fight prompting the bride's mother to cry out "less it, for fuck's sake" before the police arrived). Another such story revolved around a man who won several hundred pounds on the pools, and began living an inordinately lavish lifestyle ("I even paid for a taxi home" from the pub being one such example of his largesse), which collapsed when the money inevitably ran out, much to his chagrin ("I wish I'd never set eyes on the money").
Other stories include ludicrous "kiss and tells" and similar stories by people who are portrayed as mentally disturbed, often with highly bizarre elements; examples include allegations by a man who claimed that, on holiday touring in his caravan, he found a campsite run by Elvis Presley who, when plied with drink, admitted to the Kennedy assassination; another from a retired toilet attendant who described the nature of faeces from various little-known celebrities and an exposé on the sex life of a 'mental hospital outpatient' who claimed to be having affairs with TV puppets such as Basil Brush, the Thunderbirds and Thomas the Tank Engine ("I'd never seen a train's cock before and it was huge.").
Additionally, there were the usual stories revolving around celebrities, some in the "tell all" vein (such as a customs agent who claimed he found drugs in Pamela Anderson's "plastic tits"). If one of a select band of frequently referenced stars is mentioned during these stories, they will be named humorously. Among others, Lemmy Kilmister will invariably be referred to as "Lemmy out of Motörhead", Bono as "Bonio" (a brand of dog biscuit) and Sting as "Sting (real name Gordon Sting)", mixing the singer's birth and stage names.
Photos in Viz news stories are often edited and altered, much to the detriment of the subjects involved (teeth blacked out, facial features shrunken/enlarged, and so on). In the case of the aforementioned Lemmy, for one photo the editors simply took a picture of a man wearing a baseball cap and drew a crude approximation of Lemmy's facial hair and warts on his face (as well as writing "Motörhead" on the cap). Photos will frequently be captioned only with the name of the subject followed by ", yesterday", e.g. "A train, yesterday".
Following the format common in tabloid newspapers, stories are punctuated by words that, in normal journalism, serve to indicate the theme of the following sections. In Viz however, while these words often start out being relevant to the story, they quickly stray for comedic value and therefore have little or no relevance to the following text. The words will often follow a theme, such as TV cops' names or types of curry, and will sometimes spell out a sentence, rarely relevant, if read separately from the story.
This section features letters both written by the editors and sent in by readers often with ridiculous names, usually in the form of obviously fictitious anecdotes (one reader claimed that by defecating on the high seas, he was able to expel a single unbroken "monster" turd; however nobody wanted to grant him research funds for further attempts) or various observations, such as the "children say the funniest things" type (one issue featured numerous variations of a reader's young son making a reference to masturbation during bathtime, such as "playing with [his] pork sword"; in this case, when the reader entered the bathroom, she discovered her son had indeed fashioned a sword out of pork and sausages).
Many make observations about celebrities (especially those who have recently died; one letter printed after the deaths of Gianni Versace and Princess Diana remarked on both their violent deaths and friendship with Elton John, stating "I tell you what. If I was George Michael right about now, I'd be shitting myself") or current events (a 2000 issue remarked "The Government spent £850 million on the Millennium Bug, and the only thing that crashes is Q [Desmond Llewelyn] out of the Bond films").
Most employ deliberate misunderstandings for comic effect (e.g. "These so-called speed bumps are a joke. If anything they slow you down.") Often letters feature simple yet absurd statements ("I'm heading off to the pub in a few minutes and wondered if any of your readers fancied joining me for a pint").
A bizarre series of letters from a J Cursiter of Bristol recounted his hobby of watching passers-by from 'a series of cunningly-disguised hides'. It is unclear whether Cursiter is a reader of the comic or a creation of the editors.
Often letters are printed that criticise 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. There's also "Up The Arse Corner", where photographs are submitted of people whose pose, and/or facial expression, could be misconstrued as being in the midst of an act of buggery.
Letterbocks also formerly featured correspondence from, and has brought fame to the late Abdul Latif, Lord of Harpole, proprietor of the (real) Curry Capital restaurant (formerly the Rupali), Bigg Market. His Lordship often promoted his restaurant with spoof competitions and offers. In December 2006 he appeared in a seasonal broadcast to rival the Queen's very own Christmas message.
A semi-regular feature in Letterbocks is the "Lame to Fame" column, where readers can send in "claims to fame" where they explain how they are related to well-known celebrities. However, the relations are purposefully so distant or commonplace that the claim does not make the reader any more notable than any other bloke off the street. For example: "I once had a drink with a bloke who had caught Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon's dog after it had escaped from his big house."
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 usually absurd, impractical or ludicrous - for example: "A small coniferous tree in the corner of your living room is an excellent place to store Christmas decorations", or "Why waste money on expensive binoculars? Simply stand closer to the object you wish to observe". Some tips 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 friends that you have a high powered job in the City by leaving for work at 6 am every morning, arriving home at 10 at night, never keeping social appointments and dropping down dead at the age of 36." and "Save money on sex-lines by phoning up the Samaritans and threatening to kill yourself unless they talk dirty." Some are totally inexplicable: "To make your husband's trousers heavier, hang onions from the belt loops". Some inspire volleys of running jokes: "Fun-sized Mars Bars make ideal normal sized Mars Bars for dwarves." -- "Normal-sized Mars bars make ideal fun-sized Mars Bars for giants." -- "King-size Mars Bars make ideal normal size Mars Bars for giants." -- "Normal-sized Mars Bars make ideal king-sized Mars Bars for dwarves."
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."
McDonald's was accused of plagiarising a number of Viz Top Tips in an advertising campaign they ran in 1996. Some of the similarities are almost word-for-word:
The case was later settled out of court for an undisclosed sum (donated to Comic Relief), however many Viz readers had believed that the comic had given permission for their use, leading to Top Tips submissions such as: "Geordie magazine editors. Continue paying your mortgage and buying expensive train sets ... by simply licensing the Top Tips concept to a multinational burger corporation."
Viz has had many different spoof adverts for various items, such as ornaments, dolls, sheds, china plates and novelty chess sets. These poke fun at the genuine adverts for such items in magazines found in the colour supplements of Sunday newspapers. Naturally, those found in Viz are absurd, such as a breakfast plate that depicts Princess Diana's face in the middle of a fried egg, "No. 22 Shit Street" (which was a diorama of a dilapidated council house complete with rabid dog, youthful vandals, and a "gently rusting" washing machine in the front yard), 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, and the Elvis Presley Dambusters Clock Plate of Tutankhamen, a clock featuring Elvis in the style of Tutankhamun's death mask in addition to Avro Lancaster bomber planes. Many Viz gems are tucked away in spoof Terms and Conditions sections or application forms. Wry adverts for mail order "objets de tat" will require prospective buyers to commit to exorbitant, protracted payment arrangements and demand they give up the opportunity to put right their error, once the thrill of actually holding a "Lady Diana Full English Breakfast Plate of Hope" has faded. One "Ticky Box" is labelled "My statutory rights are not important".
Another staple of Viz advertisement parody are the adverts for public and government services one would normally not expect to find advertised. For example, one ad consisted of the words "Raped? Burgled? Run over? Why not call the police" placed next to a picture of a grinning policeman. Another ad exhorted male readers to join the British Army, because "all the birds are gagging for squaddies" (with the fine print on the reply coupon having a tick box where the interested recruit indicates that spending years ducking for cover in Belfast "should just about see [him] right" when it comes to the ladies).
A long running gag has been adverts for sheds, or rather surreal types of sheds ("TV Sheds", "Shed Bikes", "Shed Snakes", etc.). (compare with Monty Python's 'Arthur 'two-sheds' Jackson!)
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.
Scatalogical humour also featured heavily in the ads; one ad featured "Clag-Gone", which consisted of a stationary bicycle with no seat. Instead the rider simply placed his naked bottom onto the "Clag-Gone"'s wire brush wheel, which then cleaned away "winnits", "tag-nuts" and "dangleberries". Another ad featured a tourist package where eggs were served in great quantities; a happy tourist was featured saying "I'm egg-bound for Jamaica!"
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 tonne 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, and described the runners-up prizes of DVDs of the film as "frankly worthless", which led to the producers refusing to hand over the prize for insulting their film.
Another spinoff was "Roger's Profanisaurus" , a thesaurus of (often freshly coined) rude words, phrases and sexual slang submitted by readers. It has been published as a book, complete with a foreword by Terry Jones. This also often features genuine regional slang.
Jimmy Carr is one of the latest targets of Viz, being lambasted as a sham of a comedian by having photographs of himself posing with employees who have won mundane awards at meaningless corporate events. In issue 160 a genuine advert appeared promoting his latest DVD with the tag-line "When he's not doing corporate gigs, Jimmy Carr is a stand-up comic."
In November 1987, a free mini-issue of Viz was given away with issue 23 of computer magazine Your Sinclair. This was done in response to Your Sinclair's competitor, CRASH, giving away a mini-copy of Oink! comic with their issue 42.
One example is a young woman who is convinced 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!". The locations for the photo stories are recognisably in the suburbs of Newcastle upon Tyne where the Viz team are based. On occasion, this is explicitly recognised - the one-off strip Whitley Baywatch, a spoof of the popular American TV show Baywatch, is based in the North East coastal resort of Whitley Bay. However, other stories purporting to be set in London or without a location are often also identifiably near to the Viz editorial offices in Jesmond. In 'He just loved to dance' (no. 103) for example, Komal's Tandoori restaurant in West Jesmond is visible. In 'Four minutes to fall in love' (no. 107), the Gateshead Millennium Bridge provides a backdrop to the denouement. An occasionally recurring actor in these strips is Arthur 2-Stroke, of the band The Chart Commandos.
One such photo strip was called "I Believe in Father Christmas", where a full grown man believed in the existence of Santa Claus. His wife, named Virginia, attempts to convince him otherwise. He visits a department store Santa Claus just like a child, although he asks for either a CD from the Dire Straits or Phil Collins. On Christmas night, the man goes downstairs to the living room as he heard noise and figured Santa must have come. However, he is surprised to see that an armed robber has broken into his house, who promptly shoots him and flees. His wife in shock tends to her husband as he is badly hurt, who tells her he was wrong to believe in Santa Claus like some small child. However, crying, the wife said that Santa did indeed come, he left presents for them. The strip ends by the husband saying to his wife "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."
In his book Rude Kids: The Inside Story of Viz, the comic's creator Chris Donald claimed that the first legal action ever taken against Viz was initiated by a man who objected to the use of a picture of his house (taken from an estate agent's catalogue) in one of these photo strips, and that British tabloid newspaper the Sunday Sport tried to provoke media outrage over another photo strip which, taken out of context, could be misconstrued as making light of the problem of illegal drugs being offered to children.
Trinny and Susannah also threatened to sue the comic after being portrayed as school bullies in a cartoon strip (Fat and Skinny: Suzanna and Trinny). An official Viz spokesman said “We are too busy laughing to comment.”
The Fat Slags appeared in TV ads for Lucozade, a drink that they hate with a passion. These ads included a mixture of cartoon characters (the slags) and live actors (the men who drink Lucozade).
A novelty single was released in 1987 for Viz and its Buster Gonads comic by the band XTC as "Johnny Japes and His Jesticles". The A-side was "Bags of Fun With Buster" b/w "Scrotal Scratch Mix".
The strip 'Wanker Watson', a parody of the children's comic book character Winker Watson, led to litigation by D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd, the owners of the Winker character. In retaliation, Viz featured a new character called 'D.C. Thomson The Humourless Scottish Git'. (D.C. Thomson sought revenge by publishing a new cartoon "The Jocks and The Geordies", a revival of an old strip from The Dandy, in which the Geordies (clearly representing VIZ) competed with the Jocks (clearly representing Thomson) in a competition to design funny cartoon characters. The Geordies' miserable efforts bore sharp similarity to actual Viz characters, such as 'The Boy with Big Pants' - a reference to Felix and his Amazing Underpants.)
Sports clothing manufacturer Kappa insisted that the comic drop the name of one of its characters, 'Kappa Slapper', as it had no permission to use the brand name. Kappa also believed that the character in question insulted its customer base. 'Slapper' was an obnoxious, uneducated, highly unattractive and sexually promiscuous 14 year old single mother living on a Tyneside council estate, always donning her Kappa shellsuit. After several runs of the strip, Viz agreed to change her name to 'Tasha Slapper'.
In his book Rude Kids: The Inside Story of Viz, Chris Donald mentions that he was interviewed by police after giving the go-ahead to publish a Top Tip which could have been interpreted as an incitement to carry out a bomb plot. Donald claims that he then accidentally included the offending statement in that year's Viz annual, and had to have it covered with a sticker by the publishers.