Magazine article The Spectator

Happy 30th Birthday Viz

Magazine article The Spectator

Happy 30th Birthday Viz

Article excerpt

Sinclair McKay celebrates 30 years of Britain's funniest, sharpest and most irreverent cartoon. David Cameron need look no further for a perfect picture of broken Britain

Some night soon on the peaceful back streets of Bloomsbury, you might want to keep an eye out for two young ladies from the north for whom the term 'muffin top' might have been invented. They will be extremely drunk, laughing like open drains and displaying unsuitable underwear. They will be looking for romance. They are known widely as the 'Fat Slags'.

Sandra and Tracey are two of the Hogarthian figures that populate the pages of Viz, a distinctly adult comic. It is now celebrating an anniversary that few children's comics ever see: 30 years of scatalogical, frequently obscene cartoons. To celebrate this birthday, the normally decorous Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury is staging a special Viz exhibition. The Fat Slags will be there, alongside a sweary parade of characters who have, over the past few decades, provided a most unflattering reflection of modern British society. Among these are: Sid the Sexist; Roger Mellie, the Man On The Telly;

Mrs Brady, Old Lady; Finbarr Saunders and his Double Entendres; Millie Tant And Her Radical Conscience; Billy The Fish; Major Misunderstanding. All are drawn in a richly detailed style reminiscent of every comic you grew up with. Viz also has a raucously funny letters page, and a ceaselessly ingenious 'Top Tips' advice column ('Catch moths using a mousetrap baited with a jumper' was one recent suggestion).

But the genius of the comic throughout the years has been its unflinching and rather unforgiving approach to various forms of antisocial behaviour. From benefits fraud to unreconstructed sexism to alcoholism to tiresome green posturing, Viz characters are quite often vividly irredeemable. The comic's founder Chris Donald once disingenously described the Fat Slags' ceaseless promiscuity as 'unbecoming'.

For long-term fans, it is a shock to think that Viz started as far back as Margaret Thatcher's first term as prime minister in 1979. 'We still get a few young readers, ' says co-editor and prolific cartoonist Simon Thorp drily. 'That is, people in their late thirties and upwards.' Thorp has been with the comic since 1985. The Viz office, just outside Newcastle, comprises himself and his fellow cartoonists Graham Dury and Davy Jones, plus Stevie, their office manageress, and their designer Wayne. For a publication so comically ferocious, its monthly gestation is very equable. They all sit around on sofas 'discussing what they watched on television'; ideas come up; and if one person writes a script, then the other will draw the strip for it. Thorp says that the only real editorial requirement is that the stuff that makes them all laugh loudest goes in. And despite language that would make a horse retch, Viz is embraced snugly in the bosom of the comedy establishment. For instance, the veteran comic genius Barry Cryer is a huge fan, and once took the Viz team out to a pub - accolades really do not come higher.

Take another look, though, and some of the strips seem - unless this is my imagination - surprisingly right-wing, as opposed to simply anarchic. One regular is '8-Ace', a frequently incontinent alcoholic made to live in his shed by his understandably violent wife. Ace's sporadic attempts to find gainful work are always scuppered by his remorseless daily consumption of eight tins of extrastrength 'Ace' lager. …

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