Friday, 30 March 2012

Viz: The Cleveland Steamer



Like a lot of people, I stopped buying Viz in the mid-1990s.  In my case, this was because, thanks largely to the quality of the text pieces, I felt that it was turning into one of the things that it was parodying – a British tabloid newspaper – and all the adverts for sex chat lines that had started to appear in the comic did little to sway this feeling.  I think I had also stopped finding a lot of the strips funny, or at least had started to tire of some of the characters.  Maybe casual sexism and knob jokes just stopped being funny for a while after I met my wife, but if this was the case, then it really was just for a while.  Still, for few years in the 1980s and 1990s, Viz was the funniest thing I had ever read, and I still remember seeing it for the first time in Forbidden Planet in London, in about 1985 / 1986, and laughing out loud in the shop as I flicked through my first issue (issue 13, I think).

I have bought the odd issue since the 1990s – after seeing it in a shop and being surprised that it is still going – but I’ve usually done little more than flick through it once I got it home.  A few years ago, I even started buying up some of the annuals I had missed out on, in an attempt to catch up, but even then I did little more than flick through them once I had them.  But when I saw this latest Viz annual listed on the website of discount book chain The Works for just £2.99 (RRP £10.99), I was unable to resist ordering a copy – and I actually read this one!

I was a bit worried to start with, as the first dozen or so pages barely raised a smile, never mind a laugh, but maybe I just read those pages when I was in a bad mood, because it soon got a lot funnier.  The division between comic strips and text pieces is about 50/50 – was Viz always so text-heavy or do they just select more text pieces for the annuals these days? – but I still think of Viz as a comic more than anything else.  And it’s a great comic.  There were surprisingly few new characters here, considering how long it’s been since I last read Viz, but it was good to see most of the old characters again.  I never did find the Fat Slags or Sid the Sexist particularly funny (although I must admit that, in this book, strips featuring both characters made me laugh) but Roger Mellie, Man on the Telly, is simply one of the greatest comic characters ever created (I always did find swearing funny).

As well as surprisingly few new characters, there were surprisingly few new creators working on the strips in this book, with most of them seemingly produced by artists who were working on the comic 20 years ago.  Mind you, that’s not a bad thing, as most of them are genuine comic geniuses, even if I couldn’t name many of them, or say who draws what, because only Lew Stringer (Pathetic Sharks, Felix and his Amazing Underpants) seems to sign his work.  The artist who drew ‘Sting’s Fantastic Journey into Outer Space’, ‘Bono’s Incredible Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, and ‘The Clockwork Mountie Grand Prix Boxing Jungle Boy of the Foreign Legion’, as well as a lot of the other strips in this book, is particularly good (yeah, I know I could find out who he is in no time at all if I Googled him, but I can’t be bothered right now).

Of course, the letters page was always the funniest thing in Viz, and along with Top Tips, it still is.  Probably.   The quality of the rest of the text pieces was variable, though.  Some were brilliant – I particularly enjoyed the one about Jeremy Kyle being adopted by the scientific community as the standard unit of measurement for a c**t, after the previous standard c**t, Jim Davidson, had degraded over time, and there was another great one where Gary Lineker recalled some of the hilarious backstage mishaps that had occurred while filming his Walkers Crisps commercials (basically, all of these mishaps involved some kind of mix-up with his pay cheque, which left him livid) – while others were only mildly amusing and some I just skim-read because they weren’t funny at all, or else dragged out a lame joke over too many pages.

Overall, though, I enjoyed reading this quite a lot.  I recently bought the two annuals before this one – no, I haven’t read them yet, but I will – and I intend to track down the rest of the annuals I’m missing (and read the ones I already own but haven’t read yet).  I even bought and enjoyed a recent issue of the comic – still full of ads for sex chat lines, I’m afraid, but some very funny fake ads for things like ‘Uncomfortable Holidays’ and ‘Indoor Sky Diving’ more than made up for them.  In fact, I’m even thinking of subscribing to the comic, so that I don’t miss out on all the stuff that doesn’t make the annuals.  I may grow bored with Viz again at some point, but right now, after a very long break, I’m excited about reading it again.  This was £2.99 well spent, I think. 

3 comments:

  1. I always get a little annoyed when you hear comments along the lines of "Wow 2000ad still exists, I loved it back in the day..." and yet as a comics fan I'm still always a bit surprised when I see Viz is still out there. I'm vaguely aware its still produced but it seems the fact that it got absorbed by the mainstream means its ignored by the comics one?

    Or is that just my ignorance?

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  2. It probably gets overlooked by a lot of comic readers because a) Most comic shops don't sell it (because it's already available in newsagents before comic shops would get it from Diamond) and most comic readers buy their comics from specialist comic shops, b) Because humour comics in general seem to be off the radar of most so-called comic fans - the Diamond comic shop network is mainly a superhero / sci-fi network, and c) Most newsagents stock it up on the top shelf, next to the porn, and bashful gentlemen like us rarely even glance at the top shelf, never mind rummage through the magazines on display up there!

    Ironically, even though Viz is considered past its best, and it's sales are a fraction of what they once were (down from over a million copies per issue to well under 100,000 copies per issue) it still outsells most Marvel and DC comics.

    P.S. Is 2000AD still going, then?

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  3. Yeah that was my thinking on the matter. The fact that Viz sells so well marks it as the one true breakout comics (does Mad does this in America?) out there. Some 'Graphic Novels' or trades, as they often are, have managed this but little else. Yet as comics fans we ignore this (I can only really speak for myself of course). Pretty sad really. Shame on me... still just read the brilliant current issue of 2000ad so what do I care what the real world thinks!

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