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Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 15:28 GMT
'Lad-father' tackles Viz sales slide
James Brown meets some of Viz's characters
James Brown: "I call Viz the godfarter of British comedy"
By BBC News Online's Mike Verdin

Limber up your laughing gear, or ink your poison pens.

Viz, the adult comic which has for 20 years tested funny bones, and political sensibilities, is increasing in frequency.

Fans of the magazine's strips, which include Sid the Sexist, the Fat Slags and Nobby's Piles, will from January wait only five weeks for a new edition, rather than the current two months.

Boy Scouse
Boy Scouse: Offended Louise Ellman
As, indeed, will the title's detractors, who have of late included Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, over an irreverent map of Britain, and MP Louise Ellman, over a character portraying Liverpool children as trainee criminals.

The frequency shift has been proposed among measures aimed at reviving the magazine's circulation, which has fallen from more than 1 million in the late 1980s to less than 200,000 today.

It also marks in earnest the fall of the title into the besuited lap of lad-father James Brown, himself a controversial figure.

The takeover of Viz in June by Mr Brown's I Feel Good Holdings company seemed to some a marriage made some distance from publishing heaven.

Mr Brown, who is credited, as editor of Loaded, with creating the lad's magazine market, was ousted from the more upmarket GQ over an article portraying the Nazis as style gurus.

But IFG's tenure has so far been marked not by heightened Viz controversy, but subtle changes in the title's management.

Off the top shelf

The size of the magazine has been marginally increased, and the paper quality of its cover improved.

Loaded covers
Loaded: James Brown spearheaded launch

"If you think about a magazine that was hanging about newsagents for seven weeks, it could look pretty tatty by the end of it," Mr Brown told BBC News Online.

Viz has also been ushered down from the goose-pimpled cold of newsagents' top shelves.

"We felt it fitted better on display alongside the lads' magazines on which it was such an influence," Mr Brown said.

The title's cover price has been nudged 10p higher to 1.95.

'Big move'

And now it will be published 10 times a year rather than the current six, (actually eight, including two seasonal specials).

Will this prove sufficient to save Viz from the fate of humour magazines such as the original Punch, which found it difficult to attract new readers with old jokes?

"For us, this is a big move," Mr Brown said.

"We are a small company. Take sales of near 200,000, with each copy costing 1.95, and 10 times a year, and you are talking a lot of money for us."


Not that it is just money that is involved.

Mr Brown admits his emotional ties to Viz, which he sold while a student in Leeds in the mid-1980s, and surveyed three years ago for a book to celebrate the magazine's 20th anniversary.

Vic Reeves
Vic Reeves: "Influenced by Viz"

"I have been involved with it in some way or another for ages," he said.

And why not, when the magazine has had an influence over a generation of comics.

"I call Viz the godfarter of British comedy," Mr Brown said.

"Vic Reeves, the Young Ones, Father Ted - they will all admit the importance of Viz to them.

"And it is also looked to for media commentary. Chris Donald, the founder, is always being asked for interviews for 'I love 1995' type programmes."

Untapped market

It is ironic, then, that Mr Brown himself was responsible for hastening Viz's decline.

Viz is a scurrilous and disposable publication, and follows a long history of British satire

James Brown

"When you look at Viz's circulation, you will see a dent at the time when Loaded was launched.

"And another when FHM was launched, and another with Maxim and so on."

Viz had stumbled on an untapped market for a magazine for "gentlemen", in Mr Brown's word, which the lads mags subsequently exploited - more effectively.

"There was this huge appetite among men for magazines, and still is. They want to be able to go into a newsagent every month and pick up something new."

For Viz, they have, until now, had to wait every two months.

New advertisers

Similar concerns have applied to advertisers.

"What the increased frequency allows them to do is block bookings, which is good for all parties," Mr Brown said, adding that the BBC, Nintendo and Universal International Pictures have begun taking space in the magazine.

Viz's content, meanwhile, will be able to become more topical, helping it attract new readers, and win back "lapsed" ones.

Or so Mr Brown believes.

"Viz is a scurrilous and disposable publication, and follows a long history of British satire."

But while spoof may be a part of the national psyche, a magazine title enjoys no such guarantee of immortality, as the once-mighty Punch proved.

Mr Brown must hope for the future that the Nobby's Piles concept is yet to wear thin, and that Britons are indeed ready for a richer diet of Fat Slags.

See also:

25 May 01 | Business
Viz is sold for 6.4m
01 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Anger at Shipman cartoon
18 Oct 99 | UK
Viz puts on a show
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