(At least, that’s what the title page of the book says; the spine and front cover, oddly enough, call it ‘The Inside Story of Viz’. No idea why.)
This is the story of how Viz went from being a photocopied comic sold by Chris Donald in Newcastle pubs to the one of the best-selling publications in the UK (beaten only by far less funny magazines like the Reader’s Digest and Radio Times).
Donald’s prose style is conversational and witty, and he manages to make topics such as distribution and merchandising deals seem almost interesting. I felt the book was at its best, though, when he was describing the thought processes behind the actual creation of characters, and thus later chapters – after his involvement in the comic has reduced, and he enjoys his early retirement on the proceeds of its success – were less engaging; I wish him well, and he’s certainly earned his money, but I found it harder to relate to the problems he was having with the restaurant he set up than the earlier descriptions of trying to come up with something funny. In all fairness, though, even those chapters aren’t dull, thanks to the generally affable nature of the writing (and, one can’t help but conclude, his general outlook on life).
On a purely personal note, I was amused to see the coverage of the launch party for the Viz competitor/copycat ‘Oink!’, to which Donald and other Viz creators were invited (and where they stole the cake which had been made for the occasion – shades of Malcolm Hardee’s ‘I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake’, I thought). I wrote a couple of items for Oink in my teens (as, more significantly, did Charlie Brooker), and Donald’s assessment of that comic, as well as the other competitors which sprang up as Viz approached sales figures nearing a million per issue, was interesting to see.
Definitely recommended if you’ve ever laughed at anything in Viz, and if you’re interested in how comics or cartoons are made, as well as providing another example of how acclaim and being paid very well for doing something you love don’t necessarily bring you happiness. Though I guess most of us will never actually get to find out if that’s truly the case, and so would probably be willing to find out the hard way rather than taking other people’s word for it.