Made in Jesmond: Simon Donald and the Viz Comic
JesmondLocal caught up with comedian and Viz creator Simon Donald after his new game show, Fuckwits, at The Stand Comedy Club. Simon talks about the Jesmond origins of the successful comic and its crude and bizarre characters, which entertained over 1.2 million readers per issue in the early 90s. Donald left Viz in 2003 to pursue a lifelong interest in performance, but continues to look back on his time at the comic and his childhood in Jesmond fondly.
First of all tell me a bit about how Viz first began in Jesmond. Who was involved?
My family is from Jesmond and me and my brother, Chris, who started Viz, were both born there. It was in 1979 in the upstairs bedroom of our house in Lily Crescent that me, my brother and another friend from school called Jim, put together a little comic which became Viz. We went and sold it in the pubs, at St George’s Youth Club and at the Gosforth Hotel. We were bedroom based until 1988 and during that time Viz went from selling 150 copies to selling more than half a million.We stayed in Jesmond even when we moved out of the house into a proper office. So Viz was based in Jesmond throughout all its origins, all the way up to its biggest success in the early 90s.
What inspired you to create the characters of Viz? Were any of them Jesmond-based creations?
Well Sid the Sexist was based on a bloke called Graham Lines who lived at number 7 St George’s Terrace. He was actually a mature student, however in order to fund his course through university he worked at the Byker bin depot. So he mixed with a lot of real rough Geordies and developed the sense of humour that went with that lifestyle. He once wanted to ask a girl out but being too shy to do it in person, he wrote a message to her on a piece of paper and showed me and my brother. As he walked off he shouted to us, “Oh this bit of paper is gonna pull me some totty tonight!”. We thought that was just the most obvious thing, to create a character that at heart is very shy with women, but feels that he has to do this big macho thing using all the Geordie patter. The character just wrote itself after that.
Do you feel the Geordie accents are very important then to the creations in Viz?
Yes. I’ve always found regional accents interesting. Our publisher, John Brown, actually advised us to take the Geordie phonetic and dialect out. But we just ignored him because as far as we were concerned that was the story we were telling and that was how we told it. If people didn’t want that then we weren’t going to change what we were doing to make it into something that people wanted, because that was the kind of thing that all the publishers wanted to do.
What would you say was your most vivid memory in Jesmond working on Viz?
The greatest moment in my career was in Willow Teas, now Willow Tree, a café on St George’s Terrace in Jesmond. It was here that John Brown threw us the life line that really made our career. He decided to give us a contract that would give us total editorial control. And that was his stroke of genius because other publishers had looked at Viz previously and just hadn’t got it. They wanted to interfere and turn it into something no one would want to touch with a barge pole.
Which Character did you enjoy creating the most for Viz?
Oh Sid the Sexist, because once he was created it almost wrote itself. You just had to put in the latest ridiculous thing you had overheard being said to a woman in Newcastle. Almost every dreadful chat-up line that Sid the Sexist uses is actually just a quote from something I heard or someone told me.
How would you sum up in one sentence why you wanted to create Viz?
To make ourselves laugh and that was all we ever wanted I guess.
The next Fuckwits panel show hosted by Simon Donald is on 24th February at 2pm at The Stand Comedy Club in Newcastle, tickets £5.