July 10, 2010


478 pages, Pan Macmillan

Review by Pat Black

There are some reference books that are indispensable, but few are loved. They’re functional, they get bashed, you only turn to them when you’re in trouble, and sometimes they get horribly out of date and neglected. I’m sure I’ve got a Collins Encyclopaedia somewhere that was printed before the age of space travel.

The Magna Farta is the latest edition of Viz magazine’s swearing Bible, the Profanisaurus. To any unfortunates, perhaps from the United States, who are reading this unaware of what Viz magazine is, I say this to you: your cultural life is incomplete. It is, without a doubt, the best thing ever put onto paper in the history of the United Kingdom, and I would include the actual Magna Carta in that. It is the only thing that guarantees big laughs every time I read it.

Unfairly derided as a “toilet humour” adult comic book, it has long strayed into the realms of surrealism and total farce, with a wit that would surprise those who would deride it as a vulgarian’s plaything, should they ever take the trouble to actually read it. The adventures of Johnny Fartpants, a young gentleman with a flatulent problem, often live just across the page from “Howard Hughes, Ace Reporter”, in which the reclusive genius is a journalist who goes into hiding when he gets put on a story by his editor. There’s also, the history of “Galileo Galileo Figgy Roll” in which the famous mathematician’s perverse penchant for fruit-based snacks gets him into trouble with the local authorities while he tries to prove his theories, often riffing on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody while he does so. These one-off pieces of genius sit alongside traditional heroes such as Eight Ace, the drunkard who only needs £1.49 for eight cans of his favourite rot-gut beer, against the pleas of his wife and malnourished children, and Roger Mellie, the entirely inappropriate vanilla TV presenter, Alan Partridge long before Alan Partridge ever existed.

But my favourites aren’t the comic strips – they’re the ludicrious, faux-tabloid news sections. One story, “Treasures of Sierra Madre found under Anthony Quinn’s foreskin”, made me laugh so hard on a train – in public – that I thought I was going to choke to death. The fake adverts, hidden in among the real ones, have also caused many a belly-laugh. “Frank Man 2 Man chat”, a false sex chat line, had the enticing lines: ‘Fancy a quick half after the work?’ and ‘Do you fancy watching the football this weekend?’

There are also Letterbocks and Top Tips, examples of which have both been published in hardback. It’s hard to explain the appeal of these snippets, contributed by readers over the years, but I am without fail creased up with laughter when I read these. What makes them doubly funny, apart from the jokes themselves, is that you might actually read these kind of letters in British tabloid newspapers. In the Daily Mail during the World Cup, I was alerted to the existence of a letter which said: “I look forward to the World Cup – but do we have to sit through every single match? I can well do without watching Bongo Bongoland and look forward to the latter stages.”

It is fair to say that you need a robust sense of humour in dealing with Viz. Here is an example of Letterbocks from their online edition:

WHEN I make comments about the size of Britney Spears's tits and women not making good pilots, my girlfriend accuses me of being sexist. Yet when I punch her in the face she starts ranting and raving about it being wrong to hit a lass. The hypocrisy of it all dumbfounds me. M. Hobson, Whitley Bay

Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, then.

And so we come to the Profanisaurus, another reader-sourced column hosted by Roger Mellie which quite simply seeks to categorise every swearword, innuendo and rude phrase ever uttered in English – and a few in other languages,too. Ever since it first appeared in 1996 or so (and I did get that issue), it has become a monster. The phrases are all clearly made up by contributors, none of which are really used in real life. Its collected edition, The Magna Farta, is an epic undertaking of profanity. It runs to almost 500 pages of entries now. It only remains for me to list a couple to give you an example:

IPW: acronym. The act of rummaging for change in one’s trousers whilst in a lap-dancing establishment. In-Pocket Wank. See also, Inside Job

Neptune’s Kiss: A cold, wet, smacker on the tea towel holder caused by splashback.

Spongebob’s Nose: A distinctly uimpressive, yellow c*ck.

You get the idea.You need the Profanisaurus. It’s not quite an indispensable tool (fnar fnar) but, well... when was the last time you creased up laughing at the dictionary? On every page?


  1. Not forgetting "The Vibrating Bumfaced Goats", possibly the best one-off Viz strip ever.

  2. How dare you sir impugn the taste of the American reading public in such an egregious manner. Can it be that like so many of our misguided cousins from "across the pond" you falsely suppose us Yanks to be a bunch of hopeless rubes who don't know anything?

    Viz is an indispensable part of the library of any serious student of English letters, no matter on what continent he may be found. And not only Viz! Let this Yank go on record as stating categorically that Viz founder Chris Donald's splendid and hilarious memoir Rude Kids, together with the several works inspired by the brilliant, short-lived Framley Examiner, the work of Viz contributors Robin Halstead, Jason Hazeley, Alex Morris and Joel Morris, are essential to the most rudimentary understanding of English literature.

  3. Ah my dearest apologies, no offence intended to any of our stateside cousins - I had assumed that Viz was a niche product, but I'm delighted to find that it travels so well in such great company!

    Other things I'm struggling to get over: The top tip that says, "Confuse nearby parachutists by painting a large blue rectangle on your back lawn - they'll think you have a swimming pool."