The "lads' mag" revolution has turned full circle. The purchase of
Viz, the filthy comic strip magazine cited by many as the original lads'
mag, by James Brown's I Feel Good (IFG) company puts the magazine into
the hands of the founder of Loaded and long-time admirer of Sid the
Sexist and the Fat Slags.
Late last month IFG, launched by Brown in late 1999, paid pounds 6.4
million for John Brown Publishing's titles Viz, Bizarre and Fortean
Times. Brown says that the titles are a perfect fit with IFG's aims of
building a stable of men's magazines and complement Hotdog, the film
magazine that has built a circulation of 40,000 since launch last
Brown, now 35, has famously turned his back on the lads' lifestyle of
excess that defined the Loaded generation. He launched the magazine as
editor in 1994, then moved to GQ, where he spent 18 months as editor
before being forced out over an article touting the Nazi look as being
Brown's next step was to launch IFG with backing from admirers including
Felix Dennis, the footballers Gary Speed, Vinnie Jones and David Batty,
and the Viz founder, Chris Donald.
Brown is clear on his task: "IFG's desire is to make commercially
successful and critically acclaimed magazines that are great fun to
produce. I'm creating a cutting-edge culture in the commercial
IFG aims to grow its existing pounds 700,000 turnover through
Brown feels that Viz can recapture its glory days and that a sales
decline can be reversed by taking it monthly (it is currently published
every two months) and trading on its residual "goodwill and fondness" by
raising its profile through publicity and syndicated strips in the
Brown says that the deal, which will see John Brown's finance director,
Tom Gleeson, move over to become managing director of IFG, will give him
more time to concentrate on his role as editor-in-chief. His passion for
editorial content is undiminished and he says he enjoys
He says he learnt a lot from his Conde Nast experience: "The obvious
difference between Conde Nast and IFG is that we are a lot smaller. But
I learnt a lot from Jonathan Newhouse (Conde Nast's chairman). I moved
from being totally self-governing with no publishing support to a
responsible team leader who worked in partnership with other bits of the
While Brown's approach of injecting large amounts of adrenaline into
Conde Nast's blue blood eventually resulted in a collapse, Newhouse
appreciates Brown's strengths: "He's a talented, charming and
James did some very good things with GQ but was not in the long run the
ideal editor of the magazine. I enjoyed working with him despite
creative differences. Part of the creative process with James comes in
thrashing out these differences."
Brown, in his IFG role at least, is unwilling to compromise: "We can't
offer the market share or circulation of bigger titles. We strive to
create an environment for partnerships, not just ads."
Hotdog, which defines the oxymoron "quality trash", confirms this. Areas
of the magazine are built for advertisers such as Stella Artois and
But the bottom line is that Brown is energetic, outspoken and cocky.
He is not shy in taking the credit for the success of Loaded and for
launching the careers of numerous journalists. He is not concerned about
the recent closures of IPC's Later and Emap's Sky. He feels that they
closed because of product flaws rather than the state of the men's
magazine market. He says: "Both those magazines were bolted-on. Sky
piggy-backed the success of Loaded and as for Later - if anybody has a
creative idea at IPC, then let me know and I'll put up a statue."
Brown is on a high. He's confident about IFG due to the success of
Hotdog and in Viz he controls a magazine he has loved since the 80s. If
his footie team, Leeds (IFG publishes its official magazine Leeds Leeds
Leeds), were to win the championship next year, things would look
complete. But the Fat Slags are more likely to fly.