Viz cartoonist John Fardell has turned a penchant for science into a kids' picture book, finds Tom Maxwell
BEAVERING away in his converted garage, his hair wild, his mind buzzing and an eccentric glint in his eye, John Fardell bears all the hallmarks of a madcap inventor. Although he harbours no desire to achieve man-powered flight or global domination, the 41-year-old is making a remarkable multi-pronged foray into the world of literature.
Having already written two children's novels, the Edinburgh-based author and illustrator, who made his name with adult comic Viz, will see his first picture book published in October.
Aimed at pre-schoolers, Manfred The Baddie is the story of a thief who kidnaps brilliant inventors and then forces them to build amazing machines to meet his own fiendish ends. However, on learning nobody likes him, Manfred is forced to take stock and decide whether he should change his ways.
"It has a real moral to it," laughs Fardell, who is originally from Thornbury, near Bristol. "I think maybe I'm just a frustrated scientist. That's why larger-than-life inventions feature so prominently in my books. I was always trying to build weird things in my dad's workshop, but science was a subject I just wasn't any good at.
"Manfred The Baddie is something that will make an ideal bedtime story, but I think it will appeal to older children as well."
While the gloriously colourful adventure and the black-and-white Viz sketches are poles apart, Fardell admits he owes a lot to Viz's The Modern Parents.
At the 2001 Edinburgh International Book Festival, he was introduced to Suzy Jenvey, then children's editorial director of Faber & Faber and – significantly – an avid Viz reader.
Fardell's first novel, The 7 Professors Of The Far North, was published in 2004. Its sequel, The Flight Of The Silver Turtle, followed in 2006, while The Secret Of The Black Moon Moth is due out in January.
When Jenvey left to take up a role at Quercus last year, it wasn't long before Fardell was given the opportunity to fulfil his long-held ambition of creating a children's picture book. Sadly, his punishing workload means that Malcolm and Cressida Wright-Pratt (The Modern Parents) are getting fewer opportunities to spout their self-righteous ramblings.
"Sometimes I have to take a sabbatical from Viz if I'm finishing off a book – it gets too much," Fardell admits.
"Every few frames there has to be not just something whimsical, but laugh-out-loud funny. The picture book has a bit more heart to it than my Viz material – which is rather cynical. It's easier in your 20s and 30s to be like that, but I find writing the children's books easier these days."
Since penning his first Modern Parents sketch back in 1991, Fardell, who is also responsible for The Critics, has himself become a father. Like Malcolm and Cressida, he and his wife Jenny have two sons, although the illustrator insists their approach to parenting is considerably less pretentious.
"The Modern Parents satirises people who get hung up on morality while trying to bring up their kids," he explains. "Children want to play with toy guns and kick a football about – and there's nothing wrong with that.
"It's not about attacking left-wing politics – I'm a lefty myself – but I used to hate the way it had to go hand-in-hand with a lot of whinging wordiness.
"I'm not sure if I'm more sympathetic with the characters now that I'm a parent. It almost acts as a warning to myself. I let my children be as normal as possible. They're a bit young to read Viz, but they're really proud of my children's books. I don't think I'm anything like Malcolm, but if friends ever saw me being too right-on with my parenting I'm sure they'd be quick to point it out."
• John Fardell will be appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Saturday, 1.30pm. Manfred The Baddie, is published by Quercus, October 2