Is 'Anna Reksik' from Viz a sick joke too far?

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James Brown, the one-time arbiter of lad culture, has marked his first issue as publisher of the adult comic Viz with a new controversy, this time over targeting women with eating disorders.

Anna Reksik is just one of a new generation of politically incorrect characters being introduced to the 20-year-old cult comic by its new owner. A wide-eyed bottle blonde with wildly fluctuating weight, she is willing to do anything to achieve her ambition of catwalk stardom.

In her debut adventure, out this weekend in the latest issue of Viz, Anna signs up with the Match Stick Model Agency, a cowboy outfit run by a seedy, middle-aged lecher. During her first assignment she binges on a wedding cake before ballooning to twice her normal size and vomiting.

Eating disorder charities and specialist treatment clinics have criticised the new strip. Gill Todd, clinical nurse leader at the eating disorders unit in London's Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital, said: "This seems like a sick joke. From the point of view of aspiring models with weight problems, the comic makes their condition seem pretty disgusting. A lot of the people we see here are dying because they are not eating, and I think if the people responsible for this strip came to the ward they wouldn't ever joke about this kind of thing again."

Peter Smith, eating disorder services manager at the Priory rehabilitation clinic, added: "Obviously this is supposed to be satire, but the way it's been done is appalling."

But Deanne Jade, principal of the National Centre for Eating Disorders, said that it was important to put the Viz strip in perspective.

"Part of the treatment for things like anorexia is being able to look at it as something 'outside' yourself, and one way of doing that is to personify it," she said. "To a certain extent, we do have to lighten up a bit, because it can help to see the stupidity in some of the behaviour that can lead to these symptoms."

Mr Brown could not be contacted yesterday. But the comic's editor, Simon Donald, said Anna Reksik should be viewed in context as one of a range of new characters intended to ridicule modern social attitudes. These include the Real Ale Twats, the racist Euro Street Kids, and the designer-label-obsessed Kewl Chix.

He said: "The streets of Britain are crawling with celebrity-obsessed sheep, neo-Nazis and self-satisfied middle-class tossers. We hate them all."

Following the controversy over the Channel 4 satire Brass Eye, which led to the child protection minister, Beverley Hughes, condemning the programme despite not having seen it, the Viz cartoon raises further questions about how far satire should go.

Alternative comedian and writer Alexei Sayle said last night: "I think people often take things too seriously. With something like Viz, no one is going to chance upon it without having a good idea of what they're going to get."