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Monday, 17 February 2014

Bitten off of an otter: 5 linguistic reasons to love Viz

We're big Viz fans at Copy That. Granted, that could be partly due to half of the crew being northern, but it's also down to their witty linguistic tinkering.

Viz play a Tommy Cooper role with language, acting the fool with boob jokes and children's cartoons, while smuggling into its pages a sharp knowledge of convention, tone and trope that conjures something remarkably cutting.

Here are 5 of our favourite Viz-isms, putting the copper bolt in copywriting:

1. Spoonerisms on the cover.

With such mucky-monikered icons as Terry Fuckwitt and Spoilt Bastard on its roster, Viz has had to get creative to keep their billing centre stage and uncensored. Simultaneously childish and brilliant, this is the publishing version of insisting to your parents that you said "ships" and not The Other Word.

 2. Tattle-Mag Satire.

Nobody spoofs tabloids or cheap women's magazines quite like Newcastle's finest. Take A Shit, their homage to coffee-time scandal mag Take A Break, mimics the style so disturbingly accurately that the surreal stories could almost pass for real ones. Using the headline conventions of "This Happened ... And That's Not The Half of It!", they send up the exaggerated tone and content perfectly (my favourite being "I'm pregnant with a million baby crabs ... and I'm keeping them all!").

For its more Daily Star-style articles, Viz also throw in gleefully silly Easter eggs. Scattered throughout a piece about a pensioner conning himself out of his own life savings, are the sub-heads 'upstairs', 'downton', 'rieviaux', 'fountains' and 'dib-dabs'. It's only after finishing the article that you notice the writer has been sticking their tongue out at you the whole time.

3. Strip Tease. 

Gilbert Ratchet is a Viz regular. At the start of each strip, the schoolboy inventor will usually be promised a reward for making a custom invention, and will spend the entire episode battling duff prototypes until inspiration or good luck strikes. But his triumph is short-lived, as a homophonic error always means his reward is not what he thought. A much-anticipated "giant cup of tea" turns out to be an immense statue of author Truman Capote and poor Gilbert is left wondering why, yet again, he didn't see this coming.

In contrast, Finbarr Saunders (and his Double Entendres) pulls the opposite trick. Throughout the entire strip, his mum and her neighbour Mr Gimlet will exchange pleasantries, blissfully unaware that their unintentional innuendo is sending Finbarr into apoplexy. It's only in the final panel we see that the joke's on Finbarr.

4. In-jokes and deliberate mistakes. 

If you squint at the phrase "bitten off of an otter" or "stang off of a bee", you were clearly home-schooled. There's something about seeing a phrase you remember from childhood given the gravitas of print and the context of a serious article that makes it twice as funny. It's like Chris Morris extremely soberly telling viewers that David Owen has emerged, "shattered, from Oliver Reed."

Further playgroundisms abound. Remember when you thought all vampires were Draculas? Or the Ernie Wise-style use of 'what' instead of 'that' (see: "a play what I wrote")? Viz does.

5. Bad ads. 

The small ads in Viz are pin-sharply observed satirical gems. In any given issue you might find a chintzy decorative plate ad featuring deliberately confusing terms involving double negatives and threats of home repossession in a miniscule font, or ludicrous kinky phone lines catering for hot scientist/terrorist/priest action (sample: "I'm r*v*rs*ng the p*l*rity of the d*l*th*i*m crystals!"). By starring out their words, non-sexual characters are suddenly given a new, hilariously inappropriate guise.

One of my favourite issues of Viz came in the wake of the Market Rasen 'earthquake', when the following steamy ads were published, elegantly lampooning Britishness:

I also have a soft spot for their niche cigarette brands and their accompanying health warnings:

There are so many more little flourishes and winks between those Fat Slag-filled pages that it was hard to narrow it down to five favourites. In case regular Viz readers were wondering, I've deliberately avoided delving into Roger's Profanisaurus (steady, Finbarr), because that's an article in itself. Overall, though, Viz's ace in the hole is repetition, through which the feeling of "wait - that's not right..." or "I don't understand" is overtaken by a growing familiarity and expectation. Eventually, reading Viz becomes like meeting up with your weird but witty mate. The one who happens to read Engels and Nietzsche and has fifty words for fart.

I'll leave you with this gem, for anyone who's ever been tempted to learn a language:

Why not share your favourite Viz tics in the comments below?


Peter said...

Haven't read it for years -- not on sale in Japan -- but I totally agree about their brilliance. I loved finding hidden gems buried in tiny footnotes.

Y'know the legalese about copyright and so on they publish at the bottom of page 7 of most magazines? There was a period when they started getting creative with that.

It started with, "Does anybody actually read this?"

Next issue, it was, "Please, for fucks sake, if you're reading this write in and tell us!"

Next issue, he revealed the ending of The Mousetrap! The utter, utter twat. (Not that I'm ever likely to go and see the Mousetrap, but still....)

Then there was the period when they started hiding footnotes about "John Brown" in microscopic footnotes. Things like "John Brown has the largest collection of gay fisting porn this side of Amsterdam". A few years later, in a Radio 4 documentary (where else?) I found out what was going on. John Brown was their printer, but their relationship had deteriorated. John Brown, being upright moral types, were especially uneasy at the frequency of depictions of human buttocks.

Kirsten Irving said...

Yes! I loved the legalese too! They also muck about with the credits, including a running joke that if you wanted a certain department, ring the previous name in the credits, apologise that it's not about his specialist field and ask to be put through to this other guy.