3 min read

Bizarro Fiction 101: Beyond the Weird for Weird's Sake

Bizarro Fiction 101: Beyond the Weird for Weird's Sake

Bizarro Fiction, a relatively new genre often likened to the cult section in your video store, has been a niche of literary experimentation.

Q: What are some common misconceptions about Bizarro fiction?

A: Many misconceptions abound, but the primary one I'd like to address is the origin of Bizarro. Most people believe that Bizarro was created as a haven for outsider writers seeking a genre to call home.

However, this is not the case. Bizarro emerged solely in response to reader demand. Some individuals actively seek out "weird stuff" as a genre, just as some people hunt for scary or romantic books and movies.

This is our target audience. It's a more extensive audience than most realize, and it has largely gone unnoticed. Through the niche genre of Bizarro, we aim to fill this void in the publishing world.

Q: If Bizarro Fiction were a movie monster, which one would it be, and why?

A: Megalon. Why? Because he was a giant cockroach with drills for hands, who shot lightning bolts from a horn on his head. How much more Bizarro can you get?

Q: How did Bizarro get its start?

A: Over the past decade, three small press companies—Raw Dog Screaming Press, Afterbirth Books, and my own Eraserhead Press—specialized in publishing unconventional cult fiction. Initially, there was no label. It didn't quite fit into established genres like horror, science fiction, fantasy, or even experimental fiction. The only way to describe it was "weird."

People were looking for something strange and unusual to read.

Books resembled the kind of content found in the cult sections of video stores, akin to films like "Six String Samurai," "Brazil," "Repo Man," "Pink Flamingos," "Romeo and Juliet," and David Lynch's "Eraserhead."

Readers perceived these books as belonging to the same category, a genre.

In 2005, the three companies officially coined this writing style as Bizarro. Essentially, we envisioned Bizarro as the literary equivalent of cult movies—quirky, campy, freaky, funny, lewd, rude, and just plain out there. Since then, it has been growing exponentially.

Q: Could you provide a few short examples of typical Bizarro stories and what defines them as Bizarro?

A: Certainly! Here are some Bizarro story examples:

  • "Washer Mouth" by Kevin L. Donihe is about a washing machine that transforms into a human to fulfill its dream of becoming a soap opera star.
  • "Sex and Death in Television Town" by Carlton Mellick III is a weird western featuring hermaphrodite gunslingers with television heads in their final showdown.
  • "Shatnerquake" by Jeff Burk centers on every character William Shatner has ever portrayed entering our reality with a mission to hunt down and eliminate the real William Shatner.
  • Mykle Hansen's "Help! A Bear is Eating Me!" follows a man trapped under his SUV in the wilderness, gradually being devoured by a bear.
  • "The Emerald Burrito of Oz" by John Skipp and Marc Levinthal portrays the world of Oz as a real tourist attraction.
  • "The Haunted Vagina" by Carlton Mellick III explores relationship problems when a man discovers that his girlfriend's vagina serves as a gateway to the world of the dead.
  • "Ass Goblins of Auschwitz" by Cameron Pierce... Well, you might not want to know what this one is about.

The true weirdness of these books lies in their peculiar details.

Q: How has Bizarro fiction evolved over the years?

A: Bizarro began as a small niche but has since evolved into a thriving community. Initially involving three companies, it has now expanded to include at least a dozen more publishers who have released books under the Bizarro label. 

Bizarro is continuously growing, becoming more successful each year. The quality of Bizarro books has consistently improved over time.

Esteemed figures such as Lloyd Kaufman, Alan Moore, Chuck Palahniuk, William Gibson, and Christopher Moore have praised Bizarro works. 

Q: How does Bizarro Fiction differ from Weird Fiction, if at all?

A: While New Weird and Bizarro may seem similar, they have distinct characteristics. A significant difference lies in their respective audiences.

Few New Weird readers are interested in Bizarro, and vice versa.

There is some overlap, but not much.

Bizarro caters to those who seek weirdness as a genre, readers looking for content too strange to fit elsewhere.

On the other hand, New Weird appeals to readers seeking cutting-edge speculative fiction with a literary touch, akin to slipstream with an extra dose of weirdness. Bizarro craves weirdness paired with even more weirdness.

Another distinguishing factor is that Bizarro often leans toward the humorous, lowbrow side, while New Weird tends to be more literary and highbrow.

While there are smart Bizarro works and fun New Weird books, in general, Bizarro focuses on entertainment value, while New Weird aspires to be a form of high art, or at least higher art than Bizarro.

Q: Bizarro fiction is sometimes confused with experimental fiction. How would you differentiate the two?

A: Experimental fiction primarily involves weirdness of style, whereas Bizarro fiction hinges on weirdness of plot.

Bizarro is not typically associated with "high art" and often veers toward humor and irreverence.

While many Bizarro authors are exceptionally talented, they don't aim to cater to a highbrow crowd. It's similar to "South Park"—superficially lowbrow yet infused with underlying intelligence and wit.

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