Like cult films, but without all that filming
May 4, 2009 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Bizarro fiction isn't really a new genre. Just a new term. The current crop of bizarro authors are generally young and new to being published, with Carlton Mellick III as "both the Johnny Appleseed and the Johnny Rotten" of the newly dubbed genre, who started printing his stories under the header of Eraserhead Press. But what is Bizarro Fiction? A battle between the real William Shatner vs all the film versions of himself, resulting from a failed terrorist attack by Campbellians; bizarro-noir novellas, set in a world of murderers, drugs made from squid parts, deformed war veterans, and a mischievous apocalyptic donkey; or just a nice children's book about two Vampires who compete in a mustache competition to prove who is the faggiest of all. (via a local paper, though I didn't see the article isn't online)

The first version of Eraserhead Press started as a bet that Mellick couldn't publish books without spending a single cent. He was able to make saddle-stitched chapbooks for free, selling the end product for $2.25 with free shipping, by befriending Kinkos employees or posing as a student to get access to university printing equipment. The organization had various stages before Satan Burger became a success on it's own in 2003. From this small start, the genre/scene has grown with two more independent publishing companies (Afterbirth Books and Raw Dog Screaming Press) , with Bizarro Central as a major hub, generating it's own Bizarro Magazine. (Semi-previously)
posted by filthy light thief (22 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

It's no Tits Out Teenage Terror Totty.
posted by Artw at 1:05 PM on May 4, 2009

Neat stuff. Thanks, filthy light thief.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:10 PM on May 4, 2009

So Uwe Boll isn't a terrible, terrible director (and human being), but is actually bizarro?
posted by jabberjaw at 1:10 PM on May 4, 2009

Sounds like At Swim-Two-Birds is generating more and more influence.
posted by Doktor Zed at 1:17 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

hello, vargas.
posted by the aloha at 1:30 PM on May 4, 2009

I liked this stuff better when it was called splatterpunk and had some memorable, you know, writing, so long as you cared to see through the Karo-translucent fake blood. I do not shy away from the transgressive or even the tacky, shallow, and sticky. I mention this so I am not perceived as coming from some blushing, censorious, and prudish mindset when I say:

Satan Burger was barely okay. I have buried Sunset with a Beard in that unhappy box of books which await a second attempt on an Ark-worthy rainy day.

Ah, but Razor Wire Pubic Hair, that book received the rare distinction of a novel I did not even attempt to finish. It was like the worst of the self-submitted "art" on gurochan's /f/ board sprawled out with greasy ink on cheap paper. I had better luck making sense of The Soft Machine after taking too much Thorazine, yet it had none of the Burroughs charm. If the cut-up method was applied, it was only to my expectations of enjoyment, or at least grim forbearance. It reads like eunuch fanfic in which magical latex plays a key ingredient. For a book which had a lot to do with penetration, I found it singularly impenetrable. Would that the author had waited a few more years, "Richard McBeef" could have been included as a bonus chapter and increased the publications's merits threefold. It's not often a book says to me, "You are a fool for reading me. I despise you. Not only have you wasted your time and money thus far, but you have a better return on future related efforts by chewing up my pages and hoping that, instead of choking to death, you spit out a winning lottery ticket for a Big Mac." And I hate Big Macs.

It rocketed past one book I had long held to be the worst novel upon which I had spent money. I began to question my judgment, not only in books, but in all things. Was it only in my imagination that, upon adding it to my cart, Amazon's webserver seemed to pause, as if re-evaluating our entire relationship thus far? Eventually, I disposed of my copy by mailing it, along with items which were scarcely less wholesome, to an individual of refined distaste. Perhaps he may have made some fitting use of it, if only to take its pages and slowly remove his eyelids by hundreds of precise papercuts. I strongly suspect this book had some occult influence in the eventual absorption and rebranding of Kinko's into FedEx, as the Universe, roused from senility, was in some kind of hurry to erase at least the name of the mechanisms of this novel's reproduction. Would that the cosmos would do the same for that benighted clutch of my neurons which have, in valiant self-sacrifice, walled off most of my memory of Razor Wire Pubic Hair.
posted by adipocere at 1:50 PM on May 4, 2009 [9 favorites]

I see that the book itself is titled The Faggiest Vampire. But the wording of the post makes the slur sound like your own adjective. Which isn't the kind of face the blue should show to the world.

Reluctantly flagged.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:55 PM on May 4, 2009

I added the NSFW tag, partially in recognition of the content of some of these sites (the cover art is usually distorted enough to require more than a casual glance to understand the contents), and partially in recognition of the written contents.

While Carlton Mellick III is the posterboy of the genre/movement, there are some works that hide under the Bizarro umbrella which I hope are less a challenge to personal perseverance and more an attempt to toy with the screws that keep you together. I haven't delved very far into this world, so this post is more of an outsiders perspective of foreign lands than a travelogue from a native.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:18 PM on May 4, 2009

Books for people who don't like to read.
posted by jayder at 4:47 PM on May 4, 2009

I tried out some bizarro some years back and found most of it weak. I stayed away from Mellick so I have nothing that mirrors adipocere's flamethrower hatred, but I filed most of those stories under Dudes Who Try Too Hard.

However, I did find two authors that I enjoyed - D. Harlan Wilson (a less violent, more absurdist take on the genre - not sure why, but he went down much easier for me) and Steve Aylett (who's notable for his amazingly lean, catty-cornered style - damn near an epigram on every page - but you may find him wanting as a storyteller).
posted by suckerpunch at 4:49 PM on May 4, 2009

As far as the bizarro subgenre, I'd recommend Chris Genoa's Foop!. It was a decent debut novel, funny and offbeat without the weirdness being too forced.
posted by Donnie VandenBos at 4:53 PM on May 4, 2009

I suspect that should this gain any traction then the red mist will descend for me at any mention of "Bizarro" the same way it does with "Steampunk".
posted by Artw at 5:08 PM on May 4, 2009

Looks pretty stupid.
posted by General Tonic at 5:59 PM on May 4, 2009

Hey, Mom! Hey, Dad! Check out my senior writing project for art school! It's really shocking! No, I don't mean like the stuff that you did when you were Yippies, I mean really, really shocking!

OK, reflexive snark disposed of. Here's the problem:
Bizarro isn't really a new genre. Just a new term. For decades, people have been going into bookstores and video stores looking for the weird stuff. To them, "weird stuff" is a genre, just like horror or science fiction. But it has never been given an official name before. Until now.
It's not that you can't give that stuff a name, it's that you can't deliberately write for that effect, because your deliberate intention puts you at an ironic distance that you can't leap over. It's why Ed Wood can't come close to being as bizarro as Plan 9 From Outer Space, despite/because of having a vastly superior cast, director, budget, etc. Shatnerquake sounds like the sort of idea someone had after seeing some of Shatner's music videos, but I really can't imagine it surpassing "Mr. Tambourine Man."
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:57 PM on May 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

By a remarkable coincidence, I happen to have this book sitting right next to me. There's some very good stuff in there, and there's also some really lousy stuff in there. Like any new, experimental genre or label, bizarro fiction attracts both the genuinely avant-garde and the too-clever-for-their-own-good pretentious jerks.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:26 PM on May 4, 2009

while i am usually the first to uncork the vitriol when it comes to casual use of the three-letter f-word, part of me really really really wants a copy of 'the faggiest vampire'
posted by sexyrobot at 8:51 PM on May 4, 2009

Errr... isn't this just Surrealism with a new trendy name?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:46 AM on May 5, 2009

I am enticed by the concept of bizarro, but I have a feeling that it's just not pulled off very well by its authors - as noted, "trying too hard." But I must, must give it a try! How can you see The Faggiest Vampire and not want to read it?

If you seek shocking, violent fiction - try Crash or Lord of Dark Places.

I much prefer this.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:53 AM on May 5, 2009

fearfulsymmetry - it's all sorts of things. It's a very broad umbrella under which many artists and notions hide. Some are more akin to splatterpunk, others are absurd satires. Some seem mix the two, and other things for good measure. And then there are some older authors they've invited into the circus tent of madness or whatnot.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:01 AM on May 5, 2009

And a fair element of really wanting attention, as well.
posted by Artw at 9:12 AM on May 5, 2009

Ok, so I'm really late to this one, but after reading this thread initially I got the Bizarro Starter Kit books. Even at the genre fiction level, I was hoping for more experimentation with the basic structures and conventions of storytelling: genre fiction that revolts against not just the conventions of "genre" but against what we normally consider the conventions of fiction. David Lynch is mentioned on the back-of-the-book blurb, but I saw very little in terms of experiments in warped, improvisational narrative such as Inland Empire. And it seems to me that since Lynch is cited as an influence, the genre should, ideally, take even his most radical experiments as mere starting points.

So, for instance, I found Jeremy Robert Johnson's Extinction Journals quite compelling. I had a hard time putting the book down, and some of the images evoked are incredibly powerful, disquieting, and unforgettable. But there was really nothing in the whole novella that didn't conform to the most conventional structures of modern-day storytelling. It was a great story, yes, with amazing images, yes, but it was nothing more than a (very well-written) archetypal hero's journey with some dark/edgy/bio-shock window-dressing.

I guess it just seems to me that authors as self-conscious of genre as these authors are should expand their playground to include the very conventions that make genres possible in the first place. Or at least, I'd be way more interested if they did. As it is now, I'm just going to consider Bizarro an amalgamation of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, with an ever-so-polite dash of surrealism.
posted by treepour at 10:49 PM on May 14, 2009

So basically slipstream with a dash of "Look at me! I'm Chucky P. or Hunter Thomson or some shit like that!"?

I'll stick to Burroughs, thanks.
posted by Artw at 9:52 AM on May 15, 2009

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