Bizarro is not just a is a supervillain/anti-hero in American comic books published by DC Comics back in the late 1950s. Back then he was a character in a comic book. Now, lower-case bizarro is not a proper noun; it is a thing —a new-age book genre invented by small book publishers. They are building a market. “To satisfy the increasing demand for good, weird fiction is growing number of authors who specialize in it. Simply put, bizarro is the genre of the weird. It is literature’s equivalent to the cult section at the DVD store.”[1] If that’s the case, given the demise of DVD stores nationwide, the market is not super, more like an aging 7-11 on a lonely street corner.

While counterintuitive, it advances a cartoon logic that, when applied to the real world, creates an unstable universe where the bizarre becomes the norm and absurdities are made flesh. One of the first offerings was Jeff Burk’s Shatnerquake.[2] It’s a novel where every character that Star Trek’s lead actor William Shatner has ever played enters our reality with one mission: to hunt down and destroy the real William Shatner![3]

Bizarro, the lower-case version, has been with us for a long time. English borrowed it from French in the mid-seventeenth century, which had borrowed it from the Italian bizarro. The original Italian meaning of bizarro is angry. It appeared in Dante’s early 14th-century Divine Comedy.[4] Readers drawn to stories and characters far out of the ordinary, strange, and grossly unconventional love it.

2009 brought bizarre readers a travel guide version. “L.A. Bizarro: The All-New Insider’s Guide to the Obscure, the Absurd, and the Perverse in Los Angeles.”  Amazon’s sales pitch for it says, “The cult classic is back! More than 10 years after pioneering the gonzo guidebook genre, this all-new edition of the beloved #1 best-selling guide to bad taste L.A. has been fully revised. Packed with 75 new material, L.A. Bizarro boasts scores of fresh discoveries plus original photos presented in luscious, lurid color. Connoisseurs of the weird and wonderful, Anthony Lovett and Matt Maranian steer readers into a world of culinary curiosities, morbid museums, sexual sideshows, and dipsomaniacal dives. From pet cemeteries to pieta district, hundreds of odd and outer delights are laid bare for visitors and Angelenos alike.”[5]

Madame Wikipedia gave bizarro a page of its own. “Bizarro fiction is a contemporary literary genre that often uses elements of absurdism, satire, and the grotesque, along with pop-surrealism and genre fiction staples, in order to create subversive, weird, and entertaining works. The term was adopted in 2005 by the independent publishing companies Eraserhead Press, Raw Dog Screaming Press, and Afterbirth Books. Much of its community revolves around Eraserhead Press, which is based in Portland, Oregon, and has hosted the annual BizarroCon since 2008. The introduction to the first Bizarro Starter Kit describes Bizarro as ‘literature’s equivalent to the cult section at the video store’ and a genre that ‘strives not only to be strange, but fascinating, thought-provoking, and, above all, fun to read.’”[6]

Fancy that—a genre that takes pride in absurdism, grotesque, subversive, weird, and equivalent to the cult section at the video store. Those words are rarely found in books on ethics, but just the same there are ethical parameters. One published comment nudges at the ethical edge in Bizarro fiction.  “There is often an emphasis on crude, violent, sexual, or offensive elements (which are openly represented on the books’ covers and titles), and they can function around one (or more) other genres, transforming them into something strange and warped. . . bizarro fiction borders on the uncanny, what Freud calls the ‘unheimlich’ or ‘un-homely’. . . Bizarro texts can be read as postmodernist narratives due to the novelty of their presentation as depthless entertainment, genre-blending, intertextuality, and the use of bricolage, mash-ups, and pastiche.”[7] You’ll forgive me, I’m sure, for not even trying to siphon a drop of ethics out of the drivel.

A decidedly anti-bizarro critic had little good to say. “A bizarro is an unimportant writer of fiction who pays very little attention to language.  S/he has no literary background, is generally undereducated and semiliterate, ‘reads’ comic books, plays video games, and gawks at the cinema of David Lynch and Takashi Miike.  The bizarros are ignorant of the fact that Lynch created films not out of the hunger to be ‘weird’–at least before he succumbed to his internet fanatic base and produced the self-parodic Inland Empire (2006)–but on the basis of an original experience.  His films were never intended to be ‘strange.’  They were attempted exteriorizations of dreams. . . Bizarro cannot be accurately described as a literary movement, since it is neither literary nor a movement precisely understood.  The bizarros write for one another; the primary readers of bizarro fiction are other bizarro writers.  This, among other things, makes bizarro more of a cult than a movement.  The word ‘movement’ is too grand, too historic in its connotations to be applied to the bizarros.”[8]

Ethically speaking, every writer, whether literary or bizarro has the same core obligation to readers. They must treat readers how they themselves want to be treated. This means honestly representing facts, opinions, and beliefs. Bizarro writers may pass ethical muster but they suffer from delusions of adequacy.









Gary L Stuart

I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.

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