I Love Bizarro
by Gabino Iglesias
I love Bizarro. There, I said it. Any excuse is a good one to read it, praise it, share it. However, an awful disease constantly forces me to go beyond the reading and enjoying: I’m an academic. This means that cultural products have to be deconstructed, analyzed, studied. The desire to perform a vivisection on Bizarro had been there for a while, but this semester a professor said I could try to explain how the genre creates third space. I went home and tossed a few manic-depressive dwarfs against a giant stack of purple potato pancakes to celebrate (for such is the Bizarro way). Two weeks later it was done.
The paper actually made sense. I argue that Bizarro is uncategorizable, that it blasts its way out of known genre constraints with a baby-head gun and laser eyes. Okay, here’s the deal: Homi Bhabha defines third space as “a present time and a specific space (…) which constitutes the discursive conditions of enunciation that ensure that the meaning and symbols of culture have no primordial unity or fixity; that even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rehistoricized and read anew.” Third space has also been explained as something that “sees beyond the grid,” something that “‘burrows’ below its dominant patterns of control and regulation, and confronts us with alternative, contradictory, and challenging perspectives that…navigate a kind of ‘stranger’s path’ into unexpected, unrecorded spaces beneath the surface,” thus bringing in “new life” through being in “touch with the outside world.”
Those definitions force the very academic question: What could be more unfixed, strange and outside the grid that fucking Bizarro? Bizarro is third space. I even knew that Kevin Donihe was aware of it when he said that Bizarro “embraces the elbow room won by post-modernism while tending to be entirely unacademic.” What Donihe hinted at but didn’t say was that Bizarro keeps pushing, squeezing, blasting, fisting, vomiting, flying, microwaving, clawing, smurfing and screaming its way into new territories, into the unknown, into alternate universes, into Pickled Planet, Crab Town, Suckhole, Cat Brain Land, Oz, Candyland, the cake city inside the gut of a giant mobster, the time of dinosaurs, oceans of lard and many other places.
All of this I presented. I deconstructed Jordan Krall’s “Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys” and “Fistful of Feet,” Kevin Shamel’s “Island of the Super People,” David W. Barbee’s “A Town called Suckhole,” Carlton Mellick’s “The Haunted Vagina” and “Apeshit” and Garrett Cook’s “Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective.” I showed how these books share elements with the action/adventure, crime/detective, romance, horror, mystery and science fiction genres while simultaneously blurring those lines, shattering known literary practices, playing with language and, well, creating the damn unstableness needed for the conception of a third space. I quoted Rose O’Keefe’s words about Bizarro not being “horror, science-fiction, fantasy, or even experimental fiction. The only real way to describe it would be: weird.”
When I started the presentation and the cover art started to flow, a few laughs erupted. Those soon wilted away like flowers in an oven and were quickly replaced by an orgy of frowns unlike anything Mellick has ever seen at his eyebrow farm. I turned to make sure my presentation hadn’t somehow turned into a grainy home video of a fang-toothed demon practicing some abhorrent carnal activity with a fetus. It had not. The only thing up there were the marvelous covers of some of my favorite books. The proverbial pin dropped in Austin and Rose O’Keefe heard it in Portland.
After the presentation, words like “pornographic” and “offensive” were uttered. I was attacked because they felt uncomfortable. I felt exactly how my favorite authors must feel when they have to face the regular, get-my-books-at-the-pharmacy crowd. It sucked. Hard. It also made me love Bizarro even more.
Like it or not, by stepping outside the grid, Bizarro has redefined objective reality as something that can be ignored or fought against. Signifiers are being invited to float around without words attached to them (pun intended), race has been shattered by a multiplicity of colors and a plethora of invented nationalities. Sexuality has been cracked open and celebrated in all it’s (im)possible manifestations. Space and time are ignored and, in order to make sense, to have meaning, the genre requires the be looked at on its own terms. The elbow room that postmodernism created has been filled and now the pushing is being done from within a literary genre that refuses to fall under a single category, that has deconstruction and (re)building at its core and that has comfortably taken third space out of film studies and placed it in literature while simultaneously taking it a few steps further.
Academia can frown, but Bizarro is what I choose to read, review, share, write and study. Bizarro is not a genre, it’s a family. After a near-lynch experience, those words became more real than ever. Long live Bizarro!
Gabino Iglesias writes for the Austin Post where he often reviews Bizarro Fiction