Busting the Mainstream: Portland’s Thriving BizarroCon Community

BizzaroCon ReadingI’m bored, and nobody loves me.

That’s not exactly true, because I have a big family, so there’s always something I MUST do. But what can I do for fun? I think, generally, people do want to belong somewhere, to someTHING, and that is part of the reason why church services are often advertised as ‘community’ activities. Some of us play and/or watch sports because it’s something we participate in with a community; even if we don’t have any friends who participate in our love for sports, we have a lot of articles we can read, etc. But it really isn’t fun when you’re the only person who is really, really into it.

Video gaming is one entertainment medium that has become more and more ‘community-based,’ with entire groups of people who play Call of Duty games, or League of Legends, World of Warcraft; Pokemon Go has recently started an epidemic of community-based entertainment. We now have esports because of this evolution. Facebook and other social media platforms allow people an opportunity to participate in interest-based conversations, and people often form friendships—as well as rivalries—with other participants. People are able to finance dream projects that are made possible because there are devotees who have fantasized about having a board game based off their favorite franchise. These crowdfunded projects have paid for themed anthologies and comic books, too.

Books have always been part of popular social conventions. What about the tried and true ‘book club’ concept? Surely, it has evolved. Book clubs are still social gatherings, and a lot of literary discussions are taking place in social media. Readers can create entire book discussion threads and fan pages, and great books are getting into the hands of readers who never would have found them, otherwise. Authors are reaping the benefits of social media as well, and one emerging genre in fiction that has always been considered underground or cultish is growing leaps and bounds because the genre itself is community-driven: bizarro fiction.

Maybe you’ve never heard of it, but here is a genre that is growing because there is an awareness for artists who dream of creating something wondrous and interesting without the constraints or demands of a mainstream-style of writing.

Titles range from the absurd-gross (The Haunted Vagina by Carlton Mellick III, The Ass Goblins of Auschwitz, by Cameron Pierce, and Berzerkoids by MP Johnson) to literary surrealism (Elusive Plato by Rhys Hughes, and the False Magic Kingdom series by Jordan Krall), and meta-fiction (The Biographizer Trilogy by D. Harlan Wilson, and the entire Slave State mythos by Chris Kelso). There is a wide range of titles, and emerging authors are finding a home for their work in Eraserhead’s New Bizarro Author Series.

BizzaroCon BooksI am not a bizarro historian by any stretch of the imagination, but literature has had its fair share of strange and off-beat fiction that has sparked new literary movements or inspired fresh ideas. Bizarro fiction, as we know it, began to take off with the emergence of Eraserhead Press. This is significant because of its impact on the writing community.

Every year in November, the Portlandia literati gather for an event called BizarroCon. People from all over the world attend this event, which is not really a convention in the traditional sense. A weekend of readings, workshops, and talent shows highlights the notion that it’s more of a retreat for authors and readers to network and invigorate their creative sensibilities.

I was fortunate to visit BizarroCon once. During my stay, many of the authors involved with the bizarro genre mentioned that they had creative impulses, but struggled to find a home for their talents until they discovered Eraserhead Press and the bizarro genre. While I won’t mention the names of these authors, one only has to do a little research to discover that Eraserhead Press, and a large contingent of authors published in the genre, have strong connections to the horror genre. Eraserhead was a contingent of artists who advertised their unique style of literature at horror conventions, and an entirely new generation of writers blossomed from Eraserhead’s early years. Carlton Mellick III, one of the authors who pioneered the movement, wrote a brief history of the genre’s foundations that is a good start, even if it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

While there is definite bias in the history of the bizarro genre, it’s important to consider that the genre survived because of its community element. Before social media began to consume our lives (this isn’t speaking for everyone, of course), Eraserhead Press and its imprints reached out to writers who could not find a home for work that dared to challenge conventional narrative styles and themes. Eraserhead’s survival eventually gave fans of the genre a chance to start their own publishing companies, including: Strangehouse Press, Rooster Republic Press, Bizarro Pulp Press, and Dynatox Ministries. While most of these presses merely dabble in the type of fiction delivered by Eraserhead, the idea is that authors who were once associated with bizarro fiction began to offer alternative publishing venues for the same kind of author that Eraserhead provided a home for.

BizzaroCon FestivalGenre-themed conventions are just as community-based as anything the bizarro community might be participating in; however, it is the continued growth of the community that allows it to thrive. The Midwest Bizarro Writers have organized a sales booth at the massive Printer’s Row in Chicago two years in a row; here, there is an alliance of bizarro presses on display, with genre stalwarts like MP Johnson and Michael Allen Rose piloting the starship. The Midwest bizarros also make appearances at several events in Illinois.

The community concept is one of the major factors that allow literary genres and hobbies to survive. Science fiction, horror, fantasy, Weird fiction (yes, there is a distinction between ‘weird’ fiction and ‘bizarro’ fiction, which might be confusing to new readers)—these genres have survived because they have dedicated organizations that host events where new fans and writers can discovered and be discovered by bizarro. Literature is experiencing a powerful expansion of ideas and creativity because community-created genres exist.

Bizarro fiction is a lot like Sesame Street; it exists because people want it (made possibly by readers like you). Speaking of Sesame Street, there could be apocalyptic-muppet fiction coming very, very soon …


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