Thursday, March 13, 2008

What is Weird?

When I started the Weekly Dose of Weird feature, I knew eventually I would end up writing this missive as a sort of companion piece. After all, if I am giving you a weekly shot of 4 color weirdness, it's probably a good idea to understand what I consider to be weird comics, right? This is by no means a definitive, "this is attractive, that is not" list. I want this to serve more as a guideline, or, if you prefer, an examination of how I look at comic genres and the mixing therein to produce something which could rightly be called "weird."

The genre most associated with weird comics is Horror, primarily because of the limits placed on the form by the Comics Code. I mean, if you can't show grisly violence, or axe murderers, or what have you, then your Horror stories tend to feature more supernatural stuff, and push themselves headlong into weirdsville. (Not to be confused with Weirdsville, which is also pretty cool.) You can have a Horror story that is not weird, but for the periods I like to read, I find these pretty rare. True Crime falls into this category -- by being true, it is very hard for it to also be weird. Science fiction is also a good place to mine weird stories, again, based on the foundations of the genre. Aliens and spacemen mixing with the more mundane tend to make good reading of this type. So if you have a Horror or Sci-Fi anthology title, there's a good chance it'll be weird. It's also a good rule of thumb that if your title has the word "weird" in it, there's a good chance it's got off-center content; ie, Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Weird Science-Fantasy, and so forth.

I think one of the key ingredient for a comic to be weird is the inclusion of some bizarre or fantastical element which is so out of place in the genre that it immediately calls attention to the fact that it is not normal fare. It's from this that we get the crossover type of weird stories. Weird War Tales and Weird Western Tales and the like fit nicely into this category, since the War and Western genres are so broad that it is easy to fit supernatural, alien, fantasy, or other unusual characteristics into them without bursting the seams too badly. But this can work on other genres too, even if less common. Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love and Sinister House of Secret Love were DC's attempt at doing a weird romance comic, although they didn't last. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Silver Age House of Mystery, starring that weirdest of superheroes, the Martian Manhunter (Hi, Frank!) -- but let's not forget the Phantom Stranger or the Spectre, either!

So something like The War That Time Forgot or the Haunted Tank is definitely weird, but what about The Unknown Soldier? That's a tough one, because while the concept of the Soldier is not alltogether too weird (I mean, a master of disguise is not an impossible concept), but some of the situations he got himself into were pretty out there. Vamprific Nazi octopi, for example. So depending on the story, it could be pretty weird. Same goes for Jonah Hex, who depends a lot on his context to determine his weirdness.

I guess in the end it's all subjective; what is weird to one may not be to another. Which is good, because I think when you have a difference of opinion like that, it is a good opportunity to see something from a new perspective, and maybe appreciate something you hadn't seen before. So hopefully as I continue to hunt down titles to read and feature here, I can find new and different weirdings to keep expanding my horizons.

So, I ask you, gentle readers (assuming there are any): What is weird to you? What weird comics do you enjoy? What kinds of things would you like to see on the Weekly Dose? I am honestly interested in your feedback. And tune in tomorrow for another Dose, which hopefully will kick your weekend off on a weird foot.

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