I went to BizarroCon 2011 in Troutdale, Oregon (at McMenamins Edgefield) this last weekend and had a great time. I met many Bizarro authors and learned some writing tricks and strategies that will be very useful to me as I continue to expand my writing efforts.
At one point, I arrived a little early to one of the activities. There were three people in the room that I assumed might be part of the convention. So, I asked them if they were there for BizarroCon. Their response was, "What's Bizarro?" One of them made a little joke about Superman ("Bizarro" is the name of a character in the Superman comics who is sort of the opposite of Superman...quick aside: "Bizarro" is also the name of a comic strip by Dan Piraro). It turned out that these people were just hotel guests exploring the grounds, but I was put on the spot. Strange images and brand new authors flashed in my head, but I had no idea what to say. I eventually spouted out that it was a genre of literature that has always been around but has only recently been given a more official name. In the past, some people called it "Weird Sh*t." I mentioned Joe R. Lansdale, and one of the members of the group perked up. I mentioned that Mr. Lansdale wrote some very odd and non-mainstream stories and books with elements that you normally wouldn't find on the Best Seller lists.
I then mentioned some titles of books like Carlton Mellick III's I Knocked Up Satan's Daughter: A Demonic Romantic Comedy and Robert Devereaux's Baby's First Book of Seriously F*cked up Sh*t. I also told them that it isn't always funny and it isn't always gross...but those things can help make a Bizarro book great! My conclusion was this, Bizarro is weird. They accepted that and moved on with their explorations.
Now that I think about it, wasn't Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland pretty bizarre? Bizarro-esque media has been around us for ages: Movies (there are some very weird 1920's films... plus, have you seen Richard Elfman's 80's movie Forbidden Zone?), TV (Monty Python's Flying Circus, anyone?) and music (personally, I love Adam and the Ants' "Don't Be Square (Be There)": "Antmusic for sexpeople / Sexmusic for antpeople / Get off your knees and hear the insect prayer"). If you read a lot of 1960's and 1970's children's literature and picture books, you know there is a lot of bizarre stuff out there. There are whole blogs dedicated to kids' books that will mess up your children!
The other part of Bizarro literature is that anything officially marked "Bizarro" is currently 99.9% for adults. Be it language or adult situations, it isn't things the average 10 year old should be reading.
Nowadays, children's literature is very sanitized and oftentimes even dull. There is hope though; Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series is WEIRD and fun. Kids love weird. I read my son Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers and he loved its weirdness.
I would love to see some official Bizarro books for kids. Yes, the parody "for adult" children's books are great too, but a well illustrated weird book for kids could be great too. Maybe even some Young Adult books too.
There are some quite strange children's books out there. One being The Long Journey of Mister Poop (AKA The Fantastic Voyage of Señor Caca) by Angèle Delaunois which features the words "YUM" and "Ah!" on its cover alongside the titular anthropomorphic piece of excrement! And for the pre-school sex-ed crowd there's Nicholas' Allen's Where Willy Went...The Big Story of a Little Sperm and for the slightly older picture book reader there is Hair in Funny Places by Babette Cole (featuring the scariest hormone monsters you've ever seen and the line, "Inside his penis, Mr. Hormone was lurking with another portion of the mixture..." SCARY AS HELL)! Oh...and don't forget the smelly fun of William Kotzwinkle's Walter the Farting Dog series of books (their whimsical and totally crazy illustrations are fascinating).
Not all of the Bizarro-esque children's books are bathroom-function or puberty related. Daniel Manus Pinkwater has been weirding-up children's minds for years. The Hoboken Chicken Emergency and The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death fascinated me as a tyke.
I was kept away from some of Daniel Pinkwater's other books like Devil in the Drain (featuring a demon in a little kid's drain!) and I totally missed the awesome sounding The Wuggie Norple Story (illustrated by Tomie dePaola and features a HUGE cat and the line "The next day was Saturday, and Lunchbox Louie didn't have to go to work, so he took Bigfoot the Chipmunk, and King Waffle, and Wuggie Norple, and Freckleface Chilibean, and Papercup Mixmaster and Exploding Poptart, and Laughing Gas Alligator, and a big basket of lunch and they all went to Nosewort Pond for a picnic..." Totally Bizarro!).
Bizarro kids' lit doesn't have to mess up you children's minds or scare them from ever using the toilet or touching themselves again. If done correctly, it should expand their minds and make them realize that fiction doesn't have to be just Junie B. Jones or Harry Potter. There's nothing wrong with kids reading those mainstream books, but don't put your kids into the same box that everyone else is trying to put them into. If you are hesitant, read it with them, or read it first. But please, please, please, buy your child something weird, strange, weird, bizarre, weird, funny, weird, Bizarro!
Now snuggle into your Tauntaun sleeping bag and I'll sing you a Bizarro song called "Little Bunny Foo Foo" before I say "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the Zipperump-a-zoos bite!"
PS: If you are interested in trying out Bizarro for Adults, try one of the Bizarro Starter Kit books or read more about Bizarro at Bizarro Central (http://bizarrocentral.com/).