B&N Week 179: Mix ‘n Match–Which Genres Can Be Mixed To Best Effect?

| May 27, 2014


We’ve got another Tuesday upon us, so that means we’ve got another installment of Bolts & Nuts!

This week, we discuss mixing and matching: which genre’s can be mixed to best effect?

I’m not going to go deep this week. There are a lot of genres, and within those genres are sub-genres, and that’s a rabbit hole that I don’t want to go down too deeply. So, to look at it at a macro-view, we have drama, horror, comedy, mystery, and science fiction/fantasy. Everything else can generally fit underneath those five genres. (I dunno ) It’s okay. I know it feels light. Macro-view, remember? Everything you’ve ever seen, heard, or read can be generally categorized as one of these, if not several of them. Simple.

Now things start to get complicated when we talk about media. Comic books are a medium, as is radio, television, novels, and cinema. Certain genres work better in today’s comics than others. A straight drama? Not going to get too much traction. A straight horror? That will have more traction than a straight drama. A straight comedy? Hell, every genre will have more traction in today’s comics than straight drama.

Understand one thing: drama is the base. Without drama, no other genre will work. Every other genre needs drama in order to get the payoff necessary for what it wants to do. So, drama is a staple of every other genre. It just isn’t good when it’s by itself. I liken it to dry cereal. It can be done, but it isn’t something you’d enjoy doing. Not for comics.

Of course, I have a personal favorite. Two of them, actually, and it isn’t that hard for anyone to guess: horror, and science fiction. You can do these straight, of course, but for comics, it would be better to mix them. Remember that these have sub-genres in them, so once you go exploring all the different paths that can be done, you’ll hit on something that will resonate with you.

For comics, I believe the best genre to mix is science fiction/fantasy. Look at the shelves, and you’ll see this born out. The superhero books that Marvel/DC puts out? The overwhelming majority of those are science fiction/fantasy. Most of them are straight: superheroes fighting supervillains over some sort of McGuffin. While the continuing storylines may be overly convoluted [Nate Grey, anyone?], the stories themselves are generally basic. You don’t start to get more mixed genres until you step away from Marvel/DC.

The easiest genre to mix with sci-fi/fantasy is mystery. Something happened or someone was killed, and the questions to be asked are often how and why.

The next easiest to mix with it is horror. Now, horror can come in many forms. It is very good straight and doesn’t often need a chaser, but you can mix it with sci-fi/fantasy to great effect.

The next biggest to mix with sci-fi/fantasy is mystery. Under mystery, you will often find the subgenre of crime and thrillers. Mystery can be great by itself. Absolutely great. You can even mix its own subgenres. (Hm. Never thought about that.) [Told you I wasn’t going deep.] (True.) But mixing mystery with sci-fi/fantasy can be a literal gold mine. There’s a reason why Anita Blake, Harry Dresden, and Harry Potter were so popular. Horror may be easier, but mystery is bigger, because there’s so much more that can be done with it.

Comedy. Comedy is hard in comics. Anyone who has told you comedy is easy is a liar. Comedy has its own rules that have to be followed, with its own rhythms, and to do it within the medium that is comics is challenging. You can be funny from time to time with ease, but to be just straight-up funny for the length of a story is a challenge. Look on the shelves. You don’t see much straight comedy that isn’t a children’s book.

Remember that comedy is really an expression of anger, looking at something that you’re angry about and shining an absurdist light on it as you examine it. To do that over the course of a story can be difficult. Comedy, to my mind, is best used sparingly. Some characters are just inherently comical figures, but they can’t be funny all the time. Comedy should be used judiciously and sparingly. Used in this way, it is very easy to mix with every other genre.

Horror is next. The two main sub-genres are natural and supernatural. Natural meaning a human agency or science [like a flesh eating virus], and supernatural such as werewolves or ghosts. Horror can be best mixed with mystery, or mixed in as a third genre to two others [usually sci-fi/fantasy and mystery.]

Horror can be mixed with comedy, but these two are opposites, and should be done with extreme caution. In a lot of cases, it could be very ugly, to say the least. You could get inadvertent laughs, or no laughs at all where you were expecting them. [This is true of comedy in general, but the stakes get raised when you add in horror.]

These, to me, are the best and easiest genres to mix. And by best , I mean genres that will have a chance of making it in the marketplace. Can you make the comic book equivalent of On Golden Pond? Most definitely. Will it sell in enough numbers to make it worthwhile? More than likely not—even if it were nominated for awards. Critical acclaim does not automatically lead to commercial fame.

As creators, we want our stories to go far as far and wide as possible. The best way to do that is to tell stories that will be commercially viable. Commercially viable means knowing what will and will not sell. This means understanding what does and doesn’t work in your chosen medium, why they do or do not work, and then telling your story in a form that works.

It also means understanding genres.

This week, I just want to get you thinking about what will and won’t work for whatever story you want to tell. Hopefully, you’ll go and do more research on your own into genres, their tropes and how they work, and think about how to bring it to comics in a salable manner. Experimentation is fine, but the marketplace is the ultimate laboratory.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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