Although this is an article that is intended to help you make interesting comics and/or write interesting fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking about one of my own interests. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious.
A while before I started writing this aritlce, I found myself returning once again to one of the coolest genres of comics in existence. I am, of course, talking about old 1940s-50s American horror comics. Although I have at least one book of them, quite a few great examples of the genre are also posted on a historical archive site called “The Horrors Of It All“.
I love the melodramatic artwork, the hilariously dark humour, the “so bad that it’s good” storylines, the vintage fashions, the delightfully over-dramatic dialogue etc… Ever since I discovered this old genre of comics, it’s been one of my favourites.
In fact, they were the things that finally allowed me to work up the motivation to get back into making comics again in 2015, after a year or so when I hadn’t made any comics. Even though the first comic I made was a 1980s-style sci-fi/comedy/horror comic, it was at least slightly inspired by old horror comics.
These old horror comics are such a joy to read and whenever I’ve made anything even vaguely similar (like the Halloween comic that is currently being posted here every night), it has almost made itself.
And, yet, the heyday of this genre of comics has long-since passed. It’s always annoying when you find a really cool genre, only to discover that no-one else really makes or reads anything in it any more. So, what can you – as a writer and/or comic maker – do?
Here are a few suggestions:
1) Make it anyway: This is the obvious suggestion. If you really love an obscure and forgotten genre of comics and/or fiction, then make your own examples of it. If the genre really fascinates you, then coming up with story ideas probably won’t be that difficult. Likewise, you’ll probably be so enthusiastic that your story or comic will pretty much make itself.
However, unless you’ve already built up a large fanbase, it’s possible that your project might not have a very large audience. In other words, if you want to make something that is squarely within a long-dead genre, then don’t expect it to be the thing that suddenly brings this genre back to life and makes it popular again.
But, if you’re just making a fun project, then this doesn’t really matter. The real joy is in making something that you love and making something that the few remaining fans of this obscure old genre will also love.
2) Look for it’s modern equivalent: Genres never really die. They might change a lot over time, but they never really die. If a sub-genre was particularly popular, then there’s a good chance that it will have been absorbed into the “mainstream” version of this genre (eg: back in the 1970s-90s, a gory horror novel was a “splatterpunk” novel, now it’s just a “horror novel”).
In addition to this, some obscure genres have blended with other genres over time. For example, very few people write westerns these days, but – over the past decade or two – the western genre has had some influence on the sci-fi genre (eg: TV shows like “Firefly” etc…). The same is true for how the vampire genre has mostly gone from being a sub-genre of horror fiction to being a sub-genre of romance fiction these days.
So, if you want to make something that appeals to a slightly wider audience and/or which seems a bit more contemporary, then look for the modern equivalent of your favourite obscure genres. Once you’ve found it, then try to see if you can find a way to tell the story you want to tell within the “new” version of your forgotten genre.
For example, when I made my Halloween comic, I didn’t really think that much about old 1950s horror comics. If anything, it was probably more inspired by other parts of the horror genre (eg: zombie movies). And, yet, I was still making a horror comic. And having a lot of fun making it.
3) Let it influence other things: If you don’t feel confident about pouring lots of time and energy into making things that fit into mostly-forgotten genres, then this doesn’t mean that you should abandon them entirely. Instead, learn as much as you can about this genre and let it influence the things that you make in other genres.
In fact, if you’re interested enough in an old genre, then you don’t have have to try to do this. It’ll probably just happen naturally, possibly even without you even realising it.
4) Parody: One of the problems with really cool old genres is that they’re… well… old. If you try to make “serious” or “realistic” things within these genres, then they’re probably going to seem somewhat contrived and/or old-fashioned.
Either that, or you’re going to have to do a ridiculous amount of research in order to get everything right – and, if a genre has mostly been forgotten, then finding research materials might be something of a challenge.
So, relax and have some affectionate fun with the genre. In other words, make a parody of it. Not only will this probably be extremely fun to make, but comedy has a fairly wide appeal too. So, even people who aren’t fans of the old genre might want to read your story or comic, because it’s funny.
And, if they really like it, then it might even make them curious about the things that inspired it….
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂