Three Tips For Getting To Know An Obscure Genre (If You Want To Make Stuff In It)

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before but, for today, I thought that I’d look at how to learn more about fascinating (but slightly obscure) genres of fiction, comics, art, games etc.. This is mostly because, a few years ago, I knew relatively little about the cyberpunk genre. Yes, I’d seen and read a couple of famous things in the genre – but I was eager to learn a lot more about it.

But, whilst I’m not an expert on it now, I know significantly more about the genre than I used to (to the point where it turns up in a lot of my art, and some of my fiction). In fact, it’s probably one of my largest creative inspirations.

But, how can you do this with obscure genres that fascinate you? Here are a few tips:

1) Look at the main genre: Generally speaking, more obscure genres tend to be an offshoot of larger and more well-known genres. If an obscure genre is slightly old (and had a “heyday” in the past), then there’s a good chance that more of it can be found hiding in more modern stuff from the “main” version of the genre in question.

This is mostly because things that are obscure today are often only obscure for the simple reason that they’ve been absorbed into the mainstream version of the genre. Likewise, people can only take inspiration from things that have been made in the past.

To give you an example, “splatterpunk” fiction was a sub-genre of horror fiction that was very popular during the 1970s-90s. At the time, this sub-genre was groundbreaking due to it’s nihilistic attitude and willingness to describe horrific events in high levels of gory detail. This was a far cry from the more subtle horror fiction of past decades that left a lot to the audience’s imaginations. Yet, although some classic splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker still return to the genre occasionally, there aren’t really that many “new” splatterpunk novels out there.

However, if you’ve read a few splatterpunk novels, then the mainstream horror genre might not be as unfamiliar as you think. Leaving aside stories about ghosts and modern vampire romances, one of the major effects of the splatterpunk genre (and one reason it doesn’t really exist any more) was to show horror authors that horror fiction can be gruesome.

These days, no fan of horror fiction bats an eyelid at highly-detailed gruesome descriptions, since such things can be found in “mainstream” horror fiction. Yet, a couple of decades earlier, they would be labelled “splatterpunk”.

In other words, one way to get to know a slightly old and obscure genre better is to look for things that were produced after it. Sometimes, these things will contain some elements of the genre that you are looking for (another good example is the film I reviewed yesterday. This is a modern sci-fi/action/comedy film from 2014, yet the set design is heavily influenced by old cyberpunk films like “Blade Runner” . Likewise, the modern TV series “Humans” has a lot of cyberpunk themes, even if the setting isn’t cyberpunk.).

2) Look at other mediums: Although I’ve only seen relatively few cyberpunk films and read relatively few cyberpunk novels, most of what I’ve learnt about the cyberpunk genre has come from other mediums. In particular, television, comics and computer games.

Often, if an obscure genre made a bit of an impact during it’s heyday, people working in other mediums will probably want to do stuff with it too. So, if you widen your search slightly, then you’ll find lots of extra stuff in this genre in places that you might not have expected.

To give you an example, the film noir genre was most popular in the 1930s-50s. These days, there aren’t many (if any) new classic noir-style films released by major film studios. Yet, the genre has had a fairly large influence on television, prose fiction, comics and computer/video games. So, if you’re looking for film noir these days, you probably won’t find it at the cinema.

3) Look for commonalities: Of course, if you want to learn more about an obscure genre, you’ve probably already done your fair share of internet research. You’ve probably, time and budget allowing, tried to track down as many things in this genre as you can. But, how do you learn from what you’ve found?

Simple, you look for what these things have in common. You study them carefully for general elements (eg: themes, visual elements, character types etc..) that appear often.

For example, one common visual element in many things in the cyberpunk genre is high-contrast lighting (using artificial light sources). This is where most of the lighting in a given location comes from things like computer monitors, neon lights etc.. and the rest of the background is kept slightly gloomy in order to allow the light to stand out more. This style of lighting can be found in numerous cyberpunk things – here are a few examples:

This is a screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982).

This is a screenshot from the opening credits of “Ergo Proxy” (2006). However, not all of what I’ve seen of the series looks like this.

This is a screenshot from “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” (1999).

This is a screenshot from “Technobabylon” (2015).

As you can see, the lighting in all of these things comes from artificial light and the rest of the background is kept gloomy to make the lighting stand out more. This is one of the visual “rules” of the cyberpunk genre, and you can learn stuff like this by looking carefully at things in your favourite obscure genre and making comparisons.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂