How To Grow Bizarro: Garrett Cook

Welcome to the final part of our six-part series “How to Grow Bizarro 3.” This series began on the Zé Burns Blog back in December of 2019. How to Grow Bizarro 1 covered ways the average reader could help strengthen and expand the genre, while How to Grow Bizarro 2 looked at the larger picture. This current series asks members of the bizarro community THEIR thoughts. This week: bizarro legend Garrett Cook.

By Garrett Cook

Bizarro came of age with social media, a new age of public personas, observations on selfhood and connection with our past, present and future. Suddenly, we were closer to being bodiless, timeless and a lot less lonely, even if we experienced the loneliness intrinsic to crowds. We experienced an even greater eagerness to connect with people who were like us and to explore art that radiated out from this newfound curiosity. Our preferences, opinions and art got a whole lot less solitary.

You don’t get the lightning back. It came down and it struck. It was a perfect time and a perfect place. We got to ride it and let it invigorate us. We were full of new and weird surprises all the time and people came to check out the ruckus. It was cool but that was then. Time passes, things and media change, people change. We get unsure of and tired of ideas and tropes and places. We even get tired of who we are at the moment. It’s hard to keep surprising people.

But, you know what?

To quote Tina Turner, “We don’t do anything nice and easy.”

Twitch, Zoom and Discord are all over our lives. YouTubers give us more of our freakouts than the people on our media feeds. TikTok enshrines moments of vulnerability, comedy and absurdity, along with bite-sized and pithy critiques of the status quo, enough so that there was talk of banning it. Bizarro writers were never just the ones who sit in the dark and the quiet and create, it’s a public thing and it’s always been public.

Morale and time are more the issue. Maintaining passion, conviction and confidence in what you do in dire, shitty times is more the issue. For that, we’ve had each other. During times of duress, confusion and isolation, reaching out is hard, screaming out from the void is hard. But people don’t buy cool things just because they exist, they don’t pay attention just because you shine with merit or ooze with need. We have to be accomplices again. The entertaining insane notions, perpetual “yes, and…” on social media and consuming and asking about each other’s art mattered and still matters.

So, maybe we do a Twitch cooking stream where someone chases a guy in a lobster suit (within your Covid bubble of course), maybe we stream someone playing Pong and heckle it in wild ways and share chunks of flash fiction or put on a short play in the comments. Maybe a bunch of British people play an insane game of homebrewed RPG nonsense….oh, looks like they did…

And maybe we understand that it was curiosity, energy and passion that made bizarro happen and made others show up. Some of us might be burnt out, sad, confused, overwhelmed but there are others who aren’t and that energy matters. It was a discussion with Chris Meekings that reminded me that this passion is out there and the passion needs us as much as we need it. If you don’t have that energy, look to those who do and get excited with them, remember that their enthusiasm and curiosity matters.

I have been in this community for thirteen years now, making me fucking ancient in the eyes of the genre. Two Bizarro Showdowns, one Wonderland Award and three years of NBAS books. I was at the first Bizarrocon and what some fear might be the last. I got discouraged, backed off and decided to mostly take care of myself and my students but this energy is driving me back. I realized how odd it was to be tired of something that I have put so much into. It means we’re tired of ourselves, which in these lonely times makes sense.

So, how do we grow bizarro? By being out there in this new frontier, being seen, being together, finding the excitement and sharing it. The show must go on.