What is the Weird West Genre?
Weird West, what is it? According to a definition it’s a literary subgenre of Westerns combined with another, usually horror, science fiction or fantasy. The weird west genre is distinct because it is known for blending not only a typical western with outside elements but also combines fictitious settings and characters with real ones. Meaning you could see a made up character interacting with a notorious western outlaw like Jesse James or riding the western front with Teddy Roosevelt. Despite it’s “weird” term it is to be taken with a grain of salt and a person who wishes to write it should remember to not stir away from the “western” aspects of it because after all westerns in themselves are certainly unique. The western genre really doesn’t need any added tropes or coating so to speak and in many ways seems stern to itself like a firm law book in the crime genre. However the intrigue and fact that someone came along and did change the western genre and did add a fun and strange yet captivating and unique twist makes it all the more powerful and interesting. The genre was first introduced in the 1970's and while it’s hard to imagine it being smaller and virtually lesser known than it already is today it does in fact trace all the way back to the 70's. It became popular during the 1990's by author Joe. R Lansdale who usually combines the original western with a violent and graphic type of horror.
One question one might ask is what goes into making it “weird”? Well aside from the settings and characters there’s a few things that make this so. For one it usually involves a typical Western plot created into a unique one whether it’s a sci-fi element or fantasy one. Also technology is a big factor as weapons are usually modified to a fictional aspect but defined and told in a manner which seems plausible. When you take a strange place a western would not normally take place, add cohesive characters with real life historical figures and give them or have them use modern or created technology you make a weird western. Let this not be all you take from it, there is so much more that a weird west is besides oddities there’s still the gritty feel and aspects that make it a western and this cannot be ignored. A weird western is still a western and I feel many forget that and some just assume it’s crap because they are ruining what makes a western great, not true. You can still have a true to itself western and have the added features that add the weirdness it’s just the author has to be able to create the balance of both. It’s just like any two genres that come together or weird tag that gets added onto a genre, you can still stay true to the core and have a little fun in the process.
One thing that has perhaps given the genre it’s niche of people is the tv shows and movies of it that have been released over the last decade. This like many genres has helped it resonate and find it’s fan base. It could be argued all day long whether or not people read as much as they used to or even read westerns as much as they used to but one thing can be certain is that the weird west has helped bring a lot of younger readers to the western genre. Some tend to ride the line and border of what classifies as a “weird western” meaning despite not having to do with a straight up western the plot and idea is still that of one. This doesn’t seem like a weird western but rather a show or book of another genre. One genre that has evolved from this and people tend to confuse or blend with the weird west is “Steampunk”. In some ways steampunk can be weird west at times but over the last few years it’s taken on it’s own things that make it so. Hollywood has definitely helped in making these genres more profound and acclaimed and while the genre is still relatively unknown there is a group and fan base for it as well as writers and the more exposure it gets then the more the genre will grow. What makes any genre popular is the readers, they cannot be forgotten or be given less credit. A genre can have a ton of writers of it but without readers it’s merely a catchy hobby writers wish to take on together. The readers are what get the writers to write more and give the genre exposure and it seems very evident that this of all genres would be the very definition of this statement.
As a writer of the genre I admit it’s a challenge. Not to write but to write knowing the fan base isn’t out in the open like most but deep within the confines of what classifies as sub-genres. When I read my first weird western I was intrigued and it wasn’t until I wrote my own, A Bloody Bloody Mess in the Wild Wild West that I gained a new found appreciation and understanding of what the genre is and how it could potentially work if enough people tuned into it. What I did however was stick to the basics of what people love about westerns and what Joe R. Lansdale did, write a western and then coat it with weird features. I stuck to what makes a Western a western and only when I did that did I feel it was okay to add the weird elements to it. When you write in such a genre it’s necessary to tackle the main genre first so this way you stay on point and on course. Also like Lansdale I felt the Western horror was the best way to go, for me more so because I feel as though horror is at an all time high right now. So I took a lesser appreciated genre and combined it with one of the most popular and that makes for what? A Weird Western, a genre not really known but appreciated and growing more and more everyday.