One of the first questions The Independent Guild of Fools had to answer was whether we’re The Independent Guild of Fools or The Guild of Independent Fools. Don’t think that’s settled. One of the second questions we’ve had to answer is what we mean by Comic SFF. What is comedy? What are jokes? Are jokes comedy? Are…are we real?
When we talk about Comic SFF, we’re talking about a genre classification. We’re talking about books that fuse elements from the science fiction and/or fantasy genres with the comedy genre. That’s a little more complicated than saying “SFF With Jokes.” A book can be funny without being comedy. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s get our gatekeeping on.
Humor is a device. It’s a tool an author can use for a multitude of reasons in any genre. The main two are characterization and tone. It’s rare to find a story that doesn’t use humor for one of the two.
Humor is a great tool for characterization. An author may make a character the designated funny guy or assign him eccentricities to amuse the reader. Maybe a character cracks jokes to cope with stress or a villain uses off-color barbs to keep his victims (or the reader) from getting too comfortable. What a character finds or doesn’t find funny, whether she is sincere or snarky, and how seriously she takes the world can say a lot about her.
Humor is also a common technique to control the tone of a story. It’s fairly common to try to classify the tone of a story as “dark” or “light” but even within the same story, the tone is rarely uniform. A lighthearted story might have moments of sadness, and a dark story might have moments of levity. These help season the story; they add contrast and keep the reader emotionally engaged. Even the most dour of horror films can use the rare joke to provide a bright spot in a bleak tale, or to trick the audience into relaxing for a moment so the next sting hits a little harder. On the opposite end of the spectrum, frequent humor is a way to keep a lighthearted tale light. The frequency of jokes can also be a way to change the tone of a story in motion. Maybe the jokes start tapering off as the stakes get higher, or a funny vignette provides a break from a more harrowing yarn.
Comedy is the genre where LOLs are the goals. A work of comedy is written with the explicit intent of making the audience laugh as often as possible. Everything is in service to that goal: the plot, characters, and settings are all designed to bring laughter. Of course, there’s more nuance than that. Satire uses comedy to make the reader think about the real world, parody comments on some other work, black comedy gives the reader permission to laugh at serious matters, and a farce will do anything for a giggle. The uniting feature is that with comedy, maximizing humor is central to the creative decisions made by the author.
Hopefully this helped you understand the distinction that the Council of Elders has arbitrarily declared between comedy and humor. Here at the guild, mere humor isn’t enough. The Council of Elders demands comedy and only comedy. Now go forth and bicker among yourselves about which books qualify.