Friday, January 18, 2013

Genre Savvy: Urban Fantasy

As I've been thinking on these articles, the idea of time started coming up.  High Fantasy is very much a past oriented genre, as I said last week.  Science Fantasy is a much more future oriented genre.  Which means that Urban Fantasy ends up with the present.  Well, contemporary at least.

Saying "urban" seems to imply cities, but that's not strictly true.  It is more about our modern world, which is mostly city.  It can still happen in small towns, in villages and farms, but odds are it will happen in a city.  Or the suburbs at least.  The real thrust though is that it is happening in OUR world.  Not some fantastic alternate world or the distant future.  The events of an Urban Fantasy story are happening right now, in our neighborhoods or even right next door.

Why, though, do we find this so fascinating?  Our world is full of wonders, if one knows where to look, and sometimes it jumps out at unexpected moments.  Perhaps it is related to the amusement park experience.  Why do people insist on riding thrill inducing rollarcoasters and other insane rides?  The safe world in which we live offers no such thrills, no dangers that even remotely comes close to the dangers we faced as we came out of the trees.  Riding some insane rollercoaster gives us a taste of that fear, that thrill, without actually ever putting us in danger.

Same goes for Urban Fantasy stories.  They put, in a very safe way, thrill back into urban life.  Even better, it puts magic back in, something sorely missing from our more technologically leaning world.  We know so much about how the world works that to a point it's removed some of the wonder of it.  Of course, the more one knows about the world, the more one realizes how little we actually know, so the magic is still there, but it's not as accessible as it used to be.  Thus, Urban Fantasy stories proliferate.

Putting magic back into the world, behind a veil we can't see through, is an important element to Urban Fantasy.  This also means, in order to maintain the illusion that it is happening in our world, that it must be hidden away.  This is the structure of the world in these stories should be built to keep the fantastic from the mundane.  It's not a hard rule, of course, and there's ways around it,but it should always be considered.

So examples, there are a lot of them.  Let's look at a pair from outside the webcomic world to show the real width and bredth of the genre.  I mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the introduction article, but I'm not going to cover that, instead I'll cover the "source" of all modern vampire based fiction:  Dracula.  Now I know this should be part of the Horror genre, and it is, but it is also an Urban Fantasy.  How?  Well, it involved Dracula moving to London.  There is a reason I said "contemporary" earlier, and this kind of thing is why.  Dracula is very much about modern (at the time) people fighting against an ancient monster.  A hidden magic that they never would have seen if it hadn't come home.

Speaking of home, one last example of Urban Fantasy before I move to the comics.  It would have been timely about a month ago, but I mention it anyway:  Santa Claus.  The magic of this fat man in red is so expansive that people don't even question his presence.  Better yet, when they TRY to take the magic out of him via television, movies or books, the result is even MORE magic.  He's very much part of collective mythology at this point, and the perfect Urban Fantasy.

Comicwise, well there's a lot of them out there.  Twilight Lady, Wapsi Square, Zebra Girl, Gunnerkrigg Court, Magic Chicks and Eerie Cuties just to name a few that fit the more classic molds, but there are also the superhero based comics, which are just as much Urban Fantasy as anything else.  Aptitude Test, Spinnerette and Superhero Girl have fantastic elements in a contemporary world.  Even dead.winter, the zombie apocalypse comic, is an Urban Fantasy story.  The list goes on and on, so I can't and won't cover them all, but know that the odds of a comic being Urban Fantasy is quite high.

Next time kiddies, Science Fantasy.  Until then kiddies.

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