In my exploration of Nu Goth and Dark Mori recently, one of the points I kept coming across was that the Goth kids of today just didn’t take the time to learn about the origins of their subculture. And while there is plenty of information online for anyone capable of using the Goggle box, for some reason we still look to the dead tree format as the last authoritarian word on any given subject. So I went to the good ol’ library and pulled some books on Goth to see what exactly is the definitive and printed word on the subject.
I guess the most important thing to note is that there aren’t a great number of non-fiction books about Goth, and of those that exist, many were created by small imprints and aren’t widely available. What I was able to track down is fairly dated, but as they mostly cover the history of the scene, would be a good launch pad for anyone wanting to start from the beginning.
Goth Chic by Gavin Baddeley was originally published in 2002, making it the oldest of our collection. Despite the title, the book mostly deals with the origins and influences of the scene, including art, literature, film and television, and only touches on fashion in one chapter. Baddeley splits most topics into classic and modern chapters, separating the work of Edgar Allan Poe from from that of Anne Rice, for instance. The music chapter is more of a primer, covering the origins of Goth music and the first Goth bands, but keeps things pretty basic. Even with the “primer” aspect of Goth Chic, Baddeley manages to cram a lot of information into its 288 pages, in part by using a teeny tiny font. Printed in black and white, Goth Chic looks its age, but is a wealth of basic information.
In 2009 Baddeley wrote what could sort of be considered a follow-up to Goth Chic. Goth: Vamps and Dandies (also published under the title Goth: The Dark Subculture) is the response to readers’ complaints that Goth Chic didn’t cover enough of the fashion and style of the subculture. The format is similar, touching on film, literature and music, but this time drawing clear lines to current Goth style, for instance film goddesses Theda Bara and Pola Negri whose vampish make-up can be seen as a clear influence for Goth bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees. And what a difference a decade in graphic design makes – Goth: Vamps and Dandies is about half colour photos, and has a much more sleek and sophisticated presentation, with the exception of a collection of casual black and white photos of typical Goth outfits dropped onto pages with text wrapping around them and no caption, leaving things feeling a bit too DIY zine-like compared to the pages that boast slick colour photographs. A fair amount of the content is cribbed from Goth Chic, so the average reader wouldn’t need both titles unless they were a completest.
By the time we hit 2014, Goth non-fiction has move to a glossy, coffee-table book format. Natasha Scharf’s The Art of Gothic: Music + Fashion + Alt Culture, is a large format hardcover book that doesn’t just tell the story of Goth, it celebrates it. Divided into sub-genres such as Industrial, Steampunk, Gothic Lolita, etc, Scharf looks at the art within every aspect of the scene, from clothing and make-up to album cover art. She delves into comics, graphic novels, current films and fetish and role-playing scenes, all coming back to the themes of darkness and how it is represented. Being the most recent, it is also the most up-to-date, looking at modern fashion trends, as well as potential Goth fashion of the future.
Finally, quite different from the other three in format and style is Liisa Ladouceur’s Encyclopedia Gothica. Presented as a true encyclopedia, with gorgeous illustrations by artist Gary Pullin, Ladouceur offers up definitions and history for the real and the fictional, as they relate to the Goth scene. Examples of entries include Lydia Deetz, fangs, top hat, Wayne Hussey, Convergence and deathhawk. Written with Ladouceur’s sharp, witty sense of humour, this is likely a more enjoyable and amusing read than the other titles which are all occasionally laced with a tone far too serious for a group of people who draw spiderwebs on their faces.
After reading all four titles, it becomes clear that the history of Goth is well-documented, both in paper and online formats. Either as a primer for new Goths coming onto the scene, or Eldergoths who just want to brush up on the origins of their subculture, these titles are a good place to start. Ignorance about where your style, music or art comes is no excuse with this wealth of knowledge so readily available.
This article originally appeared on Still Weird Zine.