The best dark comedy books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about dark comedy and why they recommend each book.

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Jernigan

By David Gates,

Book cover of Jernigan

Being lured into another world by a strong first-person voice turns a book into a wide-open door, and I love going through strange doors. This one opens onto a richly detailed middle-class mess who’s also an exceptional host, recently widowed alcoholic single-parent Peter Jernigan. He takes us on a ride through suburban New Jersey as passengers in his mind, narrating his life’s unravelling with brutal whimsy and humour. This was one of the most helpless relationships I’ve had with a character in a book. A privilege and a reminder of the balancing act we all face.


Who am I?

Don’t ask me why I grew aware, from the earliest age, of living in more than one world. There seemed to be a strident world of what we said was happening, and a twilight world of what was really happening. I ended up liking and writing about the world of what really happens, because while all our seamless goal-driven plans are filling the air there’s this beautiful, whimsical, frail and often ridiculous world where we’re hapless and riddled with twists. The world of humanity. The backstage of laughter and tears. And for that, I present five outrageous old friends living in books from our strange human history.


I wrote...

Vernon God Little: A 21st Century Comedy in the Presence of Death

By D.B.C. Pierre,

Book cover of Vernon God Little: A 21st Century Comedy in the Presence of Death

What is my book about?

On the outskirts of a sweltering Texan town among willows, pumpjacks, and peeling wood dwellings, a fifteen-year-old under-achiever becomes the prime suspect for a high school shooting. Vernon Little’s coming-of-age suddenly meets the media, the madness of crowds, and his mother’s unfortunate psychology, as he desperately plots to run to Mexico. This extremely black comedy is an explosion of triggers from early 21st-century culture spun into an adventure that asks: what the hell is really going on?

Breathers

By S.G. Browne,

Book cover of Breathers: A Zombie's Lament

Imagine coming back from the dead only to realize the world doesn't want you: You move in with parents who are disgusted by you, random strangers on the street throw food or pull mean jokes on you and your friends, and being caught out past your curfew sends you to the dog pound. That's the life that Andy Warner reanimates into after a fatal accident. It's not all bad, though. At least he's got some friends at the Undead Anonymous support group, including the dead-sexy Rita, and Ray, a guy whose “venison” seems to come with some miraculous healing abilities. This is a darkly comedic book filled with a colorful cast, and you can't help but delight in the tragic spiral of the characters as they become increasingly inhuman. After all, can you blame them? 


Who am I?

I'm a life-long horror lover and author of dark fiction. I've been reviewing films and video games for Ravenous Monster ezine for nearly a decade, and my Wattpad horror novel The Hound is currently being adapted for film. My favorite thing is the intersection of the horrifying and fantastic with the mundane, and that's what appeals to me so much about zombies: in all of their multitudinous representations, they've always held up a mirror to humanity. No monster can so easily reflect the many facets of humanity as a zombie. Because, after all, the dead were once just like us – and if we're not careful, we might end up just like them in the end.


I wrote...

River of Souls

By T.L. Bodine,

Book cover of River of Souls

What is my book about?

Undeath is a manageable condition. That's what the media says, anyway: with the help of the miracle life-extension drug, Lazarus, the Undead can retain their humanity and live normal, happy lives. Without it, they become violent, mindless walking corpses. 

Davin Montoya was eager to believe all of that until an accident left him joining the ranks of the freshly deceased himself. Now, keeping his death a secret is the only way to keep his sister out of foster care. To do so, he must venture into the underground society of Unregistered Undead - a dangerous world of drug deals and government resistance. But when their access to Lazarus begins to run dry, the truth starts to unravel...and it's not what anyone expected.

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories

By Tim Burton,

Book cover of The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories

I was a fan of Tim Burton's movies long before I discovered this little treasure. I’m not normally a fan of poetry, but letting your inner voice read these tales in Christopher Lee's voice (Willy Wonka's father in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is pure magic. These short tales and corresponding drawings are as funny as they are dark (a little disturbing and definitely not for small children).


Who am I?

By now you are probably wondering why the author of a dark and violent tale set in the Zombie Apocalypse is recommending humorous books. The answer lies within the five elements of survival: Shelter, Fire, Food, Water, and Mindset. A positive mindset can get you through a lot of dark and dangerous times, and being able to find the funny in the darkness will help you maintain that mindset (especially if you are injured or scared). 


I wrote...

Sleep with One Eye Open

By Beau Johnston,

Book cover of Sleep with One Eye Open

What is my book about?

The annual Zombie Pride Parade is set to begin in Sydney’s CBD. Instead of costumed revelers, the streets fill with zombies flooding out from an underground train station and into an unsuspecting public. A brawl erupts and people realize they aren’t just defending themselves, they’re fighting for their lives. 

We follow John’s journey as he flees the carnage and quickly prepares for a bleak and dangerous future. The spread of the undead is concealed by looting and vigilantism as countless zombies swiftly overrun entire suburbs. John’s journey takes him to places we’ve all been, or should make the effort to visit….. coastal and rural Australia. This is the story of an ordinary man who makes use of wit and guile to achieve the seemingly impossible.

Nice

By Jen Sacks,

Book cover of Nice

Now these two main characters, both “villains,” are refreshingly human. When the evil archeologist in Raiders of the Lost Ark tells Indy that it would only take a small push to move him out of the light, this is the kind of thing he meant. For the woman in the story, being bad is an almost understandable way to cope with the particular situation she faces (that we’ve all faced). For the man, he’s been in the dark for a long time, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t need love. A serial killer/black comedy/love story about a hired killer and an inspired killer. Is it a match made in Heaven, or Hell?


Who am I?

If only they made good guys as complicated and fascinating as the baddies, maybe I wouldn’t be so drawn to the dark side. I mean, I liked Luke, and Leia, and Han, and I even wanted them to win, but Darth Vader—now, that was an interesting dude. Perhaps because they do and are what most of us can’t and aren’t, these antagonists benefit from writers who, consciously or not, do their best work when they create singular villains. What makes the “bad guy” tick? Is it circumstances, or choices? Are they someone you cannot even imagine being, or someone you can? And what does that say about us?


I wrote...

Break Her

By B.G. Harlen,

Book cover of Break Her

What is my book about?

"The moment she woke up, her nightmare began..." What would you do if you awakened to find a dangerous stranger in your house? In your bed, next to you? Now your home has become your prison, and your body, a battlefield. How would you hold onto your sanity, your self-esteem, your very soul against someone determined to annihilate all three?

In the psychological thriller Break Her, one woman will find herself in this almost unthinkable situation, and one man will discover that he has finally come up against someone unlike any of those he has destroyed before.

The Big Book of Hell

By Matt Groening,

Book cover of The Big Book of Hell

The Big Book of Hell is the holy grail of dark humor, packaged perfectly in a comic format. Growing up as a sarcastic kid from Brooklyn, this was the first humor book I read that I felt was aimed directly at my sensibilities. It has a very unique “substance-over-style” aesthetic that is striking and somehow managed to become widely identifiable. It dances around subjects, poking fun at the absurdities of the world it was written in. It really showed me that you don’t need to be a conventionally great artist to publish comics and that there is a market for dark humor comics. The book, which reads almost like a variety show, opened my eyes to ways to play with structure of an individual comic and a whole book.


Who am I?

I am a joker at heart and was always the class clown. I currently write on my own humor website, A Man Eating Chicken. I started drawing comics in grade school and grew into writing comedic prose in high school. There was never a goal for any of this; it was all pre-internet, so I didn’t realize that humor could be published anywhere. As I got older, I was able to find some books that really spoke to my sensibilities. The books on this list really showed me the power and possibilities of humor and influenced my own writing.


I wrote...

A Man Eating Chicken

By Eric Sporer,

Book cover of A Man Eating Chicken

What is my book about?

A Man Eating Chicken is a collection of Eric Sporer's short prose and comics, comprising a twisted satire of modern life. Holding up a funhouse mirror to the world, Sporer’s dark brand of humor lampoons the headlines and cultural events of the past decade. Including never-before published pieces and comics, it is sure to help you laugh in the face of the insanity around you. 

This book is exclusively available here.

The Free Brontosaurus

By David Berkeley,

Book cover of The Free Brontosaurus

David Berkeley, a singer/songwriter, wrote this book of short stories, each one connected because the minor characters in one story are the major characters in another. David wrote a song for each story from the character’s point of view. The music album is called Cardboard Boat and you can find it on his homepage.

The Free Brontosaurus made this list because Berkeley's creative genius knows no bounds. He has been prolific in words and music for decades while raising a family and traveling the world. This particular work, with its interconnected set of characters, explores beauty and gratitude in unlikely circumstances.

Who am I?

I never wrote anything longer than a 5-minute song before I was forty-five years old! My life has been spent on the road as a performing songwriter, dancing and playing, and (after our own twins were born) teaching kids to do the same. But one night I woke up from a dream I couldn’t wrangle into song length, and by the end of the day, I had written four chapters of The Locke Box. I naturally wrote songs as I wrote the book. I got curious about who else was doing that. So here’s a short list…


I wrote...

The Locke Box

By Jennifer Daniels,

Book cover of The Locke Box

What is my book about?

Family is where you find it when a bizarre car crash leaves two strangers to care for an orphaned baby, a pregnant cat, and the key to a mystery that hits close to home. Sensual but clean, suspenseful but cozy, funny, and endearing. For your next best love story, open The Locke Box. The corresponding music album, Songs from The Locke Box, fleshes out the story in musical snapshots from the character's point of view and is available at my website.

Welcome to the Monkey House

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Book cover of Welcome to the Monkey House

This compilation of short stories influenced my writing as I read this while a teenager. Outlandish and funny, Kurt Vonnegut created a universe and characters that brought science fiction comedy to the mainstream. He literally knocked the socks off of establishment literature. In addition, he has been more than prophetic of today’s global foray into absurdity in one particular story, "Harrison Bergeron," which I would put on par with George Orwell’s 1984.


Who am I?

I grew up in the lap of Borscht Belt comedy in an entertainment family, the dour child with a precocious predilection for reading archaic literature. My parents gave me a subscription to Punch Magazine and subjected me to countless comedy movies during my formative years strapped to a chair à la Clockwork Orange. Which explains how I ended up an international banker. Until late in life with the publication of my first novel, a satire. After eight successive novels, I realized that I should have listened to the family’s adage, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.”


I wrote...

Five-Star Fleecing

By Maura Stone,

Book cover of Five-Star Fleecing

What is my book about?

This award-winning darling of literary critics is a raucous tale of a luxury midtown Manhattan hotel. Seen through the eyes of Linda Lane, an unconventional heroine, Five-Star Fleecing strips the veil on the otherwise secret world of high-end hospitality. Escape with laughter into this madcap adventure filled with crazed colleagues, paparazzi, and celebrities. A definite must-read for anyone willing to ROFLMAO.

Vernon God Little

By D.B.C. Pierre,

Book cover of Vernon God Little: A 21st Century Comedy in the Presence of Death

 Pierre’s adolescent high schooler makes JD Salinger’s protagonist in Catcher in the Rye look like a valedictorian. Just as (finally) he is about to score with a teenage crush, who has hitherto rejected him, he ejaculates prematurely. 

"My world dissolves under my belly with a jet like stung snakes squirting out through their own eye holes. Then quiet. Just a slow ocean moving slowly, and spit-curry after-poon drying cold on my face."

What’s worse, at that precise moment, cops burst into the room, catching him with his pants down, and arresting him for a mass killing he didn’t commit.

You couldn’t make this stuff up unless you’re a comic genius like DBC Pierre


Who am I?

I'm a journalist who worked as a daily newspaper reporter and editor for 40 years for the Daily Mail in London, the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, the Sunday Australian in Sydney, and most recently the Vancouver Sun in Canada. My first novel was an erotic comedy, not much in that genre since Chaucer wrote The Miller’s Tale. My second, River Boy is about a skinny Canadian kid who can walk on water. No one has had that gig for 2000 years — and we’re not sure about the last guy. But is River Boy a brilliant illusionist or the long-awaited Second Coming? And if he is the new Messiah, why does the Christian church want to kill him?


I wrote...

Spank: The Improbable Adventures of George Aloysius Brown

By Alan Daniels,

Book cover of Spank: The Improbable Adventures of George Aloysius Brown

What is my book about?

It’s about consensual spanking as foreplay. Hose down the neighbours, retire the back rub, this is more sexy than a massage,  more sensual, more visceral, more tactile. Spank is also a laugh-out-loud comedy, with quirky characters and bizarre scenarios involved in the improbable adventures of a middle-aged retired civil servant, and the desires of a beautiful Cambridge graduate with a dark sexual past.

Where else will you meet a titled lady who makes pornographic movies, an aspiring Hollywood movie actress who sells telephone sex; a librarian with a sideline of entertaining ‘assertive older gentlemen’; and a dominatrix at a posh S&M club who really wants to be a ballet dancer.

Vamped

By David Sosnowski,

Book cover of Vamped

Ten years before What We Do in the Shadows comically imagined what everyday life might be like for vampires, David Sosnowski published Vamped. Set in a world where vampires outnumber humans, the story stars a bloodsucking bachelor bored with his existence and all of the modern vampire conveniences, and inconveniences. Like missing coffee. And chocolate. And sunlight. And not having any more fresh humans to hunt. But when our hero stumbles across a human child, his existence gets complicated. A sharp, smart, charming, and occasionally heart-warming black comedy with an anti-hero who you end up rooting for.


Who am I?

I’ve always been a fan of dark comedies. Fargo. Heathers. Fight Club. There’s something about being able to laugh about tragedy that feels both cathartic and as if you might get struck down by lightning. But I also grew up on a steady diet of supernatural horror à la Stephen King, Peter Straub, and early Dean Koontz. So combining the supernatural and dark comedy into my writing seemed like a natural fit. While I’m drawn to dark comedies of all sorts in both fiction and film, I have a soft spot for those with a supernatural element that involves death, either in the literal sense or as a character.


I wrote...

Breathers: A Zombie's Lament

By S.G. Browne,

Book cover of Breathers: A Zombie's Lament

What is my book about?

When I started writing Breathers in October 2003, I wanted to write a different kind of zombie story. Rather than the stereotypical brain-dead, shambling corpses who craved human flesh, I wondered what it would be like to be a zombie in a society where you weren’t considered human, had no rights, and were constantly carted off by Animal Control. What would your parents think? How would your friends treat you? Could you join a bowling league?

At the time, zombies were typically portrayed as villains, so I flipped the script and made my zombies the protagonists and the humans the antagonists. I wanted to create an unlikely hero the reader could empathize with and cheer for rather than condemn as a monster.

Girls with Bright Futures

By Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman,

Book cover of Girls with Bright Futures

This novel is a chilling depiction of the cut-throat world of elite college admissions for families attending an ultra-competitive private school. It’s another great example of taking concepts I’ve seen in nonfiction parenting books (helicopter parenting and over-pressuring kids) and playing them out in a fictional way. The details on the parents’ backstories, and how they affected their thought processes, allowed clear comparisons and contrasts to their situations, values, and beliefs and helped me see why I may want to handle certain situations differently.


Who am I?

I'm a mom of two daughters who is fascinated with reading nonfiction parenting books and listening to parenting-related podcasts. My absolute favorite, though, is when fiction authors take a dense parenting topic and turn it into a relatable and engaging story so that readers can explore the same important issues and challenges in a more enjoyable way.


I wrote...

Mom Walks: Starting in 5th

By Rebecca Prenevost,

Book cover of Mom Walks: Starting in 5th

What is my book about?

Mom Walks: Starting in 5th is the first book in a four-book women’s fiction series that follows a mom and her two best mom friends as they navigate the craziness of parenting tweens. The books are light, relatable, and heart-warming stories about mother-daughter relationships, mom friendships, and parenting tweens through issues like mean girl drama, first crushes, materialism, and cell phones. The series is sometimes described as The Baby-Sitters Club, but for moms.

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