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What is ‘What Is goth?’: Encyclopedia provides comprehensive guide to goth subculture

October 31st, 2011 · No Comments

By Karen Bliss

Liisa Ladouceur is the author of the goth reference book Encyclopedia Gothica. Courtesy Liisa Ladouceur.

Liberty-resident Liisa Ladouceur doesn’t sleep in a coffin or only come out at night, but there are a few tip-offs that she is a goth.

Her hair is jet black and straight and she fancies corsets and fishnet stockings, but there’s much more to goth culture than aesthetic.

Ladouceur, a well-respected music and ‘unpopular’ culture journalist, has penned Encyclopedia Gothica. Published by ECW Press and illustrated like an old tyme dictionary by Gary Pullin, the book is an A to Z of all things goth, from absinthe to zombies.

For the truly uninitiated, Ladouceur introduces the book with the chapter “What is ‘What Is goth?’”

“It’s the number one question that outsiders ask and people within goth ask themselves all the time — Is this goth? Is that goth? It’s kind of a joke,” she says. “That’s why I wrote the book, so that if you read it, you will have your own understanding.

“[Goth] is a very hard working word”—Liisa Ladouceur, writer, goth

“The way that I would explain it is that it is a subculture and a lifestyle, just like being punk rock or a skateboard kid or a hip hop kid. It’s heavily revolved around music and then books and fashion and then art would come after that.

So what is goth?  “It’s music; it’s literature; it’s fashion; it’s history; it’s romance and death.”

Ladouceur, who doesn’t give her age, says she is a lifelong goth, but “not with a capital G,” or what she calls in the book “ubergoth: “Most definitely, excessively, exquisitely Goth. The epitome of Gothness.”

“I don’t put on my eyeliner and my cloak to go out and buy milk in the middle of the day,” she tells the Gleaner.“That’s not me, but I am a long time fan of goth music. Goth is the way I identify myself in the way that someone would say, ‘I’m a B-boy or I’m a punk-rocker.’”

Ladouceur isn’t old by any means, but she’s not a teenager anymore, which is when she first became infatuated with the subculture in Penetanguishene, Ontario.

“I was just an ordinary kid. I played Loverboy cassettes on my ghetto-blaster as I roller-skated to  school,” she says. “I liked whatever was popular and then I saw the video of ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ by The Cult on MuchMusic and it totally changed my life. So it was The Cult, Love & Rockets, The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, all those bands that were on MuchMusic in the mid to late ’80s and I said, ‘Oh, I like this.’”

Music is a big part of the goth culture. Ladouceur includes a “Goth Band Tree” at the back of the book with sub-genres horror punk, punk, new romantics, industrial leading to psychobilly, post-punk, batcave, synth-pop and more. But [Encyclopedia Gothica ITAL] touches on far more than music.

“[Goth] is a very hard working word,” says Ladouceur. “It describes a type of architecture, a type of literature, a font, a type of film, a tribal hoard from Eastern Europe. It’s been used to describe many things over the years, but in terms of the goth subculture, it really is it’s own unique thing.

“Yes, there is an entry in the book on the Church of Satan but then there’s also an entry on Mary Shelley. It’s a mix.”

Flip open to any page of the encyclopedia and there are wonderous and sometimes humorous entries. The entry on Doom Cookie, reads in part: a derogatory term for a goth poseur, someone who tries hard to look and act goth but comes off like a walking cliché of overwrought poetry and misguided fashion choices with no understanding of the music or subculture … See also: Mall Goth.

Blue Nun, Ladouceur explains, is a German wine, popular with some goths because Wayne Hussey from The Mission used to drink it onstage all the time. And of course, Sunglasses: Don’t leave home without them.

Encyclopedia Gothica is out just in time for when the romantic goths, cyber goths, perky goths, death rockers, rivetheads, doom cookies and other goth and fake goth types intermingle with costume-wearing fairies, French maids, Spidermen and devils: Halloween.

“You can buy goth costumes now on Halloween, which actually quite hurts my feelings,” Ladouceur admits. “I imagine how Native people feel when they see an Indian costume. ‘Really? Is that a joke?’”
Just avoid going trick or treating at her house in a goth costume — or she might sic her zombies on you.

For more information about Ladouceur and the encyclopedia, visit

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