Four Basic Tips For Writing Criminal Protagonists

In the spirit of things, the idea for this drawing was shamelessly stolen from the famous "Fantômas" book cover/poster from 1911.

In the spirit of things, the idea for this drawing was shamelessly stolen from the famous “Fantômas” book cover/poster from 1911.

Throughout the past couple of centuries (in Britain, mainland Europe and America at least), criminals have been a surprisingly popular choice for heroic characters in stories, movies and TV shows.

In late 19th Century Britain, readers were scandalised and delighted by stories with such rogueish main characters as E. W. Hornung’s “Raffles” (in fact, even the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure Of Charles Augustus Milverton” was inspired by “Raffles”, since E. W. Hornung was actually Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law ).

Not to mention that Robin Hood and Dick Turpin have been popular characters in traditional British folklore and fiction for many, many years.

Likewise, in early 20th century France, readers were thrilled and horrified by the exploits of the master criminal Fantômas (hell, he even got his own theme song).

There are too many modern examples of these kinds of characters to list here, but one of the best examples I’ve found recently is an old BBC drama series called “Hustle”, which follows a group of professional con artists in London. It’s funny, it’s ingenious, it’s well-written and it’s probably the most glamourous show that I’ve seen since I watched “Burn Notice”.

But, at the same time, these types of characters are still criminals. They’re still bank robbers, highwaymen, con artists and/or murderers. So, how do you write these kinds of main characters in a way that will make the audience actually like them? Here are a few tips:

1) A moral code: This is the most important thing to remember when you’re writing a main character who is also a criminal. Although a criminal protagonist might break thousands of laws, they almost always have a moral code of their own that they stick to rigidly.

A very old example of this is probably Robin Hood, who although he led a gang of thieves, also had a very strict rule of “steal from the rich and give to the poor”.

A more modern example of this can be seen in Jeff Lindsay’s “Dexter” novels (and the TV series based on them), where the main character is actually a serial killer. However, he follows a very strict moral code that his father gave him, which means that he only murders other serious criminals who have not been caught by the police.

So, why is this so important? Although readers might like the romanticised idea of an “outlaw”, most of them would probably recoil in horror at a sympathetic portrayal of a genuinely evil criminal.

Although the popularity of stories with criminal protagonists might imply that most people are amoral sociopaths, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most people still have a fairly good idea of right and wrong, regardless of how many crime stories they read.

So, in order to make your criminal protagonist acceptable to the majoirty of your readers, you have to show that your main character is still an essentially “good” person – even if they also happen to be a criminal.

2) Underdog: One of the other reasons why criminal protagonists are so popular is because they are underdogs. They’re a single person (or a small group of people) who constantly manage to outwit, outsmart and stick two fingers up at the forces of law, order and authority.

And, well, many people like to see themsleves as “rebels” at heart. So, stories with criminal protagonists give readers a “safe” way to revel in this and to laugh at those in authority.

So, what does this mean in terms of storytelling? Well, what it means is that your criminal protagonist shouldn’t be someone in authority. Yes, there are plenty of real criminals in positions of authority around the world – but fictional criminals should never be part of the establishment that your readers want them to rebel against.

3) Some crimes are “beyond the pale”: This one should be really obvious, but even if you have the most well-written criminal protagonist in the history of fiction, your readers will still end up absolutely hating him or her if your main character commits certain crimes that are quite rightly seen as “beyond the pale” – even for a fictional character.

4) Intelligence: There’s a reason why heist movies thrill people and online articles about “the world’s dumbest criminals” constantly make people laugh. Criminals only really have any kind of dramatic value in stories – either as protagonists or villains – if they are very intelligent.

Why? Well, intelligence is one of the few “superpowers” that people can realistically have. Not only that, making your protagonists smarter than most people turns what would otherwise be a rather boring story into a thrilling puzzle that your readers are constantly wondering how your main character (or characters) will solve.

For example, a bank heist story where the intelligent main characters have to carefully work out a sneaky way to get past all sorts of high-tech security systems is far more thrilling than a story about a group of slightly stupid criminals who just burst into the bank with sawn-off shotguns and demand all of the money in the vaults.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)

Today’s Art (19th December 2014)

Well, I’m still in the mood for making B&W 1980s-style sci-fi art at the moment. Although it surprisingly takes much longer to make than my “ordinary” watercolour paintings do, it’s incredibly good fun. Not to mention that working with just two colours is a surprisingly enjoyable challenge too.

The setting of this drawing was partially inspired by a shopping centre in Cheltenham (?) that I saw in 2009 when it was in the process of being renovated. Parts of it looked like a cross between a construction site and an interior set from ” Blade Runner” – very cool. Unfortunately, it probably looks all pristine and “modern” by now LOL!

As usual, this drawing is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"9pm Commerce City" By C. A. Brown

“9pm Commerce City” By C. A. Brown

Art Mediums And Self-Censorship

2014 Artwork Art mediums and self-censorship article sketch

As regular readers of this blog probably know, I often tend to censor myself and my art far too often. Even though I absolutely loathe and despise any forms of externally-imposed censorship, I am often my own worst enemy when it comes to my own work.

Whilst many of the movies, computer games etc… that I really like usually come with a large “18 certificate” of some kind on the cover (and many of my favourite comics and novels are also more than a little bit “edgy” too), most of my own writing and art these days often ends up being fairly “PG-rated” because I’m worried about both what people will think of me and about externally-imposed censorship too.

However, I recently found a way to stop myself from censoring my own work quite as much as I previously did and I thought that I’d share it here, in case it is useful to anyone else in a similar situation.

Before I go any further, I should point out that whilst this article doesn’t actually contain any explicit descriptions or nudity, it is an article that discusses issues surrounding self-censorship of explicit material. As such, reader discretion is advised.

Over the past few days, I’ve been working on a series of black & white 1980s/90s-style sci-fi drawings and – when I was working on the drawing that will be posted here on Sunday, I noticed that something very interesting had happened to my art once I’d started drawing in just black and white.

Here’s a preview of Sunday’s drawing to illustrate what I mean:

"90% Compatability" By C. A. Brown

“90% Compatability” By C. A. Brown

As you might have noticed, this picture is … well… very slightly more risque than the stuff that I usually post online. Sure, it’s still fairly tame compared to most of the art that I’d really like to to make if I didn’t censor myself so much out of fear of what people might think, but it’s more risque than most of the art that I make these days.

And I think that this is a direct result of working in black & white rather than in colour.

You see, to me, black and white artwork has always been at least slightly associated with cool stuff like “edgy” comic books from the 90s and film noir. It has also traditionally been the medium of choice (mainly due to it’s lower printing costs) for *ahem* less mainstream and much more explicit artistic works by artists such as Tom Of Finland, John Willie etc…

So, when I finally started working in an art medium that I’d mentally associated with all of this kind of stuff, it just seemed … well… wrong not to make my pictures slightly edgier and more risque than usual.

And, to my surprise, I’d also finally found a way to bypass many of the self-imposed restrictions that I’d unconsciously placed on my own art!

So, why is this useful to you?

Well, if you’re the kind of person who is constantly toning down their artwork because you’re worried about what people may think, then it might be an idea to try working in a different art medium.

If you choose an art medium which you either associate with “edgy” art and/or comics, then you might find that you feel more comfortable with expressing slightly more of your imagination because, well, it’s what you associate with that genre. And, if anyone asks about it, then you can just point out that you are following the traditions of the genre.

Strangely, the exact opposite of this can be also true too. If you switch to an art medium that has historically been associated with “serious” or “highbrow” art, then you might also find that you are more comfortable with expressing yourself.

For example, when I made art using ink and coloured pencils, I rarely ever drew nudes – they just looked too cartoonish, lurid and low-brow. However, once I’d switched over to using watercolour pencils and producing paintings, making nude art suddenly didn’t feel like so much of a problem because, well, there’s a long historical tradition of nude paintings.

If I made a nude painting and someone criticised me for it or tried to censor it, then I could just point to the many other examples of nude paintings by famous artists throughout history and mention that I’m following in their footsteps. I probably couldn’t do this with nude drawings.

So, if you don’t feel confident enough to express yourself fully and you keep censoring everything that you produce, then it might be a good idea to try working in a different art medium for a while.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)

Today’s Art (18th December 2014)

Well, I was still in the mood for making B&W sci-fi lineart and I’m really proud of how this drawing turned out :)

This drawing was partially inspired by this “Blade Runner”-esque 1980s-style instrumental song on Youtube called “Future Club” by Perturbator. I won’t link to the official video here, since the album art is fairly risque. Still, it’s an absolutely brilliant song.

As usual, this drawing is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"City Rain" By C. A. Brown

“City Rain” By C. A. Brown

Four Amazing Artists On Youtube (And Cartoon Portraits Of Them)

2014 Artwork Youtube Artists Article Sketch

Well, since I couldn’t think of a good idea for a proper article today, I thought that I’d talk about four of my favourite art-related Youtube channels that you might not have heard of before.

In addition to this, I’ll also include cartoon portraits of each of the four artists who run these channels too, mainly because I was kind of curious what these artists would look like when drawn in my art style (apologies in advance if anyone is badly-drawn) and also to break up my random ramblings about Youtube too.

So, in no particular order, here are four of my favourite artists on Youtube:

1) Mary Doodles:

"Youtube Artists - Mary Doodles" By C. A. Brown

“Youtube Artists – Mary Doodles” By C. A. Brown

I discovered Mary Doodles’ art channel earlier this year, when she appeared in a video on Karen Kavett’s graphic design channel. There was a link to Mary Doodles’ channel in the video and I was absolutely amazed by what I saw there!

She’s mostly works with ink, watercolours and marker pens and she has a really unique art style which is kind of cartoonish, darkly comedic, highly-stylised and slightly horror-themed.

Her main Youtube channel is filled with really cool time-lapse videos of watercolour paintings and/or ink drawings (and the occasional music video too). She also has a really interesting second channel called “More Mary Doodles” where she talks about the process of making art, her opinions about art-related topics and her development as an artist.

2) Elgin “Subwaysurfer” Bolling:

"Youtube Artists - Elgin 'Subwaysurfer' Bolling" By C. A. Brown

“Youtube Artists – Elgin ‘Subwaysurfer’ Bolling” By C. A. Brown

A few months ago, I was interested in making editorial cartoons (I even wrote an article about it at the time) and, whilst researching the subject on Youtube, I happened to find Elgin “Subwayfurfer” Bolling’s Youtube channel and promptly ended up watching it for the next two or three hours.

He’s a caricaturist from New York and his art style is, as you would expect, highly exaggerated and stylised in a very unique way.

In addition to this, his channel is absolutely crammed with videos giving advice about how to work as a caricaturist in a variety of different situations (eg: at parties, in market stalls etc..), his opinions about a variety of topics and great general art advice too.

3) Paige Lavoie:

"Youtube Artists - Paige Lavoie" By C. A. Brown

“Youtube Artists – Paige Lavoie” By C. A. Brown

As regular readers of this site probably know, I used to make webcomics quite often but – for some wierd reason – I pretty much stopped making them this year.

Anyway, a few months ago, I was trying to get back into the mood for making webcomics by watching webcomic-related Youtube videos when I stumbled across Paige Lavoie’s Youtube channel.

She makes a webcomic called “Pumpkin Spiced” (which I still haven’t got round to reading properly at the time of writing this article) and her art style is fairly whimsical, very slightly manga-inspired (whilst still looking unique) and slightly gothic too. There are quite a few videos about making webcomics on her channel, as well as quite a few art videos and the occasional vlog-style video.

One of the cool things about Paige Lavoie’s channel is that, for a while, she posted daily art videos. And, well, as someone who posts art on the internet every day – it’s always great to see other artists doing this too :)

4) Shoo Rayner:

"Youtube Artists - Shoo Rayner" By C.A. Brown

“Youtube Artists – Shoo Rayner” By C.A. Brown

I can’t remember exactly when I discovered Shoo Rayner’s Youtube channel, but I discovered it quite a while before I discovered watercolour pencils.

Back then, I only made drawings (using ink, digital effects and coloured pencils – like in the other portraits in this article) and, from all the other art-related stuff I’d seen in the world, it seemed clear that drawing was seen as second-best when compared to painting.

So, imagine my delight when I found a Youtube channel that was almost entirely about drawing as an art form. A Youtube channel which presented drawing as a valid and valuable art medium which was just as good as, if not better than, painting.

In addition to this, his channel was probably the main thing that inspired me to start my “How To Draw” series (you might have to scroll down quite a bit or go back a couple of pages to find the actual drawing guides from 2013) that ran for a few months last year.

Anyway, Shoo Rayner is an illustrator who mostly makes traditional ink drawings and then colours them using watercolour paints. His art style is fairly cartoonish, although it also has a slightly “realistic” and “traditional” look to it too.

Most of the videos on his channel are instructional videos about to draw various things, although he occasionally interviews other artists and talks about art-related topics too.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting :) Hopefully I’ll write a proper article for tomorrow.

Today’s Art (17th December 2014)

Well, I felt like making some B&W sci-fi comic-style art for today and I’m quite proud of how it turned out, although I couldn’t think of any good dialogue to add to it though.

If anyone is curious, the text in the background is supposed to say “Research Building”, but I used an online translation site – so I don’t know how accurate it is.

As usual, this drawing/painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Mutant Patrol" By C. A. Brown

“Mutant Patrol” By C. A. Brown

Accidental Art Series Are Awesome (And How You Can Start One)

2014 Artwork Accidental Art series article sketch

Although this is an article about how to make one of the most fun types of art series that it is possible to make, I’m going to start by shamelessly hyping up my latest upcoming art series. Why? Well, what do you think inspired this article?

As regular readers of this site might know, I tend to prepare the art that I post on here several weeks in advance. Why am I mentioning this? Well, this is because there will be a themed art series of unknown length (at the time of writing this article) starting in the daily art posts on here tonight.

Although, if you’re also a regular viewer of my DeviantART gallery, then you’ve probably seen them already (since I tend to post my art on there a week or two before here for some random reason).

Anyway, this new series will be a collection of 1980s-style black and white sci-fi drawings – here’s a preview of part of Saturday’s picture:

"Metro Plaza 2084 (Preview)" By C. A. Brown

“Metro Plaza 2084 (Preview)” By C. A. Brown

Yes, it might not be a comic series – but it’s the first series of any kind that I’ve made in at least a few months. And it happened completely accidentally. So, today, I thought that I’d talk about why spontaneous art series are one of the best types of art series that you can make and offer a few tips about how to start one of your own.

Whilst pre-planning an art series can be better in some ways, because you have a greater amount of control over what you produce – it doesn’t really have the same momentum and emotional drive that an art series that you start accidentally does.

If you plan your art series in advance, then you already know how long it is going to be and what it is going to contain – so, whilst you still might be excited about producing it, it will still feel like you’re watching a great TV series which you’ve already read spoilers about beforehand. In addition to this, if your enthusiasm for your project starts to wane, then you’re committed to either reluctantly slogging on with it until you complete it or leaving it unfinished.

Both of these things are a complete non-issue with an art series that you start spontaneously or by accident. This is because you’re constantly curious about what your next drawing or painting will be, because you honestly don’t know.

Also, because you haven’t told yourself (or your audience) that it will be a certain length, then you’re free to carry it on for as long as you want to without worrying about letting yourself or your audience down if you lose enthusiasm for it and decide to do something else instead.

So how do you start a spontaneous art series? After all, if it’s supposed to be totally accidental and unexpected, then there’s no way that you can intentionally start one – right?

Whilst this is true, there are a couple of ways that you can at least make it more likely that you will start an art series accidentally.

The first one is to try out a few slightly different things to the stuff that you normally do – for example, if you normally paint people and portraits, then try painting a couple of landscapes. If you normally make art in colour, try making it in black and white. If you normally make art traditionally, try making it digitally. I’m sure you get the idea….

Whilst trying something different might either lead to failure or it might just remind you why you prefer the art form that you usually work in, there’s also a significant chance that you might discover something that you really like – and want to make a few things using your newly-discovered artform. For example, although I found black and white art surprisingly difficult to make, I quickly began to enjoy the challenge of making it.

Secondly, I know that this sounds obvious, but try making some art about things that you really like. If you’re producing art regularly and posting your art online then it can sometimes be easy to feel that you need to include a wide variety of different stuff so that there’s both “something for everyone” and so that you can keep up your own interest in making art too (variety being the spice of life and all that).

But, at the same time, this can occasionally lead to you neglecting the things that you are fascinated by or feel are really cool. So, if you want to increase your chances of accidentally starting an art series – then make art about the things that you think are really cool.

In my case, this includes things like zombies, Aberystwyth, heavy metal, gothic horror, various types of erotica, old FPS games, old horror comics, film noir, vintage fashion, art deco, art nouveau, the roaring twenties, vikings, the 1990s and… of course, vaguely “Blade Runner”-esque retro sci-fi art.

But, for you it will probably be something different. But, whatever it is, if you decide to make some art about it – then your chances of accidentally starting an art series will increase significantly.


Sorry for such a basic article, but I hope it was useful :)