Today’s Art (15th December 2018)

Well, although today’s digitally-edited painting was a little on the rushed side of things, it turned out at least slightly better than I’d expected.

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

“A Glow” By C. A. Brown

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Three Tips For Making Webcomics When You’ve Got Less Time

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy preparing this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series (which will start appearing here in about 4-5 days time). But, since I also seem to have got back into reading regularly and writing book reviews (and don’t want to fall out of the habit again), I’ve got slightly less time to make each webcomic update.

As such, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for making webcomic updates when you’ve got less time. Most of these are things that I’ve mentioned before, but they’re probably worth mentioning again.

1) Planning: As counter-intuitive as it might sound, setting some time aside beforehand to plan your next few webcomic updates will actually save you time in the long run.

Your plans don’t have to be ultra-complex. For example, here’s the plan for the first comic in my Christmas mini series. It was scribbled in a different notebook with a cheaper pen, and the art planning is kept to a bare minimum (because planning the dialogue and structure matters a lot more than planning the art):

This is the plan for the first comic update in my Christmas mini series. As you can see, the focus is on planning the dialogue and structure, rather than the art.

But, why does taking a bit of time to plan the next few comics save you time? Simple. When you get round to actually making the comic, you can just make the comic. Because you’ve planned everything out in advance, you won’t get slowed down by writer’s block when you’re actually making the comics.

2) Adjustments: Simply put, there are a lot of ways to save time that won’t affect the quality of your comic too much. For example, you can tweak the production or release schedule slightly (I mean, when I’m preparing comics, I usually prepare two per day. This time, I’m only making one per day).

Likewise, you can alter the length of each comic update slightly to save time (this is why, last year, I went back to making 4-5 panel comic updates after making 6-8 panel updates for a while). Plus, don’t feel too bad about adjusting your release schedule if you have to. As long as you are still following some kind of update schedule (and your audience know what it is), then your audience is likely to excuse any changes you have to make in order to keep making comics.

Or you can take the approach that I do, which is simply to release daily comics for a limited time (usually about 6-8 days per month, although this will probably drop to four days per month for future comics), and then do non-comic stuff (in my case, daily art – which is usually quicker/easier to make than comics are) during the rest of the time. This way, you get the advantage of a daily schedule, but it isn’t something that takes up a part of your day every day.

3) The art: I’ve said this many times before and it’s worth repeating again. The art is the least important part of a webcomic update. If you don’t believe me, then just look at a popular webcomic called “XKCD“, which uses stick figure art. This is a webcomic that is popular because of the writing and humour, rather than the art.

So, if you have to rush or downgrade any part of your webcomic in order to save time, then you should do this with the art. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the writing, characters, humour etc.. in your webcomic matter more than the art does. Not only that, if you’ve been making webcomics for a while, then even a slightly “rushed” or “downgraded” version of your art will still look better than (or as good as) the art in your older comics because you’ve had more practice.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a panel from the first slightly “rushed” comic update for my upcoming Christmas mini series:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 19th December.

And here’s a “good” webcomic update that I made in 2015/16 (from this mini series) . As you can see, the modern “rushed” art compares fairly well to it:

“Damania Redux – Cyberpunk” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, if you have to save time, then rush the art rather than the writing/planning. Likewise, if you’ve been making webcomics for a while, then even your current rushed art will probably look better than your “good” older webcomic art. So, don’t feel too bad about it. The important thing is to actually make comic updates.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (14th December 2018)

Well, although the lighting didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, today’s digitally-edited painting was another inspired painting 🙂 Although I’d originally planned to make more of a late 1990s computer game style painting, the picture quickly went in more of a gothic/heavy metal kind of direction.

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

“Facility” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Erebus” By Shaun Hutson (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a very extended break from Clive Cussler novels and read books by other authors. As such, I felt like re-visiting an old favourite that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about a splatterpunk horror novel from 1984 called “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson.

I first read this novel at some point during the early-mid ’00s. Although I’d read at least two other Shaun Hutson novels before I read “Erebus”, this novel really knocked my socks off! It was quite simply the coolest book in the world. The only other books I read during my teenage years that even seemed to come close to the thrilling, fast-paced ultra-gory horror of “Erebus” were S.D.Perry’s excellent novelisations of the “Resident Evil” videogames (which, again, I really must re-read sometime).

But, about a decade and a half later (and after a failed attempt at re-reading it during a time when I’d gone off the horror genre), I wondered if I’d still enjoy “Erebus” as much as I’d done when I was younger. Needless to say, I did.

So, let’s take a look at “Erebus”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the the 2002 Time Warner (UK) paperback reprint of “Erebus” that I read.

“Erebus” begins in a farm near the rural town of Wakely, where local aristocrats Terence and Laura Bristow are returning home to check on their new racehorse. However, when they enter their farm, the horse flies into a homicidal rage. Meanwhile, Nick Daley is starting work at the local abbatoir. New to the job, he’s somewhat nervous. Something not helped by the fact that the bull that is due to be slaughtered suddenly becomes very, very angry…

Some time afterwards, we join a character called Vic Tyler. Following a bereavement, he returned to Wakely to run the family farm. Things are going surprisingly well since his farmhands tell him that the farm is producing more than usual thanks to some new multi-purpose feed from a local chemical company….

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring town of Arkham, journalist Jo Ward gets a frantic phone call from a nervous scientist at Vanderburg Chemicals who urgently wants to meet her to share information…..

One of the first things that I will say about “Erebus” is that there’s nothing else quite like it. It is an absolutely brilliant fusion of the vampire, zombie and thriller genres that manages to become more than the sum of it’s parts. Yes, other stories (“Double Dead” by Chuck Wendig, “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson etc…) have blended the vampire and zombie genres, but none have done it in quite the same way as “Erebus”.

In short, this novel is “Resident Evilfrom before “Resident Evil” was even a thing. But, instead of mindless shambling zombies, the “infected” are semi-intelligent vampires…. who happen to look and act a lot like zombies. Likewise, the main characters aren’t highly-trained soldiers, but a farmer and a journalist. And the story takes place in a rural part of 1980s Britain. And it is amazing!

In terms of horror, this novel isn’t outright scary – but it still uses different types of horror very effectively.

The most prominent form of horror in “Erebus” is the gory horror that the splatterpunk genre is famous for. Seriously, the average horror movie looks like a Disney movie in comparison to this novel. By bombarding the reader with frequent scenes of ultra-grisly horror, Hutson achieves something more than mere shock value. After a while, the grisly parts of the story become an atmospheric background element. So, even when the shock value wears off, these scenes still allow the story to maintain a menacing, macabre tone that really helps to set the mood.

This isn’t to say that even more experienced splatterpunk readers won’t be shocked occasionally though. Seriously, Shaun Hutson is an artist when it comes to writing about death, decay and other disgusting things. I won’t spoil any of the novel’s more shocking moments, but let’s just say that – if this was a film – it’d probably get banned. Or, at the very least, provoke a few amusing Daily Mail headlines.

The novel’s gallons of gore are also complemented by several other types of horror too. The most prominent of these is good old-fashioned suspense. At first, this includes some wonderful gothic horror tropes such as mysterious figures moving in the shadows, the townspeople slowly taking on a deathly pallor and the town centre gradually becoming more and more deserted. But, as the novel progresses, this is replaced with the kind of fast-paced pulse-pounding action-packed suspense that you’d normally expect to see in a particularly gripping thriller novel. Seriously, it is an absolute delight to see something that is able to blend both types of suspense so expertly 🙂

In terms of characters, this novel is surprisingly good. Good horror relies on good characterisation, and “Erebus” certainly doesn’t disappoint here. Both Vic Tyler and Jo Ward come across as reasonably realistic characters, both of whom have interesting backstories that have shaped the course of their lives. Likewise, literally every other character in the story receives at least a small amount of highly-concentrated characterisation.

Hutson’s narration is also really interesting too. In short, he sometimes uses the type of descriptive and eloquent narration that, these days, would be considered more fitting for a literary novel than a “low budget” horror novel. This works astonishingly well, since the rather flowery and sophisticated narration is contrasted perfectly with the grim events and drearily mundane settings of the story. It’s a perfect parody of the type of idealised, bucolic, “literary” storytelling that you’d expect to read in a more aristocratic novel.

Thematically, this novel is really interesting too. One of the major themes in “Erebus” is the contrast between Britain and America – with both being presented in a gleefully cynical manner.

Rural Britain (England in particular) is shown to be reassuringly cosy, but also the type of dreary, mundane, dilapidated, old-fashioned place that you would expect. On the other hand, America is depicted like something from a dramatic Hollywood movie… albeit a gangster movie. This is shown in Jo’s character arc – she flees New York in order to escape the Mafia, but ends up in a dreary English village that soon becomes just as dangerous…. thanks to an American corporation and an ex-Mafia hit-man, who are in hock with the British government.

This is also reflected in the novel’s politics too. Whilst the novel contains some brilliantly anti-establishment moments that put the “punk” in splatterpunk (such as the ominous government conspiracy later in the story, or Wakely’s comically incompetent police force etc..), it also realistically reflects the conservatism of rural England too. For example, during Jo and Vic’s first date, their conversation briefly includes a conservative rant that could almost have come straight from the pages of the Daily Mail or Daily Express.

For the most part, this 34 year old novel has aged fairly well. Not only are the suspenseful parts of this story timelessly thrilling, but the gory moments are also timelessly grotesque too. Likewise, the total lack of modern mobile phones just adds to the suspense too. Even the more obviously 1980s elements of the story (like Hutson referring to a computer monitor as a “V.D.U.”) just add to the cosy retro charm of this story.

Even so, there are a couple of brief moments that have aged badly. For example, the fact that one of the novel’s villains is something of a racist is relayed to the reader in a third-person narrative segment that would probably be written slightly differently today. Likewise, the conservative rant mentioned earlier also uses some descriptions/terms that haven’t aged well at all.

In terms of length, this novel is absolutely perfect. At 309 pages, this story never really outstays it’s welcome or contains much in the way of padding. Seriously, I miss the days when novels actually had editors who cared about length. This is the kind of book that can easily be binge-read in a couple of satisfying two-hour sessions. Seriously, it’s refreshing to see a novel that isn’t a 400+ page tome 🙂

All in all, if you love gruesome horror fiction, if you’re a fan of the classic “Resident Evil” games and/or if you aren’t easily shocked, then you owe it to yourself to read this novel 🙂 It’s thrilling, ominous, grotesque and unlike anything you’ve read before. It’s both gloriously retro and (mostly) timeless. It’s both really good and “so bad that it’s good”. It’s a novel that amazed me when I was a teenager and it still kept me absolutely gripped when I re-read it at the age of… well, older than that. So, wait until after midnight, put some heavy metal music on in the background and start reading “Erebus”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Today’s Art (13th December 2018)

Woo hoo! I’m feeling inspired again! This digitally-edited painting is based on a sudden rush of memories that flashed through my mind whilst writing this article.

Basically, after spending 1-3 years not reading that much, I got back into reading regularly again and suddenly I remembered how books had been an omnipresent part of my life for so long. That, for almost every book, I could remember when and where I read it. That they were the constant background of my teenage years and early-mid twenties. The emotions this provoked are difficult to describe, but it was like suddenly knowing myself again.

I’m just annoyed that I couldn’t fit anywhere near the amount of books, authors etc.. into this painting as I probably should, let alone the fact that working out a way to represent the memories and emotions this moment stirred in me was next to impossible. Still, this resulted in an inspired fan art painting and it turned out a lot better than I’d expected. Enjoy 🙂

Since this is fan art, this painting is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

“Fan Art – Memories Of Books” By C. A. Brown

Three Shocking Tips For Writing 1980s-Style Splatterpunk Horror Fiction

Well, I thought that I’d talk about 1980s splatterpunk fiction today. This is mostly because I’m re-reading an old 1980s horror novel called “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson that I first discovered when I was a teenager during the early-mid ’00s. Back then, old second-hand splatterpunk novels from the 1980s (or, more accurately, the mid-late 1970s to the early-mid 1990s) were the coolest thing in the world. Or at least I thought that they were. Alas, I was a little late to the party.

But, having refreshed my memory about this awesome historical genre (which, for some reason, I lost interest in a few years ago), I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write 1980s-style splatterpunk fiction. And, yes, some of these might shock you. Because…. *organ trill*… old splatterpunk fiction has more in common with high-brow literary fiction than anything else. Allow me to explain…

1) Characterisation!: Whether it is more visceral “video nasty”-style stories by Shaun Hutson, poetic and sophisticated splatterpunk stories by Clive Barker, the supernatural drama of Graham Masterton or the classic stories of James Herbert, old splatterpunk novels had one thing in common – Characterisation!

A classic splatterpunk technique is to start a chapter by introducing a new character. The writer will then spend a couple of pages showing the character going about their daily life, whilst also giving the reader a bit of information about their backstory and personality. Usually, the character’s life will be slightly mundane, unusual and/or miserable. The audience is given a while to get to know this character. Then the character dies horribly in some kind of ultra-grisly way.

This technique works because of the characterisation. Because we get to see the ordinary life of the character and learn a bit about them, their inevitable grisly demise is more dramatic and shocking. They aren’t some generic background character, they’re an actual, relatable character. This technique is especially effective in the early parts of a splatterpunk story, when the audience can’t quite be certain which characters will be the main characters and which characters won’t survive to the next chapter.

But, regardless, characterisation is more important than you might think in 1980s-style splatterpunk stories.

2) Eloquence: 1980s splatterpunk fiction is more sophisticated than you think! In order for the genre to evoke the emotions of foreboding, disgust, suspense and/or horror that it is known for, it has to be well-written. In other words, splatterpunk fiction is a genre that involves painting with words, poetic descriptions and all sorts of sophisticated stuff that you might not expect.

For example, whilst you might not think of him as a “high-brow” writer, Shaun Hutson’s narration is often a lot more eloquent and complex than you might initially think.

To show you what I mean, here’s a quote from Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus”: ‘In the high street, one or two half-timbered houses sat almost reluctantly alongside red brick shops and small offices.‘ This sounds a lot like something from a literary novel. Not exactly what you’d expect from a novel that looks like this

This is the cover of the 2002 Time Warner (UK) paperback reprint of “Erebus” (1984).

…And contains more blood & guts than ten horror movies. But, why do 1980s splatterpunk novels include such eloquent language?

Simply put, it has to do with the contrast between beauty and ugliness. A lot of what makes 1980s splatterpunk fiction such a distinctive genre is because it describes ugly things (eg: death, decay, violence etc..) in beautiful ways. Classic splatterpunk fiction renders grisly scenes of horror with the skill and finesse of a poet describing a beautiful sunset. If you don’t believe me, then read Clive Barker’s “Books Of Blood” for some expert examples of this.

So, if you’re writing a 1980s-style splatterpunk novel, then you need to paint with words. You need to be eloquent. Your writing needs to be sophisticated.

3) The mundane: Like with “high brow” literary fiction, splatterpunk stories will often focus heavily on ordinary, mundane, dreary everyday life. The characters will be ordinary people. The locations will often be ordinary towns, suburbs and cities. But, why?

Aside from making the settings and characters more relatable to the audience, and contrasting the ordinary and the grotesque for dramatic effect, the main reason why old splatterpunk writers do this is because of the “punk” part of the splatterpunk genre.

In short, the crappiness of grinding, dull, mundane everyday life is part of the horror. It is shown to be something inherently oppressive, bleak and menacing. The world isn’t shown in some stylised, idealised way – but with the bleak cynical clarity of a nihilistic punk song. The world is shown warts and all. And this is before the giant rats, zombie vampires, deranged serial killers etc… begin to appear.

So, if you’re writing a 1980s-style splatterpunk story, then focus on the mundane.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂