Today’s Art (19th March 2018 )

Well, I thought that I’d try something a bit different for this month’s webcomic mini series. Unlike most of my comics, the self-contained updates in this new mini series won’t feature my regular cast of characters. This was mostly because I found that I was running out of inspiration/enthusiasm during the previous mini series and, rather than taking another 1-2 month+ comics hiatus (and due to worries about repeating the great comics drought of ’14), I decided to try another, more experimental, project…

Wordless comics! Comics without words! Silent comics! At the time of writing, I don’t know how long this mini series will be or how well it will turn out. But, I’m optimistic.

As well as being inspired by the wordless novels of the early 20th century, my original path to finding this idea basically happened when I ended up re-reading some of Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” comics and thought ‘I should plan some Subnormality-style comics‘ but then I realised that my planned comics were either third-rate imitations of “Subnormality” or – even worse- basically the equivalent of my “uninspired” webcomic updates, but with superficially different characters.

So, remembering that “Subnormality”‘s tagline is ‘comix with too many words‘, I thought that it would be fun to try to do the exact opposite. It also gives me a chance to practice sequential visual storytelling, since some of my more recent comics have relied far too heavily on the writing.

This first comic was kind of the best idea I had from my original plans, and it wasn’t too difficult to adapt into a wordless comic. Interestingly, it was originally going to be a semi-autobiographical comic (hence why it’s set in the mid-2000s, rather than the present day) but, I thought of a somewhat different, more cynical and more complex direction for the comic instead.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licnece.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Wordless Comics – Red Dress” By C. A. Brown


Nostalgia Is A Different Source Of Artistic Inspiration For Everyone – A Ramble

A while before writing this article, I found that I was going through more of a nostalgic phase than usual. However, rather than looking for “new” things from the 1990s and early-mid 2000s that I’d never seen before in order to learn more about these familiar, but still tantalisingly mysterious, parts of history – I found that I was much more interested in revisiting “old” things and old memories.

Whether it was old things like Ocean FM, late night channel 4 broadcasts, “South Park”, various audio cassettes, certain old computer games, Youtube videos of the Windows 98 “Maze” screensaver, shouty early-mid 2000s metal songs etc… these were all things that I’d experienced before in some way or another. They were a mildly more “personal” type of nostalgia.

To use a slightly more vague example, when I went out to water a plant in the early evening before preparing this article, the air had a cool yet warm crispness to it and a slight floral/dried grass smell which suddenly made me think of random things from my childhood. It made me think of old kitchens, metal tins, green shoeboxes, a vaguely American-style church in Havant that I saw during the late 1990s, a pair of hideous old curtains, the very first time I ever tried to pull an all-nighter and a whole bunch of things that are personally nostalgic, but not “nostalgia”.

And this made me think about nostalgia and artistic inspiration. Because, most of the time when I try to make “nostalgic” art, it is often based on a highly stylised (and Americanised) version of the time periods that I’m trying to evoke. It’s often more based on the internet pop culture “version” of the decades in question than my actual memories of 1990s and early-mid 2000s Britain – like this:

“From The 1990s” By C. A. Brown

“Future 2004” By C. A. Brown

Of course, this is an easier way to make “nostalgic” stuff for the simple reason that the research material is more easily available. Likewise, it often relies on a commonly-known set of visual symbols (eg: for the 1990s, this would include things like floral prints, floppy disks, sweatshirts worn like belts, backwards baseball caps, audio cassettes, POGs, Tamagotchis, game cartridges, VHS tapes etc..). But, the downside to doing this is that these types of nostalgic art can lack individuality and personality.

Yes, the exact mixture of “nostalgic” pop culture and technology that is alluded to in this type of nostalgic art will vary heavily from person to person. And, to a large extent, this can be a good way of adding some individuality to your nostalgic art. After all, the really cool stuff that instantly makes you think of the 1990s or the early-mid 2000s will be at least slightly different to the things that evoke the same feeling in other people.

But, making art based on actual memories and/or feelings of nostalgia is significantly more difficult. This is mostly because memories can fade or blur over time, which means that trying to make “accurate” art based on them can be next to impossible. Yes, you can make art that sort of vaguely looks a little bit like them, but the exact details will probably be wrong. Like this:

This is based on my vague memories of ferry journeys during the mid-1990s and of how modern and “cool” the duty free shops looked back then. Again, it looks nothing like what actual duty free shops at the time probably looked like.
(“Duty Free 1996” By C. A. Brown)

The exact feeling of nostalgia is also one of those things that is near-impossible to put into words, let alone into pictures. It’s one of those highly complex emotions which can simultaneously exist in several versions and which also varies from person to person too. It is something that cannot be described or depicted fully and will always get “lost in translation” whenever this is attempted.

For example, one of my “nostalgic” moods is heavily based on the mood that childhood memories of visiting my cousins, listening to novelty “South Park” songs and/or looking at Windows 3.1 evokes in me. It’s a wonderfully warm, cosy and reassuring, but understated, mood. It is also a strangely “American” mood (even though I’ve never been to America). It’s a mood that I also experienced slightly when I played this set of modern “Doom II” levels. But, no doubt, this entire paragraph probably won’t tell you a thing about what this mood actually feels like.

So, yes, the less specific and personal nostalgia happens to be, the easier it is to use for artistic inspiration. But, even so, your own version of “pop culture” nostalgia will still be somewhat unique for the simple reason that the exact mixture of commonly-known inspirations you use will probably be slightly different to everyone else’s.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Short Story: “Village” By C. A. Brown

It had probably appeared in a film. That is, if films were even known about here. I’d like to think that if anyone showed up with a camcorder, they’d probably have to explain the whole concept of “moving pictures” to the people who gathered in awe around the new-fangled “horseless carriage” that had just ground to a halt on the side of the street.

But, of course, this was just wishful thinking. As Tom brought the car to a halt next to a thatched cottage, he turned to me and said: ‘That hovel probably costs more than we make in a decade, Sally. Rustic chic or whatever. You’ve probably read about it in one of your magazines.

I laughed: ‘Nah. It reminds me of more of a bootleg Sisters Of Mercy record I got from this guy at a concert last year. The cover is this really bad photocopy of a group of uptight Victorians lining up outside a church that looks just like….‘ I pointed through the windscreen at the stone church at the end of the deserted road: ‘Anyway, if this was a posh village, there would be Land Rovers on the street and people with shotguns and tweed jackets.

Tom shrugged: ‘The Land Rovers are probably all in garages and they’re probably rich enough to hire farmhands to shoot their pheasants or whatever. Have you got the map?’

I fumbled through the mess of empty cigarette packets and mint boxes in the glove compartment before pulling out a well-worn OS map. We stretched it out and pored over it for a minute. After finding the nearest large town, we’d tried to trace our route but, no matter how many variations we tried, we still ended up at the same unmarked crossroads. Finally, Tom said: ‘We’re in the rustic village of Lost, population two.

They’ve gotta have a shop around here somewhere. We can ask for directions. That is, if it doesn’t offend your deep sense of tradition.

You’ve been watching too many sitcoms, dear.‘ Tom smirked, before opening the door. I opened mine and stepped out of the car. As I spotted a familiar red phone box standing tall beside what looked like a Victorian school, the faint smell of a bonfire reached my nose. It was one of those old smells that didn’t exactly reassure me. Above us, the sky was pencil grey.

I sighed: ‘On the downside, it’s probably going to rain soon. On the plus side, it won’t take us long to find a shop or something.

Tom smiled: ‘Don’t worry, I think that the pac-a-macs are still in the boot. I mean, I left them in there after that…‘ He wisely let the sentence trail off. A few weeks ago, we’d spent a “romantic” camping weekend in some rainy field in the New Forest that, by the end, had resembled something from a World War One battlefield. How the tent didn’t sink, I’ll never know.

Shrugging, we set off down the street. I was right. It didn’t take us long to find the village shop. It was locked.

Flashing me a lopsided smile, Tom said: ‘It’s probably one of those places that opens at three in the afternoon every other St. Swithin’s Day. We’re better off driving around at random until we find somewhere populated‘.

I couldn’t argue with that. As we walked back to the car, Tom spotted the graveyard next to the church. Spiky iron cages stood in front of the lopsided stones. A spindly, mutant tree towered in the back corner of the field. Tom raised his arms like a zombie and put on an American accent ‘They’re coming to get you…

His eye-rollingly predictable horror movie reference was cut off by the rain. There wasn’t even a rumble of thunder or anything. One second, everything looked normal and then it was like we were standing in the middle of one of those trendy power showers.

Without even thinking, we rushed into the little alcove in front of the church doors. Our way out was blocked off by a solid wall of water. I couldn’t even see the car through it.

Behind me, I heard Tom knock on the door. It was followed by a slow creeeak. For someone who watches almost as many horror movies as I do, Tom really hadn’t learnt anything. He stood next to the dark doorway and smiled: ‘Hey, maybe the vicar can give us directions? Don’t worry. If they didn’t want us going inside, they’d have locked it. Anyway, churches are meant to be open to anyone.

With a nervous sigh, I nodded. We stepped into the gloom. What faint light filtered through the windows showed rows of dark wooden pews, worn memorial plaques and stone pillars. Tom thought about calling out, but the words stopped in his throat. This place made a library seem as loud as a motorway. It was the kind of deep, heavy silence that doesn’t even need sternly-worded signs to tell you to keep it.

Then, I saw him. Against the shadows, something moved. Tom spotted it too. A robed man glided past the bare altar, his face hidden by a hood. We ducked behind a pillar and watched. Another hooded man followed. On some rational level, I knew that they had to be harmless monks. But, in a village like this? This was the kind of place where King Henry VIII’s decree to dissolve the monasteries probably still hung on the local notice-board.

When the third robed man appeared, Tom and I decided to make a break for it. We didn’t say anything to each other. We just nodded and tiptoed. Once Tom creaked the door shut behind us, we ran into the rain. Luckily, the car was directly ahead – but we almost ran straight into it.

Once we’d locked the doors and Tom had revved the engine, I caught my breath. We coasted off into the rain. Finally, I told Tom my thoughts about the monks. He just shook his head: ‘I visited a monastery museum in France when I was a lad. Real monks wear brown or grey robes. Their robes were red.

Today’s Art (18th March 2018 )

This digitally-edited painting was one that I made when I was extremely tired, so it didn’t really turn out that well. Although it originally had a much more interesting orange/blue colour scheme, the only way I was able to make this failed painting look even vaguely ok (and mask the irregular brushwork in the background slightly) was to desaturate the picture and alter the colour scheme digitally.

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

“The Island In The Lake” By C. A. Brown

Three Ways To Reduce Or Increase The Emotional Impact Of Fictional Violence

Well, I thought that I’d talk about the subject of fictional violence today. This is mostly because a few of the computer games that I’ve been playing recently have handled the subject in subtly different ways and this made me think about how creative people can choose what level of emotional impact violent scenes have on the audience.

And, no, I’m not one of those idiots who thinks that violent games make people violent in real life. In fact, a lot of the reasons why fictional violence gains or loses it’s emotional impact depends heavily on the audience not being emotionless sociopaths or sadistic criminals.

Depictions of fictional violence depend on the audience having both pre-existing moral standards and the capacity for empathy – since low-impact fictional violence finds various ways to bypass the audience’s empathy/ moral standards (in order to evoke more positive emotions), whereas high-impact fictional violence doesn’t do this (in order to evoke a sense of horror or disgust).

So, that said, how can you reduce or increase the emotional impact of fictional violence in any stories, comics, games etc… that you create?

1) Individuality: Whilst playing a first-person shooter game from 1998 (that I plan to review sometime in the future) called “SiN”, I suddenly realised why the fictional violence in the game comes across as thrillingly dramatic rather than disturbingly brutal.

Many of the generic evil henchmen your character has to fight are pretty much clones of each other and, as such, the game feels considerably less “brutal” or “disturbing”. But, how does this lessen the emotional impact of the events of the game?

Yes, occasionally their uniforms change, but the character models, voice actor etc… are identical for each low-level henchman.

It is because part of the horror of violence is the destruction of individuality. This is why, when one of your favourite fictional characters dies, it is a genuine shock for the simple reason that there’s no-one else quite like this character. However, when generic identical henchman #72 dies, it causes much less of an emotional impact because the audience know that they will soon meet generic identical henchman #73.

So, the more individuality and characterisation a character has, the greater level of emotional impact any scenes of fictional violence involving them will have.

2) Moral context: Moving away from games for a minute, a couple of weeks before writing the first draft of this article, I happened to watch a really great episode of “Supernatural”. This episode partially concludes the dramatic story arc that has played out through the season and it is also one of the most action-packed episodes of the show that I’ve seen in a while. And, yet, when I watched it – I noticed something.

This is a screenshot from season 12, episode 22 of “Supernatural”.

Virtually all of the violence in the episode seemed to follow some kind of unspoken chivalric code. For example, even when one of the show’s more unprincipled villains finds that one of the show’s heroes is unconscious, he insists on waking him up before they both have a fair and evenly-matched fist fight with each other. Yet, despite the episode being one of the more violent episodes in the season, it’s a thrilling, dramatic and uplifting episode.

This made me think about how moral context affects the emotional impact of fictional violence. I mean, one reason why many “violent videogames” aren’t disturbing is for the simple reason that you are playing as a heroic character who is often clearly shown to be fighting in self-defence (or in the defence of someone else).

Even though the adversaries in many violent games are often considerably weaker than the player character, their increased numbers give the player the impression of being one person against hundreds. Of being David, even though they are actually more like Goliath.

All of this is designed to tap into the idea of “good vs evil”, or “weak vs strong”, or “victim vs aggressor” and the long-standing moral codes surrounding these things.

Of course, when any of this is changed, the emotional impact of fictional violence in games is increased sharply. A good example of this is a game called “Hotline Miami“.

In this game, you don’t play as a heroic character – but as a deranged criminal who attacks other criminals. The game doesn’t present the player character as being even vaguely heroic in any way. In fact, even a scene where he rescues another character (who it is implied has been held prisoner by gangsters) comes across as more of a kidnapping than a rescue.

Likewise, the game’s health system heavily encourages the player to attack the main character’s adversaries before they even so much as think about raising their weapons (and to do evil things like killing unconscious adversaries etc..). Plus, the violent events of each level are always shown to be initiated by the player, rather than by the other characters. All of this means that you don’t really get the sense of fighting in justifiable self-defence either.

Even though this game features generic “henchmen” characters who are literally identical to each other, the violence in this game has a much less thrilling and a much more disturbing emotional tone to it for the simple reason that it is presented in a more “immoral” way. So, yes, the more “moral” fictional violence is, the less emotional impact it has.

3) Speed and consequences: The emotional impact of fictional violence is also heavily affected by the speed that it happens and how the consequences of it are presented.

For example, the classic 1993 computer game “Doom” is an incredibly fun action game where you fight against hordes of monsters. Yes, the game includes some mildly grisly death animations, but they are over swiftly and the only “consequence” is the player’s survival and eventual victory.

This is a screenshot from “Doom” (1993) [Played using the “ZDoom” source port] .

However, there is a very famous fan-made mod for this game called “Brutal Doom”. Although this mod is intended to make the game more “badass”, it often just serves to make playing the game feel incredibly disturbing. Why? It takes a sadistic relish in showing the horrific, drawn out, grotesque, painful consequences of the original game’s “quick” and “clean” violence. And, no, I’m not going to include a screenshot of this. It’s pretty gross.

In “Brutal Doom”, the player is given time to see the suffering and misery that they have wrought. And, as such, you can’t help but feel sorry for the game’s monsters. A similar mechanic is used in “Hotline Miami”, where – instead of a victory screen after each level – the player has to walk back to the entrance of the level whilst gazing upon the grisly carnage that they have caused.

Moving away from games, one reason why the violence in many modern action movies is often “thrilling” rather than “disturbing” is because the consequences of it are rarely presented in a realistic way. For example, the “baddies” will often die quick and bloodless deaths, and the protagonist is never shown defending their actions in court afterwards, spending months recovering from the injuries they sustained in battle etc…

So, the emotional impact of fictional violence depends heavily on how quickly it happens and how the consequences of it are presented.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Extra Review: Rage Of Light – Complete Digital Discography (Music)

Although I first discovered a couple of music videos by trance metal/ melodic death metal band Rage Of Light on Youtube a month or two ago (and bought a couple of their songs at the time), I recently ended up finding a video that included clips from several of their older songs from 2016.

And, after noticing that a MP3 copy of their current digital discography (containing an EP and three singles) cost a little over six quid on Bandcamp (the listed price is six Euros, but it was more like £6.20-30 when UK VAT was automatically applied), I decided to splash out on it. Hence this review.

So, let’s take a look at Rage Of Light’s current digital discography:

This is what the band’s digital discography currently contains at the time of writing.

Let’s start with the digital singles. “I Can, I Will” is one of the first songs by this band that I heard and it is probably their strongest song. It is a brilliantly intense mixture between melodic synth-pop/ symphonic metal- style vocals and growled death metal vocals.

All of this is backed up by a complex, resplendent mixture of crunchier guitars and electronic trance music that reminded me a little bit of a much heavier and more intense version of the background music from an old computer game 🙂 It is a fast, complex, cathartic and catchy song.

The next digital single, “Mechanicals”, is a song that I was indifferent to at first, but it grew on me after listening to it a couple of times.

This is a sci-fi themed song about some kind of robot attack on a space station. It starts with an echoey distress signal, before some ominous clanking and tapping sounds play over piano music. Then, an electric guitar cuts in and there are a few ominously slow/quieter vocals. Then there’s a shout and the death metal-style guitars kick in.

Like with many of the band’s songs, this one contains a good contrast between melodic and more intense music. Personally, I vastly prefer the melodic segments of this song – with the chorus vocals (“Here come the mechanicals…”) and guitars just sounding a little bit too much like generic shouty/intense metal. But, the rest of the song has a really cool symphonic metal/ power metal kind of sound to it that is really awesome. At 7:18 minutes long, it is also the band’s longest song too.

Also, a couple of the quiet electronic background sounds are vaguely reminiscient of Iron Maiden’s “The Final Frontier” and some of Perturbator’s music 🙂

The final digital single, a cover of Amon Amarth’s “Twilight Of The Thunder God”, is pretty interesting. It starts with a wonderfully gothic piano solo, before the guitars kick in and lead singer Melissa Bonny lets out a suitably intense and prolonged death metal growl.

As a whole, this cover version is a little bit more “electronic” and “gothic” than Amon Amarth’s original version of the song. The growled vocals have a suitably hoarse sound to them and – for the most part, the electronic and guitar music roils menacingly in the background – with a few sudden moments of intense guitar and/or synthesiser music. It’s a pretty cool cover that is both reminiscent of the original song, whilst also being it’s own thing at the same time.

The band’s 2016 EP “Chasing A Reflection” starts out with a song called “Beautiful Slave” that initially sounds a lot like a vaguely Xandria-style symphonic metal song, before the trance music really kicks in. All of this melody is later contrasted with a few brilliantly intense growled death metal segments. There are also a few classic heavy metal-style guitar flourishes too 🙂

This song is one of the more melodic Rage Of Light songs and, after “I Can, I Will”, it is probably one of my favourite songs by the band. It is a wonderfully brilliant mixture between melody, intensity, metal and electronica 🙂

“Deception” starts out with a jauntily gothic piano instrumental, paired with some dramatic drums and, later, some menacingly understated gothic synth music. The intense electronic background music that plays during many parts of this song is pretty cool too. Like with the other songs, there’s a contrast between growls and melody, intensity and quietness. However, the lyrics to this song seem a little bit random. Even so, it’s still a reasonably cool song.

“Lollipop (Candyman)” is comedy metal at it’s best 🙂 If you have childhood memories of the 1990s, you’ll probably remember an annoyingly catchy pop band called Aqua. Well, this song is a trance metal-style cover of one of their songs, and it is hilarious. Plus, due to the fact that it is heavy metal music, the song’s catchiness actually works in it’s favour too 🙂

“Sick” is a more intense, growly kind of song. The trance elements fade into the background slightly and there is more emphasis on the heavy, crunchy guitars. The melodic vocal segments in this song are also more like traditional symphonic metal than synth-pop too. This is one of those songs where, although it didn’t really impress me when I first saw the music video for it, it has grown on me a bit after listening to the MP3 a couple of times.

The final song on the EP, “Requiem” starts out in a slower and more melodic way, before becoming more intense. This song contains a lot more electronic elements than many of the other songs and is probably the most “trance music”-like song in their current discography. It also includes a couple of vaguely dubstep-like electronic segments too. Of course, it also contains death metal and symphonic metal elements too. The more intensive mixture of styles is a little bit puzzling at first, but it works reasonably well.

All in all, this discography is pretty cool. Although only a few songs really grabbed my attention at first (eg: “I Can, I Will”, “Lollipop” and “Beautiful Slave”), the rest of the collection has grown on me after listening to it a couple of times.

If you like intense metal that isn’t afraid to be melodic and creative too, then you’ll like this. Somehow, the mixture of trance music and metal works surprisingly well and this is a modern band that is probably worth taking a look at.

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

Short Story: “Last Refuge Of The Splatterpunks” By C. A. Brown

Rick almost let out a blood-curdling scream when he saw that an online bookshop had placed a content warning on his 1986 novel “SCYTHE MANIAC!“.

In bold letters, it had read “This novel contains frequent graphic scenes of a grisly nature and is suitable for mature audiences only“.

For a second, he thought about getting on the phone to his publisher or firing off an e-mail to the press. It would be a way to stay relevant. But he remembered that, these days, teenagers don’t read horror novels any more. Even if they did, they’d probably obey the content warning.

These days, he thought, the press wouldn’t bluster and foam at him for criticising the warning. They would just tut at him in a “concerned” fashion. There would be a vicious stream of carefully curated outrage in the comments below every editorial. Some of these wholesome pacifists would probably send him death threats too. Rick let out another sigh. Since when, he thought, did controversy become such a bad thing?

His eyes drifted over to the bookshelf beside his writing desk. Twenty dark spines stared back at him, festooned with bold words like “DEATH RATTLE!“, “SKELETON FIENDS!” and “SPIKES!“. These days, he thought, it looked less like a trophy cabinet and more like the horror section of some indoor market book stall, frequented only by nostalgic old people.

There was only one thing for it. Rick made a phone call and picked up his leather jacket.

Thirty minutes later, he sat in the beer garden of The Fox And Hounds with a rollie in his left hand and a half-finished pint in his right. Opposite him, a man with long white hair reached into his own leather jacket and pulled out his mobile phone. It was a good, solid model from 2002 that could withstand horrors worse than either man could write about. It bleeped quietly.

Rick stubbed out his rollie and sighed: ‘I suppose you’ve heard about the content warnings, Dave. They’ll be putting them on your books next.

Dave let out a bitter laugh: ‘Fat bloody chance! They’d actually have to sell. Seriously, I make more money flogging my old publisher copies on eBay than selling new copies. Luckily, my remaining ten fans are wealthy, successful people.

Really? I thought you’d turned to bank robbery, or sold a kidney or both.‘ Rick chuckled.

Dave raised his bushy eyebrows: ‘You know, that would be a brilliant idea for a novel.

Taking a hearty swig from his pint, Rick said: ‘Too bloody right! Even better, there could be some kind of demonic ghoul who decides to stage a robbery…

…Of the organ bank. I love it!‘ Dave’s eyes shone brightly. For a second, Rick could see a hint of the stunningly handsome twenty-three year old man he’d first met at an author panel back in the ’80s. The crowds had gone wild when they’d appeared on stage. There had been nothing but a sea of leather jackets and heavy metal T-shirts. They were rockstars.

As Rick slumped forward, Dave muttered: ‘… and it wouldn’t get published. And you know why?

Rick was about to reply with an explanation that almost sounded like the conservative editorials that had hounded him throughout his twenties. But, before he could say anything, Dave just pointed towards the pub window.

Behind the faded glass, a widescreen TV played silent news footage of bombed-out cities, bodies on stretchers and screaming faces. A minute later, it was replaced by footage of police officers in some rural field somewhere gathering solemnly around a small white tent.

Maybe we’re just in the wrong market?‘ Dave said ‘With all of that stuff in the news, we should be selling our books on the bloody “Mind, Body & Spirit” shelf. They’re practically… relaxing…. by comparison!