Today’s Art (27th July 2016)

Well, I wasn’t feeling quite as inspired as I had hoped when I made this painting so, although it started out well, the background didn’t end up being as detailed as I’d hoped. And, in the end, I actually used a few digital effects to fill in most of the background after I scanned the original painting.

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

"Data Cartridge" By C. A. Brown

“Data Cartridge” By C. A. Brown

Politics, Consistency And Creativity – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Politics and consistency

[Update: Sorry about posting this article late, there seems to have been a scheduling error of some kind].

Although I often try to avoid writing about politics on here, I had a rather interesting experience shortly before writing this article that made me think about politics and creativity. But, although this will be a rambling article about writing and comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about music for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this.

A while ago, I ended up having a random conversation about politics and heavy metal music. This made me think about the politics of my favourite metal band (Iron Maiden) and I quickly realised something very interesting. Although most of their songs are completely apolitical, when they do include political topics in their songs, they are often handled in wonderfully variable ways.

For example, for every cynical song about organised religion, there’s also usually one that uses religious imagery in a reverent/serious/dramatic way. Likewise, although many of their more recent songs about war have a strongly pacifist message, they’ve also made some rousingly epic songs about historical battles earlier in their career (eg: one of their most famous songs is “The Trooper“, which is about the charge of the light brigade during the Crimean War).

Personally, I think that this is one of the many things that makes them such an amazing band. Their songs have a kind of honesty to them, where you get the sense that they’ve thought about both sides of a particular issue. You get the sense that their songs are actual nuanced self-expression, rather than a political lecture of any kind.

This made me think about my own creative works and how many of the political views I’ve expressed in them have gradually changed over time. Most of the time, I try to keep my art, comics etc… fairly apolitical and/or open to different interpretations (eg: one of my favourite things to do is to ridicule both conservatives and liberals at the same time), but politics can seep into them sometimes. When this has happened, I’ve noticed changes over time.

Although my views about a few issues haven’t changed, I’ve noticed that some of my older comics tended to have a somewhat more strongly liberal outlook than many of my modern comics (which can be anything from liberal to conservative, depending on the comic itself and the mood I was in when I made it).

There’s this foolish idea that writers, artists etc… should express consistent political views throughout their entire body of work. Whilst a few creative people hold the same political views throughout their entire lives, this just isn’t the case for many people. I mean, you only have to look at how public opinion about various issues has changed over time to see that many people’s opinions aren’t carved in stone.

I’m only using a sample of one here, but there have been times in my life where I’ve been somewhat conservative, there have been times where I’ve been very liberal and there have been many more times where I’ve been somewhere in between.

It’s always interesting how the people who write fervently about how artists, fiction writers etc… should consistently express a particular political viewpoint in their works are very rarely artists or fiction writers themselves. In fact, they’re usually critics. And you should probably ignore them.

Why? Because the whole point of making art, writing fiction or making comics is to express yourself. It’s to translate the contents of your imagination into something that other people can enjoy. As you change and grow older, your imagination also changes. In a way, everything you make is a reflection of who you were at a particular point in time.

So, if you hold strong political views and have held them for a long time, then by all means include them in the things that you create (but try to do it subtly because no-one likes being lectured at). But if, like most people, you hold a variety of changeable opinions, then don’t feel like you have to express “consistent” views just because a critic tells you that this is what you “should” be doing. Just express your views when you feel it is appropriate to do so.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting:)

Today’s Art (26th July 2016)

Well, I was feeling a bit more inspired than I’d expected and, since this painting will be posted here during festival season, I felt like making a festival-themed painting.

Surprisingly, this painting required both a larger colour palette than usual, and more digital editing (after I’d scanned the original painting) than most of my paintings usually do.

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

"Festival Optimism" By C. A. Brown

“Festival Optimism” By C. A. Brown

Four Sneaky Ways To Make “Talking Head” Webcomics Look More Interesting

2016 Artwork Talking Head webcomics article sketch

Before I begin, I should probably explain what a “talking head” webcomic update is. These are webcomic updates which feature literally nothing more than two of three people standing next to each other and talking. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this type of webcomic update if the dialogue is well-written, but they can look a bit monotonous.

There are lots of reasons why webcomic creators might make “talking head” webcomics. Sometimes it can be due to artistic inexperience, sometimes it can be due to time constraints and sometimes it can be a conscious decision (eg: if you want the emphasis to be firmly on the dialogue)

Not only that, the basic format of traditional-style webcomics often lends itself well to “talking head”-style comics. If you’ve only got a few panels to work with in each comic update, then filling them with amusing and/or interesting dialogue can often be a way to get the most out of each update.

But, again, these types of webcomic updates can look very monotonous after a while, so how can you disguise them? Here are a few of the sneaky tricks that I’ve used since I got back into making traditional-style webcomics this year.

1) Close-ups: One of the easiest, and laziest, ways to make “talking head” webcomics look more interesting is to occasionally switch to a close-up of one of the characters (when they’re speaking) for a single panel.

You can also make dialogue look more dramatic by alternating between close-ups of each character. However, make sure to include at least one panel that shows both characters, so that your readers can work out where they are standing in relation to each other.

Here’s an example of this technique from my “Damania Returns” webcomic mini series. Notice how both characters are only seen together in the final panel:

"Damania Returns - Detective Paradox" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Returns – Detective Paradox” By C. A. Brown

Not only does this allow you to fit more dialogue into a panel, but it also provides a short break from the same picture of both characters standing next to each other.

2) Cutaways: Another way to make a “talking head” webcomic look more interesting is to occasionally include a picture of what the characters are talking about (kind of like a “cutaway” shot in a film). This works best when the characters are describing past events or strange objects.

Although this technique can’t be used in all webcomic updates, it’s a good way to disguise the fact that your latest webcomic update is a “talking head” comic. In addition to this, it also gives you the chance to draw something a bit more interesting than yet another picture of the same two characters.

Here’s another example from “Damania Returns”. This particular cartoon is a fairly standard “talking head” comic, although it features a cutaway in the second panel. The second panel also uses a slightly different colour scheme to the rest of the comic, in order to make it stand out more.

"Damania Returns - Like Magic" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Returns – Like Magic” By C. A. Brown

Likewise, if a character is delivering a particularly large amount of dialogue (that is spread over multiple panels), then this can often be made to look a lot more interesting by including illustrations of whatever the character is talking about, instead of just drawing a picture of the character talking.

Here’s an example of this technique from my “Damania Restricted” mini series. Notice how only the last panel contains a drawing of the character who has been narrating the first three panels:

 "Damania Restricted - Sophisticated" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Restricted – Sophisticated” By C. A. Brown

3) Actions and gestures: This technique takes a bit of practice, but one of the easiest ways to liven up a “talking head” webcomic is to show the characters actually moving, rather than just standing there like statues.

Even if it’s something as simple as showing the characters pointing at each other, stroking their chins, facepalming etc.. then this can still add a lot more visual interest and drama to your webcomic update. Yes, it’s more difficult and time-consuming to draw, but it’s a very good way to add some visual drama to your webcomic.

Here’s an example from my “Damania Resurgence” webcomic mini series. Although this comic also features a cutaway panel, notice how the characters use a wide variety of gestures (eg: crossed arms, facepalming, extended arms etc…) in the first, third and fourth panels.

"Damania Resurgence - Undercover" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurgence – Undercover” By C. A. Brown

4) Backgrounds: This is an extremely lazy way to make a “talking head” webcomic look more interesting, but it works. Basically, if both of your characters are outdoors, then you can give the impression that they’re walking somewhere by showing them standing still in front of a variety of slightly different backgrounds.

Likewise, in certain contexts, changing the backgrounds can also be a quick way to show what a character is thinking about or feeling. Here’s an example of this technique from “Damania Restricted”.

"Damania Restricted - Universal Language" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Restricted – Universal Language” By C. A. Brown

The first three panels of this comic (which also uses gestures extensively) just show one of the characters (Derek) standing in front of a computer and listening to music, but I was able to make these panels more visually interesting by showing what is going through his mind as he’s listening through the use of different backgrounds (eg: by using a fiery background when he’s listening to “Feuer Frei” by Rammstein etc…).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful:)

Storytelling And Seriousness- A Ramble (With A Comic Preview)

2016 Artwork Seriousness and storytelling article sketch

[Edit: I write these articles fairly far in advance, so I’m proud to say that something vaguely similar to the cyberpunk comic project I discussed in this article will end up being posted here. Albeit not for quite a few months (check the ‘2017’ section of this page for more details), due to a few other failed attempts at similar projects, that I’m sure I’ll end up talking about in future posts]

Even though this is another article about how the types of stories you enjoy telling can change over time, I’m probably going to have to spend most of this article talking about my own creative processes. If you’re not interested in reading about them, then feel free to skip to the last few paragraphs of this article.

I’ll also be talking about comics again for a few paragraphs. This is mostly because my experiences with planning an upcoming comics project (and then making another comic instead) was one of the things that gave me the idea for this article.

Anyway, I had a rather strange realisation when I was preparing to make the fifth mini series of my long-running “Damania” webcomic (the previous four can be found here, here, here and here and the fifth one should begin on the 3rd August).

At the time, I was more than in the mood for making a comic of some kind, but I couldn’t decide between making another webcomic mini series or starting a new and original “serious” narrative cyberpunk comic. I made a few quick sketches for this cyberpunk comic – mostly to try out an interesting panel layout – until I suddenly realised that I not only didn’t have a good enough idea for an actual story, but that I wasn’t that interested in telling a “serious” story.

Sure, I liked the idea of it. I liked the idea of making a “serious” cyberpunk comic, filled with cool-looking limited palette artwork. But, when it came down to the practicalities of actually making it, I felt extremely reluctant.

So, naturally, I chose to make the mini series instead. However, it’ll contain some small hints of what my unmade comic might have looked like. Here’s a preview:

It's a glimpse of what could have been (this preview is a detail from "Damania Resurrected - Electric Dreams", which will be posted here on the 5th August)

It’s a glimpse of what could have been (this preview is a detail from “Damania Resurrected – Electric Dreams”, which will be posted here on the 5th August)

This whole experience reminded me a lot about how my attitude to storytelling has changed within the past few years. Back when I thought of myself as a fiction writer, I used to revel in writing dark, nihilistic and/or horrific fiction. I loved to write about bleak dystopian futures, gratuitously gruesome deaths, wearily cynical protagonists and all of that gloriously melodramatic stuff.

But, these days, it seems that I just can’t tell “serious” stories any more (the last time I really tried was in an unfinished sci-fi comic that I tried to make in early 2014).

Even when I briefly got back into writing prose fiction just before Halloween last year, I ended up writing a fairly comedic horror story rather than the more “serious” horror story that I might have written a few years ago.

Whenever I even think about writing a serious story or making a serious comic, it just feels “heavy” and dull in a way that it never used to. When I think of writing a story or making a comic that contains serious drama, it just feels contrived and “too earnest” in a way it never really used to. When I think of a “serious” story or comic idea, it can just seem more depressing than dramatic.

But, when I try to write comedy or add a lot of comedy to a ‘serious’ story idea, it just kind of comes alive. My mind latches on to the idea and refuses to let go.

I love finding sneaky ways to add subtle comedy to things, I love the idea of using things from the horror and sci-fi genres in comedic contexts, I love the idea of making something that will make me (and some of the people who read it) laugh. I love the sense of sheer freedom that comes from writing comedy. I love making parodies. I love cynical satire. I love dark humour (which is also about the closest thing I can get to “serious storytelling” these days).

Another surprising thing is my emotions and state of mind when I write comedy these days are fairly similar to what they used to be like when I wrote horror. When I write comedy, I feel the same gloriously inspirational sense of inventiveness and energetic sense of mischievous glee that I used to feel when I wrote horror.

I’m sure that I’m not the first comic maker or writer to have ever experienced something like this (and it can happen for a multitude of reasons). For a while at least, I was kind of annoyed about it. After all, I couldn’t tell the kind of stories that I used to really enjoy telling. I didn’t feel like I could really take anything I made seriously any more.

Then I finally realised that, if I tried to keep making the kind of things that used to inspire and thrill me, I’d probably end up losing interest in creating things altogether. This change in my creative sensibilities had been quite a surprising one, but I found that I could actually produce more things (and enjoy producing them) if I just let it happen.

So, although I’ve probably given this piece of advice before, don’t worry if you gradually feel like telling radically different types of stories to the ones that you used to tell. It isn’t the end of the world.

Whilst this doesn’t happen to everyone, there are plenty of examples of famous writers who have switched genres after becoming established in one genre (eg: like how Clive Barker used to write horror fiction and then started writing fantasy instead). This has annoyed some of their fans, but at the same time, these authors probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as prolific if they hadn’t gone along with the changes.

So, if you suddenly find that a genre that you used to love writing in doesn’t appeal to you any more, or that you’re suddenly interested in a very different genre, then just go with it. Yes, it might be a bit weird at first. But, you’ll probably end up having more fun and telling more stories than you would if you doggedly try to stick with the genres you used to enjoy.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful:)

ANIMATED Cyberpunk Art Preview :)

[EDIT: I’ve just replaced this animation with a slightly slower version (since I was worried that it flickered too quickly), which also has a smaller file size – so it shouldn’t take ages to load]

Well, although the full version of this digitally-edited painting won’t be posted here for literally ages (so, it’s also a glimpse at some of next year’s art), as soon as I finished making it earlier today, I just had to turn it into a small animation and, well, I felt like showing it off. Enjoy:)

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

"Intersection (Animated Preview)" By C. A. Brown

“Intersection (Animated Preview)” By C. A. Brown