Three Reasons Why Music Festivals Are Such Awesome Settings For Comics, Stories etc..

2017 Artwork Music festival comics article

As regular readers probably know, at the time of writing, I’m busy making a webcomic mini series that will be set in a music festival. Although it won’t appear here until the beginning of June, I thought that I’d talk about some of the reasons why music festivals are such awesome settings for stories, comics etc.. But, first, here’s another preview of the new mini series:

The full mini series will start appearing here in early June.

The full mini series will start appearing here in early June.

So, why are music festivals such awesome settings for comics, stories etc…?

1) They’re both awesome and crap at the same time: If you’re making a comedy comic, then music festivals are one of the best settings for the simple reason that they are both awesome and crap at the same time. Although I’ve only been to three of them, and that was a few years ago, they really have a strange duality to them.

Yes, there’s the mud, the grim bogs, the overpriced food, the crowded campsites etc… but at the same time, they’re the kind of place where you can watch heavy metal bands every day. They’re the kind of place where wearing dark clothing is the norm rather than something very mildly unusual. They’re the kind of place where, when your 2am party is interrupted by the people in the next tent, they’re probably just going to ask to join in or bring more drink rather than complain about the noise etc..

They’re places dedicated to joy, self-expression and fun. And, in our dour modern society, this is always a refreshing thing – even if the only places they can happen is far away from any kind of civilisation.

So, festivals are filled with dramatic contrast. And, if you’re writing comedy – then dramatic contrast is an absolutely perfect source of humour. After all, you’ve got thousands of people paying for and actively volunteering to spend a weekend in a squalid field somewhere. It’s hard not to see the comedy value in this.

2) Eccentricity: One of the awesome things about festivals is that, like on Halloween, strangeness is almost the norm.

They’re the kind of places where you can see people wearing all sorts of bizarre outfits in the middle of the afternoon, they’re the kind of places where bizarre running jokes can just spontaneously appear amongst a gigantic group of total strangers within a single day. They’re the kind of places where the audience for a concert can look like an army on a medieval battlefield, due to the sheer number of giant flags and other random objects hoisted in the air.

They’re the kinds of places where not being at least slightly drunk by the early evening is probably a little bit suspicious. They have “villages” of stalls that can sometimes look a little bit like something from “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” at night.

If you’re an artist then, needless to say, they are one of the most fun types of places to draw. Not only that, if you’re making a comic, then they provide a lot of opportunities for background jokes and/or art-heavy webcomic updates.

3) They’re a rite of passage: Although there are some awesome people who go to festivals literally every year, the most I managed was two years in a row. But, this is part of the charm of festivals -they’re something that most people should probably go to a couple of times, if possible. They’re places that fire the imagination. They’re almost a rite of passage in some way.

And, yet, they’re real things. Even if your comic has some vague pretence of being “realistic” (which my own comics gave up quite a while ago), then you can still set several comic updates at a festival.

Basically, setting your comic at a festival means that you get the chance to put your characters in a “rite of passage” kind of situation without the kind of serious dramatic weight that might come with more “old fashioned” situations of these types (eg: warfare, religious rituals etc…). In other words, it’s an instant source of drama and/or comedy.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Doctor Who – Smile” (TV Show Episode)

Well, it’s time to review the second episode in the new series of “Doctor Who”. Again, although I’m not sure how many of the new episodes I’ll end up reviewing or how long it will take me to review them, I hope to review as many episodes as possible.

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

So, let’s take a look at “Smile”:

The episode begins in the TARDIS with Bill asking The Doctor lots of questions. In the traditional fashion, he offers to take her anywhere in time and space, much to Nardole’s chagrin.

Whilst all of this is going on, a woman called Nadia is standing in a field of wheat on another planet in the future, watching a group of robots (called Vardies) tend the crops. However, she receives a radio message from her sister telling her to return to the buildings nearby. When she meets her sister, she smiles at Nadia before telling her that their parents have been killed by the robots.

As well as being incredibly chilling, this scene also stars Mina Anwar from “The Thin Blue Line” (who plays Nadia’s sister).

Needless to say, Nadia doesn’t smile. This upsets the robots….

So, naturally, they resolved the misunderstanding over a cup of tea and some scones.

Of course, after all of this, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out where the TARDIS ends up taking Bill and The Doctor….

Hey, it’s a friendly robot! This is going to be a fun adventure!

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it is an absolutely brilliant sci-fi/horror episode.

The idea of robots (both traditional robots and micro-bots) who kill anyone who doesn’t pretend to be happy is genuinely chilling and the episode gets a lot of suspenseful drama out of this. Although, since this is “Doctor Who”, there’s also a lot of comedy too and – unlike in the previous episode – this episode actually gets the balance between comedy and horror right!

Like how the robots still look hilariously adorable when they are in “killer robot” mode.

One of the reasons why this episode works so well is because, unlike some episodes of the show, it’s actually traditional science fiction! In other words, there’s a logical and scientific explanation for everything that happens in the episode. This helps to keep the story coherent, as well as making the horror-based parts of the episode even more chilling too (eg: the idea that the city is built out of micro-bots etc..). There is nothing mystical or supernatural in this episode, just good old fashioned malfunctioning technology.

Of course, this also gives the episode a bit of a thriller-like storyline, since The Doctor and Bill have to work out why everything has gone catastrophically wrong. Likewise, they also have to find a way to stop the robots before more human colonists begin to arrive on the planet. So, yes, this episode is a good mixture of science fiction, horror, comedy, suspense and (mostly) intelligent problem-solving. In other words, this episode is “Doctor Who” at it’s best!

There are so many interesting things in this episode, such as the fact that the robots communicate via emoticons/ emojis (which is both hilarious and chilling at the same time). Likewise, they insist that all humans wear badges that display their mood – this allows for a lot of suspenseful dramatic moments where we see that a character’s true emotional state is different from the one that they are expressing.

Although the idea of a “flawed utopia” is an incredibly old trope in science fiction, this episode actually manages to do something new and interesting by turning the idea of a utopia itself into a source of horror. The idea that the utopia is only a utopia to people who act like they’re living in a utopia is a brilliantly intelligent and chilling one. Likewise, the whole idea of well-intentioned robots going horribly wrong (because they lack an understanding of humanity) is also genuinely chilling too.

One of the cool things about this episode is the set design. The utopian city is the kind of shiny, modern-looking thing that looks very trendy and very “new” – and, yet, the only safe place in the city is a grimy, old 1980s-style spaceship that looks like something from “Blade Runner” or “Red Dwarf“. This clever visual contrast between safe and dangerous places is an absolutely brilliant subversion of typical visual storytelling in the science fiction genre.

In this episode, this shiny, trendy, clean and new modern building is incredibly dangerous…

And this cool-looking “Blade Runner”/”Red Dwarf”-style area is reassuringly safe. YES! Finally, sci-fi set design that makes sense!

As for the writing, it’s really good. There’s lots of classic “Doctor Who” style clever rapid-fire dialogue, lots of intelligent ideas and lots of hilarious questions from Bill too. Likewise, the pacing of this episode is considerably better than in the previous episode. Since the episode starts out with something horrific, the slower-paced scenes when Bill and The Doctor arrive on the planet actually work because they help to build suspense.

The only criticism I have of the episode’s storyline is possibly the ending where the Doctor pretty much lets the robots get away with mass murder (and actually insists that the humans pay them rent for living in the city). Likewise, a major part of the episode’s storyline is that the robots/micro-bots have become sentient and that the Doctor thinks that they should be considered to be life forms. Yet, he has absolutely no problem with “turning it off and on again” and wiping their memories near the end of the episode. Although this is a logical course of action, it kind of goes against everything else that The Doctor has said about the robots.

Likewise, the Doctor is predictably horrified when the human colonists take up arms against the robots. Yet, he has no real problem with killing one of the robots in self-defence earlier in the episode (by throwing it off of a bridge). So, yes, the whole “The Doctor is a pacifist” thing is handled in a wildly inconsistent and incoherent way in this episode.

Needless to say, the Doctor doesn’t approve of this.

Likewise, the acting in this episode is fairly good too. Although some of the episode’s horror comes from the actual storyline, a large part of what makes this episode so chilling is the acting, and the main cast manage to pull off the whole “pretending to be happy, whilst obviously not happy” thing surprisingly well. Plus, as mentioned earlier, this episode also guest-stars Mina Anwar from “The Thin Blue Line“, which was a really cool surprise.

All in all, this is an absolutely brilliant episode. It contains a really good mixture of genuinely chilling horror, (mostly) logical science fiction and a fair amount of humour. The set design in this episode is brilliantly creative, the acting is really good and there’s lots of brilliant dialogue too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Today’s Art (22nd April 2017)

Well, I was a bit more inspired (and awake) than I was when I made yesterday’s painting.

The interesting thing about this digitally-edited painting was that it was originally going to be either a film noir or a cyberpunk painting, but it ended up turning into more of a 1970s/1980s sci-fi painting for some reason (my decision to use a blue and brown colour scheme probably had something to do with it). Plus, for compositional reasons, I ended up cropping this picture to a slightly smaller size than usual whilst editing it.

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

"Archive Corner" By C. A. Brown

“Archive Corner” By C. A. Brown

Two Very Basic Ways To Give Your Webcomic A Consistent Look (Without Being Boring)

2017 Artwork Webcomics consistency article sketch

Generally, many great webcomics can be recognised instantly at a glance. Even though the comic updates may include a variety of different locations and characters, they are always instantly recognisable as being part of one particular webcomic.

However, the look of your webcomic will always change over time. This is because, by it’s very nature, making a webcomic involves lots of regular drawing practice. As you improve, so will the look of your art. If you don’t believe me, then just find a famous long-running webcomic and compare the most recent update to the very first update. They will look different, and this is good.

But, this aside, how can you make your own webcomic look as consistent as possible? Here are two very basic ways:

1) Art style: This is the obvious one. If you take the time to develop your own unique art style, then your webcomic will instantly stand out as something unique. However, if you just use commonly-used art styles (eg: manga, American comic book art etc..), then your webcomic won’t be quite as distinctive.

But, how do you come up with your own art style? I’ve written about this many times before, but it basically just involves finding other art styles that you like and borrowing techniques from them. It also involves a lot of regular drawing practice too. If your art style looks simplistic or childish, then all that means is that you need more practice.

But, even if your own art style looks fairly simplistic or is obviously influenced by another style, the fact that you’ve put the effort into using an original style (rather than a commonly-used one) will make your webcomic stand out from the crowd a bit, whilst also giving it a consistent look.

2) Location design: If you have consistent principles for your location design, then your webcomic will also have a consistent look.

This includes things like using similar colour schemes, using similar types of lighting, using similar types of weather and having a common set of inspirations for your location designs. Basically, if you have a set of principles that you can apply to most of the locations in your webcomics, then your comic will have a consistent look to it even if it includes a lot of different settings.

To use an example from my webcomics that have been posted here this year and will be posted here in the next couple of months, many of them use some variant on a blue/orange/green/purple colour scheme. Likewise, many of them feature gloomy lighting, dramatic sunsets and/or rainy weather. Likewise, the location design is sometimes inspired by films like “Blade Runner” and old computer games too.

Although I haven’t been able to do this in all of my comics (eg: it wasn’t possible in “Damania Requisitioned” or “Damania Renaissance“), here’s a chart showing how this has given some of comics (including a few that haven’t appeared here yet) a distinctive look, despite the fact that they’re set in wildly different locations. If you want to read the comic found in the bottom right corner of the chart, it can be read here.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] - As you can see, the locations are all different from each other, yet they all look similar at the same time because I've followed a consistent set of design principles.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] – As you can see, the locations are all different from each other, yet they all look similar at the same time because I’ve followed a consistent set of design principles.

So, yes, work out a set of design principles and your locations will look fairly consistent.

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Sorry for such a short and basic article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (21st April 2017)

Yes, today’s digitally-edited drawing is yet another remake (of this drawing from 2014) – but I have an excuse. Basically, my sleeping patterns were being stupid the night before I made this drawing, which resulted in me being extremely tired when it came to making the art for today.

I tried sketching out ideas for a few new pictures, but they failed very quickly. Realising that I was barely awake, but had to draw something, I decided to remake an old B&W drawing of mine (because it’s quicker than a full-colour painting). Although the drawn parts of the remake don’t look as great as I’d hoped, for something I drew when I had literally started micro-sleeping whilst in the middle of drawing, it isn’t that bad I guess. It’s still better than what I could draw on a good day in 2014. Yay! Practice!

Thankfully, a second wind kicked in just before I was about to digitally edit this picture – which is why it contains lots of detailed rain etc….

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

"City Rain (II)" By C. A. Brown

“City Rain (II)” By C. A. Brown

Four Things I’ve Learnt From Running A Blog For Four Years

2017 Artwork Blog fourth anniversary article

Wow! This blog is four today 🙂 I’m still amazed that it just started with a random “Hmm… Why don’t I make a blog?” idea all that time ago.

So, like I’ve done in 2014 (part one, part two), in 2015 and in 2016, I thought that I’d share some of the things that I’ve learnt from making a blog for this length of time, in case they’re useful to you too 🙂 Hopefully, I won’t repeat anything that I’ve already mentioned, but it might happen.

1) You’ll find shortcuts (without even planning to): If you make a blog and update it regularly, you’re probably going to start finding shortcuts for some of the more labour-intensive parts of everything. These will probably suddenly appear to you when you least expect them and they will seem ridiculously obvious in retrospect.

For example, when I used to prepare the earlier versions of my “top ten articles” articles that I post at the end of each month, I used to schedule each draft article, preview it, copy the hyperlink and then return it to draft status. Then I’d type out the article’s title and turn it into a hyperlink. I’d do this 10-15 times in every monthly article. Pretty convoluted, right?

Well, after I’d spent a couple of years getting familiar with this site, I noticed that the “new post” page (on the old editor at least, the new one seems a bit too complicated) had an area below the title box that would give you the address of the article when it was published. All I had to do was copy & paste this, and do the same with the article title. Suddenly, my monthly “top ten articles” posts took between a third and half of the time that they used to make.

So, if you keep blogging regularly on the same site, you’ll probably end up either working out lots of time-saving shortcuts (without consciously trying to) and/or spotting all sorts of useful features that you didn’t even know existed.

2) Keep everything in one place (as much as possible): There’s a good reason why the interactive fiction project I made for Halloween 2015 is on a separate site, but the short story collection I wrote for Halloween 2016 is on this site.

If you’ve been blogging for a while, it can be tempting to put your spin-off projects on separate sites rather than on different parts of your main site. The thing to remember here is that it probably took you a couple of years to build up the audience for your main site. The instant you start another site, even if you link to it a few times on your main site, the whole process begins all over again.

So, if you want people to look at your spin-off projects, then keep them all on the same site. People who are reading the other stuff on your main site are more likely to notice them and people who discover them serendipitously might also end up looking at other parts of your main site too.

3) Your old articles will always be more popular (and that’s ok): Whenever I look at the viewership figures from this site, something always surprises me. My really ancient articles from 2013 and 2014 often seem to have more views (and more regular views) than any of my new stuff. If I didn’t understand why this happens, I’d probably feel discouraged.

In short, the older something is, the more time it has to accumulate views. The more time it has for people to discover it via online searches. As such, your older articles are always going to be more popular than your new ones for the simple reason that they’ve had more time to become popular.

But, don’t feel discouraged, this will eventually happen to your new articles too – you’ve just got to give it a bit of time.

4) Keep some last-minute filler material handy: Although you should always try to have a large “buffer” of pre-made articles so that you don’t have to post and publish your articles on the same day (I mean, I wrote this article quite a few months ago – hello from the past 🙂 ), it doesn’t hurt to keep some last-minute filler material on standby too.

Why? Well, if you’re anything like me, one easy source of inspiration when you’re uninspired are your own opinions. This has led to a few opinionated articles that I’ve pulled at the last minute (due to worrying that they’re too political, too introspective etc..) and had to replace with something else, like this.

So, if you keep some filler material on standby, then you can quickly replace any article that you aren’t really satisfied with at the last minute.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂 Here to the next year 🙂