Should I Draw My Comic In Colour or Black & White/ Greyscale?

2013 Artwork Colour Blog Sketch

This is a pretty basic decision to make when you’re starting your next comic. Whilst each writer/artist probably already has their own preferences when it comes to this, I thought it might be useful to list some of the advantages of making your comic in colour and some of the advantages of making your comic in greyscale and/or black& white.

(As a point of clarification, “greyscale” refers to drawing using black, white and all of the various shades of grey (all fifty of them LOL!) – whereas “black & white” refers to just using these two colours. Although the two terms sometimes end up being used interchangeably and I’ll probably use them in this way in this article.)

There aren’t really any fixed rules with this and it’s totally ok to make comics in both formats but it’s probably best avoided within the same comic series (eg: the second episode of my “CRIT” comic is in colour, whereas most of the rest of it is in greyscale. Whilst this kind of ruins the consistency of the comic, I couldn’t really imagine drawing the second episode in anything but colour.)

I should probably point out that the two formats tend to work best with different genres (eg: B&W works excellently with “Film Noir”-style comics and colour artwork often works well in fantasy comics and some types of cyberpunk comics) and if you’re totally unsure, then it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and draw your comic just in B&W without using any grey – you can always add colour or grey later if you think that it works better.

Likewise, I’ll mostly be talking about traditional drawing here – using pens and pencils. However, most of this also applies to digital drawing using a graphics tablet too.


So, what are the advantages of drawing your comic in B&W?

1) It’s quicker: It sounds fairly obvious, but it’s true. B&W is generally more suited to slightly simpler backgrounds which only really include the key elements of a particular scene – everything stands out a lot more, so brevity is important. This also means that it’s often quicker to draw things in B&W than it is to draw them in colour, which can be useful if you’re producing a longer comic or are working to a schedule. For example, it’s also one of the reasons why cartoonists in newspapers often draw in B&W (although the limitations of the printing technology may have also played a part in this too).

However, I should point out that, if you’re writing the comic as well, then the difference in speed isn’t really as huge as you may think, but it’s still noticeable. Plus, you also have to be more careful about selecting colours too – since you only really have three basic colours to work with (black, white and grey), which means that you have to be very selective when it comes to making sure that things look different enough to stand out from each other at first glance. However, using things like cross-hatching can be quite a useful way to differentiate between two objects of the same colour which are fairly close to each other.

2) There is more emphasis on the writing: Because both the text and the art are in B&W, it means that the writing and the art are on equal terms. This can be something of a double-edged sword though: if your writing is great – then it will be more noticeable. However, if your writing is terrible – then it will be more noticeable too. Your readers are less likely to be distracted by the artwork too, so the writing matters more.

3) It’s atmospheric and it just looks…honest! Dammit!: I’ve mentioned that B&W art is pretty much essential for some genres of comics, but it can also add atmosphere to a lot of other genres too if it’s done properly. Not to mention that, unlike films, it can look the absolute opposite of pretentious if it’s done correctly.

A lot of colour art in mass-produced comic books can look slightly too stylised and “professional” and (with a truly talented artist) sometimes almost photo-realistic and often with lots of fancy digital effects too. In reality, it takes a hell of a lot more effort, talent and practice to produce this kind of art and it’s almost always drawn digitally – but, well, there’s a lot of it out there and your reader might think that it looks mass-produced or whatever. Kind of like the difference between an art movie and the latest blockbuster with multi-million dollar Hollywood special-effects.

However, with B&W art, it’s a lot easier for your writers to imagine you, the artist, sitting there with a pen and a pencil and drawing the whole thing by hand. It just gives it a certain honest and unpretentious quality, which can be quite appealing. However, I’ll let you in on a secret, you can still draw it using a graphics tablet (if you really want to) and you can still edit it digitally (and add effects) after you’ve finished it. You can digitally edit traditional art too after you scan or digitally photograph it. Plus, it’s easier to make any digital edits look less noticeable in B&W art than it is with colour art.

4) It’s easier for it to be taken seriously by readers: See the previous two points on this list.

5) You just need a pen and/or a pencil: In one way, it’s the ultimate form of low-budget art. You don’t need lots of coloured pencils or watercolours or anything like that. Just a pen and a pencil. Although, personally, I find that using a pen to draw the lines and using coloured pencils for the black and grey parts of a drawing tends to work best (since ordinary pencils can smudge quite easily if you aren’t careful).

6) It just looks cooler: Pretty self-explanatory really.


Ok, now let’s talk about the advantages of drawing your comic in colour:

1) Realism: It’s a simple fact that, unless you have monchromacy , you experience the world in colour. Colour art is inherently more realistic, in the same way that colour films and photographs are. Whilst this isn’t essential for immersing your readers in your story, it helps to add a sense of realism to a comic – even if the colours you use are fairly simple or garish.

2) There is more emphasis on the art and the writing: Colour art stands out a lot more. It’s brighter and it grabs your attention a lot more than B&W does. This can be useful if your comic is more about the art itself than the writing (like my “Somnium” comic).

However, unless you’re Delerium of The Endless, speech bubbles in comics are in black and white – so, there is also a fair amount of contrast between the writing and the art. This means that there is still a fair amount of emphasis on the writing too – but it isn’t always quite the “make or break” thing that it is in B&W comics.

3) There is a lot more contrast: Because you have a whole range of colours to work with rather than just black, white and grey – it’s a lot easier to distinguish between all of the different details in a drawing at first glance. This means that you can make your backgrounds a lot more detailed without worrying that the reader may just see nothing but a sea of grey. Everything just looks more easily recognisable, so you can add a lot more detail.

4) If you make your art digitally, then you have a much wider range of colours available: In fact, you have every possible combination of red, green and blue – even on MS Paint (which I still use for digital drawings), there is still a colour selection/custom colours tool which you can use to choose any possible colour which you want to use(as well as the “Pick Color” tool, which is essential for editing scanned traditional drawings) .

MS Paint for the Win! :) ["Planet Caverns" by C.A.Brown - released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence)

MS Paint for the Win! 🙂
[“Planet Caverns” by C.A.Brown – released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence]

5) It just looks cooler: Pretty self-explanatory really.

6) Childhood nostalgia: On a subconscious level, colour comic books help to appeal to this in your readers. Yes, comics are a serious art-form now, but most people probably started off with reading superhero comics or The Beano or The Dandy or whatever. All of these comic books tend to be quite brightly-coloured and garish. So, if your comic (even if it’s a serious one ) is in colour, then it may well subconsciously appeal to this sense of childhood nostalgia and fascination in your readers, which may make your readers more interested in reading it.


Ok, the fact is that neither format is “better” or “worse” than the other – however, some formats are more appropriate for some comics and, with other comics, it doesn’t matter as much. There are no hard and fast rules here. Just go with whatever seems to work with your particular comic.

Review: “Kiki De Montparnasse” (graphic novel/comic) by Catel & Bocquet

I found this book in a comics shop in Brighton a year or two ago and, as I later noticed, I was lucky enough to buy a signed copy of it which even had a small sketch by Catel above the signatures (you can even see where the different types of ink have dried on it too).

As graphic novels go, it’s a reasonably long one and the book itself is a reassuringly weighty tome too which is 416 pages long, although the actual graphic novel/comic part of it is only 370 pages long. Although when you read it, it feels a lot shorter than this – which is always a good sign.

As the title suggests, it’s a biographical comic about Kiki De Montparnasse (Alice Prin) who was a French artist, writer, singer, actress and model who lived for pretty much the first half of the 20th century (1901-1953).

Although this comic covers the whole of her life, it mostly focuses on Kiki during the height of her career during the Roaring Twenties and it features many appearances from other famous avant-garde artists from the time as well as focusing on her on-off relationship with Man Ray too. In fact, the cover art is a stylised drawing of Man Ray’s famous Le Violon d’Ingres photograph of Kiki.

There is also a rather long “biographical notes” section at the back of the book, which gives a small 1-2 page biography of each of the famous artists featured in the comic (accompanied by a drawing of them too). This is fairly useful, if like me, you don’t really know a huge amount about all of the famous artists of the 1920s.

Both the writing and the art in this comic are absolutely brilliant. The dialgoue is often quite funny and very believeable. The comic moves at a fairly fast pace too and never gets boring. Not to mention that the characterisation in this comic is truly amazing and, like all good biographies, it is imbued with a real sense of personality too (in this case – Kiki’s optimistic, free-spirited and uninhibited personality and outlook on life).

As for the art in this comic, it’s fairly stylised (as opposed to “realistic”) and it manages to be both minimalist and detailed at the same time. This works really well and helps to give the comic a real sense of atmosphere.

It’s also drawn in black & white too, which really fits well with the avant-garde, glamourous, bohemian free-thinking, free-spirited, 1920s setting and atmosphere of the comic.

I should probably point out that, being a comic about artists in 1920s France, it obviously isn’t really suitable for more prudish or conservative readers. And it goes without saying that this is very much a comic for mature audiences only.

All in all, this graphic novel/comic is a true work of art and it is wonderfully atmospheric, funny and fascinating too. If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it’d probably get a six.

The Pros and Cons of Writing a Fiction/Comic Series

2013 Artwork Series Sketch

Everyone has their favourite TV series, or several of them. But this isn’t an article about writing for television (something I have precisely no experience with), it’s an article about writing like television (something I have some experience with).

I’m talking about telling your story, whether it’s prose fiction or a comic, as a series. The fact is that this way of storytelling is much more common on television and also in comics too (eg: many comics have several 8-10 issue length story arcs etc..), but episodic storytelling is also growing in popularity in other areas, such as in computer and video games. And, since the comic that I’m currently working on is released in this format , then I thought that it’d be the perfect time to write an article about it.

I should probably make a distinction here between an episodic series and a novel/comic which has several sequels or prequels. Episodes are usually shorter than a full-length novel or graphic novel. Possibly about the length of a short novella/long short story or so. It’s kind of like the difference between a TV series and a series of films.


There are basically three types of series, and I’ll mostly be focusing on the last two of them:

1) A single storyline split into instalments – This used to be be more common with serialised novels in magazines, but it seems to be fairly rare these days. The most notable example I can think of is when Stephen King originally released “The Green Mile” in about six instalments (which, for some bizarre reason I actually own after finding it in a 2nd hand bookshop or charity shop when I was younger. I still haven’t read it yet though).

One advantage of this type of series is that, if it’s compelling enough, your readers will probably end up eager to read the next instalment whenever it’s released. It’also seems to be kind of like writing a novel or a longer graphic novel – although there are some structural differences (eg: each episode should ideally end with a cliffhanger of some kind or another to keep the readers interested). However, new readers may not be as interested if they hear about the series a while after it’s started and have to find the earlier episodes of it..

2) A series with the same characters and settings, but different storylines in each episode – These are probably more like some TV series where there is little or no continuity between episodes (a perfect example of this would be “Star Trek: The Next Generation” or “The Simpsons”. A Good literary example would be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories). This has the advantage that readers can pick up the series at any point rather than having to start at the very beginning. Although they can also be harder to write, since you have to think of a different storyline or mystery for each episode and you have less space to tell stories than you would if your series only has a single storyline.

3) A combination of the previous two types of series – Most TV series usually end up doing this after a while, they have induvidual storylines in many episodes but there’s often an overarching plot too throughout the entire series. This combines the advantages and disadvantages of both of the previous types of storytelling.


So, what are the pros and cons of writing an episodic series (with different storylines and/or an overarching plot), rather than a novel or a short story collection?

I’ll start with some of the advantages:

1) The internet makes it more possible (and often free too): Whilst more traditional publishers may not be interested in releasing an episodic series (although they’re often interested in sequels for novels etc…), this is less of an issue these days now that anyone can publish anything on the internet. In fact, the internet seems to be practically designed for self-publishing a series. Although I seem to be kind of a luddite/traditionalist when it comes to books, the fact is that ebooks are becoming a lot more popular these days and they have none of the physical limitations that publishing a traditional book has, when it comes to things like book size, distribution etc…

2) It can be a great motivational tool: In my earlier article about creative blocks, I mentioned the importance of keeping a regular schedule. Well, writing a series which is released at a particular time (eg: every day, week, month etc…) can really help you to keep writing. After all, you don’t want to disappoint your readers? Although, this additional pressure can also be kind of a disadvantage too…. A good comporpmise can be to be more flexible about when you release episodes, but when you do make one, then be sure to stick to your schedule for it.

3) You don’t have to think of new main characters for every story : Once you’ve come up with the main characters for your series, you can use them in every episode rather than having to think of new characters for lots of different short stories. However, every good series usually depends on having good characters – especially if each episode has a different storyline. So, although you don’t have to think of lots of new characters

4) You have more creative freedom: Many of the best TV series often just don’t stick to just one genre. There are sad episodes, funny episodes, surreal episodes, scary episodes etc…. If you are writing a fiction or comic series, then you can do the same thing too. It keeps things interesting and allows you to have a lot more room for creativity and experimentation than writing a novel/graphic novel does.

For example: Episode 1 of “CRIT” is a fairly conventional sci-fi detective story. Episodes two, three and six are horror stories. Episode four is more of a conventional sci-fi story. Episode five is more of a suspense/thriller/locked room mystery kind of episode. Episode seven is a prequel episode…. although I’m still working on this one at the moment.

5) You can get away with the occasional “filler” episode if you absolutely have to: Try to avoid this if you can, but it can be useful if you are running low on ideas or feeling burnt out or just need a break of some kind. Many TV shows usually seem to have at least one bottle episode per series. Just remember that too many filler episodes may well end up annoying your readers, it should be a tactic of last resort.

6) It’s more appealing to busy readers: Someone who may not have the time or the enthusiasm to read an entire novel/graphic novel may be more interested in reading a shorter series. Plus, the structure of a series means that your readers will have something to look forward to every week, month etc…

7) You can make collections afterwards: If your series is successful, then you can collate it into a single book which publishers might be more interested in. Although your series has been previously published by you online or wherever [which apparently can be a turn-off for publishers], if it already has a lot of fans/readers then this could be a good selling point – since there’s already a market for it.

The only important piece of advice here if you’re making a collection of your series to sell is that you must put some extra stuff into it. The audience has already read and/or bought it before – so you need to provide something in your collection which they haven’t seen before. Whether it’s an extra short story, a bonus episode, additional scenes or even just some extra sketches or art or a preface by another writer/artist or all of these things, adding bonus content is essential if you want to sell a collection of your series.


Now for a few disadvantages:

1) Pricing: I’m not an expert when it comes to business, but if you’re selling your series, then you have to think very hard about how much you will charge for it. Ideally, it should probably have a fairly low price per episode (£1-3 or $1-5 at the most) but the cost of any collections you make of your episodes should be slightly lower than the cost of buying each episode induvidually. But it shouldn’t be too much lower otherwise people might just wait for the collection and not bother with buying the induvidual episodes (unless there’s a gap between the episodes being released and the collection being released – although if this is too long, then it can be extremely annoying). I don’t know, it’s all fairly complicated and I’m really not an expert on any of this.

Or one possible idea could be to give away all of or one of the episodes for free and then sell the collection (with bonus content) at a similar price to a normal book or graphic novel.

2) You have less room for characterisation: Your characters have to be fairly recognisable and distinctive, but they mustn’t end up becoming bland/stereotypical stock characters either. However, you have to pretty much re-present your characters in each episode if your series doesn’t have a continuous storyline to account for the fact that some readers may not read the entire series or read it in order either.

There are quite a few ways of doing this though (eg: using dialogue for characterisation or , if you’re writing a comic series, the appearence of a character can sometimes be used for characterisation [for example: this is why, in most episodes of “CRIT”, Jake is usually seen wearing a lab coat]. Plus, there are numerous examples of series-based characterisation in TV series (I don’t know, you tend to pick up a few things if you watch a lot of these) which may be useful if you’re drawing/writing a comics series.

3)Your stories have to be tighter: Even if your series consists of a single continuous storyline split into several instalments, then you still have to ensure that each one ends in a way which makes the reader want to read the next instalment (usually a cliffhanger or an unresolved plot thread of some kind) and the structure of the story probably has to be slightly different to that of a novel. If each episode tells a different story, then it’s basically kind of similar to writing a series of short stories – with all of the limitations which can come with this (eg: there’s little to no room for sub-plots).

4) You MUST geek out about your series: I’ve mentioned this subject before, but it’s essential that you are the number-one fan of your series. You really have to like it, since you’ll probably be spending a lot of time with it. If you’re indifferent about your characters or the world of your series or are starting to get tired of them, then it probably won’t last that long. This advice applies to every form of storytelling – but it’s even more important if you’re writing a series.

5) If it ends up getting adapted for television, then they might change a lot of things: Ok, if it gets adapted for television, then you’re probably fairly successful anyway and this probably isn’t too much of a disadvantage (what with all of the money, fame, free publicity for your books/comics etc…) but I thought that I’d probably mention it anyway.

6) There’s less room for editing: if you’re writing a novel and you suddenly notice something in the earlier part of it which will cause a plot hole or a major continuity error later in the story, then it’s just a simple matter of going back and editing it.

However, when you’re writing a series and you notice something like this in an earlier episode (which has already been released), then you can’t really do this. You either have to think of a creative way to work around or explain the plot hole [which can look kind of contrived] or find a way to use it to your advantage [eg: if a character acts out of character (compared to earlier parts of the story) or gets a detail of their own backstory wrong, then it could be evidence that they’re an impostor or something like that].

7) World-building and settings matter even more: Chances are, some locations may well appear quite often in your series and setting a series in the same place means that creating interesting settings (especially in more visual kinds of storytelling like comics) which convey a sense of a much larger world is even more important.

In fact, in many television series, key settings often almost actually pretty much become characters in their own right (literally in the case of the Tardis from “Doctor Who” or Moya in “Farscape”). The same is true for fiction/comics series too (a classic literary example is probably 221b Baker Street in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories).

8) The episodes should be a reasonably consistent length: This isn’t something which is as strict or fixed in fiction or comics which are published online as it often is in TV series and conventionally published stories/comics. But it’s something to bear in mind nonetheless. Each episode should at least be a vaguely similar length to the other episodes.


In conclusion, writing a series may not work for literally every type of story – but it’s definately something that might be worth trying – you might surprise yourself…

Review: “Viking Dead” by Toby Venables

This book is part of Abaddon Books’s excellent “Tomes of The Dead” collection of zombie novels. This collection contains some of the most original and innovative zombie fiction I’ve ever read and “Viking Dead” is no exception to this. It is also the only zombie story I’ve ever read which also includes vikings. Or rather it’s a story about vikings with lots of zombies in it. Needless to say, it is best read whilst listening to heavy metal (then again, I tend to listen to heavy metal when I read most novels…)

In short, the story follows a young boy called Atli who joins a group of vikings who arrive at his village shortly after it has been ransacked. Initially, the story is more of a standard kind of viking adventure story as the vikings travel around in their longship, trying to avoid their enemies and plan their next raid. However, things gradually start to go in a much more macabre direction…..

The really interesting thing about this novel is that, although it’s certainly as gruesome as any good zombie novel should be, it doesn’t always quite feel like a zombie novel. It might just be the fact that it’s set in 10th century Scandinavia rather than the present day, but it seemed more like a historical fantasy novel than a horror novel. This is probably due to the fact that the zombies are are presented as being supernatural in origin rather than the result of a zombie virus or anything like that.

This isn’t a bad thing though, since it makes the story seem a lot more like an adventure/thriller/fantasy novel in many ways – which is kind of a refreshing change from the more depressing and nihilistic atmosphere of many zombie stories. Not to mention that it’s a hell of a lot of fun to read too. Plus, obviously, the vikings are only armed with swords etc… and there isn’t even a gun in sight. So, when they battle the undead – they actually battle the undead, rather than just shooting at them from a distance. I don’t know, this just adds a lot more action and suspense to the story.

But, saying all of this, there are some genuinely disturbing parts of the novel which contain a certain kind of grim innovation which every good zombie novel should include. For example: one of the most notable things in the story is that not just humans can become undead. This is certainly nothing unusual in zombie-related things ever since “Resident Evil” introduced zombie dogs to the world in 1996. However, “Viking Dead” takes this a step further and even includes zombie ants. Yes, you heard me correctly, zombie ants.

Although this novel is narrated from a third-person perspective, it is presented entirely from the perspective of the vikings and everything in the novel is filtered through their particular perceptions of the world. This is done in a fairly subtle way and it really helps to immerse the reader in the world of the novel and it works a lot better than a more “neutral” kind of third-person narration would have done.

One example of this are the zombies themseleves, who are referred to as “draugr” throughout the story. According to Wikipedia, this is an old Norse word for ghosts/the undead and it just sounds really dramatic too (so dramatic in fact, that I even ended up using it as the title for the first episode of my “CRIT” comic series).

I’d really love to talk about the ending to “Viking Dead” in this review, but there’s really no way to do it without including major plot spoilers. All I’ll say is that you’ll probably end up re-reading the ending a couple of times out of sheer astonishment (and I can only think of about two or three other novels where I’ve ended up doing this).

All in all, it’s a really good novel and a very innovative take on the whole zombie genre too. If I had to give it a rating out of five, I’d probably give it a five.

DIY Worlds – The Advantages Of Making Your Own Settings

2013 Artwork World Sketch

One of the things I really love about writing stories and making comics is the sheer freedom which it gives when it comes to creating your own worlds. Yes, I mainly tell sci-fi and “low fantasy” stories (with the occasional horror story too) but creating your own worlds isn’t something which should be limited to just these two genres. In fact, when done properly, it can be acheieved in pretty much any story.

Yes, for some stories, setting them firmly in the real world or in a particular city or town is the best creative decision to make. It can give stories a sense of realism and believeability which can be essential in some genres, such as spy novels and thriller novels. There isn’t really a fixed rule about this and there are probably other advantages to using realistic, accurate real-world settings in your stories – but I’m here to argue the case for inventing your own worlds, as well as giving you some advice on how to do it.

So, why should you create your own settings and how do you do it?

1) It saves on research: Yes, I’m being cynical here – but it’s true. If you have a reasonably good travelling budget or want to spend a lot of time reading everything you can find about a particular location or spend quite a while travelling around it virtually using Google Street View to get a sense of the place (Once, when researching an unpublished novella I wrote in 2010 called “Ephemera”, I spent at least an hour going down pretty much the same rural road in North Carolina [near Raleigh] on Google Street View, since part of the story was set in America and I’ve never actually been there ), then research can be a good thing. However, it’s nowhere near as essential when you’re making up your own settings and this means that you will have more time, energy etc… to spend on actually writing your story.

This isn’t to say that you should do no research whatsoever. It just takes a lot of the pressure off when it comes to making a location which is similar to the real world and it means that you have more breathing space and don’t have to worry about making sure everywhere is exactly like the real world.

The trick to making up your own settings if you still want a story which is still mostly set in the real world without making some of your readers think “Well, that’s wrong! There isn’t a cathedral there! I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen it!” is to set your story in a fictional town or city within a real country or region or whatever. Readers with no knowledge of the area will probably either ignore it or assume that it’s fictional and readers who live there or who know the area will know that it’s obviously fictional, so they won’t feel cheated in any way.

This still means that you should probably do some research, but it allows you to research lots of places in a particular area and create somewhere which has the best/most interesting aspects of each one. Just make sure that your ficticious location doesn’t end up being a collection of cliches or stereotypes about a particular area…

2) You can have fun with the places you love (or hate): If you live somewhere which you really like (or somewhere you really hate) and have a good imagination, then you’ve probably thought things like “what if there was a network of secret underground tunnels behind that mysterious locked door on the side of the office building I walk past every day?”. Ok, in reality, it’s probably just a side entrance or it leads to a storage cupboard or something like that. I’m sure you probably prefer your own imaginings to the drearily dull reality of what’s actually there.

Well, if you’re creating your own settings, then there can be a network of hidden tunnels behind that door. There could be anything behind that door. The only limit is your imagination.

However, if you’re setting your story in a fictional version of somewhere you love or hate, then it’s usually a good idea to clearly signpost that it’s fictional – either by setting your story in a parallel universe, making your setting look obviously fictional, changing the building names or just not mentioning the name of the town/city itself.

Changing the names and some details is also important if any of the locations in your story are based on real shops, bars, offices etc… since there could possibly be trademark/defamation issues if your story shows a particular business in a bad or cynical way or in any way which the people who own it don’t really like.

3) You can ask “What if?”: This is probably more useful for sci-fi, fantasy and alternative history stories. But creating your own settings allows you to ask “what if?” a lot more than would be possible if you’re writing a more realistic kind of story. It’s probably been said before, but many stories (and literally every dystopic sci-fi story) have started when a writer or an artist thinks “what if?…”

This also adds an extra dimension of curiosity to your story. Since, if your “what if?” question is interesting enough – then your readers probably want to know the answer to this question too. And, guess what? Your story will tell them……..

4) You get to be omnipotent: Yes, it’s trite and melodramatic. But it’s true. Creating your own settings is probably the closest that anyone can ever get to being onmipotent. This can be a lot of fun.

5) It can be a sneaky way of writing fan fiction (which you can actually sell): You have to be careful with this one, but it’s probably the driving force behind at least a few imagined worlds. (Although I should probably point out that I’m not a lawyer and copyright laws may vary between countries…)

Copyright does not cover ideas and concepts, such as the idea of a grimy dystopic cyberpunk world or the concept of a machine which allows people to travel between parallel universes [eg: “Fringe”, “Charlie Jade” and “Sliders” all include this concept, but they’re all radically different TV shows]. Copyright only covers the particular way in which they are expressed (eg: place names, character names, the distinct appearence of a unique location etc…).

This means that if you’re a fan of a particular genre or a particular story, then you can write something close to fan fiction which can actually be published if you use your imagination. As long as all of the characters are your own and the world, although inspired by something else, is at least slightly different to it then you’re probably ok. The more different is it, or the more things it is inpired by, the less likely it is to cause problems.

The fact is that all writers, artists, directors, film-makers etc… do this to a certain extent anyway, whether consciously or unconsciously. Every creative person is “standing on the shoulders of giants” to some extent or another.

For example: the settings in Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” have inspired the settings of numerous sci-fi stories, comics, games and films (and “Blade Runner” has pretty much been a major influence on the aesthetic of the entire cyberpunk genre too).
But, if you watch “Blade Runner” (and you really should – it’s a brilliant film), it’s fairly clear that a lot of the settings and aesthetics of the film are inspired by old film noir movies from the 1930s-50s (eg: The fact that the Bradbury Building and the Ennis House in Los Angeles were used as settings when the film was being made. Also, locations like Leon’s apartment also have a very “film noir” kind of look to them too).

However, if your inspiration is too obvious or you’ve only changed a few small things (but enough to avoid copyright issues), then some readers might find it to be too derivative or unoriginal – TV Tropes has a whole article about this.

The best way to avoid being accused of this is to ensure that your world, whilst inspired by other fictional worlds, has it’s own distinctive atmosphere, backstory and style to it. To use a musical metaphor, think of it like covering a song by another band – if you make a cover of a song sound very similar to the original, then it’ll still be good but will be nothing special. However, if you add your own distinctive musical and singing style to it, then it becomes something very very different and even sometimes better than the original (for example: Listen to “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones and then listen to the cover version of it by The Sisters of Mercy.)

6) You get to make the rules: This is kind of like #4 on this list, but if you set your stories in a world which you have created, then you get to decide what is and isn’t possible. You get to decide what level of technology people can use and whether or not things like magic exist. The only thing with this is that once you’ve made the rules, you have to stick to them (or come up with a very good reason why you’re not) – otherwise your readers will feel cheated.

For example: If you are writing a steampunk novel where everyone still uses technology based on 19th century mechanics and engineering, then your main character can’t just pull out a mobile phone to contact someone in an emergency. Or if she does, then it better be one which uses technology which is consistent with the technology in the rest of the story [eg: a portable telegraph using a minature spark-gap transmitter which she can use to transmit morse code]. Likewise, she can’t cast magic spells – unless this has been mentioned earlier in the story [although I’ll probably write a longer article about foreshadowing at some point in the future].

And, there you have it – some advantages to creating your own settings. It’s really worth doing in most types of stories and I hope that this list has helped..

Review: “The Laertian Gamble (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)” by Robert Sheckley

(Well, I thought that I’d occasionally review books on this blog. They’ll probably be books which I’ve found interesting, inspirational, fun and/or have read recently. A fair number of them may well be “Star Trek” books too…)

It was all of the one-star reviews on Amazon which made me curious about this book. A novel which was “bad” enough to make pretty much everyone give it extremely bad reviews just sounded absolutely fascinating in a slightly strange way.

Eventually, out of morbid curiosity, I bought a copy. Could it really be that bad?

No. It’s brilliant!

One possible way to explain the low reviews for “The Laertian Gamble” is that it’s kind of like the Ferengi-based episodes of DS9, you either love or hate them. This is a fairly light-hearted book (about the closest comparison to it that I can think of are some of Peter David’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation” novels) with a storyline which is fairly outlandish, even by “Star Trek” standards.

If you go into this book expecting it to be a “serious” novel, then I can see why you might end up giving it one star. But if you go into it expecting to have fun, then you won’t be disappointed…

The story begins with Doctor Bashir playing the slot machines at Quark’s. O’Brien notices him and points out that he’s been gambling all night without even realising it . After Bashir leaves Quark’s, he soon ends up meeting a beautiful woman called Allura who is from a planet called Laertes. She’s eager to gamble, but has been barred from Quark’s due to her psychic abilities. So, she asks Bashir to gamble for her using her money. The only condition is that he must keep gambling until he either runs out of money or Quark’s goes bankrupt.

Quark, always the keen businessman, agrees to this and Bashir starts gambling. To everyone’s surprise, he just cannot seem to lose. However, whenever he wins, strange things begin to happen in various parts of the galaxy……

It’s hardly “War and Peace”, but it is a surprisingly fun (and funny) story too. The scenes which take place on Laertes also have a vaguely Golden Age sci-fi kind of feel to them too, which is very vaguely reminiscent of Harry Harrison or Philip K.Dick. It’s also the most eccentric “Star Trek” novel I’ve ever read too and, like a dream or an episode of “Doctor Who”, it has it’s own kind of curious internal logic which only really makes sense at the time.

Yes, some could say that this novel can be kind of cheesy and somewhat contrived sometimes… and it kind of is. But so are some of the episodes from every version of “Star Trek”. The fact that it doesn’t always take itself entirely seriously is part of what makes “Star Trek” so brilliant and unique. This book is definately part of this tradition.

Overall, if I had to give it a rating out of five, I’d probably give it three or four. It’s very readable and… well… just good fun!

CRIT Episode 7 – What Comes Before….

"CRIT Episode 7 - Cover" by C.A.Brown (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence)

“CRIT Episode 7 – Cover” by C.A.Brown (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence)

Well, I am very proud to announce episode seven of “CRIT” 🙂

[Edit: I’ve just fixed the broken link to my “CRIT” gallery, I’m not sure what mistake I made when I originally made the link. But I apologise to all of my readers who tried clicking on the original link]

I thought it’d be interesting to make a prequel episode, set before Suzy, Jake and Darius become members of Makerton-Riyadi’s “CRIT” unit.

I’m really not sure what this episode will be like at the moment, or even what the plot of it will be – but I’m eager to see how it will turn out….

I’m also not sure whether or not this episode will be updated quite as often as the previous episodes, since I’m also working on this blog at the moment too. But, as usual, I’ll probably upload at least one page a day (but hopefully/probably more).

Emotions and Creativity

2013 Artwork Emotions sketch

In Philip K.Dick’s excellent “Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep?”, there’s an absolutely fascinating gadget called the Penfield Mood Organ. It isn’t a major part of the story, the protagonist’s wife uses it a couple of times near the beginning of the book and that’s about it. But it’s a machine which can alter a person’s emotions. It isn’t really described in too much detail either – you just punch in a particular number and it changes your mood.

In typical Philip K.Dick fashion, the settings are truly strange – like “888” which is: ‘The desire to watch TV, no matter what’s on it’.

The Penfield Mood Organ is a truly amazing gadget. I want one!

The only problem is that it doesn’t exist.

Actually, I’m not telling the entire truth here. Which is basically a way of saying that I’m lying. Which, in this incredibly pointlessly circuitous fashion, is a way of saying that although we don’t have Penfield Mood Organs, we have got something very similar. In fact, throughout the history of humanity, we’ve had something similar.

No, I’m not talking about drugs, but about art and storytelling (and music too, but I’m not a musician – so I can’t really write that much about this subject…).

Emotions are one of the central driving forces behind creativty, for both the people who make things and the people who read/watch/play etc… things. I’m guessing that you probably fall into both of these groups, as any good writer/artist/musician/director/programmer/human being should do. The fact is that art and stories are about emotions.

This basic core of all forms of art is probably at it’s most obvious in horror, comedy and pornography. These three genres always find themseleves at the heart of pretty much every self-righteous moral panic in human history. These genres also exist purely to provoke strong emotions and, when they fail to do this, it’s usually extremely obvious. Plus, like fleeting emotions, they often have a very short shelf-life (I mean, does anyone actually find Shakespeare’s comedies laugh out loud funny these days?) and yet they are pretty much timeless too. In any time in human history, there will always be scary stories, funny stories and sexy stories.

Emotions are timeless, even if the way they are evoked isn’t.

Or, to give you some more mundane examples: When you go to see the latest multi-billion-dollar blockbuster superhero movie – you probably aren’t watching it to see what a film which cost millions per minute to make actually looks like, you’re probably watching it because you want to be thrilled and/or excited. When you pick up a Dan Brown novel, you probably aren’t carefully researching it to find out whether everything in it is historically/scientifically accurate (sorry to disappoint you, but it isn’t), but to enjoy the thrill of a good mystery. When you watch “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, you’re probably watching it to feel childhood nostalgia, to bask in a utopic future or because you are curious about what will happen in a particular episode – you probably aren’t watching it to look for continuity errors or to scruitinise the set design etc…

Art and stories are always about emotion.

So, how is any of this actually useful to me?

The best way to ensure that your audience and/or readers feels strong emotions when they look at your stuff is if it provokes these kinds of emotions in you when you’re creating it. This is one of several reasons why creating things can almost feel magical when it’s at it’s best. Likewise, I’ve always noticed that when I’ve written my worst stories or drawn a really crappy picture, it’s usually because I’m either not feeling emotional enough or I’m feeling the wrong emotion for whatever I’m creating.

Now, this doesn’t mean that all of your art/stories should be cathartic and/or melodramatic (although some of it can be), but that it should have feeling behind it. This works both ways, you can make art purely to change your own mood or you can make art to express a particular mood. But creating things should always be an emotional experience, even if it’s quite a subtle one.

The fact is, in order for your stories to evoke emotions in you – you either have to have a very vivid/strong imagination [which is both a blessing and a curse] or you have to write about topics you know will provoke emotions in you. Either way, when you put some emotion into your writing, it can work wonders. It can turn a mediocre story into a fantastic one. Just keep an open mind – regardless of whether you’re following your emotions or trying to point them in a particular direction, adding emotions to your story will take it in directions which you hadn’t previously thought of before and your stories/art will be much better as a result.

When you have an experience like writing a horror story and then stopping mid-sentence because you’re too terrified or disturbed to write any more of it – then you’re doing it properly!

Of course, this applies to other genres too and it’s probably slightly different for each genre – but, when you’re so immersed in your stories that they provoke very strong emotions, then the reader will be too.

Every other piece of advice about creativity basically comes down to the same thing – how to evoke emotions in the best possible way. For example, good characterisation is so important in stories because if the reader isn’t able to empathise with the characters, then the story will not provoke that many emotions (this is why quite a few horror movies and novels just aren’t that scary).

In the end, all art is about emotions. What kind of emotions are you trying to evoke in your art?

What Is The Soundtrack To Your Story? (and some pointers about song lyrics in fiction)

2013 Artwork Music writing sketch

It doesn’t matter if it’s a mixtape, an album, a playlist or even just a single song – finding the right songs to listen to when you’re writing (or before you start writing if you find music to be a distraction) can really work wonders for several reasons:

1) It can help you get into the right mood for writing – This is pretty self-explanatory, but it can also be useful on days when you aren’t really feeling that inspired too. If you’ve been writing for a while and you associate a particular song or a group of songs with your story, then it can help you to get back into the same frame of mind you were in on the days when you were feeling more creative. Hmm… Maybe I should have added this to my list of advice about writer’s block ?

2) It helps you to think cinematically – This might not apply to literally every writer, but if (like me) you tend to think of your stories in a fairly visual way – then having a soundtrack can make the writing process feel slightly more cinematic and help you to imagine the events of your story in a more dramatic way.

3) It can be useful as “bonus content” for fans – If you are trying to promote your story, then a list of songs which accompany your story might be a good thing to mention on your website or blog. Your readers might find this interesting and it has the added bonus of attracting readers who have never heard of you before, but like the same kind of music as you do.


What about quoting song lyrics in my story ?

I don’t know the exact details of this, but due to the stupid way that most copyright laws are set up – you can apparently sometimes end up getting ripped off charged surprising amounts of money to get permission to quote small portions of song lyrics in your stories or even get sued if you don’t get permission.

A quote which might be considered to be fair use/fair dealing in a non-fiction work probably won’t be in a fictional work. So, as a general rule for an unpublished writer, it isn’t a good idea to quote song lyrics in your stories.

However, if you’re submitting your work to a large publisher then this might not be as much of an issue, since they’re usually fairly well-equipped to deal with sorting out all of the various legal issues and paying the various fees/royalties for the lyrics in question.

However, there are a few ways of getting round this particular problem (although I should obviously point out that I’m not a lawyer):

1) Titles cannot be copyrighted: This is the easiest way to show a particular song in your story without actually quoting from it – just mention the title of the song (and the musician/band) in your story. If your readers doesn’t know the song in question, then they’ll either look it up for themselves or just skip over it and carry on reading the story.

If you don’t want your readers to skip over a particular song and if the song (as a whole) is absolutely critical to one part of your story, then it might be an idea to briefly describe the general style and tone of the song in your story.

For example: “When I walked into the goth club, the chorus of Bauhaus’s ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ echoed around the dancefloor like an oddly cheerful funeral lament. I clacked three pound coins onto the coffin-wood bar and asked for a snakebite and black. The music kept ticking and groaning behind me like a haunted grandfather clock.”

2) Ask the band for permission yourself: Unsigned bands may be happy to give you permission to quote their lyrics (it’s also free advertising for them too – free signed copies of your story or book for the band are probably a good idea though). Or if you’re friends with anyone in the band in question, then they may be happy for you to quote their lyrics in your story if you ask them.

Likewise, if a band has released any of their stuff under a Creative Commons licence, then you may or may not (it depends on the licence) need to ask permission to quote their lyrics. It’s probably worth asking and if it doesn’t work out, then see the previous point on this list.

3) Make up your own lyrics: This is probably easier if you’re more into writing poetry or have written lyrics before, but even if you haven’t then you don’t have to come up with a whole song – just a fictional band name/song title and a couple of lines from a song – just be sure to mention the genre and general atmosphere of the song (see #1 on this list).

The best example I’ve seen of this technique is in an absolutely excellent novel called “Lost Souls” by Poppy Z.Brite (the pen name of Billy Martin before he retired from writing).

Although I could probably dedicate several blog posts to this book and Martin’s other novels, I’ll just stick to pointing out that the song lyrics in this book (especially to “World” – seriously, I’d love to hear an actual recording of this song!) are probably better than the lyrics of many actual songs and it is the perfect example of invented song lyrics in fiction.

However, making your band name/song lyrics sound believeable can take practice and it can be very easy to come up with an obviously cheesy band name or obviously “fake” lyrics.

One thing which might help with this is to stick to writing lyrics in a genre of music which you are very familiar with (eg: if you’re really into heavy metal \m/ , then then coming up with believable pop music lyrics in your story may be more difficult than coming up with believeable metal lyrics. Then again, this is probably a bad example. After all, there are plenty of wonderfully cheesy songs in both genres…)

How “CRIT” Began…

I’ve always liked “making of” features on DVDs, they’re essential to any artist or writer or film-maker. Or maybe they’re essential for any artist, writer or film-maker? Or maybe both? Anyway, earlier today, it seemed like a cool idea to write an article about how my “CRIT” comic and fiction series came into being. Every creative project starts out differently and has it’s own story behind it and I thought that it may be interesting to show “the story behind the story”, so to speak….

"Overpass" by C.A.Brown - The drawing which would eventually become "CRIT" (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

“Overpass” by C.A.Brown – The drawing which would eventually become “CRIT” (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

It all started one night in late November 2012 with a drawing called “Overpass”. I’d been watching the music video for “This Corrosion” by The Sisters of Mercy on Youtube and I really loved this atmosphere of this video. In fact, it kind of put me into a 1980s kind of mood and it made me think of “Blade Runner” too – so I decided to draw something which captured this exact feeling and ended up with a drawing called “Overpass”.

Later on that night, I started daydreaming about a TV series I’d love to make if I could. My original idea for it was: ” ‘Blade Runner’ + ‘NCIS’ + Goths = Win! “, to quote my notes at the time.

I spent a while daydreaming about it and even I made a few notes at the time about what would be the perfect opening scene for this TV show:


“We start with a panorama of a grimy industrial futuristic city. The buildings are complex. The sky is orange. There is dreamy synthesiser music in the background. As the camera pans across, it finally rests on a handsome man with blond/brown hair and a blue jacket leaning on some railings on the top of a building and looking dreamily into the distance. Slowly, the camera moves closer to his face, he is clearly thinking of something. When it [the camera] gets to a close-up, it lingers there. The music does not change.”

“After about ten seconds, it begins to zoom out/move away. As it does, a red spot suddenly appears in the centre of the man’s forehead and a slow motion crimson starburst of blood explodes from the back of his head. The music does not change. He begins to fall, muffled screams can be heard in the distance as the screen fades to black and the opening credits roll”


At the time, I thought it would probably fall into the category of “good ideas I’ll never follow up on”. A while later that night, I did another 1980s-style cyberpunk drawing called “System Core” which would feature a character who would later become Darius:

"System Core" by C.A.Brown (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

“System Core” by C.A.Brown (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

The thing was, I just couldn’t get this idea for a TV series out of my mind and, the next night, I drew a storyboard illustration of the opening scene I’d described in my notes (although it isn’t particularly gruesome and is in black and white too, I decided to label it as “mature content” on DA since it’s basically a comic about someone being shot in the head).

Later that night, I did another drawing based on the same idea called “A Heartless Crime” – it was kind of different to my original idea for the TV series and it kind of looked more like a scene from a more conventional cyberpunk comic/TV show/videogame than the gothic kind of TV show I’d originally envisaged. I decided to include the character from “Overpass” (who would later become Suzy) as well as a random goth guy (who would later become Jake). The thing was, this drawing seemed to have more of a story behind it than most of my drawings do and it seemed intriguing enough to make me want to draw more things related to this idea.

"A Heartless Crime (Concept Art)" By C.A.Brown  (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

“A Heartless Crime (Concept Art)” By C.A.Brown (released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence)

The fact was, like with any good idea, I only had the vaguest and haziest idea about it when I started. This may not be the case with every writer or artist, but for me, finding a good creative idea can be like playing a 1990s stragegy game. When you start out, you can see a small part of the entire map, but most of it is covered by fog or darkness and the map only reveals itself gradually when you explore more and more of it.

I had a general sense of some things, like what the world of this TV series would look like and what the main characters looked like, but I had no clue what their names were, what the backstory behind the series was or what it would even be called. But, driven by curiosity, I spent the next couple of weeks drawing lots of “concept art” (this was also kind of how “Damania” got started in spring 2011 and summer/autumn 2012 too) which kind of helped me to look at possible storylines for “episodes” of the show as well as work out what the ‘world’ of this untitled series would look like. I was fascinated. I could even vaguely imagine what the DVD boxset for the first series would look like.

Somewhere along the way, I also decided to incorporate the two mega-corporations (Dextek and SYL-Corp) from an unpublished novella called “Ephemera” that I’d written in 2010 and then I decided to add a third mega-corporation which the main characters would work for. I eventually decided to call this corporation “Makerton – Riyadi” and it was kind of inspired by the “Weyland – Yutani Corporation” from The “Aliens” movies.

If anyone is interested, all of my concept art can be found here – although it may contain spoilers for possible future “CRIT” storylines (you can see the beginnings of episodes 1,2,3 & 6 in this gallery). The only new addition to this gallery since I started making the comic is a short animation showing some of the backstory to the series.

However, I started to get quite frustrated about the fact that I didn’t really have the knowledge or money to make a TV series and, by the time that the gold pencil I’d been using to colour in a lot of the backgrounds was only about an inch long, I felt completely worn out. I wanted to draw other things. So, I abandoned the idea and consigned it to the category of ‘great ideas which will never get made’ .

Then I got back into drawing comics again.

It started with “Damania” and then “Anachrony” and by about mid-December 2012, I thought that I’d have time to make another comic before Christmas. Of course, my untitled sci-fi series idea came into my mind and I looked at my concept art again and facepalmed a couple of times. It had been a comic all along!

But, I still couldn’t think of a title for it. Eventually, distraught, I decided to distract myself with sarcastic reviews of old videogames on Youtube. Anyway, when I was watching a review of “Dino Crisis 2” (which I’d played in early-mid 2010), the reviewer made a sarcastic comment about the special forces unit which one of the main characters belonged to (called “T.R.A.T” ). For some reason, this name stuck in my mind and it wasn’t long before my mind had come up with something which sounded similar to it.

And, after that, the rest is history….

2012 CRIT Episode 1 - Cover small