Today’s “Damania” Comics (30th November 2013)

Well, I made two “Damania” comics today and I really like how they both turned out, although they both ended up being computer/internet-themed comics for some random reason.

Since “Damania – Someone Needs To Make This” contains characters and settings from an old computer game, only “Damania – Copypasta” will be released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Damania - Someone Needs To Make This" By C. A. Brown

“Damania – Someone Needs To Make This” By C. A. Brown

As the title suggests, “Damania – Someone Needs To Make This” is about a “Doom” mod/TC which someone really needs to make! If I actually knew how to use the “Doom” engine and didn’t pretty much have an allergy to anything even vaguely resembling programming, then this is probably one of the things that I would make…

In case you’re totally puzzled by this comic, “Duke Nukem II” was a platform game from the 1990s which was the second game to ever feature Duke Nukem (and the first game to spell his name correctly). Along with the “Commander Keen” games, I have a lot of fond memories of playing this game when I was a kid and it would be so cool if someone was able to make a version of it that works on the “Doom” engine.

Yes, there was “Duke Nukem 3D” a few years later, but the atmosphere and style of that game is surprisingly different to the first two “Duke Nukem” games and it’d be interesting to see what “Duke Nukem II” would actually look like if it was an old-school 90s FPS game.

"Damania - Copypasta" By C. A. Brown

“Damania – Copypasta” By C. A. Brown

The title of “Damania – Copypasta” is something of a misnomer since the comic is actually about those random joke e-mails which almost always seem to circulate around the internet. Seriously, who writes these?

Reverse-Engineering Your Favourite Art, Novels, Comics etc….

2013 Artwork Reverse Engineering Sketch

Well, I was re-watching a few of the guitar videos I mentioned a couple of days ago and I was starting to wonder how Eric Calderone was able to work out how to play heavy metal cover versions all of these different songs so easily. From my limited experience of playing the guitar when I was a teenager, I knew that you can find guitar tabs for most things on the internet fairly easily.

But, then I realised that some of the stuff he was playing wasn’t originally written for the guitar and it made me realise that he was probably playing by ear.

In other words, he knew enough about music and how to play the guitar that he was able to reverse-engineer everything he heard. He’s (probably) able to listen to a song and, within a relatively short amount of time, know how to play it. How cool is that?

I’ve mentioned this in a few articles before, but one of the best ways to learn new techniques and to improve either your art and/or writing skills is to reverse-engineer the things which you really like. If you’ve never heard this term before, “Reverse-engineering” just refers to taking something apart in order to see how it works and/or to modify it in some way or another.

However, unlike people who are trying to reverse-engineer a piece of electronics or a computer program, we creative people have one major advantage – everything is already in front of us. There’s no hidden code or complex circuits in the background – pretty much everything that makes what we’re reading or looking at so great is right in front of us.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that the goal of reverse-engineering things isn’t just to learn how to copy things accurately. Copying is a useful skill and an excellent form of practice – but if you’re going to publish anything you’ve made that is just a direct copy of something else (without a substantial amount of changes and your own imagination added to it at the very least), then you might run into copyright problems.

Unfortunately, the concept of a “cover version” doesn’t seem to have crossed over that much from music into other genres of creativity (about the closest thing to it is probably fan art and fan fiction).

No, the goal of reverse-engineering is to learn how to make the things that your favourite writers and artists make. And, once you’ve learnt how they do the things that they do, you can use these techniques to create unique and imaginative works of your own.

So, how do you do it?

1) Immersion:
If you’re going to reverse-engineer something, then you need to know a lot about it. In other words, try to look at everything you can that the artist or writer has made. Look at it closely until you’ve practically memorised it. This is why it’s usually only a good idea to reverse-engineer the things that you absolutely love because you’ll probably already be fascinated by them and immersed in them.

Plus, if it’s something you really love, then you’re probably going to pick up a few things subconsciously anyway, whether you want to or not. I mean, after I read William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” and Warren Ellis’ “Crooked Little Vein”, most of my fiction began to take on a slightly more jargon-laden, streetwise, geeky and irreverent tone.

Although these two novels, along with a few books by Billy Martin/Poppy Z. Brite, were probably the main influences on my narrative voice in any stories I write from a first-person perspective, I didn’t really consciously set out to sound like them. It just kind of happened because I loved their stories so much.

Likewise, there have been a whole range of influences on my art style over the years too, although the thing which helped me to develop the very basics of what would eventually become my art style was when I watched a short segment on TV about the making of an animated show that I liked when I was a kid (it was either “Recess” or “Pepper Ann” on CITV, if I remember rightly). This impressed me and inspired me so much that I ended up drawing a few small cartoons and, lo and behold, the beginnings of my art style started to emerge….

A page from one of my very early comics from about the late 1990s.  It's hardly the most sophisticated thing I've ever written LOL!!!

A page from one of my very early comics from about the late 1990s. It’s hardly the most sophisticated thing I’ve ever written LOL!!!

2) General knowledge: One of the reasons why some musicians can play new things by ear (rather than from sheet music or tablature) is because they have a good knowledge of the mechanics of music in general – in other words, they can tell exactly which note or chord is being played just by listening to it and they have the knowledge to find that note on their instrument.

Well, the same is true for art and writing. If you have a good general knowledge of the mechanics of art and/or writing, then you’ll be a lot more able to spot the techniques which your favourite artist and/or writer has used.

3) Copying:
If you want to learn how an artist drew or painted something, then the best way is to just choose a small part of one of their pictures and to copy it a few times until you can re-create it accurately on your own. Yes, you might end up using a slightly different process when you create it, but the result will be the same. If you can’t copy things by eye (and this is a seriously useful skill which you should practice until you learn it), then try to trace them instead.

Not only that, you’ll now have the physical memory of the actions needed to create it too. All you’ve got to do now is to work out how to use that technique to create something different.

Likewise, if you want to sound like a particular author, then try writing something using their narrative voice. It will never be an exact copy (unless you literally copy what they’ve written) but, with enough practice, it’ll probably sound fairly close to their narrative voice.

Copying narrative voices is slightly complicated though, since you will inevitably create your own version of it rather than an exact copy for the simple reason that your mind, experiences and thought processes will inevitably be slightly different to those of the person you’re trying to copy.

But, with both of these things, just copy until you know how to do it. Then use that knowledge to create new things.

4) Research: Usually most artists and writers like to talk about what they do. If an artist or writer is at least vaguely famous, then there are probably interviews with them somewhere on the internet which can provide you with a few useful tips about how they made the things that they made. Even if they’re not famous, then they’ll probably blog about what they do or make Youtube videos about it or whatever. I don’t know, there’s just something satisfying about explaining how you make things.

So, if you want to learn how an artist or writer that you like makes things, then do a bit of online research and you’ll find out a lot. This is especially useful for artists who create art digitally, since knowing what programs and tools they used just from looking at their art can be slightly difficult from just glancing at it.

For example, in order to give my art it’s distinctive “vivid” look – I usually scan it into my computer and edit it in MS Paint (since there’s a fair amount of dust in my scanner and it’s kind of impractical to clean it). After this, I copy it into my absolutely ancient version of Paint Shop Pro – version 6.00 from 1999, to be precise. After this, I crop the image and add a “blur” filter to it.

Once I’ve done this, I usually adjust the brightness and contrast quite heavily. I don’t use the same levels for each drawing (although -45 to -60 brightness and +74 contrast works fairly well a lot of the time) but I usually keep the brightness fairly low and the contrast fairly high until my art looks “vivid” rather than distorted, over-saturated etc….

If anyone is curious, I ended up using this technique because my scanner has a habit of just making everything look slightly pale and kind of “flat” if I just scan it in without editing it. In fact, you can actually see this in some of my earlier drawings, like this one from 2011:

"Pathway" By C. A. Brown (2011)

“Pathway” By C. A. Brown (2011)


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂 Just remember that the whole point of reverse-engineering things is to learn how people do things rather than just learning how to copy things.

How To Draw A Cigar

Well, for today’s instalment of my “How to Draw” series I thought that I’d show you how to draw a cigar.

Unfortunately, the cigar band in this guide isn’t drawn that well [the two sides of it should be curved slightly], although it’s an obviously an optional part of a cigar, so you don’t have to draw it.

This image is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

This image is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

Today’s Art (29th November 2013)

Well,I was kind of in the mood for sci-fi/fantasy art (with extremely generic titles, since I’m kind of tired at the moment) when I drew today’s drawings….

As usual, these two drawings are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Enchanted Quest" By C. A. Brown

“Enchanted Quest” By C. A. Brown

Enchanted Quest” was originally just going to be a fairly “ordinary” kind of drawing, but I was watching a review of an old fantasy game on Youtube ( God knows why, I’m not really that interested in fantasy unless it’s combined with horror or something like that) and, well, this drawing just ended up being a fantasy-themed drawing.

"Station Mission" By C. A. Brown

“Station Mission” By C. A. Brown

Station Mission” was originally going to be an action/spy-themed drawing, but it ended up turning into a cheesy 1980s sci-fi drawing instead for some random reason.

Review: “Doom 3” (Computer Game)

I’m a massive fan of the first two “Doom” games and, when I found a second-hand copy of this game for about four quid in a charity shop about seven years ago, it didn’t take me long to decided whether to buy it or not. Since then I’ve completed it twice and I’m astonished that I haven’t reviewed it yet. I should probably point out that this review is of the original game rather than the modern “BFG Edition” of the game.

“Doom 3” is an sci-fi/horror FPS game which follows a space marine who has recently been posted to a Union Aerospace Corporation research facility on Mars. Needless to say, some of the research which is going on in this facility isn’t entirely ethical or benevolent and it isn’t long before mysterious evil creatures begin to attack the facility. As one of the few survivors, you have to fight through the facility and find a way to stop these creatures…..

One of the first things about this game is that it has a lot more of a story than the previous two “Doom” games had. Throughout the game, you carry a PDA which can be used to receive messages and read electronic documents and listen to recordings. Many of these messages and recordings give you a lot of backstory and help you to feel that you’re walking through a place where people lived and worked rather than just another generic futuristic building. In addition to this, if you ignore most of these messages, then you’ll miss out on numerous caches of ammunition (which can only be unlocked with codes hidden in the PDA messages) and you won’t be able to get past a couple of parts of the game either.

The fact that the PDA is an integral part of the game works surprisingly well due to the high quality of the writing and voice-acting in this game. Plus, in many ways, using the PDA is an updated (and far less contrived) version of having to find keycards in every level of the first two “Doom” games. Not only that, there’s also a fair amount of humour in some of the PDA messages too – which is a surprising, and very welcome, addition to a “Doom” game.

In addition to this, you’ll also encounter NPCs throughout the game too. Yes, you can’t really have a proper conversation with them, but this adds a lot of realism to the game (compared to the first two games where you were literally just a lone space marine up against hordes of demons and monsters).

Talking of the first two games, there are a surprising number of references to these games in “Doom 3”. You can find an arcade machine early in the game which is a parody of the original games. Many of the enemies are also based on enemies from the first two games and so are many of the weapons that you can find too. So, if you’re a fan of the first two games, then you’ll still recognise quite a few things here. But, if you’re new to the franchise, then you probably won’t notice most of this stuff (and you certainly don’t need to know anything about the previous games in order to enjoy this game).

But, for all of the wonderful old things in this game, there are plenty of wonderful new things too. Most of all, “Doom 3” comes close to being genuinely scary. Yes, it’s hardly a “Silent Hill” game, but it’s filled with the kind of darkness and horror which the original games could only hint at due to the limitations of computers in the 1990s.

Many of the locations are extremely gloomy and atmospheric, occasionally monsters will jump out at you and there’s even the occasional creepy scripted sequence in the game (such as when you look in a mirror in one of the bathrooms). One of the interesting things about “Doom 3” is that the game mostly takes place in the same location. Although this means that there is a lot less variety than there was in the original games, the settings in “Doom 3” never really get monotonous or boring. They’re just a bit more realistic and understated.

Since this is a “Doom” game, expect a reasonable amount of blood and guts too. However, this never really seems particularly gratuitous in the context of the game and it’s pretty obvious that it’s there because it’s a horror game rather than just for shock value. Yes, along with the surprisingly detailed storyline, complex settings and NPCs it’s very clear that the “Doom” games have grown up considerably since they first appeared in the 1990s.

As for the gameplay, it’s fairly standard old-school FPS gameplay. There’s no regenerative health, limits on the number of weapons you can carry, linear levels, vehicle-based levels, checkpoints or any of that modern rubbish. ID Software pretty much invented this style of gameplay (albeit in “Wolfenstein 3D” rather than in “Doom”) and it’s good to see it in a relatively modern game.

Yes, I can be a grumpy old traditionalist when it comes to FPS gameplay. If you’re one too, then you will love “Doom 3”. If you aren’t, then you will probably become one after playing “Doom 3”.

One interesting feature in “Doom 3” (which was apparently removed in the modern “BFG Edition” of the game) is the fact that you can’t use your flashlight when you’re carrying a weapon. Since a lot of the locations in this game are fairly gloomy and filled with monsters, this adds a surprising amount of suspense and tension to the game and it was a risky, but worthwhile, creative decision on the part of ID Software.

All in all, “Doom 3” is an absolutely excellent game and a worthy successor to the previous “Doom” games.

As I said earlier, “Doom” has grown up since the 90s and this game is surprisingly complex and atmospheric, but it still retains all of the things which made the first two games such great fun to play.

Now, if only ID Software would hurry up and start making “Doom 4″….

If you want more after you’ve finished this game, then there’s the “Resurrection Of Evil” add-on pack. This gives you a couple of new weapons (including the super shotgun from “Doom II” and a weapon which is suspiciously similar to the gravity gun from “Half Life 2”) and a fair number of new levels too. Best of all, “Resurrection Of Evil” is a proper old-school add-on pack (which you can actually buy on a DVD) rather than a modern piece of “DLC”.

And, once you’ve played “Resurrection of Evil”, there’s always “Quake 4” too….

If I had to give “Doom 3” a rating out of five, then it would get a six.

Today’s Art (28th November 2013)

Despite yet another case of artist’s block, I ended up making two drawings for today and I’m really proud of both of them. Interestingly, I ended up using inverted colours/negative image effects a lot more than usual too.

As usual, these two drawings are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Impending Idea" By C. A. Brown

“Impending Idea” By C. A. Brown

Impending Idea” was originally going to be a fantasy/horror drawing about a portal to another dimension. But, fairly soon after I started drawing it, I decided to go in a slightly more gothic and inspirational kind of direction instead.

"Ricky And Jo - My First Characters" By C. A. Brown

“Ricky And Jo – My First Characters” By C. A. Brown

As the title suggests, “Ricky And Jo – My First Characters” is a modern drawing of the first two cartoon characters (and their pet dog) that I ever came up with.

The reason that I ended up re-drawing Ricky and Jo was because I recently found one of the comics I drew when I was a kid when I was looking for an example of my very early art to use in an article which will be posted on here on the 30th.

Although, knowing the rather puerile humour in my early comics, the mushroom cloud in the background is probably the result of their pet dog eating some chilli con carne a few hours earlier LOL!!!!!

Being “In The Zone” – Blessing Or Reflection?

2013 Artwork The Zone Sketch

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I was randomly looking at music videos on Youtube when I stumbled across the Youtube channel of a guy called Eric Calderone, who is probably one of the best guitarists that I’ve ever heard.

Seriously, he can turn almost any song in any genre into an absolutely amazing piece of heavy metal music. Even though his videos just show him playing the guitar, they are also somehow amazingly fun to watch too.

At first, I thought that this was because some part of my subconscious mind saw these videos as a chance to vicariously live out my old teenage fantasy of becoming a guitarist in a metal band (I learnt how to play a few powerchords and a few parts of various songs, but that was about it).

It took me a couple of seconds to realise that the real reason why Eric Calderone’s videos are so fun to watch is because he’s grinning with elation in almost all of them.

If you want an example of what creativity should look like and what it should feel like, then check out his videos.

Anyway, watching these videos made me think about creativity in general and about what most writers and artists refer to as a “creative flow”, “being on fire” or “being in the zone”. If you want to be a bit more esoteric and new-agey then it can also be called “being in the vortex” too.

Whatever you want to call it, there’s a certain feeling which comes with the best kind of creativity. There’s a certain feeling that comes with being inspired and creating something amazing. There’s a certain feeling which comes with immersing yourself in whatever you are creating. If you’ve ever experienced it, then you probably know what I’m talking about here.

But, I’ve written about all of this before, so I won’t go into too much detail about it again.

However, there was one other thing which I realised when I watched the videos of Eric Calderone playing the guitar – he knew how cool his music sounded. Honestly, you can’t play guitar with an expression like that if you don’t know that you’re playing something amazing. Anyway, this made me think about “being in the zone” in a slightly different way to how many people think about it.

Maybe “being in the zone” isn’t just a lucky accident?

Maybe “being in the zone” isn’t just some strange and mysterious blessing which is occasionally bestowed upon artists, writers, musicians etc… seemingly at random ?

Maybe “being in the zone” is a sign that you’re producing something amazing?

If you think of “being in the zone” as a reflection of the quality of what you are creating rather than some kind of mysterious blessing or piece of good luck, then it makes a lot more sense.

Many of the best stories, songs and works of art are honest. They’re a reflection of the imagination, personality, soul and/or emotions of the person who created them.

And, when you’re creating something which honestly reflects what you feel is amazing and/or something which reflects some part of yourself honestly, then it is going to feel amazing. After all, not only are you creating it, you’re also the first person to see, read or hear it too.

In other words – you are also part of the audience too.

So, being “in the zone” is a reflection of the feelings that at least some of your audience will probably feel when they encounter what you’re creating. If it’s something great, then they’re going to want more of it. They’re going to be fascinated by it. They’re going to focus on it almost obsessively. I’m sure you get the idea…

If you think about “being in the zone” in this way, then you’re probably going to find yourself in that magical “zone” a lot more often than if you just see it as a rare and lucky blessing.


Good luck 🙂

Today’s “Damania” Comics (27th November 2013)

Well, I made two “Damania” comics for today, but I was in kind of a cynical mood and this is probably reflected somewhat in both of these comics….

As usual, these two comics are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Damania - Christmas Adverts" By C. A. Brown

“Damania – Christmas Adverts” By C. A. Brown

I made “Damania – Christmas Adverts” a little under two weeks ago. Enough said.

"Damania - The Tipper Sticker" By C. A. Brown

“Damania – The Tipper Sticker” By C. A. Brown

Damania – The Tipper Sticker” was kind of inspired by the fact that (in Britain at least) we seem to be going through yet another 1950s/1980s -style moral panic about music and music videos.

The lastest thing seems to be that student unions in some universities are banning a pop song by Robin Thicke. Yes, “Blurred Lines” may be four minutes of obnoxious bragging and posturing. Yes, the lyrics can be interpreted in a rather creepy way too (and the narrator in this song certainly sounds like a pretty dodgy kind of guy). Yes, this song was probably written to generate publicity and money controversy. Yes, it probably isn’t worth listening to. Yes, it will probably be forgotten in a couple of years’ time.

But, despite all of this, I’m still shocked that “liberal” university students are acting in such a fundamentally conservative manner by literally banning it.

*sigh* This country is definitely up a creek without a paddle when liberals also want to censor things too…

Anyway, these ridiculous PMRC “parental advisory” stickers were the result of the last huge moral panic about music (and not even in Britain too, but we still got these pointless stickers too) and I dread to think what the result of our current moral panic will be…

(As I said earler, I was in a fairly cynical mood when I made these comics….)