Traditions. Usually, these tend to get a bad reputation as something boring and old. Sometimes this can be for a good reason, but when it comes to creative things, I’d argue that traditions can often be a great thing. So much so that people will often continue them completely of their own choice. Hell, sometimes people will even start them.
Once again, although this will be an article about making art (and writing fiction/ making comics too), this article was inspired by something computer game-related. And, yes, it is relevant to what I’ll be talking about (although not in the way you might expect). Still, if you don’t want to read about computer games, feel free to skip the next four paragraphs.
A few minutes before I started writing, I was looking at random things about interesting levels for the original “Doom“. As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m a major fan of the old “Doom” games and I usually try to review at least one fan-made level per month here.
Without repeating myself too much, there are a lot of reasons why 1990s FPS games are better than modern mega-budget ones. One of the many reasons for this is the complex, non-linear level design in a lot of these old games. Anyway, I suddenly remembered something really obvious that I’d forgotten about again – these kinds of levels are still being made! In 2016!
I knew this already, but I kept forgetting about it. Why? Because they weren’t “official” levels. They were fan-made levels that were made for fun by people who admired these games so much that they actually wanted to carry on the tradition of good level design. 1990s-style FPS games haven’t faded into obscurity, they’ve just turned into an “unofficial” fan tradition.
Yes, the fans don’t have the resources to create entirely new games, but they’ll often do the next best thing. There are, for example, many modifications for “Doom” that change so many things about the game (eg: weapons, graphics, monsters etc…) that they may as well be new games.
But what does any of this have to do with art, fiction and/or comics?
Now, you’re probably expecting me to start talking about “fan art”, “fan comics” and “fan fiction”. But, I’m not going to – at least not in the modern interpretation of these terms. This is because I’d argue that a creative tradition is much larger than just one thing. Yes, fan traditions might be started by one or two things, but they often turn into something much larger.
In fact, I’d argue that a true fan tradition begins when people start creating new and “original” things that have been inspired by something else. Whilst, with computer games, ordinary people only usually have the resources to modify existing games – we don’t have this limitation with more traditional mediums like art, fiction and comics.
Yes, a lot of people enjoy making fan fiction and fan art (and fan art can indeed be fun to make) but, unlike game modders, we aren’t limited to just extending existing pre-made things.
No, a fan tradition gets started when people look at what made something great and then try to create something totally new that includes these elements. They create something new that is different from, but reminiscent of, something they consider to be great.
They don’t do this because they’re too lazy to think of “100% original” ideas, they do it because the only way they can create things that they can truly love is by taking everything that made their favourite things great and trying to improve on it.
This is, incidentally, the foundation of all creativity. Even the greatest and most “original” works of art and fiction in world history have all been inspired by something else. Although the very best things are inspired by a mixture of different things, they still often have a main inspiration of some kind.
The reason for this is fairly simple. We all want to see more of our favourite things. However, with most great things, they either only exist for a short period of time or there are only a few examples of them. As such, it is up to us to make new things that are in the same tradition as the things we love.
For example, I’m a major fan of the movie “Blade Runner” and, by extension, I’m a fan of 1980s/90s cyberpunk. However, the mainstream science fiction genre has unfortunately moved away from this kind of thing.
So, whenever I make science fiction art, I’ll usually try to continue the tradition of 1980s/90s sci-fi by making new and “original” pieces of art that were inspired by things like “Blade Runner”, William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, “The Matrix” etc… like this:
This isn’t modern “fan art” that is explicitly based on something else. Yes, it’s reminiscent of two or three pre-existing things, but it’s part of the tradition that they started. It contains general elements from other things (eg: rain, billboard adverts, flying cars, leather trenchcoats, machines etc…) and even some subtle references to pre-existing things, but it’s not just a copy of something else. It’s part of a tradition.
Going back to games yet again, a great example of all of this can be seen by games companies in the 1990s. “Doom” was such an inspirational game that it prompted other companies to start making original FPS games. These games had totally different storylines, characters, programming, weapons etc.. to “Doom” but, for a few years, they were apparently referred to as “Doom clones”.
Eventually, the term “doom clone” was replaced with “first-person shooter”. Yes, this is how genres get started. It’s all because of fandom and traditions.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂