Why Fan Art Matters – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Why fan art matters

Well, although I don’t really make that much fan art myself and often prefer to just be inspired by something (rather than re-create it), I thought that I’d talk about why fan art is such an important genre of art.

One of the things that always surprises me when I look at artists’ galleries on the internet is how much fan art both well-known and lesser-known artists make. For quite a while, I used to secretly think that this was because these artists “lacked imagination” or something foolish like that.

But, although fan art isn’t exactly “original art”, it contains more originality and imagination than you might think. The first reason for this is that although all of the characters and settings used in fan art have been made by someone else, there are still a lot of creative decisions that go into how to represent these things in a new and interesting way.

A piece of fan art is kind of like a cover version of a famous song. A good cover version will not only be as good as the original song, but it’ll also make enough changes in order to set itself apart from the original. Yes, it isn’t a “new” song, but it’s a creatively different version of a pre-existing song. For example, Jimi Hendrix didn’t write “All Along The Watchtower”, but his famous cover version of the song is almost a totally different song to Bob Dylan’s original.

Fan art is pretty much the same thing. An artist can represent familiar characters using a totally different art style, they can give mundane scenes from a film an interesting colour scheme, they can make fun of things, they can render unrealistic things in a realistic way (or vice versa) etc…

In addition to this, fan art is also a way for artists to participate in our surrounding culture. This is something that is integral to making art and it’s something that has been a part of human creativity ever since the first cave people picked up sticks and started scrawling pictures of their hunting expeditions on the walls of their caves. This is something that also goes back to the time of Shakespeare – given that many of his plays were either new versions of pre-existing stories and/or based on historical events.

By making art based on contemporary popular culture, artists are able to make a statement about the surrounding culture. They’re able to show their approval or disapproval for the popular stories we all watch, read, play or listen to. They’re able to give their own perspective on our surrounding culture (eg: by making art that shows what a popular film would be like if a few things were different, by parodying things that are taken too seriously etc…). Fan art is a way for artists to interact directly with our culture.

This instinct is as old as humanity itself. One of the reasons why fan art is often seen as a “lesser” form of art is probably to do with the relatively recent invention of copyright rules.

Back in the really old days, no-one really “owned” stories, plays, songs etc… Everyone was free to interpret and re-interpret them in their own unique way. But, with the invention of the printing press and other such things, individual people can technically have monopolies on important parts of our culture… Even after they’ve died!

Of course, fan art is something of an interesting grey area (in practice, if not in theory) when it comes to copyright.

Provided that your fan art isn’t obscene or offered for commercial sale, then you probably don’t have to worry about getting an ominous knock on the door. Most major media companies tolerate respectful fan art for the simple reasons that fan art can serve as free advertising and because attacking their most dedicated fans is bad for business. Likewise, mocking or disrespectful fan art is sometimes protected by copyright exemptions in some parts of the world (eg: the EU and the US) that protect people’s right to make parodies.

But, because of the principles of modern copyright law, fan art is often seen as a lesser form of art. Even though it is just a modern extension of a creative tradition that is older than the written word.

In addition to this, fan art is an interesting form of art because it forces artists to focus on the process of making art. When you’re making an “original” painting or drawing, you have to think of a “new” idea (that is probably inspired by, but different to, something else). This can sometimes take a lot of additional thought, which can sometimes mean that the actual painting or drawing can be something of an afterthought.

By basing your art on something that has already been created, you are free to focus all of your attention on the actual art itself. Not only can this be extremely relaxing, but it can also lead to higher-quality art too. It’s kind of like making a still life painting – yes, you still have to use artistic licence (and make creative decisions) but the quality is often a lot higher since you have something pre-made that you can base your artwork on.

Of course, there are lots of other reasons why fan art matters, but these were just a few of them.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Today’s Art (26th November 2016)

Well, I was still in the mood for making limited palette sci-fi art when I made today’s painting. But, due to a lot of mistakes (mostly with the original palette), this painting ended up requiring a ridiculous amount of digital editing after I scanned it.

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

"Data Cascade" By C. A. Brown

“Data Cascade” By C. A. Brown

Review: “eXistenZ” (Film)

2016 Artwork Existenz review

Well, it’s been ages since I last reviewed a film, so I thought that I’d re-watch an interesting cyberpunk movie that I haven’t seen in years. I am, of course, talking about David Cronenburg’s “eXistenZ“.

I remember seeing this film on TV when I was about fourteen or fifteen and being absolutely amazed by it. Sometime later, I got a second-hand copy of it on DVD but never got round to rewatching it until shortly before writing this article.

I should probably point out that the UK DVD edition of this film that I’ve got actually automatically loads your internet browser and displays an advert for the Sega Dreamcast when you put it in a computer. Although this was annoying (since it wiped out my previous browsing session), it was also an amusing piece of retro nostalgia too.

This review will also contain MAJOR SPOILERS…..

Anyway, onto the film….

“eXistenZ” begins with a famous game designer called Allegra Gellar (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) giving a public demonstration of her latest virtual reality game (called, unsurprisingly “eXistenZ”).

The game itself is housed inside some kind of organic “game pod” that the players access via an umbilical cord that is connected to a port in their spinal columns. Well, it’s a David Cronenburg film, what do you expect?

About halfway through the demonstration, a deranged member of the audience pulls out a strange-looking gun and shouts “Death to the demoness Allegra Gellar!” before shooting her in the shoulder. In the chaos that follows, Allegra ends up fleeing the demonstration with Ted Pikul, a security guard (played by Jude Law). They hide out in the surrounding countryside, and Allegra begins to wonder if her game pod was damaged during the shooting.

Of course, the only way to check that the game is still working properly is for Allegra and Ted to enter the virtual world of “eXistenZ”….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it both is and isn’t a perfect example of late 1990s cyberpunk cinema. Although the film revolves around a virtual reality world, there’s relatively little “Matrix”-like futurism here.

Not only is all of the technology (even the mobile phones) made out of genetically-engineered bio-matter but, unlike virtually everything in the cyberpunk genre, the film takes place entirely in a rural setting. There aren’t any rain-soaked, neon-lit mega cities here. For some reason that is never fully explained, all of the computer engineers and high-tech low-lives live in the countryside. It’s a surprisingly innovative and unique take on the cyberpunk genre.

Being a David Cronenburg film, the biological technology is used as a brilliant source of both body horror and/or sexual symbolism. Most of this symbolism went completely over my head when I saw the film for the first time, but I noticed it in virtually all of the bio pod scenes when I re-watched the film.

Although this is a film about technology (and how it can affect our thoughts, our free will etc..) the scenes set in virtual reality have more of a “realistic” dream-like quality to them. People act in strange ways, the settings are an uncanny combination of real and surreal, and there are other strange changes too.

Some of this surrealism is kept fairly subtle, like the fact that Allegra is pretty much perfectly ok a few minutes after receiving a fairly serious gunshot wound to the shoulder near the beginning of the film. Of course, this might just be the usual cinematic convention of near-invincible main characters, but the fact that the injury is relatively bloodless and doesn’t even seem to be that painful could be a hint that the film starts within the world of the game. A question which is left tantalisingly open at the end of the film….

The whole point of this film is that the characters can never quite tell whether they’re playing the game or are in real life, so this “realistic” dream-like quality works really well. In fact, one of the things I love about this film is the fact that it’s one of the few films that explores the concept of an “unreliable reality“.

One thing that surprised me when I re-watched this film is that the editing was a lot faster than I remembered. This film was made in the good old days when films actually had editors that prevented them from becoming bloated three-hour things. God, I miss those days! Even so, the editing can seem a little bit too quick at some points in the film – almost as if more revealing pieces of dialogue have been removed from the film.

This brings me on to the subject of characterisation – there’s a lot less of it in this film than I remember. Yes, some of this is probably to do with the fact that the characters’ behaviour is occasionally directly controlled by the game’s programming, but the characterisation seemed slightly more superficial than I remembered.

This is also possibly a reflection of the fact that the characters think that they’re playing a game, where the normal rules of reality don’t apply. For example, in one scene late into the movie, Allegra guns down another character in cold blood because he annoyed her (by suggesting that she defect to a rival tech company). Ted is, quite naturally, shocked by this – only for Allegra to nonchalantly comment that it’s just a game. Then, in a chilling twist, Ted wonders whether they’re still in the game or not.

Even so, the best character in this film by far has to be Allegra Gellar. She’s nerdily hedonistic, slightly obsessive and also a total badass at the same time. Seriously, although her dialogue and personality seem a little bit stylised at times, she’s refreshingly different from many other sci-fi protagonists. Ted, of course, is her slightly nervous and naive sidekick.

All in all, this film is both better and worse than I remember. Yes, it can be a bit fast, intentionally confusing and superficial at times but – on the other hand – it also contains a lot more philosophical depth, symbolism and innovation than you might expect from a Hollywood sci-fi film. Plus, it’s very 1990s too – which is always a good thing 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half. It isn’t quite as good as “Blade Runner”, but it’s still a very innovative, unique and intelligent sci-fi film.

Today’s Art (25th November 2016)

Well, I was more in the mood for science fiction art when I made today’s digitally-edited painting. Plus, when I was sketching this painting, I worked out a rather interesting drawing technique (the article I wrote about it earlier this month can be read here).

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

"City Under Water" By C. A. Brown

“City Under Water” By C. A. Brown

Four Reasons Why Cyberpunk Art Is Really Fun To Make

2016 Artwork Why Cyberpunk Art is so fun to make

Although the paintings won’t be posted here until December, I seem to be going through a bit of a cyberpunk art phase at the moment. This is a genre of art that I seem to revisit every now and then, so I thought that I’d look at some of the reasons why it’s such an amazing genre.

1) Visual storytelling: Because cyberpunk art is focused on busy futuristic cities and/or interactions between people and technology, there’s a lot more room for visual storytelling than there is in many other genres of art. In fact, making a good cyberpunk painting pretty much requires you to hint at some kind of story.

Even if you’re just making a landscape or cityscape painting, the fact that it will probably include a lot of people and a lot of computer screens/ billboards means that you’ll probably have to include at least a hint of a story in order to make it interesting. As an example, here are two cyberpunk paintings I made earlier this year.

"Cyberpunk 2001 (Milton Keynes)" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk 2001 (Milton Keynes)” By C. A. Brown

"Strange Case" By C. A. Brown

“Strange Case” By C. A. Brown

As you can see, the first painting is a depiction of an unusual playful moment within the confines of a busy shopping centre, where the couple standing in the fountain are contrasted against the mostly faceless crowds. The second painting is intended to be a scene from a detective story of some kind or another, it’s meant to look like it could be a single frame from a movie.

The cyberpunk genre is also perfectly suited to visual storytelling for the simple reason that it didn’t start out as an artistic genre. Depending on what you believe, it either began life as a genre of prose fiction (eg: in a short story by Bruce Bethke and, later, several novels by William Gibson) or as a cinematic genre (eg: “Blade Runner). Since it was originally designed for storytelling, the cyberpunk genre is at it’s best when it involves a story of some kind.

2) Background jokes: Because many things in the cyberpunk genre are set in a dystopian corporate-controlled future, ominpresent advertising is one of the central features of the genre. This means that you can have a lot of fun hiding silly fake adverts in the background of your cyberpunk art.

Take a look at this cyberpunk painting that I made earlier this year, that was loosely-based on Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth:

"Cyberpunkwharf" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunkwharf” By C. A. Brown

If you look closely enough, you’ll see that one of the advertising signs says “Seagulls are your friends. Don’t vapourise the seagulls. Yes, that means you!”. If you’ve ever even briefly visited anywhere on the southern coast of England, then you’ll know how annoying the seagulls can be (I’m not a religious person, but these winged fiends are a compelling argument for the existence of Satan). So, this background joke is an absolutely perfect fit with the setting.

Because cyberpunk art (and cyberpunk fiction) revolves around the idea of “information overload”, you can hide lots of in-jokes in the background details of your art. If you want a spectacular example of this at it’s absolute best, then I’d recommend reading Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics.

3) Detail: As I mentioned earlier, the idea of “information overload” is a central part of the cyberpunk genre and this usually translates to lots of visual detail in cyberpunk art. Even fairly minimalist cyberpunk art can often include more detail than minimalist art in other genres does.

For example, here’s a minimalist cyberpunk painting that I made earlier this year. Although the painting doesn’t include much background detail, the foreground still contains a moderate amount of detail:

"Blue Light Lab" By C. A. Brown

“Blue Light Lab” By C. A. Brown

Not only is making cyberpunk art a good way to teach yourself to include more detail in your art, but you’ll also have the satisfaction of having made a painting that will reward close examination and will be the kind of thing where the audience will notice something new if they look at it more than once.

4) It looks really cool: This one is pretty much self-explanatory, I guess. Cyberpunk art just looks really cool.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (24th November 2016)

Well, I was still in the mood for film noir/ vintage horror comic art when I made today’s digitally-edited painting. Originally, it was going to include a decaying zombie in the foreground, but this looked slightly too gruesome, so I changed it into a dead lizard creature of some kind.

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

"City Of The Creatures" By C. A. Brown

“City Of The Creatures” By C. A. Brown

Finding And Telling The Stories That Feel Meaningful To You ( In Comics Or Prose)

2016 Artwork Things That Feel Meaningful Article sketch

[Note: Since I write these articles (and make my comics) quite far in advance of publication, some of my attitudes towards making comics have changed slightly. For example, expect to see some 6-12 “episode” narrative webcomic mini series next year.]
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Although this is an article that is intended to help you become more motivated about making webcomics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to spend the next seven paragraphs talking about the contrast between my own attitude towards storytelling/comic-making and the attitude of one of my favourite webcomic authors. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A couple of hours before I started writing this article, I read this fascinating online interview with Winston Rowntree, the creator of one of my favourite webcomics ( a comic called “Subnormality” which I rediscovered again a couple of weeks ago and have already re-read at least once).

The parts of the interview that really stood out to me were when he talked about how webcomics should be taken more seriously as a medium, how they should be more complex and how they should move away from their roots in traditional three-panel newspaper comics. This made me think about my own attitude towards making webcomics.

Of course, all of my own occasional webcomic mini series (like this one) are the exact opposite of this lofty ideal. I’ve taken inspiration from newspaper cartoons (Lise Mhyre’s “Nemi” springs to mind for starters) and I use a similar four-panel format to newspaper cartoons, albeit with some alterations to take account of the fact that my comics will be read on a square computer screen.

I absolutely love the idea of a short, self-contained comic that only takes a few seconds to read and 1-2 hours to make. After a bit of experimentation over the years, I’ve found that this is the format that really works for me. The rhythm and pacing of a four-panel comic is something that just feels right for me.

But, not only that, it also made me think about the subject of “seriousness” and how little of it there has been in anything I’ve produced over the past few years. Although I can make a few private guesses as to why my comics, art, fiction etc.. has gradually become less “serious”, it’s a development that still surprises me to this day.

These days, whenever I even think about telling a “serious” story, it just seems to ring hollow. It just seems like empty melodrama, or it seems drearily depressing. However, as soon as I add some comedy, any comic or fiction idea I have just seems to come alive in a way that I can’t quite describe. Although it seems frivolous, it also seems to gain more meaning by virtue of being something that will make me (and hopefully other people too) laugh.

I mean, even when I made a ten page zombie comic for Halloween, it had to be a comedy zombie comic. As soon as comedy was added to it, the comic pretty much made itself. The same was true with the interactive story I wrote last Halloween. I’d thought about writing a proper horror story but, it was only when I thought that it would be a good idea to parody about three different things that this idea turned into something that had to be made.

I guess that it all comes down to motivation and to meaning.

If you want to make comics, art and fiction that you are proud of and that other people will enjoy, then it has to be something that means something to you. But, much more than that, it has to be something that feels meaningful to make. This is a subtle distinction, but it is one that is worth learning about.

We all have topics, ideas and subjects that we consider “meaningful”. Most of these are “serious” things – they’re political opinions, philosophical beliefs, life experiences etc… The combination of these things are one of the things that make us all unique individuals. This is the realm of opinion, belief, memory and thought.

However, the things that feel meaningful can be slightly different. This is what really motivates you on an emotional level. These are the things that appear in your daydreams on a regular basis. These are the things that feel “special” or “awesome” to you on a visceral level.

If you can find a way to include one of these things in your creative works, then you will have an unstoppable source of intrinsic motivation that will help you to make some of your best stories or comics. This is the realm of ambition, imagination, emotion and passion.

Although there can be a lot of overlap between the two things, they are different. One is who you are and the other is what propels you to create things.

The latter of these two things is the most important one if you want to make comics or write fiction. Even if it’s the polar opposite of the things you consider to be “meaningful”, it’s the things that feel meaningful that will motivate you and make you produce some of your best works.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂