If you’ve been reading this site recently, you can probably guess that I’m in something of a cyberpunk mood at the moment. The interesting thing about the cyberpunk genre is that, despite the fact that it’s only been around for 32-37 years, there are numerous “versions” of it.
From the rainy, neon-lit streets of “Blade Runner” to the gothic green-tinted world of “The Matrix” to the bright bleached cityscapes in some footage I’ve seen of a cyberpunk-influenced modern dystopian sci-fi game called “Mirror’s Edge“, no two things in the cyberpunk genre look exactly alike.
One small silver lining of the miserable fact that virtually nothing from the genre is in the public domain (in a way that many cyberpunk “classics” would if copyright laws were more rational) is the fact that everyone making something in the cyberpunk genre has to come up with their own very slightly unique interpretation of it.
Yes, it might be heavily influenced by the cyberpunk “canon” but, it will be at least subtly different from these things. But, this isn’t an article about copyright, it’s an article about how you can find your own version of the cyberpunk genre. So, how do you do this?
1) Have other influences!: Whenever it comes to anything creative or even anything to do with humanity, variety usually equals strength and/or quality. Democracies can last for centuries or more because they allow a wide variety of political opinions to exist. The food in the UK is significantly better than it apparently was 60-70 years ago, due to a wider variety of influences from around the world. Even genetics itself obviously relies on variety too. I could go on for a while, but I should probably get back to the cyberpunk genre.
What I’m trying to say here is that you aren’t going to find your own “version” of the cyberpunk genre if you aren’t willing to look outside of the cyberpunk genre for inspiration.
But, given how obscure this genre is these days – it’s pretty much impossible for you not to also have favourite novels, films, games etc.. from outside the genre too. So, let these influence your cyberpunk art, fiction, comics etc.. too.
Always be on the lookout for cool things, regardless of whether they’re cyberpunk or not, which instantly make you think “I want to learn how to make something like that”. Once you’ve worked out what generic features (eg: lighting, composition types, colour schemes, general types of locations, pacing, narrative style, themes etc..) make these things so interesting, then apply that knowledge to the cyberpunk things that you make.
To give you a recent example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited cyberpunk painting that will appear here in July:
Whilst the three “traditional” cyberpunk inspirations for this painting are “Blade Runner“, “Ghost In The Shell” [NSFW] (I watched the “2.0” director’s cut shortly before making most of this painting) and Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics, you’ll probably notice that it looks a bit more colourful than any of these things. This element of the painting was inspired by the use of multiple complementary colour palettes in a set of “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens“.
Likewise, the setting of the painting was also inspired by photos of New York and Tokyo that I’d seen online a couple of days earlier. Several clothing designs in the painting were inspired by 1980s fashion rather than by traditional “noir” cyberpunk. I could go on for a while…
The fact is that many of the “classics” of the cyberpunk genre have become unique classics for the simple reason that they looked for influences outside of the cyberpunk genre. For example, “The Matrix” owes as much to 1980s/90s goth culture as it does to prior cyberpunk films like “Blade Runner”, “Akira”, “Ghost In The Shell” etc..
2) Ask a simple question: One way to come up with your own “version” of the cyberpunk genre is just to ask yourself “what makes something cyberpunk?“. Go on, do it now.
Once you’ve written down or memorised your list of answers, then see if you can find a way to create something that fits into this definition. Whilst this might not sound like a way to come up with your own “unique” version of the genre, it will do exactly that! But, why?
Simply put, everyone is different. The things that really appeal to you about the cyberpunk genre will be at least slightly different from the things that appeal to everyone else about it. Whether you’re thinking about the visual elements of the genre or the thematic elements, you’ll probably have a slightly different idea of what makes something cyberpunk to everyone else.
For example, as an artist, the things that really appeal to me about the cyberpunk genre are the high-contrast lighting (eg: neon signs at night, CRT monitors in the dark etc..), the dense, angular cityscapes, the idea of an “old future”, flying cars, “film noir” rain, the idea of sensory overload etc…
But, other artists may be more fascinated by things like cyborgs, cyberspace, lines of programming code superimposed onto the real world, dystopian politics, environmental issues etc…
Everyone sees something slightly different when they look at the cyberpunk genre, so ask yourself what you see.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂