Today’s Art (31st August 2017)

Well, it’s been quite a while since I last made any artwork set in Victorian times (I haven’t really made much since this webcomic mini series). But, this digitally-edited gothic Victorian painting was probably mostly inspired by a TV series based on “Dracula” that I was watching on DVD when I painted it.

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

"Upon Such A Night" By C. A. Brown

“Upon Such A Night” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – August 2017

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Well, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for me to compile my usual list of links to my ten favourite articles about making art, making comics, writing fiction etc… that I’ve posted here during the past month. As usual, I’ll also include a couple of honourable mentions too.

This month was kind of a strange one, since there were far more writing-related articles than usual (mostly because, due to writing these articles in advance, I was also busy writing these short stories whilst preparing this month’s articles).

Likewise, thanks to being busy with other projects, I ended up using recycled title graphics quite a bit this month – although thankfully, the quality of the actual articles didn’t really suffer though. Plus, it also meant that my planned review of “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” has been pushed back even further, since I had been too busy to complete all or most of the game whilst preparing this month’s articles.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂

Top Ten Articles – August 2017:

– “Three Reasons Why It’s Important To Be “Well Read” (In Written Or Visual Media) If You Are An Artist, Writer etc…
– “Three Tips For Making Minimalist Art (Or, My Interpretation Of It)
– “Three Tips For Finding Your Own Artistic Interpretation Of ‘Retro’
– “Four Ghoulish Tips For Making 1980s-Inspired Horror Artwork
– “Three More Tips For Making Better Paintings When You’re Extremely Tired
– “Three Random Tips For Writing Cyberpunk Comedy
– “Three Basic Tips For Coming Up With Cyberpunk Stories
– “Three Basic Ways To Connect A Group Of Cyberpunk Short Stories
– “Do You Need To Be Tech-Savvy To Write Cyberpunk Fiction?
– “Four Tips For Writing Cyberpunk Fiction Quickly

Honourable mentions:

– “Three Tips For Writing (Cyberpunk) “Flash Fiction” Stories
– “Three Tips For Including Popular Culture In Your Webcomic

Today’s Art (30th August 2017)

Well, although this digitally-edited retro cyberpunk painting started out well, I couldn’t work out how to get the background right. So, in the end, I had to replace large parts of the background digitally. This, unfortunately, had the side effect of making the painting look a lot more deserted than it was originally supposed to be.

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

"Cyberspace Junction" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberspace Junction” By C. A. Brown

How Much Difference Does Digital Image Editing Make? – A Ramble

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[NOTE: I prepare these articles quite far in advance of publication. And, in the gap between writing this article and it appearing on this blog, I’ve learnt a few new image editing techniques (although they probably won’t appear here regularly until some of next year’s daily art posts). As such, I don’t really consider this article to be accurate any more. Still, I’ll include it for the sake of posterity.]

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Well, after reading about “remastered” albums online, I was curious if it was possible to do the same thing with art.

If, like me, you use a mixture of traditional and digital materials when making art – then it could theoretically be possible to go back, re-scan an old picture and then use all of the extra image editing knowledge that you’ve learnt since you first edited the original to make an improved “remastered” version of the original.

Since I’d just finished making a new webcomic mini series (that will appear here in October), I decided to try this with one of my old webcomic updates that was originally posted here in 2016 (but made in late 2015). Here’s a cropped, but otherwise unprocessed, re-scan of the original comic.

This scan has been cropped, but there's no further editing. This is exactly as the comic update would have appeared before I edited it in late 2015.

This scan has been cropped, but there’s no further editing. This is exactly as the comic update would have appeared before I edited it in late 2015.

And here is what the comic update looked like after my original digital editing in late 2015:

"Damania Resurgence - Smart Phones" By C. A. Brown [Originally posted 12th April 2016, made in late 2015]

“Damania Resurgence – Smart Phones” By C. A. Brown [Originally posted 12th April 2016, made in late 2015]

The programs I used were MS Paint 5.1 and a late 1990s image editing program called “JASC Paint Shop Pro 6”. If I remember rightly, my original editing mostly consisted of replacing a line of dialogue in the final panel, altering the brightness/contrast levels (eg: lowering the brightness slightly and heavily increasing the contrast), maybe making a small “hue map” adjustment (I’d just discovered this technique back then) and making lots of small corrections using MS Paint.

So, with somewhere between one and two years more experience, I was curious to see whether I could create a better re-edited version of this comic update. After about 30-45 minutes of digital editing (using the same two programs I used in 2015), here’s the result:

Here's the new re-edited version of my old comic update.

Here’s the new re-edited version of my old comic update.

At first glance, the main changes are changes to the content. I’ve changed the colour of the old mobile phone (so it fits in with the colour scheme of the rest of the comic), I haven’t altered the dialogue from the original and I’ve altered the characters’ noses (and the width of their necks) to make them look more like my current style. I’ve also been a little bit more thorough with correcting small mistakes too.

However, most of the extra digital editing is the kind of subtle stuff that is only noticeable upon close inspection. For example, I’ve digitally added more realistic skin tones to both characters (by altering the RGB levels to +11% red/ -4% green/ -18% blue).

Likewise, I’ve darkened some of the backgrounds slightly to make them look more consistent. I’ve also made small changes to the colour saturation in the image too. I’ve also made the green areas of the image look slightly bolder and more consistent too.

Still, the two comics still look reasonably similar. Yes, the new one looks slightly better – but they both look somewhat “old”. After all, they’re both based on the same old comic from late 2015.

I guess that what I’m trying to say here is that you can only do so much with digital image editing. Yes, you can make your old art look slightly better by re-editing it. But, the best way to create an “improved” version of an old painting, comic update etc… is probably to re-draw or re-paint the whole thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (29th August 2017)

Woo hoo! I was feeling a lot more inspired than I’d expected when I made this digitally-edited painting 🙂 Yes, it’s another 1980s/1990s-style cyberpunk painting (after I went through a gigantic retro cyberpunk phase last month, I’d planned to take more of a break from the genre) – but, well, this seems to be the genre that inspires me the most at the moment.

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

"Report" By C. A. Brown

“Report” By C. A. Brown

Three Random Sources Of Inspiration For (Self-Contained) Webcomic Updates

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Well, since I was busy making the final update for a webcomic mini series (that will appear here in October) at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk about some of the ways that you can find ideas for self-contained webcomic updates.

Apologies in advance if I’ve mentioned any of this stuff before in previous articles. I was kind of in a rush when I wrote this one, so there’s a chance that I might end up repeating myself.

So, how can you find ideas for self-contained webcomic updates?

1) Procrastination: When you’re looking for webcomic ideas, random internet surfing, DVD watching etc… is more than just procrastination. It’s also research! No, I’m serious. You’d be surprised at how many interesting ideas you can find when supposedly “wasting time”.

For example, one morning, I made the otherwise foolish decision to read a few pages on TV Tropes. This is a fascinating website that can literally gobble hours of your time if you aren’t careful. Anyway, an article on that site led me to learn about something called the “Loudness War“. This is something that was a lot more prominent in the ’00s and it’s where record companies use all sorts of clever audio editing techniques to make CDs sound louder, even when played at low volumes.

It’s the reason why, for example, Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” album sounds about twice as furious and energetic than you might expect. It’s one possible reason why Iron Maiden’s albums from the early – late ’00s have a suitably epic sound to them that is instantly recognisable as “modern Iron Maiden”. It’s one reason why the Distillers’ “Coral Fang” album is so wonderfully, breathlessly intense. Plus, as a bonus, it also annoys pretentious people who care more about barely noticeable audio quality differences than about how good the actual music is too.

So, after forming my own opinion about it (namely that anyone who complains about audio quality in metal or punk music is missing the whole point of these two genres), it gave me the idea for the next webcomic update that I made. Here’s a preview of two panels from it:

 The full comic update will be posted here on the 8th October.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 8th October.

So, yes, one easy way to find webcomic ideas is simply to do a random internet search on somewhere like Wikipedia or TV Tropes and see if you can find an interesting subject that makes you think “I want to make a webcomic update about this!“.

2) Random situations: Another easy way to come up with webcomic ideas is just to show two or more of your characters doing something “ordinary”. Yes, this requires you to know your characters fairly well, but it can be a very easy way to find an idea for a comic. This is because you can show your characters’ reactions or interactions during everyday life.

For example, I had writer’s block whilst making the comic update that I was making at the time of writing this article. So, in the end, I just thought “what would happen if Harvey and Rox went into town on market day?“. Needless to say, the comic update pretty much planned itself after that.

Making these types of “everyday life” comic updates can also help you to learn more about your characters too. For example, although Harvey and Rox get along really well normally – lots of hilarious bickering and sarcasm occurs whenever they go shopping together.

3) An image: Another way to come up with an idea for a webcomic update is just to think of a suitably interesting image of one of your characters and work backwards from there. Yes, this technique doesn’t always work (so, do it during the planning stage rather than when actually making your comic!) but it can add some interesting artistic variety to your webcomic when it does work.

For example, I’d been going through a dystopian sci-fi phase before planning one of the updates in my upcoming mini series. So, I wanted to include some kind of dystopian sci-fi scene in one of my comics. I wanted to draw Derek as some kind of futuristic hyper-authoritarian “Judge Dredd”/”Robocop”-style character. The image was surprisingly vivid in my mind and I quickly sketched it.

So, from that, I had to work backwards and ask myself “how, in a mini series that is set in the present day, would Derek be in that situation?“. The answer was, of course, virtual reality. Once I’d found that idea, I was then able to come up with lots of other ideas for the comic too (eg: controversies about violent videogames etc…).

So, find a cool idea for a picture of one of your characters and then work backwards from that.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (28th August 2017)

Well, I was feeling slightly more inspired when I made this digitally-edited painting than I was when I made the failed painting that I posted yesterday. Even so, this painting ended up being somewhat more minimalist than I had originally expected it to be.

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

"Hidden Street" By C. A. Brown

“Hidden Street” By C. A. Brown

Four Things I’ve Experienced When Experimenting With Larger Webcomics

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As regular readers of this site will probably know, I was busy making a webcomic mini series that will appear in October whilst writing these recent articles. Anyway, one of the changes that I’ve made in this upcoming mini series is that I’ve switched to using larger 6-8 panel comics that are almost A4 size. Here’s a reduced-size preview of the new layout:

 The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 7th October.

The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 7th October.

So, what have I learnt from my experiments with this new layout?

1) Larger comics are easier to plan (once you have an idea!): Yes, believe it or not, larger comics are actually easier to plan than shorter ones (once you’ve found a comic idea!). Since you’ve got more panels to work with, it gives you the opportunity to include more dialogue which, paradoxically, is easier than including less dialogue.

With smaller and shorter comics, you’ve got to work out a way to cram everything into just 3-6 panels. Yes, this leads to fast, efficient pacing. It teaches you how to write concise, meaningful dialogue. It’s a good learning experience. It’s something you should try before you try making longer comics.

But, with longer comics, space is much less of an issue – so planning is far easier. Not to mention that you can cram a lot more into a single comic when you remember the stuff you learnt from making 3-6 panel comics.

2) You get used to it surprisingly quickly: When I decided to try making larger comics, I was worried that it would be too much. In fact, I even lowered my production schedule in order to give myself more time to make them. I thought that, instead of preparing two smaller comics per day, I’d just prepare one larger comic per day. To my surprise, within a couple of days, I found that I was actually preparing one and a half larger comics per day.

And, best of all, it still felt more relaxed and easy than making two smaller comics even though I was, objectively speaking, covering a fairly similar amount of paper with artwork. But, because I was only making one (larger) comic, it felt like less work , probably because of the fact that I only had to scan and edit one finished comic per day (and digital editing can be one of the more time-consuming parts of making comics using the method I use).

So, yes, getting used to making larger comics can happen surprisingly quickly if you keep up a regular production schedule.

3) It’s easier to focus: One great thing about longer webcomic updates is that they also serve as something of an idea filter. When you’re making a longer comic update, you have to make sure that you come up with ideas that will actually work at that length. So, longer comics are less forgiving than shorter comics when it comes to comic ideas.

In other words, it means that you have to focus more on quality than quantity. You need to know that the comic idea you have is worth investing a couple of hours (or more) in. But, when you’ve found a good enough comic idea, it’s significantly easier to focus on it for the simple reason that you’ll be spending more time making one comic about one idea (compared to making several comics about several ideas).

4) It feels more significant: Yes, this feeling probably diminishes somewhat when you truly get used to making longer comics. But, when you switch from shorter comics to making longer comics, each comic update just feels more significant, because you’ve invested more time and energy into it.

Plus, it can also make you feel more like a traditional cartoonist too. After all, if you look through any collection of traditional newspaper cartoons, there will often be lots of shorter three-panel comics and then the occasional larger comic (eg: “Sunday strips”). These larger comics stand out from the crowd and, with some cartoonists (like Bill Watterson) will actually feature far more detailed and experimental artwork.

Well, switching from making smaller comics to making larger comics can feel like you’re making one of these “Sunday” comics, which can feel somewhat special.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Tips For Including Popular Culture In Your Webcomic

2017-artwork-webcomic-pop-culture-references

Well, since I’m busy making a webcomic mini series (that will appear here in early October) at the time of writing this article, I thought that I’d talk about webcomics again. In particular, I’ll be looking at including things from popular culture in your webcomic.

After all, webcomics are often reactive things. If your webcomic is set in the present day and/or in something resembling the real world, then pop culture is probably going to appear every now and then. After all, it appears in everyday life every now and then.

So, how should you (and when should you) include it in your webcomic? Here are a few tips:

1) Copyright: First of all, I’m not a copyright lawyer and none of what I am about to say should be taken as legal advice.

That said, you’d be surprised at how much leeway, both officially and unofficially, there is for including visual references to popular culture in your webcomic. Just remember, if you are including highly-specific visual references to copyrighted things (eg: detailed drawings of copyrighted characters from movies, games etc…) in a webcomic update – then don’t release that webcomic update under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

Generally, most copyright laws (eg: US and European laws, amongst others) make an official exemption for parodies and/or critical review or commentary. So, if you’re making a satirical point about something, then you can probably include it in your webcomic. Likewise, if you are comparing different elements of popular culture, then this possibly also falls under “fair use” or “fair dealing” exemptions found in many copyright laws.

For example, here’s a panel from an upcoming comic update of mine which is about changes in the media since the 1990s. It features a drawing/painting of one version of the poster art from Robert Rodriguez’s “Desperado” (1995), as an example of how mid-budget films (which are a lot less common these days) made popular culture much more interesting during the 1990s. The cool-looking poster art is contrasted with a cynical comment about modern Hollywood below it, so it almost certainly falls into the realm of critical commentary and/or parody.

 The full comic update will be posted here on the 7th October.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 7th October.

Likewise, non-commercial fan art (as long as it is tasteful. Unless it is a parody, in which case you can possibly be a bit tasteless) is usually tolerated by most major media companies even if it goes against the letter of copyright law. After all, it generally isn’t in their interest to alienate their fans (by censoring fan art) or to miss out on something that strengthens the loyalties of existing fans and could possibly also serve as free advertising.

So, yes, occasional parodies, visual references etc… to popular culture are usually ok in webcomics. Just make sure that you actually have a good reason for including them though.

2) Copy by sight: Yes, if you’re making all or part of your webcomic digitally, then it might be tempting to just copy and paste parts of screenshots, posters etc.. directly into your comic. Don’t do this!

Not only can this often look visually jarring (eg: realistic images contrasted with cartoons), but it also means that both you and your audience will miss out on one of the coolest things about including visual pop-culture references in your webcomic.

I’m talking about the opportunity to see what parts of the surrounding culture look like when they are rendered in your own art style.

Yes, learning how to copy by sight can take a bit of effort and you might find certain things easier to draw than others, but it’s worth persevering with. Not only will your pop culture references fit seamlessly into your comic, but you’ll also get to see what your favourite characters, actors etc… look like when they’re drawn in your own style.

3) Have a reason: I know I mentioned this earlier when I was talking about copyright, but it’s worth discussing purely in creative terms. Have a good reason to include visual pop culture references in your comic!

In other words, don’t include pop culture references as a lazy substitute for actually coming up with good jokes, developing interesting characters etc…. The amount of original stuff in your webcomic (as a whole) should outweigh the amount of references to other stuff in there.

A good attitude to take is to actually be reluctant to include pop culture references in your comics. Taking this attitude means that they’ll only appear when they are absolutely essential to the comic update that you’re making. In other words, they’ll be funny, distinctive, thought-provoking and/or interesting every time they appear.

Likewise, another good reason for including visual pop culture references is that they can also help you to illustrate elements of your original characters’ personalities (eg: their perspective on the culture around them). But, if references appear too often, then your comic can end up being less about your own characters and more about your own perspective on popular culture.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂