Today’s Art (30th September 2017)

This digitally-edited painting was kind of random. I’d originally planned to make a short comic mini series consisting of higher-quality remakes of a few of my old “Damania” comics from 2016 (since there were only six new comics this month) but, due to being even more short on time and creative energy (since I was also writing this old short story collection whilst preparing quite a few of this month’s paintings in advance) than I thought, I decided to make a gothic cyberpunk painting instead. But, I didn’t like how the background turned out – so, I ended up changing it digitally. But, this looked kind of random.

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

“Data Station” By C. A. Brown

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Top Ten Articles – September 2017

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

All in all, even though there were more reviews than usual, this month’s articles turned out fairly well. Since I was busy with a couple of creative projects at the time of writing these articles, it meant that I had more things to write about even if, for time reasons, there was a lot of recycled title art in this month’s articles.

Anyway, here are the lists πŸ™‚ Enjoy πŸ™‚

Top Ten Articles – September 2017

– “Why The Cyberpunk Genre Is A Genre About Creativity Itself (And Why It’s Good For The World)- A Ramble
– “Three Random Tips For Writing A Short Story Collection
– “Four Quick Tips For Never Leaving A Comic Unfinished
– “Nostalgia vs. Memory – A Ramble
– “Making Comics Vs Writing Fiction – What Are The Differences?
– “Three Random Tips For Making Occasional Webcomics
– “Two Very Basic Tips For Dealing With Webcomic Exhaustion
– “Failed Paintings Happen. Here’s What To Do.
– “Three Ways To Make Things That Will Inspire Other People
– “Four Reasons Why Prose Fiction Being “Uncool” Is A Good Thing

Honourable Mentions:

– “Three Things That Books Could Learn From DVDs
– “Three Lazy Ways To Include Fight Scenes In Your Webcomic (If You Don’t Usually Include Them)

Learning From A Failed Project – The 1990s Stories

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When you write or make art, then you’re going to make mistakes and fail sometimes. It happens to everyone. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Not only does it mean that you’ve tried something a bit different, it also means that you’ll be able to learn from your failures too.

So, in that spirit, I thought that I’d give an example of learning from a failed project. If you aren’t interested in reading about the many ways I failed at a writing project, then just skip to the final paragraph for some general conclusions.

Earlier this year, I posted a series of short stories set in the 1990s here. In contrast to the previous two short story collections that I’d written (which can be found in the “2016” section of this page), this one only lasted a mere five stories before it ran out of steam.

The first sign that it was something of a mistake came from the fact that it took me a few days to work up the enthusiasm to start the project after I’d had my initial idea for it. Usually, when I have an idea for a project that is going to go well, it’s the sort of thing that I have to start working on right now. But, this was different. It was a cool idea and I wanted to make it, but it didn’t really have the impetus that these kinds of projects usually have.

At the time, I didn’t think to refine the idea until it provoked these hyper-enthusiastic feelings in me. Instead, I mistook my mild enthusiasm for technical problems. After all, I was writing historical fiction – a genre that I haven’t really written in before. So, I thought that I’d have to spend some time working out how to write these stories. For some writers, this sort of thing leads to good stories. But, for me, too much slowness tends to drain the life from a project.

Another problem was the fact that I’d tried to write relatively ordinary stories about ordinary life. This is a genre that I usually consider to be “extremely boring”. But, I’d thought that the historical nostalgia elements would help to keep it interesting. They didn’t. Yes, ordinary life was slightly different in the 1990s, but it was still fairly.. ordinary.

This, of course, made coming up with interesting story ideas surprisingly difficult. One of the main advantages of genres like science fiction and horror, and stories that are set in stylised versions of the real world, is that you can use your imagination to come up with all sorts of strange things to add to the story. You can create entirely fictitious settings that are more imaginative than realistic. You can add futuristic technology, unrealistic events etc… and see how your characters will react to them.

I’d always known that there was a reason why I preferred to write in “unrealistic” genres and this failed project reminded me about this. It gave me an actual physical example of what happens when I try to write the kinds of stories that don’t often interest me as a reader.

The other problem was probably the research. As fascinated as I am with the 1990s, I quickly realised that most of what I knew about the decade came from second-hand sources. After all, I was only a young child in the 1990s. So, whilst struggling to come up with story ideas, I ended up focusing more on things that are related to the media than anything else.

After all, since my preferred writing style tends to be fast and regular, I pushed myself to write one story per day. This didn’t leave a huge amount of time for research. So, I ended up setting many of my stories in fairly generic locations, with only a few subtle details that implied that they were set during the 1990s. So, again, this reminded me of how much easier it is to write stories that are set in entirely fictional locations.

Likewise, it reminded me of the difference between writing and other forms of creativity. Whenever I’d made art or comics that were set in the 1990s (like this one), I’d always gone for a stylised version of early-mid 1990s America, because it looks cool. Of course, fiction is a non-visual medium that relies a lot more on descriptions.

So, I actually ended up relying on my childhood memories of mid-late 1990s Britain (and things from that time and place that I’d watched or read) quite a bit. This led to the project having a totally different style and tone to what I had expected. Most of the stories were set in 1996-9, which didn’t really seem as fascinatingly “historical” as I’d originally expected. If I’d paid more attention to the differences between visual art and the written word, I could have come up with a better idea for this project.

The common thread in all of this is that you tend to produce your best work when you know yourself well and know where your strengths lie. But, on the other hand, you’ll only learn about this if you fail a few times. So, don’t be afraid to fail!

————-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Mini Review: “Black Out 2022” [“Blade Runner 2049” Prequel] (Short Film)

Well, although I probably won’t see “Blade Runner 2049” until it comes out on DVD (since I’ll probably end up watching it at least five times, probably more…), one cool thing about it is that the director Dennis Villeneuve hired three other directors to make short prequel films, that were then officially made freely viewable on Youtube.

Although I’ve watched the other two films, I thought that I’d review the third one – “Black Out 2022” – mostly because it was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, the director of my favourite anime TV series (Cowboy Bebop). Yes, the director of “Cowboy Bebop” has made a “Blade Runner” anime! Words cannot describe how cool this fact alone is!

So, let’s take a look at “Black Out 2022”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS. Likewise, apologies about the low resolution of the screenshots in this review – I was so eager to watch the film that I lowered the resolution to 144p, so that buffering wouldn’t be an issue.

“Black Out 2022” is a 10-12 minute animated short that takes place in the year 2022. The Tyrell Corporation has released the Nexus 8 model, who have a normal human lifespan. The combination of this fact, and the shoddy privacy settings on the replicant database, lead to widespread anti-replicant riots where replicants are hunted down and lynched by angry mobs.

Whilst all of this is going on, a few replicants decide that the only way to stop it is to destroy the database via a terrorist attack on a computer facility using a fuel tanker.

Whilst this is going on, the military has noticed that one of their EMP missiles has been launched. However, one of the people in the control room is (to quote from one of K.W.Jeter’s Blade Runner novels) a “rep-symp”, having fallen in love with one of the replicants who is carrying out the attack on the facility.

Yes, this film features a replicant-sympathiser, like in K.W.Jeter’s sequel novels πŸ™‚

After the resulting cataclysmic devastation to the city, replicant prohibition is enacted and the Tyrell Corporation never recovers. However, a text screen then explains that – several years later- the Wallace Corporation manage to repeal the ban on replicants.

One of the first things that I will say about “Black Out 2022” is… wow! Seeing the look and feel of such a familiar film as “Blade Runner” replicated in anime form is absolutely astonishing!

Yes!!! A million times, YES!!! πŸ™‚

Even though I initially started drawing comparisons with the original “Ghost In The Shell” anime (itself inspired by “Blade Runner”), the short film’s aesthetics are quickly shown to be very much based on the original film.

Seriously, there are so many amazing visual references to the original film here – from the cityscape, to the projection room in the police station, to the noodle bar, to ESPER-like augmented reality glasses, to the Off-World blimp, to the Ennis House-style tiles on a building exterior, to the replicant database itself etc.. Likewise, Bryant and Gaff also make a cameo appearance too:

Oh my god! It’s Bryant and Gaff! πŸ™‚

And the noodle bar from the original film shows up briefly too πŸ™‚

And check out the Ennis House-style tiles in the background here too πŸ™‚

In terms of the animation, it is absolutely superb. If you’ve seen the “Cowboy Bebop” movie, you’ll know that Watanabe is an expert when it comes to fluid, fast-paced action scenes and this film doesn’t disappoint here. There are some brilliantly cinematic martial arts scenes:

Such as this fight between one of the replicants and several hooligans.

One of the great things about animation is that you can do impressive things on a relatively small budget, and “Black Out 2022” takes full advantage of this fact.

The destruction of the city is shown in full, with spinners falling from the sky in a spectacular fashion and lots of melodramatic explosions.

Like this scene showing the Off-World blimp crashing into a video billboard.

Or this astonishingly cool explosion scene.

Plus, of course, there’s some cool acrobatics involving a spinner and there’s also a wide variety of different locations too (again, no need to build physical sets etc…).

In terms of the characters and the story, this short film really excels. The nameless replicants are, true to the original film, portrayed as deeply human characters who ponder the nature of their own existence (with one opining that replicants don’t go to heaven or hell – life is all they have).

One particularly striking scene involves an ex-military replicant having a war flashback (which is very reminscent of the “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?: Dust To Dust” graphic novels) where he discovers that both sides in an off-planet war are only using replicant troops, like they were “toy soldiers”.

Seriously, this scene reminded me a lot of the “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? – Dust To Dust” graphic novels πŸ™‚

The story itself is really well-told too. Although the short film mostly revolves around one event, the background to this event is explored in a surprising amount of depth. Seriously, “Black Out 2022” crams more storytelling and characterisation into just 10-12 minutes than the average Hollywood film would manage in 30 minutes.

The only slight criticisms I have of this film (other than “why isn’t this a feature-length film?” or “why isn’t this a TV series?”) has to do with some of the voice-acting and dialogue. Basically, some of the voice acting has that corny “dubbed anime” sound to it, even though most of it is fairly good. Likewise, although the short film tells a complex story, a few lines of dialogue sound a little bit too simplistic.

In terms of music, this film sticks pretty closely to Vangelis’ excellent score for the original film… and it is a joy to listen to πŸ™‚

All in all, this short film is brilliant. It’s an official “Blade Runner” anime from the director of “Cowboy Bebop”! And, yes, it is as cool as this description suggests! Not only does it manage to cram a lot of storytelling and characterisation into an absolutely tiny running time, but it is also visually and dramatically spectacular too. Best of all, it can be watched for free on Youtube too πŸ™‚ Seriously, why aren’t you watching it right now?

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least five.

How I Wrote This Short Story (From Earlier This Year)

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Well, for today, I thought that I’d do something slightly different and talk about the “making of” a short story which appeared here earlier in the year. This is mostly because the creative processes that went into this story ended up being slightly different to what I had expected, and an explanation could possibly be interesting.

As a bit of background, this story was the third story in a series of stories that I’d been writing about the 1990s. Unlike the previous two short story series I’d written (eg: horror stories for Halloween 2016 and Sci-Fi stories for Christmas that year), coming up with story ideas about the 1990s was proving to be more challenging than I had expected.

So, when it came to writing the third story in the series, I had very few ideas. My first thought was to write a story about how horror fiction changed in the 1990s, which would have involved a journalist meeting a 1980s splatterpunk author in a pub and talking about how the genre had changed during the 1990s. I actually wrote part of this story. Here’s a “never seen before” extract from it:

As the piercing opening riff of Iron Maiden’s self-titled song sliced it’s way through the gloom of the pub, I spotted John Morte. He wasn’t easy to miss. It isn’t everyday that you get to interview a horror legend, let alone one who has set a shot of vodka on fire just to light his roll-up. It was good to see that he hadn’t lost his flair for the dramatic.

But, something just felt off about the story. Not only was the “John Morte” character a bit too much of a clichΓ©, but there wasn’t really anything distinctly “90s” about the story. If anything, it seemed more like a story that was set in the 1980s than anything else. So, after a few paragraphs, I abandoned it.

But, I couldn’t think of any better ideas. So, I distracted myself with other things until I realised what had drawn me to the idea of writing about a horror author. I wanted to write about a larger-than-life “rockstar” character, but wasn’t sure how to do this. Much later, I was feeling tired and I still didn’t have a clue about what I’d write. Then I suddenly remembered watching a DVD of an old Bill Hicks show from the 1990s a few years ago.

Stand-up comedy, especially American stand-up comedy, was a big thing during the 1990s. This was the decade when stand-up comedy was the closest thing to being a rockstar that someone could be without learning an instrument. In retrospect, the idea seemed obvious, but I had to take a step back and wait for my mind to make the connections.

When I came up with this idea, I was elated. Since I could just write about a comedian performing, the whole story would be dialogue. It seemed like a quick and easy way to write a medium-high quality story. Of course, the reality was somewhat more difficult.

A few words into the opening sentence, I suddenly realised that I actually had to write a stand-up comedy routine. Not only that, I also had to write it in the style of an American comedian. But, despite this, the idea seemed too interesting to abandon, so I kept at it.

Although it might look easy, writing even vaguely passable stand-up comedy is anything but easy! I wrote and then deleted more jokes (or more versions of the same jokes) than I can remember. Not only did I have to come up with something that was funny and sounded vaguely “authentic”, but I also had another problem.

Most of the best American stand-up comics from the 1990s (eg: Bill Hicks, George Carlin etc..) were brilliantly outspoken. From what I gather, you didn’t go to one of their shows if you were narrow-minded or easily shocked. Many of their DVDs still have an “18” certificate over here. This blog, on the other hand, tends to be more “PG-13” (to use an American phrase).

So, I had to come up with comedic dialogue that was funny, sounded like it could have been said by a 1990s-era American comedian and which wasn’t too shocking. Whilst some elements of this were fairly easy, some were a bit more challenging.

The first thing to do was simply to use the word “fricking” for emphasis instead of the more obvious word choice. This also had the advantage of making the comedian sound more American, because this euphemism tends to be used a lot more in American TV shows etc…

But, for the most part, I had to carefully choose the content of the jokes. In other words, I had to look at the edgy, irreverent and outspoken attitudes of 1990s American stand-up comedians and apply these attitudes to slightly less controversial or risquΓ© subject matter. In the end, I went for a joke about pop music and a joke about the tabloid press here in Britain.

The second joke was chosen because it was a subject that I could write about a lot. One of the funny things about American stand-up comedians from the 1990s is that they’d usually make amusing comments about Britain in recordings of their performances over here. Since I’m British, it wasn’t too hard to come up with some slightly more observational humour about this country.

Ideally, I thought that the story would be best with three jokes. But, when it came to thinking of the third joke, I found that I was extremely tired and uninspired. I’d spent longer writing a mere 500 words of comedic dialogue than I’d spent writing stories twice that length. So, after a lot of thought and a few failed attempts at writing a third joke, I bodged it.

Basically, instead of telling an actual joke – I just wrote a description of a few parts of the joke and left the rest to the imagination. Yes, this was ridiculously lazy, but – more importantly – it allowed me to actually finish the story without falling behind schedule. Never underestimate the importance of actually finishing a story.

Likewise, the final sentence “The curtain fell.” was originally going to be the beginning of a much longer description, but I cut it short for energy/enthusiasm reasons. I suppose it mirrors the abrupt ending of an actual comedy show or something.

So, that’s how I got over writer’s block and wrote a very short story that looked a lot easier to write than it actually was.

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚