Three Practical Reasons To Look At Old Art If You’re An Artist

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A while before I wrote this article, I happened to watch a documentary on TV about the history of art in France. One of the interesting things was that I didn’t really learn that much that I didn’t already know. This was mostly because, during 2014, I went through a phase where I was fascinated by old European and Japanese art and ended up doing a lot of online research about it.

Yet, a year or two before that, I wouldn’t have seen the point of learning anything about old art. It seemed like a pompous and pretentious subject that had no relevance to the cartoons that I was drawing every day.

In fact, the only reason I even got interested in the subject was because I realised that most old (19th century and earlier) artwork is out of copyright (excluding, for example, Matisse’s paintings. Which are still copyrighted in Europe), so, I could just paint a copy of any interesting-looking old paintings or drawings I found online when I felt uninspired and needed something for one of my daily art posts.

And, to my surprise, there were lots of interesting-looking paintings and drawings from the 19th century and earlier. But, whilst most of the influences on my own art style are more modern, there are good reasons to take an interest in old art too. Here are three of them:

1) Modern stuff is inspired by old stuff: Chances are, if you see something that looks cool in more recent artwork, then there’s something at least vaguely similar from the past that has inspired or influenced it in some way.

For example, modern manga art styles are at least slightly influenced by the minimalist Japanese Ukiyo-e print tradition of the 18th/19th century. Likewise, “classic” British and American comic book art is heavily inspired by Art Nouveau(by artists like Pamela Colman Smith, Eugene Grasset etc..) that were popular in the 1890s-1910s. These styles were, in turn, probably also influenced by Ukiyo-E art.

Likewise, the wonderfully gloomy lighting style that is used in films like “Blade Runner” and on the covers of many classic heavy metal albums and horror novels of the 1980s/90s isn’t as “new” as it might seem. In fact, it’s just a more modern version of a centuries-old art style called Tenebrism and, if you see a few paintings by Caravaggio, you might be surprised at how “modern” some of the lighting in these pictures looks.

So, if you want to learn more about the really cool modern art styles that inspire you, then it can often be useful to go back to the older things that influenced them. Not only will this give you more influences on your own art (and the more you have, the more unique your art looks) but it will also give you a greater understanding of how your favourite types of art “work”.

2) It’ll show you that it’s ok to take inspiration: As well as copying out-of-copyright paintings, looking at old art can also be a great way to learn how to take inspiration in proper (eg: non-copying) ways. This is mostly because there has been a lot of research into what inspired a lot of old artists, and very few of them produced wholly “original” and “new” artwork.

For example, Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting style was at least partially influenced by Japanese art prints that had made their way to Europe during the 19th century.

Likewise, when you see artistic “traditions” in the past where lots of artists use a similar style (eg: like how Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi often used a very dark and tenebristic style), then this is both an example of artists taking influence from other artists and artists finding their own interpretation of a pre-existing style because they think that it looks cool.

3) Visual storytelling: For most of human history, if you wanted to record an image of something, then you had to draw or paint it. What this means is that a lot of old art tends to be about storytelling, recording interesting scenes for posterity or making mundane events look interesting. Old paintings are also brilliant examples of how imagination and reality can be blended in interesting ways. This all means is that old art usually tends to be a lot more visually-interesting than you might think.

Like with the panels of a modern comic, old artists often had to tell a story using pictures. They had to create artwork that distilled an interesting series of events into one dramatic image. If you want to make interesting art, then it’s worth trying to learn how to do this. If you want to learn how to make art based on real life look more interesting, then it’s still useful.

For example, even a commissioned portrait like Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” can contain a lot of imagination and visual storytelling. This is a painting that is filled with activity and drama… which didn’t happen in real life.

From everything I’ve seen and read about the painting, the organisation who commissioned it had gone from being an actual group of guards to being more of a ceremonial dining club by the time that the painting was commissioned. But, with a lot of imagination and clever design choices, Rembrandt is able to present them as being bold, benevolent swashbucklers who are both needed and beloved by the people of Amsterdam.

Although the painting probably isn’t “realistic”, it is far more visually interesting (since it seems like it could be a scene from a novel or a film) than a simple portrait of seventeen men sitting around a dining table would be. Again, this is because visual storytelling both was and is a centrally important part of what makes art art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

“A Night Out” By C. A. Brown (Halloween 2017 Sci-Fi Stories #8)

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow night 🙂

By the time the neon sign opposite the window flickered and sputtered into life, I’d decided to call it a day. Not that it was really much of a day. Business this week had been deader than a dive bar in December. According to the papers, the freak rainstorm wouldn’t even end for another fortnight.

Still, as I drained the dregs from my coffee mug and tipped the contents of the ashtray into the overflowing bin, I heard distant footsteps. A light clicking sound. High heels. Sitting back behind my desk, I straighened my tie and tried to smile. First impressions matter.

What seemed like five minutes later, there was a knock on the door. ‘Come in.

With a quiet creak, the handle turned. I like to think that I can size up a client immediately, but this one was something else. She looked like she’d just stepped out of one of the ritzy clubs on the other side of town.

The fact she wasn’t wearing an overcoat led me to conclude that she’d taken a sky-cab here. No doubt that it had landed on the roof, maybe with a butler to carry the umbrella too. But, there weren’t any wet footprints on the wood panelling by the door.

With a hint of a smile, she said: ‘Mr. Dillhale? I presume I’ve got the right office. I need you to look into something.

Smiling back, I said: ‘Yes, ma’am. My fee is two hundred credits a day, plus expenses. What is it that you want investigating?

Instinctively, I gestured towards the chair opposite my desk. She remained in the doorway. Without a word, she reached into her bag and pulled out a small brown envelope. Placing it on top of a nearby bookshelf, she said: ‘I expect results.

And I hope to deliver them.‘ I smiled again and began to get up. Before I could even get to my feet, she had already closed the door. Raising an eyebrow, I listened to the clicking footsteps get more and more distant. For a second, I thought about running after her. But, some people like to get dramatic when they visit. I blame the pulp novels.

Sighing, I grabbed the envelope and tore it open. There was nothing inside except for a small typewritten card that read ‘Phobos Club. Tonight. Call ahead.‘ Below it, there was a phone number.

After hefting the latest city directory onto my desk, I checked the address listings. There was a Beef Pho place a few streets away and somewhere called Phoebe’s on Dante Avenue, but no Phobos Club. Picking up the phone, I dialled the directory offices. They hadn’t heard of it either.

With nothing else to do, I rang the number on the card. The phone rang for what felt like two minutes, before I heard quiet piano music. A gruff voice said: ‘Phobos club.

Hello, I’m a private investigator. A client came to my office and asked me to visit your club this evening, but I’m having a hard time finding directions. You aren’t listed in the directory.

The voice went silent. For a second, it sounded like even the piano music had stopped. Finally, the gruff voice said: ‘We’ve just opened. Don’t worry about directions Mr. Dillhale, we’ll send a sky-car.

Ah, I see that I’ve been introduced. You wouldn’t by any chance know anything about my client. She’s…‘ Before I could even finish my sentence, the line went dead.

They weren’t giving out names. They weren’t in the directory. Every instinct told me to run. Maybe it was the head of the Griswold Corportation setting a honey-trap? Maybe it was Vincetti plotting revenge? Maybe it was a hundred things. None of them seemed good. With my gun at the repair shop, I’d have to cancel my plans.

Picking up the phone, I dialled the number again. Nobody answered. As much as I hated to be a deadbeat, I’d just have to skip out and hope that I could come up with a good enough excuse before the client got back.

I’d barely even reached for my overcoat when I heard the knock on my door. It was a sharp, quick knock. I glanced over at the door. There were three shadows in the frosted glass window. With a sigh, I said: ‘Sorry, I’m closed. Come back tomorrow.

The handle began to turn. ‘I said, I’m closed. Beat it.

Before I could even reach for my coat, the door flew open. A man in a black dinner jacket leapt across the room. As he grabbed my shoulders with his bony fingers, I smelled cheap cologne and dusty books. Without even thinking, I swung my knee into his groin. He barely seemed to notice. Instead, he pinned me to the wall and glanced nonchalantly over his shoulder.

A second later, the others had joined him. My client stood at the head of the group. Slowly, she opened her mouth. Any beauty she once had evaporated in an instant as my eyes fixed themselves upon her teeth. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that she’d filed them all down to a point.

Beside her, a burly blond man flashed a jagged smile and said: ‘How exciting! You’ve excelled yourself, Marletta.

Marletta giggled: ‘Well, I was getting awfully tired of the club. So, I thought that we’d dine out tonight. If no-one minds, I’ll take the jugular.

The blond man laughed: ‘You’ve earned it! This is the most fun I’ve had in decades!

Today’s Art (28th October 2017)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the eighth page of this year’s Halloween comic 🙂 Stay tuned for the next page tomorrow 🙂 In the meantime, you can catch up on previous pages here: Cover, Page One, Page Two, Page Three, Page Four, Page Five, Page Six, Page Seven

Unlike previous Halloween comics, this one will hopefully be in full colour and I’ll be using the ‘rectangular’ format that I used in my previous webcomic mini series. But, unlike that mini series, this one will be a narrative comic, like last year’s Halloween comic. More comics featuring these characters can be found here.

So, this was why Roz messed up the “Army Of Darkness” quotes in yesterday’s episode! Seriously though, I’ve never understood news articles that moan about “pre-loading”. I mean, even in the olden days, surely people went to pubs before they went clubbing?

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Video Nasty - Page 8" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Video Nasty – Page 8” By C. A. Brown

The Joy Of… Old Paranoia (In Fiction)

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Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d write about an absolutely fascinating type of fear-based fiction. I am, of course, talking about older works of fiction that either reflect public fears that didn’t come to pass and/or predicted feared events incorrectly.

This was mostly because I ended up reading parts of William LeQueux’s “The Great War In England In 1897“. Although I unfortunately didn’t have time to read the whole thing, I read the first 60-70 pages, the final chapter and the plot summary on Wikipedia. This was a novel that was first published 20 years before World War One began and it predicted a major European conflict… incorrectly.

Form what I read, the novel predicted a short European war (in 1897) in which France and Russia attempt to invade Britain after learning of a secret alliance between Britain and Germany. The novel alternates between narrative storytelling and stern lectures about the state of the British military in the late 19th century. It’s kind of like a cross between a melodramatic thriller novel and a paranoid political tract. It’s chilling, thrilling and occasionally unintentionally hilarious.

But, it made me think about a lot of other old stories, films etc… that tried to scare people about threats that either never came to be or which weren’t quite the thing people should have been worried about. A good cinematic example of this is an American film from the 1980s called “Red Dawn” about the Soviet Union attempting to invade the US.

The subject of Cold War-era fears was also handled in a much more “realistic” and chilling way in another 1980s film called “Threads” (about the aftermath of a Cold War nuclear conflict in the UK). This is a film which still somehow manages to maintain the power to chill, depress and disturb even when watched today – although that’s mostly due to the writing, acting and style of the film. Yet, I imagine that it would have been significantly more disturbing to watch during the 1980s.

Stories and films about old fears are absolutely fascinating for a number of reasons. The first is, of course, that they’re oddly reassuring. After all, reading stories and watching films about feared events that never came to pass (or at least didn’t come to pass in the way that was predicted) makes us feel better about the fears of today. It makes us think that, in the future, we’ll be able to sit back and laugh at the present day too. And, in the age of Brexit and Trump, we need all the reassurance we can get!

The second reason why this genre is so fascinating is because it’s a subversion of the “alternate history” genre. After all, whilst things that fall into this category might currently be seen as “alternate history” stories – they were, of course, about alternate futures when they were written. So, like with old science fiction, these stories give us an insight into how people used to think about the future.

The third reason why this genre is so fascinating is because it reminds us that people have always been paranoid about something. In this way, these types of stories are strangely timeless. They remind us that our modern fears about things like Brexit, Trump, terrorism etc.. aren’t unprecedented, they’re just the modern incarnation of a tradition that has existed for most of human history.

Finally, this genre is fascinating because it is designed to be attention-grabbing. It is designed to shock and horrify. It is designed to keep people reading or watching out of morbid fascination. This lends these types of stories a timelessly vivid and energetic quality which – for example – can make a novel from 1894 read like a modern thriller novel or “mockumentary” film.

So, yes, stories about old fears are, paradoxically, very much products of their time and yet surprisingly timeless at the same time. They’re both reassuring and disturbing, and they give us an insight into how people used to think about the world.

—————–

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

“Haul” By C. A. Brown (Halloween 2017 Sci-Fi Stories #7)

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow night 🙂

This is gonna get noisy!‘ Rich wound down the sky-car’s window and reached for the antique military rifle. Ignoring the rain hammering his face and the constant rush of neon lights below, he calmly leaned out of the window and braced the rifle against his shoulder.

Get on with it! They’re gaining on us!‘ Steve snarled, barely even taking his eyes off of the altimeter.

Squinting against the elements, Rich took aim at the flashing red and blue lights behind the sky-car. The antique rifle’s circular magazine rattled silently as he tightened his hold on the wooden grips, gritted his teeth and pulled the trigger.

CHATCHATCHATCHATCHAT! Click!

Above the loud ringing in Rich’s ears, he heard a quiet popping. There was a bright orange flash. Rich almost dropped the rifle. A plume of black smoke stood out against a glowing green electric billboard. Rich ducked back into the sky-car.

‘,,,,,’ Steve said with a frantic look in his eyes.

WHAT?‘ Rich shouted, blinking at the flickering array of iridescent afterimages that swam in front of his eyes.

Steve shoved a map towards him, before easing off on the thrusters slightly. As the afterimages began to clear and the ringing became more muffled, he heard Steve shout: ‘Find us somewhere to lay low! The whole bloody city probably saw that! We’ve got five minutes at most.

Turning on the courtesy light, Rich squinted at the map. Being careful not to look at the light, he glanced up at the windscreen. The green safety lights of the Westford Tower flickered to his right and the amber pyramid on top of the FleeceFayre Casino glowed blurrily to his right. His weary eyes scanned the map until he found their location. Quickly, he began to tick off locations in his mind.

Get a move on!‘ Steve barked, as he banked left sharply, narrowly missing a bright yellow sky-cab. A muffled honking sound echoed in the distance.

Got it!‘ Rich muttered ‘Pirate Paul’s Pleasure Palace isn’t too far from here. There was something in the paper last week about them closing down for refurbishment. We can land inside the roof display.

‘If you expect me to land this thing in the mouth of a giant skull, then you’re having a fu…‘ Steve paused for a second. Above the pattering rain and roaring engine, the plaintive wail of sirens echoed in the distance. ‘….that might not be a bad idea. Hold on!

Pushing the stick forwards, the air car descended sharply. Before he could even level out properly, Steve cranked the retros to max. The engine groaned in protest. The bright yellow windows of an office building flickered uncomfortably close to the passenger window. Rich grimaced. Steve took a hard left and started the landing thrusters.

Then, in the blue gloom, the skull came into view. Even without the lighting display, the pearly white teeth seemed to gleam invitingly. Furrowing his brow, Steve gently glided the sky-car towards it. ‘Here goes nothing.‘ He muttered.

It was, Steve thought as he caught his breath, a textbook landing. As long as the plod didn’t notice the thruster burns on the skull’s teeth, they were home free. Beside him, Rich gasped and trembled frantically. Catching his breath, he shouted: ‘We did it?… We did it!

Ssssh!‘ Steve hissed, putting his finger to his lips. The air was thick with silence. Steve let out a sigh of relief: ‘No sirens. We’re in the clear. Let’s get outta here before anyone gets too curious.

As Rich cracked an emergency glow-stick, Steve reached below the seat and pulled out the briefcase. As the stick bathed the car in faint green light, Steve leant forwards and squinted through the windscreen. ‘Is that… sand?‘ He muttered.

Yeah, there was something in the paper about them turning this into a viewing platform. They were importing sand from somewhere exotic. Tortuga Bay, I think. Hey, do you think it’s worth anything?‘ Rich grinned.

We don’t…‘ With a quiet hiss, Steve opened the doors ‘… have the bloody time. Now, get a move on!

The sand crunched quietly underfoot as the two men left the car. Keeping the briefcase close to his chest, Steve followed the glow-stick and listened to Rich’s slow footsteps. A few seconds later, Rich stopped and turned around: ‘There should be a wall here.

What? Don’t tell me we’re going round in circles.‘ Steve sighed.

Below the green light, Rich just shook his head. ‘No. This sculpture can’t be more than a hundred metres… ugh.‘ He spat black fluid and dropped the glow-stick.

Steve leapt back. In the dim light, he could see something shiny poking out of Rich’s chest. A second later, he felt something brush against his spine. The stench of seawater filled the air. A low croaking voice said: ‘Gimme the treasure, lad.‘ Steve dropped the briefcase. With a quiet slop, he saw the point of a rusty cutlass shoot out of his stomach.

As the numbness washed over his body, Steve fell onto the soft sand. Just like sunbathing he thought, as a smile crossed his wet lips. As all of the noises began to fade into peaceful silence, he could have sworn he heard a grumbling voice say: ‘Arrrr! More paper? Ye said there would be gold here! Five hundred years… and not a speck o’ gold!

Today’s Art (27th October 2017)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the seventh page of this year’s Halloween comic 🙂 Stay tuned for the next page tomorrow 🙂 In the meantime, you can catch up on previous pages here: Cover, Page One, Page Two, Page Three, Page Four, Page Five, Page Six

Unlike previous Halloween comics, this one will hopefully be in full colour and I’ll be using the ‘rectangular’ format that I used in my previous webcomic mini series. But, unlike that mini series, this one will be a narrative comic, like last year’s Halloween comic. More comics featuring these characters can be found here.

But, why did Roz mess up a mixture of two classic lines [“This is my boomstick!” and “Hail to the king, baby!”] from “Army Of Darkness“? The real reason is, of course, paranoia about copyright. But stay tuned for an in-universe explantion tomorrow.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Video Nasty - Page 7" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Video Nasty – Page 7” By C. A. Brown

Three Reasons Why Early Works Are So Strange

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If you look at a webcomic, Youtube channel etc.. then you’ll probably notice that the earlier updates are often stranger in some way or another. Leaving aside differences in technical quality (due to differing levels of practice and experience), they’ll often be significantly different in all sorts of ways. And I’m no different to many in this respect.

Although I only started this blog in 2013, I was posting art (and occasionally comics) online as early as 2009/10 and quite a bit of my earlier stuff (especially comics from 2010-13!) that I posted online was either cringe-worthily strange and/or radically different to the stuff that I post online these days.

So, why do earlier works often end up being stranger or more eccentric than more current things?

1) The internet: Put simply, in the old days, you usually needed some kind of publisher or physical gallery or whatever. This was both a good thing and a bad thing. On the plus side, it meant that someone already had to have had quite a bit of practice before anything they made saw publication. It meant that stories, comics etc.. had to pass an editor and other quality control methods.

On the downside, it meant that there was a gatekeeper between writers, artists etc.. and their audience. It meant that things had to be more mainstream, since there were more financial concerns. It meant that new artists, writers etc… had to win the approval of a complete stranger in order to show the things they make to thier audience.

On the internet, however, anyone can post anything. And this means that creative people can show off their work whilst they’re still learning. This is great, for both the audience and for the writer/artist (since posting stuff online is a great motivator to keep making stuff). But, this can mean that their early works are a lot stranger because….

2) Styles take a while to develop: Most artists and writers don’t find their “niche” or their “style” instantly. Usually, it’s a continuous process where you experiment with different things over time, whilst also being inspired by new things that you encounter along the way too.

For example, my current approach to using colours in art was something that I only really started doing after I played this set of “Doom II” levels. Prior to that, I’d experimented with vaguely similar things (eg: limited palettes using just one complementary colour pair). But, seeing how the visual design of those “Doom II” levels combined complementary colour pairs in interesting ways inspired me to do the same in my own art.

One example of this with webcomics is that my long-running occasional webcomic series (more recent parts of it can be found in the 2016 and 2017 segments of this page) used to contain quite a few fantasy elements (eg: magic, crossbows etc..) back in 2011-2013. This was because the original inspirations for the comic series were “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”, which I watched quite frequently at the time. Since then, my tastes, inspirations and sensibilities have changed slightly and the comic has gradually changed as a result.

Likewise, with writing, I’ve gone through quite a few narrative styles over the years. For example, when I was about 16/17, I was fascinated by late 19th century/ early 20th century fiction. So, a lot of the stuff I wrote back then tended to be written in a very old-fashioned style that makes me cringe whenever I re-read it.

Likewise, during my early twenties, I read a lot of really influential cyberpunk, gothic and hardboiled novels that led to radical changes in my writing style. Although I didn’t really write that much fiction during my early-mid twenties, when I returned to it occasionally in my mid-late twenties, my writing style had changed slightly since I’d read more things (and written a lot more non-fiction) during that time gap.

So, a writer or artist’s “strange” early works are usually just an example of their style being less well-developed than it is now. Then there’s also the fact that…

3) We don’t realise it at the time: No writer, artist or comic maker intentionally sets out to make “strange” early works. Usually, it’s something that can only be noticed in retrospect. At the time, a writer/artist/comic maker is more likely to think that they’re making something “cool” or “interesting”.

Likewise, if new members of the audience start by looking at someone’s current works, then the earlier ones are going to seem strange by comparison too. Whereas, if you’ve been a member of the audience over quite some time, you’re more likely to see the changes as part of a gradual progression or evolution.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

“Broadcast” By C. A. Brown (Halloween 2017 Sci-Fi Stories #6)

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow night 🙂

The grimy kiosk window glowed cherry red as another freight bus drifted gently into the distant blur of rain, night and safety lights. Inside the dingy kiosk, a green sign blinked quietly. Gianna let out a sigh – even arguing over a late access fee would at least have been a change of pace.

She looked down at the constellation of tiny bulbs on the desk in front of her. They were all green. She glanced at the countdown timer. There were four hours left before Martin would arrive. With the freight park at full capacity and no scheduled departures for a couple of days, it was going to be another quiet night.

Fumbling around in her jacket, Gianna pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes and lit one. The tip glowed volcano orange as she took a deep drag and fumbled through the pile of magazines on the edge of the desk. They hadn’t been replaced in months. There was only one thing left, she thought, public radio.

Sighing out a plume of bluish smoke, she cranked the dial on the battered old radio in the corner. For a second, there was nothing but silence. Clenching her fist, she gave the metal box a sharp tap. Instantly, the air was filled with crackling static as loud as the wash of rain on the tarmac outside. Just for luck, she gave the radio another tap, before turning the dial.

A soft voice filled the room: ‘…and then there’s the grenada sorbet. This is a real treat for the palate. I’m not like a critic or anything, but I’ve gotta love the flavours. There’s cochineal red, tartrazine, citric acid and just a hint of fructose syrup too. It’s a bit cheeky, but…

Gianna cranked the dial again. There was nothing but a dial tone. She cranked it again. An old man’s shrill voice thundered through the air: ‘… But, whatever happened to good old fashioned burlesque? I’ll tell you what happened to it – new puritans! Yes, that’s right! You heard me! It might not be the “correct” opinion, but these maladjusted metropolitan miserabilists…

Stubbing out the cigarette, Gianna cranked the dial once more. There was another dial tone. Was it such a boring night, she thought, that even the public airwaves were dead? Of course, a second later, her eye caught the calendar. Saturday. It was Saturday night. No wonder there were only cranks and weirdos on the radio. Or, at least, more than there usually were. Even the drunk-diallers probably wouldn’t get started for another couple of hours.

Just as she’d started to tune out the rhythmic chirping of the dial tone, a quiet click echoed through the room. A young guy with a northern accent said: ‘Hey there! I’m ten minutes late, but welcome to another episode of Game Report. Now, some of you have been writing to me about the new pinball machine at the Frog & Hounds and have I got a review for you! Think shiny chrome, little pink neon light tubes and a set of paddles to die for! Of course, it’ll cost you a whole credit…

Rolling her eyes, Gianna cranked the dial three times. In a perfectly-regulated voice, a woman said: ‘…Forty-two, fifty-three, twenty-seven, five, five, ninety-six, thirteen, sixty-seven…

Ninth time lucky.‘ Gianna muttered to herself as she gave the dial another twist. The air was filled with anguished howls, counterpointed crudely by the furious buzzing of an industrial saw. Above the cacophony, cackling laughter crackled through the air. Instinctively, Gianna’s arm shot towards the dial. It wouldn’t move.

The buzzing got louder. Then it stopped. Gianna rattled and tweaked the dial. It still wouldn’t move. The spiteful laughter grew louder. Clenching her fist again, she gave the radio a firm clonk. A piercing scream echoed through the room. She flinched. The laughter resumed.

Jumping to her feet, Gianna fumbled around for the electrical cord. By now, the industrial saw had started up again, faster and noisier than ever. Running her fingers along the rough rubber cord, Gianna reached into the darkness and gripped the plug. With a firm yank, she pulled it free. Sweet silence filled the kiosk.

It was only a few seconds later that Gianna realised that she couldn’t even hear the pouring rain outside. Even though she could feel her heart hammering in her chest, it was as quiet as a well-oiled piston rail. Nervously, she tried to hum a tune. Her lips vibrated noiselessly.

Crouching again, she scrabbled for the plug. Gripping it tightly, she slammed it back into the wall. In an instant, the world was noise. The drumbeat of her heart. The ticking clock. The barrage of rain. The buzzing industrial saw, angrier than ever. The cries of agony, as sharp as scalding water. And, behind it all, the laughing voice’s cruel cackling.

——-

When Martin eventually arrived at the freight park, most of the police cars had already left. Beside the remaining car, the supervisor gestured wildly, his yellow mackintosh flickering red and blue. A portly detective shook her head.

As Martin rushed towards the car, he heard the supervisor say: ‘Well, I suppose you’ve got a better explanation! I tried to warn them all, you know. You listen to public radio for long enough and you’re bound to go a little crazy.

The detective just shrugged: ‘That’s as good an explanation as any, I guess.’

Today’s Art (26th October 2017)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the sixth page of this year’s Halloween comic 🙂 Stay tuned for the next page tomorrow 🙂 In the meantime, you can catch up on previous pages here: Cover, Page One, Page Two, Page Three, Page Four, Page Five

Unlike previous Halloween comics, this one will hopefully be in full colour and I’ll be using the ‘rectangular’ format that I used in my previous webcomic mini series. But, unlike that mini series, this one will be a narrative comic, like last year’s Halloween comic. More comics featuring these characters can be found here.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Video Nasty - Page 6" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Video Nasty – Page 6” By C. A. Brown

Things That Splatterpunk Fiction Can Teach Writers (Even If They Don’t Write Horror)

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Well, with Halloween getting closer, I thought that I’d look at how one old sub-genre of horror fiction can teach you about writing… even if you don’t write horror fiction. I am, of course, talking about splatterpunk fiction.

This is a sub-genre of horror fiction that was popular in the 1980s-1990s, although it has pretty much been absorbed into the “mainstream” horror genre these days. It’s a pivotal genre in the history of horror fiction because it was the first time that horror writers stopped relying on subtle implication and actually described the grisly parts of their stories in a level of extreme detail that varied from coldly clinical to poetic word-painting depending on the author.

Although I read quite a few old second-hand splatterpunk novels when I was a teenager and have read a few vaguely splatterpunk-style modern horror novels (such as “Double Dead” by Chuck Wendig) during my twenties, it’s a genre that I’ve drifted away from somewhat. But, it’s still a genre that has had an influence on my creative works. So, what can it teach you, even if you don’t write horror:

1) Pacing, contrast and descriptions: Although there are some notable exceptions to this rule, one of the fascinating things about the splatterpunk genre is that how splatterpunk writers sometimes varied the detail level in order to emphasise parts of the story. Most of a splatterpunk novel might be written in a fairly “ordinary” kind of way but, whenever something horrific or gruesome happens, then the level of description skyrockets.

By describing certain scenes in considerably more detail than others, a writer can lend those scenes a lot more dramatic impact. However, and this is the important part, highly-detailed descriptions only stand out when they are contrasted with shorter and more “mundane” descriptions in other parts of the story. It’s kind of like how a lightbulb might not look that bright in the middle of a sunny day, but it looks significantly brighter in the middle of the night.

If there’s one thing that you can learn from splatterpunk fiction, it’s that it’s worth saving the extensive, poetic descriptions for scenes where they really matter.

2) Cover art: Although people might tell you not to judge a book by it’s cover, cover art matters. And the splatterpunk genre contains so many great examples of this. With a couple of notable exceptions, many splatterpunk authors weren’t famous. So, if their publisher wanted to attract new fans, attention-grabbing cover art was essential.

If you look through a second-hand bookshop, you’ll be able to recognise the 1980s-1990s splatterpunk novels at a glance. They’re the novels with the ominously dark covers that are often emblazoned with dramatic macabre imagery. For example, the cover art of the very first splatterpunk novel I read (“Assassin” by Shaun Hutson) just featured a decaying zombie’s hand holding a revolver, contrasted against a solid black background.

Publishers of splatterpunk fiction knew how important dramatic cover art was. They knew that, even if the audience didn’t know what the genre was called, they still needed to be able to easily recognise splatterpunk novels. So, they made sure that the cover art gave the audience a general expectation of what to expect if they bought the book.

3) Trends, meaning and variation: One of the more amusing trends during the heyday of the splatterpunk genre was a weird craze for writing about plagues of evil animals. This probably started with James Herbert’s “Rats” novels, but it led to things like two novels about flesh-eating slugs by Shaun Hutson and a series of novels about giant homicidal crabs by Guy N. Smith.

The interesting thing about this trend is that no other author seemed to be able to replicate what made a couple of James Herbert’s “Rats” novels so creepy. The first “Rats” novel is, from what I can remember, as much about poverty and the misery of everyday life in 1970s London as it is about giant rats. Likewise, the third (and best) novel in the series (“Domain”) is genuinely chilling because it’s more about the horrific aftermath of a nuclear war than it is about giant rats. In both books, the killer rats aren’t really the only source of horror.

But, seeing the success of these books, other authors probably assumed that they were popular because they contained plagues of evil creatures. This, of course, led to some hilariously silly – but enjoyable – monster novels. But, although these novels are brilliant examples of how to create original variations of a pre-existing concept, they’re also a cautionary tale about what happens if you follow trends without looking at why something was so effective or popular.

So, if you’re fascinated by a literary trend and want to be a part of it, then ask yourself why the things that started this trend became so popular. The answer might surprise you.

4) Extremity (isn’t everything): If there’s one word that defines the splatterpunk genre, it’s “extreme”. The genre was truly revolutionary for the time because it took the horror genre to new extremes of gruesomeness and grotesquerie. No-one had really done this before.

There’s something to be said for extremity in fiction. It’s something that gets authors noticed and talked about. It’s something that makes the audience remember what they’ve read. But, it has to be done in a sophisticated way in order to stand the test of time.

To use two non-splatterpunk examples, Chuck Palahniuk’s “Guts” is a short story that will probably shock, disgust and repulse you the first time you read it. But, once you know what happens in the ending, a re-reading of the story will make all of the story’s underlying hilarious dark comedy stand out a lot more.

On the other hand, I once read a couple of chapters of Charlotte Roche’s “Wetlands”. This is perhaps the only story I have stopped reading out of genuine revulsion. Yes, it might be because I was too easily-shocked, but there didn’t seem to be anything there to accompany the “shock value” and turn it into something greater.

Many splatterpunk novels feature ludicrously gory descriptions, but these are often accompanied by things such as a mysteriously thrilling storyline, dark comedy or other types of horror (eg: psychological horror, supernatural horror etc..). In other words, they contain more than just extremity.

So, if you’re going to include any kind of extremity in a story, then there has to be something else there to give the extremity value and meaning. Extremity for the sake of extremity rarely works well.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂