Today’s Art (31st January 2018)

Well, today’s artwork is a digitally-edited ink drawing. This is mostly because I suddenly realised that I hadn’t scheduled an art post for today (since, when preparing this month’s art posts, I somehow didn’t realise that there were 31 days in January), so I found an abandoned painting from a few days earlier and used digital editing to turn it into something resembling a finished work of art. The line art for this picture will also appear in an article in late February or early March as an example of an unfinished painting.

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

“At The Last Minute” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – January 2018

Well, it’s the end of the month. So, as usual, it’s time for me to provide a list of links to my ten favourite articles about making webcomics, making art and/or writing fiction that I’ve posted here over the past month (plus, a couple of honourable mentions too).

All in all, this month was a reasonably good month in terms of articles, although there were slightly more reviews than usual. Not to mention that I had at least a few uninspired days (which led to the occasional repetitive and/or opinionated article)

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – January 2018

– “Three Reasons Why Combining Two Awesome Things Can Sometimes Be Less Awesome
– “Three Tips For Quick “Formal” Writing”
– “A Perfect Example Of How To Take Inspiration Properly – A Ramble
– “The Importance Of Having Multiple Inspirations – A Ramble
– “Are Futuristic Settings An Essential Part Of The Cyberpunk Genre?
– “Three Basic Things To Do If You Start Running Out Of Inspiration In The Middle Of A Painting
– “Four Reasons Why We Enjoy Things That Are ‘So Bad That They’re Good’
– “Five Free Pirate-themed Creative Inspirations (That Don’t Involve Digital Piracy)
– “Three Tips For Getting To Know An Obscure Genre (If You Want To Make Stuff In It)
– “Three Tips For Taking Inspiration From Other (Web)Comics, Whilst Keeping Your Webcomic Original

Honourable mentions:

– “How To Have More Than One Main Inspiration
– “Why Do Critics Have A Reputation For Being Cynical ? – A Ramble

Today’s Art (30th January 2018)

Today’s digitally-edited painting is based on an old photo I took in Aberystwyth in mid 2009. Neither the photo nor my painting really does justice to the beauty of the crisp, slightly misty summer morning when I took the photo. Even so, I quite like how the painting turned out (even if I messed up the composition slightly and used a bit of artistic licence). Plus, if anyone’s curious, here’s the “work in progress” line art for the painting.

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

“Aberystwyth – Misty Morning” By C. A. Brown

Five Free Pirate-themed Creative Inspirations (That Don’t Involve Digital Piracy)

Arrr! Avast ye scurvy dogs! This be an article about piracy! No, not that kind of piracy – quite the opposite in fact. Following the popularity of my article from last year about five cyberpunk inspirations that can legally be read/viewed/played for free, I’ve been meaning to write another article in this style.

And, after watching the first few episodes of a TV show called “Black Sails” on a second-hand DVD, it suddenly struck me that “pirates” would be a good theme for this article. After all, this is a genre that can be serious, funny and/or thrilling. It is also, like the cyberpunk genre, a cool genre that has fallen into obscurity slightly over the years.

Plus, unlike the cyberpunk genre, it’s actually easier to find free inspirations in this genre since it’s old enough for the copyright to have expired on some things. However, I’ll also be including things that are still covered by copyright, but have been officially made available to view, listen to, play etc… for free by the copyright holder.

I’ll also be taking a relatively strict definition of the word “free”, which means that things like “Pirate Doom” (a free fan-made add-on to a commercial game called “Doom II”) or things that were previously released for free but no longer seem to be available on official sites (like the “Rough Diamonds: A Tribute To Running Wild” album that used to be freely downloadable from Running Wild’s website 5-10 years ago) won’t be included on the list. However, a free demo for an old commercial computer game will appear on the list – since you don’t actually have to spend anything in order to play it (and it is free from modern scams like micro-transactions etc..), and it has been officially made available for free.

Likewise, if you’re unsure of the difference between taking inspiration and lazy plagiarism, then be sure to read this article.

Anyway, dust off your letter of marque – here arr some free pirate-themed creative inspirations which, ironically, don’t involve (digital) piracy:

1) “Treasure Island” By Robert Louis Stevenson:
Well, this is the obvious place to start. Since this incredibly famous pirate-themed novel was published in the mid-late 19th century, it is free from copyright and can be legally downloaded for free from numerous places on the internet (like Project Gutenberg). Although it’s been over a decade since I actually read it, it is the source of a lot of modern pirate-themed tropes (such as parrots on shoulders etc..) and is a defining classic of the genre.

Interestingly though, given that it was written in the 19th century, the pirates are actually the villains in this story. This is kind of a common theme in a lot of old pirate-themed things, but it may be surprising if you’ve never read anything pirate-themed from this era.

Plus, according to Wikipedia, it was inspired by an out-of-copyright history book from 1724 called “A General History Of The Robberies and Murders Of The Most Notorious Pyrates” which, although it apparently isn’t the most accurate of historical sources, can also be legally read, downloaded etc… for free.

2) Sherlock Holmes vs Blackbeard! – “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat” By John Kendrick Bangs: If you want something a bit funnier and more surreal, then I can’t recommend John Kendrick Bangs’ 1897 novel “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat” highly enough!

This out-of-copyright novel is a sequel to Bangs’ “A House Boat On The River Styx” and, like with that novel, it revolves around the ghosts of famous historical figures and famous fictional characters who spend the afterlife living on a rather luxurious house boat that floats on the River Styx. In this novel, the house boat has been stolen by the ghost of the notorious pirate Blackbeard and it is up to the ghost of Sherlock Holmes to track it down and get it back!

Although a few elements are slightly old-fashioned, this story is surprisingly funny for something written in the 19th century. Plus, it’s a story about Sherlock Holmes versus Blackbeard. From the 19th century!

3) Official music videos: Good pirate-themed music can be hard to find. So, I thought that I’d mention a few interesting pirate-themed official music videos (from official accounts) on Youtube that might be interesting. Yes, all of these are still copyrighted – but their creators/copyright holders have made them available to view and listen to for free.

If you want something a little bit more traditional in style, then I’d recommend checking out the music video to a modern acoustic song called “The Pirate Shanty” by Worldwide Adventurers. Likewise, the original lyrics to the traditional pirate-themed song “The Derelict” (the “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” song) have passed into the public domain and the song has been covered/performed by numerous amateur and professional musicians on Youtube. However, each modern interpretation and/or variation of the song is still copyrighted – even if the original 19th century lyrics aren’t.

If you want something a bit more… metallic…. then I would recommend pretty much any official music video by Alestorm – such as the video to “Shipwrecked“.They’re a heavy metal band (who I’ve seen perform live at least twice) who literally only sing songs about pirates.

4) The art of Howard Pyle: Howard Pyle was an American illustrator from the mid-late 19th century and early 20th century. He used a rather realistic art style, and – amongst other things – his body of work includes several pieces of pirate-themed artwork. Like this:

“Who Shall Be Captain?” By Howard Pyle [via Wikipedia]

Plus, all of his paintings are also completely free from copyright (under both American and European copyright law) and this includes a number of cool pirate-themed paintings, like “Who Shall Be Captain?“, “Buccaneer of the Caribbean” and “Captain Kidd“.

5) The free demo of “The Longest Journey”: Although “The Longest Journey” is a commercial computer game (which mostly doesn’t revolve around pirates), there is an official free demo of the game that might be of interest to any fans of the pirate genre.

Although it is also apparently available on various archive sites, the easiest (and safest) place to find this free demo these days is on the game’s official Steam page. However, this also requires creating a Steam account (and the games on that site have internet-connection based DRM). Still, the full game is also available on other legitmate game sites, and second-hand official DVD-ROM copies of it also exist too.

Although most of the game takes place in both a sprawling futuristic cyberpunk city and a large tropical fantasy world, the free demo is restricted to one of the few self-contained parts of the game.

In other words, a short puzzle-filled sea voyage on a vaguely pirate-style galleon. Although it doesn’t technically involve pirates, there are telescopes, sails, the occasional piece of pirate-style dialogue and other such things that may be of interest to fans of the genre. However, the demo takes place about halfway through the events of the game, so it may be a little confusing and/or contain mild plot spoilers.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂 Ahoy mateys!

The Democracy Of The Written Word – A Ramble

One morning last spring, I found myself worrying about international politics and the future. To distract myself, I started imagining somewhat unrealistic and fanciful “alternate history” scenarios about how things could somehow turn out for the better. As I daydreamed, I noticed something interesting – most of my daydreams were more influenced by things like TV shows and computer games than any other type of cultural work.

This then made me think about how cultural influences have changed over the years. Half a century ago or more, a well-written novel by a single author could have a surprising impact on culture and politics. The most recent example of this is probably Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” from 1949, which is still referenced in political discussions. But, there are plenty of other historical examples, such as the “invasion literature” genre that was popular in Britain in the years before World War One.

Yet, I realised, the idea of novels having such an influence on people is very much a thing of the past.

Even during the 1960s and 70s, protest songs probably had more of a cultural impact than opinionated novels did. Although there are probably famous opinionated novels from this time period, they usually tend to get a lot less recognition than musicians do.

In more recent years, if someone wanted to make a political point to everyone, they had to do it through something like a TV show. For example, shows like the various versions of “Star Trek” helped to promote a more utopian vision of the future during the 1960s-1990s. They also probably had some level of influence on our current technology too (eg: tablet computers, automatic doors etc.. were probably at least partially inspired by “Star Trek: The Next Generation”).

Of course, culture changes and the shift from novels to protest songs to TV shows as a way of making a political point is an example of it. I mean, in the near future, computer and video games will probably be the main tool that creative people use to make some kind of political point. They’re becoming more mainstream, indie games are more popular than ever before and games are finally starting to be taken seriously as an artform by mainstream culture (at least when they don’t do stupid, greedy things like including loot boxes etc..). So, they’ll probably be the next evolutionary step of opinionated creative works.

But, with all of this progress, I can’t help but feel that we’ve lost something.

Basically, in order to produce a TV show or a computer game, you need a team of people and a budget. Although novels used to require a traditional publisher, all of the actual creativity just involved one author. One person with a typewriter or even just a pen and paper. This lends opinions expressed in fiction a certain individuality which is much harder to achieve when a group of people are involved.

Likewise, there’s something oddly democratic about the idea of one person writing a story that makes some kind of difference. Yes, in practice, the publishing industry was almost certainly fairly narrow-minded during the heyday of the opinionated novel, but the idea that anyone could write a novel that made a point is an interesting one. After all, the materials needed to make it were cheap and easily available, and almost everyone learnt how to read and write at school. So, theoretically at least, anyone could do it.

The same, of course, cannot be said for more complicated things like TV shows and computer games. Yes, you might argue, “people can make Youtube videos” or “there are ‘game maker’ programs out there which don’t require programming“, but they don’t really compare to the large-budget offerings from more well-financed teams of people.

As such, they lack the meritocracy of the written word. Basically, if a story is good then it is good. If it is well-written, then it is well-written. It doesn’t matter who an author is or how wealthy they are – if they write well, they write well. if they don’t, they don’t. There’s no such thing as “large-budget special effects” in a novel – words are words.

However, with a game or a TV show, the quality and appeal of it depends on a whole host of other factors. Money matters more, a larger team of people are required, technology plays a role etc.. in other words, they miss out on the “anyone can, theoretically, do this” element that prose fiction has. And, when it comes to expressing opinions in a creative way, I think that this makes the world a slightly poorer place as a result.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art ( 28th January 2018)

Well, today’s art looks a bit… different… to usual. This was mostly because I was extremely tired when I drew the line art, but fell asleep before I could get round to adding paint. The next day, I was in the mood for spring cleaning and – realising that I didn’t have time to make a full painting – I scanned the line art and added colour, shading etc.. to it entirely digitally. So, yeah, it was a quick, low-effort thing. Sorry about this.

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

“Salvage Coast” By C. A. Brown

Three Tips For Getting To Know An Obscure Genre (If You Want To Make Stuff In It)

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before but, for today, I thought that I’d look at how to learn more about fascinating (but slightly obscure) genres of fiction, comics, art, games etc.. This is mostly because, a few years ago, I knew relatively little about the cyberpunk genre. Yes, I’d seen and read a couple of famous things in the genre – but I was eager to learn a lot more about it.

But, whilst I’m not an expert on it now, I know significantly more about the genre than I used to (to the point where it turns up in a lot of my art, and some of my fiction). In fact, it’s probably one of my largest creative inspirations.

But, how can you do this with obscure genres that fascinate you? Here are a few tips:

1) Look at the main genre: Generally speaking, more obscure genres tend to be an offshoot of larger and more well-known genres. If an obscure genre is slightly old (and had a “heyday” in the past), then there’s a good chance that more of it can be found hiding in more modern stuff from the “main” version of the genre in question.

This is mostly because things that are obscure today are often only obscure for the simple reason that they’ve been absorbed into the mainstream version of the genre. Likewise, people can only take inspiration from things that have been made in the past.

To give you an example, “splatterpunk” fiction was a sub-genre of horror fiction that was very popular during the 1970s-90s. At the time, this sub-genre was groundbreaking due to it’s nihilistic attitude and willingness to describe horrific events in high levels of gory detail. This was a far cry from the more subtle horror fiction of past decades that left a lot to the audience’s imaginations. Yet, although some classic splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker still return to the genre occasionally, there aren’t really that many “new” splatterpunk novels out there.

However, if you’ve read a few splatterpunk novels, then the mainstream horror genre might not be as unfamiliar as you think. Leaving aside stories about ghosts and modern vampire romances, one of the major effects of the splatterpunk genre (and one reason it doesn’t really exist any more) was to show horror authors that horror fiction can be gruesome.

These days, no fan of horror fiction bats an eyelid at highly-detailed gruesome descriptions, since such things can be found in “mainstream” horror fiction. Yet, a couple of decades earlier, they would be labelled “splatterpunk”.

In other words, one way to get to know a slightly old and obscure genre better is to look for things that were produced after it. Sometimes, these things will contain some elements of the genre that you are looking for (another good example is the film I reviewed yesterday. This is a modern sci-fi/action/comedy film from 2014, yet the set design is heavily influenced by old cyberpunk films like “Blade Runner” . Likewise, the modern TV series “Humans” has a lot of cyberpunk themes, even if the setting isn’t cyberpunk.).

2) Look at other mediums: Although I’ve only seen relatively few cyberpunk films and read relatively few cyberpunk novels, most of what I’ve learnt about the cyberpunk genre has come from other mediums. In particular, television, comics and computer games.

Often, if an obscure genre made a bit of an impact during it’s heyday, people working in other mediums will probably want to do stuff with it too. So, if you widen your search slightly, then you’ll find lots of extra stuff in this genre in places that you might not have expected.

To give you an example, the film noir genre was most popular in the 1930s-50s. These days, there aren’t many (if any) new classic noir-style films released by major film studios. Yet, the genre has had a fairly large influence on television, prose fiction, comics and computer/video games. So, if you’re looking for film noir these days, you probably won’t find it at the cinema.

3) Look for commonalities: Of course, if you want to learn more about an obscure genre, you’ve probably already done your fair share of internet research. You’ve probably, time and budget allowing, tried to track down as many things in this genre as you can. But, how do you learn from what you’ve found?

Simple, you look for what these things have in common. You study them carefully for general elements (eg: themes, visual elements, character types etc..) that appear often.

For example, one common visual element in many things in the cyberpunk genre is high-contrast lighting (using artificial light sources). This is where most of the lighting in a given location comes from things like computer monitors, neon lights etc.. and the rest of the background is kept slightly gloomy in order to allow the light to stand out more. This style of lighting can be found in numerous cyberpunk things – here are a few examples:

This is a screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982).

This is a screenshot from the opening credits of “Ergo Proxy” (2006). However, not all of what I’ve seen of the series looks like this.

This is a screenshot from “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” (1999).

This is a screenshot from “Technobabylon” (2015).

As you can see, the lighting in all of these things comes from artificial light and the rest of the background is kept gloomy to make the lighting stand out more. This is one of the visual “rules” of the cyberpunk genre, and you can learn stuff like this by looking carefully at things in your favourite obscure genre and making comparisons.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (27th January 2018)

Well, I was still in the mood for 1980s-style heavy metal art \m/ However, unlike yesterday’s painting, this painting ended up going in more of a horror/fantasy direction than a cyberpunk one.

This painting was going to be set in a futuristic version of Tokyo but I messed up the perspective slightly and ended up having to cover up a badly-drawn building by turning it into the giant fire-breathing monster on the left side of the painting. And, after that, the picture went in a more fantastical direction.

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

“Metallic Magic” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Guardians Of The Galaxy” (Film)

Well, although I first heard of “Guardians Of The Galaxy” a few years ago and thought that it looked vaguely interesting, I only finally got round to actually watching it a while before writing this review (ridiculously far in advance of publication) since it happened to be shown on TV a few days earlier and I had time to set up the DVR.

One thing that made me slightly wary about this film is the fact that it was made by Marvel. But, thankfully, it isn’t really that much of a *groan* superhero movie. In fact, it’s more of a sci-fi movie 🙂

But, is it any good? Let’s take a look. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

“Guardians Of The Galaxy” is a sci-fi/comedy/action film about a group of intergalactic outlaws and a mysterious metal sphere. The film shows how these outlaws meet and the story mostly revolves around various characters trying to get hold of said sphere, in addition to a small amount of galactic politics.

For a “fun” action movie, the plot is slightly more detailed and complex than you might expect and it would probably take me quite a while to describe it in detail – hence the short summary.

Although the film shoots along at a surprisingly fast pace, it never really feels rushed and – to my surprise – the two-hour running time didn’t seem to be anywhere near as bloated as I had initially expected it to be. Likewise, despite the film including a ridiculous amount of multi-million dollar CGI, most of the film’s many action set pieces never really feel like empty drama either. This film had the potential to be another generic CGI-filled modern Hollywood movie, but it’s something significantly better. Why?

Simply put, it has an actual personality.

In addition to a lot of humour, the film actually takes place in a distinctive sci-fi universe that is reminiscent of “Farscape“, “Firefly” and “Blade Runner“. Space is shown to be a lawless place filled with criminals, bounty hunters and dens of iniquity. It also looks really bloody cool too:

This film was released in 2014. Although this awesome 1980s/90s-style cyberpunk aesthetic reappeared in 2017 (eg: the “Ghost In The Shell” remake, “Blade Runner 2049” etc…), it was a fairly rare thing in the year when this film was released.

Seriously, this could almost be a really cool-looking heavy metal album cover!

And I just LOVE this ancient temple location and cool-looking lighting in one of the early parts of the film.

In addition to including a really, really cool-looking 80s cyberpunk-inspired “used future” aesthetic and lots of awesome high-contrast lighting in many scenes, the setting of the film has a real “wild west” atmosphere to it too that is reminiscent of the cyberpunk genre. The galaxy is shown to be a truly lawless and alien place, in a similar way to “Farscape” albeit with it’s own unique backstory and fictional world.

Like in “Farscape”, the main characters are a group of human and alien outlaws. However, unlike “Farscape”, the main human character (Quill) isn’t exactly new to the galaxy.

Yet, despite the slight resemblance to “Blade Runner”, this isn’t really a cyberpunk film. It’s an action comedy film (with a vaguely “Star Wars”-like swashbuckling science fantasy tone) and it excels at both of these things for different reasons. The many action scenes in the film “work” fairly well for a number of reasons.

The first is that they sometimes use the futuristic nature of the settings to full advantage (eg: when the characters break out of a prison on a space station, they cut the artificial gravity at one point) and the second is that most of the action scenes in the film usually take place for a clear reason that is actually relevant to the plot.

Thirdly, there’s the occasional epic spaceship battle. Since these are one of my many favourite parts of classic sci-fi TV shows from the 1990s/2000s, it’s always great to see them getting the large-budget Hollywood treatment. However, the final spaceship battle (which takes place above a city) does get a little bit too over-dramatic for it’s own good (although this is mitigated somewhat by fight scenes that take place within one of the spaceships) and occasionally comes across as more of a CGI tech demo.

Fourthly, because the characters aren’t quite immortal superheroes (with the possible exception of a tree-like alien called Groot, and one part of the ending), there is an actual sense of suspense and tension during many of the action scenes.

Yes, they’re the main characters. But, when they are outnumbered or outgunned, they occasionally have to rely on their wits rather than just their weapons in order to prevail. This helps to stop the action sequences from becoming mindless or meaningless and it helps to avoid the “God Mode” -like boredom that comes from superhero movies (and some superhero-like action movies, like “A Good Day To Die Hard).

Yes, there’s a lot of traditional combat. But, sometimes, the characters have to actually use their brains to get out of difficult situations… what a novel concept!

Fifthly, the film gets the pacing of the action scenes right. Although there are a lot of them, they never really get tiring because they’re interspersed with non-action scenes in a way that neither type of scene gets too much screentime. Unlike some action movies, this allows the film to include lots of action without leaving the audience feel jaded or bored. The only other example of a film I can think of that manages to sustain so many action scenes over a relatively short space of time is “Dredd” from 2012:

Not to mention that some of the set designs in “Guardians Of The Galaxy” also remind me a little bit of “Dredd” too.

As for the humour, it works fairly well for the simple reason that the characters are surprisingly well-developed. Although the film only contains a few carefully-chosen moments of serious emotional drama, these carry a surprising amount of weight and they really make the audience care about the characters. Likewise, since the characters are a band of outlaws who are forced together due to circumstance, there are lots of hilariously sarcastic interactions between them.

One other thing that really helps with the humour in this film is that it relies on several different types of humour. Yes, there’s lots of hilarious irreverence and sarcasm, but there’s also slapstick humour, eccentric background details (like the dog that the Soviets sent into space), jokes that reference earlier moments in the film, occasional 1980s pop culture references and a couple of random cameos (eg: Stan Lee, Howard the Duck etc..) too. This mixture of humour types and the mixture between serious drama and comedy helps to ensure that the film is fairly consistently funny in a slightly unique way.

Plus, I don’t know why, but there’s something inherently hilarious about characters drinking from fountains, hoses etc..

All in all, despite being made by a company that has a reputation for making *groan* superhero movies, “Guardians Of The Galaxy” is actually a surprisingly good sci-fi, comedy and action movie. All three elements of this film go together absolutely perfectly to produce something that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Even though it’s two hours long, it crams about three hours worth of storytelling and world-building into that time. Not only that, but the film is also worth watching just for the beautiful set designs too – seriously, some parts of this film are a work of art!

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