Today’s Art (30th June 2018)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting (which also comes in a non-rainy version) was a vaguely cyberpunk-influenced painting that also gave me a chance to practice painting lighting in water (which was kind of inspired by the fact that I’d watched a film called “Hard Rain” at the time I was making this painting).

As usual, this painting (and the non-rainy version) is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Platforms” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – June 2018

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.

The quality of this month’s art/writing-based articles was slightly variable, mostly because I was also focusing on my “1990s film reviews” series too.

Although the next review in this series won’t appear until the 3rd July at the earliest (since I haven’t written a “Doom II” WAD review in a while and I’m also still sticking to my “don’t post reviews on consecutive days” rule), I am at least learning how to balance reviews and article-writing. Still, when I was getting used to it earlier this month, the quality of my “ordinary” articles dipped slightly.

Anyway, here are the lists. Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – June 2018:

– “Three Reasons Why The Monster Genre Is Brilliant
– “What To Do When Unenthusiasm Strikes In The Middle Of A Painting
– “One Surprising Thing FPS Games Can Teach Us About Creativity – A Ramble
– “Three Basic Tips For Coming Up With Good Settings In The Horror Genre
– “Three Random Tips For Informal Creative Research
– “Three Tips For Making Rushed And/Or Uninspired Art Look Better
– “Two Basic Tips To Avoid Making “Bloated” Creative Works
– “Five Reasons Why Fictional Villains Are Such Interesting Characters
– “In Art, Style Matters As Much As (Or More Than) Substance – A Ramble
– “One Thing That The Romance Genre Does Differently To Most Other Genres

Honourable mentions:

– “How To Avoid Your “Inspired By..” Creative Works Turning Into Rip-Offs
– “Art Practice Works! – A Ramble

Today’s Art (29th June 2018)

Well, I was feeling more inspired than I expected although, for some reason, I felt inspired to make a digitally-edited painting of a 1980s-style rural pub.

Interestingly, this painting was originally going to have more of an “olde worlde” look to it, but I then decided to go for a look that was both warmly reassuring and eerily ominous at the same time.

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

“Vintage Pub” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Mimic” (Film)

Well, for the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a look at yet another monster movie. But, before I begin, I should probably point out that this film review series will probably go on a brief hiatus until at least the 3rd July (due to other articles/reviews that I’ve got planned for the next few days).

Anyway, the next film from the 1990s I’ll be looking at is a Guillermo Del Toro film from 1997 called “Mimic”. This is one of those films that I watched on VHS during my mid-teens but haven’t re-watched since then. So, when I saw that second-hand DVDs of it were going cheap online, I decided to take another look at it.

So, let’s take a look at “Mimic”. Needless to say, this review contains SPOILERS. I should also point out that the film contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS too (although I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to be an issue).

“Mimic” begins in New York, where a mysterious and dangerous epidemic is spreading amongst the local children.

Two members of the CDC called Dr. Susan Tyler (played by Mira Sorvino) and Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam), discover that the disease is being spread by cockroaches.

So, Dr. Tyler begins to genetically engineer a species of infertile hybrid insect called the “Judas Breed” which gives off an enzyme that causes the cockroaches’ metabolisms to speed up to a dangerous level. After releasing a swarm of these bugs into the New York subway, the cockroaches are eliminated and the spread of the disease is quickly stopped in it’s tracks.

Well, that was a short film! Huh? There’s more…

Three years later, a priest is murdered by a mysterious assailant – with the only witness being an autistic boy called Chuy who lives in the house across the street with his grandfather. Whilst the police investigate the murder (and some mysterious droppings found on the ceiling of the church), two children visit Dr. Tyler with a box containing an unusual insect that they’ve caught.

After some haggling, she agrees to pay them $10 for it and asks them to look for egg sacs belonging to the insect. But, when she opens the box, she finds that it is still alive and – after a brief scuffle – she manages to impale it on a dissection table.

Yay! Science!

A closer examination reveals that it’s a larger version of the Judas Breed that seems to be capable of reproduction. But, before she can examine the bug too closely, a mysterious person breaks into her lab and steals it.

However, a while later, a friend of Tyler’s lab assistant finds an even larger bug at a nearby sewage facility and, after performing an autopsy on it, the CDC scientists deduce that there is a colony of highly-evolved insects hiding in the subway tunnels beneath New York….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s probably one of the most “serious” monster movies that I’ve ever seen.

Whilst most monster movies are at least a little bit tongue-in-cheek, “Mimic” is a brooding, sombre, dark, grim and bleak horror film. Whilst it isn’t “jump out of your seat” frightening, the oppressive emotional tone, grim surroundings and creeping uneasiness of this film really set it apart from the average monster movie.

Yes, this isn’t one of those “fun” monster movies. It’s something a bit more gothic…

In addition to the rather dark themes within this film (such as the unintended side-effects of scientific research, children being harmed, horror lurking in plain sight etc…), the grim emotional tone is also compounded through some wonderfully gloomy lighting and lots of claustrophobic, old and dilapidated set design.

Even the scenes set during the day can often look at least slightly gloomy and/or ancient.

Seriously, the lighting here is wonderfully gloomy in only the way that a film from the 1990s can be. However, whilst this style of lighting is just something that looks really cool in other films, the almost constant use of this type of gothic lighting in “Mimic” quickly turns it from something beautiful into something much heavier, creepier and more oppressive. It really adds a lot to the grungy, grim atmosphere of the film.

Still, some of the lighting looks really beautiful.

But, despite the aesthetically pleasing orange/blue colour scheme that the film’s lighting uses, it still somehow looks really heavy and gothic.

The film’s story and pacing are also fairly good too. Although the film starts out with a number of story threads, they all gradually converge together fairly well as the film progresses. Likewise, although the film has a very slightly slower pace than you might expect from a monster movie, this fits in very well with the heavy, gothic and sombre atmosphere of the film. Best of all, at 101 minutes in length, this film is still just about short enough to remain focused and compelling throughout.

Likewise, the film’s characters are all really good. Many of the characters are somewhat understated and realistic, which really helps to immerse the audience into the events of the film.

In other words, it’s a horror movie where the main characters are sensible people.

Even when the main characters are confronted with the giant insects, they will often react to this in a realistic way (eg: hiding, planning, fighting only when absolutely necessary etc..). Even during the film’s two most dramatic action sequences, you really get the sense that Tyler and Mann are only resorting to such spectacular heroics because they genuinely think that they won’t survive (and either want to take the insects with them and/or protect the life of someone else).

Although the film’s main twist is probably at least vaguely well-known by now, it is still a surprisingly inventive – if far-fetched – one. Basically, due to their accelerated evolution, the bugs are now the size of humans. And, as both a protection and hunting mechanism, they have developed the ability to crudely mimic the appearance of humans by using a bony, skull-like mask that grows from two of their legs.

And, given how gloomy the film is, this disguise probably actually works.

As the title suggests, this theme of mimicry runs throughout the film – whether it is the fact that the geneticists try to mimic nature near the beginning of the film, or the fact that Chuy often tries to communicate with the giant bugs by mimicking their strange chattering noises (which, in turn, could be their attempt at imitating the cries of those they devour), or the fact that the main characters’ main defence against the giant insects is fooling them by using a scent gland from a dead insect etc..

This film is about the imperfections and dangers inherent in copying something you don’t understand (eg: Chuy thinks that the insects are friendly because he can “talk” with them, but he soon learns otherwise when his grandfather is devoured by one of them). This theme also evokes Freud’s concept of “The Uncanny” quite often too and this theme of imperfect copying is one of the things that really adds a lot of horror to the film.

The special effects in this film are surprisingly good, considering that it is a mid-budget film from a little over two decades ago. First of all, the pyrotechnics in one scene are absolutely spectacular.

So many explosions! I can’t believe it isn’t a Michael Bay film!

Plus, although there is an obvious CGI insect in one scene, many of the effects are gooey, slimy and/or grotesque practical effects. This really helps out a lot with the “gross out” elements of the film’s horror and it really helps to create the feeling that the characters are stepping into an alien-like insect colony when they venture into the stygian depths of New York’s abandoned subway tunnels.

Ah, good old 90s CGI – so wonderfully cartoonish.

Seriously, these practical effects look so much creepier!

And, yes, this film is filled with slime, gunge, gunk, ichor and sludge aplenty!

Musically, this film is reasonably good and, although I didn’t really notice the music that much, it certainly seemed to add to the film’s brooding, creepy and grim atmosphere.

All in all, this is a very well-made horror movie. It contains lots of thematic complexity, realistic characters, atmosphere and creepiness. It is a very unique and imaginative film that gets as much of it’s horror from the general atmosphere and emotional tone of the film as it does from the actual “monsters” in the film.

However, it isn’t really the kind of fun, cheesy monster movie that I really enjoy. Yes, it has a lot of artistic merit and it is very well-made, well-written and well-directed. But, it isn’t really “fun” in the way that a monster movie should be. Still, if you want a more “serious” example of the genre, then you can’t go wrong with “Mimic”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and half on artistic and narrative grounds. But, again, it isn’t a “fun” monster movie.

Today’s Art (28th June 2018)

Today’s digitally-edited painting (which also comes in a non-rainy version too) is a modern remake of an old painting of mine from 2016. I’d been meaning to remake this painting for a while, but I only eventually got around to it because I was feeling extremely uninspired.

Surprisingly, the modern remake actually turned out a lot better than I’d expected. Initially, I worried that it’d look worse than the old version from 2016, but I guess that I’ve learnt more about lighting, image editing and drawing than I thought I had.

As usual, this painting (and the non-rainy version too) is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“At Midnight (II)” By C. A. Brown

Three Reasons Why The Monster Genre Is Brilliant

Well, during one of my 1990s film reviews a few days ago, I was reminded of how much fun the monster genre is. Seriously, as horror sub-genres go, it’s certainly one of my favourites.

So, I thought that I’d list a few of the many reasons why the monster genre is such a fun, interesting and distinctive part of the horror genre.

1) Non-scary horror: Simply put, monsters aren’t scary. Like zombies and vampires, they don’t actually exist in real life.

What this means is that when you watch a monster movie or read a monster-themed horror novel, then you get to see all of the techniques, features and tropes of the horror genre (eg: suspense, gore, melodrama etc..) but without any of the lingering fear that accompanies more “realistic” or more psychological horror stories.

I’ve written about non-scary horror before, but some of the reasons why this is such a fun type of horror include the fact that it makes the audience feel like they’re really “tough” (since they’re experiencing something in the horror genre, but aren’t terrified by it) and the fact that it can often turn into an absolutely brilliant type of horror-themed comedy. After all, if you’re seeing all of the tropes and features of the horror genre in a context that isn’t scary, then they can come across as hilariously melodramatic.

In addition to this, the monster genre is also a “safe” way to experience something in the horror genre. One of the problems with more “serious” horror is that it can often leave you feeling nervous and/or miserable for hours or days afterwards. The monster genre has none of that. Even if a monster story ends with the monster eating the main characters or wiping out civilisation, then it’s still funny rather than scary because of the unrealistic silliness of it all. So, it’s a way to enjoy the horror genre without any negative emotional side-effects.

2) Disaster without the disaster: Another cool thing about the monster genre is that it allows the audience to experience all of the thrilling elements of the disaster genre, without any of the real-world “it could happen” seriousness that accompanies things in this genre.

Although some things in the monster genre are supposed to be metaphors for real-world threats (eg: Godzilla was originally meant to be a metaphor for the atom bomb), this subtext often doesn’t appear in the monster genre.

Even so, the monster genre has a lot in common with the disaster genre. Whether it is an intrepid band of survivors trying to survive against all odds, or a group of experts trying to contain a disease-like group of creatures or the military/emergency services doing their job in a spectacular way, the monster and disaster genres are very similar. But, since the monster genre involves hilariously unrealistic giant creatures, all of these elements become joyously thrilling rather than dramatically serious.

In addition to this, monster stories often end with the monster being defeated or scared away. Given that the news is often filled with terrible events that we have no control over, seeing a story where some kind of calamity or catastrophe is defeated through ingenuity, courage and/or strength can be fairly satisfying on an emotional level.

3) No pretentiousness: Yet another awesome thing about the monster genre is that it knows that it is meant to be silly fun. It isn’t trying to win awards or impress pretentious critics, it exists purely to entertain. And it is so much better as a result!

Because it isn’t looking for formal mainstream recognition, the monster genre has a lot more room to be inventive, silly and fun. It’s like American horror comics during the 1940s-50s or computer games during the 1990s. This generally results in a much more light-hearted tone, an emphasis on fun and a lot more creativity.

The low filming budgets and/or lack of bestseller status mean that works in the monster genre have to find more creative ways to intrigue or entertain the audience. It also means that they can be a bit more fun or light-hearted, since their target audience consists of fans of the genre.

This lack of pretentiousness also extends to a lack of obsession about celebrity too, which is very refreshing when compared to mainstream culture. Things in the monster genre will often be by lesser-known authors (with a dedicated fan-base) or they’ll include unknown actors and/or actors who are less famous than they used to be. And, in a world that is obsessed with fame, this can be extremely refreshing.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Review: “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (Film)

Well, since I was still waiting for some DVDs to arrive, this review in my “1990s Films” series will be of an old favourite of mine that I’ve been meaning to review for a while.

I am, of course talking about a “so bad that it’s good” comedy horror monster movie from 1990 called “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”.

Although I must have referenced this film more times than I can remember (and have watched it at least four times), I haven’t actually reviewed it properly yet.

So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”. I should warn you that this review may contain SPOILERS and that the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS (although I don’t know if they’re intense enough to cause issues or not).

“Gremlins 2” takes place a couple of years after the events of the first “Gremlins” film (and you should really watch that film first). It begins in New York where an old shopkeeper in Chinatown is threatened by property developers.

He refuses to sell, but dies of old age six weeks later. The shop is demolished – and the old man’s pet Mogwai (a cute, fluffy creature called Gizmo) barely manages to escape alive, before he is suddenly kidnapped by a passing scientist.

Meanwhile, Billy and Kate (from the first film) are going to work at the Clamp Trade Centre – a giant futuristic office building run by a charismatic businessman called Daniel Clamp. After a series of random coincidences, Billy learns that Gizmo is being kept in a genetics research facility on another floor in the building. So, he decides to free Gizmo and hide him in his filing cabinet.

Filed under “G” for “glum”, of course….

After Billy’s boss Marla pressures him into going to dinner with her, Billy asks Kate to pick up Gizmo and take him home. Reluctantly, she agrees. But, before she can get to Billy’s office, a repairman accidentally splashes Gizmo with water whilst repairing a drinking fountain. The first rule with Mogwai is never to get them wet. When they get wet, they start reproducing at an alarmingly fast rate.

When Kate arrives, she accidentally picks up one of Gizmo’s offspring instead of him.

Meh. Close enough.

Of course, by the time Billy gets home and realises that the Mogwai isn’t Gizmo, it is already past midnight. After all, the second rule with Mogwai is that they mustn’t eat anything after midnight. If they do, they turn into…. Gremlins!

And hilarity ensues!

One of the first things that I will say about “Gremlins 2” is that it is an acquired taste. As I mentioned earlier, it is a film that is “so bad that it is good“. This film is silly, anarchic, nonsensical, childish, meta-fictional and …strange. And, yet, it’s still a really interesting film for so many reasons.

Whilst the first “Gremlins” film was a light-hearted “feel good” horror movie, the second one is much more of a zany creature-based comedy. The humour here is a bit hit-and-miss, and it is a film that manages to be both very sophisticated and patronisingly simplistic with it’s humour. Which is quite an achievement.

For example, there’s a well-hidden background joke here that I only spotted when going through the screenshots for this review. Unfortunately, it’s just…. two policemen in a doughnut shop. Haw haw haw!

Some of the film’s more subtle humour works really well, some of the humour is a bit too referential (although the reference to the “Santa Claus” monologue from the first film is genius!), some of the characters are hilarious, sometimes it can seem like the film is trying too hard to be funny, some of the humour just seems a bit stupid, some of the humour is a bit outdated (eg: a stereotypical Japanese tourist character), and some of it shouldn’t work but it somehow does:

Like when the anarchic Gremlins suddenly break into a lavish and well-choreographed musical number. Seriously, this is hilarious!

But, even most of the comedy elements that don’t work are still part of this film’s charm.

If I had to sum the film up in two words, they would be “endearingly annoying”. It is one of those strange films that will have you rolling your eyes and yearning for the credits to roll when you’re actually watching it, but it will leave you in a happily nostalgic mood after you’ve finished watching it. These rose-tinted memories will inevitably cause you to rewatch it every year or two. It’s adorably terrible, or reassuringly stupid or heartwarmingly awful.

“Endearingly annoying” is also a good description of Gizmo too.

Another reason why this film is “so bad that it’s good” is that some parts of it really haven’t aged well at all – or rather, they’re a reflection of a more innocent time.

For example, Daniel Clamp is clearly meant to be a parody of Donald Trump. This is somewhat jarring by modern standards because he’s portrayed as a foolish and cowardly- but ultimately nice, good and successful – character.

Pictured: Not the way that a modern satirist would depict a Trump-like character (the 90s really were a more innocent time *sigh*)

Plus, the futuristic Clamp Trade Centre building is almost certainly a reference to the World Trade Centre. Then there’s the fact that the film also includes a brief comedic scene involving an acid attack (at the time of writing, these types of attacks turned up in the news in Britain alarmingly regularly – and are anything but comedic!). Hulk Hogan even has a cheerfully enthusiastic cameo in this film too! This film really is a relic of a different age!

And, yes, this scene wouldn’t turn up in a comedy movie these days!

But, in other ways, this film’s age really works in it’s favour! Everything from the lighting, to the special effects, to the wardrobe department, to the set design etc… is so gloriously retro 🙂

Seriously, it’s a really fascinating stylised glimpse into a part of the past that is both vaguely familiar and extremely different at the same time. Not only that, the film also has a really stylised aesthetic that goes really well with the zany, cartoonish events of the story:

Seriously, set design and lighting were SO much better in the 1990s!

And just check out the amazing lighting in THIS scene too 🙂

And the set design/lighting design here almost looks a little bit like something from “Blade Runner” or “Robocop 2” 🙂

The characters in this film are a really interesting bunch too. Billy and Kate (played by Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates) are slightly more mature versions of their characters from the first film – with Billy being the cheerful and optimistic one, and Kate being a more cynical, practical realist and/or pessimist.

I also forgot to mention Mr. Futterman (Dick Miller) and Marla Bloodstone (Haviland Morris), who are brilliant characters too.

In addition to this, Christopher Lee plays an evil scientist and Robert Picardo plays an obnoxious manager too.

Yes, Christopher Lee AND Robert Picardo 🙂

The film’s pacing is both terrible and brilliant at the same time. The film is surprisingly slow to get started, and yet this contrasts well with the chaotic action in the later parts of the film.

Likewise, the film’s narrative can be a little bit random and disjointed, but this compliments the anarchic events of the film really well. Plus, at 102 minutes in length, it is almost a little bit on the bloated side of things – but it never feels too long after you’ve finished watching it (but the literal opposite is true when you’re actually watching it).

In terms of the special effects, they’re surprisingly good for a film released in 1990. The creature designs are fairly inventive, the animatronic/puppet-based effects are handled very well, there are some traditional animation-based effects (instead of clunky 90s CGI) and the gore effects in this film are also interesting too.

Since this is something of a family comedy film/ light-hearted monster movie, the gore has been replaced with some hilariously gross green slime, gunge and/or skeleton-based effects:

With this scene involving a gremlin and a shredder surpassing the gross hilariousness of the microwave scene from the first film.

And, yes, this is a “Wizard Of Oz” reference too. Since this film was made before the internet became widely-used, many of the references in it are really old and/or “obvious” ones.

And, yes, I LOVE these painted lights too! Old special effects rock!

In musical terms, this film is really good, containing a great mixture of classic 1980s/90s Hollywood orchestral music and other types of music such as thrash metal and show tunes.

All in all, “Gremlins 2” is so bad that it is good. There’s really no other way to describe this film. It is both amazing and terrible at the same time.

It is both a cringe-worthy relic and a piece of heartwarming retro nostalgia. It is a film that would never get made today – and this is both a good and a bad thing. It is a film that you’ll never forget! It is a film that will make you pray for the credits when you’re actually watching it, but you’ll want to watch it again after the credits eventually roll. It is a lot of things, but above all, it is unique. There is nothing else quite like this dreadful delight!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get… both one and five simultaneously.

Today’s Art (26th June 2018)

Well, although I was somewhat tired and uninspired when I made this digitally-edited painting, it turned out surprisingly well 🙂 Even so, it was originally supposed to be a more elaborate gothic painting, although I ended up adding a slightly generic cyberpunk background to it since I ran out of inspiration slightly.

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

“Horror Novels At Midnight” By C. A. Brown

The Complete “Work In Progress” Line Art For My “Damania Retroactive” Webcomic Mini Series

Well, since my “Damania Retroactive” webcomic mini series finished recently, I thought that I’d do my usual thing of showing off the “work in progress” line art I scanned whilst making it (and apologies for the disruption to the scheduling of my “1990s films” review series that this post has caused).

Since this webcomic mini series was vaguely topical (I make these comics quite far in advance, so the time that the characters travel back to was actually the time I was making it), there were a surprising number of changes between the dialogue in the line art and in the finished comics.

This was mostly because I was influenced by events in the news at the time, or because I worried that parts of the dialogue might not sound emphatic enough or might sound too emphatic etc.. I also occasionally ended up rewriting parts of the dialogue and altering the characters’ expressions slightly too. Likewise, there were some fairly major changes to the second comic (even including changing the title of this comic from “Opinion” to “Time Troll” in the finished comic too).

As usual, you can click on each piece of line art to see a larger version of it.

“Damania Retroactive – Again (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Retroactive – Opinion (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Retroactive – Duplicity (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Retroactive – Double Derek (Again) (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Retroactive – Nostalgia (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Retroactive – Deus Ex Machina (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown