A Quick Guide To Drawing/ Writing About Two Stylised Versions Of The 1990s

As regular readers of this site know, I’m a massive fan of the 1990s. Not only do I love making 1990s-style art and playing computer/video games from that decade, but I’m also doing something of an informal research project into films from that decade at the moment (hence the film reviews appearing every other day or so at the moment).

Yet, one of the interesting things about fictional depictions of the 1990s (and the 1990s itself) is that there are lots of different “versions” of it out there.

So, I thought that I’d provide a guide to how to draw and/or write about stylised versions of 1990s Britain and/or America (since these are the two countries I’ve researched the most. Plus, I actually just about remember 1990s Britain too).

But, for time reasons, I’ll only be taking a look at the two versions that I’ve researched the most (so, apologies if I repeat myself, since I’m sure I’ve mentioned this stuff before). So, let’s get started:

1) Early-Mid 1990s Los Angeles/Florida: This is one of my favourite versions of the 1990s.

The key visual features when depicting it in art are lots of dramatic sunsets, palm trees, garish/strange fashions, floral patterns, sunglasses, skateboarders, high-contrast lighting (eg: 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting should be covered with black paint), people wearing baseball caps backwards, ominous alleyways, pastel-shaded interior design, vaguely gothic-looking interior design, angular buildings, dramatic cityscapes etc… This is probably one of the more well-known “versions” of the 1990s out there, so visual research materials aren’t that hard to find.

When writing about it, it you might want to emphasise things like punk music, “valley girl” characters, rap music, extroverted/brash characters, hot weather, sarcasm, optimism, shameless consumerism/commercialism, technology, crime, skateboarding etc…

Stories in the thriller genre tend to work well here, especially when they use slightly silly “larger than life” storylines. The thing to remember here is that 1990s thriller stories either focused on “realistic” topics (like crime) or – since this was the time period between the end of the cold war and 9/11 – “unrealistic” and outlandish evil plots by villains. Bonus points if you also depict Los Angeles as the centre of the universe too.

Good research materials for this stylised version of the 1990s include:Smash” by The Offspring, “Bad Boys“, the first and third episodes of “Duke Nukem 3D“, the early episodes of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer“, “Pulp Fiction“, “Stranger Than Fiction” by Bad Religion, “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air“, the original series of “The Power Rangers” etc…

2) Mid-Late 1990s Britain: Since I actually vaguely remember this, I thought that I’d include it on the list.

The thing to remember about mid-late 1990s Britain is that it doesn’t actually look that different to modern Britain. Most of the visual differences are fairly subtle and/or general things. These include the obvious things like VHS tapes, CRT monitors, ashtrays in pubs, fewer mobile phones etc.. But they also include some subtle differences in fashion, such as crop tops, long floral dresses, sportswear, plain T-shirts & jeans and very slightly formal fashions.

However, the differences are a lot more important when writing about it (like I did here). The thing to remember about mid-late 1990s Britain is that it was simultaneously “cool” and “crap” at the same time.

On the one hand, it was at the height of the “cool Britannia” thing and there was a general atmosphere of optimism in the air – the Spice Girls were popular, Britpop was popular, there was more of a fun hedonistic attitude (eg: it was the heyday of celebrities like Tracey Emin etc..), computers were both cool and nerdy, “traditional” British things (eg: double-decker buses etc..) were over-emphasised for ironic stylishness, popular culture had a bit more of an “edgy” and “rebellious” attitude etc…

On the other hand, mid-late 1990s Britain was also a bit more stuffy, dull and “traditional” too. It wasn’t really as “cool” as the fictional depictions of America that appaeared regularly on the TV and in the cinema. But this was also part of the charm of the time too. After all, it was kind of a national running joke that Britain was “kind of crap” – but, on the plus side, this also served as a very useful bulwark against any kind of aggressive nationalism too.

Good research materials for this stylised version of the 1990s include:Bugs“, “The Thin Blue Line“, “Ultraviolet“, anything to do with the Spice Girls, the early series of “Bits” (there are clips on Youtube), “Shooting Fish“, “Goodness Gracious Me!“, “Tomorrow Never Dies“, “Human Traffic“, the early parts of “Kevin & Perry Go Large” etc…

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Sorry for the short list, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (20th June 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the first comic in “Damania Retroactive” – a webcomic mini series about time travel (it’ll hopefully be self-contained, but it is also a sequel to this mini series, then this one, then this one, then [sort of] this one and then this one). Yes, I’ve decided to go back to making narrative-based mini series again (in order to stay inspired).

And, this time, Harvey, Roz, Derek and Rox have travelled back to the distant year of… 2017.

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

“Damania Retroactive – Again” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Striking Distance” (Film)

Well, for the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d re-watch a detective/thriller/horror movie from 1993 called “Striking Distance”.

This is one of those films that I vaguely remember watching on late-night TV when I was a teenager. And, since it was included on a cheap DVD boxset (that also contained “Bad Boys) I thought that I’d take another look at it. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS, but I’ll try to avoid larger ones.

So, let’s take a look at “Striking Distance”:

Why it loses out on second billing to “S.W.A.T” on this DVD cover is a complete mystery to me.

After a creepy title credits montage involving a serial killer, “Striking Distance” begins in Pittsburgh in 1991 – with homicide detective Tom Hardy (played by Bruce Willis) getting ready to go to a police social event with his father, when he catches a news report about a police brutality case that he gave evidence in.

Well, that was a rather convenient coincidence…

This case led to the conviction of Hardy’s partner Jimmy (played by Robert Pastorelli), which has made him somewhat unpopular within the police department.

On the way to the social event, Hardy and his father get a call from dispatch and soon find themselves in the middle of a dramatic police chase.

Which somehow still continues for quite a while after this point, despite all of the suspension-wrecking jumps here.

The criminal drives expertly and manages to evade all of the other police cars until only Hardy and his father are left. After a crash, Hardy is knocked unconscious. When he comes to, he learns that the criminal not only fled the scene, but also shot his father too.

Some time later, Hardy goes to Jimmy’s sentencing, where one of the other officers tells him that they’ve caught a serial killer that Hardy had been trying to collar. However, Hardy has his doubts about the suspect.

Well, it wouldn’t be a very long film if this suspect was actually the criminal…

But, when Jimmy’s sentencing hearing begins, Jimmy is nowhere to be found. It soon transpires that he is standing on the edge of a tall bridge and threatening to jump. Despite the efforts of Hardy and the other police officers, Jimmy jumps.

Two years later, Hardy is a washed-up officer in the Pittsburgh river patrol – after being hounded out of the police for publicly expressing his doubts about the suspect in the serial killing case and for the events surrounding Jimmy’s death.

Bitter and cynical, Hardy is also, as you would expect, something of a loose cannon too. And, after “accidentally on purpose” throwing his partner overboard, he gets assigned a new partner – Jo Christman (played by Sarah Jessica Parker).

And, yes, there’s the obligatory scene a few moments earlier where Hardy mishears Jo’s name as “Joe” and then looks surprised.

At first, the two of them don’t get along well. But, after a thrilling raid on a coal boat, they become friends. However, Hardy is shocked when he gets a call over the radio about a body in the river. When he arrives, it doesn’t take him long to realise that it is the same modus operandi as the case from two years earlier. So, despite Christman’s reminders that he isn’t a homicide detective any more, Hardy decides to investigate once again……

Again, it’d be a fairly short film if he didn’t….

One of the first things that I’ll say about this film is that, even if you already know the ending, it is still a surprisingly suspenseful, dramatic and compelling film. Although this film has a few dramatic action sequences, it is actually more of a detective film than an action movie (unlike, say, “Bad Boys) – with a lot of the film focusing on Hardy trying to catch the serial killer and investigate the case unofficially.

Likewise, the film’s pacing is slightly closer to that of a detective movie than an action movie – with slightly more emphasis placed on the character dynamics between the various detectives than on the film’s relatively few chases and fights.

And, yes, a lot of the film is taken up with dialogue and sailing.

Likewise, the film also contains a suitably clever plot, at least one expertly-used red herring and a couple of shocking plot twists. Although this film isn’t exactly a police procedural or a Sherlock Holmes-like detective film, the emphasis is still firmly on detection, suspense and character-based drama rather than action.

Surprisingly, scenes like this aren’t as common as you might think.

Even so, the film’s action elements are fairly good – and still stand the test of time. Like with another vaguely nautical action film from the 1990s called “Hard Rain“, the film’s focus on small-scale events happening in one location really helps to keep the action dramatic, “realistic” and focused.

Likewise, the fact that the film’s action scenes actually have consequences (eg: Hardy spends the entire film limping from an injury he sustained in a thrilling car chase early in the film) helps to give the film’s action moments a real sense of drama and impact.

The suspenseful, dramatic and theatrical car chase at the beginning of the film is probably also the most well-choreographed of the film’s action scenes, although a later scene where Hardy uses a flare gun is probably the most inventive action scene.

The only action scene I can think to criticise is a somewhat random and unnecessary scene where Hardy (mostly) single-handedly raids a coal boat filled with criminals, seemingly just to impress Christman. Still, it’s a thriller movie starring Bruce Willis, so at least one badass “Die Hard”-esque scene is to be expected.

Yippie-ki-yay mothership!

Plus, at a streamlined 97 minutes in length, this film’s narrative manages to remain fairly focused throughout. Seriously, I’m surprised at how much storytelling and characterisation the film-makers managed to include here.

Yes, it certainly isn’t the most complex film I’ve ever seen, but there’s a lot of characterisation for many of the characters (eg: the older detectives who Hardy often ends up clashing with, Hardy himself, Christman etc..) and the relationships and dynamics between the characters are a central part of what makes the film so compelling.

However, quite a few of the conversations in this film can be described as terse, angry or bitter. Then again, this often adds suspense and tension to the film.

The emotional tone of this film is also somewhat interesting too. Opening credits aside, the film initially seems reassuringly “retro” – with Bruce Willis being Bruce Willis, some thrilling action, lots of beautiful scenery, some amusing dialogue etc..

Yet, as the film progresses, the emotional tone gradually darkens somewhat – with chilling plot twists, story developments, characters and scenes that push the film away from the thriller genre and into the horror genre. Or, more accurately, it’s one of those “a horror story in all but name” thrillers that used to be more popular during the 1990s.

For example, this scene probably wouldn’t look out of place in a horror movie.

Not only is this horror emphasised by the killer’s identity and modus operandi, but also by the fact that we learn relatively little about their motivations too. Not to mention that the motivations of some other characters seem all too chillingly realistic too. So, this isn’t really a “fun” action movie in the way that a film like “Broken Arrow” is, but it’s still a very compelling thriller.

In terms of set design and lighting, this film does fairly well. Most of the set design is fairly “realistic”, although there are some cool locations at various points in the film. Not to mention that Hardy also lives in a wonderfully cosy houseboat too, which just seems so quintessentially 90s.

Needless to say, it also provides a good backdrop for the obligatory romantic sub-plot too.

The lighting is, as you would expect from a film of this vintage, absolutely brilliant! Like so many other films from the 1990s, “Striking Distance” is filled with lots of wonderfully atmospheric gloomy and/or high-contrast lighting. Seriously, I miss when films used to include lighting like this on a regular basis.

Seriously, this place looks AMAZING!

Plus, Hardy’s houseboat looks really cool at night too.

Musically, this film is reasonably good – with the stand-out musical moment being an ominous slow-paced rock song that plays whenever the serial killer phones the police to taunt them.

All in all, “Striking Distance” is a compelling detective/horror/thriller movie (with some action movie elements). Yes, this film will be most dramatic when you see it the first time – but the character dynamics, characterisation, horror elements and suspense mean that the film can still be surprisingly compelling even when you know who the murderer is. Yes, it isn’t a “fun” 1990s action movie – but the suspense, horror and drama elements of the film are still fairly timeless.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Three Basic Tips For Coming Up With Good Settings In The Horror Genre

Well, I thought that I’d talk about storytelling, settings and the horror genre today. This is mostly because I happened to re-watch an absolutely amazing horror movie recently, where a large proportion of the film’s scares come from the location that the film is set in. This reminded me of how important settings and locations can be in the horror genre.

So, I thought that I’d offer some basic tips for coming up with good settings for your horror novel, comic etc….

1) Isolation: I’ll start with the really obvious one. One easy way to make the settings in a horror story even scarier is to ensure that the main characters are cut off from the world, and therefore have to rely on their own wits to survive.

When setting horror stories in the present day, it’s also usually obligatory to point out that the setting in question has no mobile phone reception (in fact, this has been done in horror movies for almost two decades. See the 1999 remake of “House On Haunted Hill” for an older example).

By setting your horror story somewhere isolated, you not only increase the level of danger that the characters face but you also give your story an instant sense of direction and suspense too, since the characters have to find a way to either summon help or escape the location in question.

And, yes, the horror genre is one of the few genres where running away from danger is actually realistically presented as a sensible and heroic thing to do.

2) Symbolism and/or history: The best and most memorable settings in the horror genre are not only eerily mysterious (so that the characters, and audience, don’t know what to expect) but they will often reflect a deeper symbolic and/or historical horror in some way or another.

For example, the classic horror videogame “Silent Hill 2” (major plot SPOILERS ahead!) is set in an abandoned, fog-covered town that is filled with monsters. Every now and then, an air raid siren will sound and then the town will transform itself into a much creepier version of itself – with rusty walls, gloomier lighting and even creepier monsters. These monsters include things like a giant executioner-like character called “Pyramid Head” and creepy undead nurses.

In addition to this, there are lots of other creepy, but meaningful, details scattered throughout the town – such as an abandoned shop that contains creepy graffiti on the inside of the papered-up windows (which changes, depending on when you read it) or a mannequin that is dressed like the main character’s late wife.

All of these details might initially seem like they are just there to scare the audience, but they hold a deeper meaning for the game’s main character – they are all symbolic reflections of his own feelings of guilt about ending the life of his terminally-ill wife. For example, the undead nurses symbolise (amongst other things) hospitals and illness, Pyramid Head’s executioner-like appearance symbolises the main character’s judgment of himself, the evil version of the world represents the main character’s tormented psyche etc…

But, even if the setting of a horror story isn’t a direct reflection of the main characters, it is still important to include some kind of deeper horror too. Going back to the 1999 remake of “House On Haunted Hill”, a lot of the film’s horror comes from the fact that the film takes place in a derelict mental hospital that was run by a cruel doctor during the 1930s.

So, the additional horrors inherent in this setting include things like torture, outdated attitudes, psychological suffering etc…. Which are reflected in many of the locations within the hospital (eg: rooms containing scary-looking medical equipment that has been left to rust etc..).

The easiest way to add a deeper horror to the settings in a horror story is simply to give the location in question a creepy history. However, this alone isn’t enough. The design, style and notable features of the location must also be some kind of symbolic reflection (the more subtle, the better) of this horrifying history.

3) Unreliable locations: Another way to come up with terrifying locations for horror stories is simply to make the location itself a creepily unpredictable thing. If the main characters don’t know what to expect, or cannot even trust reality itself – then this will make the audience feel even more nervous.

The classic horror movie example of this is in “A Nightmare On Elm Street“, where almost all of the film’s horrific events take place within the main characters’ dreams. Not only does this setting give the horror a sense of chilling inevitability (since no-one can stay awake forever), but the focus on dream-like settings also means that the audience never quite knows what to expect. After all, literally anything can happen in a dream….

Likewise, a good comics-based example of this is Raven Gregory’s “Return To Wonderland”. This is an extremely disturbing (and grisly) horror comic that is based on ‘Alice In Wonderland’ (and is even creepier than a classic computer game with a vaguely similar premise called “American McGee’s Alice).

Since the main character in “Return To Wonderland” is plonked into an evil version of a familiar fictional location (Wonderland) – this comic’s setting also plays on the reader’s expectations too. Because the readers think that they know what to expect, they soon discover that can’t even trust their own memories of ‘Alice In Wonderland’ when horrific things start happening. So, the story is a lot less predictable, and a lot scarier, as a result.

So, the less predictable a location is, the creepier it will be. If the main characters cannot even trust the world around them, then your story or comic will be a lot scarier.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (18th June 2018)

Well, it’s been ages since I last made any fan art. So, I thought that I’d try to cram as much fan art as possible into a single painting.

Although I managed to include fan art based on lots of awesome stuff (eg: “Blade Runner”, Iron Maiden, “Doom (1993)”, “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, The Offspring, Cradle Of Filth, “Deus Ex”, Sherlock Holmes [in a historically-accurate top hat], “Gremlins 2”, The Dopefish, Windows XP, “Heathers”, “Desperado” and “Star Trek”) there was still quite a a lot of stuff that I either forgot to add or couldn’t fit into the painting.

These include “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Silent Hill 3”, “American McGee’s Alice”, “Cowboy Bebop”, The Sisters Of Mercy, “The Longest Journey”, Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” etc… Who knows, maybe I’ll end up making another one of these pastiche paintings at some point in the future.

Since this is fan art, this painting is NOT released under any kind of creative commons licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Fan Art – Too Much Awesome” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Bad Boys” (Film)

Well, for the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d check out an action/detective/comedy film from 1995 called “Bad Boys”. Although I vaguely remember watching the sequel to it sometime during the early-mid 2000s, I’m pretty sure that I haven’t seen the original film before.

So, when I noticed that it was part of a fairly cheap DVD boxset (which also included “Striking Distance” too), I thought that I’d check it out.

Before I go any further I should point out that this review may contain some SPOILERS and that the film itself contains some FLICKERING/ STROBING LIGHTS in one scene set in a nightclub (although I don’t know if they’re intense/fast enough to cause problems or not).

So, let’s take a look at “Bad Boys”:

And, yes, I’ll also be reviewing “Striking Distance” during this review series too 🙂

“Bad Boys” follows two narcotics detectives in Miami called Burnett and Lowrey (played by Martin Lawrence and Will Smith) who are investigating the theft of $100 million worth of drugs from a police evidence room. The only catch is that they’ve got to solve the case in four days, lest their department be shut down for incompetence…..

And, yes, the characters even comment about the fact that the evidence locker contains a large ventilation shaft.

After some of the stolen drugs are found at the house of a murdered ex-cop (along with the body of one of Lowrey’s friends), someone called Julie (played by Téa Leoni) rings the police department and demands to speak to Lowrey.

Julie is a friend of Lowrey’s murdered friend, and she witnessed the entire thing (and, as such, is being pursued by the criminals). But, fearful of reprisals or corrupt police officers, she’ll only speak to Lowrey. However, Lowrey is out investigating a lead. So, Burnett is told by his boss to impersonate Lowrey.

Needless to say, hilarity, action and adventure follows….

As opposed to careful by-the-book police work and methodical investigation.

One of the first things that I will say about “Bad Boys” is that it works well as an action movie, a drama film and a comedy. However, the detective-based parts of the film can occasionally rely a little bit too much on coincidence and contrivance. Yes, there is some supsense and mystery- but the case at the heart of the film is mostly just there as an excuse for amusing situations, character-based drama and/or thrilling action set-pieces.

Still, the film does at least pay lip service to it’s “detective movie” elements, with the detectives occasionally investigating or following leads. However, this film is more of an action movie than a police procedural.

But, this isn’t to say that this film is all style and no substance. Although comedy and action are central parts of the film, these are still anchored in a compellingly dramatic story that revolves around two or three well-written characters.

Likewise, the film occasionally blends action and comedy in a fairly good way. Such as when the two detectives suddenly realise exactly what they’re hiding behind during a frenetic gunfight.

If anything, this film is more of a character study of the (occasionally antagonistic) friendship between Lowrey and Burnett than anything else – with both of them getting the bulk of the characterisation in this film.

Although Julie also gets a fair amount of characterisation too, the main focus of the film is on the two detectives. Even the film’s main villain is something of a two-dimensional character, who is just there to give Burnett and Lowrey an excuse to have a thrilling action-packed adventure.

Then again, a film about these characters just doing ordinary police work would also be quite fun to watch.

This character-based drama and comedy is helped by the contrast between Burnett and Lowrey’s lives (eg: Burnett is a fairly ordinary middle-class family man and Lowrey is handsome, wealthy, single etc..). However, although these differences play a key part in the film’s comedy, they usually aren’t over-emphasised to cartoonish extremes too often. And, despite many amusing arguments and/or misunderstandings, the two characters’ friendship is a central element of the film.

The film’s comedy elements work well, although they are a little bit more subtle than I expected. The bulk of the comedy comes from amusing dialogue between Lowrey and Burnett, in addition to the fact that they have to impersonate each other too. As well as this, there’s also some slapstick comedy, ironic humour, movie references and farce that helps to keep the film’s humour varied.

For example, one of the funniest slapstick scenes in the film is when Burnett tries his hand at weightlifting whilst Lowrey talks to an informant.

Although the film isn’t “laugh out loud” funny that often, the frequently amusing dialogue and situations often help to give the film a slightly more light-hearted emotional tone.

For example, this scene where the two detectives are pretending to be each other (and arguing, whilst trying not to look like they’re arguing) is absolutely brilliant.

The film’s action elements also stand up pretty well, even to this day. Since this film was directed by Michael Bay, it’s a given that it contains several dramatic explosions (with the rather pyrotechnic final battle against the villains being a good example of this). But the film also contains a few well-choreographed gun fights, fist fights and car chases too. The action scenes in this film are all fairly compelling, if somewhat “standard” quite a lot of the time.

Still, there are some interesting action scenes – such as one involving barrels and one where Lowrey chases a car on foot.

Likewise, the film’s pacing is also reasonably decent too – with the film remaining compelling throughout. However, at 116 minutes in length, the running time is a little on the bloated side of things. Yes, the film never quite feels “too long”, but it would have probably been even more compelling if the editor had been allowed to edit a bit more. Then again, compared to the films that Michael Bay made after this one, 116 minutes is relatively short in comparison.

In terms of lighting, set design and visual style – this film has some amazing moments. Not only are there lots of dramatic sunsets and cityscapes that just ooze mid-1990s awesomeness, but there’s also some truly brilliant interior design and cool set design, which is complemented with the kind of brilliantly gloomy lighting that is pretty much synonymous with the 1990s.

Yes, it’s ludicrous and completely impractical but, dammit, I want one of those large glowing clocks!

And this cityscape looks AMAZING!

I’m not sure if I prefer the set design or lighting design here. Both are amazing!

Musically, this films is rather interesting. Although most of the film’s background music uses a variety of instruments and styles, there is a single sequence of notes that turns up in many of the film’s songs. This sounds really thrilling and dramatic, although it is also one of those catchy pieces of music that will probably get stuck in your head fairly easily.

All in all, this is a good film. It is filled with comedic dialogue, thrilling action, stylish visuals and a compelling story. Although I have a few criticisms of this film (eg: the running time, the two-dimensional villain, the contrived elements of the investigation etc..), it is still a very good film overall.

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

Five Reasons Why Fictional Villains Are Such Interesting Characters

One of the interesting things that I’ve noticed during my informal research into films from the 1990s is that, often, the villains are some of the most interesting characters. But, this is, of course, also true in a lot of other stories from different times and in different mediums.

So, I thought that I’d list some possible reasons why the villains are often the most interesting characters in a film, story, comic, novel, game etc.. in case it can help you write more interesting villains.

1) Mystery: Unlike heroic characters, who the audience will spend a lot of time with, villains tend to appear slightly less often in stories. This usually means that they can often be a lot more mysterious than the main characters can be. This makes the audience feel a lot more curious about the villains than about the heroic characters. So, this is one reason why villains can be really interesting characters.

I mean, would Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” be such an interesting novel if Dracula was the narrator? Probably not. No, the reason why Dracula is such an interesting character is because – if I remember rightly- the main characters (who narrate the story) don’t really know that much about him. We only get relatively few glimpses of this mysterious vampire, and he’s much more interesting as a result.

In addition to this, a certain level of mystery surrounding the villain can often be used to make them seem more frightening or more powerful. If the audience doesn’t know the villain’s motivations, the villain’s identity or the villain’s plan then this can often add a lot of drama and/or emotional impact to a story. I mean, there’s a good reason why the most famous fictional villains (eg: Freddy Krueger, Darth Vader, Fantomas etc…) will often wear a mask of some kind.

2) Dramatic conflict: Simply put, a villain has to pose some kind of threat to the main characters. This not only provides the “good” main characters with a justifiable reason to do heroic stuff, but it also makes the story a lot more gripping too. Plus, it can sometimes allow for better characterisation by making the “good” characters seem good in comparison to the villains, thus allowing for a certain amount of intriguing moral ambiguity, dramatic rule-breaking (for a good reason) etc.. on the part of the good characters.

But, more than anything, stories need the drama of conflict in order to remain interesting. And villains provide an excuse for this.

I mean, would Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories be as interesting to read if they were set in a crime-free utopia? Where Sherlock Holmes did nothing but sit around smoking his pipe, reading books, having jovial conversations with Watson, playing the violin and performing the occasional science experiment? Probably not. There’s a reason why Conan Doyle’s stories revolve around the relatively few moments of Sherlock Holmes’ life when he is confronted with villainy of some kind or another.

3) Moral ambiguity: Simply put, villains can add some much-needed moral ambiguity to even the most simplistic “good vs evil” narrative. This is mostly because fictional villains are rarely “100% evil”.

They’ll either have a “good” reason for doing evil things, they’ll let the main characters survive (since it’d be a very short story otherwise), they’ll have a depressing backstory which shows why they became the villain etc… So, this means that – even in the most simplistic of stories – the villains will be some of the most complex, and unpredictable, characters in the story.

And, of course, complexity and unpredictability are two traits that make characters memorable and interesting.

4) Satire: Another reason why the villain can often be the most interesting character is because they are often satirical characters in some way or another. For example, they will often be a corrupt authority figure of some kind, a flawed character (for some specific reason), a super-rich aristocrat/businessperson or a fanatic of some kind or another (eg: political, religious etc..).

Even when a work doesn’t set out to be satirical, the choice of villain usually involves some level of satire. After all, if anyone comes up with an “evil” character, they’re going to be basing it on their own definition of evil. As such, they’re probably going to portray this character in some kind of satirical or caricatured way. And, satirical characters often tend to be the most memorable ones in any creative work.

5) Mirroring: Often, some of the most interesting villains will be a mirror of the main character in some way or another. They’ll be similar to the main character, but with one crucial difference in either their worldview, their history or their personality. Not only does this add instant dramatic complexity, but it can also be used to add even more characterisation to the main character too.

Whether it’s Doctor Who and The Master, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty or even Frodo and Gollum, this type of villain tends to turn up a lot. Because they’re really interesting.

In addition to provoking questions about things like fate, luck, “nature vs nurture” etc… this plot device also means that the villain will often be just as intelligent or powerful as the main character, which can help to provide a lot more drama, suspense and tension to a story too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (16th June 2018)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting (which also comes in a non-rainy version, because I can’t decide which version I prefer) is another cyberpunk painting. Originally, I’d started making a more elaborate and detailed painting, but this failed. So, I decided to make another cyberpunk painting quickly instead… and, surprisingly, it actually turned out better than my first idea did.

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

“Launch” By C. A. Brown