Today’s Art (30th September 2018)

Well, I was in the mood for some cyberpunk art when I made today’s digitally-edited painting and, although it wasn’t quite as detailed as I had hoped, I quite like how it turned out πŸ™‚

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

“Apartments” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – September 2018

Well, it’s the end of the month and this means that it’s time for me to do my usual thing of collecting a list of links to what I feel are the ten best articles about making art, writing fiction, making webcomics etc… that I’ve posted here during the past month. As usual, I’ll include a couple of honourable mentions too.

All in all, this month’s articles turned out reasonably well. Surprisingly, I actually ended up writing a few critic-style articles about “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“, mostly since I was re-playing this game at the time, which also explains why my planned review of “Under A Killing Moon” never appeared.

Still, since I was preparing last year’s Christmas stories at the time I was writing these articles, there’s a few articles about the film noir genre here.

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

Top Ten Articles – September 2018:

– “Three Tips For How To Look For Inspiration
– “How Much Do You Have To Explain About Your Fictional ‘World’ If You Want A Re-Readable Story?
– “Three Quick Tips For How To Fake “Film Noir”-Style Narration
– “Three Reasons Why Fan Works Can Sometimes Be Better Than Their “Official” Counterparts
– “Four Rambling Thoughts About Making ‘Film Noir’-Style Art
– “Two Very Basic Tips For Writing ‘Film Noir’ Comedy
– “When To Wait For Inspiration (And When Not To) – A Ramble
– “Two Tips For Binge Creativity (eg: Binge Writing, Comic Binges etc..)
– “Three Cool Benefits Of Reading More In The Past Than You Do Now
– “Four Tips For Finding Creative Inspirations On A Low Budget

Honourable mentions:

– “Four Reasons Why Things From The 1990s Can Seem More Creative
– “Three Technical Tips For Painting From Memory

Review: “Antediluvian Tales” By Poppy Z. Brite (Short Story Collection)

Ever since my very early twenties, Poppy Z. Brite (the pen name of the one and only Billy Martin) has been my favourite author. Although I could probably write an autobiography about the effect that his novels had on me during the two most important years of my life, I want to keep this article below two thousand words.

If you’re new to this author, then the thing to remember is that Martin’s stories are almost always more about the journey than the destination. They’re about spending time in various versions of New Orleans, hanging out with fascinating characters and just soaking in the atmosphere rather than about following a specific story.

Likewise, Martin’s exquisitely lush, vivid writing style is something that has to be read to be believed. Even if you don’t like horror or romance, then his books are still worth reading just for the narration alone!

But, one of the annoying things about being a fan of Martin’s stories is that they aren’t always the easiest thing to find in the world. Aside from his more well-known novels and short story collections, a fair portion of his works are rare, small-press “only published in America” type things. Sure, you can probably get them as e-books, but they are the kind of stories that I feel demand to be read on paper, the old-fashioned way.

Still, when browsing online a couple of weeks before writing this review, I happened to notice that a second-hand copy of “Antidiluvian Tales” was going cheap on Amazon. Well, relatively cheap. Even though it was an ex-library copy from America that would take a fortnight to cross the Atlantic, it still seemed worth getting. Hence this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Antedivulian Tales”. This review may contain some SPOILERS:

This is the 2007 Subterranean Press (US) hardback edition of “Antediluvian Tales” that I read (And yes, that blue thing below the angel is some kind of elaborate ink stain from the library it used to be from.)

“Antedivulian Tales” is a short story collection from 2007 which collects several New Orleans-themed stories that Martin wrote before Hurricane Katrina, in addition to a non-fiction piece about the hurricane. Given that the effects of the hurricane were one of the reasons why he retired from writing, there’s a certain poignance to this collection. It’s a glimpse back at a better time of the author’s life.

One cool thing about this collection is that it is only about 116 pages in length. Although this might sound like it’s a bit too short, it also means that it can be read cover-to-cover within the space of an hour or two. It’s a relaxing, satisfying experience that can be enjoyed without the time investment that would come with a longer collection. Plus, with the vivid narration and deep characterisation on offer here, the collection’s length feels like a brilliant example of quality taking precedence over quantity.

Another interesting thing about this slender collection of stories is how much of a mixture of Martin’s older and newer fiction it is. There are several stories that serve as short prequels to Martin’s “Liquor” novels. But there’s also a random story about absinthe, Mardi Gras and the 1990s. And there are a couple of 1990s-style horror stories featuring Dr. Brite, the coroner of New Orleans. Not to mention that one of the “Liquor” prequel stories is also an old-school 1970s-style ghost story too.

Yet, despite this large amount of variety, the stories are all linked together surprisingly well. This is mostly because of their shared New Orleans setting, Martin’s uniquely brilliant narrative voice and several of the themes running throughout the collection (eg: food, Catholicism, family, death, love, mystery etc..)

So, let’s take a look at the actual stories…

“The Feast Of St. Rosalie” is a slice of life story, focusing on Rosalie Stubbs during the titular “Feast of St. Rosalie”, a Catholic holy day in New Orleans. The story is one of those vivid, atmospheric and mostly plotless stories that is more of a character study than anything else.

“Four Flies And A Swatter” is this wonderful little story about a bar in 1990s New Orleans, the day after Mardi Gras. With only four random customers at the bar, one of the bartenders decides to dust off an old bottle of absinthe that he’s found. Not only does this story contain some very slight hints of “Lost Souls“, but it also contains an absolutely brilliant ending which is simultaneously uplifting, tragic, funny and creepy at the same time.

“Henry Goes Shopping” is a slightly funny short character study about Henry Stubbs. He’s about to buy some condoms, but finds himself in the embarrassing situation of standing behind a nun in the checkout line.

“The Working Slob’s Prayer” is more of a concrete prequel to the first “Liquor” novel, giving us a fascinating “slice of life” glimpse at the kitchen of the Peychaud Grill, where Rickey and G-Man worked before the events of “Liquor”.

Although this story is only sixteen pages long, it feels more like a novel πŸ™‚ Not only do we get to see lots of interesting characters, but there are several story threads and even a possible author insert too. Seriously, how Martin managed to cram all of this amazing stuff into less than twenty pages, without the story ever feeling rushed or superficial, I’ll never know.

“Crown Of Thorns” is the first of the two ‘Dr. Brite’ stories. The story focuses on both a rather strange autopsy and Dr. Brite’s relationship with his new boyfriend Hank.

Although the mystery of why a dead body was found with an unusual gourd in his chest is deepened rather than resolved at the end of the story, the conclusion still feels oddly satisfying. Plus, this story also contains an amusing little reference to “Liquor” at one point too.

“Wound Man And Horned Melon Go To Hell”
takes the form of a gleefully irreverent letter written to Jesus by Dr. Brite, relating the strange events that befell him and Hank whilst visiting a Russian-themed restaurant.

This is another mysterious horror story (with some brilliantly funny moments), that is also wonderfully evocative of the gothic fiction that Billy Martin used to write during the 1990s. Plus, the title is just awesome too.

“The Devil Of Delery Street” is probably the most unusual short story in the collection. It starts out as another prequel story about the Stubbs family, but soon turns into a 1970s-style ghost story with an atmosphere that is very vaguely reminscent of something like “The Exorcist” or “Carrie”. Like with the other horror stories in this collection, there’s a real emphasis on mystery here – which really helps to give the story a surprising sense of realism.

“The Last Good Day Of My Life (A True Story)” is an account of a holiday to Australia that the author took about a month before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.

The segments about Australia are written in the lush, vividly descriptive way that you would expect – but all of this beauty is, of course, contrasted with the uglier events that would follow. Although the later part of the account focuses more on Martin’s emotional reaction to Katrina, it is chillingly punctuated with a couple of understated excerpts from a journal that he kept at the time.

All in all, this is a really interesting collection of stories. Yes, it’s the kind of thing that avid fans of the author (like myself) will get the most out of, but it also possibly serves as a really interesting introduction to the different types of fiction that Martin wrote before he retired. What this collection may lack in length, it more than makes up for in both quality and depth.

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

Three Quick Tips For How To Fake “Film Noir”-Style Narration

Since I write these articles quite far in advance, I was busy writing last year’s “film noir” Christmas stories at the time of writing this article. However, although I’ve obviously seen and read a few things in the noir genre, I would hardly call myself an expert on it. Still, one of the most difficult things to get right if you aren’t an expert on the noir genre is the narrative style used in many things in this genre.

So, here are a few quick tips for faking “film noir”-style narration in your stories:

1) Less is more: Simply put, film noir narration doesn’t actually have to be that different from ordinary narration. If you go overboard with clichΓ©d “film noir” narration, then it will come across as obviously fake pretty quickly.

So, just write ordinary narration – with the occasional use of short sentences, pithy metaphors and/or drily amusing observations. The thing to remember about hardboiled narration is that it wasn’t originally meant to be a stylish fashion statement. It was meant to be an engaging style of writing that was quick to read and quick to write – after all, a lot of old stories in the noir genre were published in monthly magazines for a mass audience.

As long as the content of your story (eg: private investigators, crime, gloomy lighting etc..) fits into the noir genre, then you can get away with using ordinary narration that just includes a few cleverly-chosen noir features. But, remember, less is more.

2) Keep it simple (but not too simple): Following on from the “ordinary” thing I mentioned earlier, one of the easiest ways to fake “film noir” narration is just to make your narration sound a little bit like ordinary speech. In other words, there should be the occasional long word or complex sentence when necessary, but the prose shouldn’t just be elaborate for the sake of elaborate.

In other words, keep it simple. But not too simple. Once again, remember that noir stories were originally meant to be popular entertainment for a mass audience. They weren’t meant to be books for children or books for highly-educated literary critics. So, if you go to either extreme, then you’re missing the point.

Basically, just look at one of the noir genre’s modern equivalents – ordinary thriller novels – if you need examples of this happy medium between sophistication and simplicity. An author who provides a good example of this writing style is probably Lee Child. He writes in a fairly hardboiled and “matter of fact” style, without actually writing stories in the noir genre.

3) Small details: One of the easiest ways to give your narration more of a “film noir” quality is to include a few mildly unusual small details. These should be things that are slightly unusual, but could realistically be expected to be seen in everyday life. Generally, things that seem like kitsch or ephemera tend to work best for this.

For example, the second story in my Christmas collection last year includes this descriptive segment: ‘My eyes rested on the ornate marble finish pen that took pride of place on my desk. After I’d filed off the “Ebenezer’s Floor Tiles” e-mail address on the side, it actually looked like I’d paid good money for it.

Don’t ask me why, but this sort of thing tends to create a wonderfully noirish atmosphere. So, focus on mildly unusual everyday details occasionally and this will help to give your story slightly more of a “film noir” quality.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Thematic Consistency And Regular Art Practice- A Ramble

Well, at the time of writing, I’ve been going through a little bit of an uninspired phase with my art. When looking through some of the daily art practice paintings that I’ll be posting here over the next few days, I suddenly found myself thinking “This is a mess! There’s no thematic consistency! I keep switching between genres!“.

Yes, I still used the same art style and a similar approach to lighting in all of the paintings, but the genre and theme of each painting seemed to vary from day to day. Here’s a preview to show you what I mean.

This is a preview of my next five daily paintings, showing the genre of each painting.

This mood wasn’t helped by the fact that I was listening to Lacuna Coil’s excellent “Comalies” album at the time. This is a gothic metal album that has a brilliantly distinctive and unique sound. Every track on the album not only sounds distinctive, but it also feels like it belongs there too.

I found myself wishing that my art was more like that album, in terms of consistency. But then I realised that the only reason that this album was able to achieve such a consistent sound and atmosphere was because it had been slowly developed over several months or years. In other words, the band weren’t writing a new song every day.

Although it’s absolutely great when you find a fascinating theme and can use it as a source of inspiration for several themed paintings, it doesn’t happen that often when you make art regularly. I mean, the last time it happened to me was a month or two ago when I saw some Youtube videos of abandoned shopping centres and ended up making a series of seven paintings about this subject. Here are three of them:

“And Once A Palace” By C. A. Brown

“The Forgotten Food Court” By C. A. Brown

“The Solitary Zombie” By C. A. Brown

However, these themed art series have a limited shelf-life. There’s only so much you can do with a given theme before it starts to become drearily “ordinary” or it becomes more difficult to come up with interesting ideas based on it. Of course, if you’re making art regularly, this process can become accelerated to the point that you can’t spend more than a week or two on any one given theme.

In other words, variety is the spice of life when it comes to artistic inspiration. This is especially true if you are doing regular art practice. The priority with regular art practice is actually sticking to your practice schedule.

As such, during uninspired times, you’ll often find yourself scrabbling wildly for any source of inspiration. This can involve revisiting your favourite genres, or painting from life, or painting random landscapes, or re-making old art, or just painting whatever you think is cool at that particular moment. In other words, actually making a painting matters more than making a consistent series of paintings.

I guess that this is one of the limitations of regular art practice. But, the benefits far outweigh the problems. Not only does this thematic inconsistency force you to widen your interests slightly (since you can’t focus too much on one genre, lest you begin to lose interest or run out of ideas), but it also means that you have to focus on the things that do make your art uniquely “yours”.

I’m talking about things like developing your own art style, finding your favourite colour palettes etc… If you do these things, then thematic inconsistencies in your art won’t matter as much as you might think. Yes, they might annoy you slightly from time to time, but your audience will probably be more likely to see the stylistic connections between your paintings.

Yes, your regular art won’t have the same consistency as an album that a musician has spent months making. But, as long as you follow your own interests and put the time into refining your own “style” (by getting inspired by lots of different things), then thematic inconsistencies won’t matter as much as you might think.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Review: “Blood Simple” (Film)

Well, after reading various things on the internet about a film called “Blood Simple”, I just had to watch it. After all, it had been likened to a film noir, a dark comedy and even an old horror comic. These are three of my favourite genres πŸ™‚

So, after taking a look online, I found a reasonably cheap second-hand DVD of the film. However, I should probably point out that I got the “ordinary” version of the film, rather than the more recent director’s cut version.

I should probably also warn you that this review will contain some SPOILERS.

So, let’s take a look at “Blood Simple”:

“Blood Simple” is a crime thriller movie from 1984 that was directed by the Coen brothers (and, surprisingly, is the first Coen brothers film I’ve seen).

The film focuses on a sleazy nightclub owner in Texas called Marty who suspects that his wife Abby is having an affair with one of his employees called Ray. After hiring a rather dodgy private investigator to follow them, his suspicions are confirmed.

Well, I’m sure he’ll contact a lawyer and resolve the situation peacef… oh, wait, this is a film noir with “blood” in the title.

After a violent confrontation with Abby and Ray, Marty returns to the private investigator and offers him $10,000 to kill both of them. The investigator agrees, but quickly realises that it would be easier to cheat Marty out of the money, shoot him and frame Abby for the murder. It seems like the perfect crime. However, things don’t quite go according to plan….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is nervously suspenseful, oppressively intense and nightmarishly bleak (in a good way). It is one of the most complex, atmospheric and well-plotted films I’ve seen in a while. I’ve never seen a film quite like this one.

Although the film has a lean and efficient running time of 95 minutes, the film’s deliberately slow and suspenseful pacing makes it feel considerably longer. This slowness helps to gradually increase the suspense and to give the audience time for the emotional impact of the film’s events to sink in. This is also emphasised by the fact that the film’s dialogue is often peppered with silences and things left unsaid, with almost all of the characters also speaking in a slow Texan drawl.

With the possible exception of “Blade Runner 2049”, you really don’t see this type of pacing in more modern movies.

One of the most distinctive things about this film is how it handles the topic of violence. Unlike a lot of slick thriller movies that trivialise violence, this film takes a grimly realistic approach to violence. Whenever something violent happens, it has painful physical and/or emotional consequences that reverberate throughout the entire film.

Yes, this isn’t exactly a “feel good” film, but it has one of the most dramatic and mature approaches to fictional violence that I’ve seen in a while.

This emphasis on the consequences of violence drives many of the events of the film’s complex story (which plays out like an intricately-plotted, but very grim, farce), whilst also giving the film a vividly nightmarish quality that draws the audience firmly into the drama. Although this film has relatively few violent moments, each one has a tremendous emotional impact because of the film’s focus on the consequences.

This is a dark, bleak, shocking film which will probably leave you speechless for a few moments when the credits roll. Yet, it is also a compellingly watchable film. It’s like watching the events of a nightmare unfold slowly. Yes, the film has a few light-hearted moments, but these just serve to make the rest of the film even more bleak by contrast.

It’s such a film noir that even the taxidermy statues smoke.

Interestingly, for a film that revolves around the consequences of crime and violence, the police are nowhere to be seen. The characters go to great lengths to cover up crimes, and yet there isn’t a single police officer in sight. As well as giving the film a menacingly amoral atmosphere, this lack of police also really helps to crank up the suspense and paranoia too.

The lack of police is also cleverly used to explore and critque American myths about guns and self-defence. One of the central objects in the film is Abby’s small revolver….

Pretty much the entire film revolves around this one little gun.

This gun is only ever loaded with three bullets. It is too far away to be used in one confrontation (where unarmed self-defence is shown to be more effective). It is later stolen and used to commit a murder. When a central character almost trips over it, it accidentally discharges and narrowly misses him. Another character later tries to use the gun for self-defence, but fails because three chambers are empty. Then it causes Ray and Abby’s relationship to break down.

Then, after all of this misery (and another shockingly horrific scene a while later), the film eventually ends with the pistol actually being used for legitimate self-defence…. Only for the person firing it to realise that they’ve shot a different person to the one they thought they had.

This one little “self-defence” gun is the source of most of the misery, chaos and horror in the film. As an extremely dark piece of satire about gun culture in the US, this film works really well. Like with “Blade Runner“, this is one of those truly mature films that manages to be both extremely violent and extremely anti-violence at the same time.

Another interesting connection with “Blade Runner” is that the private investigator is played by the guy who played Bryant in “Blade Runner” too.

The film’s bleak, paranoid and nightmarish atmosphere is helped by some absolutely brilliant lighting design and set design. As you would expect from something in the film noir genre, everywhere is often bathed in ominous shadows. But, in a cool 1980s-style touch (which, again, reminded me a little bit of “Blade Runner”), this darkness is sometimes contrasted with some really beautiful neon lighting.

Neon and darkness – is there anything more beautiful πŸ™‚

Seriously, this film’s use of silhouettes and lighting is sublime πŸ™‚

Plus, the bar/nightclub that a lot of the film revolves around is a really atmospheric location too.

Musically, this film contains a really interesting mixture of ominous music, old pop/disco music and country music. Although it isn’t exactly the type of music that you would traditionally expect to hear in a film noir, it fits in really well with the Texan setting and really helps to add even more atmosphere to the film.

All in all, this is an extremely well-made, intelligent, compelling, unique, mature and atmospheric film. It is also the kind of nightmarishly intense and suspensefully horrific film that will leave you in stunned silence when the credits roll. It has a complex plot, a unique personality and a laser focus on vivid small-scale drama. And, even though this film is over 30 years old, it has aged surprisingly well.

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