“Remnants” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

There was half an hour to spare and the rain had picked up. Steve thought about ducking into a cafe and passing the time there, but there wasn’t a good wi-fi signal and it was four quid for a cup of coffee. The wind howled and gnawed at him. He scanned the high street. Betting shop. Cafe. Clothes shop. Cafe. Abandoned shell. Cafe.

Then, salvation. The bright expanse of the chain bookshop beckoned to him. Fond memories flashed through Steve’s mind. Those halcyon days where he’d lose himself in these temples to literature every couple of weeks. With a stifled laugh and a whisky-warm glow of nostalgia, he rushed inside.

The new book smell hung heavy in the air. Row upon row of pristine covers stared back at him. Each one featured either a muted neutral design that would go well with modern interior design trends or a single striking image that would look good in a tiny online thumbnail.

Whatever. He thought. Don’t judge a book by its cover. There were, after all, better things to judge a book by. Genre for starters. So, with that wisdom in mind, he slid past a shelf of literary novels – all of which proudly carried stickers proclaiming them winners of various awards. For half a second, he wondered if there were more awards than authors. A book with three stickers on it confirmed his theory.

As he turned the corner, the shelf shook. A 900-page boulder crashed down mere inches from his head, clipping his shoulder and fluttering to the ground like a wounded bat. Ignoring the throbbing ache in his shoulder, Steve glanced around. No-one had seen it. Good. He knelt down and picked up the doorstopper. Winner of Britain’s foremost literary award. Figures.

Carefully sliding the book back onto the shelf, Steve resumed his search. A grey cliff face of gritty crime thrillers stared back at him. The crushing uniformity of it was only broken up by the occasional moody blue rectangle. He continued his quest.

The garish primary colours of the childrens’ section told him that he’d drifted off course. As Steve turned away, his eyes fixed on a multicoloured mosaic of spines. The titles sounded suitably dramatic. Steve’s eyes lit up. He reached for one of them. Sci-fi & Fantasy? He looked at the book cover. It contained a picture of a sullen teenager staring into the distance. Nope. Young Adult fiction.

He continued his search, giving the “Travel” and “Mind, Body & Spirit” sections a wide berth. His eyes fixed on three bookshelves wedged into a tiny corner. Above them, the words “Sci-fi & Fantasy” smiled at him. He rushed over to them. There were interesting books here – an assortment of classics, both past and present. After ten minutes of searching, he selected a couple of interesting titles. But, there was more to find. Where was it?

Steve kept walking. He passed a pastel rampart of romance novels before almost crashing into a random table of books. When he glanced down, he saw that it was filled with popular bestsellers. 3 for the price of 2! 70% off! He didn’t recognise a single title on the table. He kept looking.

For a second, Steve’s eyes lit up again. In a forgotten corner, a single sliver of darkness stood out. A solitary rectangle of gloomy, heavy spines. With a smile spreading across his face, he rushed over to it. Finally.

As he got closer, his heart sank. Above the shelves, the word “History” glowered at him. He turned away. It had to be somewhere.

The voice startled him: ‘Are you looking for something?’

Steve spun around. A bearded guy in a staff T-shirt stared back at him. Steve smiled: ‘Yes, I’m looking for the “Horror” section.’

The guy stared at him blankly: ‘Er… There might be a few Stephen King books in the general fiction section.’

Steve’s face went pale. He should have expected it. But, when he trawled his memories, there was always a horror shelf. Even when it was just a token row of books that was one-third Stephen King, one-third paranormal romance and one-third Victorian classics, it had always been there.

It wasn’t right. A bookshop without a horror shelf. Something in Steve’s mind began to come loose. Had he been gone too long? Was there no place in this trendy modern age for the simple joy of a blood-spattered paperback about giant flesh-eating rats? It wasn’t right! Steve started hyperventilating. His eyes bulged. His head ached. The guy took a step backwards and shielded his face.

What happened next never made the papers. It was overshadowed by the cataclysmic shock of an offensive celebrity tweet. Within days, the cleaning staff had finally managed to scrub Steve’s stubborn brain matter out of the carpets. The manager had returned the damaged books to the publisher. The police had issued an incident number. Life went on.

Today’s Art (29th October 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the eighth page of “Nocturnal” – this year’s Halloween comic. You can check out previous Halloween comics here: 2015, 2016, 2017.

If you’ve missed any of this comic, you can catch up here: Cover, Page One, Page Two, Page Three, Page Four, Page Five, Page Six, Page Seven,

You can also find lots of other comics featuring these characters here too. Stay tuned for the next page of this comic tomorrow 🙂

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

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

Three Things An Old Computer Game Can Teach Us About How To Add Some Heavy Metal To The Fantasy Genre

Although I have a weird love/hate relationship with the fantasy genre, I recently happened to find something really cool in this genre which made me think about how to add elements of the heavy metal genre to the fantasy genre.

Although I don’t know when or if I’ll review it properly, it’s a fantasy/action computer game from 2002 called “Enclave“. Although this game has somewhat clunky combat and was clearly designed for consoles rather than computers, I still absolutely love this game.

This is a screenshot from “Enclave” (2002).

Why? Because it is about as metal as you can get 🙂 Whether you’re playing as a chiselled barbarian-like knight or a scary halfling warrior (yes, there are other playable characters, but these two are the only good ones I’ve found so far), this game exudes badassery in every way.

Seriously, it’s like the epic fight scenes from the “Lord Of The Rings” movies, but with added gloominess, mindlessness and general epicness. Although the game includes a vaguely movie-like soundtrack, I found myself fervently wishing that “Tonight We Ride” by Unleash The Archers was playing in the background of some segments of the game instead. In other words, it’s a brilliant example of heavy metal-style fantasy.

So, what can this game teach us about adding some heavy metal to the fantasy genre?

1) Simplicity: Although the game has a lot of vaguely Tolkien-esque lore (with lots of unpronounceable names like Dreg’athar etc…), one of the reasons why it is so metal is because the story of the game is relatively simple.

I hope you like fighting monsters…..

If you play as the “good” faction, the story involves breaking out of jail, defending the city from orcs, going on an epic quest through some scary wastelands etc…. I haven’t played the “evil” campaign, but the fact that you can also play as the villians is pretty cool.

Both stories are suitably heavy metal, but why? Simply put, they’re simple and focused. They don’t get lost in the minutae of mythical politics or magical lore. Although all of this stuff is still there as a background detail, the basic story is just a simple goal-orientated thing that allows for lots of epic feats of combat and dramatic battles. It doesn’t require you to keep track of twenty character names, memorise seven family trees or anything like that, it’s just a thrilling story that is there to be enjoyed.

So, if you want to add some heavy metal to your fantasy story, comic etc.. then keep the basic underlying story relatively simple.

2) Lighting: One of the best visual ways to add some heavy metal to the fantasy genre is simply to focus on gloomy lighting and death/destruction-related imagery. Again, “Enclave” excels in this respect. So far, I’ve seen creepy old castles, a besieged city, a decrepit ancient temple and some kind of hellish underworld. All of these locations are lit by fire, magma and/or moonlight. And they look really metal as a result.

Seriously, this location is pretty much an album cover in it’s own right…

So, when making comics, art in the heavy metal fantasy genre, then make sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of each picture is covered with black paint. Likewise, make sure to include lots of fire-based light sources too. If you need more examples of this type of art, then just look at some classic-style heavy metal album covers.

3) Character design: The character designs in this game provide some instructive examples of both good and bad heavy metal fantasy character design. The good examples, which I mentioned earlier, are the “Knight” and “Halfling” characters.

The knight looks more like a Roman gladiator (in terms of his spiked shoulder armour etc…) or a muscular barbarian than a traditional medieval knight. Likewise, the halfling has spiky blond hair, grins maniacally, has scary-looking facial tattoos and looks genuinely fearsome. Although her costume design (eg: dark trousers and a crop top) doesn’t include any armour, her character design still has a rather practical and rugged look that wouldn’t be out of place in a lawless wilderness or a 1980s heavy metal concert.

Yes, THIS is how to design a badass heavy metal-style character 🙂

And this Roman-like area just makes the Knight look even more like a grizzled gladiator too!

The common factor with both of these characters is that they look like hardened warriors. They look like they’ve been forged in the heat of battle and exist to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies. Their general character designs are meant to exude toughness and they seem like they genuinely fit into a harsh world that is ruled by the sword and the bow.

On the other hand, the “Druid” character is a terrible example of heavy metal fantasy character design. Simply put, she’s wearing a swimming costume.

I’m not exaggerating, this outfit is more suited to a beach party than an epic battle with the forces of evil!

Even though the game recognises the sheer absurdity of wearing something like this into battle (by drastically reducing the level of protection against damage she has), her design comes across more as blatant fanservice than actual heavy metal character design. In other words, she seems like she wouldn’t last five minutes in the game’s world. And this completely breaks the immersion for the audience.

So, design your characters with toughness and practicality in mind and they will come across as considerably more “metal” than if you aim for fanservice or ultra-stylised character design.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

“Let’s Play” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

In a tiny window inside a tiny window, GialloBlade81 leant closer to the camera and put on an ominous voice: ‘Happy Halloween everyone! We’ve got a real treat for you tonight.’ Under the bright studio lights, his dark hair stood out like a tarantula above the pale zombie make-up.

Beside him, Elvirus23 tugged on one corner of her plush slime monster hat and gave the camera a wonky stare: ‘Oh god, it isn’t a horror game is it?’

GialloBlade81 looked shocked: ‘Why, no. It’s the beloved SNES classic Super Mario World. Bringer of cheerful childhood nostalgia and innocent fun to millions of gamers.’

Elvirus23 let out a conspicuous sigh of relief: ‘Whew! I was worried that you’d dug up some scary indie game or something like that. Can we just play the first couple of levels? The ghost house level used to scare the crap out of me when I was a kid. That spooky music!’

GialloBlade81 cackled: ‘Oooonly joking! Of course it’s a scary indie game!’ He leant forward and pressed a button. On the screen behind him, a start menu with the words EMPTY HOUSE: REQUIEM dripped ominously. The howling laughs of hidden clowns skittered through the air. A CGI cockroach scuttled across the bottom of the screen.

Elvirus23 flinched and glowered: ‘You fiend! You know that horror games give me nightmares for..’ She corpsed. Once her hissing laughter had subsided, she said: ‘Better cut that from the episode, Norman.’

GialloBlade81 flashed a puzzled glance at the camera. ‘Really, it’ll be funnier if we leave it in. I mean, it’s not like any of our viewers don’t know that I’m the one putting on the brave face and you’re the one who only acts scared. It’s ironic. Postmodern, even.’

Elvirus23 shrieked with laughter. Finally, she took a deep breath and put her slime monster hat back on. She fixed the camera with wobbly eyes: ‘B…But, you said we were playing Mario.’

‘One of the cannibal clowns inside the Empty House is called Mario. The developers were kind enough to share that intriguing fact with me when they sent us the game key.’

‘S…Spoiler alert! Wait, did you say clowns?‘ Elvirus23’s eyes widened.

‘Oh yes!’ Another cackle. ‘It’s a real funhouse, I’m told!’

Elvirus23 made a show of covering her eyes and shivering. GialloBlade81 reached for the controller. Keeping his trembling fingers below frame, he pressed another button. The screen behind the presenters dissolved into the dilapidated hallway of a photo-realistic abandoned mansion. Lightning flickered through the gloom, illuminating dried stains on the flaking walls.

Keeping his voice under control, GialloBlade81 said: ‘Well, I’m giving this hotel a bad review on HolidayAdvisor when we get home.’

Elvrius23 opened her fingers and peeked out: ‘It had to be a haunted mansion, didn’t it? I can’t even go round National Trust museums thanks to those.’

‘Aren’t they usually only open during the day? Oh god, that would make a brilliant horror game. Just think of the number of restless spirits who roam the..’

Elvirus23 quivered theatrically: ‘No, don’t! Just get on with the game.’

He got on with the game. The first-person camera took slow, crunching steps through the swaying hallway. As it passed a locked door, loud banging and squeaking suddenly filled the air. GialloBlade81 barely managed to keep his composure. Beside him, Elvirus23 made a big show of screaming and falling off of her chair. As she climbed back onto the chair, GialloBlade81 ignored the furious pounding in his chest and kept playing.

He paused in front of the stairs. The only other place to go was a dark corridor. As he turned towards it, two red eyes glowed back at him. He nearly dropped the controller. Elvirus23 let out a piercing scream, worthy of any late-night movie. He took the stairs. Like the loading screens in the original Resident Evil, every creaking step seemed to take an age. He kept moving.

Neither of them heard the silent tread of oversized shoes behind them. It was only when the smell of greasepaint reached GialloBlade81’s nostrils that he dropped the controller and turned around. A giant motley clown towered above him, the smudged red smile on its face wider than ever before. GialloBlade81 tried to scream. Instead, his eyes widened. He clutched his chest and slumped forwards. His head hit the desk with a loud bang.

Elvirus23 couldn’t stop laughing. Within seconds, the clown joined in, his spiky green hair quivering and swaying wildly. Finally, Elvirus23 caught her breath and said: ‘Oh my god, Fred. That was too funny! Brilliant!’

Fred chuckled: ‘I wish I could have seen the look on his face. Oh well, there will be plenty of time for that during editing.’ He glanced at the slumped man: ‘Sorry about that, Norm. It was Sophie’s idea.’

Norm said nothing. Fred’s voice trembled: ‘Norm?’

Sophie frowned: ‘Come on, Norm. That’s the oldest joke in the…’ She leant closer. A single droplet of blood dripped from the edge of the desk. This time, there was nothing fake about her screams.

Today’s Art (28th October 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the seventh page of “Nocturnal” – this year’s Halloween comic. You can check out previous Halloween comics here: 2015, 2016, 2017.

If you’ve missed any of this comic, you can catch up here: Cover, Page One, Page Two, Page Three, Page Four, Page Five, Page Six,

You can also find lots of other comics featuring these characters here too. Stay tuned for the next page of this comic tomorrow 🙂

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

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

The Joy Of … The “Hedonism” Genre

A while before I wrote this article, I was reminded of one of my favourite genres of film/television/fiction. I am, of course, talking about the hedonism genre. And, yes, I would argue that it is actually a genre (even though it can include other genres like comedy or horror).

But, before I talk about some examples and strengths of the genre, I should probably define the genre first. As the name suggests, this is a genre that revolves around fun and wild excess. It can either be a celebration of these things, a satire of these things and/or something that evokes similar emotions to these in the audience. The heyday of this genre was probably during the 1980s and 1990s.

This genre is so awesome because of the sense of freedom and/or nostalgia that it evokes in the audience. It’s a form of escapism that not only allows the audience to vicariously enjoy a rebellious life of wild hedonistic excess in a safe way, but it also makes the audience think about their worldview and attitude towards life too. One of the central features of this genre is that it focuses on characters who enjoy life, or believe that life should actually be enjoyed.

And, in this day and age, this is always an incredibly refreshing thing to see. Anything which places narrative importance on actually having fun is like an oasis in a desert.

The hedonism genre is also perhaps the only genre where having an “immortal” main character can actually work in dramatic terms. Usually, in hedonistic stories, the main character will either survive things that many people wouldn’t or get away with things many people wouldn’t. This turns these characters from ordinary fictional characters into more archetypical figures, like the ancient Roman god Bacchus. These characters become symbols of a life lived for the fun of it. And, again, in a dour age such as the one we live in these days, our popular mythology desperately needs characters like this (if only for the sake of balance).

Anyway, the thing that reminded me of this genre is the fact that I’ve started re-watching an absolutely amazing sitcom from the 1990s/2000s called “Absolutely Fabulous” which focuses on the hilariously chaotic lives of two middle-aged fashionistas called Edina and Patsy.

This is a screenshot from series 1, episode 1 (1992) of “Absolutely Fabulous” showing Edina and Patsy attending a fashion show after-party.

Although the show is clearly meant to be a vicious satire of trendy people from London (and it’s eerily timeless in this respect), the hedonistic “world” of the show is absolutely fascinating. Although the show’s hedonism is carried to comedic excess and laced with layer upon layer of satire, it’s still oddly refreshing to see a TV show about two main characters whose main goal in life is to enjoy it (and look fabulous whilst doing so).

Another awesome example of fun hedonistic storytelling is probably Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s “Tank Girl” comics. These are classic 1980s/90s punk comics about the bizarre adventures of a hard-partying army deserter called Tank Girl and her boyfriend Booga (a giant mutant kangaroo) in a bizarre version of post-apocalyptic Australia which is, culturally, more like 1990s Britian than anything else.

This is an excerpt from “Tank Girl 2” (1996) by Hewlett & Martin.

This comic series is utterly brilliant, because it revels in silliness, rebellion and chaos. It isn’t some gritty story about saving the world or anything like that. It’s the kind of comic that will make you laugh and feel like a punk when you read it. And in an age where controversies about comics are still a thing, seeing a comic that just doesn’t give a damn is extremely refreshing in creative terms.

Of course, the genre can also be used as a brilliant source of horror too. A great example of this is probably the brilliant 1990s film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas“. If you’ve never heard of this before, it’s a story about the misadventures of a drug-addled journalist and his equally drug-addled attorney during a trip to Las Vegas in the 1970s.

Although it isn’t explicitly a horror story (it’s more of a dark comedy and a lament for the death of the 1960s counterculture), it uses hedonism as a brilliant source of horror. As the film progresses, everything gradually becomes more surreal and paranoia-filled as the main characters’ drug binge increases in intensity – with the set design in the film gradually turning into a demented “Alice In Wonderland”-like alternate world, as the main characters gradually lose their grip on reality.

This is a screenshot from “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” (1998), showing some of the film’s more surreal and chaotic set design.

Whilst many films in the (similar, but different) stoner genre use this sort of thing as a brilliant source of feel-good comedy, this film turns it up to eleven and it becomes a source of nightmarish, paranoid horror instead. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of being too hedonistic, but it isn’t judgmental or preachy about it and – as such- it fills it’s role far more effectively than any kind of stern lecture ever could.

So, whether they are allowing the audience to vicariously revel in a life of wild hedonistic excess (without the dangers of doing this for real), making the case that life should be enjoyed or offering a gentle non-judgemental warning to keep real life hedonism within vaguely sensible limits, the hedonism genre is one of the best genres out there.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

“Void” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

Reza raised the scanner and swept it over the churned ground. On the screen, a thousand tiny fragments glittered like stars. He tapped a couple of buttons and waited. Five seconds later, a pop-up appeared: RECONSTRUCTION ALGORITHM COULD NOT RESOLVE DATA.

Muttering under his breath, he brought up a menu and set it to reconstruct multiple objects. A memory allocation error appeared. Reza twiddled with the amplification dial on the side of the scanner, hoping that getting rid of the smaller fragments would free up some memory for the processor. But, just after he started the process again, the air around him cooled by several degrees.

Without even thinking, he reached back and flipped up the hood of his anorak before returning to the screen. It was still processing. Curses and prayers competed for his attention. The air got colder. The little spinning thing on the screen moved slightly faster. Come on!

A reassuring ping echoed through the air. As Reza raised his head to the grey sky with relief, the rain fell. There was no small pattering of drizzle to give him a moment’s grace. One second, the air was cold and heavy. The next, it was a solid sheet of rain. Without even thinking, he hunched over the scanner and ran.

His feet squelched and slopped. He almost slipped. He kept running. Keep the scanner dry. He didn’t look up. He knew the route.

At least, he thought he did. As his shoulder slammed into the scorched trunk of an old tree, Reza realised that he was lost. The bare branches gave him little shelter. He ignored the ache in his shoulder and stayed crouched over the scanner. Worst case scenario, the rain will pass in six hours.

Luckily for him, he didn’t have to wait six hours. Above the furious pounding of the rain, Reza heard an intermittent slopping sound. Turning his head sideways, he saw a bright orange shape moving through the rain. A smile crossed his face. He kept crouching. Two minutes later, a hand touched his shoulder.

Beside him, Suzy shouted: ‘Come on! Follow me.’ She fumbled through her anorak and pulled out a plastic bag: ‘Cover it with this.’

As soon as Reza had got the scanner covered, they ran. It was only when the half-buried tube of the site station began to appear that Reza realised where he’d gone wrong. With all of the chaos of trying to get a reading before the day’s rains hit, he’d wandered into the neighbouring field. It was easy enough to do when your eyes were glued to a screen for hours.

Suzy held the door open as Reza rushed into the corrugated tube. Seconds later, she clanged it shut. Above their heavy breathing, rain pinged off of the roof like machine gun fire. The piercing smell of petrichor hung in the air. Reza fumbled with the bag and handed it back to Suzy. She placed it on the pitted wooden table before staring at the scanner screen. It was still working.

‘Did you get anything?’ Suzy sat down and reached for the scratched biscuit tin.

Reza pressed a few buttons on the scanner ‘Yeah. Hmmm…. Nothing in the database about it. Hold on, I’ll try a date extrapolation. Might be a few minutes.’

Pulling two misshapen biscuits from the tin, Suzy leaned over the scanner. On the flickering screen, a flat black ingot encased in shattered glass sat beside a loading bar. It made no sense whatsover. The glass couldn’t be there to protect whatever was inside it. Maybe it was some kind of emergency item, like the old fire alarms back at HQ? Suzy shook her head. Who would need a portable fire alarm?

She handed a biscuit to Reza. They ate in silence. The loading bar crawled forwards. Suzy smiled: ‘Have you got any idea what it is?’

‘My best guess is that it’s some kind of currency. The latest message from the London site mentioned finding thousands of items like this one amongst the bone fragments. The glass casing is a new touch, though. Maybe it was more valuable than the London specimens or something like that?’

The scanner pinged. They both stared at the screen. The number 2018 stared back at them. Reza laughed. ‘Typical.’

Suzy sighed ‘We got drenched for that? Another bloody void item.’

‘Don’t worry, we’ll piece it together eventually. I mean, we know it’s an early void item. So, it’s another clue.’

Suzy reached for another biscuit ‘Yes, but I was hoping for some real history. Some pre-2007 thing that actually told us something. It makes no sense! People before then had everything – recreational buildings, detailed machine-printed writings, tiny mechanical clocks and even reels of sequential images. Then, one year, they all just suddenly decide to start a two-century dark age. It makes no sense.’

Reza grinned and pointed at the plastic bag on the table: ‘I don’t know, they certainly knew how to make bags back then.’