Today’s Art (12th July 2020)

Well, thanks to having a bit more time and feeling a bit more inspired, this digitally-edited cyberpunk/heavy metal themed painting turned out better than I’d expected 🙂

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

“Record Shop” By C. A. Brown

Four Reasons Why Short Stories Are Awesome

Well, although it may be a while before I get back into reading novels again [Edit: Expect book reviews to return for about a month or so in about two and a half weeks’ time], I recently found myself testing the waters by reading a couple of short stories from Jodi Taylor’s “Long Story Short” collection. Admittedly, they were the two shortest stories in the book but I enjoyed reading them more than I’d expected. And, although I still seem to be more interested in films, games etc… at the moment, I was at least reassured that I hadn’t got any worse at reading during this break.

Still, all of this made me think about short stories. Although they are probably my favourite type of fiction to write, I have a rather weird relationship with actually reading them. For example, although there were at least three short story collections I’d thought about reviewing during all of those book reviews I wrote during the past couple of years, I always found myself drawn more towards reading traditional novels and novellas instead – probably because they were either easier to review or because I wanted to spend longer focusing on a single story.

Even so, reading a couple of short stories recently has reminded me why this format is so awesome. Here are a few of the reasons:

1) They’re like a TV series (that is older than TV): One of the cool things about short stories is that they are probably closer in style and format to a traditional TV series. After all, they are usually self-contained stories (sometimes featuring recurring characters) that can be enjoyed in satisfying 15-60 minute instalments.

But, interestingly, short stories were “TV series” from before television was a thing. In the 19th and early 20th century, one of the main forms of popular entertainment were short stories published in magazines. You would literally get a new short story every week, fortnight or month. The most famous example of this is probably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories – many of which were first published in magazines, rather than books.

These are detective stories that feature recurring main characters, in a similar way to pretty much any detective TV show. Yet, as you’ve probably guessed, this series existed long before television did. In an even more prescient move, the Sherlock Holmes stories are almost structured into “seasons” – with each collection containing about 8-12 stories or so.

In fact, two of the collections (“The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes” and “The Return Of Sherlock Holmes”) even do the classic TV show thing of splitting a two-part story – with a cliffhanger- between the collections. Again, this is a series that is so old that the copyright on it has actually expired (in the UK and mainland Europe, at least. In the US, the final story collection – “The Case-Book Of Sherlock Holmes” – is still copyrighted).

So, yes, short stories are surprisingly similar to TV series – but with all of the added benefits of the written word (eg: better characterisation, interesting writing styles/descriptions, the creative vision of one author etc..).

2) Structure, pacing and focus: Another cool thing about short stories is that their structure and pacing are often a lot more focused than novel-length stories are. After all, a short story has to tell a full story in a fraction of the space that a novel has, so every word and sentence matters even more than they do in a novel.

Yes, this means that short story plots will often be slightly less complex than novel plots, but it also means that the writer has to focus on what is really important. For example, whilst short stories might have a smaller number of characters or locations than a novel does, these things will often be a bit more “intense” because the writer can focus on them a bit more.

Because short stories have to get to the point a lot more quickly and also have to do more with fewer words, this results in a more intense and memorable experience that is very different to what you might expect if you’re more used to novel-length stories.

3) Stuff you won’t find in novels: Because of this short length, short stories can also explore creative or quirky ideas and themes that really wouldn’t work if they were stretched out into a full-length novel. This means that short stories can often be more amusing, interesting and creative than novels can sometimes be.

For example, Isaac Asimov’s memorable sci-fi short story “Victory Unintentional” just wouldn’t work as a full novel. Without spoiling too much, the whole story is a very elaborate joke set in outer space, and the payoff to reading the earlier parts of the story is absolutely hilarious – but it probably wouldn’t be if you had to trudge through a whole novel to get there.

Likewise, Chuck Palahniuk’s notorious dark comedy short story “Guts” wouldn’t work at novel length either. Not only would the story’s shock value start to wear off if the story was too long, but the story also relies on a very precise three-part structure too. In addition to this, “Guts” is also a story that is best when it is read twice – because a second reading (when you know what to expect) will reveal all sorts of comedic elements and amusing themes that you were probably too grossed out to notice the first time around. Because it is short, it is a lot easier and quicker to re-read the whole thing and get the most out of it.

Although short stories can work really well in a wide range of genres (sci-fi and horror especially), you’ll notice that the two examples I’ve given here are both comedy stories. This is because short stories are an absolutely brilliant format for certain types of comedic fiction. After all, most jokes are technically very short stories of one kind or another and short stories allow for a similar set-up and punchline/plot twist structure in a way that longer stories don’t.

4) Getting into reading: If you’re new to reading fiction or are out of practice with it, then short stories are also a really great way to get into reading. Because of their short length and focused plots, they can often seem a lot less daunting than reading a full-length novel (which can take hours).

Likewise, if you don’t feel like you have the time for a full novel or don’t want to take notes (although many modern novels include small recaps to reduce the need for this) in order to keep track of the story over the days or weeks it might take you to read it, then short stories can come in handy here too. After all, being able to start and finish a story in a single reading session is a satisfying experience that feels surprisingly similar to binge-reading a full novel.

Yes, short stories aren’t the only way to get into reading fiction. Other things, like fast-paced thriller novels, can also be a useful way to ease yourself into reading fiction too. But, if you’re interested in reading, then short stories might be a good place to start.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Review: “Repo Man” (Film)

Well, for today, I thought that I’d re-watch a film that I’ve been meaning to take another look at for over a decade. I am, of course, talking about Alex Cox’s 1984 film “Repo Man”.

I first found this film on a market stall in either 2006 or 2007 and, knowing literally nothing about it, decided to take a chance on it because it looked interesting. All I can remember about my first viewing of this film was that it was unlike anything else that I’d ever watched before, that I thought that it was “cool” and that I didn’t really understand it. So, with almost a decade and a half of extra maturity and knowledge than I had back then, I wondered if this film would make any more sense to me a second time around.

So, let’s take a look at “Repo Man”. Needless to say, this review will contain some MAJOR SPOILERS. The film itself also contains some FLICKERING IMAGES (although I don’t know whether they’re intense enough to be a problem for some viewers or not).

The film begins with a car speeding along a desert highway somewhere in America. A nearby cop notices and pulls the car over. The sweaty and nervous driver tells the cop that he really doesn’t want to know what is in the boot of the car. Needless to say, the cop instantly becomes suspicious and decides to check it. When he opens the boot, a glowing light engulfs him and reduces him to little more than two smouldering boots. The car then drives off.

Yes, this isn’t your typical gritty crime thriller…

We then see a bitter young man called Otto (Emilio Estevez) get fired from his job at a supermarket. When he tries to console himself by visiting a raucous party at his friend’s house, he finds his girlfriend sleeping with another man. Miserable and disillusioned, he wanders off and ends up drinking alone in the middle of a field. The next morning, he is still wandering the streets when a man called Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) parks his car beside him and offers him ten dollars if he will help him.

After some initial misunderstandings and insults, Bud explains that his wife is in labour and he needs someone to help him drive a nearby car to the hospital. After some haggling about the price, Otto agrees and takes the car keys. Whilst getting the car to start, a couple emerge from a nearby house and try to stop him from stealing their car. Otto shrugs and drives off, following Bud to a rather sleazy-looking car impound.

When Otto enters the office, he realises that he’s been tricked into helping Bud repossess a car. Angered by this and not very keen on becoming a repo man, he spills the beer that the repo firm offers him, reluctantly takes the money they give him and storms out of the building. Meanwhile, several government agents investigate the mysterious death in the desert.

Is it just me or does that beer look incredibly similar to water?

Otto soon finds that can’t seem to find any money anywhere else. His parents have given away the money they once promised to give him and almost every job advertised in the paper seems to be very much of the dead-end variety. So, reluctantly, he joins the repo company. Within days, he is wearing a suit, taking copious amounts of speed and revelling in the chaotic nature of the job.

However, after reposessing a sports car and cruising around in it for fun, he ends up giving a lift to a mysterious woman called Leila (Olivia Barash) who tells him that she’s on the run from government agents who are trying to find and cover up the remains of four aliens….

I would say “cue the ‘X-Files’ music”, but this film was around before “The X-Files” were.

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, whilst I still don’t fully understand it, it is certainly a unique film that really has to be experienced first-hand. There’s no real way to describe it that really does it justice, but it’s worth a try. I just hope that this review at least makes some sense. Where do I even start?

Despite the sci-fi surrealism of the film’s plot and the wonderfully quirky atmosphere, this is a surprisingly angry film. Many of the characters feel resentful towards the world for one reason or another. When Otto is introduced, we see life dealing him a bad hand – but he’s already shown to be more than a little bit embittered and disillusioned before all of this happens.

In some ways, this is possibly a punk film – with a real undercurrent of cynicism and anger running underneath it. But, whilst the film is certainly critical of authority, capitalism and the establishment (eg: evil government agents, the repo men being presented as little more than legalised car thieves etc…) and also contains some punk music, most of the film’s “punk” characters are a group of amoral criminals whose lives revolve around recreational robbery and serious drug use. They are “anarchists” in the very worst sense of the word – who quite literally treat life like a game of “Grand Theft Auto”.

For a “punk” film, these punk characters are some of the most villainous in the entire film.

This film is also possibly a criticism of the “macho” culture of the 1980s too. Otto and many of the other repo men are shown to be swaggering, insecure, homophobic, violent, hard-drinking/drug-fuelled, sleazy (and sometimes aggressive about it!) and almost constantly angry. They are not meant to be sympathetic characters by any stretch of the imagination.

And, as mentioned earlier, they are also shown to basically be car thieves too.

In fact, there are virtually no sympathetic characters in this film. Literally the only vaguely sympathetic character is a drug-addled homeless man who lives at the repo yard and rambles about the universe. But, this is probably part of the film’s satire. It is set in a nightmarishly hyper-intense version of Reagan’s America. In other words, pretty much everyone is heartless, cynical, brusque, violent, bigoted, amoral, angry and/or unprincipled. This links in to the film’s criticism of the economics and culture of the age, with almost everyone in the film being motivated by money, status, pleasure or personal gain of some kind or another.

Yet, when one of Otto’s criminal friends is shot during a robbery, he gives a ridiculously melodramatic dying speech about how society is truly to blame. Otto, on the other hand, disagrees with him. Despite the fact that the characters are clearly shown to be a product of 1980s America on steroids, this small segment adds some intriguing nuance and ambiguity to everything that raises all sorts of questions. Are people a combination of themselves and the society they live in? Is personal responsibility just a political myth used to ignore social problems? Am I reading way too much into this comedic scene?

One other interesting satirical detail is that there is literally no product placement in this film, and the film makes a point of showing you this. Pretty much everything that can be eaten or drunk has plain white packaging with a (usually very generic) product name written on it in bland blue letters. For example, whenever a character drinks a beer, it is literally “Beer”-brand beer. Not only does this lack of branding contrast absolutely perfectly with the greedy “world” of the film but it also points out just how omnipresent things like advertising and branding are.

Mmm… A delicious can of “Food”.

The film also includes some satire about spirituality and capitalism too. For example, one of the many things that annoys Otto at the beginning of the film is the fact that his stoned parents have given $1000 that they were going to give him to a televangelist instead. A televangelist who is later revealed to be in hock with the film’s mysterious government agents. This is also a film where the stoner-like ramblings of a homeless man who lives at the repo yard actually turn out to have more truth in them than anyone else’s theories about the nature of the universe.

I always thought that parodies of televangelists were more of a ’90s thing, so it’s interesting to see this in a film from the ’80s.

Another interesting thing about this film is how several of the main characters end up turning into the things that they hate the most. Whether it is how Otto goes from being a rebellious, anti-establishment punk who hates even the idea of repo men to becoming an enthusiastic suit-wearing repo man or how Leila goes from being a whistleblower on the run from the government to not only joining the mysterious agency that has been chasing her, but also enthusiastically helping them to “interrogate” Otto too.

Then again, I might be reading too much into this. She possibly just wants revenge on Otto for harassing her earlier in the film.

So, yes, this film is very much a satire with a lot to say. And, even though this is the second time I’ve seen the film, I’ve probably still missed a lot of subtle details or satirical comments hidden in the film. Either that or the film is just messing with the audience and intentionally makes no sense.

In terms of the actual plot, the film does have one. Sort of. And it is probably a metaphor for something, although I can’t work out what. In short, the film’s story mostly revolves around a car that contains what are implied to be alien remains – which are also radioactive enough to disintegrate anyone who looks at them directly. These alien remains are kept in the boot of a car which constantly keeps getting stolen by different people before, eventually, it starts glowing and allows both Otto and the homeless man at the repo yard to ride it into the cosmos. I’m sure that this is almost certainly a metaphor for something, but I can’t work out what.

In the context of the film, the glowing car is maybe a time machine designed to populate an ancient version of the Earth via a time loop. Possibly.

Visually and musically, this film is fairly cool and unique. Unlike the coke-fuelled 1980s pop music you’d expect to find in a satirical film like this, the music is instead the kind of “cool” rock and punk music that is also sometimes reminiscent of a dystopian version of the 1960s (which might be another satirical theme in this film?). Likewise, the film sometimes makes brilliantly creative use of lighting and set design in the kind of way that films from the 1980s and 1990s are famous for 🙂

Although many of the locations look fairly “ordinary”, there are some really cool-looking places in this film.

All in all, this review probably hasn’t done this film justice. It’s either an intricately-constructed multi-layered masterpiece of social satire or a giant film-sized practical joke. Or both. There is nothing else quite like this film.

I would say that this is a film that you will either really love or really hate, but – if my reactions to it are anything to go by – your reaction will probably be “WTF?”. But in a good way. Sort of. Even though you probably won’t fully understand this film, watching it is still an incredibly unique experience – fascinating and disturbing in equal measure- that will probably linger in your imagination for quite a while afterwards.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get… Honestly, I really don’t know.

Digital Image Editing And Imperfections – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art, I’m going to have to start by talking about rock music. This is mostly because I happened to watch this fascinating video about how modern post-production tools have made rock music too “perfect”, without any of the variations and imperfections that lend rock songs a sense of personality and what the video calls “groove”.

So, naturally, this made me think about art and digital image editing. After all, pretty much all of the paintings that I post here are digitally-edited in some way or another. Most of the time, this involves things like adjusting the brightness, contrast, saturation and/or chroma levels in order to make my “faded” watercolour paintings look as bold as something like a marker drawing. This editing can also include things like correcting mistakes, adding extra shading, adding skin tones, filling in background areas of a painting and/or adding various effects – like fog, rain or bloom.

After the editing process, one of my paintings usually looks a bit like this:

“Between Blocks” By C. A. Brown

So, is all of this a bad thing? Is my art less “authentic” because part of it is made on a computer?

Well, you can probably guess that my answer will be “no”. After all, I still make this type of art. But I want to talk about why digital editing isn’t always a bad thing. In short, it isn’t a bad thing when you are using it to create a deliberate effect and/or to add personality to your art. If you use digital tools for a conscious reason, then digital editing is a good thing.

For example, some of the main influences on my art include 1980s sci-fi films like “Blade Runner”, old 1980s heavy metal album covers/T-shirts, 1980s horror novel covers, 1990s computer games, some 1990s cartoons and a lot of stuff like that. One of the main visual features that all of these things have in common is a high level of visual contrast. Often, brighter areas (sometimes using bold colours) will be contrasted against a dark background in order to make them look more vivid. Versions of this technique go all the way back to Tenebrist art from the 17th and 18th centuries.

In addition to using various traditional techniques (eg: making sure that at least 30-50% of the surface area of a painting is painted black, using a limited palette of bolder colours etc…) to achieve this effect, one of the best ways to get this effect involves using a computer. After all, the scanner I use tends to make everything look a bit faded. So, by digitally altering the brightness, contrast, saturation and/or chroma levels, I can achieve a much better and bolder version of this effect than I can if I just use traditional materials. It is closer to how I imagine each painting before I make it than the original un-edited paintings are.

So, if you have a conscious reason for using digital post-processing or are using it to do something that you can’t easily achieve through traditional means, then this is a good thing.

Going back to the video about music that I mentioned earlier, one of the examples it gives of a rock song where the drums have been digitally altered to the point of sounding robotic is Halestorm’s “I Miss The Misery”. However, I’d argue that not all of the digital editing in this song is a bad thing. In one later part of the song’s music video, the instruments fade away and three videogame-like noises counterpoint the vocals absolutely perfectly. This is the most catchy and dramatic-sounding part of the song! Yet, it is something that could probably have only been done with a computer.

As for more general editing and corrections, I’d argue that they are good up to a point. If you’ve got a glaring error or an annoying problem and airbrushing it away will improve your picture, then go for it. However, be sure not to make your art too perfect. If you do this, then it runs the risk of just appearing bland or generic.

One of the best ways to get around this problem is – if you can – to try to incorporate some traditional materials into your art. Lines drawn with a pen are slightly rougher and more interesting than precise computer-drawn lines. Sections of a painting that have been painted with real paint will always have more texture and visual interest than areas filled in using a computer program. By including traditional materials, you can lend your artwork a sense of “authentic” roughness and personality whilst also still giving yourself room to use digital effects too.

However, be sure to pay attention to visual consistency. One of the problems with mixing traditional and digital art is that the two mediums can look very different – and can clash when used in the same painting. I’ve made this mistake at least a few times in the past, but there are ways around it. For example, you can keep the digital elements reasonably subtle (eg: relegating them to background areas, small bloom effects etc…). Even just making sure that your painting includes a reasonably consistent palette (in terms of brightness, hue etc..) can make differences between digital and traditional areas less noticeable at first glance.

In conclusion, digital editing won’t make your art less “authentic” or give it less personality if it is used well and for a conscious reason. However, don’t try to make your art too perfect. Some small imperfections and/or the use of more traditional materials can give your art a feeling of individuality, humanity and personality that you can’t get if you are too much of a perfectionist.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review : “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island” (Film)

Well, I was in the mood for some silly comedy horror, so I thought that I’d take a look at an animated film from 1998 called “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island”. Although I rediscovered “Scooby-Doo” a year or so ago – thanks to both seeing a few episodes of “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated” and reading an excellent Lovecraftian dark comedy parody novel called “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero – this film completely passed me by at the time. In fact, it also passed me by during my childhood in the 1990s too for some bizarre reason.

In fact, I only ended up finding this film after watching a couple of 1990s nostalgia-based videos by the horror movie critic Ryan Hollinger and being intrigued enough to get a second-hand DVD of it, even though I already knew quite a bit about the film’s story from the reviews.

Note: The 2003 UK DVD edition of “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island” is actually a double-sided disc that allows you to choose between watching the film in 4:3 or 1:33 (?). I ended up choosing 4:3 for this review, mostly because this side of the disc seemed to be less scratched/smudged.

Anyway, lets take a look at “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS. The film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS (lightning effects mostly), although I don’t know whether they are intense enough to be an issue or not.

The film begins with a dramatic scene set in a creepy old mansion, where the Scooby gang are being chased by a monster. In a twist that will surprise absolutely no-one, the “monster” actually turns out to be a man in a costume who is trying to scare the “meddling kids” away from his counterfeit money factory in the mansion’s basement.

Sometime later, the Scooby gang grow up and go their separate ways. Scooby and Shaggy end up working (incompetently) for US customs and Velma opens a bookshop. Fred and Daphne stay in the paranormal investigation business, albeit for a TV show hosted by Daphne. During a chat show interview to promote the next series of the show, Fred has the idea to get the old gang together to join in with the production.

What could possibly go wrong?

Needless to say, their next few cases all involve people dressed in silly costumes. Daphne is disappointed that they haven’t found any real evidence of the paranormal. But, whilst visiting New Orleans, a local woman called Lena happens to overhear their complaints and suggests a visit to her employer’s chilli farm on a haunted island on the bayou called Moonscar Island….

An invitation to a haunted island? What fun!

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s a rather amusing comedy horror film, which also has some rather cool-looking artwork too. Although some elements of it are a bit like an extended episode of the TV show, this film actually does a few innovative things with both the show itself and the zombie, werewolf and vampire genres too. Plus, some early parts of the film also reminded me a little of a much more light-hearted version of Edgar Cantero’s excellent 2018 parody novel “Meddling Kids” too 🙂

In terms of the film’s comedy elements, they’re reasonably good. Although some of the show’s trademark food-based jokes do seem a little bit over-used in this film (and there’s a slightly random running joke about Scooby not realising that he’s a dog), the film’s comedy elements still work really well. The scenes involving ghosts, monsters and zombies are played in a hilariously melodramatic way that is just fun to watch, plus the film also has a wonderfully self-referential sense of humour too.

Not only does the film include a montage scene showing the Scooby gang unmasking numerous villains but, throughout the film, Velma and Fred keep trying to think of classic-style theories about what could be behind the strange events on Moonscar Island. Still, this film relies a lot on slapstick comedy and food-based humour. Quite a lot of this is actually really funny but, as I said earlier, it sometimes feels a little over-used and the film would have probably been even better if there was a bit more variety in the humour. Still, this is a reasonably small criticism.

Yes, these food-based scenes are very funny but they would probably work better as more occasional moments.

The film also makes excellent use of character-based humour too – with the scenes showing what the Scooby gang get up to after they “retire” from solving mysteries being some of the film’s funniest moments. Whether it is Scooby and Shaggy working as customs agents trying to stop food smuggling or the fact that Velma has opened a horror-themed detective novel bookshop, these amusing details really help to add a little bit of extra depth to the characters whilst also emphasising their wonderful weirdness (and how they only really seem to thrive when investigating the paranormal).

Seriously, the customs-based scenes are some of the funniest moments in the film.

In terms of the film’s horror elements, they’re surprisingly good. Although this film will only actually scare younger viewers who have less experience of the horror genre, the film’s horror elements are actually handled in a vaguely “serious” way that is more dramatic than the original TV show.

Not only are there a few brilliantly dramatic set pieces (such as ghostly writing appearing on a wall in a way that might remind you of the Overlook Hotel from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines) and a relatively grim and creepy backstory, but the film’s plot also allows for some wonderfully random plot twists that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in an old-school 1950s horror comic too 🙂

So, this is where “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” got the idea for that terrifying jump scare from! Who would have thought it?

Yet, despite the gleeful silliness of the film’s plot twists, the film’s story is actually quite well-structured. Not only is there some clever visual foreshadowing of a later plot twist, but the fact that only Scooby and Shaggy actually see anything paranormal for part of the film also adds a tiny amount of tension and drama to the story. Plus, as wonderfully bizarre as the plot is (seriously, think 1950s horror comic 🙂 ), everything in the film actually makes sense in context.

The film’s backstory is fairly dramatic too – with random cat-worship, evil pirates and alligator-related deaths portrayed in a reasonably “serious” way. Still, although the film touches on some of the historical context of 19th century Louisiana, this is very airbrushed (eg: the film presents the sides of the US civil war in a “neutral” way and, despite being set on a plantation – albeit a “pepper plantation” started by spice traders- the film doesn’t mention slavery). Yes, the film was aimed at kids but – even in the 1990s – things like “Horrible Histories” were able to explain the grim parts of history in a way that was accessible to younger audiences. So, the airbrushed history here is more than a little bit odd.

As mentioned earlier, this film actually does something innovative with the zombie, vampire and werewolf genres. Although the zombies are initially presented as frightening (and can also turn into ghosts too), they actually turn out to be trying to protect the Scooby gang by warning them away from the island. Plus, although the film includes a few Voodoo doll based scenes, the zombies aren’t actually traditional Voodoo zombies, but are the victims of werewolf-like cat monsters who have survived for centuries by draining people’s life-force in a vampiric kind of way. And, yes, it’s also awesome to see a “Scooby-Doo” story where the monsters are actually real for once.

Not to mention that it also allows the film to include a hilariously macabre twist on the usual “unmasking” scene too 🙂

Plus, I have to praise the design of the zombies too. If you’re a fan of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden (and you should be – they’re amazing), one of the really cool things about this film is that the zombies seem to be at least slightly inspired by the band’s famous mascot too 🙂

Hmmm… Must be one of Edward T. Head’s long-lost cousins.

Talking of designs, I cannot praise the artwork in this film highly enough 🙂 This film is made using traditional animation and this allows for all sorts of cool painted backdrops that look absolutely spectacular, not to mention that the slightly larger budget (compared to the TV show) means that the animation also looks a bit smoother and more seamless than the old cartoons from the 1960s/70s, whilst still being very reminiscent of them too. Seriously, like with other TV shows like “Cowboy Bebop“, 1990s animation has a wonderfully distinctive look to it that is always awesome to see 🙂

Seriously, this is a really cool-looking cartoon 🙂

Musically, this film is very ’90s too 🙂 In addition to a few pieces of classic-style “creepy” music, the film includes a couple of rock/pop-punk style songs that are wonderfully ’90s in the best way possible and even come vaguely close to the lighter and more melodic edge of the heavy metal genre at times too 🙂 Seriously, I really miss the days when this type of music was a lot more popular. The 1990s were awesome.

All in all, this is a really fun and amusing comedy horror film that is definitely worth watching. Not only does it have a reasonably well-structured, if gloriously silly, plot that also does some innovative things with familiar horror monsters but it’s also a really cool-looking piece of visual art too. If you enjoy old-school 1950s horror comics, have read Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” and/or just miss the 1990s, then you’ll probably enjoy this film.

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

Three Downsides Of Taking A Break From Reading Novels

As regular readers probably know, I’m taking a break from reading novels at the time of writing (Edit: Expect book reviews to return, for a month or so, from end of this month). This is mostly because, after 1-2 years of frequent binge reading, I just felt totally burnt out with the entire medium and needed some time to allow my enthusiasm for it to return again. But, although there are good things to be said for taking a break from reading, I’ve noticed that it also has some downsides too.

So, I thought that I’d talk about some of the less fun elements of taking a break from reading.

1) The crushing ennui: Books take a lot of time to read. If you’re interested in reading, then you’ll either find a way to set aside time for it and/or keep a book handy for smaller spaces of time which can be used for reading. So, when you take a break from reading, you suddenly find that you have a lot more free time than you previously had.

At first, this can be really cool… until it isn’t. Although having a lot of time is really awesome and you’ll probably find various ways of filling it, these probably won’t feel quite as satisfying as books can. One of the great things about books is that they have a defined beginning and ending. When you read a book, you take a journey and you can easily measure your progress (in chapters, pages etc..) towards a goal. You feel a sense of accomplishment when you finish a book after putting several hours of effort into reading it.

Yes, you can also get this feeling from videogames too. In fact, I only realised that this was why I felt so directionless and “empty” when I finished the main story of “Saints Row: The Third” and found that just messing around in the game’s world wasn’t as fun as I’d expected it to be. I craved structure, missions, goals etc.. and every remaining side-quest or optional part of the game suddenly felt a lot more interesting than it did during the main part of the game.

So, yes you can get this feeling of progression and accomplishment from videogames too. But, even then, it isn’t really quite the same as books. I guess that the lesson here is to have some other project or type of long-form entertainment (TV show boxsets could possibly be another example) ready to fill the time and the role that books can have if you’re taking a break from reading. If you don’t, then you can sometimes feel a crushing sense of ennui and directionlessness.

2) Your tastes will change: So, you’ve taken a break from reading books and you find yourself filled with a sense of possibility. After all, with all of the time you’ve spent reading, you haven’t really had a chance to spend as much time with other entertainment mediums. Other entertainment mediums that other people are actually interested in and which are a part of popular culture. If you’re tired of books, then the idea of just chilling out with some random popcorn movie can feel absolutely heavenly.

And, for the first time, it might be. But, if you’ve been reading regularly for quite a while, you’ll probably notice that your tastes have changed. Because you’re so used to books, slower pacing will feel natural to you, complex themes and intellectual depth will seem like “normal” parts of a story and you’ll expect characters to have a lot more depth to them. In short, if you read novels regularly, then you become more of an intellectual. This isn’t a sudden thing and it can happen so slowly that you don’t even notice it until it has happened.

Of course, one annoying side-effect of this is that a some stuff you might have previously enjoyed might not always appeal to you in the way that it once did. This can make finding interesting films to watch, TV shows to watch etc.. a bit of a chore. Yes, films with a similar level of complexity and intellectual depth to novels certainly exist. But, aside from a few well-known examples (like “Citizen Kane”, “Blade Runner” etc…), they can be a bit more of a challenge to find than you might expect (not to mention that they can sometimes be more expensive than popular films too).

Plus, if you’ve been reading regularly, you’ll also notice the lack of variety and individuality in other mediums too. Yes, imaginative, unusual and interesting stuff does exist in other mediums but – because films and games take longer to make and cost more to make than novels do, there often isn’t quite the same level of individuality and variety in these mediums than you might expect if you’re a regular reader. So, don’t expect looking for interesting films and games to be quite as easy as looking for interesting, creative and unusual novels (where you’re pretty much spoilt for choice).

3) Your “to read” pile: Several weeks after taking a break from reading (which, since I prepare these articles in advance, was sometime last autumn/winter), I happened to visit Titchfield and was looking around one of the charity shops. I noticed a couple of sci-fi novels and instantly bought them. Force of habit and all that. It’s easy to get into a rhythm of keeping your “to read” pile topped up at regular intervals.

Of course, I opened one of them and read the first couple of pages, hoping that this would be the moment when reading suddenly felt fascinating again. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Still, I’ve added them to my “to read” pile (or, more accurately, piles. Who only has one of these?) – which has now gone from being a fascinating personal library to being a cross between some kind of forlorn relic of a different time and some kind of accusing monument to failure. I try to ignore it most of the time, despite it’s size.

Yet, on a positive note, being more conscious about having a giant pile of books means that whenever I see characters in films with one of these (eg: Tilda Swinton’s character in “Only Lovers Left Alive” or the spies in “Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers), I instantly feel more of a connection with them. So, it isn’t all bad.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂