Three Reasons Why Genre Blending Is So Important

Although I’ve talked about combining genres before, I thought that I’d look at it from a slightly different angle today. This is because, whilst there are lots of ways that writers/artists/musicians/filmmakers etc… can mix genres together, the act of genre blending is important in it’s own right.

Here are a few reasons why:

1) It widens audiences: Normally, I’m not a fan of the superhero genre, especially when it comes to “traditional” superheroes. Don’t even get me started on how annoying it is when people use the word “comics” as a synonym for “superhero comics” (other types of comics exist!). And, yet, one of my many favourite TV shows is probably “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“.

This is an American TV series about Superman that was originally made during the 1990s and it is a world apart from “gritty and serious” modern superhero movies. This show is much, much better as a result. But, why? Well, because it includes elements from lots of other genres.

Rather than being in the action genre, it takes heavy influence from the comedy genre, the romance genre, the detective genre and occasionally the science fiction genre. It’s a fun, light-hearted and funny show about an incredibly cute couple (and their complicated love life), who solve mysteries that also occasionally include things like futuristic gadgets and spaceships. In other words, it’s a show that wasn’t made for obsessive superhero comic fans and it is amazing!

Likewise, I used to think that folk music was a boring genre. Then I heard heavy metal and punk bands make amazing songs that were based on various old folk songs. I also used to think that the fantasy genre was “silly”/ “nerdy in a bad way”, but then I read and watched “Game Of Thrones” (which takes influence from the horror genre), and played computer games like “The Longest Journey” and “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” that blend the fantasy and cyberpunk genres in really cool ways.

If you include elements from other genres, then you introduce audiences to genres that they may not have really been interested in before. Not only does this widen the audience for a particular genre, but it also allows people who aren’t usually fans of a particular genre to take a look at it without wasting their time.

2) Originality: As many people will probably tell you, there’s no such thing as a “100% original” creative work. Everything is influenced or inspired by something else. And, yet, the most famous “original” works have got that title for the simple reason that they took influence from an original mixture of things.

For example, the film “Blade Runner” wasn’t the first sci-fi film about robots. It wasn’t even the first thing in the cyberpunk genre (a writer called Bruce Bethke got there first). The basic story behind the film isn’t even original (it’s an adaptation of a Philip. K. Dick novel). Even the film’s beautifully ‘futuristic’ set designs are clearly inspired by cities like Tokyo and Seoul, older comics like “2000AD” and “MΓ©tal Hurlant” and old film noir movies.

But, it’s recognised as a cinematic masterpiece because of the fact that it combined science fiction, film noir and philosophy in a way that no-one had ever done before. The film’s originality comes from doing something totally new with a wide range of different influences.

New genres and highly “original” creative works tend to emerge when people mix elements from different genres in ways that no-one has really done before. So, genre blending is essential to originality.

3) Awesomeness: If you’re a fan of two genres, then seeing them combined can make something even better. Whilst this depends a lot on how the two genres are blended, it can result in some truly awesome things.

The classic cinematic example is probably the film “Alien“. Science fiction is awesome. Horror is awesome. This film blends both genres together in such a way that they rely on each other to turn the film into something greater than the sum of it’s parts. Without the film being set on a claustrophobic spaceship, it’d just be a generic monster movie. Without the alien creature, the film would just be a generic “serious” late-1970s sci-fi movie. But, together, these elements create something truly brilliant!

When genres are mixed in a way that allows each genre to compliment the other genre, then it can turn into something that is mind-blowingly awesome if you happen to be a fan of both genres.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

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How To Deal With Self-Critical Uninspiration – A Ramble

A while before I originally prepared this article, I’d tried and failed to write two other articles. I felt an overwhelming sense of “it’s not good enough” about creating things, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to write about things like writer’s block and artist’s block. In particular, about self-critical writer’s block/artist’s block.

This can happen when you either feel overwhelmed by the idea of “I should be creating things” or the idea of “everything I create seems to be terrible“. Typically, it tends to happen directly after both highly inspired projects and/or failed attempts at creative projects. But, it can also happen if you aren’t in a particularly great mood or are feeling overwhelmed in some way or another.

So, how do you deal with it?

Well, if you’ve been creating things for a while, then you’ll probably know that there’s a good chance that this is just a passing phase. Something annoying that happens to all creative people every now and then. Usually, the best way to deal with it is just to keep creating things – even if they’re “terrible” – until you start making good stuff again. After all, a “terrible” finished painting or story is always better than a “good” unfinished one.

But, there are lots of sneakier ways to get around it too. One obvious way is simply to look for another inspiration – yes, this depends on time and budget – but, if you can find something that absolutely knocks your socks off (eg: a film in your favourite genre that you haven’t seen before, an awesome indie game that leaves a lot to the imagination, an amazing webcomic that you’ve never heard of before etc.) then not only will this give you something to take inspiration from, but it will also fill you with the feeling of being in awe of a creative work.

If you aren’t careful, this feeling of awe can actually make your uninspiration worse. But, if you’re very careful about how you think about this, then you can turn it into a brilliant source of creative motivation here. The trick is, of course, NOT to think “This film/game/comic is brilliant, I’ll never be able to make something that good!“. Instead, try to think something like “How can I make something different that is as cool as the thing I just saw? I’ve got to try.

The difference is subtle, but one attitude will leave you feeling defeated before you even start and the other one will make you want to try creating something.

Another way to deal with creative self-criticism is simply to see it as part of the process. All of your favourite writers and artists weren’t born talented. They all had to learn, practice and make mistakes. They all went through phases where they felt that they couldn’t produce anything good. The fact that you are experiencing something like this means that you are taking art and/or writing seriously. If you weren’t, not feeling like you can make great things wouldn’t hurt at all.

So, when you find yourself in one of these moods, see it as a challenge. See it as something that all of the people you admire have had to deal with before (which means that you are on the right track). See it as a chance to work out all sorts of sneaky ways to get out of this mood.

And, yes, keeping a regular practice schedule will teach you a lot of these tricks. Whether it’s making “silly” private projects that you never show anyone, whether it’s remaking some of your old stuff, whether it’s making fan art/ writing fan fiction, whether it’s trying to create something in one of your favourite genres, whether it’s descriptive writing/still life painting etc.. there are loads of sneaky ways out of the mood that you’re in at the moment.

So, instead of feeling terrible about “not being able to create good stuff”, try looking for sneaky ways to get around this mood. Even if you don’t succeed at first, the shift in focus from feeling sorry for yourself to trying to figure out strange and unconventional ways around the problem will gradually help you to have a better frame of mind.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Some Thoughts About Indirect Influences – A Ramble

Even though this is an article about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking briefly about music and about a celebrity death that happened earlier this year. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

As regular readers of this site know, I write these articles ridiculously far in advance. As such, the morning before I wrote the first draft of this article, I read the news that Chuck Berry had died. Although I’d only heard a few of his songs before, I suddenly realised that all of the heavy metal and punk songs on the playlist that I was listening to at the time probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Chuck Berry either inventing or popularising rock and roll during the 1950s.

This, of course, made me think about the whole subject of indirect influence. Since I’m guessing that many of the metal and punk bands I was listening to probably weren’t directly inspired by Chuck Berry (eg: many of the bands I was listening to were formed during the 1980s and 1990s, when 1950s rock and roll was probably seen as laughably old fashioned). Yet, the bands that inspired those bands were probably either inspired by Chuck Berry or inspired by another musician who was.

So, this made me think about indirect influences and how fascinating they are.

If you create anything, then there’s a good chance that you probably have a few indirect influences that you don’t even know about. After all, something or someone probably inspired you to become an artist and/or a writer. Likewise, the types of stories you like to tell, the types of paintings you make etc.. were probably inspired by an interesting mixture of cool things that you’ve encountered throughout your life.

Every creative person has influences. And this is just as true for the creative works that influenced you. So, there could be a huge number of indirect influences that you might not even know about. But, why should you be interested in this subject?

The first reason is for pure enjoyment. Not only might looking at what influenced the people who influenced you help you to discover new things that are at least vaguely similar to the things you like.

But, even if you don’t like these things, then you’ll be able to see how they turned those things into something that you actually enjoy. At the very least, this will show you the importance of having a good imagination and a wide range of influences. Plus, you’ll also have an even greater appreciation of your favourite movies, novels, comics, games etc.. too if you know what inspired them.

The second reason to search for indirect influences on your creative work is because they can help you to improve your own art, comics and/or fiction. If you look at the same things that influenced your favourite writers and artists, then there’s a good chance that you might end up seeing those old influences in a slightly different way. You might take inspiration from parts of them that your favourite creative people didn’t. So, you might end up creating something that is still reminiscient of your favourite things, but is even more unique.

Finally, the other reason is because it’s absolutely fascinating. Doesn’t the idea that there are people throughout history who have influenced and shaped the things you make right now without you even knowing it fill you with curiosity?

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was interesting πŸ™‚

Looking At Genres On A Thematic Level – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by spending a while talking about my experiences with listening to punk music. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

At the time of writing, I still seem to be going through a bit of a “1990s American punk music” phase. As I’ve probably mentioned before, this was the first “cool” genre of music I ever discovered and – although I’m more of a heavy metal fan these days – I still find myself returning to it every now and then.

This time round, I found myself discovering a new band or two, buying a few extra punk albums and listening to bands that I vaguely knew about in slightly more depth. This had some surprisingly mixed results (eg: I learnt that Green Day’s “Warning” is actually a good album [and so is “Insomniac” too], I discovered a band called “No Use For A Name” who I should have discovered years ago etc..). But, this slightly deeper look at one of my favourite genres of music completely changed my opinion of it.

Since the very first punk band I ever discovered (sometime in the late 1990s) was The Offspring, I’d always thought that 90s American punk music was all about fun and rebellion. After gradually discovering a few other bands over the years, I still sort of thought the same sort of things about the genre – but I realised that it could also include things like lyrical complexity, gothic elements, shock value, political rebellion etc…

But, after listening repeatedly to several of Green Day’s classic albums and No Use For A Name’s amazing “Making Friends” album. I realised something about the genre that I’d never really thought about too much before. For all of it’s energy and passion, it’s often a genre about failure and misery. For a genre that I thought was all about cheerful nostalgia, intelligent thought and the kind of rebellious attitude that the world really needs these days, it’s actually surprisingly depressing if you actually read the lyrics.

This, of course, made me take another look at some of my favourite punk songs and albums and – yes- this theme also seems to be present there, albeit in more subtle ways. Although the genre still sounds amazing and fills me with nostalgia, it’s become a bit less of a “feel good” genre than it used to be because I now know more about the genre than I thought I did.

So, why have I spent several paragraphs rambling about the punk genre?

Well, it’s because it’s about the importance of looking at genres on a thematic level. This is something that you can often only do if you research a genre as much as you can. Since, the more things (by different people) you see within the same genre, the easier it is to spot common themes.

This might sound pretentious or overly academic but there are some good practical reasons to look at genres thematically if you’re an artist, writer etc…

If you understand the common themes in a genre, then you’ll find it easier to make things in that genre. You’ll find it easier to come up with ideas for stories, comics, paintings etc… since you can ask yourself “if I made something about [this theme], what would it look like?” This is especially true if it’s a genre that you really love, but don’t know how to make things in it.

In addition to this, if you know what the common themes of a genre are, then it’s also a lot easier to include elements from other genres. After all, if you make something that looks like it belongs to another genre, but contains the themes from one of your favourite genres, then you’ll probably come up with something a lot more original that will still be recognisable as part of your chosen genre.

Likewise, studying the themes in other creative works can show you how to include “difficult” themes in subtle ways. For example, if you watch the music video for “Soulmate” by No Use For A Name, it seems like an “ordinary” song about a failed relationship. But, if you actually listen to the lyrics, it isn’t a song about romantic relationships at all. It’s an incredibly depressing song about a life of paranoia, worry, despair etc.. since the “soulmate” in the title is shown to be those emotions rather than a romantic partner.

Finally, looking at the themes of your favourite genres can help you to think about the types of themes that you want to include in your own creative works. Yes, you’ll probably end up doing this without realising it anyway. But, thinking about it more consciously will probably allow you to make your creative works have more emotional impact, depth, complexity etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

How Important Is The Art Style In Comics? – A Ramble

Before I got into making art regularly, there was something that I’d see in comics occasionally that often used to bewilder and annoy me. This was when the comic would have a guest artist who used a radically different style to the more familiar one that was used in the rest of the series.

Notable examples of this include one of the old “Simpsons” comics from the 1990s/early ’00s (it was one of the “Treehouse Of Horror” comics about the giant statue in the Simpsons’ basement) and in the “The Kindly Ones” graphic novel from Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series.

Plus, there’s Jill Thompson’s “Death: At Death’s Door” which re-tells the events of the fourth “Sandman” graphic novel from the perspective of another character, whilst using a manga art style. Then, there are also some of the other artists (especially Ashley Wood) who have worked on Alan C. Martin & Jamie Hewlett’s “Tank Girl” comics.

Of course, now that I make art regularly, this sort of thing absolutely fascinates me.

But, why? In addition to being a great example of comic artists actually being able to do their own thing rather than being forced to rigidly adhere to some kind of uniform “house style” (like in *ugh* many traditional superhero comics), it also raises questions about how important the art style is in comics.

When I make occasional webcomics, I handle both the writing and the art. I can’t imagine doing this any other way and, yet, thinking about the art and the writing as separate things helps me to understand a lot about my comics.

One of the things that used to annoy me was the fact that I couldn’t seem to make “serious” comics. I’d tried to do this in the past (in 2013 especially) and it always seemed to fall flat. My comics only seem to “work” when they include humour of some kind or another, even if the humour is fairly cynical:

“Damania Resized – Virtually Banned” By C. A. Brown

So, why is this? Well, it probably has to do with the fact that my art style is very much on the cartoonish side of things. Yes, even though gloomy and dramatic lighting is an essential part of my style these days, my art still has a fairly vivid and “cartoonish” look to it. Part of this is because I’m still learning and part of it is because I kind of like art styles that are cartoonish, but not too cartoonish.

But, in comics, this kind of art tends to work best when paired with comedy of some kind or another. It’s an art style that looks “unrealistic” and “silly”, and – as such- it tends to go better with comedy and/or dark comedy. So, yes, not only can the art style have a surprising impact on how the audience thinks about the events of a comic, it can also affect the type of stories that a comic can tell.

A good example of this can be seen in animation. Although I’m not a major anime fan, I absolutely love sci-fi/cyberpunk anime. Yet, virtually every great anime in this genre (like “Cowboy Bebop“, “Ghost In The Shell”/ “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“, “Akira” and “Paprika) tends to use a slightly more realistic and detailed version of the classic anime/manga art style. The characters don’t usually have gigantic hair or stylised elements like that. The backgrounds are usually highly-detailed drawings and/or paintings, rather than more typical cartoon backgrounds too.

Yet, if someone tried to make a sci-fi/cyberpunk anime using a more “cartoonish” manga art style, it probably wouldn’t work. Unless it was a comedy.

So, yes, the art style is an incredibly important part of a comic. Yes, your art style might limit the types of comics that you make but – if you can make a type of comic that goes really well with your art style – then it will be significantly better as a result.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Top Ten Articles – November 2017

Well, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for me to collect the usual list of links to my ten favourite articles about making comics and/or making art that I’ve posted here over the past month (plus a couple of honourable mentions too).

All in all, even though there were some good articles posted here this month, it probably wasn’t the best month ever in terms of overall quality. Due to uninspiration, being busy with the Christmas comic and being in a bit of a mood whilst preparing some of this month’s articles, there were more reviews, short articles, rambles and repetitve articles than usual. Hopefully, December’s articles will be better πŸ™‚

Anyway, here are the lists. Enjoy πŸ™‚

Top Ten Articles – November 2017:

– “Three Things That 1980s-2000s American & Canadian Punk Music Can Teach (Visual) Artists
– “Three Vague Tips For Making Early-Mid ’00s Style Artwork
– “Four Reasons Why Artists Use Limited Palettes
– “Two Things That Remaking Your Old Art Will Show You (Apart From Your Skill Level)”
– “Why “Modern Art” Paintings Aren’t As Easy As They Look – A Ramble
– “Three Ways To Rush A Comic Update Well
– “Three Reasons Why The Fictional “Worlds” In Art/Novels/Webcomics etc.. Often Seem To Be Slightly Old
– “Can Creative People Have Rare Works These Days? – A Ramble
– “Three Tips For Making Art Set In Late 1980s/ Early-Mid 1990s America
– “Three Tips For Finding “Hidden” Influences On Your Art Style

Honourable Mentions:

– “Three Creative Advantages Of Not Being Totally Up To Date With Current Culture
– “Three Reasons Why It’s A Good Idea To Keep (And Show Off) Copies Of Your Line Art

Three Reasons Why The 1990s Was Such A Creative Decade

Well, after looking through my CD collection and realising that 1994 was an absolutely amazing year for American punk music, I thought that it was time to write yet another article about the 1990s. In particular, I’ll be looking at some of the reasons why the 1990s was such a creative decade.

Because, it was! Computer games back then tended to be eager to innovate and try new things. TV shows back then weren’t afraid to be quirky, strange etc.. for the first time. Even generic action movies often tended to have more imaginative and original storylines too (eg: “Speed”, “True Lies” etc…)

Yes, I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before but, here are a few rose-tinted reasons why the 1990s was a more creative decade:

1) The world was less connected: Yes, the world wide web existed during the 1990s. But, it was a lot slower, more primitive and less widely used than it is today. In other words, the world was a lot less connected than it is today.

What does this have to do with creativity? Well, it meant that there was a lot more variation between creative works. These days, if we’re interested in creating something different, we can just look it up on the internet and learn everything about it. Back then, you’d have had to read books, look for videos etc.. and then use your imagination to extrapolate from whatever research material you could find. This probably led to more variation between creative works about the same subject.

In addition to this, the lack of connections meant that creative works tended to reflect their surroundings a bit more too. This is why, for example, Californian punk music from the 1990s (eg: Bad Religion, The Offspring, Green Day etc..) often tends to have a fairly distinctive worldview and attitude. Likewise, the 1990s was a golden age for sitcoms here in Britain, and the differences in humour, attitude, characters etc.. between British and American sitcoms from the time are surprisingly pronounced.

So, when the world was less connected, people had to use their imaginations more and there also tended to be a lot more variation between both individuals and locations.

2) People did more with less: Back in the 1990s, film budgets were slightly lower than they are today (plus, mid-budget films still existed!). Back in the 1990s, computer and video game technology was a lot more basic than it is now. Back in the 1990s, TV shows often had even lower budgets than many films do.

Now, you’d expect all of this to have a damaging effect on the levels of creativity in the world. But, it didn’t. Because creative people had less, they had to find ways to do more with it. They had to find clever ways to make things seem more spectacular or expensive than they actually were.

In other words, they had to focus on the things that don’t cost much. These include old-fashioned things like good storytelling, clever humour, good game design, imaginative ideas, unique art styles, emotional depth, good characterisation etc.. that mostly seem to have gone out of fashion in modern mass culture.

Because film-makers couldn’t dazzle the audience with multi-million dollar CGI effects and game makers couldn’t use photo-realistic 3D graphics, they had to focus on other ways to keep the audience interested. In other words, they actually had to use imagination and creativity.

3) Culture: I can only speak for British (and maybe American) cultural history here, but there were so many creativity-friendly cultural differences in the 1990s compared to today.

The first is that, relatively speaking, the 1990s was a happier age. The cold war had ended and 9/11 hadn’t happened yet. The future seemed bright and optimistic. Of course, what this meant is that if anyone wanted to make anything thrilling, scary, dramatic, rebellious etc… then they couldn’t just look at the newspaper to get ideas. They actually had to think and to use their imaginations a bit more.

Likewise, the 1990s – in Britain especially- was a much more liberal decade in the traditional sense of the world. This was a decade where hedonism was celebrated, where being “edgy”, “controversial” and/or “rebellious” was cool etc… This was a decade where punk music was in the charts and where even a few manufactured pop groups tried to have some kind of a punk-like attitude (eg: The Spice Girls). This was a decade where LGBT-themed drama started appearing on television (eg: “Queer as Folk” in the UK and “Ellen” in the US). This was a decade where free speech and rebelling against the establishment mattered much more than it seems to today.

In a more general sense, culture at the time also tended to be more eager to reinvent things. Films like “Scream” and TV shows like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” wanted to look at the horror genre from different perspectives. Established genres were re-imagined in interesting ways (eg: “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman” turns the superhero genre into a light-hearted romantic comedy, and it’s really great πŸ™‚ But, it’d never be made in this modern age of “ultra-serious” superhero movies. ).

Although it probably wasn’t perfect, the culture of the 1990s just seems to have been far more creativity-orientated than modern culture is.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚