Want More Originality? Try Some Emotional Variation – A Ramble

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

Shortly before writing this article, I found myself listening to a song called “Land Of The Free” by Gamma Ray for the hundredth time and I realised something about my own musical tastes – I prefer optimistic heavy metal music. And, yes, contrary to popular belief, optimistic heavy metal actually exists. And it feels great to listen to!

Not only does it encompass pretty much everything within the Power Metal sub-genre, but optimism also can be found in individual songs by bands in many other sub-genres of metal. I mean, there are even optimistic death metal songs out there (like this one [WARNING: The video contains FLICKERING LIGHTS] ).

Yet, when you think of heavy metal, “optimism” isn’t usually the first word that springs to mind. And, yet, this is what makes these songs so intriguing and appealing. They do something slightly different with a familiar genre, leveraging the strengths of the genre in order to achieve a slightly different emotional effect. They take the intense emotional catharsis that the genre is famous for and imbue it with a sense of joy, fun and/or hope that is often missing from more traditional heavy metal. And it is really something to listen to!

It also prompts all sorts of other interesting creative flourishes too. For example, the theme of optimism means that these songs have something in common with songs from other genres – which is why, for example, a metal band like Alestorm can make an awesome cover version of a (not entirely radio-friendly) rap song called “Hangover” by Taio Cruz. Many of Alestorm’s songs are about drinking, partying and having fun. Taio Cruz’s song is about this too. So, the cover is absolutely perfect.

Likewise, it can also lead to some unexpected thematic matter too. For example, although I’m not a Christian, I was quite surprised to realise that the “epic fantasy” story told in a heavy metal song called “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” by Helloween is, thematically at least, surprisingly Christian. It’s this story about someone who goes on an epic quest to defeat Satan by destroying things related to seveal negative qualities (eg: hate, fear, senselessness, greed and ignorance).

So, why have I spent several paragraphs talking about heavy metal music?

Well, simply put, one of the easiest ways to make something “orignal” within a familiar genre (aside from taking influence from things outside of the genre) is simply to look at the general emotional tone of the genre and then try to create something that evokes a slightly different emotional tone.

For example, one of the things that I’ve noticed whenever I’ve made cyberpunk art is that I’ll sometimes try to make it bright and cheerful, rather than gloomy and dystopian. Although this was initially because I absolutely love this genre and want to celebrate it, it does result in a slightly different “style” of cyberpunk to many things in the genre.

“Market Seven” By C. A. Brown

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

Adding a different emotional tone to a familiar genre not only makes your creative works more original, but it also allows you to explore themes that you might not be able to if you stuck to a more traditional version of the genre. I mean, part of the creative process behind some of my “optimistic” cyberpunk paintings was just curiosity about what everyday life in a 1980s-style cyberpunk future would actually look like. And, well, it’s probably not all doom and gloom.

So, yes, adding a different emotional tone to a familiar genre can be a really interesting thing to do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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The Complete “Work In Progress” Line Art For My “Nocturnal” Halloween Comic

Well, I thought that I’d do my usual thing of showing off the “work in progress” line art for my recent Halloween comic.

If I remember rightly, most of the changes between the line art and the finished comic were visual changes rather than dialogue changes (although there are a couple of these, such as in the final panel of page 7).

This is mostly because I refined the dialogue in the time between planning the comic and drawing the line art, so most of the dialogue changes happened before the comic was made.

Still, there were quite a few visual changes. Most of these involved reducing the amount of blood in a few scenes (since it looked a little bit excessive) and, yes, this can be seen in the line art since I used red ink for the blood. The most notable example is probably in the third and fifth panels of page eight.

The most notable visual change is probably the cover, which I’d originally envisaged as a minimalist thing featuring silhouettes of the characters (with red fangs). But, this didn’t look that good. So, I had to spend quite a while adding lots of extra detail to the finished cover art digitally.

Anyway, here’s the line art (you can click on each piece of line art to see a larger version of it) Enjoy 🙂

“Nocturnal – Cover (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 1 (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 2 (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 3 (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 4 (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 5 (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 6 (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 7 (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 8 (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 9 (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Nocturnal – Page 10 (Line Art)” 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.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why “Less Is More” Applies To Blood In Horror Comics – A Ramble

Well, since I’m busy preparing this year’s (comedy horror) Halloween comic at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk about an important rule to remember when including depictions of blood in horror-themed comics. I am, of course, talking about the rule that “less is more”.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Less is more. There are quite a few reasons for this.

The first is simply that including ridiculous amounts of red paint or red ink in your comic just makes it look like you’re making an immature attempt to be “edgy” or “shocking”. Seriously, it may not seem like it, but drenching every page of your comic in red paint actually makes your comic less horrific.

This is because of the second reason, namely that the horror in your comic shouldn’t come from blood or gore alone. The thing to remember here is that your audience are probably fans of the horror genre. So, they’ve seen it all before and are unlikely to be shocked by lots of red paint. So, using blood as a substitute for actual horror (that comes from the characters, the story etc..) probably won’t work.

The third reason is that including blood in horror comics follows the same dramatic “rules” as including profanity in your comic’s dialogue does. Namely, the more often you do it – the less dramatic it becomes. In other words, it works best when it is unexpected. And if there’s lots of blood in your horror comic, then your audience will expect to see lots more. So, it won’t surprise them.

The fourth reason is that including less blood in your horror comic means that you actually have to have a good reason for including blood. Grisly scenes in horror comics are considerably more dramatic when there’s actually a valid story-based reason for the scene in question to be gruesome. So, avoiding depicting blood except for when it is absolutely necessary means that your comic’s gruesome scenes will have more dramatic weight.

The fifth reason is that, unlike in film, comics don’t follow time in a linear fashion. One of your readers may spend ten seconds looking at a single panel, another reader might only spend two. In films, a second takes exactly a second. In comics, it can take longer.

And, if you’ve ever seen a horror movie, then you’ll know that the grisly moments are usually relatively quick. After all, if the audience spends too long staring at a gruesome scene in a film, they’ll start to notice that “it’s a special effect“. This is why, for example, the gorier “Unrated” version of “Saw III” is actually less shocking than the theatrical version (which leaves a lot more to the imagination).

The same is true for gruesome artwork in horror comics. Literally, the only way to make gory artwork scary is to include a ridiculous amount of almost photo-realistic detail (see Raven Gregory’s “Return To Wonderland” for some stomach-churning examples of this artistic technique). So, unless you’re an absolute expert at ultra-detailed, ultra-realistic artwork – then including too much in the way of blood etc… in your comic will just highlight any flaws in your art.

The sixth reason is that colour theory still applies to depictions of blood. If you haven’t heard of colour theory before, then read the Wikipedia articles about complementary colours and “warm” and “cool” colours. Basically, if a panel of your comic includes lots of red, then you’re going to have to alter your palette for that panel in order to accommodate it (eg: you need to include lots of green, blue, black and/or white). This also has the side-effect of making the red blood stand out more, so you don’t need to use as much of it.

The seventh reason is because it looks more “realistic”. Simply put, including gallons of red paint in your comic will make it look cartoonishly excessive. In other words, it will look unrealistic. It will look stylised and over-the-top, rather than “serious” or “dramatic”.

So, yes, go easy on the red paint in your horror comic, and it will be a better comic.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Basic Tips For Writing Vampire-Themed Comedy

Well, at the time of writing, I’m still busy preparing this year’s Halloween comic (which will begin tomorrow evening). Since it will be a comedic vampire-themed comic, I thought that I’d talk about how to write this genre of comedy.

So, here are a few basic tips for writing vampire-themed comedy. This article will contain mild SPOILERS for my upcoming comic though.

1) Do your research: Generally speaking, the more things you see, play or read in the vampire genre, the better. If you’re familiar with the genre, then working out ways to parody and just generally have fun with it will become considerably easier. This will also help you to spot common themes in the genre and to see how different people interpret the genre, which can help you to find your own “take” on the genre.

I mean, one of the initial inspirations for my comic was the fact that I’d been going through a phase of replaying “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” almost obsessively a few weeks earlier. Although this game has a lot of mythology surrounding vampirism, it’s basically a game about a character who suddenly becomes a vampire and has to deal with the complex politics etc.. of vampire society (whilst also doing more typical computer game stuff too).

Although the game is a masterpiece, one thing that I felt that the game fell slightly short on was showing how the player character reacts emotionally to becoming a vampire. So, when making my Halloween comic, I thought that it would be funny to show characters reacting in wildly different ways when they discover that they’ve become vampires.

Plus, having at least a vague understanding of the genre allows you to include all sorts of small references and parodies too. For example, in one scene in my Halloween comic, a character refers to vampires as members of “the un-dead”. Although this phrasing might sound a bit strange, it’s actually a reference to one of Bram Stoker’s working titles for “Dracula”.

Likewise, look at other comedy horror genres too. For example, some great examples of how to make horror hilarious can be found in the zombie-comedy genre. So, don’t restrict yourself to just the vampire genre.

2) Practicality and rules: Simply put, one of the best ways to come up with vampire-themed comedy is just to think about the tropes and conventions of the genre in more practical ways. Needless to say, this can be a very useful source of slapstick comedy and/or farce.

In addition to this, try to play around with the “rules” of the genre too. After all, most things in the vampire genre either make a point of following or ignoring various “rules” (eg: related to garlic, sunlight, crosses, stakes, bats, blood etc..). So, a lot of comedy can be found by playing about with these rules – either proving or disproving them in amusing ways, or showing your characters discussing them.

Or, if you’re feeling bold, try to invent some new “rules” for the vampires in your story or comic to follow. Although this sort of thing tends to be done more often in the horror genre than in the comedy genre, it certainly has the potential for comedy.

3) Non-gothic vampires: Simply put, the vampire genre is often heavily associated with the goth subculture. Although this can be useful for goth-themed humour, it can also be amusing to try to link the vampire genre to other subcultures too or to show non-gothic vampires.

The heavy metal genre is a brilliant example of this. Although vampire-themed gothic rock songs are a lot more common, there’s certainly vampire-themed heavy metal out there. Some examples include songs like “We Drink Your Blood” by Powerwolf and “Love Bites” By Judas Priest.

Needless to say, heavy metal interpretations of the genre generally focus more on hedonism, gruesome horror, vampires as a type of monster etc..- in contrast to more atmospheric, philosophical and character-based gothic interpretations of the genre.

So, say, contrasting a gothic interpretation of the vampire genre with a more “heavy metal” interpretation of it can be a great source of comedy. In fact, contrasting a gothic interpretation of the genre with pretty much anything else can be a great source of comedy.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Single-Location Comedy – A Ramble

Well, since I was also busy preparing last year’s Christmas short stories at the time I was preparing this article, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about single-location comedy.

This is mostly because the events of the previous two stories I’d written (this one and this one) before writing this article both entirely took place within a single office.

This type of single-location comedy tends to turn up more often in film and television than in other mediums, for the simple reason that it is cheaper to produce. After all, if you only have to build one set (or a small number of sets), then it’s going to cost less. But, of course, it can also work in other mediums too.

The main advantages of setting your comedy story and/or comic within a single location is that it places more emphasis on the dialogue and the characters. More crucially, it is also perfect for shorter things (eg: flash fiction stories, three-panel comics etc..) for the simple reason that you don’t have to spend too much time setting the scene.

In addition to this, the limitation of setting an entire story or comic within a single location also forces you to be more creative too. After all, if you have to make something interesting, funny or dramatic without being able to change the location, then this pushes you to be more inventive.

Likewise, if your single location is distinctive or interesting in any way, then it can also almost become a character in it’s own right. This helps to increase audience immersion in the story, in addition to giving your fans something to focus on too.

However, the main disadvantage of only using one location is that – if the writing isn’t good enough – then it can get very boring, very quickly. This is not just true for your audience, but for you too.

Whilst this isn’t as much of an issue in prose fiction, having to draw the same background over and over again in a comic or webcomic can become tiring or monotonous very quickly (and is one reason why many single-location comics tend to have more minimalist backgrounds).

So, with prose fiction and comics, it’s often better to go for a happy medium. In other words, set most of your story or comic in one location (in order to gain the advantages of using just one location) but don’t be afraid to include the occasional scene set in other locations – when justified by context. Not only will this make these scenes stand out more by comparison but, since you’re writing or drawing rather than making a film, it isn’t like it costs anything extra to include other locations.

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Sorry for such a short, basic and rambling article, but I hope that this was useful 🙂

When To Wait For Inspiration (And When Not To) – A Ramble

Well, since I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series (which will be a stand-alone mini series that also follows on from the events of this mini series) at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk about when to wait for inspiration (and when not to).

But, first, here’s a preview of the first update from the new mini series which will start appearing here tonight:

Stay tuned for the full comic update this evening 🙂

Although I’ve written before about how waiting for inspiration can reduce your creativity, there are circumstances where it can come in handy.

The trick is to either set yourself a deadline and/or have some kind of backup plan for what to make if you don’t feel inspired. Basically, if you know that you are going to make something in the near future regardless of how inspired you feel, then waiting for inspiration can actually be useful.

The trick here is to see waiting for inspiration as a chance to improve something you’re already going to make rather than something that is absolutely necessary in order to create anything. In other words, getting a moment of inspiration before you start your next project should be a bonus rather than a requirement.

But, it is very important to set time limits to stop yourself waiting for months or years, instead of days or weeks. Plus, if you know that you are going to make something before a specific time, then this shifts your focus towards searching for ideas and being attentive for any moments of inspiration rather than the tedium of just waiting and waiting for a good idea to finally appear in your mind.

Likewise, having a backup plan (even a mediocre one) for your next comic, story etc… means that the stakes are slightly lower. It means that, even if inspiration doesn’t arrive, it isn’t the end of the world because you can still make something. This takes a lot of the pressure off of you and this can help to put you in a better frame of mind for having moments of creative inspiration.

To give you an example of all of this in practice, the webcomic mini series I’m making at the moment was something I’d initially dreaded making. I realised that I had to make a comic for this month, but I just didn’t have the enthusiasm or energy for it.

But, I knew that I was going to make one within the next few days (after all, I’d set myself an informal time limit). Then, that afternoon, I happened to see a parody of “Star Trek” on the internet. And, shrugging, I thought “A ‘Star Trek’ parody is as good an idea as any“. So, I started making a rough plan:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This is an extract from the rough plan for a “Star Trek” parody comic I’d planned to make for the next instalment of my long-running occasional webcomic.

So, I started to plan out a six-page parody comic where my characters travel forward in time and get mistaken for the inhabitants of a desert planet by a visiting spaceship. But, the planet turns out to be the barren post-apocalyptic ruins of Earth in the distant future and Derek gets blamed for destroying the planet (after foolishly claiming to be the leader of it).

But, before he can be put on trial, he gets let off because one of the other characters mentions that they’re from the 21st century. The spaceship captain has a geeky obsession with the 21st century. So, the captain shows them his collection of 21st century artefacts but Roz and Rox end up looking at books/films that haven’t been released yet, causing a rift in the space-time continuum that….. Yeah, it wasn’t the best idea ever.

But, it was an idea. It now meant that I didn’t have to worry about not having an idea for a webcomic mini series. Still, since I had a few days, I decided to wait and see if a better idea would turn up. And, the next day, there was a power cut in the early evening. Needless to say, this seemed like a much more amusing source of inspiration for a comic. And, to my surprise, I’d planned and started the mini series the day afterwards.

So, the lesson here is that it’s ok to wait for inspiration if you also have a deadline and/or a backup idea (in case inspiration doesn’t appear). But don’t rely on waiting for inspiration if you don’t have either of these things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂