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 🙂

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Why Making A Comic “Unfriendly” To Readers Can Work Sometimes – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about webcomics and talk about narrative comics instead. This is mostly because, whilst sorting through some of the stuff in my room, I stumbled across a rather cool graphic novel that I’d forgotten that I owned.

It’s a graphic novel from 2005 called “Silent Hill: Paint It Black” by Scott Ciencin and Shaun Thomas which tells a self-contained story that is based on the disturbing fictional world of the old “Silent Hill” videogames. This article may contain some mild SPOILERS though.

Suddenly discovering this graphic novel was both a cool… and mildly ominous… experience at the same time.

Anyway, one of the most interesting things about this comic is that it is very deliberately designed to be “reader-unfriendly”. In other words, this isn’t the kind of comic that can be read mindlessly in five minutes. And, surprisingly, it’s actually a better comic because it isn’t designed to be easily read.

This decision to make the comic “unfriendly” to readers mostly works because of the context. It wasn’t just a random decision that was made in order to appear “edgy” or “avant-garde”. So, the main lesson here is that context matters a lot when it comes to deciding how ‘reader friendly’ to make your comic. But, let’s look at some of the reasons why it works in the context of this comic.

Firstly, this is a horror comic based on a series of disturbing horror games. As such, the story needs to evoke a feeling of unease in the audience. So, making a comic that can be easily and quickly read without thinking about it too much wouldn’t really work in this comic. By including things like disturbing artwork, an unusual main character, a slightly bizarre storyline etc.. the comic is deliberately designed not to be relaxing.

Secondly, the occasionally bewildering story of the comic works well because it is a brilliant fit with the comic’s main character. The comic follows a homeless artist who ends up travelling to the haunted town of Silent Hill and living there. After a while, it quickly become apparent that he is more comfortable when surrounded by evil monsters than by people.

As such, some of the story’s more confusing and outlandish plot elements (eg: such as the arrival of a bus filled with cheerleaders at one point in the story) work because they make us question whether we’re seeing the “real” world or merely the main character’s anxieties, memories and nightmares. This is also heightened through the use of bizarre visual symbolism too – for example, any visitors to the town of Silent Hill that the main character sees appear as indistinct mannequin-like figures who are dressed in yellow overcoats.

All of this means that the reader also sometimes has to pause for a second to work out what exactly is going on. This approach to narrative is designed to make the reader feel like they’ve been dropped into a strange and dangerous place. If the story was a bit more logical or straightforward, or if the comic explained some of the symbolism a bit more, then this effect would be lost.

Finally, a lot of the art in the comic deliberately looks slightly “unfinished” too (eg: with visible sketching etc..). Not only does this reflect the fact that the main character is an artist but, in a stroke of genius, this “unfinished” art style is also combined with some rather slick-looking digital artwork. This visually-jarring blend of art styles helps to heighten the disturbing atmosphere of the comic surprisingly well.

This is a detail from “Silent Hill: Paint It Black” (2005) which shows how the artist has blended an “unfinished” sketch-like style (eg: the man’s hands and trousers) with more advanced digital effects (eg: the lights in the background)

Yes, the comic could have probably heightened this effect even more by using a more unique style of lettering than the “standard” type of lettering that appears in virtually every print comic. But, this small concession to readability actually sort of works since it focuses the reader’s attention on the events of the story. Even so, a more erratic and/or scrawled style of lettering would have also worked really well.

But, yes, sometimes making a comic “reader unfriendly” can actually work. However, it requires a lot of careful thought in order to get right. Not only do you have to take the context of your comic’s story into account, but you also have to make sure that you have a good reason for every reader-unfriendly thing you include in your comic.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Make Your Filler Comics Fun (To Make) – A Ramble

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series. However, due to being busy with lots of other stuff, I had to work out a way to make a series of comics quickly and with relatively little effort. In other words, if I wanted to avoid an annoying webcomic hiatus, I needed to make some filler comics.

After thinking about making a series of studies of historical paintings (but with the characters from my long-running webcomic in them), I eventually settled on the idea of making a somewhat non-canonical series of large digitally-edited monochrome single-panel cartoons featuring my webcomic’s characters.

Once I thought of this idea, I suddenly planned out the first five comics (of a planned six-comic mini series) within the space of about fifteen minutes. Here’s a detail from the first comic update:

The complete comic update will be posted here on the 21st August.

The one thing that surprised me the most was just how much fun this comic update was to make. Initially, I was worried that the much more limited format would result in a disappointing comic update. A piece of obvious filler content that was barely better than posting no comics at all. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Since I didn’t have to worry about lots of complex digital editing (since digital editing is much simpler with monochrome art) and since I could make comics quickly, I suddenly found that I felt some of the spontaneity that I used to feel when I made much more primitive comic updates back in 2012/13. Knowing that I could make a comic update within the space of less than an hour felt liberating – and this had some positive effects on the comic.

For starters, the fact that I’d switched to a single-panel format meant that I had to rely a lot more on character-based humour. Since I couldn’t rely on longer set-ups for each joke, I had to focus more on the characters’ eccentricities when planning the comics. This gave these planned comics a lot more personality than many of my 4-8 panel comics from the past 2-3 years have had.

In addition to this, the single-panel format also meant that I had to focus more on things like visual storytelling and implied storytelling. Although this seemed like it would add extra complexity (and time) to the comics, it actually allowed me to do things like include different types of jokes and to come up with slightly sillier premises for each comic. This silliness also reminded me a lot of the comic’s earlier days too, and the joyous spontaneity and randomness that the comic had back then.

So, what was the point of all of this? Well, the best way to come up with good filler content for your webcomic is to go for whatever feels fun. If you can find a way to make your filler comics fun to make, then this will result in better comics.

Even if your filler content is somewhat “lazy”, then this won’t matter as much as you might think if it is fun to make. This is a bit difficult to describe, but fun can be an infectious quality. If your filler comic has badly-drawn art, but the humour and personality that comes from just relaxing and having fun, then the audience is more likely to overlook any visual downgrades you might apply to the art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Complete “Damania Resort” – All Eight Episodes Of The New Webcomic Mini Series By C. A. Brown

Well, in case you missed any of it, here are all eight episodes of my “Damania Resort” webcomic mini series in one easy-to-read post.

Although this mini series has a continuous story (a detective story, no less!) that can be read on it’s own, it also follows on from the ending of the previous mini series. You can also find links to lots of other mini series here.

All in all, this mini series turned out surprisingly well. Although there was a very slight dip in art quality in some later parts of the mini series, it was a highly-inspired mini series that ended up being longer than some of my more recent mini series have been. Plus, it has been way too long since I last made a detective-themed comic.

And, yes, this mini series was originally going to have a different ending. But, I ended up rewriting the final five and a half panels after I realised that my original planned ending was both a bit depressing and somewhat out-of-character for at least one of the characters.

As usual, all eight of these comic updates are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence. You can also click on each comic update to see a larger version of it, if it is too small to read.

“Damania Resort – Jinxed” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resort – Anarchy” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resort – Stupor” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resort – Process” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resort – Interruption” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resort -Theory” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resort -Deficiency” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resort -Unpopular” By C. A. Brown

Three Reasons Why Stories Can Have Alternative Endings

Although I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before, I thought that I’d look at the topic of alternative endings today.

This is mostly because the webcomic mini series that is appearing here at the moment will have a somewhat different ending to the one that I’d originally planned for it (basically, the last five and a half panels of the mini series will be different to my original plans).

So, I thought that I’d look at a few of the many reasons why stories can have “alternative endings”:

1) Placeholders and backups: When you are planning a story, actually finishing the plan is often the most important part. So, having a mediocre “placeholder” ending that you can change later is better than having nothing.

Having an ending, even a crappy one, planned out in advance means that you don’t have to worry about writer’s block. It also means that, if you feel a bit more inspired, you can change it to something a bit better. In other words, it’s a backup in case you can’t think of a better idea. It takes some of the pressure off of you.

So, sometimes an “alternative ending” can just be a placeholder ending that is there to ensure that writer’s block isn’t an issue. Or it can be the result of feeling more inspired about halfway through telling the story.

2) Characters, tone and contrivance: Although I don’t want to spoil the ending of my mini series, I should point out that something didn’t quite feel right about my original planned ending. At the time, I couldn’t quite work out what it was – but something felt slightly “off” about my original plans.

A while later, I realised that it was because this ending wasn’t in keeping with the emotional tone of my webcomic. Although it seemed “clever” and “cynically humourous” on paper, it evoked exactly the opposite of the emotions that I’d been aiming to evoke in my comic.

In addition to this, I also realised that I’d tried to think of a “clever” ending at the expense of my characters. So much of the original planned ending felt like I was trying to shoehorn my characters into a story that they didn’t really fit into. In other words, it felt less like the story was emerging from the characters and more like I was barking orders at them and ignoring who they actually are. In other words, it felt extremely contrived.

Getting to know whether an ending fits in with your characters can take a bit of experience but, if something feels “off” about your planned ending then this can sometimes be a sign that it’s an ending which ignores how your characters would actually act, react, think or feel. And, if your planned ending feels like this, then it’s usually worth coming up with an ending that doesn’t.

3) Plot holes: Sometimes an ending needs to be changed because you’ve spotted a giant plot hole in your plans. If there’s some obvious reason why the original ending wouldn’t make logical sense or if it relies on an element of the story that falls apart if you think about it too much, then changing the ending can be a way to limit the damage caused by this.

Patching a plot hole by deliberately exposing it and then working around it can be a great way to add a more satisfying, amusing, dramatic etc… ending to a story than just ignoring the plot hole and hoping that your audience won’t notice it. It’s a way to respect the audience’s intelligence.

So, sometimes, a story can have multiple endings because a new ending needed to be created in order to patch a plot hole.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How To Find Shortcuts For Image Editing – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about digital image editing today since the art in the webcomic mini series I’m making at the time of writing seems to be more digital than traditional (it’s still a mixture of the two though, but it’s like 70% digital). This has been a trend with a lot of my art (and webcomics) recently, and one of the reasons for this is that it’s easier to find efficient shortcuts when using digital tools.

But, how do you find them? Well, it’s mostly a combination of repetition and curiosity. The more often you do one type of thing, the more motivated you will be to find shortcuts for it.

For example, one of the three programs I’m using to edit my comic is version 2.6 of a free open-source graphics program called “GIMP“. I’m mostly using this program to add sky textures to the backgrounds of panels – like this one:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 23rd July.

The basic mechanism for doing this is something that I’ve learnt before. You start by selecting the blank background area with the “fuzzy select tool” (the icon looks like a torch or a magic wand). Although you don’t have to select the area, it’ll come in very handy later.

Once you’ve done this, select “fill” and then choose “pattern fill” from the menu at the bottom of the toolbar and then choose the “sky” texture from the options. Then fill the area that you’ve selected earlier. However, there is a slight problem with just doing this – see if you can spot it:

Well, THIS doesn’t look quite right!

Yes, the default sky texture is too dark. Since the area had been selected before we filled it, getting the sky texture right is just a simple matter of adjusting the brightness/contrast levels (in the “colours” menu at the top of the screen) until the selected area looks right. I found that a brightness of +20 and a contrast of +50 seemed to work fairly well.

But, of course, manually moving the sliders or typing in numbers every time I needed to do this gets tiring very quickly.

Doing this manually for every “piece” of the background can get tiring….

After doing this a few times, I noticed that the brightness and contrast sliders would increase in increments of 10 if you clicked on the right-hand edge of each slider. So, for a while, I fell into a routine of doing this. I’d click on the brightness slider twice and then click on the contrast slider five times. This sped things up a bit, but it still seemed at least mildly laborious and time-consuming.

But, a day or so later, I noticed the “Presets” option at the top of the dialogue box. And, after clicking on the drop-down menu, I noticed that it saved the brightness/contrast settings that you’ve used in the past. So, instead of clicking seven times, I only had to click on one thing:

Now THIS is a time-saver! And, yes, I tend to make comics (and write articles) ridiculously far in advance.

This is just one small example. But, if you have to do the same thing with an image editing program on a regular basis, then you’re going to find shortcuts after a while. Sometimes these will be the product of curiosity and sometimes they will be something so obvious that you’re surprised that you didn’t notice it before. But, if you do the same thing regularly, then you’re going to start finding shortcuts (or, sometimes, the shortcuts end up finding you).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Very Basic Tips For Adding Foreshadowing To Detective Comics

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making a comedic detective-themed webcomic mini series that will appear here later this month. Here’s a preview of one panel from it:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st July. The mini series starts on the 20th.

Although the comic isn’t really a “serious” detective story, I thought that I’d talk about how to add “clues” to your detective comic. After all, one of the basic features of the detective genre is that there should be at least a couple of small hints about who did it before the criminal’s identity is revealed. This technically gives the audience a chance to solve the case before the detective does. But, when done well, these clues are often only really noticed on a second reading.

So, how do you foreshadow the ending of your detective comic? Here are four very basic tips:

1) Plan it first: This is obvious, but be sure to plan out the entire story before you start making the comic. The main reason for this is that, if you know how the story will end, then you can go back and add a few subtle clues to your comic plan before you start making any comics.

For example, after planning out the ending of my upcoming webcomic mini series, I suddenly realised that I could add a clue to an early part of the comic purely by changing one tiny visual detail. This was the sort of thing that probably won’t be noticeable until you know how the comic ends, but it seemed like a cool little detail.

So, yes, if you plan your comic first, then it’s a lot easier to add subtle foreshadowing to your comic.

2) Think procedurally: Simply put, the easiest way to add subtle clues to your detective comic is simply to think about the events of your story in practical terms.

Think about what would have changed about either the criminal or the surrounding area after the crime had been committed, but before the detective discovers the culprit. Then just subtly show this without giving an explanation (until later in the comic).

A good way to learn how to come up with things like this is to read some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. Since these stories focus a lot on physical evidence and logical deductions, reading a few of them will make you think about the subtle knock-on effects of any actions that the criminal characters have taken.

3) Red herrings: Red herrings are “clues” that are either totally unrelated to the case or which have some other innocent explanation.

Often, the best way to hide a real clue is amongst several false ones – the real clue is technically still there, but it is up to the reader to work out which clues are real and which ones aren’t. And, since they’re still learning about the events of the story, this reduces the chances of the reader guessing the solution before the story finishes.

So, just add a few subtle visual details which look like they could be clues – but which are actually just random background details, easter eggs etc… This will distract the readers from the actual clues that you’ve also added.

4) Background details: One of the great things about comics being a visual medium is that it’s a lot easier to hide stuff in the background. Because comics tend to be read quickly on a first reading and because your audience’s attention will probably be focused on either the dialogue and/or the events of the story, this means that it’s very easy to hide subtle visual clues in the background that will only be noticed when your comic is re-read slightly more slowly.

In other words, be sure to use misdirection. If something dramatic, funny or interesting is happening in one panel of your comic – then this is the perfect place to hide a subtle clue in the background. After all, your audience will be too busy reading the dialogue, laughing at the joke and/or wanting to know what happens next to really pay attention to small background details.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂