Three Random Tips For Creating Satirical Comics

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about the subject of satirical comics today, since they can be a bit of a challenge to make if you haven’t had that much practice making them. So, here are a few very basic tips:

1) Emotional distance and introspection: If something annoys you enough to make you want to make a satirical comic, it can be easy to let your emotions take control and produce a rather imprecise, angry, badly-written or impulsive piece of satire. Needless to say, this isn’t a good idea.

To make your satirical comics really work, you have to take a step back and work out exactly what annoyed you and, more importantly, why. Once you’ve worked out why something annoyed you, then take that reason and apply it to a sillier situation and/or take it to an amusingly absurd logical extreme. This is how good satire is made.

2) Err on the side of comedy: Yes, satire doesn’t always have to be funny to be effective. But, if (like me) you’re relatively new to making satirical comics, then it is always best to err on the side of comedy whenever possible. Simply put, if you can make yourself laugh, then you’ll probably be able to make other people laugh. And, well, comedic satire is usually more well-received than serious satire.

Plus, pushing yourself into including comedy in your satirical comic means that you can avoid the risk of turning your comic into an earnest political tract that will make people roll their eyes or just stop reading out of frustration. If you can make your audience laugh, then they’re less likely to ignore or furiously disagree with your comic.

The best satire often isn’t earnest and preachy. It deflates pompousness, ideological rigidity, self-righteousness etc.. When satire is at it’s best, it is irreverent, subversive and merciless. The key word here is “irreverent”. So, it’s often a good idea to include some comedy in your satire.

3) Look at satire: Simply put, one of the best ways to learn how to make good satirical comics is to look at examples of them. See what techniques they use and see what does and doesn’t work. So, be sure to look at newspaper cartoons, webcomics etc..

Likewise, make sure that you look at satire in other mediums too. Watch stand-up comedy videos, animated sitcoms and Youtube videos. Read satirical fiction. Look at parodies (eg: since the best parodies will often include satirical elements too).

In short, just like learning how to do anything creative, look at how other people do it and see if you can draw any general principles and lessons from this. Look at what successful things have in common with each other, and learn from this.

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Sorry about the short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

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Top Ten Articles – February 2019

Well, it’s the end of the month. So, I thought that I’d do my usual thing of collecting links to my ten favourite articles about writing, making art, making comics etc… that I’ve posted here during the past month. Plus, a couple of honourable mentions too.

Although, due to the shortness of the month, being busy writing some of the short stories that appeared here last March (amongst other things) and the fact that reviews (11 book reviews and 2 “Doom II” WAD reviews) appeared here every other day, there weren’t quite as many traditional articles posted here this month. But, I quite like how many of them turned out 🙂

In terms of the book reviews – the best books I reviewed this month are probably: “Snow Crash” By Neal Stephenson,”Turtle Moon” by Alice Hoffman , “Empire Of Salt” by Weston Ochse, “Just One Damned Thing After Another” by Jodi Taylor and “Devil’s Coach-Horse” by Richard Lewis.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – February 2019:

– “Three Sneaky Tricks For Making Rushed Webcomic Updates Look Good
– “Two Quick Tips For Adding Symbolism To Realistic Photo-Based Art
– “Narrative Styles And Emotional Tone – A Ramble
– “Using Connections To Beat Writer’s Block- A Ramble
– “Three Tips For Finding Topics For Short Stories
– “Three Things To Do When You Can’t Write In Your Favourite Genres
– “Two Basic Tips For Making Drawings And/Or Paintings Based On Your Photos
– “Three Tips For Writing 1980s-Style Horror Fiction
– “Three Tips For Choosing Good Photos (That You’ve Taken) To Make Paintings Of
– “Three Random Tips For Writing Comedy Horror

Honourable Mentions:

– “Four Reasons Why 1970s/80s Horror Fiction Is So Cool
– “Three Reasons Why Books Are Better Than Film And TV

Three Sneaky Tricks For Making Rushed Webcomic Updates Look Good

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series. But, since I’m busy with other stuff too, I haven’t got quite as much time for it as I had last year (so, it’ll be another four-comic mini series).

But, so far, it seems to be turning out better than the four-comic mini series I posted in January. So, I thought that I’d offer a few sneaky tips for making rushed webcomic updates look good.

And, yes, one of the classic rules of webcomics is that the writing is more important than the art. Still, if you want to improve the art without too much of a time cost, then these tips might come in handy.

1) Digital backgrounds: Although this can look terrible if not done correctly (and I’ll explain one possible way to reduce visual consistency problems a bit later), one way to make a good-looking webcomic update relatively quickly is to use a digital background.

If you’ve got any spare digital photos of scenery etc.. that you’ve taken (and own the copyright to), then this is the time to put them to good use. It’ll allow you to make comic updates that look like this panel from one of my upcoming comics:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st February.

Although the specifics of how to do this will vary depending on the image editing program that you are using, it basically just involves drawing the characters (and writing the dialogue) and then copying them onto the background image. Most image editing programs include a “copy” function and, if you mess around with the options a bit, you’ll probably be able to get your art to copy properly.

However, as I hinted at earlier, the contrast between cartoonish art and realistic photography can look a little bit jarring. So, it’s usually a good idea to choose photos that don’t contain people (since your cartoon characters will look even more cartoonish in contrast to them).

Basically, the more “generic” your digital photo looks, the less obvious the contrast between cartoons and photos will be. So, go for natural scenes, generic buildings etc.. And try to avoid using photos that include people, posters etc..

2) Vary the backgrounds: I’ve mentioned this technique before, but it is worth mentioning again. Basically, one of the quickest and easiest types of comic updates to make are “talking head” comics where two characters stand next to each other and talk. However, these can be quite boring to look at. So, how can you make them more visually interesting?

Simply put, vary the backgrounds. One classic technique is to include a detailed background and/or detailed artwork in one panel, whilst keeping the other panels relatively undetailed. This makes the detailed panel the focal point of the comic whilst also meaning that you only have to make one detailed panel (which saves time). It looks a little bit like this:

“Damania Reduced – Book” By C. A. Brown

Notice how the third panel of this comic contains dramatic, detailed art with more realistic shading etc… Whereas the other three panels feature two characters standing in front of a plain purple background. Yet, the three boring panels are slightly less noticeable because the detailed panel is more attention-grabbing.

Another way to disguise talking head comics is to either use “close up” pictures of one of the characters during some of the panels and/or to use a solid black background in panels that contain dramatic dialogue.

For example, the angry dialogue in the third panel of this comic update uses this technique to break up the monotony of the red backgrounds in the first and fourth panels.:

“Damania Reduced – Trance Metal” By C. A. Brown

3) Expressions: This is a little bit of a sneaky one, but one way that you can add some more drama and visual interest to a rushed comic update is simply to focus on your character’s facial expressions.

Showing your characters’ reactions to things might not look like an obvious improvement at first glance, but it can really help to add extra humour and/or drama to your comic, which can distract your readers from the more rushed elements of your art.

Not to mention that if you’re in such a rush that you have to re-use the same art for several panels (this, in itself, is another good technique for making good-looking comics quickly. If you can re-use one good piece of art four times or whatever, then your comic will look better), then using digital tools to change your characters’ expressions in each re-used panel can be a good way to make the recycling very slightly less obvious too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Building A “Buffer” Of Stories, Comics, Articles etc.. To Post Online (If You’ve Already Started Posting Stuff)

When I went through a phase of writing daily short stories last February-March, I foolishly didn’t bother to prepare a “buffer” of stories in advance. What this meant was that I’d have to write and post each story on the same day.

Needless to say, this was ridiculously stressful – especially when I got writer’s block a few times (which led to me churning out stories like this one), with my daily deadline looming just a few hours away.

For a while I felt overwhelmed, until I remembered that I’d been in exactly the same position with these daily blog articles back in 2013 when I’d just started this blog. Of course, these days, I’ve got a large “buffer” of articles prepared in advance (that I add to each day). Or, to put it another way, why do you think that I’m talking about last February-March instead of anything more recent?

And, remembering this, I was able to use a few tricks to create a little 2-3 day buffer for my short stories, which expanded to about 4-5 days during the later parts of the daily story series. But, how do you create a buffer if you’ve already started posting stuff online regularly?

1) Filler: One of the easiest ways to create a stress-reducing “buffer” of stuff to post online is simply to make the occasional filler article, comic etc.. whilst keeping up your usual schedule. This way, you can make two things in one day (eg: one piece of normal content and one piece of quick filler content) and then post them over two days – adding an extra day to your buffer.

But, how do you make filler content? One of the most subtle and unobtrusive ways to do this is simply to collect links to the stuff you’ve already posted and present them in a single online post, as either a handy guide or a retrospective or something like that. You can even turn this into a monthly or weekly feature (like with the “Top Ten Articles” posts at the end of every month on here, monthly “line art” posts like this one, or monthly round-ups of short stories like this one).

But, of course, you can just make something shorter and simpler, with a quick explanation for your audience attached to it. The trick here is to create something that quickly fills up a day’s worth of updates, whilst also allowing you time to make another piece of content on the same day.

2) Inspired days: This trick isn’t worth relying on, but it can come in handy. As the title implies, this just involves waiting (whilst still making stuff every day) for a day when you both have the time and the inspiration to make more than one thing, and then just making as much as possible on that day.

Once you’ve done this, you can spread what you’ve made out over several days’ worth of updates, allowing you to increase the size of your “buffer” slightly.

As I said before, this trick isn’t exactly the most reliable one in the world. But, when the time and conditions are right for it, then it can allow you to easily gain 1-2 days on whatever you are currently posting online.

3) Take a break: If worse comes to worse and you feel totally overwhelmed, then take a break from posting stuff online for a while, whilst still making stuff (at a slightly slower pace).

When you return to posting stuff, you’ll have all of the stuff you made more slowly during your break, which will give you a bit of a “buffer” that you can add to at a slightly less frantic pace in future.

Just be sure to post a quick explanation of what you are doing on your site, with perhaps a few occasional previews of what you’re making – so that your audience know that you haven’t abandoned your project.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

When Should You “Write From Experience”? – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d quickly look at the topic of writing from experience today. This is mostly because I’ve noticed it happening a few times, such as in a couple of the short stories that I posted here last February or in the second comic from the webcomic mini series that I’m making at the moment:

This is a preview. The full comic update will be posted here tomorrow.

So, does this mean that I agree with the idea that writers should “write from experience“?

Yes and no.

In short, experience can be a good source of emergency inspiration and/or a starting point if you’ve got no other ideas, and it can also occasionally come in handy for thinking of small “realistic” details too. But, experience isn’t the be all and end all of creativity. Even if you’ve got the experience, you still need imagination. After all, fiction and autobiography are very different things.

So, even if you use your experience as a starting point, then you’re still going to have to come up with a way to turn it into something different and imaginative. You’re still going to have to find a way to make it more interesting than real life. You’re still going to have to think of fictional characters, intriguing background details, a plot etc.. So, experience is a good starting point, but it isn’t essential.

Likewise, many genres of fiction usually involve things that people can’t experience in real life. Whether it’s science fiction, vampire stories, medieval fantasy or whatever, it is the impossibility of these stories that makes them so interesting. So, the people writing these stories can’t be writing from direct experience.

I think that a better way of looking at this subject is to think about writing what you are knowledgeable about, rather than what you have directly experienced.

For example, this short story of mine wasn’t written from direct experience – because I’ve never explored an abandoned shopping centre. But, I’ve been to a few non-abandoned ones (including when MVC shops still existed), I was fascinated by horror movies when I was younger and I’ve watched lots of fascinating Youtube videos filmed by people who have visited abandoned shopping centres. So, I know a bit about the topic. This then allowed me to come up with an interesting fictional story.

Likewise, this short story about a person who develops a psychic connection to the internet wasn’t based on direct experience. The initial inspiration for this story was having a dream which involved a situation where the internet wasn’t working (which, in that situation, saved the day) and then, upon waking, noticing that the internet was playing up. This bizarre coincidence made me think “what would happen if someone could sense whether the internet was working?“. After that, I relied on both my imagination and my knowledge of the internet to come up with a satirical sci-fi/magic realist story.

So, you’re probably seeing a theme here. Experience and/or knowledge can be useful starting points. But, you still need to use your imagination to tell a story that is more interesting than real life.

In other words, if you write about what you know, then you’re going to feel more inspired. You’re going to be more confident. Your story or comic will probably sound more realistic too. But, imagination matters more than all of this. Knowledge and experience are two tools that your imagination can use. They aren’t a replacement for your imagination.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Making Webcomics When You’ve Got Less Time

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy preparing this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series (which will start appearing here in about 4-5 days time). But, since I also seem to have got back into reading regularly and writing book reviews (and don’t want to fall out of the habit again), I’ve got slightly less time to make each webcomic update.

As such, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for making webcomic updates when you’ve got less time. Most of these are things that I’ve mentioned before, but they’re probably worth mentioning again.

1) Planning: As counter-intuitive as it might sound, setting some time aside beforehand to plan your next few webcomic updates will actually save you time in the long run.

Your plans don’t have to be ultra-complex. For example, here’s the plan for the first comic in my Christmas mini series. It was scribbled in a different notebook with a cheaper pen, and the art planning is kept to a bare minimum (because planning the dialogue and structure matters a lot more than planning the art):

This is the plan for the first comic update in my Christmas mini series. As you can see, the focus is on planning the dialogue and structure, rather than the art.

But, why does taking a bit of time to plan the next few comics save you time? Simple. When you get round to actually making the comic, you can just make the comic. Because you’ve planned everything out in advance, you won’t get slowed down by writer’s block when you’re actually making the comics.

2) Adjustments: Simply put, there are a lot of ways to save time that won’t affect the quality of your comic too much. For example, you can tweak the production or release schedule slightly (I mean, when I’m preparing comics, I usually prepare two per day. This time, I’m only making one per day).

Likewise, you can alter the length of each comic update slightly to save time (this is why, last year, I went back to making 4-5 panel comic updates after making 6-8 panel updates for a while). Plus, don’t feel too bad about adjusting your release schedule if you have to. As long as you are still following some kind of update schedule (and your audience know what it is), then your audience is likely to excuse any changes you have to make in order to keep making comics.

Or you can take the approach that I do, which is simply to release daily comics for a limited time (usually about 6-8 days per month, although this will probably drop to four days per month for future comics), and then do non-comic stuff (in my case, daily art – which is usually quicker/easier to make than comics are) during the rest of the time. This way, you get the advantage of a daily schedule, but it isn’t something that takes up a part of your day every day.

3) The art: I’ve said this many times before and it’s worth repeating again. The art is the least important part of a webcomic update. If you don’t believe me, then just look at a popular webcomic called “XKCD“, which uses stick figure art. This is a webcomic that is popular because of the writing and humour, rather than the art.

So, if you have to rush or downgrade any part of your webcomic in order to save time, then you should do this with the art. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the writing, characters, humour etc.. in your webcomic matter more than the art does. Not only that, if you’ve been making webcomics for a while, then even a slightly “rushed” or “downgraded” version of your art will still look better than (or as good as) the art in your older comics because you’ve had more practice.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a panel from the first slightly “rushed” comic update for my upcoming Christmas mini series:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 19th December.

And here’s a “good” webcomic update that I made in 2015/16 (from this mini series) . As you can see, the modern “rushed” art compares fairly well to it:

“Damania Redux – Cyberpunk” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, if you have to save time, then rush the art rather than the writing/planning. Likewise, if you’ve been making webcomics for a while, then even your current rushed art will probably look better than your “good” older webcomic art. So, don’t feel too bad about it. The important thing is to actually make comic updates.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why You Should Create Your Own Fictional Universe When Making Comics – A Ramble

At the time of writing, I was busy preparing this month’s webcomic mini series. Although it’s a series of writer’s block-induced remakes of some of my older comic updates from 2012/13, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of schadenfreude when I read this online article (reader discretion advised) last year (and, yes, I write these articles quite far in advance).

In short, in late 2017 Marvel Comics announced a “create your own comic” tool that contains a surprisingly onerous list of content restrictions on what could and couldn’t be included in the superhero comics assembled from pre-made parts.

Even though I self-censor far too much when making webcomics these days (eg: even my upcoming mini series is probably “PG-13” at the most), I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking “how is anyone supposed to make an interesting comic with those rules?” But, although I’d planned to write an article about why comics need at least a little bit of rebelliousness, I thought that I’d look at the core issue here – creative control.

Because, the only reason why Marvel was able to get away with imposing ultra-strict comic censorship on aspiring superhero comic makers is because these officially-sanctioned fan comics use their characters and take place in their own fictional universe.

Although fictional universes of your own creation may not be as popular as the mainstream superhero-based comics that depressingly seem to be synonymous with “comics” these days, it does give you creative control and this is important for so many reasons.

Creating your own fictional universe means that you can make a comic that is uniquely yours. It means that you can include your own ideas and humour in the comics that you make. Even if the setting of your comic, like my webcomic, is loosely-based on the real world – it still means that you can include quirky “unrealistic” details from time to time. Like this:

“Damania Regression – Art House” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconnected – Campfire” By C. A. Brown

What this means is that your comic will be something uniquely, refreshingly different. It also means that you have the freedom to tell the stories and jokes that you want to (within reason). Yes, your comic should still be consistent with itself and should follow some over-arching story rules. But, you get to write those rules.

A brilliant example of why creative control is important can be found in an utterly amazing webcomic called “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree. The updates for this comic are often long, dialogue-heavy things. The backgrounds are crammed with quirky satirical details. The art style is totally unique. This is a comic that substitutes intelligent drama for mindless super-powered action. This is a comic that is both surprisingly realistic and imaginatively unrealistic. Now, could you imagine a comic like this being made in the old days of traditional print comics?

So, yes, even though you’ll have to do a lot of art practice and your comic might not be as famous as certain types of comics are, there is nothing more important than creating your own fictional universe. It gives you creative control, it allows you to make more unique comics and it reduces the amount of external censorship that you have to deal with.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂