Today’s Art (18th October 2017)

Well, although I was feeling slightly more inspired (and awake) than I was when I made yesterday’s painting, this digitally-edited painting ended up being slightly less detailed than I’d originally expected it to be.

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

"Junction" By C. A. Brown

“Junction” By C. A. Brown

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The Joy Of… Shorter Stories

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A day or two before writing this article, I ended up reading two short comedy novels from the 19th century online. This wasn’t something that I’d planned to do, but after reading something online which pointed out that John Kendrick Bangs’ “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat” featured the ghost of Sherlock Holmes trying to catch a gang of pirates, I just had to read it. Since it’s out of copyright, it was very easy to find online.

And, despite the fact I don’t usually read e-books and the fact that I’d only planned to read the first part, I ended up reading the whole thing within the space of a single evening. Then I ended up reading the short novel that was written before it, mostly because I’d realised that – although I’m interested in the concept of “Bangsian Fantasy” – I’ve never actually read all of “A House-Boat On The Styx” before. Surprisingly, I actually preferred “Pursuit Of The House-Boat” though, because the humour was better, the narrative was more focused and it featured Sherlock Holmes too.

But, even though I could spend a while talking about the ways that these books were ahead of their time (and the ways they weren’t), one thing that really delighted me about both books was their length. They’re more like novellas than full-length novels. And, best of all, it doesn’t feel like there’s any unnecessary padding whatsoever. They’re short, sweet and they leave you wanting to read more.

Despite the 19th century’s reputation for “Doorstopper” novels, it was also the heyday of the short story, the segmented story and the novella too. Back then, short stories were the “television series” of the day. Whether it was monthly Sherlock Holmes stories in the Strand Magazine, or longer continuous stories released in thrillingly short instalments via Penny Dreadfuls, people back then understood the importance of shorter stories.

Shorter stories were designed to be entertaining, in the way that TV shows are designed to be entertaining these days. Despite their age, a lot of shorter stories from the 19th century and early 20th century are still very “readable” today for the simple reason that they were either designed to be compelling (with lots of drama, horror, action, comedy etc..) or because they didn’t have room for lots of bloated descriptions, extensive character histories, long irrelevant tangents etc…

Back then, literature was the main form of popular entertainment. TV, computers, the internet and videogames didn’t exist. So, shorter stories had to fill that role. They also had to fulfil the most basic purpose of literature, which is to entertain. Yes, literature (and even graphic novels too) can teach us more about humanity, they can make us think deeply etc…. But, above all, they can only truly do this if they’re entertaining enough for people to want to start reading them and keep reading them.

Shorter stories are the kind of thing that can be read “on impulse” because they promise an interesting story without too much time investment. Likewise, the shorter format also means that the narratives have to be more focused, which makes them more compelling. Plus, the experience of reading a short story collection is a lot like watching a DVD boxset.

When I was seventeen, and had first discovered “Sherlock Holmes”, I actually had to ration myself to just three or four stories a day. On reflection, this wasn’t too different to what I do when I’m watching a DVD boxset of a really good TV show these days. Yet, all or most of these Sherlock Holmes stories were written before television was invented!

If prose fiction is ever to become a truly popular thing again, then length should be the first thing to change. Looking at a related subject, there’s been a lot of controversy online about the length of modern computer and video games. One of the main arguments I’ve heard in favour of shorter modern games is that people don’t have the time to play games that they used to. Well, the same is true for fiction too. But, fiction has so many advantages that games don’t.

You don’t need to spend hundeds of pounds upgrading your computer or buying an expensive games console to read a piece of modern fiction from this year. Likewise, traditional books are the original form of portable entertainment. Even modern e-book readers are very portable (not to mention that e-books can be read on smartphones, tablets etc.. too) . Books are also significantly cheaper than computer/video games are too (both new and second-hand).

If we lived in a world where novellas and short story collections sat alongside novels on the “bestsellers” shelves, then prose fiction would probably be a lot more popular than it is now. I mean, we live in a world where films and TV shows co-exist in roughly equal numbers and with an equal amount of prestige. So, why should this be any different for longer and shorter pieces of fiction?

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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

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Well, in case you missed any of it, here are all six comics from my “Damania Resized” webcomic mini series 🙂 If you want to check out any of my other mini series, links to them (and info about future comics) can be found on this page.

This mini series was an absolute joy to make 🙂 Following the abject failure of the previous mini series (where I’d tried a “back to basics” approach), I was slightly reluctant to make comics again. So, I knew that I had to change something.

In the end, I settled on making my comics larger (but sticking with the self-contained “newspaper comic” format that I used regularly in 2016). The larger size also meant that I had to use a slightly slower production schedule, which actually increased the quality of the comics – both in terms of art and writing- and made producing them even more fun 🙂

In addition to this, I also experimented with using slightly higher-quality watercolour paper for these comics (despite all of the usual digital editing, the grain of the paper is actually noticeable in a few panels).

Note: With the exception of the fourth comic (“Progressive”), the other five comics in this mini series are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence. Since “progressive” features direct parodies of/visual references to copyrighted material, it is NOT released under a Creative Commons Licence.

You can also click on each comic update to see a larger version of it.

"Damania Resized - Nostalgia Cycle" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resized – Nostalgia Cycle” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Resized - Virtually Banned" By C. A. Brown

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

"Damania Resized - Cafe Writers" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resized – Cafe Writers” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Resized - Progressive" By C. A. Brown [Note: This comic update is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence]

“Damania Resized – Progressive” By C. A. Brown [Note: This comic update is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence]

“Damania Resized- Fighting The Loudness War” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Resized - Market" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resized – Market” By C. A. Brown

Announcement: Writer’s Club On “A Writer’s Path”

Sorry about the change to the title graphic, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with the original text.

As regular readers of this site probably know, some of my articles have been featured as guest posts on “A Writer’s Path“. Anyway, the owner of the site recently contacted me to point out that the site now has a writer’s club.

From what I’ve read about it, it is a crowdfunded club (with a minimum membership fee/donation of one US dollar per month) that also offers a list of writing-related benefits and services to members, which include things like blurb coaching, book summary critiques, book promotion etc..

In addition to this, at the time of writing, the comment section on the article about the writing club still seems to be active – so you can ask about these things if you need more details.

Although I haven’t joined the club (since, aside from a few short stories I’ll be posting here near Halloween, I’m still focusing more on art/comics than on writing fiction these days) and therefore can’t personally review it, my experiences with guest posting on “A Writer’s Path” have been very positive (both in terms of the discussion about the posts and my correspondence with the site owner).

Plus, the “A Writer’s Path” site updates regularly and features both instructional articles about writing (including a few guest posts by yours truly) and regular book reviews. So, the site is certainly worth taking a look at, regardless of whether you decide to join the writing club or not.

Today’s Art (6th October 2017)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the third comic in “Damania Resized”, a new webcomic mini series (with extra panels!) 🙂 Plus, in case you missed it, here’s the first comic and the second comic.

If you’re interested, you can find links to lots of my other comics here).

Of course, the one thing that is probably better to write with than a typewriter if you’re in a cafe is good old pen and paper (back when I went through a bit of a cafe writing phase in the late 2000s and early 2010s, this was always my medium of choice. More portable than a laptop, better battery life than a smartphone and more reliable than a tablet.).

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Resized - Cafe Writers" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Resized – Cafe Writers” By C. A. Brown

The Joy Of… Eccentric Detectives

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Well, at the time of writing, I was going through a bit of a “Jonathan Creek” phase. This is a classic long-running BBC TV show from the late 1990s which focuses on a magician’s assistant called Jonathan Creek who often ends up having to solve strange and seemingly inexplicable crimes. His skill at devising magic tricks and his slightly strange view of the world allow him to solve even the most baffling mysteries.

This show made me think about the subject of eccentric detectives, and why they’re so interesting. Although this is a type of character that I haven’t encountered too often, I should probably start by talking about the original eccentric detective – the one and only Sherlock Holmes.

One of the great things about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories is that Sherlock Holmes is about as far from the more stuffy, Vulcan-like character of the popular imagination and more like his on-screen portrayals by Jeremy Brett or Benedict Cumberbatch.

He’s a geek from the 19th century who is an expert on all sorts of obscure topics, but who considers the knowledge that the Earth revolves around the sun to be a waste of brain space and promptly tries to forget about it.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a quote from the second chapter of “A Study In Scarlet”: ‘ “What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

He does mildly unusual things like keeping his pipe tobacco in a slipper and keeping his correspondence safe by attaching it to the mantlepiece with a pocket knife. Plus, when he is bored, he’ll occasionally do various extremely dangerous things (such as injecting drugs or using a revolver to write a message on the sitting room wall) just to relieve the tedium.

There was no character like him when the stories were originally written and he’s pretty much the original eccentric detective who has inspired several other fictional characters over the years.

So, what is the appeal of the eccentric detective? Why are they so fascinating?

The first reason is because they are unpredictable characters. Although they have a distinctive personality, they are often also intriguingly mysterious too. Going back to Sherlock Holmes yet again, we learn relatively little about his history throughout the original stories. Likewise, we often only get to see him “second hand” from Watson’s perspective most of the time.

Eccentric detectives are strange, mysterious characters who have the added appeal of being non-threatening, since they are on the side of order and justice. But, they also avoid the pitfall of being dull paragons of virtue either. They have just enough moral ambiguity to be interesting, whilst also still very much being “good guys”.

Even much less morally-ambiguous eccentric detectives, like Abby Sciuto from “NCIS” will still do interesting things like listen to loud music, have cool tattoos, have interesting tastes in fashion and be anything but an “establishment” detective.

Another reason why eccentric detectives are so fascinating is because they often tend to solve eccentric cases. Having an eccentric detective investigate depressing “ordinary” crimes would seem somewhat out of place. However, these characters are in their element when they have to investigate brain-twisting locked room mysteries, baffling cases of murder most foul and bewildering catalogues of inexplicable events. So, an eccentric detective is usually a guarantee that a story won’t be the usual run-of-the-mill police procedural.

Finally, eccentric detectives are characters who celebrate eccentricity. They present being slightly unusual, nerdy, unconventional etc… as a positive virtue. And, although this is a lot more common in the media than it used to be, it’s still a reassuring thing. They are characters who don’t “fit in” and they are all the better for it. They are well-respected for it. I can’t imagine a more uplifting and enjoyable type of fictional character to watch or read about.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Why The Cyberpunk Genre Is A Genre About Creativity Itself (And Why It’s Good For The World)- A Ramble

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Even though this is a long rambling article about why the cyberpunk genre is a metaphor for creativity and imagination itself and why the world needs the cyberpunk genre, I’m going to have to start by talking about about the experience of reading and playing various things. There’s a reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later in the article.

Although I had been busy with making my Halloween webcomic the night before I wrote this article, I got distracted. Naturally, the cause of this procrastination was none other than a computer game. Yes, “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” again. I’d originally planned to set aside an hour or two to play it, but I ended up having the kind of marathon 3-5 hour gaming session that I haven’t had in a while. And I still haven’t finished the damn thing yet!

This, in combination with a few other things I’d been looking at recently, made me think about the subject of trances and creative works. Because, one thing I noticed when playing “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” was that I was feeling a slightly similar sense of.. immersion.. to the one I feel when watching a good TV show or reading a good novel. But, because of the game’s interactive nature, it was a bit more like the sense of immersion I feel when I’m making an inspired piece of art or, more accurately, when I’m writing fiction (and feeling very inspired)!

This is the kind of feeling where the outside world seems to fade away slightly and you become part of the thing that you’re reading, writing, drawing, playing, watching etc…

The best way to experience this for yourself is to put a playlist or a CD of good music on in the background whilst reading a really good novel. When you stop reading the novel, you’ll suddenly realise that you can’t remember hearing the last few songs on the playlist. They were playing, but you didn’t notice them because your consciousness was somewhere else.

Likewise, the experience of suddenly looking away from the screen after binge-watching a compelling TV show or playing a fascinating computer game for a few hours can feel like a very mild existential crisis of sorts. For half a second, the world around you seems both starkly empty and bizarrely alien at the same time. For a second, nothing seems to mean anything.

In essence, being immersed in a creative work (whether making or experiencing it) is almost a mild trance-like state. The best description that I’ve read of this can be found in a short story called “An Extra Smidgen Of Eternity” By Robert Rodi. Rodi’s description is: ‘Stories are hope. They take you out of yourself for a bit, and when you’re dropped back in, you’re different – you’re stronger, you’ve seen more, you’ve felt more. Stories are like spiritual currency.’

Likewise, I also found a fascinating Youtube video which pointed out that patterns of brain activity whilst playing a computer game that you’re really good at are actually closer to patterns of brain activity during daydreams than anything else. And, yes, I haven’t mentioned daydreams in this article because that would be a whole article in and of itself.

This naturally made me think about the cyberpunk genre, since I’d seen the word “trance” used in combination with it a couple of times recently. Once was when I played a game called “Technobabylon” a few months ago (in the game, connecting to virtual reality is called “trancing”) and the other was when I watched an absolutely brilliant low-budget sci-fi movie from the 80s called “Trancers“. It’s a weird film about time travel, zombies and hardboiled detectives. It’s barely cyberpunk in the technical sense of the term. But, neither is “Blade Runner” and the cyberpunk genre would be a lot poorer without that film. But, I digress….

In it’s most traditional form, the cyberpunk genre is entirely about this trance-like state that I mentioned earlier. It’s a genre of fiction/cinema/gaming about characters who spend more time existing in rich, detailed virtual reality worlds than they do in the stark, dystopian “real world” of the future. It’s a literal embodiment of the “existential crisis” thing that I mentioned earlier, when talking about looking away from the screen after being immersed in a game or DVD for hours.

But, more than that, it often frames this “escapism” into virtual reality as a heroic thing. Which is awesome 🙂 The heroes and heroines of the cyberpunk genre aren’t muscular soldiers, charismatic figures or anything like that. They’re people with mediocre, boring and/or crappy “real” lives who only truly flourish within imagined artificial worlds. They become vaguely shamanic explorers who are more than they might appear to be on the surface. Writers, artists, introverts and/or nerds of all kinds can probably see the appeal of this metaphor.

Escapism tends to get a bad press. Even I had to suppress a bit of a laugh at myself when I talked about a “marathon 3-5 hour gaming session” at the beginning of the article. Ok, I didn’t drink any energy drinks or start talking in l33tspe4k or anything like that, but I couldn’t help but affectionately think of myself as a hilariously pathetic “nerd” afterwards.

But, if there’s anything that this world needs, it’s the trance-like state that comes from creative works. I write these articles quite far in advance, but I can’t imagine that the real world right now is any better than it was at the beginning of this year. Not only does this trance-like state help to preserve our sanity, but it also helps us to develop as people too. And, as much as activists of all kinds might disagree, it’s probably good for the world too.

If you enjoy this kind of thing you’re (like me) probably something of an introvert. Don’t worry, immersion in creative works isn’t going *ugh* to turn you into some kind of brash, superficial, hyper-social charismatic figure or anything like that. During 2016, several parts of the world were thrown into chaos by these kinds of charismatic businesspeople, journalists, politicians, celebrities, religious figures etc…. The world needs less of these type of “heroes”. They tend to mess things up. What the world needs is subtlety and nuance.

The world needs new heroes. It needs a type of heroism that can actually be translated into real life. Charismatic superhero-like “strong men” are always far better in fiction than they are in real life.

But, the kind of people who can navigate the landscape of their own imaginations and turn the things they find into things that inspire other people or expand other people’s view of the world (and themselves) are the kind of heroic people we need. Even if you just read/watch/play a lot of things and don’t create anything, you’re probably going to have a more intricate, nuanced and developed understanding of the world, of politics and humanity than you might think. It’s educational!

Going back to “Shadowrun: Dragonfall”, it is a cyberpunk fantasy computer game that is set in an anarchist mini-state in Berlin. Although this isn’t a major part of the game, it will probably teach you more about both the pitfalls and the benefits of anarchy than anything else will.

The main plot of the game is, in part, about the problems of relying on one person for leadership. The community of characters in the game is also an example of a (mostly) functioning society without a leader. People follow their vocations in life and, in the process, help other people. It’s a bit like John Lennon’s “Imagine” in some ways. Society is, mostly, fairly laid-back and non-judgemental (but not in a preachy way).

Yet, the game doesn’t shy away from the reality of anarchy either. With no police force, people are forced to rely on armed mercenaries (like the character you play as) to solve their problems. With no laws, people have to rely on verbal contracts that can easily be broken if they aren’t mutually-beneficial enough. Likewise, with no law or order, the only thing keeping amoral mega-corporations and violent political gangs in check is other mega-corporations and violent political gangs.

Spending hours in a trance-like state playing this game might seem like “wasted time”. But, it’ll make you think more about politics, humanity and the world than you might expect. It’ll help to add nuance to your opinions about things like the role of government etc… It’ll also give you a slightly deeper understanding of humanity itself, of the value of mutally-beneficial things etc…

It’s like the lyrics to a song (I can’t remember which one) by an acoustic punk band called Johnny Hobo And The Freight Trains: “A punk rock song will never change the world/ But I can tell you about a few that changed me“.

We need more introverted “heroes” in the world, and the cyberpunk genre provides these in abundance.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂