One Cool Thing That TV Shows Taught Me About Storytelling In Webcomics


As I mentioned yesterday, I’m busy making another webcomic mini series at the time of writing.

This one will appear in mid-late July and I’m planning on taking a slightly similar approach to the storytelling in it as I did in “Damania Retrofuturistic“, “Damania Renaissance” and “Damania Repressed“. In other words, there will be an overarching plot, but (hopefully) several self-contained updates too.

This is an approach to storytelling that I’ve learnt from watching numerous TV shows. Most recently, I’ve seen an absolutely great example of this technique in the first season of “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“. One really cool thing about this show is the fact that the episode title screen looks different depending on whether the episode is a stand-alone episode or part of the series’ main story arc.

Although television is a different medium to webcomics, they have more in common than you might think. They’re both visual mediums and they’re both released in an episodic fashion. Likewise, since they’re often produced in less time, on a lower budget and/or in larger quantities than films or novels are, there’s a lot more emphasis on characterisation and writing than there is on visual spectacle.

Anyway, the main reasons why a lot of TV shows use this structure is because, before the days of DVD boxsets, internet TV etc.. they couldn’t rely on their audience watching every episode in order. So, self-contained episodes provide something for people who have missed a few episodes and/or have started watching the TV show halfway through a season etc…

Even though most webcomics have easily searchable archives of one kind or another (like with the comics index page on this site), most people become interested in a webcomic by stumbling across just one episode of it by accident. So, if you include self-contained comic updates, then this makes your webcomic more easily accessible and it increases the chances of new readers being amused or intrigued by just seeing one comic update.

In addition to this, in television, these types of episodes also provide a bit of variety within the show itself. For example, a TV show with a depressing main plot might try to lighten the tone by including a few humourous or light-hearted stand-alone episodes in each season.

In webcomics, this sort of thing can allow you to include extra characterisation, to make jokes that wouldn’t fit into the main storyline and things like that. It gives you more room to try different things and to add more to your comic, without affecting the main storyline too much.

The trick to all of this is, of course, working out the ratio of self-contained to story-based episodes. Generally, if you include more story-based episodes, then you can tell a more detailed and complex story – albeit at the expense of making it more accessible to new readers. Likewise, if most of the updates in your comic are self-contained, then you’ll probably have to use a simpler story for the main plot.

Of course, if you’re really up for a challenge- you can include an over-arching plot in the background, whilst also giving each “episode” a self-contained sub plot. This is probably a lot more difficult to do in webcomics than it is in TV for the simple reason that you’ll only have 1-8 panels to work with in every comic update (as opposed to 45 minutes of screen time). But, the main advantage of this is that it makes your comic more accessible to new and/or infrequent readers than if you use a combination of self-contained comics and story-based comics.

But, yes, TV shows can teach you a lot about story structure in webcomics.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Ways To Find Your Own “Version” Of The Cyberpunk Genre


If you’ve been reading this site recently, you can probably guess that I’m in something of a cyberpunk mood at the moment. The interesting thing about the cyberpunk genre is that, despite the fact that it’s only been around for 32-37 years, there are numerous “versions” of it.

From the rainy, neon-lit streets of “Blade Runner” to the gothic green-tinted world of “The Matrix” to the bright bleached cityscapes in some footage I’ve seen of a cyberpunk-influenced modern dystopian sci-fi game called “Mirror’s Edge“, no two things in the cyberpunk genre look exactly alike.

One small silver lining of the miserable fact that virtually nothing from the genre is in the public domain (in a way that many cyberpunk “classics” would if copyright laws were more rational) is the fact that everyone making something in the cyberpunk genre has to come up with their own very slightly unique interpretation of it.

Yes, it might be heavily influenced by the cyberpunk “canon” but, it will be at least subtly different from these things. But, this isn’t an article about copyright, it’s an article about how you can find your own version of the cyberpunk genre. So, how do you do this?

1) Have other influences!: Whenever it comes to anything creative or even anything to do with humanity, variety usually equals strength and/or quality. Democracies can last for centuries or more because they allow a wide variety of political opinions to exist. The food in the UK is significantly better than it apparently was 60-70 years ago, due to a wider variety of influences from around the world. Even genetics itself obviously relies on variety too. I could go on for a while, but I should probably get back to the cyberpunk genre.

What I’m trying to say here is that you aren’t going to find your own “version” of the cyberpunk genre if you aren’t willing to look outside of the cyberpunk genre for inspiration.

But, given how obscure this genre is these days – it’s pretty much impossible for you not to also have favourite novels, films, games etc.. from outside the genre too. So, let these influence your cyberpunk art, fiction, comics etc.. too.

Always be on the lookout for cool things, regardless of whether they’re cyberpunk or not, which instantly make you think “I want to learn how to make something like that”. Once you’ve worked out what generic features (eg: lighting, composition types, colour schemes, general types of locations, pacing, narrative style, themes etc..) make these things so interesting, then apply that knowledge to the cyberpunk things that you make.

To give you a recent example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited cyberpunk painting that will appear here in July:

The full-size painting will appear here on the 13th July.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 13th July.

Whilst the three “traditional” cyberpunk inspirations for this painting are “Blade Runner“, “Ghost In The Shell[NSFW] (I watched the “2.0” director’s cut shortly before making most of this painting) and Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics, you’ll probably notice that it looks a bit more colourful than any of these things. This element of the painting was inspired by the use of multiple complementary colour palettes in a set of “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens“.

Likewise, the setting of the painting was also inspired by photos of New York and Tokyo that I’d seen online a couple of days earlier. Several clothing designs in the painting were inspired by 1980s fashion rather than by traditional “noir” cyberpunk. I could go on for a while…

The fact is that many of the “classics” of the cyberpunk genre have become unique classics for the simple reason that they looked for influences outside of the cyberpunk genre. For example, “The Matrix” owes as much to 1980s/90s goth culture as it does to prior cyberpunk films like “Blade Runner”, “Akira”, “Ghost In The Shell” etc..

2) Ask a simple question: One way to come up with your own “version” of the cyberpunk genre is just to ask yourself “what makes something cyberpunk?“. Go on, do it now.

Once you’ve written down or memorised your list of answers, then see if you can find a way to create something that fits into this definition. Whilst this might not sound like a way to come up with your own “unique” version of the genre, it will do exactly that! But, why?

Simply put, everyone is different. The things that really appeal to you about the cyberpunk genre will be at least slightly different from the things that appeal to everyone else about it. Whether you’re thinking about the visual elements of the genre or the thematic elements, you’ll probably have a slightly different idea of what makes something cyberpunk to everyone else.

For example, as an artist, the things that really appeal to me about the cyberpunk genre are the high-contrast lighting (eg: neon signs at night, CRT monitors in the dark etc..), the dense, angular cityscapes, the idea of an “old future”, flying cars, “film noir” rain, the idea of sensory overload etc…

But, other artists may be more fascinated by things like cyborgs, cyberspace, lines of programming code superimposed onto the real world, dystopian politics, environmental issues etc…

Everyone sees something slightly different when they look at the cyberpunk genre, so ask yourself what you see.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Using Fake Subcultures To Make Your Comic Or Story More Interesting


Although this is an article about a really interesting storytelling technique that can help you to make your audience more interested in your comics and/or fiction, I’m going to have to spend pretty much all of this article discussing and dissecting a single TV show because it contains the best example of this one technique that I’ve ever seen.

During the week or two before I originally wrote this article, I’d started rewatching some DVDs of the first few series of a TV show called “Hustle“. If you’ve never heard of this show before, it’s a BBC comedy/drama show that focuses on a group of con artists who live in London.

In every episode of “Hustle”, the main characters pull off some kind of large con, heist and/or scam which usually involves an almost Sherlock Holmes-like level of complex thought, a large number of magic trick-like plot twists and a lot of comedy.

Anyway, the reason why I’m mentioning this show is because of the way that these characters are presented. Whilst the show quickly gets the audience on side by showing that they rigidly follow a rule of “you can’t cheat an honest man” (eg: they only steal large amounts of money from worse criminals, corrupt people, arrogant aristocrats etc..), it also does something much more interesting too.

It presents con artistry as a kind of subculture. The characters all have their own slang (eg: they refer to themselves as “grifters” etc..), there are occasional references to the “traditions” and “superstitions” of being a con artist, they seem to know a network of other “good” criminals who are all fairly similar to them, they have a strong attitude that “it isn’t about the money” and often seem to treat their activities more like a sport than anything else etc..

Of course, even a cursory glance at a newspaper or news site will show you that this is clearly artistic licence. Most real con artists either seem to be located in countries with more lenient internet fraud laws/extradition laws, or they seem to be sneaky and unprincipled opportunists who prey on the vulnerable, or they just seem to be ordinary people who happened to find a dubious way to make some quick cash, or they are members of vicious organised crime gangs, or they are motivated by unglamourous things like poverty rather than by “the sport of it”.

And, yet, if “Hustle” had more ‘realistic’ main characters, it wouldn’t be a very entertaining show. It would be an extremely depressing one. The show works because it creates a fictional subculture surrounding a slightly “mysterious” part of real life.

The show isn’t actually a show about scams, heists and con tricks, it’s actually a show about friendship, teamwork and the power of the intellect. If all of the main characters were stage magicians or private detectives instead of con artists, it would still be just as entertaining to watch.

One of the reasons why obviously fake subcultures work so well in TV shows is because they tap into several basic parts of our minds. For starters, they help us to feel a sense of belonging by showing us an interesting group of people who we’d probably like to join. Since we get to see a lot of their adventures, their conversations and their history, we get to feel a vicarious sense of belonging. In some small way, we temporarily feel like we’re associated with a group of people who have been designed to be likeable.

Likewise, many of these “fake subculture” TV shows (“Supernatural” and “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” spring to mind too) often hint that the main characters are only a small part of a much larger subculture. This is designed to provoke the audience’s imaginations and to make them wonder what the rest of the “world” of the show is like. This is the sort of thing that prompts people to write fan fiction or, even better, to come up with actual original things inspired by the shows in question.

Plus, by hinting at a larger subculture, it also briefly makes the audience what the real world would be like if such a subculture actually existed. After all, subcultures are a thing that actually exists – and the best ones usually aren’t “mainstream”. So, by showing something similar to the real way that subcultures work, it makes the audience wonder if the fictional subculture could actually ever exist in the real world.

Yes, fake subcultures can be unintentionally hilarious/ laughably stupid when they’re done badly. But, when they’re done well, they can be an extremely useful tool for making your audience more interested in the story that you’re telling.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Nostalgia Itself Can Sometimes Be More Inspirational Than The Things That Provoke It- A Ramble


Although I’m going to start this article by talking about a time when I revisited a game that I felt nostalgic about, there’s a good reason for this. But, if you’re interested in some ideas about nostalgia and creative inspiration, then it might be worth skipping the next four paragraphs or so.

The afternoon before I originally wrote this article, I was in a vaguely nostalgic mood and decided to take another look at a computer game from 2006 called “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” that I played for the first time in late 2011 (after playing the original “The Longest Journey” game during summer 2011).

Although I didn’t feel like replaying the whole thing, I wanted to quickly relive some of the good memories that I had of this game. So, I loaded up one of my old save files from near the beginning of the game – ready to jump back into the complex immersive fictional world that I remembered so fondly.

But, it didn’t seem right. Dialogue that seemed significant and emotionally powerful just a few years ago just came across as needlessly melodramatic or “depressing for the sake of depressing”. Likewise, the large explorable futuristic version of Casablanca that I remembered from the beginning of the game actually just seemed to be a few linear streets. Previously interesting characters just seemed to be more annoying than anything else. There were also more loading screens than I remembered.

After a few minutes, I stopped playing. This wasn’t the game that I remembered! Sure, it looked vaguely similar. Sure, the characters looked the same. But, it just seemed less enchanting, immersive and dramatic than it was a few years ago.

This, naturally, made me think about the nature of nostalgia.

It took me a while to remember that nostalgia is as much about the difference between the person you were in the past and the person you are now as it is about any specific game, movie, book, TV show, song, comic etc…

Generally, we become nostalgic about things for one of two reasons. Something either seems to sum up a particular time period perfectly (eg: floppy disks, audio cassettes and POGs sum up the 1990s quite well), or it has a strong emotional impact on us when we first encountered it. It was exactly the right thing that we needed to play, watch, hear or read at a particular time in our lives. It was something that either fired our imaginations, helped us to understand ourselves and/or provided something good during a gloomy time.

If nostalgia falls into the latter category, then it is often best to avoid revisiting it. After all, even though it was a small- but essential – thing that helped to make you the person you are today, you are almost certainly at least a slightly different person to the one you were in the past.

So, if you try to revisit something that used to have an emotional resonance with you, then it probably won’t have exactly the same resonance any more. You’ll probably end up looking at it in a more dispassionate and disconnected kind of way. Needless to say, it won’t live up to the vital and important memories that you have of it.

However, if you don’t look at it again, it’ll still be the amazing thing that it once was. You’ll remember it as being much better, much more dramatic, much more significant, much more detailed etc… than it actually is. And, if you’re a creative person, then this is exactly the sort of thing that you need in order to get inspired.

After all, inspiration comes from using your imagination to turn pre-existing things into new things. It comes from seeing something and thinking “I want to make my own version of that!” and/or “I wonder what something like that would be like if I added something else to it?

Since nostalgia tends to do some this for you automatically, you’ll be in a much more advantageous position to start coming up with creative ideas if you take inspiration from the nostalgia itself, rather than the thing that actually made you feel nostalgic.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Basic Tips For Making Detective Comedy Comics


Well, at the time of writing, I was busy making a webcomic mini series that will probably be posted here in late June (in the meantime, you can find links to many others here).

Since this webcomic mini series will be something of a parody of traditional “cosy” detective stories (and it’s also kind of like these other detective comedy comics I’ve made), I thought that I’d talk about how to make detective comedy comics today. But, first, here’s a preview of the first comic update from the upcoming mini series:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 25th June

The full comic update will be posted here on the 25th June

So, how do you make detective comedy comics? here are a few basic tips:

1) Research and inspiration: The best detective comedy comics are usually a parody of various pre-existing things in the detective genre. So, do your research first! I mean, the main thing that inspired the upcoming webcomic that I mentioned earlier was the fact that I’d watched a couple of series of the classic ITV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Poirot” a couple of weeks earlier.

Find a type of detective story that interests you (eg: hardboiled detective stories, “cosy” mysteries, modern forensic detective shows etc..) and then immerse yourself in them as much as possible. Binge-watch DVDs, read online articles, read novels etc… until you can firmly picture what one of these stories looks like. After all, you can’t parody something if you don’t know much about it…

2) Detective types: As any fan of the detective genre will tell you, detectives come in many types. There’s the classic “Sherlock Holmes”-type detective, who uses logic and reason. There’s the more sophisticated Agatha Christie-type detective who uses an understanding of the human condition to solve mysteries. There’s the hardboiled gumshoe of the film noir genre who isn’t afraid to get tough to get some answers etc…

One of the easiest ways to make a detective comedy comic is to put a detective in a story that is set up for another type of detective. For example, the main detective in my occasional long-running webcomic series is more of a “Sherlock Holmes”-type detective (with maybe a few hints of a classic pulp fiction private eye), so by putting him in a more Agatha Christie-style story, there will be a few differences between audience expectations and the events of the story.

Of course, you can take this a step further by, say, putting a genteel Agatha Christie-style detective in the hardboiled world of, say, 1930s Chicago or something like that.

3) Farce and dark comedy: By it’s very nature, the detective genre is absolutely perfect for old-school farce. After all, it’s a very physical genre – there are bodies lying around, villains lurking behind things and all sorts of unusual items that could be used as murder weapons. It doesn’t take a genius to see how these things can be used for farcical slapstick comedy.

Likewise, because detective stories revolve around murder, evil and treachery they are absolutely perfect for the dark comedy genre too. You can do all sorts of things, like showing that the crime has been committed for a really silly reason or adding some humour to the discovery of the body. Likewise, the detective’s deductions can also be a good source of dark comedy, like in this old comic of mine:

"Diabolical Sigil - Page 5" By C. A. Brown

“Diabolical Sigil – Page 5” By C. A. Brown

4) The detective gets something wrong: This one is really self-explanatory, but people expect detectives to actually solve mysteries.

If your detective gets either all or part of the final conclusion to the mystery wrong, then this can be a brilliant source of comedy. Of course, you can also go one better than this and have your detective realise that they were wrong – only to come up with another wrong answer.

If you want a brilliant example of this comedy technique at it’s best, then check out an episode of a classic BBC sitcom called “Blackadder Goes Forth” called “General Hospital”, where the main character has to find a German spy in a WW1-era field hospital.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Never Underestimate The Value Of Subtle Suspense In The Suspense Genre.


Well, whilst I was watching the first season of a “this is hilariously silly, but I’ll watch just one more episode…” American TV series called “Nikita” on DVD, I realised something about the suspense genre – subtle suspense is important.

The interesting thing about this show is that the earlier episodes of the first season of “Nikita” focus on two main plot threads involving a rogue government agency who takes prisoners from death row in order to turn then into assassins.

One plot threat is about an escaped assassin called Nikita who has advanced training and is waging war on the rogue agency. Needless to say, she gets involved in a lot of dramatic gunfights, fist fights, car chases etc…

The other plot thread is about a nineteen year old character called Alex who has teamed up with Nikita. By staging a botched robbery, she has been able to gain admission to the agency’s harsh training program in order to spy on the agency for Nikita. Apart from the occasional boxing bout, she doesn’t really do that much fighting – instead, she has to sneak around the base occasionally to spy for Nikita, she has to communicate with Nikita secretly and she has to try to deflect any suspicions from her fellow trainees (and, occasionally, her evil instructors).

On paper the first plot thread sounds like it would be the most suspenseful and dramatic of the two. But, in reality, the second one is mostly likely to have you on the edge of your seat, biting your nails and almost afraid to watch more.

Why? Because, despite the contrived premise of the story, Alex’s storyline still seems marginally more “realistic”. It seems at least a tiny bit closer to the suspenseful situations that we’ve all been in throughout our lives.

Whether it was blagging your way into a horror movie at the cinema when you were underage, whether it was trying to think of an excuse for something or whether it was finding a way out of an awkward social situation, we’ve all had suspenseful moments in our lives. And they don’t involve things like car chases, gun fights etc…

Although melodramatic suspense can be extremely fun to watch or read, it’s often highly unrealistic. Not to mention that the characters involved in it often seem more superhuman than anything else. Ironically, there’s actually less suspense because we know that these characters will always know what to do in any situation and that they will (probably) survive and win.

Subtle, realistic suspense on the other hand may not look as good but it tends to have a lot more dramatic power for the simple reason that it’s easier for the audience to relate to.

Of course, many things in the suspense genre tend to include a blend of both melodramatic suspense and subtle suspense. The presence of one helps to make the other one seem more exciting, dangerous and/or nerve-wracking, and vice versa.

Still, if you’re making something in the suspense and/or thriller genre, then never underestimate how important or useful subtle suspense can be.


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

Five Free Sources Of Inspiration For Cyberpunk Artists, Writers etc..


Well, I’d originally planned to make a “reading list” of books, comics, films, games etc.. in the cyberpunk genre for people who want inspiration for making stuff in this amazing genre, but who don’t know much about it.

But, since many of the things I could think of were commercial products (eg: games like the original “Deus Ex” and films like “Blade Runner”), I was worried that this article would sound like a giant advert. Likewise, not everyone has a large enough budget to instantly buy lots of films, games etc.. just because they saw them on an online list.

So, instead, I thought that I’d challenge myself to create a list of inspirational cyberpunk things that can be legally viewed for free, legally read for free and/or have been released as freeware by their developers. Although all of the things on this list are still copyrighted (the genre isn’t nearly old enough to have any public domain works), their creators have made them freely available to anyone who wants to look.

Before I go any further, if you’re not sure what the difference between taking inspiration from something and copying something is, then check out this article which might enlighten you, and help you to avoid plagiarism.

Oh, and one more thing – I originally wrote this article a couple of weeks before I discovered an amazing free cyberpunk flash game called “The Last Night[Note: The page will start playing music as soon as it loads]. It’s a really short, but astonishingly atmospheric, “Blade Runner”-style game and it’s well worth playing if you like the cyberpunk genre. But, I found it too late to “officially” add it to the list in this article.

Likewise, I also forgot to mention a freeware cyberpunk first-person shooter game called “Hacx: Twitch ‘N Kill” despite writing a review of it last year (you’ll also need a free Doom engine source port – like “ZDoom” – to play this game).

Anyway, here’s the list……

1) “Cyberpunk” By Bruce Bethke: This is the short story that started it all and it can be read for free on the author’s site. Yes, although the genre was only really popularised and defined by films like “Blade Runner” and novels like William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” in the early-mid 1980s, it technically began with this short story that was written in 1980.

The story itself doesn’t contain all of the features that would later come to characterise the genre, but it provides a slightly more comprehensible example of the cyberpunk narrative style/ visual style (which usually includes a lot of information overload and/or sensory overload ) and an early example of the futuristic computer hacker protagonists of cyberpunk fiction.

2) Valenburg’s Art Gallery: All of the awesome cyberpunk art and animations in this amazing online gallery can legally be viewed for free. And, if you’re an artist, then this gallery is well worth checking out if you want to learn some general things about how to make cyberpunk art.

For example, pay close attention to the artist’s use of colours in many of the pictures. There are many possible cyberpunk colour schemes (in fact, any complimentary colour scheme, or combination of complimentary colour schemes, will work), but the blue/purple/pink/black one here gives the art in Valenburg’s gallery a very “modern” look.

Likewise, his artwork also contains many great examples of how lighting should be handled in the cyberpunk genre – namely that it should come from things like computer screens, neon signs, windows etc… and that the lighting should be emphasised by setting cyberpunk art and comics at night.

3) Dreamweb:Dreamweb” is an old cyberpunk computer game from 1994 that was later released as freeware by it’s developers. In order to get it running, you’ll probably have to use another free program called “DOSBox“, which emulates an old MS DOS computer.

It’s been a long time since I’ve played any of this game but, although the game uses a fairly minimalist top-down perspective, it isn’t short on atmosphere. If you want to see an example of a grimy, gritty, dystopian cyberpunk story then this game might be a good place to start.

This game might also give you some inspiration for creating cyberpunk characters, as well as giving you an interactive example of the well-used “high tech low lives” quote that is used to define the cyberpunk genre.

4) “Vurt” Partial Comic Adaptation by Leo Connor: This intense, nightmarish cyberpunk comic by Leo Connor [NSFW] is an adaptation of the early chapters of an old cyberpunk novel called “Vurt” by Jeff Noon, and it can be viewed for free.

Although it is quite far from some of the traditions of the cyberpunk genre, it provides a great example of how the cyberpunk attitude, narrative style and atmosphere can be applied to stories that don’t actually involve computer hacking or high technology. It also provides a good example of how to incorporate elements from the horror genre into the cyberpunk genre too.

The story focuses on a group of stoners who access an alternate dimension, similar to cyberspace, through the use of hallucinogenic feathers. It’s strange, it’s bizarre, it’s disturbing, but it’s still cyberpunk. Somehow.

5) Beneath A Steel Sky:Beneath A Steel Sky” is another freeware game from the 1990s that you’ll probably have to use DOSBox to run. If you can’t be bothered with setting up DOSBox, then it is also available for free (with a pre-made DOSBox launcher) from an online game shop called GoG, although you’ll have to create an account there in order to download this version.

Although I go into more detail about the game in my review of it, it’s a slightly unusual example of a cyberpunk game. Although it still contains all of the classic features of 1990s cyberpunk (eg: cyberspace, mega-cities etc..) a lot of the artwork in the game is significantly brighter than most things in the cyberpunk genre. Likewise, the tone of the game is slightly more comedic than you might expect from the cyberpunk genre, even if the humour can be slightly dark.

Still, as an example of something that is both within and outside of the traditions of the cyberpunk genre, it’s well worth playing. Although you might need to find an online guide for some of the puzzles though!


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂