Today’s Art ( 20th April 2017)

Well, despite a ludicrous amount of digital editing, today’s painting didn’t really turn out as well as I’d hoped. Originally, it was going to be a 1990s-style painting, and then it turned into a painting of a large outdoor area – but the background really didn’t look that great, so I had to reduce it sigificantly before adding paint. Even after that, this picture still required a lot of extra digital editing.

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

"Garden" By C. A. Brown

“Garden” By C. A. Brown

Four Basic Ways To Recycle A Webcomic Story Arc

2017 Artwork Recycling story arcs article sketch

Well, although it won’t appear here until early June, I started making another webcomic mini series shortly after finishing the first draft of this article.

This mini series will be slightly similar to an older webcomic story arc of mine from 2013(which can be seen here, here and here). Here’s a preview of the new mini series:

The mini series should start appearing here in very early June.

The mini series should start appearing here in very early June.

Since this could potentially be one of the closest things I’ve done to remaking my old comics in quite a while, I thought that I’d talk about several of the ways that you can recycle your old comics into new ones.

1) Keep the premise, ditch everything else: One of the best ways to keep a remake of one of your older comic updates or story arcs fresh is to keep the basic premise of it but change everything else. If your story arc revolved around your characters visiting somewhere then keep the location the same but change what happens there.

If your previous story arc was from a few years ago, then set your current story arc in the present day. If you’ve introduced new characters since you finished the old story arc, then add them to the new version of it (if it works in context, of course).

Basically, keep the basic theme or premise, but change almost everything else.

2) Add a full story, or don’t: The simplest way to make a webcomic story arc is just to place your characters in an unusual situation and see what happens. Sometimes, this can lead to a detailed and continuous story, sometimes this can lead to a collection of stand-alone comics that only have a few things in common with each other.

If you’re remaking something like this, then just do the opposite of what you did the first time round. Or don’t, if the original structure went really well. But, try to change the pacing or the panel layouts or something like that.

3) Time gaps and clean reboots: First of all, don’t assume that your readers have read the old story arc that you’re recycling.

If your webcomic has been going for long enough to merit recycling a story arc, then it’s likely that you’ll have picked up new readers who won’t have the time to read every old update. In other words, either make every update of your new story arc totally self contained, or make sure that all of the updates in your new arc tell a totally new self-contained story.

Yes, this might have an effect on the continuity of your webcomic (eg: a character seemingly encountering the same situation for the first time twice etc…) but this can often be covered over by either distracting members of the audience with a few subtle references to the old story arc, or by making the moments in question especially funny and/or dramatic.

4) The obvious way: If you need to take a break from planning comics and you want a quick webcomic project, then you could always just do a “traditional” remake where you do literally nothing more than update the art and streamline the writing slightly.

This obviously works best when it happens in webcomics that don’t tell one continuous story, when your remake is openly declared to be a remake and where the old story arc is old enough that there’s an immediately noticeable difference in art quality.

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

Today’s Art ( 19th April 2017)

Well, although I was still feeling uninspired, I was able to get around it by making a new version of one of my old horror-themed paintings (called “Late Return) that was originally posted here early last year.

When I made the old version of this painting, I was just beginning my “limited palette” phase -and, although I’m glad of all I learnt during this phase, this particular painting certainly works well with a slightly more expanded palette. Likewise, I’ve also learnt a few new digital editing techniques that I didn’t quite know when I was editing the original painting.

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

"Late Return (II)" By C. A. Brown

“Late Return (II)” By C. A. Brown

Review: “People Watching” (Season 1) (Animated Youtube Series)

Well, I don’t usually review things on Youtube but I thought that I’d make an exception in this extra article. This is mostly because, over the past ten weeks, the creator of my favourite webcomic (Subnormality” By Winston Rowntree) has been releasing a weekly animated Youtube series called “People Watching” which was co-produced by a humour/journalism site called “Cracked”.

So, since the individual episodes are a bit too short to review on their own, I thought that I’d wait until the first season of the show had finished and review it as a whole.

Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. Likewise, this is a show that is firmly aimed at audiences in their 20s-30s. So, if you don’t fit into this age group, then you may or may not enjoy it as much.

So, let’s take a look at season one of “People Watching”:

This is most of the series’ cast, although one character is standing behind the camera in this scene.

Although “People Watching” contains several recurring characters, the episodes are self-contained and can be watched in pretty much any order (it’s best to watch episode 10 last though).

Like in Rowntree’s “Subnormality” comics, the episodes often tend to focus on observations about society, introspective topics and cultural commentary. The series also contains a mixture of comedy and serious moments. Sorry if this description sounds a bit bland, but it’s a really difficult series to describe in a single paragraph.

Let me start by saying that the art in this series is actually as good as the astonishingly detailed art in “Subnormality”. I’d initially expected the level of artistic detail to drop somewhat due to the practicalities of the animation process. But, Rowntree’s art is as spectacular as ever.

Plus, the Sphynx also makes a cameo appearance in the background here.

As for the animation quality, it’s surprisingly good considering that this is a low-budget series on Youtube. Although there are occasional examples of clunky animation (such as someone running in the early parts of episode four), limited animation and/or re-used backgrounds – the animation is, on the whole, fairly good. Since this is a series where the main emphasis is on the dialogue and the storytelling, the limitations of the animation don’t really get in the way of the show.

Likewise, the voice acting in this series is fairly good too. Since the series mostly focuses on a group of new characters, there isn’t the “this character shouldn’t sound like that” problem that you can sometimes get when comics and/or novels are adapted to the screen. The main characters sound like fairly ordinary American or Canadian twentysomethings and the voice acting just comes across as “acting” rather than “voice-acting”.

But, in terms of story quality, the series is something of a mixed bag though. For every good episode, there’s usually one.. less-good… episode.

But, when this series is good, it is good! So, I’ll start with the best moments. As a side note, the episode titles displayed in the episodes are different from the video titles (“Cracked” is notorious for random, inexplicable title changes).

The best episodes in the series are probably episode four and episode nine. And here’s why…

Episode four (“Death Is Bullshit”) revolves around a character having a near-death experience and then trying to find some way to rationalise the concept of death. Although this sounds like a super-depressing episode, it is one of the most psychologically nuanced and emotionally profound things that I’ve ever seen on Youtube. Surprisingly though, it seems to be one of the least popular episodes in the series – if the Youtube comments when it was originally realeased were anything to go by.

Yes, it might look like science fiction. Parts of the episode might even sound like science fiction. But, it isn’t an episode about science fiction!

However, if you remember that it’s supposed to be an episode about psychology and not about science fiction or new age philosophy, then it will probably make you cry with it’s sheer emotional profundity.

Even though the episode itself points out that it’s about the fear of death and it’s effects (eg: in a spine-tingling moment, one of the characters quite literally points out that “death f**king makes you crazy”) a lot of people assumed that the episode was some kind of new age tract and criticised it. But, you’d be hard-pressed to find something as profound or well-written on Youtube. Seriously, watch it!

Episode 9 (“In Defence Of Talking During The Movie”) isn’t as weighty or philosophical as episode four is, but it’s certainly the most fun episode in the series.

The episode revolves around two characters called Ted and Martha who are having a hilarious conversation about a movie that they’re watching on TV. After the movie finishes, they decide to go to a nearby cinema to watch (a parody of) one of the “Taken” films.

Seriously, the dialogue in this episode is hilarious. This screenshot really doesn’t do the episode justice.

Throughout the film, both them and various audience members think and comment about how terrible the movie is whilst other characters are horrified that people are talking in the cinema. There’s a bit of random philosophy, some cultural commentary and so much brilliant sarcasm (eg: Martha’s line about how people are expected to sit in “reverent silence” during terrible movies still makes me laugh when I think about it). It’s a fun, funny and heartwarmingly nice episode.

Episode 10 (“Nostalgia”) sits somewhere between these great episodes and the good episodes I’ll describe in the next paragraph. It mostly consists of an optimistic motivational speech (with a few sci-fi elements) that packs a surprising emotional punch, especially if you’ve seen more of the series. I might not agree with literally all of the sentiments in the episode, but it’s still an incredibly dramatic episode and a fitting conclusion to the season.

Plus, episode 10 has the best-looking title card in the whole series.

Anyway, onto the “just good” episodes. The most notable of these is probably episode two, which is an animated remake of Rowntree’s “Non-religious confessional” comic from “Subnormality”. Given that this episode compresses a dialogue-heavy (but short by “Subnormality” standards) comic strip into a single six-minute video, whilst also adding a lot of extra improvements, it’s certainly a good episode.

One of the most astonishing things about episode two is that the backgrounds are sometimes MORE detailed than in the original comic!

Likewise, episode seven focuses on a self-help group for people who look popular but are secretly losers. This episode is fairly close to the tone of the original comics, with lots of introspective dialogue and dark humour.

It also contains a bit more characterisation for some of the main characters too.

Then there are the mediocre and/or terrible episodes. Some episodes, like episode eight or episode three, seem like they could be something interesting – but end up going in a fairly predictable direction instead. Likewise, some episodes can – for want of a better term- become insufferably hipsterish. Episodes five and six, I’m looking at you!

The art and set design in episode six looks really cool, but the whole episode revolves around looking at smartphones and having awkward conversations. Yes, it’s meant to be an episode about how creativity can sometimes be the only form of self-expression some people are comfortable with, but the episode gets this point across in a slightly obtuse, confusing and hipsterish way.

Episode five introduces Ted and Martha and is a critique of the TV show “Friends”. But, well, the dialogue (and the politics etc..) in this episode is probably about as hipster as you can get.

All in all, this series is extremely good though. Or, rather, half of it is. Even so, it’s one of the most thought-provoking, artistically beautiful and well-written pieces of original content that you can find on Youtube. In a sensible and logical world, this wouldn’t be an obscure collection of 5-10 minute shorts, it would be an actual animated TV series! Seriously, if you want to watch something with a bit more depth than the average animated TV show, then check out “People Watching”. Or, parts of it at least (eg: episodes 2,4,7,9 and 10) .

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would average out at about four. But, at it’s best, it’s a six and – at it’s worst – it’s a two or a three.

Three Ways To Know When To Finish A Comic Or Story Project

2017 Artwork Knowing when to finish article sketch

Learning when to finish a collection of stories or webcomic updates is a skill which can take a bit of practice. Ideally, you want to finish whilst you still have at least a tiny bit of enthusiasm left for the comic or fiction project.

Whilst I now seem to have something of an instinct about when to finish when it comes to my various webcomic mini series (which typically hover around 8-12 updates per mini series these days), I was woefully inexperienced about it when it comes to writing short stories – as evidenced by the low quality of the final story in the group of short stories I wrote for last Halloween during a return to a storytelling medium I’d abandoned quite a bit in recent years.

So, these tips will mostly be based on what I’ve learnt from making webcomics and from the mistakes I made with my short fiction series last Halloween.

1) Always plan: One mistake I made with my Halloween short stories was doing virtually no proper planning before I started writing them. I’d mostly just think of the opening sentence and possibly the premise a while before I started the story, and that was it. I had the idea that I wanted to write ten stories, but that was about it.

Whilst this allowed me to come up with some neat ideas and endings that really surprised me (like in this story or this story), it was just as likely to mean that my stories turned into a confusing mess (like this one).

If you plan your stories and/or comics out before you make them, then you’ll get a general sense of their size and scope. You’ll be able to tell if your project is long enough for you to finish it before you run out of enthusiasm (always plan your projects to be shorter, but with room for expansion if they go well).

You also won’t have to worry so much about writer’s block in the middle of the project, since you’ll already know what you’re supposed to make. This also helps to prevent the wild variations in quality that can happen in unplanned projects.

2) Know your limits: You’ll have to learn this through bitter experience (eg: failed and/or unfinished projects), but many people have a limit to either how long they can focus on a single project or how many projects they can keep going at any one time.

This is why, for example, all of my webcomic mini series are less than 20 comics long. When I’m making a mini series, I’ll usually go all out and make something like 2-3 comics per day (even if I only post one per day). However, I also know that I usually can’t keep this up for more than a few days (usually less than a week). So, I plan the length of my mini series to take account of this fact.

If you know your limits, you can work within them and you’ll be more likely to actually finish the projects that you start. Likewise, you’ll also be able to alter any project ideas you have so that you can stay within your limits, rather than risk running out of enthusiasm halfway through the project.

3) Always leave wanting more: If you find that you miss one of your creative projects after you’ve finished it, then this is usually a good sign. It means that you’ll want to make something else like it in the future.

If, weeks later, you find yourself wishing you could have added a few extra comic updates or stories to your project, then this is also a good sign.

However, exhaustedly slumping over the finish line like you’ve just run a marathon is probably not going to make you want to make more comics or write more fiction for a while at least.

So, make your projects – especially the ones you’re really excited about – a little bit on the shorter side, and you’ll find that you have enthusiasm and energy left over for future projects.

For example, my Halloween fiction series should probably have only been four stories long instead of ten stories long. I was truly, properly, enthusiastic and inspired for about 5-7 of the ten stories, but the other 3-5 were mostly there because I was determined to write ten stories. If I’d just written four stories (but not necessarily the first four in the collection), then I’d have finished whilst I was still in an enthusiastic and inspired mood.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Editorial Cartoon: It’s Election Season… Again

Well, after the Prime Minister’s shock announcement yesterday, I just had to make a political cartoon about the fact that there’s going to be yet another spring/summer election this year (there was the Scottish referendum in 2014, the general election in 2015 and the EU referendum last year). It almost seems to be becoming an annual event!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have room to include the Greens or the SNP in this cartoon. But, to be honest, neither of them have a vague chance of winning the election (yes, the SNP might win almost all of the seats in Scotland again, but they’ll never get an overall majority, given their limited focus on just one country of the UK).

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – It’s Election Season… Again” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (18th April 2017)

Well, there was originally another painting that I was going to post today but, since it wasn’t very good and since I almost forgot my annual art tradition yesterday, here’s the painting that I was going to post yesterday before I suddenly realised that it was the 5th Anniversary of my decision to make art daily. At the very least, it’s better than the painting I was supposed to post today.

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

"Cold Road" By C. A. Brown

“Cold Road” By C. A. Brown