Three Benefits Of Setting Your Story In The 1980s And/Or 1990s

Well, since I’m reading a horror/comedy novel set in the early 1990s (“Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero) and because I was also experimenting with a writing project set in the 1980s, I thought that I’d talk about a few of the benefits of setting your story in the 1980s-90s.

1) Phones and the internet: This is a fairly obvious one, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless. Although basic mobile phones were starting to become more common during the mid-late 1990s, one of the defining features of these two decades is the fact that the world didn’t revolve around mobile phones, social media etc… This has all sorts of benefits when it comes to storytelling.

The fact that your characters can’t just phone anyone anywhere means that suspenseful scenes become more suspenseful. After all, if your characters are in danger, then they either have to find a phone (of the landline or payphone variety) or come up with some kind of plan. Likewise, it also makes mysteries more mysterious too, since your characters can’t just whip out a smartphone and look online for information. In other words, they actually have to do proper old-fashioned research and investigation.

Plus, although the web was a thing during the 1990s, it was a lot less common and/or developed (it was also a lot slower too, and made this noise when you connected to it). As such, there wasn’t really the kind of mainstream online/social media culture that there is these days.

I could go on for quite a while, but the lack of things like social media, smartphones etc… means that stories set in the 1980s/90s can often have a lot more suspense, personality, nuance etc… than stories set in the modern world.

2) It isn’t that difficult to write: Although you’ll probably have the annoying experience of thinking of an awesome 80s/90s pop culture reference to add to your historical story, only to look online and realise that it refers to something that existed a year or two after when the story takes place, it is easier to write historical stories set in these decades than in other decades.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, even if you don’t actually have any memories of the year that your story is set in, there’s a very good chance that you’ve encountered a lot of things from this time period without even realising it. After all, if you grew up in the 1990s or the 2000s, then films/books/TV shows/music etc… from the 1980s/90s were still fairly recent back then. So, you probably already know more about these decades than you think.

Secondly, these decades are recent enough to still be vaguely similar to our current world. So, if you write a fairly “timeless” story with a few subtle nostalgic details and a little bit of historical awareness (eg: about things like mobile phones, historical events etc..), then it will probably seem reasonably convincing. After all, most novels that are actually from the 1980s and 1990s usually keep their “80s/90s” elements relatively understated, since these things were just ordinary life back then.

Thirdly, there’s no shortage of research material out there. Nostalgia about these decades is fairly popular at the moment, so there’s loads of information about them on the internet. Likewise, things like films from these decades can usually be found fairly easily on DVD too.

3) Comments: Simply put, one of the best ways to comment about the benefits and flaws of the modern world is to tell a story set in the past. Since your readers will be reading it in the present day (and know that you were writing it in the present day), then they are going to compare the historical “world” of your story to the world around them.

And, you can use this to comment about the modern world. For example, showing some of the problems of the 1980s/90s that are less of an issue these days can be a way of making the reader feel better about the modern world. On the other hand, showing some of the awesome parts of the 1980s/90s that we’re in danger of losing these days can be a way of criticising the modern world. Likewise, showing things that haven’t changed at all can also be a way of commenting about the present day too.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons Why Things From The 1990s Can Seem More Creative

Whether it’s games, films, (non-superhero) comics or TV shows, it can be easy to think that the 1990s was a more creative decade than this one. As a fan of the 1990s, I often tend to think this way. At a glance, the 1990s just seems more creative. But, I thought that I’d take a deeper look at this today.

Since, in boringly practical terms, the reality is somewhat more nuanced. These days, mainstream films are often less creative because TV now fills the role that films once used to. Likewise, modern indie games often contain the creativity that used to be an integral part of large-budget mainstream games.

So, on the whole, the 1990s was probably no more or less creative than the present day is. But, I thought that I’d look at a few possible reasons why the 1990s seems more creative than the present day.

1) The internet: I’ve talked about this before, but the internet was a lot less mainstream during the 1990s than it is now. Whilst this certainly had negative effects on creativity, such as making traditional publishers, large film studios etc.. the sole gatekeepers of which creative works were available to the public- it also had several positive effects too.

The first is that the lack of online video, online game shops, e-books etc… meant that the mainstream had to serve a wider role. What this meant is that things like mid-budget films and mid-list authors would often enjoy more popularity. There was more of an incentive for larger publishers, TV stations and film studios to cater to a wider audience, since they were pretty much the only game in town. Again, this was also a barrier to creativity – but it did lead to a better range of stuff being published formally during the 1990s.

The second was the lack of social media. Although critics obviously existed during the 1990s and are necessary (so that audience members can make informed decisions, uninfluenced by advertising), the lack of a way to instantly respond to a creative work often meant that public criticism was a lot more considered, professional and based on the quality of a work.

The third was that it meant that detailed data was a lot harder to obtain. This meant that studios, publishers etc… were forced to take more risks since they didn’t know literally everything about the audience. This probably meant that marketing departments, accountants etc… had very slightly less influence over major creative works. And this resulted in more creativity.

2) Another time: When we look at things from the 1990s today, we probably don’t see them in quite the same way that people from the 1990s did. This can be because they give us a glimpse at a world that is both similar to and different to our own. This can be because they evoke lots of wonderful nostalgia. This can be because we are comparing them to stuff from the present day.

In short, we’re seeing things from the 1990s through the lens of the present day. But, during the 1990s, these things were just ordinary films, games, books etc.. and were probably viewed in the same way that we think of modern games, books etc.. today.

For example, the innocent optimism that makes many creative works from the 1990s so wonderfully reassuring, inspirational and enjoyable wouldn’t have been a big deal at the time. After all, the reeason why things from the 1990s can often seem a lot more optimistic and light-hearted than modern stuff is because they were made during the brief time between the end of the cold war and before things like 9/11 happened.

In other words, people had a reason to be optimistic about the future – so, it seemed perfectly normal back then. But, when compared to the modern world, it seems a lot more noteworthy.

3) People knew less: In short, the sum total of humanity’s knowledge was less during the 1990s than it is today. As such, there was more reason to “explore” and try new things, because they hadn’t really been done before.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in computer and video games. Large-budget games from the 1990s are often considered to be much more innovative and creative than their modern counterparts. Because they almost certainly are! The main reason for this is that gaming was much more of a “new” medium during the 1990s. It hadn’t been carefully studied and many of the tropes of the medium were only really beginning to emerge.

As such, game developers had to try new stuff – if only to see whether it worked or not. They had to experiment with different genres, gameplay mechanics and graphical techniques. Because, if they didn’t, then who would?

4) We remember the good stuff: This is the obvious one, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless. The best and most creative things from any period of history tend to be remembered more than less creative things do. This gives the impression that the past was more creative than the present.

Again, games spring to mind here. Although some people decry the fact that first-person shooter games are pretty much ubiquitous these days, it is important to remember that 2D platform games filled this role during the 1990s.

Although 2D platformers are something of a niche genre these days, they were everywhere during the early-mid 1990s. They were the generic “standard” genre of action game back then. When early FPS games like “Wolfenstein 3D”, “Doom”, “Rise Of The Triad”, “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Quake” etc.. emerged, they were a breath of fresh air compared to the glut of 2D platform games at the time. As such, they are (rightly) remembered as classics.

So, yes, people tend to remember the best and most creative things a lot more easily than everything else.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

A Quick Guide To Drawing/ Writing About Two Stylised Versions Of The 1990s

As regular readers of this site know, I’m a massive fan of the 1990s. Not only do I love making 1990s-style art and playing computer/video games from that decade, but I’m also doing something of an informal research project into films from that decade at the moment (hence the film reviews appearing every other day or so at the moment).

Yet, one of the interesting things about fictional depictions of the 1990s (and the 1990s itself) is that there are lots of different “versions” of it out there.

So, I thought that I’d provide a guide to how to draw and/or write about stylised versions of 1990s Britain and/or America (since these are the two countries I’ve researched the most. Plus, I actually just about remember 1990s Britain too).

But, for time reasons, I’ll only be taking a look at the two versions that I’ve researched the most (so, apologies if I repeat myself, since I’m sure I’ve mentioned this stuff before). So, let’s get started:

1) Early-Mid 1990s Los Angeles/Florida: This is one of my favourite versions of the 1990s.

The key visual features when depicting it in art are lots of dramatic sunsets, palm trees, garish/strange fashions, floral patterns, sunglasses, skateboarders, high-contrast lighting (eg: 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting should be covered with black paint), people wearing baseball caps backwards, ominous alleyways, pastel-shaded interior design, vaguely gothic-looking interior design, angular buildings, dramatic cityscapes etc… This is probably one of the more well-known “versions” of the 1990s out there, so visual research materials aren’t that hard to find.

When writing about it, it you might want to emphasise things like punk music, “valley girl” characters, rap music, extroverted/brash characters, hot weather, sarcasm, optimism, shameless consumerism/commercialism, technology, crime, skateboarding etc…

Stories in the thriller genre tend to work well here, especially when they use slightly silly “larger than life” storylines. The thing to remember here is that 1990s thriller stories either focused on “realistic” topics (like crime) or – since this was the time period between the end of the cold war and 9/11 – “unrealistic” and outlandish evil plots by villains. Bonus points if you also depict Los Angeles as the centre of the universe too.

Good research materials for this stylised version of the 1990s include:Smash” by The Offspring, “Bad Boys“, the first and third episodes of “Duke Nukem 3D“, the early episodes of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer“, “Pulp Fiction“, “Stranger Than Fiction” by Bad Religion, “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air“, the original series of “The Power Rangers” etc…

2) Mid-Late 1990s Britain: Since I actually vaguely remember this, I thought that I’d include it on the list.

The thing to remember about mid-late 1990s Britain is that it doesn’t actually look that different to modern Britain. Most of the visual differences are fairly subtle and/or general things. These include the obvious things like VHS tapes, CRT monitors, ashtrays in pubs, fewer mobile phones etc.. But they also include some subtle differences in fashion, such as crop tops, long floral dresses, sportswear, plain T-shirts & jeans and very slightly formal fashions.

However, the differences are a lot more important when writing about it (like I did here). The thing to remember about mid-late 1990s Britain is that it was simultaneously “cool” and “crap” at the same time.

On the one hand, it was at the height of the “cool Britannia” thing and there was a general atmosphere of optimism in the air – the Spice Girls were popular, Britpop was popular, there was more of a fun hedonistic attitude (eg: it was the heyday of celebrities like Tracey Emin etc..), computers were both cool and nerdy, “traditional” British things (eg: double-decker buses etc..) were over-emphasised for ironic stylishness, popular culture had a bit more of an “edgy” and “rebellious” attitude etc…

On the other hand, mid-late 1990s Britain was also a bit more stuffy, dull and “traditional” too. It wasn’t really as “cool” as the fictional depictions of America that appaeared regularly on the TV and in the cinema. But this was also part of the charm of the time too. After all, it was kind of a national running joke that Britain was “kind of crap” – but, on the plus side, this also served as a very useful bulwark against any kind of aggressive nationalism too.

Good research materials for this stylised version of the 1990s include:Bugs“, “The Thin Blue Line“, “Ultraviolet“, anything to do with the Spice Girls, the early series of “Bits” (there are clips on Youtube), “Shooting Fish“, “Goodness Gracious Me!“, “Tomorrow Never Dies“, “Human Traffic“, the early parts of “Kevin & Perry Go Large” etc…


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

Five Things That Two Old TV Shows Can Teach Us About 1990s-Style Storytelling

Although I’ve covered the topic of 1990s-style storytelling in other articles, I felt like taking a more in-depth look at two tonally-similar American TV shows from this decade, to see what makes them so quintessentially “90s” and what this can show us about how to achieve this in our own comics, fiction etc..

The two shows are, of course, “Sliders” and “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“. Both of these shows are somewhat overlooked (when compared to more famous shows from the 1990s like The Simpsons, The X-Files, Friends, The Fresh Prince etc..) but they are both about as “90s” as you can get. A good example of this type of show from the UK is one called “Bugs” although, annoyingly, I didn’t have time to include it in this article.

So, what can these two shows teach us about 1990s-style storytelling? Here are five things:

Yes, these two TV shows are about as “90s” as you can get. But, why?

1) Familiarity and change: One of the reasons why these shows are so quintessentially “90s” is because they focus on one specific location, but with some really interesting variations on this location in every episode.

Almost every episode of “Lois & Clark” takes place in a few parts of a New York-like city called Metropolis (such as the offices of a newspaper) and every episode of “Sliders” takes place in San Francisco (with the characters often staying in the same hotel).

Yet, in each episode, something new or different happens in these locations. In “Lois & Clark”, the city is often threatened by a new villain of some kind or another. In “Sliders”, the characters literally travel between alternate timelines in each episode (so, there are many different “versions” of San Francisco).

This is a screenshot from season 2 of “Lois & Clark” (1994-5) showing the historical outlaws Bonnie and Clyde holding up a bank in 1990s Metropolis.

This is a screenshot from season 1 of “Sliders” (1995-6) showing one of the main characters getting a visit from the Grim Reaper during a stay in a version of San Francisco where magic and sorcery are considered to be real.

Normally, the combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar is meant to be disturbing (eg: the psychological concept of “The Uncanny). But, in these shows, the familiar locations often serve to create a reassuring atmosphere. Because these locations are repeated, but with enough variations to keep them interesting, they almost become a character in the show. Almost like a member of the team.

Of course, the focus on a single location is also an example of how the people who made these shows were able to be creative despite the limited budgets that they had. After all, television wasn’t as prestigious during the 1990s as it is today. So, this is also a good example of how limitations force creative people to innovate and do interesting things.

2) Team-based stories: If there’s one thing to be said for media from the 1990s in general, it is that there was a much greater focus on team-based stories. Shows like “Star Trek: Voyager“, comics like Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” and games like “Resident Evil” often focused on a group of characters, rather than the much more individualistic focus that many modern films, games etc.. have.

This emphasis on team-based stories is an essential part of both “Sliders” and “Lois & Clark”. Both shows feature a central group of four characters, all of whom are important to the story in some way or another. Yes, even in a superhero-themed show like “Lois & Clark”, the superhero is nothing without his colleagues at the newspaper he works at. I mean, there’s a reason why the show is called “Lois & Clark” rather than just “Clark”.

The four main characters from “Lois & Clark” – (from left to right) Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

The four main characters from “Sliders” – (from left to right) Professor Arturo, Rembrandt Brown, Quinn Mallory and Wade Welles.

So, why is team-based storytelling so important to things from the 1990s? It allows for a lot more humour, it allows the writers to add suspense by temporarily separating the team, it creates a more “community”-like atmosphere that draws the audience in, it allows for more depth (eg: by showing different characters reacting to the same thing in different ways) and it also places more emphasis on the story than on any one particular character.

3) Feel-good stories: Another thing that makes these two shows such great examples of 1990s-style storytelling is the fact that they weren’t afraid to be optimistic, fun, feel-good television. Although each show contains a lot of drama (such as a chilling episode of “Sliders” where the characters find themselves in a city-sized prison), there is an overriding sense of reassurance. There’s a sense that things will turn out ok in the end.

Yes, this is a little bit predictable. But it is also part of the charm of these shows. The emphasis changes from “will the main characters win?” to “how will the main characters win?“. And this is designed to evoke a sense of relaxed curiosity in the audience, rather than nail-biting suspense. These shows make up for the predictability of “the good guys always win” by making the audience intrigued about how they will win.

Likewise, both shows include a lot of humour too. This often includes things like sarcastic dialogue, character-based humour, hilariously surreal background details and even some good old-fashioned slapstick comedy too. This is because these shows recognise that one of the roles of storytelling is to make people feel better about the world, to lighten the mood of the audience etc…

4) Subtle politics (sometimes): Even the politics in these shows is handled in an interesting way. Although both shows can occasionally make political points in a hilariously heavy-handed way, they are often a lot more subtle about it than some modern media. Most of the time….

But, yes, these shows can be hilariously heavy-handed sometimes. For example, the episode ”The Weaker Sex” from season 1 of “Sliders” includes a reversed example of 1950s-style gender politics. But, for the most part, the politics in these shows are handled in a more intelligent way than this.

In other words, they often quietly make points about various topics through setting an example.

For example, by the standards of the time, both shows can probably be described as “feminist”. Whilst this is occasionally presented in a hilariously heavy-handed way (such as the example above), it is often presented in a much more subtle way by just making sure that the female characters in both shows are intelligent, witty and resourceful people. They are shown to be important characters in their own right, rather than just members of the supporting cast.

Plus, each show also takes a fairly equal attitude towards the topic of fashion, style etc… But, each show does this in a slightly different way.

A scene from season 1 of “Sliders” showing both Quinn and Wade wearing fairly understated, practical, realistic and “unfashionable” outfits.

A scene from season 2 of “Lois & Clark” showing both Lois and Clark looking rather stylish (by 1990s standards).

In “Lois & Clark”, both Lois and Clark are shown to be incredibly stylish people. By contrast, in “Sliders”, there’s relatively little emphasis on style, fashion etc.. amongst all of the main characters – with the emphasis being firmly on the actual practical events of the story. Both of these shows handle this topic in a slightly “non-mainstream” (by the standards of the time) way, but they do it subtly.

So, yes, keeping any political points subtle and making them through example is a good way to add some 90s-style sophistication to your story or comic.

5) Quirkiness and personality: Simply put, both of these shows have their own unique “quirks” that make them what they are.

For example, in “Lois & Clark”, the newspaper’s editor is obsessed with Elvis (and also uses the phrase “Judas Priest” as an expletive). In “Sliders”, many parallel universes feature political/military conflicts with Australia (of all places!) and there are also a few amusingly dated references to moral panics about toy guns during the 1990s.

These are all fairly subtle things, but they show that an actual person has created the show. They aren’t hip, self-conscious modern “nerd culture” references. They’re just some totally random plot elements that help to give these shows a bit more personality. You can tell that whoever wrote these shows was relying on their own thoughts, memories and opinions rather than just trying to appear “hip” or “cool”.

So, don’t be afraid to give your stories and comics a bit of “personality”. Don’t be afraid to be slightly random or silly. But try to make sure that any quirkiness comes from your own sense of humour, thoughts, memories etc… rather than just whatever happens to be “cool” at the moment.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Tips For Adding Some 1990s-Style Silliness To Your Story Or Comic

One of the endearingly nostalgic things about the media during the 1990s (TV shows and computer games especially) is that it wasn’t afraid to be completely and utterly silly at times.

This is one of the distinctive qualities of media from the decade and it was probably caused by a number of factors, such as the fact that the 1990s fell between the end of the Cold War and our current post-9/11 world, so the general mood was a bit more optimistic.

But, regardless of what caused it, media from the 1990s often has a certain joyous silliness to it that modern media often lacks. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to add some 90s-style silliness to your prose fiction and/or comic projects.

1) Focus on some other element and work backwards: Technical limitations aside, one of the reasons why computer games from the early-mid 1990s were often so gleefully nonsensical was because the story was often something of an afterthought.

Usually, the designers would focus on coming up with a fun game and then add the story at a later point. This, of course, led to some hilariously random – but extremely fun – games.

This is a screenshot of a 2D platform game from 1993 called “Bio Menace”. This scene involves climbing a giant tree and fighting slime monsters, sentient balls of fur etc…. Yes, games were a bit more random in the 90s, since fun gameplay took priority over storytelling.

Even more “serious” games from the time, like “Doom II” (1994) [pictured], would often be considered somewhat “random” or “silly” by today’s standards. Again, this is because the designers primarily focused on fun gameplay, rather than storytelling.

So, one way to replicate this silly randomness in your story or comic is to come up with an interesting idea, find a totally random subject and/or come up with a silly gimmick. Then, once you’ve done this, try to see if you can work backwards and add a story to it. The main thing here is not to come up with the story idea first, but to find some other thing and then try to shoehorn a story into it.

2) Take a concept to the max: One trend that lent the 1990s some of it’s distinctive silliness was the fact that there were relatively fewer “serious” issues in the news. As such, if someone wanted to create a thrilling, scary and/or dramatic story, then what they would sometimes do would be to take some idea or concept (the more random and/or “ordinary”, the better) and then just take it to a ludicrous extreme in order to extract some melodrama from it.

A good example of this can be seen in a gloriously cheesy mid-late 1990s TV show called “Sliders“. This is a sci-fi show which revolves around the characters visiting a different parallel universe every episode. Often, these universes would be based on some idea or another being taken to a hilariously silly extreme.

For example, in this episode from season 1 of “Sliders” (1995), the main characters end up in a timeline where the American Revolution never happened. Even though it’s the mid-1990s (when the Spice Girls etc.. were popular in Britain) – everyone dresses like they’re from the 1950s, speaks in received pronunciation and drives old cars. There’s also a hilariously silly band of rebels and a few references to “Robin Hood” too.

So, one way to add some 90s-style silliness to your story or comic is just to find an ordinary idea (eg: try looking for some slightly “silly” stories in the newspaper. Yes, in an actual newspaper) and then just take it to some kind of silly extreme.

3) Assume your audience know less: Although people were no more or less intelligent during the 1990s than they are now, there was one crucial difference. The internet was a lot slower, a lot more expensive and a lot less widely-used than it is now. As such, the writers of mainstream things like TV shows couldn’t just assume that their audiences had instant access to all of humanity’s knowledge.

As such, things from the 1990s often tended to rely on much more “timeless” commonly-known references and source material. Likewise, sometimes, TV shows would occasionally spell things out to the audience that modern shows rightly assume that contemporary audiences already understand. This slightly patronising “stating the obvious” element often drains all seriousness from what the show is trying to say and turns it into unintentionally hilarious melodrama.

As great as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is, this screenshot from the season 7 episode “Masks” (1994) provides an example of what I’m talking about. The characters state the obvious sometimes and the episode uses a lot of fairly generic Aztec-style settings.

So, one way to add some 90s-style silliness to your story or comic is simply to state the obvious a few times and to rely more on “timeless” cultural references – however hilariously incongruous they might be with something made in the present day.

4) Chaos and anarchy: One of the easiest ways to add some 1990s-style silliness to your story or comic is just to contrast some “ordinary” characters with some silly and/or chaotic characters.

There are at least two hilariously silly movies from the first two years of the 1990s that do precisely this. So, this type of comedy was obviously a bit of a trend back in the day.

This is a screenshot from “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990). In this film, a state-of-the-art office block is taken over by anarchic, hedonistic Gremlin creatures, after the main characters’ pet creature Gizmo is accidentally fed after midnight. Hilarity ensues.

This is a screenshot from “Drop Dead Fred” (1991), a film where the main character’s childhood imaginary friend (Played by Rik Mayall) suddenly appears in her life again and causes all sorts of hilarious chaos.

This is something that isn’t really seen as often in the modern comedy genre, and it is kind of a follow-on from the comedy horror traditions of the 1980s (eg: movies like “Beetlejuice”, the original “Gremlins” and “Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark” also include elements of this). So, adding some anarchic slapstick humour (involving slightly weird characters) can be a good way to inject some 1990s-style silliness to your story or comic.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three More Tips For 1990s-Style Storytelling

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote about the 1990s. So, I thought that I’d take another look at 1990s-style storytelling today. This is partly because I read a novel set in the 1990s recently and partly because I’ve been thinking about this topic slightly more than usual.

Although I wrote some short stories set in mid-late 1990s Britain and made a “time travel” comic set in early-mid 1990s California last year (and wrote two short stories set in mid-1990s America earlier this year – which can be read here and here), the 1990s is a notoriously difficult decade to tell any kind of stories about. This is, in part, because it’s still a relatively recent decade – so, there’s marginally less popular history and nostalgia about it out there for writers and comic makers to draw on.

So, how can you tell stories set in the 1990s?

1) Early or late 90s?: Generally speaking, the “type” of 1990s setting you want to use depends a lot on which part of the decade your story is set in.

This also varies somewhat from country to country too, but I don’t have time to go into the subtleties of this too much here (and I’ll just be focusing on Britain and America – since I’m British [and grew up in the 1990s/early-mid 2000s] and because I’ve watched a fair number of movies and TV shows from 1990s America).

But, for the early-mid 1990s (especially in America), try to make everything a little bit more “retro”. After all, the 1980s had finished a few years earlier and a lot of trends from that time were still lingering around during the early-mid 1990s.

However, since the decade was starting to come into it’s own, these trends were a bit more subtle, gloomy and understated than in the 80s. So, if you’re including an early-mid 1990s setting, go for a somewhat more “understated”/”gloomy” version of the 1980s.

For the mid-late 1990s (especially in Britain), make everything a bit more “modern”, but in an understated way. For example, compared to the late 1980s/early 1990s, mid-late 1990s fashions were even gloomier and more understated/generic – but also very recognisable as “modern” too.

The main difference between mid-late 1990s settings and the present day is probably the technology. So, just include a few VHS tapes, CD-ROMs, CRT televisions/computer monitors and maybe some very basic “small” mobile phones and your setting will instantly be more “late 90s”.

But, regardless of which part of the 90s your story or comic is set in, try to make your 1990s location designs fairly “ordinary”. After all, buildings don’t change that much over the years. However, if you want to include some more stylised 1990s-style interior design in your comic or novel, go for things like geometric patterns, gloomy lighting, more bookshelves etc… Kind of like in this stylised mid-late 1990s-style painting of mine from last year:

“1990s Office Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

2) Tell an “ordinary” story: The 1990s is in that weird twilight zone between “retro” and “recent”. As such, it can sometimes be a good idea to make your story fairly “ordinary” (with relatively little “90s nostalgia”) if you’re trying to tell a more dramatic or serious story.

A good example of this can be found in a modern thriller novel (published in 2016, but set in 1996) that I read recently called “Night School” by Lee Child. If it wasn’t for a few references to the Millennium Bug and the fall of the Berlin Wall, then the story could almost be set in the present day. In fact, I got about halfway through the novel before I even noticed that none of the characters were using mobile phones. So, yes, just telling an “ordinary” story (with a few subtle differences) can be a good way to tell a story set in the 90s.

The thing to remember when telling a “serious” story set in the 1990s is that, to the characters, the setting is just ‘ordinary’. It’s just the ordinary, mundane, everyday world. And, aside from a few technological, social and political changes, it isn’t that different from the modern world. So, just try to tell an ordinary modern story with a few subtle changes to the technology, politics, trends etc…

3) Culture and politics: I’ve talked about this before but, in general (more so in Britain than America), the 1990s was also a little bit more of a laid-back and cheerful decade than the present day.

In America, this often manifested itself as a sense of optimism about the future. After all, the Cold War was over and 9/11 hadn’t happened yet – so, the future actually looked fairly bright. Seriously, even the cynical punk music and stand-up comedy of the time often sounds joyously innocent compared to the present day. So, try to reflect this in any stories, comics etc.. set in 1990s America.

In Britain, this often manifested itself in a much more hedonistic way. So, if you’re setting your story or comic in 1990s Britain, don’t do the typical “1990s American TV show” thing of making all of your main characters teetotal, celibate, non-smoking, salad-eating gym members! If you don’t believe me on this point, just watch a few classic ’90s sitcoms like “Absolutely Fabulous“, “Spaced“, “Men Behaving Badly” or “Bottom“.

Likewise, politics in the 1990s were a bit less polarised than modern politics. So, if you’re including politics in your 90s-style story or comic, then try to be a bit more subtle and nuanced about it.

Remember, you are writing about a world where things like Twitter thankfully didn’t exist. You are writing about a world where strong political opinions – of all kinds – were more likely to be laughed at than taken seriously. You are writing about a world where politicians, on both the left and the right, at least tried to appear more moderate. You are writing about a world where it was more ok to be “liberal about this, but conservative about that” etc… In short, you are writing about a very different age to our current one.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Adding Some “Safe” 1990s-Style Rebelliousness To Your Art, Comics, Fiction etc…

If there’s one word that sums up popular culture during the 1990s, it is “rebellion”. This was an age where, especially in Britain and parts of America, a lot of popular culture had a bit more of an “attitude” to it. Creative people during the 1990s yearned to push boundaries and to shock in a way that just isn’t really done these days.

Of course, a lot of the “rebellions” of the 1990s look endearingly tame or eye-rollingly immature these days, but there’s a certain nostalgic charm to them. A sense that, even with the limitations of the time, creative people either had a bit more freedom or at least wanted a bit more freedom.

Although it would be probably be fairly unwise for creative people to try to re-create an “authentic” updated version of the rebellious attitudes of the 1990s these days, we can at least emulate some of the “safer” parts of the rebellions of the 1990s in the things we create, if only for nostalgic fun and/or amusement.

1) Careful use of profanity: One of the amusing things about the 1990s is that, despite the more rebellious attitudes in a lot of creative works of the time, there were a lot more limitations when it came to things like profanity. After all, this was an age when Gompie’s “Alice, Who The X Is Alice” was considered something of a “notorious” song just because the chorus contained a well-used and commonly-known four letter word.

Even the “edgy” computer and videogames of the age (and the gleefully immature video games magazines of the time) seem remarkably tame when it comes to profanity. I mean, games from the 1990s sometimes actually bleeped certain four-letter words on the rare occasions that they used them. It was a hilariously uptight time. And, yet, stuff from the ’90s still manages to have more of an attitude than modern works that face no formal or informal restrictions on the use of four-letter words.

The main reason for this is that creative people of the time were forced to be a little bit more creative with how they rebelled. They actually had to be a bit more clever with their humour. They had to find ways to make slightly less rude words (eg: damn, bollocks etc..) sound just as “edgy” as proper profanity. And, most of all, they couldn’t always rely on using just one word as a lazy crutch to make their work seem “rebellious”. Instead they actually had to, you know, rebel.

So, if you use fewer four-letter words, you can ironically give your creative works more of a 90s-style “rebellious” atmosphere.

2) Subtle liberalism: These days, whenever a “liberal” creative work appears in the mainstream, there’s usually a lot of fanfare, opinion pieces on the internet and furious online arguments. For example, although I haven’t yet seen it at the time of writing (and, as such, have no opinion about the quality of the film), you can barely even mention the modern remake of “Ghostbusters” without inviting a flurry of furious arguments from all sides of the political spectrum.

The irony to all of this is that pop culture during the 90s was sometimes more liberal than it is often given credit for. It’s just that creative people didn’t feel the need to broadcast this fact to the world, they just got on with making things and let them stand on their own merits (with any liberal elements being just a part of the whole, rather than the main selling point). They focused primarily on making enjoyable creative works that just happened to be slightly “liberal”.

There was less emphasis on “making a point” and more of an emphasis on making things that everyone could enjoy, which just also happened to be slightly progressive.

For example, for all of the modern discussions about the diversity of playable characters in computer/video games, games back in the 1990s were occasionally more diverse than you might think- but it wasn’t usually used as a major selling point for games. After all, that’s what the actual gameplay is for.

Whether it was “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War“, “Unreal“, “Urban Chaos“, “SiN“, “Alone In The Dark“, “Shadow Man”, “Resident Evil 1-3“, “Blood II: The Chosen“, “American McGee’s Alice” etc… the range of playable main characters in cool games from the 90s (and very early 2000s) were sometimes a lot more diverse and/or sensibly-designed than some modern critics give them credit for.

Likewise, TV shows at the time were also able to be surprisingly liberal – without making this the entire selling point for the show. For example, the best thing in the superhero genre during the 1990s was a (surprisingly good) TV show about Superman (that just happened to be a slightly liberal romantic comedy too). And I haven’t even started talking about shows like “Star Trek: Voyager/ DS9, “The West Wing“, TNG“, “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air“, “Babylon 5“, “Goodness Gracious Me“, “Bits“, “Bugs“, “The X-Files” etc.. The 90s contained so many examples of liberalism done right.

So, yes, if you want to add some 90s “rebelliousness” to your work, then don’t make a big deal about the liberal elements of anything you create.

3) Innovation: For all of the publicity that the immature “shock value” of things from the 1990s get, creative works from the 1990s were often rebellious in a more subtle (and far more interesting) way. Creative people were often a lot more eager to innovate during the 1990s than they are these days.

There was a real attitude of going against the “established” way of doing things back then. Yes, some of the creative experiments of the 1990s either failed or just look incomprehensibly silly these days – but people were more willing to experiment. Creative people were more willing to break with tradition out of curiosity or just because they could.

For example, one series of comics that was apparently sold in newsagents during the 1990s were Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics. These were a far cry from the usual silly superhero fare, instead focusing on telling a grand mythological story about seven ancient beings (each one representing an element of the human condition) and their interactions with humanity. The comic is intelligent, nuanced and complex. And, at the time, it was probably at least slightly groundbreaking.

Likewise, the 90s was also the decade that saw the introduction of the “Scream” films. Although they look cheesy and old-fashioned now, they were a brilliantly sarcastic reaction to the (surprisingly conservative) slasher films that had been so popular during the previous decade. They took the conventions of this genre and they did something a bit different with them.

So, yes, if you want a bit of ’90s-style rebelliousness in the things you create, then try to innovate a bit.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂