Three Cool Benefits Of Reading More In The Past Than You Do Now

Note: I write these articles fairly far in advance of publication and, at the time I originally prepared this article, I wasn’t reading much. However, I’ve got back into reading regularly since then 🙂 So, expect regular book reviews to appear here every 2-6 days from late November onwards 🙂

Still, for the sake of posterity, I’ll post the article here (even though it makes me cringe a bit when I look at it now. Seriously, why was I so cynical about books? They’re awesome 🙂).

—————

A while before I wrote this article, I ended up reading a few online news article about books and literature. This, of course, reminded me of the days when I used to read a lot more novels than I do now.

But, surprisingly, rather than being filled with regret or guilt about the fact that the number of novels I read per year these days is in the low single figures (at most) rather than double figures, I just found myself feeling glad that I used to read more during the previous decade than I do during this decade.

So, as an antidote to all of the “I wish I read more these days” regrets that are circulating on the internet, I thought that I’d list a few of the benefits of reading more in the past than you do now.

1) Books were cooler when you were younger (because you were younger): One of the many reasons that I used to read so much when I was a young teenager was because of film censorship. Basically, since I didn’t look old enough to buy most of the cool horror films I wanted to see on video or DVD, I quickly realised that books had no such issues.

Best of all, the old second-hand 1970s-90s splatterpunk novels that I used to find in charity shops and second-hand shops were cheaper and considerably more gruesome than the average horror movie. Although I still felt a burning sense of injustice about the fact that some stuffy old censors didn’t think I was old enough to see “Zombie Flesh Eaters” or whatever, it didn’t matter quite as much because I had a decent collection of Shaun Hutson and James Herbert novels. I felt like some kind of badass rebel who had found a way to get around the censors.

As I grew slightly older, I had more of these kinds of “cool rebel” moments with other types of books. Whether it was reading Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” when I was fourteen, or reading J.G.Ballard’s “Crash” when I was fifteen, reading beat literature when I was seventeen etc.. books were a cool and rebellious thing when I was a teenager. Or, rather, they were cool and rebellious because I was a teenager and reading books was one of the easiest ways to rebel.

The last truly “cool” moment that I really had with books was when I turned twenty and finally got round to reading several gothic novels and short story collections by Billy Martin (writing under the name of “Poppy Z. Brite”). I’d seen these books on the horror shelves of bookshops for longer than I could remember, but the time finally felt right for me to read them. They seemed like exactly the right books at exactly the right time. The mixture of hedonism, nihilism, lush prose and the feeling of finding refuge from the world in alternative subcultures was absolutely perfect for my twenty-year old self. They felt like they had been written just for me.

So, why have I mentioned all of this stuff? Simply put, reading a lot can really enrich the earlier parts of your life. But, a lot of this is also because you were younger then. So, a lot of the “I wish I read more these days” regrets that people have are often “I wish I was younger” regrets in disguise. So, be thankful of the contributions that books made to your life then, but remember that this was also because of the context that you read them in.

2) It actually makes you less pretentious: If you haven’t been reading for quite a while, it can be easy to look back at the times when you did read with rose-tinted spectacles.

But, when you end up picking up a book again, you might be surprised to feel something along the lines of “Oh, this again? Meh. It’s pretty ordinary, in a good way“.

Although reading is often presented as some kind of highly-intellectual way to spend time, if you read a lot in the past then you’ll know that it’s just an “ordinary” thing. The stories you read can be relaxing, thrilling, amusing, terrifying, fascinating, profound etc.. but the actual experience of reading itself is just ordinary (in the best sense of the word). It’s just a mundane and warmly familiar everyday activity.

So, reading a lot in the past means that you are familiar with books. It means that you don’t consider reading books for the sake of reading books to be some kind of virtuous act.

It also means that a book actually has to interest you in order to make you want to read it. After all, if you want to impress people by talking about books, you can just talk about the books you read when you used to read more. As such, the motivations for reading things now tend to be a lot less pretentious (eg: because you like the author or because the blurb intrigued you enough to make you want to break your book-fast etc..).

3) You’re probably still a “book person”: A lot of the “I wish I read more these days” regrets that you might feel are probably at least slightly identity-based. Chances are, when you read more, reading was a part of your identity. You probably considered yourself to be a “book person”. Well, you probably still are a book person.

For example, even though I can probably count the number of novels I read every year these days on the digits of one hand, my bedroom is filled with piles of books. In fact, having lots of books lying around is a prerequisite for somewhere feeling “cosy” or “home”. This is the sort of attitude that only comes from being a “book person”, even if I don’t read that much any more.

Or, to put it another way, if you’re worrying about whether or not you are still a “book person”, then this probably means that you are a “book person”. After all, if you weren’t a “book person” any more, why would the question even bother you?

—————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Advertisements

What To Do If You Feel Creatively Inspired By Something You Don’t Like

As usual, although this is an article about taking inspiration before making things like art, prose fiction, comics etc.. I’m going to have to start by talking about something a bit different (eg: one type of horror movie and how my view of it has changed over time) for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later in the article.

The day before I prepared the first draft of this article, I briefly found myself absolutely fascinated with a type of horror film that I usually roll my eyes at. After seeing a review on Youtube of a modern computer game that was based on the “Friday 13th” films, I temporarily became absolutely fascinated by classic 1980s/90s American slasher films. It was the kind of fascinated mood that is perfect for creative inspiration.

For about half an hour, I really wanted to see one of these films. However, when looking online for second-hand DVDs and reviews of them, I suddenly remembered why they were my least-favourite genre of horror film. They’re a bit predictable, they’re uncreative, they’re ludicrously contrived, my tastes in horror have changed etc..

To my late twentysomething self, the descriptions of the gory horrors in the DVD reviews just seemed a bit… gross. For half a second, I even caught myself thinking “Why the hell would anyone want to watch this? It’s just melodramatic death for the sake of melodramatic death?“.

Then I remembered how my immature teenage self thought that such vintage horror movies were really cool for the simple reason that I wasn’t officially “old enough” to watch them. It was a time when watching any gory horror movies that I could get hold of and reading lots of second-hand splatterpunk horror novels seemed to be a really cool act of rebellion.

Of course, now that I’m more than old enough to buy whatever ultra-gruesome horror movies I want, I find that I don’t watch them that often. If anything, most of my favourite things in the horror genre these days often tend to be in less “serious” versions of the genre (eg: comedy horror movies, knowingly silly zombie/monster movies, sci-fi horror, stylised gothic horror, the TV show “Supernatural”, classic horror-themed computer games etc..). My teenage self would probably be ashamed of me.

Yet, none of this changes the fact that I briefly felt fascinated by a type of horror movie I don’t like, of all things! But, why did this happen and what should you do if you find yourself feeling inspired by something that you normally don’t like?

I felt fascinated by a genre of horror that I don’t like for the simple reason that there was a lot of other inspirational stuff surrounding that genre….

There was nostalgia for when watching these movies seemed “rebellious”, there was the idea of horror movies being important enough to have their own “mythology” (eg: all of the various incarnations of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers etc..), there were the wonderfully relaxing secluded locations these films are set in, there’s the fact that the horror genre used to be more popular in the past, there’s the fact that these films used to be associated with the heavy metal genre, there’s the fact that they’re something from the 1980s and 1990s etc…

All of these things made me feel inspired, but none of them were the actual films themselves.

So, if you suddenly find yourself feeling fascinated and/or creatively inspired by something that you ordinarily don’t like, then take a deeper look at why you feel this way. There’s a very good chance that you aren’t actually being inspired by the thing in question, but by either what it represents and/or the things associated with it.

Once you realise this, you’ll probably feel a bit less freaked out. Not only that, you can also take inspiration from these surrounding elements in a more focused way too.

————–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Should Your Comic Characters Age In Real Time?

2016 Artwork Should your comic characters age in real time

It always absolutely fascinates me when comic creators mention that their characters will age in real time. Some notable examples of this include the characters in Peattie and Taylor’s “Alex” cartoons, as well as in comics featuring Alan Moore’s “John Constantine” character (and I really must read more comics featuring him, since I’ve only seen about three comics that he appears in).

One thing that always used to fascinate me was how the creators of these comics kept track of their character’s ages and how they showed the subtle process of ageing in their comics. Of course, these characters are often similar ages to the people who created them, allowing the writer and/or artist to keep track of the character’s age and to reflect this with relative ease.

There are many reasons why comic creators might choose to do this. One obvious reason is that it makes the comic seem more realistic, by showing how the passage of time affects the characters. This also reinforces the characters’ humanity (and their mortality), which subtly helps the audience to see them as characters rather than “cartoon characters”. Of course, this only really works with long-running comics, rather than one-off comics.

In addition to this, if you’re making a comic about topical issues, then ageing your characters realistically is a subtle way of showing that your comic is up to date. In addition to this, it allows the creators to reflect elements of their own lives as they grow older too.

I ended up thinking about this subject recently whilst making the tenth comic in the webcomic mini series that will begin appearing here tonight ( as usual, you can check out the previous mini series here, here, here, here and here).

I included a line in this comic that was initially meant as nothing more than a throwaway joke, but I later realised that it implied that the characters were about the same age as when they first appeared in 2011/12.

Yes, the characters have undergone visual changes (as well some character development) since their first appearances, but the visual changes are mainly due to my art style improving, rather than the characters ageing.

Even when one of the characters suddenly gained some designer stubble last year, this was only to reinforce the fact that he was in his early-mid 20s (since he tended to look slightly younger in some of the early comics, even though he was meant to be 20-25 years old) rather than to show that he had aged.

 [CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Yes, four or five years have passed and these characters are still roughly about the same age, despite lots of art changes. And, yes, I know that Rox's first comic appearance was different to the picture in this chart. But, thinking more about it and doing more research , she -technically - first appeared as a nameless character in a "concept art" sketch for a spin-off comic that I made in late 2012.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Yes, four or five years have passed and these characters are still roughly about the same age, despite lots of art changes. And, yes, I know that Rox’s first comic appearance was different to the picture in this chart. But, thinking more about it and doing more research , she -technically – first appeared as a nameless character in a “concept art” sketch for a spin-off comic that I made in late 2012.

In a way, this suits the comic perfectly – since it’s more recent inspirations include animated sitcoms and syndicated newspaper comics (it’s original inspiration, believe it or not, was actually “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” – it’s come a long way since then…)

Newspaper cartoons and animated sitcoms are, of course, two genres where the characters rarely age in real time (I mean, realistically speaking, Bart Simpson should be in his late thirties by now).

Not only does this lend these comics and sitcoms a “timeless” appearance – which also allows for easy re-runs – but it’s also because the emphasis of these cartoons is on the stories and the jokes, rather than just the characters.

In addition to this, not ageing your characters means that they are instantly recognisable to occasional readers (or viewers). This is also the same logic behind why many cartoon characters usually wear the same clothes most of the time (which is something that I do in my occasional webcomic).

I guess that the decision about whether your comic characters should age in real time or not should be influenced by the type of comic that you’re making. If you’re making a grittily “realistic” comic or a topical comic, then it makes sense that your characters should age. But, if you’re making a more stylised, comedic and/or light-hearted comic, then realistic ageing really doesn’t matter.

————————-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂