The Individuality Of Art, Webcomics And Prose Fiction – A Ramble

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One thing that always amuses me is watching videos and reading articles about how Hollywood films portray reality in unrealistic ways. How large numbers of major films can make the same kind of “unrealistic” mistakes as each other, because “it’s what the audience expects”.

Likewise, it always amuses me when I read articles on major sites complaining about “comics” (or enthusing about them) for the simple reason that they’re almost always writing about just one well-publicised genre of comics (eg: American superhero comics). There’s often nothing about manga, webcomics, horror comics, newspaper comics etc… it’s literally like comics are only about superheroes, even if that’s blatantly untrue.

So, why have I mentioned this? Well, it’s to illustrate one of the strengths of art, webcomics and prose fiction. Namely that, since they’re often made by just one or two people, they can often contain a lot more individuality and creativity than things made by larger teams of people do.

Because there’s a much smaller number of people involved in creating these things, then they tend to reflect the imaginations of their creators a lot more vividly.

For example, a webcomic like Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” is set in a slightly surreal version of Canada and it features a strange cast of characters (including a sphinx!) who often like to talk at length about all sorts of introspective and philosophical topics. The comic is both incredibly realistic and incredibly unrealistic in it’s own unique way. There is quite literally nothing else like it in the world.

Likewise, an absolutely amazing writer called Billy Martin (who wrote under the pen name of “Poppy Z. Brite” before retiring) set most of his stories in a “realistic” version of America. But, the locations in his stories are often depicted in an extremely vivid, descriptive way that almost makes them seem like something from a comic or a painting. He’s written gothic fiction, splatterpunk fiction, surrealist stoner cyberpunk beat literature and heartwarming romantic fiction and yet all of these vastly different stories still seem to come from the same unique imagination. Again, there’s nothing else quite like these stories in the world.

Yet, I can’t imagine Hollywood ever adapting anything from these two amazing people. Yes, both of them have had their work adapted (eg: Winston Rowntree wrote and made the art for an animated web series called “People Watching“, and one of Martin’s short stories was adapted for an episode of a TV series called “The Hunger”), but this has often been done by smaller or slightly more independent outlets.

The interesting thing is that this gulf between individual creativity and mass media wasn’t always so wide. I mean, just look at Clive Barker – he makes really unique-looking paintings and writes very imaginative and distinctive horror/fantasy fiction. And, during the 80s and 90s, he got to direct several Hollywood films (eg: Hellraiser, Nightbreed and Lord Of Illusions). Yet, it’s very unlikely that he’d be able to direct a major Hollywood film today without it being reduced to some kind of bland, mass-market, CGI-filled, focus group-designed “PG-13” rubbish that contains at least one superhero.

Ironically though, this historical trend can also be seen in computer games too. Back when “mainstream” games were the only games out there, there was a lot more creativity and innovation. But, thanks to gaming becoming more popular and the internet allowing independent studios to distribute their games cheaply, games seem to have split into two very distinctive “types”.

There are the major large-budget games that seem to require the absolute latest hardware and which seem to focus on both a few simplified types of gameplay and on flashy hyper-realistic graphics. Then, you’ve got lower-budget indie games which sometimes tend to run better on older systems and often display the same level of variety, innovation, complexity, uniqueness and creativity that used to be standard in computer games.

Yet, art, (non-superhero) comics and prose fiction have rarely seen these kinds of changes. And I think that it’s all because of individuality. In all of these formats, there isn’t really a large team involved. Likewise, actually writing a story or making art costs considerably less than, say, making a film or a game does.

So, I guess that the rule here is that the more money and the more people are involved in creating something, the less creative it will be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Today’s Art (18th November 2017)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting was kind of random. I’d originally planned to make another gothic painting (since yesterday’s one went really well) but I was more in the mood for 1980s/90s style art and cyberpunk art. So, the final painting ended up being a strange mixture of these genres.

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

"Scaffolding" By C. A. Brown

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

Good Creative Changes – A Ramble

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Although this is a rambling article about making art (and about creativity in general), I’m going to have to start by talking about music for quite a while.

This is mostly because I’ve recently been listening to two punk albums that I consider to be “perfect” albums (eg: albums without a single bad track.)

These two punk albums are “Stranger Than Fiction” by Bad Religion and “Sing The Sorrow” by AFI. The interesting thing is that both of these albums sound at least subtly different to other albums I’ve heard by these bands.

But, as much as I’d like to talk enthusiastically about Bad Religion, AFI’s music from between the 1990s and the early-mid 2000s offers a far more interesting example of how creative people can change whilst still remaining distinctive.

Although I first heard of AFI during my childhood in the late ’90s/early ’00s (since one of my cousins had “Black Sails In The Sunset” and/or “The Art Of Drowning” in their CD collection, although I didn’t really listen to these albums much at the time), they’re a band that I only got even vaguely interested in during my later teens and during various parts of my twenties.

But, although I’ve always thought of AFI as a gloomier, horror-themed gothic punk band, I decided to check out some of their really early stuff on Youtube when I was wondering whether those albums were worth buying or not.

The “early” AFI songs I heard sounded completely and utterly different to what I consider AFI to sound like. They sounded a lot “lighter” and some of the song titles were a bit sillier. Whilst the music certainly wasn’t “bad”, it’s certainly not what I personally think of as “AFI”. They just sounded like a fairly average 1980s-influenced American punk band. Yet, reading the comments below the videos, you’d think that the band had committed some huge cataclysmic betrayal because they don’t make music like this any more.

This provides the perfect example of how and why creative works change over time. Originally, the band was an “ordinary” punk band who were clearly inspired by other punk bands of the time. They made the music that they considered to be cool. Yet, they gradually expanded their range of influences as they grew older and more experienced (eg: their “A Fire Inside” EP contains a cover version of a song by The Cure) and their music became more distinctive as a result.

This is a good thing to bear in mind regardless of what you create. If you are only inspired by one genre, then your work is just going to be “average”. But, if you are willing to take inspiration from “cool” things that don’t fit into the genre that you create things in, then your work is going to be a lot more original and distinctive as a result.

The changes in AFI’s musical style are also a perfect example of good creative changes. After all, the changes didn’t happen suddenly. If you listen to “The Art Of Drowning” from 2000, then it sounds like heavier and slightly more introspective punk music – but it’s still fairly energetic. When you listen to “Sing The Sorrow” from 2003 – the music sounds even heavier and the gothic elements are slightly more overt, but many of the songs still have the same energetic punk pacing to them. The albums sound different, but one is clearly a natural evolution from the other.

In other words, creative changes work best when they happen slowly and/or organically. Yes, trying out totally new things can be exciting and there’s nothing wrong with experimenting creatively occasionally (it’s pretty much essential). But, the kind of creative changes that last and work well are the sort of things that happen so “naturally” that you sometimes don’t really notice them too much at the time. You see something cool and you think “how can incorporate what makes this thing cool into the things that I make?” and it just kind of happens.

For example, most of the art that I’ve made over the past year uses a slightly limited palette instead of more “realistic” colours. Although I’d experimented with smaller limited palettes in the past (based on one pair of complementary colours), they never quite seemed “right”. But, after seeing how the visual design in these “Doom II” levels used 2-3 pairs of complementary colours instead of just one, something just clicked. And my art changed.

For example, here’s an old cyberpunk paintingthat I made in late 2015 (and posted here in spring 2016). As you can see, it uses a slightly understated blue/orange colour scheme, but it still looks vaguely “realistic”:

"Strange Case" By C. A. Brown [2015/16]

“Strange Case” By C. A. Brown [2015/16]

And here’s a version of this painting that I made in 2016 (but posted here this year) that uses my new palette (as well as a couple of extra image editing techniques I’d learnt).

"Strange Case (II)" By C. A. Brown

“Strange Case (II)” By C. A. Brown

It looks different (eg: less “realistic”), but you can hopefully just about see the evolution from a more limited blue/orange palette to a palette that includes multiple colour pairs (there’s purple and green, plus red and blue!). But, I wouldn’t have known how to do this if it hadn’t been for my earlier experiments with more limited palettes. One is an evolution of the other.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why The Fictional “Worlds” In Art/Novels/Webcomics etc.. Often Seem To Be Slightly Old

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Quite a while ago, I read a fascinating article on TV Tropes which talks about how and why most films and TV shows are basically set in the 1990s, even though they might look modern on the surface.

Although that article explains why this happens in film and television, I’ve noticed it happening to a lesser extent in my own art, comics and fiction. For example, most of my webcomics tend to be more like something from the late 1990s-early/mid ’00s (or possibly the late ’00s at most) even though they were made in the mid-late 2010s and include some modern things like smartphones.

So, I thought that I’d give a few reasons why this sort of thing happens in art, fiction and/or webcomics.

1) Inspirations: Simply put, everything is inspired by things that were made in the past. This is either because writers, artists etc.. discovered their main inspirations during an earlier time in their life, because they happened to discover some amazingly cool old stuff in the present day or because they were eager to find things that are similar to their earlier inspirations.

For example, the main influence on how I depict “futuristic” settings in my art is probably the classic movie “Blade Runner“. Although I watched it on VHS for the first time when I was about fourteen, I only truly began to appreciate this film when I was about 17. When I seriously got into making art during my early-mid 20s, this film had more and more of an influence on any sci-fi art that I made.

Of course, having just one influence is never a good thing so, during the past couple of years, I looked for as many film/TV/shows/games in the cyberpunk genre as I could in order to help me refine my style (and because I loved the genre and wanted to find more of it). These new influences include things like “Ghost In The Shell (1995)”, “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“, “Akira“, “Deus Ex“, Trancers“, “System Shock“, “Technobablyon“, this set of ‘Doom II’ levels, “Robocop 2”, “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” etc…

Many of these things were, of course, either made during the heyday of the cyberpunk genre or were influenced by the classics of the genre. So, even the more modern examples (like “Technobablyon”) are heavily influenced by things from the 1980s and 90s.

When it comes to actually writing science fiction, my main influence was probably William Gibson’s cyberpunk “Sprawl Trilogy” from the 1980s, which I read during my late teens/early twenties. Although I’ve read other types of science fiction, the writing style in this one had a huge influence on me and although I don’t really use too much of a Gibson-like writing style in my more recent cyberpunk fiction, these stories from the 80s certainly played a role in how I write sci-fi.

So, yes, the inspirations and influences that a writer or artist has can be one reason why a lot of stories and art seem to be set in some vaguely modern version of the past.

2) It looks cool: Visually speaking, the past also often seems to have a more distinctive “look” to it than the present day does.

Maybe this is because the present day just seems “ordinary” because we see it every day (and, by comparison, the past looks more unusual)? Maybe this is because mass culture and popular trends used to be a more prominent thing in the pre-internet days? Maybe the benefit of hindsight makes it easier to depict the past in a stylised way? Who knows?

But, regardless, the past can sometimes look cooler than the present day does. Old technology (eg: intriguingly bulky phones, giant CRT monitors etc..) can ironically look more “futuristic” than modern-looking technology does, the fashions of the past can seem more unusual and creative (albeit slightly sillier sometimes), plus things like art deco architecture were more common in the past etc…

3) Scheduling: This probably varies from person to person, but most creative works tend to be prepared and finished some time in advance of publication. For example, I actually wrote this article in late February (and I was also preparing this year’s Christmas comics at the same time). Because of this, it can be hard to include “up to the minute” topical content.

So, if you’re preparing something far in advance and you don’t want it to appear too obviously out of date when it gets published, then it can often be best to make slightly “timeless” things. And, “timeless” can often translate to “basically set in the past in all but name” or “subtly old-fashioned”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (15th November 2017)

Well, although it took me a while to work out what to paint, I ended up making a digitally-edited gothic cyberpunk painting of a futuristic nightclub in Berlin (probably vaguely inspired by playing “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” a couple of weeks earlier).

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

“11:46pm” By C. A. Brown