Similarities And Differences Between British And American 1980s Horror Novels

Well, since I’m currently reading a 1980s horror novel (“Carrion” by Gary Brandner), I thought that I’d talk about this cool era in the history of the horror genre today. But, one thing I noticed when reading “Carrion” was that, like other US horror novels from the 1980s, it was both similar and different to the British 1980s horror novels (by authors like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc..) that first made me interested in horror fiction during the early-mid 2000s.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few random thoughts about this topic- although I’ll probably be focusing slightly more on British horror fiction, since I’ve read more of it. Likewise, I’ll be talking about general trends that I’ve noticed. So – of course- there are exceptions (eg: Guy N. Smith’s “Accursed“, Jo Gannon’s “Plasmid” etc..) to some of these trends.

Anyway, the main difference between 1980s horror novels in Britain and America is probably the types of horror that they focus on. In short, due to things like stricter film censorship at the time (but little, if no, literary censorship 🙂 ), British horror novels from the 1980s often tend to focus a bit more on cynicism and shock value. They are often set in gloomy, seedy cities or bleak rural areas and the most prominent type of horror usually tends to be gory horror.

Yes, there are usually other types of horror too, but horror novels from 1980s Britain will usually take a certain amount of glee in grossing the reader out with beautifully-written gory descriptions. After all, horror movies were getting banned or trimmed to shreds for stuff like this, so there was much more of an incentive for writers to both rebel against this censorship and to give horror fans a more intense version of what they were missing out on in the video shops. This also links into the cynicism that you’ll usually find in British horror fiction from the 1980s.

The most famous way (probably pioneered in James Herbert’s 1974 novel “The Rats) that this cynicism is used is in how these novels handle background characters. In short, these novels will often start a chapter by introducing a new character and then spend several pages showing their backstory, everyday troubles etc.. only for them to suddenly die horribly at the end of the chapter. Not only does this create a bleak and nihilistic atmosphere, but it also allows for things like social commentary/satire and helps to give the stories a greater sense of scale too.

Likewise, thanks to the influence of James Herbert’s “The Rats”, monster horror also became a popular sub-genre in 1980s Britain. Often, this would take the form of a “scary” type of animal (eg: rats, slugs, crabs, scorpions etc…) becoming mutated and extremely bloodthirsty, and terrorising a town or city. In addition to being a hangover from the “Invasion Literature” of the early 20th century, this could also be a reflection of the apocalyptic cold war fears of the time too.

In contrast, the 1980s horror novels from the US that I’ve read often tend to focus slightly less on gory horror than their British counterparts. Instead, these horror novels often tend to be a little bit more traditional in their horror – with more of a focus on things like atmosphere, dread, psychological horror, the paranormal etc… After all, not only was film censorship less of an issue in the US (so there wasn’t an incentive to rebel against it), but the literary and cultural influences that went into these novels were probably slightly different too.

At a guess, this is probably because – during their formative years, these horror authors probably had greater or easier access to the works of early-mid 20th century US authors like H.P.Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson, who really helped to define this style of slow, creeping tension and dread for the modern age. Likewise, the influence of the classic horror comics of the 1940s-50s probably also played a role too, with these comics often focusing on morally-ambiguous characters (who suffer cruelly ironic fates) and having a distinctively twisted sense of humour that differs slightly from the cynical humour found in horror novels from 1980s Britain.

But, these differences aside, both types of horror novel have a lot in common with each other. Both usually contain a lot of subtle or overt social commentary about the issues of the day, both usually focus on ordinary people confronted with extraordinary things, both usually include lots of characterisation and both aren’t averse to including unhappy endings.

Another thing that both types of horror novel have in common is creativity and fun. One of the cool things about the 1980s was that horror fiction was both a popular genre and one that wasn’t seen as very “respectable”. What this meant was that there was a real incentive for horror authors to either come up with interesting ideas that would stand out from the crowd or to create their own distinctive “brand” of horror that you couldn’t find elsewhere. Plus, because they didn’t have to worry about impressing literary critics, 1980s horror novels could also be a lot weirder and wilder than other genres could be.

And, since the people who would judge these novels were ordinary readers rather than newspaper critics, there was also more of an incentive to make these stories fun to read. In other words, they often tend to have slightly more of a thriller-like structure, with well-placed dramatic or shocking moments and some of the coolest cover art that you’ll ever see. These were books written for the enjoyment of ordinary people (in the way that popular crime thriller novels are today) and this usually means that they will often still be a lot of fun to read even three or four decades later.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Reasons Why 1980s British Horror Fiction Was So Shocking

Although horror fiction has had something of a resurgence in recent years, it’s interesting to note that (with the exception of the zombie genre) it has mostly gone back to a more traditional focus on atmosphere, suspense, implication, psychological horror etc…

This isn’t a bad thing. These traditional elements have stuck around because they are effective. When brought up to the modern day and placed in modern settings, they can still be extremely disturbing. So, this article isn’t too much of a criticism of modern horror fiction.

On the other hand, when I started to re-read Shaun Hutson’s 1985 splatterpunk monster novel “Breeding Ground” before writing this article, I was reminded at how different it was from modern horror fiction. How much more transgressive it was compared to the scarier, but perhaps not as shocking, horror that you’d typically find in a more modern novel. This is a novel that absolutely revels in grossing the reader out – and you don’t really see this sort of thing that often in modern horror fiction.

If a modern horror novel is an ominous piece of classical music that sends a shiver down your spine, this 1980s novel is a heavy metal song turned up to eleven (and, yes, the one and only Iron Maiden are referenced in it too 🙂 ).

So, naturally, this made me think about why 1980s horror fiction – here in Britain especially – was a lot more transgressive than modern horror fiction often is. Here are some of my theories:

1) Historical context: Ok, there’s a lot of stuff here. The first is probably that, unlike the stylised US-influenced popular image of “the 1980s” these days, 1980s Britain was apparently a fairly miserable place to live in.

Although I haven’t studied 1980s history in a gigantic level of detail and didn’t even exist for most of the ’80s, even the comedies from that decade ridicule the general grimness of the country back then.

One of the side-effects of this was that horror authors noticed all of this stuff. They rebelled against it and they used it as a source of horror. They wrote stories set in miserable places where horrible things happen to people who live dreary, precarious and/or second-rate lives because, in a world like that, it wouldn’t be entirely impossible. They satirised the supposed bastions of goodness (eg: politicians, religions, celebrities, the police etc…) that everyone was told to trust in those troubled times. Or, to put it another way, there’s a reason why the genre is called “splatterpunk”. Like old punk music, 1980s horror fiction had a lot to rebel against.

The second is that horror fiction was in a fairly unique position at the time. In mid-1980s Britain, there was a ridiculous moral panic (is there any other type?) about “Video Nasties” – gruesome horror films that had been released on the newfangled VHS format. This led to film censorship being extended to cover videos, with the censors actually becoming stricter. However, thanks to a very enlightened court decision a couple of decades earlier, literature was (and thankfully still is) pretty much a safe haven from official censorship.

Needless to say, there was clearly an appetite for shocking transgressive horror entertainment at the time. Horror authors were in a unique position where they could reflect these changes in the genre in a way that films weren’t allowed to. And, with this added freedom, they were able to write stories that were gorier, grosser and generally more shocking than even the most “extreme” modern horror movies. Of course, since horror movie censorship has been relaxed over the past couple of decades, horror authors have less reason to make their stories as transgressive as they once did.

Thirdly, horror fiction was actually popular back then 🙂 Although I was somewhat late to the party, I remember seeing loads of old 1980s horror novels in charity shops, second-hand bookshops etc.. during the early-mid 2000s. It seemed to be as much of a fixture on 1980s high street shelves as crime thriller fiction is these days. Of course, since there were more horror novels for readers to choose from, there was probably more incentive for horror authors to out-shock the other authors, to provide horror fiction that was scarier, grosser and generally more extreme than the competition.

2) Respectability: One of the cool things about horror fiction in the 1980s was that, like with computer and video games in the 1990s, it wasn’t a “respectable” genre.

This meant that the genre had a lot more freedom. Since it was “trashy” entertainment that was made by and for fans of the genre, it didn’t have to worry about winning mainstream accolades. It could be as high-brow or low-brow as it needed to be in order to provide the kind of experience that readers would enjoy. Everything from the no-nonsense grisly grittiness of Shaun Hutson to the sophisticated dark fantasies of Clive Barker could thrive in this environment.

Because it was seen as “low culture” that fans enjoyed for the sake of enjoying it, it didn’t have to hold back because of what “respectable society” might think. It didn’t really have to advertise itself because horror fans knew an interesting horror novel when they saw one (even when I got into reading horror fiction during the early-mid 2000s, you could always tell that a book was a 1980s horror novel just by looking at the cover). Like modern heavy metal music, 1980s horror fiction was pretty much ignored by the mainstream press, media etc… and could do its own thing in a way that other genres couldn’t.

Of course, these days, horror fiction has had to regain some of it’s former popularity by appealing to more “respectable” audiences. This means that the genre also has to have an eye on things like professional literary critics, reading groups, large publishers, awards and what modern culture thinks is “acceptable” entertainment. But, like with modern videogames trying to gain some of the respectability of cinema by becoming more “cinematic”, this has resulted in major changes – some good, some bad- in the style, techniques etc.. of the modern horror genre.

3) Novelty: Horror fiction has existed for over a century at the very least. But, transgressive, shocking and/or ultra-gruesome horror fiction only really started to become a thing from the mid-1970s onwards (with James Herbert’s 1974 novel “The Rats” being one of the earliest popular examples). Back then, this type of horror was something new.

It was shocking because it was so different from the horror fiction that had come before it. It was a type of horror fiction that would have been pretty much unthinkable in the 1950s or 1960s. And, as such, it was something that authors were eager to explore and readers were eager to experience. It was the literary equivalent of ID Software releasing the original “Doom” at a time when computer games were mostly cartoonish platform games aimed at children.

Of course, novelty doesn’t last forever. Over time, “shocking for the sake of shocking” lost some of it’s appeal. The readers became jaded and the authors probably wanted to expand their repetoire. So, transgression and shock value went from something that a horror novel could rely on to being just one ingredient of many that horror authors can use. And, with the novelty value lost, authors also felt more free to look back at the older elements of the genre and find ways to bring them up to date.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (18th December 2018)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting was an inspired one 🙂 Basically, whilst re-reading an old horror novel from the 1980s called “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson, the novel’s rural settings evoked a very particular emotion in me. A kind of part-memory, part-imagined nostalgia for a very particular type of gloomy, dingy “amazing crappiness” that is associated with 1980s-early 2000s Britain.

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

“A Daydream Of Dismal Delights” By C. A. Brown

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 🙂

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 Random Tips For Creating Things Set In (mid-late) 1990s Britain

As a follow-on from my article about why it’s so hard to create things that look like they were made in the past, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to create things (art, comics, writing etc..) that are set in 1990s Britain. This is mostly because a lot of the most easily-available online research material, pop culture nostalgia etc… about the 1990s tends to come from America.

Of course, although there were probably some similarities, 1990s Britain was a very different place in terms of culture, attitude etc.. to 1990s America. Although I remember 1990s Britain, I was fairly young at the time (so, my memories are a little vague and I can remember the mid-late 1990s far better than the early 1990s). Still, I’ve probably seen more things from and about 1990s Britain than I probably think I have.

So, for the benefit of my international readers, I thought that I’d give a few pointers about creating things set in 1990s Britain.

1) The attitude: If there’s one thing that sets 1990s Britain (especially mid-late 1990s Britain) apart from 1990s America – it is the attitude. Generally speaking, 1990s Britain tended to be a bit more cynical, a bit more rebellious and a bit more hedonistic than 1990s America.

This attitude is surprisingly difficult to describe, but it is one of the things that makes 1990s Britain so cool (in comparison to miserable modern Britain). The best way I can think to sum it up is that it was a decade where even a manufactured pop band like the Spice Girls still had a slightly “punk” attitude. It was a decade where British game developers created controversial game franchises like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Carmageddon“. It was also a decade where slightly less controversial games like “Tomb Raider” were being made too.

It was a decade where a TV show like “Bits” could be made. This was a wonderfully sarcastic and surprisingly “punk” TV show about computer and video games that was mostly presented by Emily Booth, Aleks Krotoski and Emily Newton Dunn. It was eccentric, random, hilarious, low-budget and cynical… and a perfect distillation of everything cool about late 1990s/early 2000s Britain.

Although this show is impossible to find on DVD or video, there are thankfully still some clips of it on Youtube and an in-depth, if somewhat cynical, documentary video about it too [slightly NSFW].

It was also a decade where artists could actually be rockstars! I mean, whatever you think about the quality or sophistication of Tracey Emin‘s art, there’s no denying that she is one of the coolest art-related celebrities in British history. During the 90s, she was controversial, outspoken, hedonistic etc…. and just generally cool. By comparison, the most “rockstar”-like artist in present-day Britain is probably Banksy. A mysterious anonymous graffiti artist who paints political cartoons on buildings.

It was a decade where comedy on the TV tended to be a lot funnier, quirkier and more cynical than many of the more “mainstream” comedy offerings from across the pond (except the animated ones like “The Simpsons” and “South Park”).

This was the heyday of shows like “Harry Enfield & Chums“, “Goodness Gracious Me!“, “Spaced“, “Absolutely Fabulous“, “The Thin Blue Line“, “Red Dwarf“, “Brass Eye“, “Men Behaving Badly“, “Bottom” etc… These were cynical, slightly rebellious comedy shows that tried to make a point – now, compare them to something like “Friends“….

Even nerd culture in 1990s Britain seems to be different from it’s American equivalent. For starters, it didn’t really seem to be a mythologised “culture” in the way that traditional American “nerd culture” seems to be presented these days. Yes, there were probably some things in common, but there also seem to have been quite a few differences – for example, in southern England in the 1990s, someone who was into tabletop games was probably more likely to play “Warhammer 40K” than “Dungeons & Dragons”.

2) The crappiness: If there’s one thing to be said for 1990s Britain, it’s that it was possibly the last decade where Britain was still “crap” in a more traditional way. This is not to say that modern Britain isn’t crap, but the crappiness of 1990 Britain was a different kind of crappiness to the crappiness of present day Britain (or even the crappiness of Tony Blair’s mid-late years in office), and it’s kind of difficult to describe concisely.

This cynical attitude about Britain has been a part of British culture for at least a few decades and, surprisingly, it’s actually a good thing. Not only is it a source of everyday humour, but it also serves as something of a bulwark against aggressive nationalism too (or it used to before all of this Brexit stuff, anyway). Likewise, going back to the 1990s, it also meant that a lot of really cool stuff (food, films, music etc..) from abroad started to become a lot more popular during the 90s because it was, well, better.

Even so, 90s Britian was slightly more limited in some ways. For example, unless you were rich enough to afford satellite TV or lucky enough to live somewhere where Channel 5 was a terrestrial channel, you literally only had four TV channels available to you (BBC 1 &2, ITV and Channel 4). The pubs still all closed at 11pm sharp. The trains were being privatised, but still maintained their reputation for lateness and general crappiness. Some discriminatory laws about LGBT people were still on the statute books. We got films and games later than people in the states did. The film censors tended to be a lot stricter about action movies and horror movies etc…

That stuff aside, being slightly “backwards” when compared to America also had it’s advantages. For example, I was shocked to read that CD singles weren’t really a thing in the US during the late 90s, whereas they were a key part of my childhood musical memories of late 1990s/early 2000s Britain.

But, whilst a lot of popular media from 1990s America often seems really optimistic, trendy and futuristic, this is a million miles away from 1990s Britain. This is a really difficult quality to describe, but it’s a far cry from the more stylish “aren’t we awesome!” portrayal of America in culture from the period. Many creative works made here during the 1990s knew that Britain was crap and derived affectionate humour and/or gritty drama from it.

The best TV show for research into this is probably the earlier series of “Jonathan Creek“. Likewise, even a “super-cool gadget filled spy show” from the time, called “Bugs“, contains some of it in terms of the humour and the nature of the storylines. But, of course, classic BBC sitcoms from the 1990s are the best place to see examples of the “crappiness” of 1990s Britain pointed out to you. Plus, if you’re into computer games, try to track down an old game by Gremlin Interactive called “Normality” for a slightly stylised example of this. Or, if you have less time and/or money, check out a freeware game called “Beneath A Steel Sky“.

3) The fashions: For the most part, fashions in 1990s Britain were fairly dull and understated. Whether it was ordinary businesswear or jeans and a T-shirt, 90s fashion in Britain was mostly fairly “ordinary”. Yet, when it wasn’t, it is at least mildly different from 90s fashion in America.

The most famous example of 1990s British fashion has to be Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress. But, unlike America where things like grunge fashion were more popular in the 1990s, the slightly more “distinctive” parts of British 1990s fashion tended to include things like sportswear, wrapping a jumper around your waist like a belt, formal floral dresses, crop tops, cargo clothing etc…

It isn’t really as distinctive or eccentric as American fashion during the 90s was, but this kind of fits into the “crappiness” thing that I mentioned in the second segment of this article.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Nostalgia vs. Memory – A Ramble


Although this was supposed to be an article about creating things (art, fiction etc..) that are inspired by the past, I ended up spending all the article talking about my own experiences with the difference between nostalgia and memory. Likewise, I wrote the first draft of this article before I wrote these short stories. Still, this might help you to think about the differences between the two things more clearly.

A couple of days before I wrote this article, I went through a bit of a musical nostalgia phase. Whilst I can’t remember exactly what prompted it, I ended up looking through my collection of old CD singles again (anyone remember those?) for songs that made me feel nostalgic about the 1990s.

Whilst I bought relatively few CD singles during the 1990s (since I was a kid then, and I tended to listen to the radio and to audio cassettes more), I later went through a phase of buying every interesting old CD single I could find in charity shops when I was about seventeen. So, this wasn’t exactly my first musical nostalgia phase.

The interesting thing was that the songs that made me think about the 1990s the most were pretty much the last ones I expected. Whether it was Geri Halliwell’s surprisingly good cover of “It’s Raining Men”, “Beautiful Stranger” by Madonna or “Brimful Of Asha” By Cornershop, most of the songs that instantly made me vividly remember the 1990s weren’t exactly the kind of “retro” music I usually listen to these days.

In fact, the only songs that genuinely remind me of the 1990s that are close to my current tastes in music are probably a couple of punk songs from The Offspring’s “Americana” album. This, of course, makes perfect sense given that, although I discovered the punk genre in the late 1990s, I didn’t discover the heavy metal genre until about 2001 or the gothic rock genre until 2008. When I was a kid during the 1990s, the only music I listened to was what was easily available in the charts and/or on the radio.

Yet, if you were to ask me to think of “nostalgic 90s music”, I’d probably think of all sorts of cool bands that – to me now – seem very “1990s” but which I hadn’t actually heard during the 1990s. This, of course, is the difference between nostalgia and memory.

But, it’s not just music, it’s lots of other things too. Whenever I try to imagine a 1990s setting for a short story, comic or painting – my first thought is often about old American TV shows from the 1990s. Yet, I’ve never actually been to America. When I want to make something “look 90s”, I think of movies and music videos from the era that I never actually saw back then. When making “1990s style” art, I also tend to think of fashion designs that were a lot more common across the pond than over here.

I think that part of this is due to the fact that my nostalgia about the 1990s is a relatively recent thing. Even up until about 2008 or 2009, I was much more fascinated with the 1980s than the 1990s. So, I’ve had to do a lot of research into a decade that hadn’t quite fully entered mainstream nostalgia. Of course, American TV shows, movies, journalism, fashions etc.. tend to be a lot more well-documented online. So, they tended to turn up a lot more during my research.

Yes, in some ways, this is a little bit annoying. Because, from what I can remember and from everything I’ve seen later, the culture of 1990s Britain was really cool. It had more of a punkish rebelliousness to it than ’90s America did.

Whether it was ‘edgy’ TV shows like “Bits” or “Queer As Folk“, whether it was the cynically humourous attitude of (print) game journalism back then, whether it was the watered-down punk attitude of the Spice Girls (compared to modern pop bands, they were practically punk! One of their music videos from 1997 is also cyberpunk too!) or whether it was gleefully rebellious celebrities like Tracey Emin (I may not be a fan of conceptual art, but she was one of the coolest artists of the 90s) the 90s was a much more edgy, hedonistic, rebellious, creatively free and generally cool decade in Britain than in America. It’s just a shame I wasn’t old enough to truly enjoy or appreciate it back then!

But, is this disconnect between nostalgia and memory an entirely bad thing? No. I really like the stylised “nostalgic” version of 1990s America that I’ve built within my own imagination. It’s excitingly different to the more mundane everyday memories of 1990s Britain that I have. It’s really fun to make things (like this comic) that are based on this imagined version of another decade in another country.

But, at the same time, it doesn’t really have the same level of personal intensity as things that are actually based on memories. Making things that are based on memories, rather than nostalgia tends to have a level of vividness that doesn’t come from trying to conjure up an imagined version of the past. It feels like you are revisiting the formative parts of your imagination.

So, yes – like fantasies and reality, nostalgia and memories can be two vastly different things. But, they can both be good sources of creative inspiration.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Advantages To Setting Your Zombie Story Or Comic In Britain

2016 Artwork Zombie stories set in the UK

Well, I’m still going through a “zombies” phase at the moment (since I finished preparing this year’s Halloween comic shortly before writing this article) – so, for today, I thought that I’d list several of the reasons why Britain is the perfect setting for anything in the zombie genre.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that I’m British (southern English to be precise). But, you have probably worked that out already from my rather formal writing style. If not, then just imagine this article being read aloud in something that sounds a bit like received pronunciation.

Although there are a fair number of zombie movies, comics, videogames and/or novels set in Britain, America is a much more common setting within the zombie genre. Most of this can be attributed to George Romero’s “Night Of The Living Dead” popularising the genre in the late 1960s and because America is a large and geographically varied country (that can contain frozen wastelands, arid deserts, dense forests, gigantic cities, small towns etc…) which allows it to be something of a “blank canvas” for many types of zombie stories.

Even so, here are a few of the reasons why Britain can be a much more interesting setting for zombie stories than you might think.

1) More suspenseful zombie encounters: One of the reasons why many zombie movies, comics, novels etc… are set in the US is because it’s a lot easier for the characters to plausibly get their hands on large quantites of firearms there. Guns, of course, allow the characters to fight the zombies from a safe distance.

However, if all of your action scenes just involve the characters shooting at unarmed (literally in some cases) zombies from a distance, then there isn’t really much suspense or drama. After all, your characters are at least several metres away from any danger and they have a massive advantage over the zombie hordes.

Britain, of course, is renowned for having some of the world’s strictest firearms laws. Not only does this lead to very low levels of gun-related crime in real life, but it also makes zombie stories/comics/movies set in Britain a lot more dramatic and suspenseful.

Because the characters in a zombie story set in Britain are much less likely to have guns, this usually means that they’ll have to use other weapons to defend themselves against the zombies. In other words, they’ll probably be using close-range weapons which place them in much more danger of being eaten than their American counterparts. This, of course, leads to much more suspenseful and compelling drama than long-distance gunfights do.

2) Claustrophobia: Although it doesn’t really seem that tiny to me, Britain is a fairly small country in global terms. It is also absolutely miniscule when compared to the vast expanse of the United States.

The best defence against zombies is, quite simply, distance. Unless the zombies are modern-style “fast” zombies (ironically, these were actually invented in Britain), most zombies tend to shamble along at a fairly slow pace and can only attack the characters when they are literally right next to them. So, running away from the zombies or setting up a zombie-proof fortress in a remote area is a lot easier in a large country.

However, if your zombie story or comic is set in a smaller country (like Britain), then there are fewer places for your characters to find sanctuary.

Yes, they might be able to reach hospitals, shopping centres or military bases slightly more easily on foot, but their chances of running into lots of zombies on the way there are significantly higher (especially when population density is taken into account). So, your zombie story or comic will automatically be more dramatic if you set it in Britain.

3) Culture and comedy: Although there have been zombie stories set in pretty much every part of the world, most of the major tropes of the genre come from America. Some of these can be applied to other settings, but many are America-specific.

Applying America-specific zombie tropes to zombie stories set in other countries can, of course, be a great source of comedy and/or horror. Having the characters thunder across the country in a large RV may seem dramatic in America – but, it’s British equivalent (the humble campervan) is probably more likely to provoke laughter and/or suspense.

In addition to this, culture can affect the entire atmosphere of your zombie story and/or comic. Culture affects how your characters see the world and how they react to the events around them. It can also affect subtle details within your zombie story too.

If you set your zombie story within a culture that appears slightly less often in the zombie genre, then this will make your characters slightly less predictable – although it may or may not require additional research in order to write well.


As usual, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Culture, Creativity And Traditions – A Ramble

2015 Artwork Culture and influences article sketch

Although this is a very rambling article about how much (if any) influence our cultural backgrounds have on our creative work, I’m going to have to start by talking about chocolate and beer (of all things) for a while. So, if you aren’t interested in either of these things, you might want to skip the next six paragraphs or so.

A few months back, I ended up watching a documentary about chocolate. As I sort of already knew, the documentary pointed out that milk chocolate is made to different recipes in different parts of the world (the chocolates featured on the show were from Britain, Germany, Switzerland [?] and America) and most people’s preferred type of milk chocolate is the one that they ate when they were younger.

In other words, you generally tend to prefer milk chocolate from the country which you grew up in. In my case, this would be Britain. Southern England, if you want to get specific.

Anyway, having had the chance to sample some American milk chocolate (the US version of our Dairy Milk bars, no less) a few months ago – I fully understand this.

To me, the American milk chocolate tasted flat. It tasted bitter (and not in a delicious dark chocolate kind of way). It had a slightly powdery texture. Not only that, it also left an absolutely disgusting vomit-like aftertaste in my mouth for about half an hour afterwards.

On the other hand, a while before I wrote this article, I ate some German milk chocolate (from Aldi’s). This was actually really nice, it had a slightly creamier texture and sweeter/ lighter taste than British chocolate does. I don’t know how clearly I’d have been able to tell the difference if I hadn’t looked at the label, but – if you pay attention – it tastes slightly different to British milk chocolate.

The same thing probably holds true for beer too. Although I like both bitter and lager, I know that bitter is a lot less popular in both mainland Europe and the US than it is over here. Personally, I think that this is kind of a shame – but bitter is something of an acquired taste, I guess (and, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t served “warm”).

Anyway, why am I talking about this stuff? Well, it’s because I wondered if the same thing held true for the things that influence our creative work. After all, no-one creates art, poetry, fiction etc… in a vacuum. We all have books, artists, TV shows, computer games, movies, music, places etc… that influence our creative work.

I’d argue that our cultural backgrounds do influence our creative work, albeit in more subtle ways than our cultures influence our tastes in things like chocolate and beer.

Because most creative works are essentially idea-based things, they travel across the globe more quickly than physical products do. Yes, things like books and TV shows may have to be translated into different languages, but visual art is essentially a universal thing. A great painting from any part of the world is still a great painting in any other part of the world.

Likewise, music is a fairly universal thing too. For example, even though I have a fairly limited understanding of German (I know a few German words and phrases, but I don’t quite understand the grammar well enough to speak it), this doesn’t stop me from enjoying songs by bands and musicians like Eisbrecher, Nena, Equilibrium, Rammstein, Blutengel etc… Seriously, this song rocks, regardless of which language it is being sung in.

Of course, here in Britian, we obviously share a common language with the US. This means that I’ve watched more brilliant American movies and TV shows than I can remember. It means that many of my favourite novels are by American authors. In fact, the narrative voice I used in my early twenties (back when I wrote much more fiction than I do now) was slightly more influenced by American writers than British writers.

But, I always notice something strange when I watch a British TV series after watching American shows. Although I love the fact that each series of a show from the US is usually 2-6 times longer than TV series over here are, I often tend to find that British shows (eg: Hustle, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Red Dwarf, Bugs, Urban Gothic, Ultraviolet etc…) often have a lot more of a personality and a lot more “realism” than US shows do.

Although the “realism” thing is probably because some of these shows are set in locations that I’ve actually visited (although it’s kind of annoying how at least 90% of popular scripted UK TV shows are set in London – seriously, we have other cities too, you know) and because the characters speak with accents that are more similar to mine, it’s also because of differing attitudes towards television censorship in the two countries. For example, even in gruesome horror shows and violent action shows from the US, all of the characters usually speak in an unrealistically polite way because of stricter American television censorship rules.

Likewise, because British shows are often written by only one or two people – rather than a large team- even mainstream British TV shows tend to be quirkier and have more of a personality than mainstream American shows often do (albeit at the cost of fewer episodes). In other words, they tend to be more like comics or novels in this respect. So, if I was ever to make a TV show – it’d probably be more like a British show than an American show.

Plus, although it’s no longer the case (as proved by modern American authors like Chuck Wendig), mid-late 20th century British horror fiction was historically more intense than most US horror fiction was at the time.

A few decades ago, popular British horror authors like Shaun Hutson, Clive Barker and James Herbert wrote wonderfully gruesome splatterpunk novels on a regular basis, which were often significantly more gruesome than many classic Stephen King novels (or at least the ones that I’ve read).

Then again, the first person shooter genre of computer and video games was invented in America. Likewise, the survival horror genre was pretty much invented (or at least perfected) in Japan back in the 1990s and early 2000s.

But, in Britian, we seem to have less of a gaming tradition – sure, lots of classic 80s indie games were invented in Britain and we originally invented a couple of classic game franchises like “Grand Theft Auto” and the “Tomb Raider” games. But there isn’t really a defining British genre of computer game in the way that there is in America or Japan. Hell, even mainland Europe has a really good reputation for both point-and-click adventure games and hidden object games these days.

So, if I was somehow ever actually able to make a computer game- it’d probably be a lot more influenced by American, mainland European and/or Japanese games than British ones. Because America and Japan have dominated the gaming industry since it’s inception, they’ve had a huge influence on computer and video games made across the world.

On the other hand, the kinds of art that we create are probably influenced by both the locations we’ve seen throughout our lives and the art that we’ve seen over the years. There are a lot of subtle details about things like architecture, everyday items etc.. that differ from country to country and these are probably going to come out in your own art. Even if you set a painting in a different part of the world, these subtle details from your own country can creep into your work without you even noticing.

So, yes, in my view – our backgrounds and cultures can have a subtle influence on our creative work. But, because ideas travel a lot faster than physical goods do, our cultures have much less of an influence on our creative work than they do with things like the type of chocolate, beer etc… that we prefer.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂