The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Writing A Controversial Novel

Well since, out of curiosity, I’ve started reading a pivotal novel in the history of artistic freedom in Britain (D.H.Lawrence’s once-banned 1928 novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, which eventually led to the end of book censorship in Britain during the 1960s), I thought that I’d talk about some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing a “controversial” book.

One traditional advantage of writing a controversial novel is that it will be remembered a lot more easily than a less controversial novel will. After all, if a novel pushes a boundary or breaks a rule for the first time, then it’ll become part of literary history – especially if it results in more creative freedom for other authors as a result. Going back to “Lady Chatterley”, ordinary mainstream modern fiction in the UK owes a lot to the freedoms that were afforded by the interpretation of the law in the trial surrounding its reprinting in 1960. Without this trial, modern British fiction would still be stifled by some extremely puritanical censorship rules.

On the downside, this fame or posterity is something that often only arrives years or decades later, with the author often suffering disproportionate retribution in the meantime. If you read a basic overview of D.H.Lawrence’s life, you’ll see that he was widely derided during his lifetime and actually had to spend quite a few years in exile. And this was before social media was invented! He only became a respected literary figure several years after his death. So, yes, writing a memorably controversial novel won’t usually result in anything good for years after publication.

Another traditional advantage of writing a controversial novel was that it instantly gave the novel a certain level of interest or rebellious cachet that it wouldn’t otherwise have. I mean, if it wasn’t for the fact that “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was once a banned book, I probably wouldn’t have been curious about reading what is essentially a rather dated and slow-paced literary novel which often isn’t really that much more risquรฉ than similar scenes from an average modern romance or urban fantasy novel or even a 1980s horror novel. But, because it was banned once, this novel instantly seems a lot more interesting than it actually is.

On the downside, we currently live in an age where controversy is commonly seen as an emphatically bad thing, rather than anything “cool” or “rebellious”. So, this might actually decrease your readership in this modern age.

Yet another traditional advantage of writing a controversial novel was that people read a lot more in the past. So, a controversial novel was more of an important thing back then. For example, although it was never banned in the UK, there was apparently quite a famous long-running discussion of William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” in the letters page of a major newspaper during the 1960s. So, traditionally, controversial novels tended to actually provoke major discussions and to actually matter to people. After all, this is where the word “controversial” comes from – something that provokes conversation.

On the downside, this won’t really happen today. Yes, people still read books, but films, the internet, videogames etc… are much more popular entertainment mediums. Books only get major press coverage when they are massive bestsellers and/or prize-winning literary novels. Even then, this doesn’t happen all that often.

So, even the idea of a book causing a major large-scale controversy seems laughably quaint these days. And this change is probably a good thing. Because books are an old medium where the battles over creative freedom have long since been fought and won, because books are a medium that require time and effort to read and because they are no longer seen an “ordinary” entertainment medium (and, instead are seen as “high-brow” in comparison to TV, film, games, the internet etc..), it is very difficult for a book to cause more than a small level of controversy these days.

So, writing a seriously controversial novel is not only a lot more difficult these days but, even if you manage it, then you probably won’t enjoy the results.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Three Things To Do When You Can’t Write In Your Favourite Genres

When I posted daily short stories here last February, I quickly realised that I probably wouldn’t be able to write in some of my favourite genres. Sometimes this was due to practical reasons (eg: time reasons, research reasons etc..) and sometimes this was due to worries about potential censorship (eg: with regard to gruesome splatterpunk horror fiction etc…).

Yet, despite these limitations, I was still able to feel inspired regularly and to find interesting workarounds to solve this problem to some extent. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for what to do when you can’t write in your favourite genres (whether because of self-censorship, skills, circumstances etc…).

1) Bury it within another genre: I’ll start with what to do if you don’t feel that you have the practical skills to really do your favourite genres justice. Although this can be solved by the right amount of research into the genre (and thinking about it like a critic), there’s also a quick workaround if you want to start writing this genre right now.

Basically, find a genre that you are confident writing in and then find some way to add stuff from the other genre to it. This way, you won’t find yourself “out of your depth” because, if you’re struggling, you can just fall back on the other genre.

To give you an example, I’ve always wanted to write something about pirates – but, this requires lots of historical research, research about ships etc… to do properly. So, instead, when I really wanted to write a pirate-themed story last year, I mixed it with the cyberpunk genre. The short story takes place in a stylised virtual reality pirate-themed videogame, allowing me to add all of the hilarious and/or melodramatic pirate tropes that I wanted to without worrying about historical accuracy, nautical accuracy etc..

So, one way to write in a genre that you can’t write in is simply to combine parts of it with a genre that you can write in.

2) Elements, implications and hints: If censorship or self-censorship is a problem, then one way to keep the enthusiasm of writing in your favourite genres if you can’t write in them is to be a bit more subtle. In other words, use implications, subtle elements from your genre and/or references to it.

This one is pretty self-explanatory really, although the exact details of how to do it will probably vary from story to story. So, the best advice that I can offer is to look at what film and television do. Since these mediums are more heavily plagued by censorship than literature is, they’ve had to come up with all sorts of clever and creative ways to say or show more than they actually do on screen.

Likewise, take a look at slightly older literature (eg: from the early-mid 20th century) too. Yes, this literature often contains elements that are fairly dated when read these days, but it’s also a great way to learn about how to get stuff past the censors too.

Whether it is the way that things are described (eg: in a brief, clinical and/or detached way), whether it is the way that writers create an atmosphere (through descriptions, characters etc..) where it’s obvious that shocking events are probably happening “out of sight”, whether it is what a writer chooses to focus on etc.. Older literature can offer a few interesting pointers for getting stuff past the censors.

3) Metafiction: Finally, one way to write in genres that you can’t write in is to write about them instead. This also allows you to write much more sophisticated stories too.

For example, this story about two ageing 1980s horror writers is a story about the splatterpunk genre, but it isn’t a splatterpunk story. Instead, it’s kind of a tragi-comedic look at what happens when a genre loses popularity, the contrast between modern culture and the 1980s etc… This allowed me to write something about the splatterpunk genre, without writing anything particularly gruesome.

Likewise, this story about the censorship of horror and crime comics during the 1950s was a way about talking about one of my favourite types of comics – but it was also a story about the damage that censorship does to culture (eg: the current dominance of superhero comics/movies can be directly attributed to the censorship of much more interesting horror and crime comics during the 1950s).

So, yes, if you can’t write in a genre – then try writing about it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Why You Should Create Your Own Fictional Universe When Making Comics – A Ramble

At the time of writing, I was busy preparing this month’s webcomic mini series. Although it’s a series of writer’s block-induced remakes of some of my older comic updates from 2012/13, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of schadenfreude when I read this online article (reader discretion advised) last year (and, yes, I write these articles quite far in advance).

In short, in late 2017 Marvel Comics announced a “create your own comic” tool that contains a surprisingly onerous list of content restrictions on what could and couldn’t be included in the superhero comics assembled from pre-made parts.

Even though I self-censor far too much when making webcomics these days (eg: even my upcoming mini series is probably “PG-13” at the most), I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking “how is anyone supposed to make an interesting comic with those rules?” But, although I’d planned to write an article about why comics need at least a little bit of rebelliousness, I thought that I’d look at the core issue here – creative control.

Because, the only reason why Marvel was able to get away with imposing ultra-strict comic censorship on aspiring superhero comic makers is because these officially-sanctioned fan comics use their characters and take place in their own fictional universe.

Although fictional universes of your own creation may not be as popular as the mainstream superhero-based comics that depressingly seem to be synonymous with “comics” these days, it does give you creative control and this is important for so many reasons.

Creating your own fictional universe means that you can make a comic that is uniquely yours. It means that you can include your own ideas and humour in the comics that you make. Even if the setting of your comic, like my webcomic, is loosely-based on the real world – it still means that you can include quirky “unrealistic” details from time to time. Like this:

“Damania Regression – Art House” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconnected – Campfire” By C. A. Brown

What this means is that your comic will be something uniquely, refreshingly different. It also means that you have the freedom to tell the stories and jokes that you want to (within reason). Yes, your comic should still be consistent with itself and should follow some over-arching story rules. But, you get to write those rules.

A brilliant example of why creative control is important can be found in an utterly amazing webcomic called “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree. The updates for this comic are often long, dialogue-heavy things. The backgrounds are crammed with quirky satirical details. The art style is totally unique. This is a comic that substitutes intelligent drama for mindless super-powered action. This is a comic that is both surprisingly realistic and imaginatively unrealistic. Now, could you imagine a comic like this being made in the old days of traditional print comics?

So, yes, even though you’ll have to do a lot of art practice and your comic might not be as famous as certain types of comics are, there is nothing more important than creating your own fictional universe. It gives you creative control, it allows you to make more unique comics and it reduces the amount of external censorship that you have to deal with.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Censorship And The Power Of Creativity – A Ramble

2017-artwork-censorship-irony-article-sketch

Well, since I was fairly tired at the time of writing this article, I thought that I’d ramble about censorship again today. This was mainly because of the fact that a second-hand punk CD that I’d bought online arrived the previous afternoon. This, naturally, made me think about a few hilarious ironies about censorship. But, first, I should probably describe the album…

It was a copy of “Coral Fang” [NSFW, but artistic, subtly subversive and clever] by The Distillers and, to my bemusement, the cover art was the censored version (eg: a totally random picture of some animals, with a jarringly different colour scheme to the rest of the album). Yes, I knew that there were two versions of the album’s cover art and I had a 50% chance of getting the censored version – but the thing that really surprised me was all of the additional stuff surrounding the censorship.

Amusingly, the cover art actually had the words “safe version” printed in the top corner and, for a punk album, this was hilariously ironic. Likewise, the album had a vaguely official-looking content warning in the bottom corner, rather than the usual American-style Tipper Sticker. From the wording of the warning and my fascination with film censorship, I was able to work out that it was an Australian content warning and – from some online research – I also learnt that it was actually mandatory over there. And I thought mandatory film censorship in the UK was bad!

But, when I opened the case, there was a brilliantly cynical message on the back of the cover which read “This is NOT the original artwork: It was deemed too explicit for your local retail store“. Firstly, this made me laugh at the idea that people looking in the punk section of a record shop would get mortally offended by the album’s mildly subversive original cover art. Secondly, it made me think about the old days when people actually bought records in shops.

But, why have I spent several paragraphs describing the packaging of a punk album?

Well, it’s mostly because this second-hand album sums up a lot of things about censorship. Although the album is from 2003, there was something oddly reassuring about all of the over-zealous censorship. It was the idea that the album was so “dangerous” that it mandated an official warning (albeit in Australia, rather than the UK) and wholesale changes to the cover art.

As cynical as I am about the censorship, it actually seemed like something of a compliment to the band. It showed that both art and music still have the power to shock and scare those in authority. It meant that there’s someone somewhere who still thinks that a punk album poses a serious threat to the establishment.

Perhaps the censors are, ironically, even more punk than most fans of punk music are. After all, there are very few people these days who think that punk music can actually have any meaningful effect on society – except the censors, who were terrified of it! It’s kind of like the old truism about people who moan about satanic imagery in heavy metal music – they often take it much more seriously than we metal fans do!

It’s the same with the people across the world who whinged loudly about J.K.Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels when they were first released. To most people, these books are just enjoyable modern classics. But, to their critics, these books actually seemed to be serious instruction manuals about casting magic spells. Ironically, these conservative critics were even more extreme fantasy nerds than the most enthusiastic Harry Potter fans are! After all, even the most die-hard Harry Potter fans don’t actually take the books literally!

Regardless of where it comes from, censorship is often both a blessing and a curse for the arts. On the one hand, it’s either a tragic act of vandalism or (more commonly, in these self-righteous times) a subtle chilling effect that inhibits creative expression.

But, on the other hand, the continued existence of censorship is a sign that art, music, computer games, films, comics etc.. still matter! If they didn’t, then there wouldn’t be frenzied hordes of people trying to control or destroy them.

So, yes, censorship is a paradoxical – and often hilariously ironic – thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Four Reasons Why The Censorship Of Art Is A Terrible Idea

2017 Artwork Why Censorship is stupid line art

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote about censorship. But, after reading a news article [Not safe for work… possibly] last summer about a satirical mural over in Australia (depicting the then-US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as a particular type of dancer, presumably as a comment about financing in politics) which was subject to official censorship, I thought that I’d look at a few of the many reasons why art probably shouldn’t be censored.

1) Liberal or conservative, it’s still the same: Going back to the example I linked to, although the authorities’ motivations for censoring the art were ostensibly “liberal”, the practical effects and consequences of the censorship are just the same as when conservatives have managed to ban risquรฉ things that they disagree with. An image was altered or removed due to the direct actions of those in authority.

Of course, although there are one of two obvious exceptions (eg: art that directly and genuinely advocates acts of violence etc…), most forms of official censorship don’t really meet this moral criteria and seem more similar to acts of vandalism. And, like with vandalism, it doesn’t matter if the vandal is a liberal or a conservative, the effects are still the same.

2) It’s unfair to uncensored artists: Most types of art that get censored are often flawed in one way or another. They’re often either brilliant on an artistic level, but mediocre on an ideas level or vice versa.

For example, whilst the high level of artistic skill in the uncensored version of the controversial satirical mural cannot be called into question, some people might question the sophistication or originality of making a political point by likening a politician to a dancer in a sleazy bar (although this is hardly justifiable grounds for the mural to be banned).

But, as soon as something is censored, it immediately becomes interesting. It gets debated by lots of people. It prompts people with opinions about censorship (like me) to write articles about it. The Streisand effect kicks in and something that may have only been seen by a few hundred people is seen by millions worldwide.

One unfortunate side-effect of this is that thousands of better or more sophisticated works of art immediately get overlooked as a result of everyone focusing on the banned picture etc…

3) It has a chilling effect: Thankfully, nothing that I’ve made has ever been official censored. This isn’t to say that my work has never suffered any censorship, it’s just that it ironically has always been carried out by none other than me. There are paintings I’ve never made, comics I’ve altered, articles I’ve replaced with something else before publication, topics I’ve avoided altogether etc.. due to the fear of some kind of external censorship.

Censorship (whether it’s done by conservatives, liberals, religious believers, atheists, anti-feminists, feminists, one person in authority, large numbers of people etc…) is a weapon of intimidation. The real intent of a lot of censorship isn’t just to destroy one particular work of art, but to tell everyone that no-one else should dare to make anything similar.

4) It makes everyone less human!: Most of the people who call for art to be censored don’t understand what art actually is.

Art, at it’s core, is a way for an artist to share part of their imagination with everyone else. It’s a medium of communication. Even if it’s the most apolitical work of art ever made, it’s still technically an idea in physical form (after all, the artist had to think about how to make that particular piece of art).

As I’ve argued before, censorship is a type of thought control. If you tell someone that they can’t paint something, you also tell them that they can’t think about it. And, well, our minds are the last truly free space that everyone has. To infringe upon that is to make everyone less human as a result.

So, if you see a piece of art that you dislike for whatever reason, then either ignore it in a sensible and mature way (after all, you’ve probably ignored thousands of ideas you disagree with without even noticing). Or, respond to it with measured, polite, well-argued criticism that respects the artist’s right to express their ideas. Because if they have no right to express their ideas, then neither do you!

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting ๐Ÿ™‚

Censorship, Time And Mediums – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Censorship Formats and time

Although I’m opposed to censorship, it always remains an absolutely fascinating subject to study. After watching several Youtube videos about the history of computer games (and the heavier censorship they often faced in the 1990s), I couldn’t help but be reminded of the fact that newer creative mediums are usually subject to more censorship than older ones.

I mean, up until a couple of decades ago, there was still some degree of formal censorship of comics – most of this was due to the old Comics Code rules in America that affected imported American comics in the UK. But, theoretically, there was (and still is) actually legal comics censorship in the UK, although this is thankfully no longer enforced. Most of the comics censorship in the UK was just second-hand censorship from America.

However, despite not being that more recent or old than comics, the medium of film is still subject to mandatory official censorship in the UK. Likewise, despite radio being older than television, radio stations in the UK still face far more onerous censorship rules than TV stations do.

One interesting fact to note is that, as seen in American TV shows released on DVD and broadcast over here, many American TV stations still face some fairly restrictive – albeit hilariously inconsistent – censorship rules. Nowhere can this be better seen than in shows like “24”, where, after a brutal gun-fight or fist-fight, the characters can use no four-letter words other than “damn” to express their feelings.

Music, thankfully, isn’t really subject to any kind of official censorship in the UK. With the exception of some voluntarily-rated music videos and the American “parental advisory” stickers that still appear on some albums in the UK. Although this is another case of second-hand censorship, these stickers carry no legal weight whatsoever in the UK (just like in the US).

Then again, music has – and still is – sometimes the target for unofficial censorship. This can be seen by British student unions (once bastions of liberalism) banning songs that they disapprove of. Yes, the pop song in question might have some potentially disturbing lyrics (and it isn’t really my kind of music) but it’s a sad state of affairs when even student unions want to censor controversial songs.

However, the only medium which has really escaped any kind of formal censorship by virtue of age is literature. Although there have apparently been a couple of isolated cases where books have been briefly banned in the UK (eg: Peter Wright’s “Spycatcher”), ever since the “Lady Chatterley” trial, those in power have taken a much more mature and sensible view of literature. Banning or restricting books is, quite rightly, considered to be either laughably archaic or a dangerous warning sign of totalitarianism.

It used to be the case that traditional art also escaped censorship by virtue of age – nude photography used to be considered risque or obscene, but nudity in a painting or statue was (and is) a work of art that only an iconoclast or a philistine would dare to censor.

However, thanks to the internet, there have been many cases where well-renowned historic nude paintings have been wrongly censored by social media websites that operate on badly-written, ambiguously-written and/or puritanical content rules. Still, this is often self-correcting for the simple reason that – if it makes the news- the censorship is quickly reversed.

The interesting thing is that, eventually, all of the other mediums I’ve mentioned will become old enough to break free of censorship. There will come a time when the idea that anyone censored or restricted films will be seen as being as laughably abhorrent as book bannings are today. In time, all of these new mediums will be taken seriously enough that they will be seen as a public good. They will be seen, quite rightly, as things that are good for our culture and which should never be restricted in any way.

Then again, in this hypothetical future, there will probably still be regular controversies about virtual reality or implanted memories or whatever the latest new artistic medium happens to be. It’s a strange cyclical thing that people never really seem to learn from.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting ๐Ÿ™‚

Today’s Art (25th May 2016)

Woo hoo! My old “Damania” webcomic returns with all new episodes for yet another mini series. You can catch up on the previous two mini series here and here.

And, yes, I felt like starting the new mini series with a cynical comic about censorship in American TV shows. Because, why not? Don’t get me wrong, I love US TV shows but some of them [the non-HBO shows anyway] are censored in hilariously inconsistent ways (eg: they can be as gruesome as they want to be, but god forbid that any character utters the word “bullshit” etc…).

And, yes, in case it isn’t noticeable, I digitally reduced the amount of blood in the third panel of this comic (compared to my original painting/comic). This was mainly because, with blood in artwork, less is often more. Not to mention that, over the past few years, I’ve had a bizarre reluctance to make my artwork too gruesome.

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

"Damania Returns - American TV Censorship" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Returns – American TV Censorship” By C. A. Brown