Today’s Art (29th October 2019)

Woo hoo! Here’s the fourth page of “Slasher”, this year’s Halloween comic 🙂 Stay tuned for the fifth page tomorrow 🙂

If you want to see some of the previous Halloween comics, they can be found here: 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. And, if you want to see more of Harvey’s investigations, they can be found here, here, here and here.

You can also find links to many other comics featuring the characters from this one here.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Slasher – Page 4” By C. A. Brown

Three Reasons Why Horror And Comedy Go Well Together

Well, since I’d just finished reading a novel that contained both horror and comedy and because, at the time of writing, I was preparing last year’s Halloween stories (which contain a fair amount of dark humour), I thought that I’d quickly look at some of the many reasons why horror and comedy go so well together.

1) Reaction and mechanics: Simply put, both horror and comedy are designed to evoke a physical reaction in the reader. Although these two reactions are complete opposites (eg: fear and laughter), the mechanics for doing this are more similar than you might think. At the most basic level, both horror and comedy rely on surprising the audience or subverting their expectations.

Likewise, both things also rely on keen observations, clever turns of phrase, transgressing social norms, exaggeration, timing/suspense, subtle details, unusual characters etc… In order to evoke the desired reaction.

As such, because both things use subtly different versions of the same techniques, it is fairly easy to include elements of one in the other and vice versa. Likewise, because they evoke opposite reactions in the reader, then including a mixture of both will make both the horror and comedy better because they will contrast well with each other.

2) Obscurity: Simply put, if you want to make something prestigious and respectable that will impress “serious” critics, then horror and comedy are the last genres you want to choose. If you want to make something entertaining, on the other hand….

In a lot of ways, the fact that horror and comedy are often seen as “low art” actually works in their favour. Because they are genres that are designed to evoke a reaction, they tend to get remembered and talked about a lot more. They are the art that people relax with, enjoy with friends, quote to people (and both genres have their fair share of quotable phrases) and use for emotional catharsis. They will usually have a fairly avid fanbase too.

In other words, horror and comedy go well with each other for the simple reason that they are ignored by the most prestigious film, literature etc.. awards and critics. Like punk and heavy metal music, they are made for fans of the genre.

3) Cynicism: Generally speaking, both horror and comedy rely on cynicism about the world. They rely on the fact that the world is an imperfect place where stupid, terrible, absurd and/or disturbing things can easily happen.

In one way or another, horror and comedy will often criticise some element of society, humanity etc… Whether they poke fun at it or use it to frighten the reader, horror and comedy are both genres that express dissatisfaction with the world. Although this is often more obvious in the comedy genre, the horror genre will usually include satire of some kind or another too.

So, because they both rely on criticism and/or cynicism, both genres are surprisingly compatible with each other.

—————–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Random Tips For Writing Comedy Horror

Well, I thought that I’d talk about the comedy horror genre today – this is mostly because, at the time of writing, I’ve been dabbling with it a bit. So, I thought that I’d offer a few random tips for writing in this awesome genre 🙂

1) The two genres are more similar than you think: One of the reasons why comedy horror is such an interesting genre is because although horror and comedy might seem like completely opposite things, they’re a lot more similar than you think.

They both involve evoking strong emotions in the reader, they both involve suspense (eg: the set-up to a joke, or the ominous silence before something horrible happens), they both involve a certain amount of larger-than-life drama, they both rely on contrasting different things for dramatic effect, they both rely on more subtle moments (whether amusing or ominous) to keep the reader’s interest between more spectacular moments etc…

In essence, many of the underlying techniques used in the horror genre can be used for comedy, and vice versa. So, if you know a bit about one genre then it isn’t too difficult to add elements of the other genre to it. Still, it is worth looking at things in both genres in order to get a sense of how each one does things differently.

2) Character reactions: If you want to give a scene of horror more of a comedic tone, one way to do this is through how the characters react to the events of your story.

In a traditional horror story, the horrific scenes are horrific because of the way that the characters react to them. It doesn’t matter how vile the monster is, how grisly a description is or how unsettling the ghosts are… it isn’t scary until the characters react to it. In a typical horror story, they might react with mute shock, they might scream, they might try to fight for their lives or they might flee in abject terror. This reaction of horror is one of the things that makes horror stories horror stories.

So, to add some comedy to your horror story, just have your characters react in an unexpected or mildly “unrealistic” way. For example, if a traditional Dracula-style vampire suddenly lurches from the shadows and a character finds this amusing or makes a sarcastic remark about Halloween costumes, then this makes the audience consider how silly a 19th century vampire appearing in the present day would be.

3) Gruesomeness: You can add comedy to scenes of gory horror in a number of different ways.

The first is to focus more on the horrific events (eg: a physical description of what is happening) that are happening rather than on their gory consequence (eg: injuries, blood etc..). This allows you to add macabre slapstick comedy and/or farce to your story without grossing your audience out too much. So, this approach is better for slightly “lighter” or “sillier” comedy stories.

A slightly more sophisticated approach than this is to only include gore in moments where it would be amusing for it to appear. For example, the scene in the classic sci-fi horror movie “Alien” where the alien creature bursts out of a character’s chest is a gruesome, horrific scene. If it was bloodless, it wouldn’t have the same dramatic impact. So, if you were to write a scene in a comedy horror story that was inspired by this one, you might start by having a character complain of indigestion before including a gory scene of something exploding out of their chest.

The other approach is to go completely over-the-top with your gory descriptions, but to make the surrounding descriptions comedic through the use of amusing metaphors, similes and other such things. After all, there are a well-known set of metaphors and terms that “serious” horror writers use to describe gruesome moments, so by using completely different and/or slightly absurd ones, you can add some macabre comedy to these scenes.

————–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

“Pop Up” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

Dan stared at the towering ossuary, a vast structure of jumbled bones reaching towards the slate sky like the grasping hands of a thousand undead. The only thing he could think to say was: ‘How the bloody hell did this get planning permission?’

Beside him, Tina laughed: ‘It’s a pop-up, it’ll probably be gone in a couple of weeks. Makes a change from the usual.’ She gestured at the sad-looking rows of shuttered shops surrounding it like gravel around a grave.

‘Yeah, but what is it supposed to be? I mean, you’d think there would be a sign or something.’

‘It’s probably a restaurant. They always are. Best case scenario, it’s an ironic homage to Halloween-themed breakfast cereals from the ’80s. Worst case scenario, it’s something political or, even worse, it’s a work of conceptual art.’ Tina raised her phone and took a photo.

‘I don’t know how they expect anyone to visit it. It isn’t like they’ve rolled out the welcome mat.’ Dan put on a silly voice: ‘Welcome, welcome to the house of bones. All the fun of the graveyard in one easy-to-reach location.

The skies darkened. Tina laughed. She tapped her phone a couple of times: ‘Maybe it’s got a website?’ She tapped a few more times and raised an eyebrow: ‘Apparently not.’

Quelle surprise. It looks like it hasn’t even discovered the telegraph, let alone the internet.’

‘No, it’s modern. It’s some underground thing that’s probably shared by word of mouth. On social media, of course. Do people have actual conversations any more?’

‘Aren’t we?’

Tina shook her head: ‘This is more of a discussion than a conversation, I think.’

Amongst the matchstick sculpture of femurs, tibias and scapulas, a single skull stared down at them. Slowly, its hollow sockets began to glow bright orange. Two rows of weathered teeth chattered eagerly, the noise skittering through the air like crickets in a campsite.

Tina’s laughter howled along the deserted street. Dan was about to make a sarcastic comment when the air rumbled. The sky flashed like a selfie and then the rain started to pour. The kind of heavy, opaque rain that Hollywood film-makers like to think that they invented. Gasping, Tina gestured towards the ossuary’s yawning mouth: ‘Come on, let’s get inside!’

As another lightning flash stabbed the sky, Dan pointed his thumb over his shoulder: ‘The bus shelter is closer.’

‘Fair enough.’ Tina said. They ran towards it. According to the parts of the timetable that poked out from behind the burnt and graffiti-stained glass, the 41 bus would arrive in five minutes. More like ten, Dan thought.

Tina huddled close to Dan on the cold plastic bench. Behind the sheets of rain, the other side of the road wasn’t even visible. Then, a pair of lights appeared in the distance. Tina smiled. It’s on time! For half a second, she thought about getting her phone out and documenting this unprecedented occurrence.

The lights got closer. It was only when they were the size of footballs that something began to feel wrong. Neither Dan nor Tina could place what it was. Perhaps it was because the light was a subtly different hue than standard bus headlights? Perhaps the two orbs were a centimetre off from their remembered models of what a bus looked like? They didn’t know. Both of them just stared.

As the lights got closer, they separated. A silhouette appeared against the rain, like a preliminary sketch. With slopping footsteps, the skeleton stepped out of the rain. It raised a large iron lantern and fixed two hollow sockets on the dumbfounded couple.

Dan regained the power of speech: ‘Nice cos…’ His voice broke off as he realised that the skeleton’s neck was too thin to be a costume. Tina gasped.

Seconds later, another lantern-bearing skeleton appeared. In a voice like teeth on a blackboard, it said: ‘Sorry folks, we don’t usually do outreach but the roof is leaking. Any donations will be very much appreciated.’

The other one rattled its head: ‘Yeah, we’re already on our final warning with the health and safety people. Give us a hand. Or maybe a leg?’

Dan laughed and fumbled for his wallet. The skeletons shook their heads. Tina’s eyes widened. They didn’t want money, they wanted…

But, before she could scream, the skeletons said: ‘We’ve got wi-fi and free coffee. Artisanal cupcakes too.’

Who could argue with that?

Three Basic Tips For Writing Vampire-Themed Comedy

Well, at the time of writing, I’m still busy preparing this year’s Halloween comic (which will begin tomorrow evening). Since it will be a comedic vampire-themed comic, I thought that I’d talk about how to write this genre of comedy.

So, here are a few basic tips for writing vampire-themed comedy. This article will contain mild SPOILERS for my upcoming comic though.

1) Do your research: Generally speaking, the more things you see, play or read in the vampire genre, the better. If you’re familiar with the genre, then working out ways to parody and just generally have fun with it will become considerably easier. This will also help you to spot common themes in the genre and to see how different people interpret the genre, which can help you to find your own “take” on the genre.

I mean, one of the initial inspirations for my comic was the fact that I’d been going through a phase of replaying “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” almost obsessively a few weeks earlier. Although this game has a lot of mythology surrounding vampirism, it’s basically a game about a character who suddenly becomes a vampire and has to deal with the complex politics etc.. of vampire society (whilst also doing more typical computer game stuff too).

Although the game is a masterpiece, one thing that I felt that the game fell slightly short on was showing how the player character reacts emotionally to becoming a vampire. So, when making my Halloween comic, I thought that it would be funny to show characters reacting in wildly different ways when they discover that they’ve become vampires.

Plus, having at least a vague understanding of the genre allows you to include all sorts of small references and parodies too. For example, in one scene in my Halloween comic, a character refers to vampires as members of “the un-dead”. Although this phrasing might sound a bit strange, it’s actually a reference to one of Bram Stoker’s working titles for “Dracula”.

Likewise, look at other comedy horror genres too. For example, some great examples of how to make horror hilarious can be found in the zombie-comedy genre. So, don’t restrict yourself to just the vampire genre.

2) Practicality and rules: Simply put, one of the best ways to come up with vampire-themed comedy is just to think about the tropes and conventions of the genre in more practical ways. Needless to say, this can be a very useful source of slapstick comedy and/or farce.

In addition to this, try to play around with the “rules” of the genre too. After all, most things in the vampire genre either make a point of following or ignoring various “rules” (eg: related to garlic, sunlight, crosses, stakes, bats, blood etc..). So, a lot of comedy can be found by playing about with these rules – either proving or disproving them in amusing ways, or showing your characters discussing them.

Or, if you’re feeling bold, try to invent some new “rules” for the vampires in your story or comic to follow. Although this sort of thing tends to be done more often in the horror genre than in the comedy genre, it certainly has the potential for comedy.

3) Non-gothic vampires: Simply put, the vampire genre is often heavily associated with the goth subculture. Although this can be useful for goth-themed humour, it can also be amusing to try to link the vampire genre to other subcultures too or to show non-gothic vampires.

The heavy metal genre is a brilliant example of this. Although vampire-themed gothic rock songs are a lot more common, there’s certainly vampire-themed heavy metal out there. Some examples include songs like “We Drink Your Blood” by Powerwolf and “Love Bites” By Judas Priest.

Needless to say, heavy metal interpretations of the genre generally focus more on hedonism, gruesome horror, vampires as a type of monster etc..- in contrast to more atmospheric, philosophical and character-based gothic interpretations of the genre.

So, say, contrasting a gothic interpretation of the vampire genre with a more “heavy metal” interpretation of it can be a great source of comedy. In fact, contrasting a gothic interpretation of the genre with pretty much anything else can be a great source of comedy.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Very Basic Tips For Writing “Film Noir” Comedy

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this topic before, but I thought that I’d talk about writing film noir comedy today. This is one of my favourite genres and it was one that I was reminded of recently after I started playing an absolutely hilarious old sci-fi film noir computer game from 1994 called “Under A Killing Moon”.

This is a screenshot from “Under A Killing Moon” (1994), containing an example of the game’s comedic dialogue.

Although I’m not sure if I’ll review this game [Edit: Unfortunately not, due to getting distracted by another game], it’s something in a pretty rare genre. I mean, the only other examples of comedic film noir-style stuff I can think of are a brilliantly unique and absolutely hilarious novel called “Crooked Little Vein” by Warren Ellis, possibly Malcolm Pryce’s “Aberystwyth” books (Surprisingly, although I actually lived in Aberystwyth for several years, I still haven’t read these books), Andrew Hussie’s “Problem Sleuth” webcomic and maybe a few episodes of various TV shows.

Still, having seen a few things in the genre (and having attempted to make several film noir-themed comic updates for my occasional webcomic over the years), I can probably offer a couple of very basic tips:

1) Observational humour: A lot of the best moments in the “film noir” comedy genre come from sarcastic descriptions of run-down, grim, squalid or otherwise disgusting locations. This type of humour can also come from descriptions of unusual objects, and the history behind them.

In short, film noir comedy works best when it is observational. The observations have to be short and pithy. They also either have to show the detective talking about something strange in an unsurprised matter-of-fact way, or show the detective giving an elaborate history of something trivial.

Here’s an example from Warren Ellis’ “Crooked Little Vein”: ‘My suit and shirt were piled on the plastic chair I use for clients. I stole it from a twenty-four-hour diner off Union Square, back in my professional drinking days.

Not only does this quote include a description of something intriguingly unusual, like using a chair for storing clothes (personally, I find that a sofa works much better for this though) – but the hilarious story about the narrator’s professional drinking days is explained quickly and matter-of-factly. This sentence is designed to leave all of the comedy to the audience’s imaginations.

Although I won’t include any quotes of this, another inventive thing that Warren Ellis’ “Crooked Little Vein” does is to combine matter-of-fact descriptions with “shock value” humour. Often, something incredibly bizarre, obscene, depraved and/or transgressive will happen – and the narrator will just describe it in a fairly neutral way. By contrasting the narrator’s understated and unfazed reactions with shocking events, Ellis is able to create huge amounts of comedic irony.

2) Characters: Generally speaking, “film noir” comedy comes from the characters. Typically, the detective who is narrating the story should be somewhat down on their luck – with the humour coming from their endearingly crappy life.

The detective should be cynical and world-weary, but not too bitter or depressed. They should be in the gutter, looking at the stars – if only to comment sarcastically about how the light pollution from the nearby motorway is blocking most of them out.

Likewise, a huge part of film noir comedy comes from the detective’s conversations with other characters. These characters should be slightly eccentric in some subtle way or another. Likewise, the dialogue should contain lots of small quick moments of understated humour, wit and cynicism rather than more elaborate jokes.

Here’s a good example from “Under A Killing Moon”:

This screenshot from “Under A Killing Moon” (1994) shows the police chief talking to Tex Murphy, the game’s private detective.

Although the police chief is clearly insulting Tex, this is done in a darkly comedic way (eg: “I figured you’d be dead by now”) and with a level of boldness that says a lot about the relationship between the two characters. Whilst this moment isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, the irreverence of it makes the conversation a lot more amusing.

But, in conclusion, the general rule with film noir comedy is that lots of smaller subtle moments of humour are usually better than a few more elaborate jokes.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “How To Rob A Bank” (Film)

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a film. So, I thought that I’d check out a comedic heist movie from 2007 called “How To Rob A Bank (…And Tips To Actually Get Away With It)“.

This was mostly because I was in the mood for something a bit more light-hearted after spending a while playing “Silent Hill 3“. And, after looking for second-hand DVDs online, I ended up finding this one.

So, let’s take a look at “How To Rob A Bank”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.

I don’t know why the cover art shows Nick Stahl holding a pistol. He’s completely unarmed for the whole film!

This film begins with a guy called Jinx (played by Nick Stahl) who is inside a locked bank vault with a hostage called Jessica (played by Erika Christensen). However, as soon as they begin talking, it quickly becomes apparent that Jessica is actually one of the bank robbers and Jinx is just a guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yes, surprisingly, the sketchy-looking guy is actually the innocent bystander here.

Outside the vault, an armed bank robber called Simon (played by Gavin Rossdale) is absolutely furious about the fact that he can’t get into the vault. So, he calls Jessica… but Jinx picks up the phone instead. Needless to say, the two have quite a laugh about this bizarre misunderstanding and quickly become the best of friends:

Did I say “the best of friends”? I meant to say “bitter enemies”.

Of course, whilst all of this is going on, the police have finally shown up – led by Officer DeGepse (played by Terry Crews) who ends up talking to Jinx via mobile phone. Whilst all of this is going on, Jessica manages to trick DeGepse into thinking that she’s another hostage.

Reluctantly, Jinx goes along with it, before giving DeGepse Simon’s phone number. Simon is understandably annoyed that the cops have got his phone number, but DeGepse refuses to disclose who gave it to him (despite Simon guessing correctly rather quickly). But, then Jinx accidentally starts a conference call…

And, even more amusingly, Jinx tricks Simon into apologising to DeGepse, then tricks DeGepse into accepting the apology.

Needless to say, they’re all in a bit of a pickle….

One of the very first things that I will say about this film is that it isn’t really your typical Hollywood movie. In fact, it’s actually a low-mid budget independent film… and it is all the better for it!

Instead of flashy action sequences, the film focuses a lot more on dialogue, humour and clever plotting. Seriously, a good portion of the film is set within just one room and quite a bit of the film consists of people phoning each other… and it still manages to be a really interesting, and funny, film.

Unlike many heist movies, this one doesn’t focus that much on the elaborate (and mildly confusing) plot behind the heist but, instead, it begins “in medias res” and focuses more on Jinx and Jessica trying to figure out a sneaky way to get past both the other bank robbers and the cops. Although this film certainly contains a bit of suspense, it’s more of a clever comedy film than a thriller movie.

Most of the film consists of scenes like this… and it’s still a surprisingly good film!

And, yes, this film is funny. Although there are only a few “laugh out loud” moments, a lot of this film is filled with subtle humour, ironic humour and irreverent humour.

The bulk of the film’s humour comes from the surprisingly well-written dialogue (and the interactions between the characters in general) and the farcical premise of the film. There’s also a little bit of social satire, some amusing cutaway/flashback moments, some random 80s pop music references and a bit of slapstick comedy in order to keep the humour slightly varied.

For example, one of Simon’s henchmen has a malfunctioning pistol that keeps jamming throughout the film.

Although the film is a comedy, it still tries to squeeze in some endearingly cynical “Fight Club“-esque anti-corporation politics too. The most notable example of this being that the events of the film are set into motion because Jinx’s greedy bank has placed a surcharge on all ATM transactions, which means that he has to enter the bank to withdraw his last $20. And, yes, there are a couple of amusingly cynical speeches about this in the film.

One thing that helps to keep this film focused and interesting is the lean and efficient 78 minute running time. Unlike many Hollywood films, this film actually seems to have an editor and it is all the better for it. Although the film’s pacing sags a little during a couple of scenes, the compact running time helps to ensure that the story keeps moving and the audience remains interested.

Another cool thing about this film is that it was made in the pre-smartphone era. So, all of the mobile phones in this film are good old-fashioned flip phones (which used to be really cool 10-20 years ago) and they’re actually used as phones too. There’s no mobile internet, no “apps” or any of that nonsense. Seriously, there isn’t even any texting. There’s just three groups of people talking to each other on the phone. This helps to keep the film compellingly focused. Seriously, this film just wouldn’t work if the characters were using modern smartphones.

Surprisingly, the film’s flip-phones are also camera phones, but this feature thankfully isn’t used (mostly since some of the clever ruses in the film rely on the absence of cameras).

Another interesting thing about this film is how it handles moral ambiguity. Jinx is originally an innocent bystander, but he soon realises that joining in with the heist might help him get out of the bank. Likewise, although Jessica is initially a rather bitter and villainous character, she ends up being something of a “good criminal” after she realises that she’s in the same situation as Jinx.

So, yes, there’s actual character development in this film.

Likewise, Jessica’s mysterious boss – Nick – also seems to be something of a reluctantly “good” criminal as the film progresses.

Amusingly both DeGepse and Simon are both weary and cynical characters. In a way, they are literally polar opposites of each other, yet also have a lot in common in their amusingly frustrated attitudes towards the situation.

Seriously, I cannot praise the characters in this film enough! Although there isn’t a huge amount of deep characterisation, the characters come across as being somewhat more “realistic” than the characters in an average Hollywood movie. Likewise, a lot of what makes this film so good is the dynamics and interactions between the characters.

Of course, most of those interactions take place over a phone line – but they’re still amusing and/or compelling.

In terms of lighting, set design and special effects, this film is a little on the minimalist side. The bank vault is a fairly featureless white room and the bank just looks like an old American bank. Although, I noticed something eerily surprising about one of the film’s props…

OMG! I’ve just realised that the computer monitor for the bank’s CCTV is exactly the same type of monitor as the monitor on the computer I’m typing this review on!

The film has very few special effects and, aside from some clunky CGI renderings of the vault door mechanism, the film’s few practical effects work reasonably well. Likewise, although the lighting in this film is mostly fairly “ordinary”, there are a couple of moments of beautifully gloomy lighting here.

Amusingly, some cheaper mobile phones that were around in the mid-late 2000s actually had a LED torch feature – so, you didn’t have to use the screen as a torch.

Musically speaking, most of the film’s soundtrack isn’t very memorable. However, the ending credits are graced with a Duran Duran song which, when you’ve seen the film, will make a lot more sense.

All in all, this is a funny heist movie which relies more on well-written dialogue, well-written characters and clever plotting than on fast-paced action in order to remain compelling. It’s very different from the average Hollywood movie and is really interesting as a result.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.