Three Twisted Ways To Make Your Horror Comic Disturbing (And Why They Work)

...And I don't mention Sigmund Freud's "The Uncanny" at all! Except for just now.

…And I don’t mention Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny” at all! Except for just now.

Even though all of the horror comics that I’ve made during the past year have ended up being dark comedies rather than anything genuinely disturbing or frightening, I thought that I’d look at the subject of disturbing horror comics today.

In other words, I’ll be talking about horror comics that don’t look like this:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE ] "Diabolical Sigil - Page 4" By C. A. Brown

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

Even so, I’ve read at least a few horror comics which I found to be genuinely disturbing (such as “Return To Wonderland” by Raven Gregory et al, “A Game Of You” by Neil Gaiman and a couple of the “Battle Royale” manga comics).

So, I was kind of curious about how these kinds of comics ended up being disturbing and, more importantly why they are so disturbing. After thinking about it for a while, I came up with a few tips that might come in handy:

1)Hyper-detailed gore: In most horror movies, when something gruesome happens – you’ll probably only see it for a couple of seconds at most. Not only is this sometimes because of film censorship, it’s also because special effects in horror movies don’t always stand up to scrutiny if viewed for more than a few seconds.

Likewise, if you only see something gruesome in a horror movie for a second or two, your imagination has to fill in the rest of the details and you’ll probably remember the scene in question being more gruesome than it actually was.

However, you can’t do this in horror comics. The story of your horror comic progresses as quickly or slowly as the reader wants it to. So, if you want to shock your audience with something gruesome – then you have to draw everything in an almost medical level of detail. But, why?

Generally speaking, ultra-detailed art is absolutely fascinating. If you see a photo-realistic drawing of something or an intricate technical diagram, then you’re probably going to want to look at it closely because you know that you’ll probably miss something if you just look at it for a second. In other words, hyper-detailed images pretty much invite viewers to take a closer look (you can probably see where this is going…).

So, if a gruesome part of your comic is hyper-detailed, then your audience are initially going to be curious about it for the split-second before they realise that they’re looking at, say, a drawing of a disembowelled corpse. Then they are going to feel repulsed, but also still curious about all of the small details that the artist has included. And it’s this tension between curiosity and repulsion that makes hyper-detailed gruesome images in comics so shocking.

2) Fake fanservice: In case you’ve never heard of “fanservice” before, it basically refers to when comic creators add something mildly risquΓ© to their comic in order to titillate their audience.

The classic example of this is how superhero and fantasy comics that are primarily aimed at straight men are sometimes filled with busty heroines who wear skintight and/or revealing clothing. It may be totally impractical or unrealistic in the context of the story, but it’s there to appeal to straight guys (and bi people too).

If it’s aimed at you, fanservice is a little bit of extra added value. It’s fun and it’s something that makes the comic a little bit more memorable. If you know that a comic contains your type of fanservice, then you’re probably going to be a little bit more interested in checking it out. In other words, it’s something that catches your attention and sticks in your mind (again, you can probably see where I’m going here…).

You probably have to be a bit careful here, but if you can create something which looks like fanservice from a distance but actually turns out to be something horrific/repulsive upon closer inspection (eg: classic examples include things like a grotesque zombie in a revealing outfit, a stunningly handsome serial killer etc…) then you can seriously freak out some members of your audience.

Again, this technique works because it creates a tension between curiosity and revulsion. For half a second, some of your audience will be *ahem* interested – only to suddenly realise that they’ve been interested in something really disgusting.

However, and this is probably fairly obvious, this technique will only work with part of your audience. After all, different people have different interests. Variety is the spice of life and all that.

3) Imagination: This is probably the oldest trick in the book (this book to be precise), but you can make your comic about twice as disturbing by leaving a few of the really disturbing parts of your story to your audience’s imaginations.

All you need to do is to include a few small details (eg: creepy sounds, vague descriptions in the dialogue, something happening slightly “offscreen” etc…) and let your audience think of the rest.

Yet again, this works because it creates a tension between the audience’s feelings of curiosity and their feelings of revulsion. They’re curious enough about what happened to try to imagine it for themselves, but they’re also repulsed by what they’re imagining.

Likewise, because you haven’t actually shown the disturbing event in question, your audience will probably think that you thought that it’s too disturbing to show. As such, they’re likely to imagine it being far more violent/disturbing/horrific than you actually intended it to be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Some Very Basic Tips For Creating Fictional Currencies

2015 Artwork Creating Fictional Currencies Article

Well, let’s talk about money today. No, on second thoughts, “money” is too much of a limited term – let’s talk about currency. Yes, as I’ll discuss later, the two things are subtly different from each other. More to the point, let’s talk about how we can come up with interesting fictional currencies for use in comics, stories etc….

The easiest way to create a fictional currency for your story or comic is to just base your currency on a real one. I mean, I’m sure that you’ve probably seen at least one of two sci-fi movies, stories or comics where the currency is just referred to as “credits”. These credits usually happen to function in a very similar way to pounds, dollars, euros etc…

If you can come up with a realistic-sounding name for your fictional currency, then you can pretty much copy any form of real life currency. After all, most modern currencies have fairly similar mechanics – for example, they use a base-ten system (eg: 100 pennies in a pound, 100 cents in a dollar, 100 cents in a euro etc…) because it’s easier to calculate things using this system (eg: compared to, say, pre-decimalisation British currency, which used a base-twelve system, where there were 240 pennies in a pound). So, yes, real currencies often have a lot in common with each other.

There’s nothing wrong with copying real currencies in all but name – especially if you want your story or comic to be “realistic” or if currency isn’t a major part of your story. Not only that, doing something like this also a way of including currency in your story without having to explain it to your audience – since pretty much everyone is familiar with how real currencies work.

But, there are much more imaginative ways to come up with fictional currencies than this though…..

Although the word “currency” is often used interchangeably with “money”, these days, a currency is basically any system that people use to transfer value to each other. This means that anything used as a currency must have some kind of value to the vast majority of people who use it.

Many modern currencies have moved away from this slightly (and more futuristic currencies, like Bitcoins, have moved away from it even more), but if you look at the history of most modern currencies you’ll see that they were originally used as a stand-in for something with inherent value.

For example, until relatively recently, banknotes in the UK had have [Edit: I can’t believe I got this wrong!] a phrase like “I promise to pay the bearer the sum of (?) pounds” on them. This was something of a hangover from the days where paper money could, theoretically, be redeemed for an equivalent number of pounds of gold.

Technically speaking, gold was the currency. Gold was the valuable thing involved in all transactions. The paper money was just a stand-in for it.

So, if you want to create an interesting fictional currency – then you have to work out what is valued in the “world” of your story.

To give you one example, a while back, I heard about a sci-fi movie called “In Time” which is based on the idea of time itself being used as a form of currency. This is an absolutely brilliant idea because, let’s face it, time is the most valuable thing in the entire world. Everything we do, we can only do because we still have time left. We all only have a limited amount of time in this world, so time is a valuable thing.

To give you another example, in Chris Carter’s brilliant – and short lived- dystopic sci-fi TV series “Harsh Realm“, bullets were used as a form of currency. Since a lot of the story takes place in a lawless wasteland, traditional currency systems would be totally useless. However, the more bullets you have, the more chance you have of fighting off bandits, hunting for food etc… So, bullets have a practical survival value in this setting which makes them perfect as a form of currency.

Finally, the classic example of something other than money being used as currency is how cigarettes are traditionally used as currency in prisons.

So, look for something that you characters find valuable and base your fictional currency on that.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Tips For Creating Good Characters If You Aren’t A Social Person

2015 Artwork Creating good characters if you aren't social sketch

Unfortunately, when it comes to creating characters – extroverted people who flourish in social situations tend to have a lot more social experience which can be useful when it comes to writing realistic dialogue and characters.

But what about the rest of us? What if you’re someone who isn’t exactly at their best in the presence of other people? What if you’re someone who is only truly at ease in solitude or in a fairly limited range of social situations?

How do we write good characters? Here are a few tips that might come in handy?

1) Use your experience: If you’re the kind of interesting, introspective person who doesn’t flourish in social situations, then this doesn’t mean that you don’t have any life experiences to draw on when it comes to creating characters. You do, it’s just slightly different.

Because, chances are, you’ve probably experienced and/or endured your fair share of social situations. After all, how would you know that you don’t flourish in the vast majority of social situations if you haven’t experienced these situations before?

But, unlike the kind of people who flourish in these kinds of situations – you have a different perspective on them. Unlike people who “fit in” almost everywhere, you get to see everything from the outside.

Even if you’ve got so good at the all-consuming and soul-destroyingly exhausting task of appearing to be more social/extroverted than you actually are that it’s almost second-nature to you, then this will still give you a very different perspective to the one you would have if you were someone who felt totally natural and/or at ease in these situations.

Not only does this mean that you have an instant advantage when it comes to writing realistic “outsider”, “rebel”, “eccentric” etc… characters, but it also means that you’re more likely to see “ordinary” people and situations in a slightly different way.

You’re probably more likely to notice the weird, superficial, awkward and/or annoying parts of social situations that most people take for granted. And, if you add these observations to your story or comic, then you can give your work a unique perspective that more extroverted writers are probably going to miss. Likewise, this also means that it’s a lot easier to create cynically satirical characters too.

2) Composites: If you’re the kind of cool person who prefers solitude to social situations, then there’s a good chance that you’ve had to fill this solitude with something.

In other words, whilst some people spend a lot of their time checking social media and making small talk – you’ve spent a lot of your time in different ways. You’ve probably spent a lot of time reading stuff, watching stuff, playing games etc….

Well, this experience can be an absolute goldmine when it comes to thinking of interesting characters. Why? Because you’ve been exposed to a far greater range of fictional characters and you can draw on this experience to create new and interesting characters of your own.

Whilst you obviously shouldn’t directly copy other people’s characters, there’s no rule against creating new and original characters that are at least partially a composite of several other interesting characters that you have seen.

Whilst you shouldn’t copy any of the superficial elements of these characters (eg: their names, appearances etc…), you can borrow more subtle things – like their personality, their worldview etc…. as well as adding a lot of your own imagination too, of course.

3) Focus on other things: Whilst characters are one of the most important parts of any story, they aren’t the be all and end all. If you aren’t that good at writing or thinking of characters, then there are plenty of other things that you can focus on that will still make your story interesting.

You can come up with clever storylines, you can use a really interesting narrative voice, you can come up with really interesting fictional locations, you can include lots of humour etc…

Although badly-written characters might put some people off of your story, there are plenty of other things that you can focus on instead to compensate for this.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

The Best Characters Just “Appear”

2014 Artwork Spontaneous Characters Sketch

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I made a random painting. I wasn’t feeling hugely inspired and the only idea I could come up with was to paint something that looked like something from a Hidden Object Game.

Initially, I thought about painting a messy room with an inventory bar along the bottom of the page and a hint button in the corner, but as soon as I started sketching this, I realised that it wouldn’t really look that great.

So, I erased my sketch and just started drawing randomly. Then, before I knew it, this character had emerged:

"Heather Greyfield And The Vanishing Station" By C. A. Brown

“Heather Greyfield And The Vanishing Station” By C. A. Brown

Unlike many of the random characters who appear in my paintings and drawings, Heather Greyfield not only already had a name, but she also seemed to have a story of some kind too.

Annoyingly though, she seems to be a computer game character – and, not being a programmer (or really having enough money to get the professional version of Adventure Maker, even though the free version is really cool) – I’m not sure if she could also work as a literary character or a comic character. But, she might well end up appearing in something or other in the future.

Anyway, this experience made me think about the whole subject of spontaneous characters.

Although I’ve created a fair number of comic and literary characters over the past few years, the best characters I’ve created – by far- are the ones who just kind of “appear” of their own accord.

These are the kinds of characters that you don’t really spend ages designing or planning, they just “appear” somewhere or other (usually, in my case, in my art) and then you’re left with the interesting job of trying to learn more about who they are and, occasionally, even what their names are.

This might be because I’m an artist as well as a writer (ok, I’m much more of an artist than a writer these days), but this still used to happen back when I’d laugh at the idea of ever becoming an artist because my drawings looked more like this:

Some random doodles I made during a lecture about six years ago.

Some random doodles I made during a lecture about six years ago.

If you’re not an artist, then it’s possible that these kinds of characters may just appear as mental images, a particular type of narrative voice or a verbal description that suddenly pops into your mind. But, when they do, write down and/or draw as much as you can remember.

This is how my “Damania” comic, “Somnium” comic and my “CRIT” comic started out with characters like this. I’d drawn a random picture, one amongst many, and then somehow it seemed like the characters in the picture had much more of a story to tell than any of the other characters I’d drawn.

Not only that, these kinds of spontaneous characters are almost always mysterious in some way or another. They’re always intriguing enough to make you want to learn more about who they are and what their story is.

For example, when I first drew Roz and Derek from “Damania” back in 2011, I knew that they were some kind of paranormal investigators, but I didn’t even know their names. In fact, it was another month or two before I even knew Derek’s name :

"The Magician's Room" By C.A.Brown [2011]

“The Magician’s Room” By C.A.Brown [2011]

I still, for the life of me, don’t know where these types of characters come from – whether they emerge from the depths of the subconscious mind or, to get a bit more mystical, whether they appear from some unknown outside source or other. But, regardless, they can just appear at random.

It’s always amazing when one of these characters appears and I still can’t really understand it – I’ll draw and paint hundreds of random characters and then one of them will just kind of “jump” out at me and seem more “real” than the others.

I’m not sure if there are any ways to make these types of characters appear more often, or whether they just show up in their own time. But, when one appears, then make sure that you make some kind of record of their existence. Although, saying that, most of these characters are too mysterious and intriguing to be forgotten easily.

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Sorry that this article was slightly rambling, but I hope that it was interesting πŸ™‚