Short Story: “Last Refuge Of The Splatterpunks” By C. A. Brown

Rick almost let out a blood-curdling scream when he saw that an online bookshop had placed a content warning on his 1986 novel “SCYTHE MANIAC!“.

In bold letters, it had read “This novel contains frequent graphic scenes of a grisly nature and is suitable for mature audiences only“.

For a second, he thought about getting on the phone to his publisher or firing off an e-mail to the press. It would be a way to stay relevant. But he remembered that, these days, teenagers don’t read horror novels any more. Even if they did, they’d probably obey the content warning.

These days, he thought, the press wouldn’t bluster and foam at him for criticising the warning. They would just tut at him in a “concerned” fashion. There would be a vicious stream of carefully curated outrage in the comments below every editorial. Some of these wholesome pacifists would probably send him death threats too. Rick let out another sigh. Since when, he thought, did controversy become such a bad thing?

His eyes drifted over to the bookshelf beside his writing desk. Twenty dark spines stared back at him, festooned with bold words like “DEATH RATTLE!“, “SKELETON FIENDS!” and “SPIKES!“. These days, he thought, it looked less like a trophy cabinet and more like the horror section of some indoor market book stall, frequented only by nostalgic old people.

There was only one thing for it. Rick made a phone call and picked up his leather jacket.

Thirty minutes later, he sat in the beer garden of The Fox And Hounds with a rollie in his left hand and a half-finished pint in his right. Opposite him, a man with long white hair reached into his own leather jacket and pulled out his mobile phone. It was a good, solid model from 2002 that could withstand horrors worse than either man could write about. It bleeped quietly.

Rick stubbed out his rollie and sighed: ‘I suppose you’ve heard about the content warnings, Dave. They’ll be putting them on your books next.

Dave let out a bitter laugh: ‘Fat bloody chance! They’d actually have to sell. Seriously, I make more money flogging my old publisher copies on eBay than selling new copies. Luckily, my remaining ten fans are wealthy, successful people.

Really? I thought you’d turned to bank robbery, or sold a kidney or both.‘ Rick chuckled.

Dave raised his bushy eyebrows: ‘You know, that would be a brilliant idea for a novel.

Taking a hearty swig from his pint, Rick said: ‘Too bloody right! Even better, there could be some kind of demonic ghoul who decides to stage a robbery…

…Of the organ bank. I love it!‘ Dave’s eyes shone brightly. For a second, Rick could see a hint of the stunningly handsome twenty-three year old man he’d first met at an author panel back in the ’80s. The crowds had gone wild when they’d appeared on stage. There had been nothing but a sea of leather jackets and heavy metal T-shirts. They were rockstars.

As Rick slumped forward, Dave muttered: ‘… and it wouldn’t get published. And you know why?

Rick was about to reply with an explanation that almost sounded like the conservative editorials that had hounded him throughout his twenties. But, before he could say anything, Dave just pointed towards the pub window.

Behind the faded glass, a widescreen TV played silent news footage of bombed-out cities, bodies on stretchers and screaming faces. A minute later, it was replaced by footage of police officers in some rural field somewhere gathering solemnly around a small white tent.

Maybe we’re just in the wrong market?‘ Dave said ‘With all of that stuff in the news, we should be selling our books on the bloody “Mind, Body & Spirit” shelf. They’re practically… relaxing…. by comparison!

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Why Do Critics Have A Reputation For Being Cynical ? – A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d do something a bit different and talk about critics. This is mostly because I’ve had something of a slight insight into being a critic due to the occasional reviews that I write on here. When I first started writing reviews on here about 4-5 years ago, I was determined not to be like those critics. You know the ones I mean, the snooty ones who never seem to like anything.

In other words, I often only reviewed things that I really, really liked and could give positive reviews to. Of course, this has changed over the years.

In fact, this article was prompted by the fact that this review of mine ended up containing a lot more criticism than I originally expected. Yet, I don’t consider it to be a “bad” review (seriously, it’s a good show!). But, in a sudden moment of clarity, I realised that I’d turned into the type of critic I once wanted to avoid becoming.

So, why do critics have a reputation for being cynical?

There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that they’ve had more experience with reviewing things, not to mention that if someone is even vaguely interested in criticism then they’ve probably seen/watched/read/played quite a lot of stuff (or they will in the course of finding things to review). What this all means is that critics often have a larger frame of reference when making comparisons and judgements.

For example, one of my regular review features on here is reviewing fan-made levels for “Doom II“. When I started doing this, I hadn’t really played that many of these levels – so, I was amazed by what people could do with this classic game. But, once I’d played a lot more levels, I started spotting things like commonly re-used graphics, common changes to the game, common level design techniques etc.. So, I was less amazed by these things than I used to be. This has probably led to mildly less awe-struck reviews, even though I still consider “Doom II” to be one of my favourite games.

Another reason is because I’m not a professional critic (nor would I really want to be). Whilst professional critics getting free advance review copies from film studios, game developers etc… is a good thing for a whole host of reasons, there’s also a place for critics (like me) who don’t get these – and don’t want them. But, both professional and amateur criticsm can result in more cynical-sounding reviews for different reasons.

Since I’m not a professional critic, I mostly review things that are older, second-hand, discounted, free (for everyone) etc.. Although this means that I get to review more interesting/random stuff and can look at things that are overlooked by professional critics who have to review the latest things, this has also forced me to pay more attention to whether something is worth the time and/or money that the audience needs to invest in it. And, as such, this can sometimes result in more cynical-sounding reviews.

Professional critics, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about the cost of the things they review. In theory, this ideally means that all products are on a level playing field and can be considered purely on their artistic merits. Likewise, advance copies given to professional critics mean that they can inform consumers on the day that something is released.

All of this stuff is a necessary counterbalance to things like manufactured hype and advertising (and it’s why you should be very, very wary if a film studio or a game developer refuses to give professional critics advance access). But, seeing the contrast between a more formal professional evaluation of something new and the idealised, rose-tinted portrayal of it in advertising can make a more “realistic” review look cynical by comparison.

Finally, one reason that critics can sound cynical is because reviews often serve a dual function these days. As well as being a guide for consumers, they’re also often a type of entertainment too. This often means that reviews include humour more regularly than they used to a few decades ago. Of course, one of the best sources of humour is joking about the thing that you’re reviewing, which can include everything from occasional affectionate humour to constant merciless ridicule.

But, when this isn’t done in the right way, it can often make it look like the reviewer is some kind of bitter cynic who can do nothing more than point and laugh at things other people make (and some reviewers can actually make this genuinely entertaining, but some can’t). Likewise, if you’re a fan of something, then you might not appreciate critics ridiculing it. So, humour can sometimes explain why critics appear to be more cynical than they actually are.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons Why Self-Portraits Are Better Than “Selfies”

2016 Artwork Why Are self-portraits better than selfies

Although the full-size version of the self-portrait in this article’s illustration won’t be posted here until early-mid December, I thought that I’d talk about self-portraits today since it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about this subject.

So, for today, I thought that I’d look at some of the reasons why self-portraits are a lot better than the ‘selfie’ photos that seem to be in fashion at the moment.

Hopefully, this won’t turn into a cynical article about the vapid and pointless this exciting and self-affirming modern trend. But, I’m not holding out much hope….

1) It requires more thought and means more: Taking a ‘selfie’ photo just involves holding a smartphone above your head (or using one of those idiotic innovative “selfie sticks”) and pressing a button. You can take a selfie in less than five seconds.

However, even if you’re basing your self-portrait on a photo (as I did) then you’ve still got to put a lot more creative thought into it. You have to learn how to copy from sight alone and you have to have had some art practice before you begin. Not only that, since you’re responsible for every aspect of your painting or drawing, you have to make a lot of additional creative choices too.

For example, do you use a particular colour scheme in your self-portrait? Do you try to represent the lighting accurately, or do you take a more “ligne claire” approach? Do you make the self-portrait look realistic or do you go for something more cartoonish?

This might sound a lot more involved and time-consuming than simply taking a quick “selfie” photo of yourself, but it is a hundred times more rewarding. Because you’ve put a lot more effort into the self-portrait and have had more choice in how it was made, you’ll end up with something that will mean a lot more to you than just a quick photo.

2) You’ll look better: Not everyone is photogenic. For some reason that I’ll never understand, it’s possible look perfectly ok in real life but, as soon as one of those bloody photographic machines a camera gets involved, the resulting photo can only have something like a 5% chance of even looking vaguely ok.

However, with self-portraits, none of this is an issue. Even if you’re basing your self-portrait on a photo, then you still have absolute creative control. In other words, you can make your self-portrait look slightly better than the photo (or, rather, correct some of the mistakes that photographs can have). After all, since it’s a painting, no-one expects it to be 100% realistic.

When an artist makes a portrait or a self-portrait, a certain amount of artistic licence is expected. After all, if you want a “100% realistic” picture, then you’d take a photo instead. So, no-one will really mind if you make your self-portrait more flattering than a photograph might be.

3) The reasons are different: From what I’ve read about “selfie” photos, the main point of them often isn’t to take a picture of yourself, but to declare to the world “I’m on holiday!”, “I’m in a restaurant!” orI’m a total and utter…. They come from a strange need to provide the internet with constant photographic proof of your existence.

Because self-portraits are a lot less immediate and significantly less “realistic”, the reasons behind them are significantly different. When you make a self-portrait, you might be expressing yourself in a more creative way. You might be trying to test your art skills. You might dislike your previous self-portrait and want to paint a better one. There are hundreds of possible reasons for wanting to make a self-portrait.

But, above all, the reason behind it is probably something more interesting than “I can’t be bothered to write a diary“.

4) People will be more interested: Let’s face it, there are a lot of “selfies” on the internet. “Social media” sites are absolutely teeming with them. If you enjoy looking at those kinds of sites, then you’ll probably encounter several “selfies” every day. There’s nothing particularly special or interesting about seeing hundreds of photos, all taken from the same angle and all displaying the same range of mundane backgrounds.

However, a self-portrait is something different! Even if you painted it out of nothing more than sheer vanity, then you’re going to end up with something that looks unique and different. You’re going to end up with something that stands out from the generic crowd of similar “selfie” photos.

In other words, even if you make a self-portrait out of sheer vanity, it’ll still be something that other people will probably find interesting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Using Your Emotions To Get Motivated To Make Art (And A “Never Seen Before” Painting!)

2016 Artwork Motivation And Emotions Article sketch

I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but I thought that I’d talk about a technique (perhaps the oldest trick in the book) for getting motivated again when you don’t have the enthusiasm to make art.

But, although this is an article about another way to get motivated to make art when you’re feeling unenthusiastic and uninspired, I’m going to have to start by talking about how I got out of a recent unenthusiastic time I had recently. I’ll give some more general advice near the end of this article.

Anyway, a while before I wrote this article – I was having a dismal and unenthusiastic day. After a lot of effort, I finally pushed myself to make an extremely minimalist and fairly low-quality limited palette (red, yellow, blue and black) painting.

Although this was one of the few paintings that I didn’t feel was good enough to include in my daily art posts, I’ll include it here to illustrate how uninspired and unenthusiastic I was feeling:

"Audience" By C. A. Brown (Never seen before!)

“Audience” By C. A. Brown (Never seen before!)

Although I’d actually made this painting, it didn’t really make me feel any better about myself as an artist. It’d taken a long time to make, it felt like an absolute chore to make and it didn’t really seem as impressive as it should have done. Not only that, I was still in a fairly dismal kind of mood.

It was then that I noticed that the next piece of art on my schedule was the artwork for April Fool’s day. Since I’d already written the very cynical satirical article I’d planned to write for the first of April, I suddenly realised that I could make a cynical piece of digital art that made the same point.

Since it’d just involve taking some things from old digital photos of mine and messing around in MS Paint, it seemed lazy enough for my extremely limited levels of enthusiasm too.

So, I made it:

 "Yearning Of The Cosmos For The Zeitgeist Of Postmodern Thought " and "Gossamer Memories Of Paperback Perdition" By C. A. Brown

“Yearning Of The Cosmos For The Zeitgeist Of Postmodern Thought ” and “Gossamer Memories Of Paperback Perdition” By C. A. Brown

Suddenly, to my surprise, I felt slightly better. A cynical grin crossed my face. I started chuckling evilly to myself. But, most of all, I felt better about being an artist. I felt like making art meant something again.

This was all because I made something that expressed a particular emotion (cynicism) that I feel a lot but, for some reason, hardly ever seem to express in my art.

Because I was in a fairly dismal mood, I was feeling more cynical than usual and, because of this, trying to make anything other than cynical art just felt kind of “empty”/ “pointless” as a result.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say here is that if you’re having problems working up the motivation to practice making art, then it might be worth looking at which emotions you really want to express. It doesn’t matter whether they’re “positive” or “negative” emotions – the important thing is to work out what emotion it is.

Then find a way to make a piece of art – any piece of art- that plays into that emotion. It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or not, the important thing is to make a piece of art that feels meaningful to you in that moment in time.

Even if it’s a terrible piece of art, then it will remind you why you got into making art in the first place and, with any luck, this will make you feel more enthusiastic and motivated to make better pieces of art.

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Anyway, I hope this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (9th March 2016)

Well, here’s the next comic in my (probably fairly short) revival of my old “Damania” webcomic series (in the style of the old comics, rather than my two other modern revivals of the series – here and here).

Well, it’s time to be cynical about the world again, I guess. The big irony about this comic is that the only panel that contains comedic exaggerations is the final panel since, in the UK at least, opera tickets are apparently sensibly priced these days (it’s something to do with arts funding, I think).

But, yes, the British film censors will give films a higher rating even if the four-letter words are bleeped out, Youtube runs ads before trailers and major modern games companies impose onerous DRM on paying customers (which seems like a counter-productive move in my opinion).

I also made a few small dialogue changes to this comic, but the version of this comic in the lineart post at the end of the month will probably contain the original dialogue.

I’ve also just realised that this comic contains a slight plot hole when compared to one of the earlier comics in this mini series. So, for the purposes of continuity, this comic takes place before the events of this comic from earlier in the series.

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

"Damania Redux - Overkill" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Redux – Overkill” By C. A. Brown

The Joy Of… Cynicism (As A Source Of Inspiration)

2015 Artwork The Joy Of Cynicism sketch

Well, I was originally going to write a different article for today. In fact, I actually wrote nine paragraphs of it before I decided to abandon it. If anyone is curious about what the article was, it was going to be a relentlessly cynical riposte to a (somewhat ridiculous) opinion article about the sci-fi and fantasy genres I’d read online earlier that day.

My inner cynic was going to have a field day with writing a rebuttal to this article. But then I stopped writing it, because I thought that it would be “too cynical”.

So, instead, I thought that I’d talk about cynicism and about how it can be a powerful source of creative inspiration.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’d argue that all art, literature and all other forms of creativity emerge from cynicism. After all, you have to be at least vaguely dissatisfied with the world around you in order to feel compelled to create something better or more interesting than ordinary everyday life.

Even if you’re just trying to capture the beauty of the natural world on paper or a canvas, you’re probably still going to use artistic licence or make some stylistic decisions in order to make it look slightly better than it actually does. After all, if you just wanted an accurate factual record of the natural scene that you’re trying to paint, you’d take a photo rather than make a painting.

This desire to create better or more interesting versions of the world in our creative works is also what gives all creative works their uniqueness. After all, we all have our own unique ideas of what a “perfect world” would look like.

Whether we try to depict this in our works (eg: like how Gene Roddenberry created an imagined utopian society in “Star Trek”) or whether we subtly use it as a standard to judge the present day by, our ideas about what a “perfect world” looks like is one of the things that makes everyone’s creative works uniquely their own. So, yes, your cynicism is what makes your stories or art unique.

But, more than that, cynicism can be a powerful driving force for creativity for the simple reason that expressing your cynicism through storytelling or art is far more powerful than expressing it through any other means.

Yes, it can be cathartic to talk critically about the world and it’s probably slightly cathartic to write cynical online comments about it too. But, creating a cynical political cartoon or adding a cynical line of dialogue to a story just feels about ten times more cathartic. Turning your cynicism into a physical thing that other people can look at actually makes you feel like your opinions matter and have had an impact on the world. Even if they probably don’t.

Another reason why cynicism can be such a powerful driving force for creativity is because it’s a fundamentally honest type of creativity.

There isn’t too much cynicism in the mainstream media these days. Between pointless Twitter controversies being reported as actual news, between lots of advertising, between mega-budget Hollywood superhero movie remakes, between vacuous celebrity nonsense and other rubbish like that, there’s relatively little cynicism in the mainstream media.

This is why, for example, stand-up comedy is such a popular thing. Stand-up comedians have the ability to honestly express their cynical opinions about the world in a way that people mostly only do in private conversations or, if they’re feeling daring, on social media. Likewise, as long as you do it well (and you don’t preach), you can be a lot more honest about your cynical opinions in fiction than you can be in person.

So, yes, cynicism is not only the root of all creativity but it’s also one of the most powerful emotional drives for creating things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Why Comics Are Better Than Animations – A Ramble

2015 Artwork  comics are better than animation article sketch

Like with the past couple of articles, at the time of writing this, I’m busy making a comic called “The Horror Of Hardtalon Hall“, which will probably have been posted here in late October. Once again, here’s a random page from it:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "The Horror Of Hardtalon Hall - Page 5 (edited version)" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “The Horror Of Hardtalon Hall – Page 5 (edited version)” By C. A. Brown

Anyway, for today, I thought that I’d ramble briefly about one of the reasons why comics are one of the best storytelling mediums to work in. Personally, I’d argue that making a comic is vaguely similar to making an animated film – but making a comic is also a lot better than making an animation for a large number of reasons.

Like with animation, comics tell a story through a series of pictures and words. Like with animation, comics usually tend to use a rather cartoonish art style. However, comics can’t include things like background music and voice acting – but, given how expensive both of these things can be, I’d argue that this is a bonus.

In fact, comics basically make your audience’s imaginations supply the voice acting (which means that it’ll probably be of a better quality than actual voice acting would be).

So, not only do you save money on voice acting and imagination, but you also save a lot of time when you make a comic. Even if you’re using one of those fancy modern animation programs, you’re still going to have to create at least several frames of animation for each second of footage. You’re also going to have to plan your animation carefully in order to ensure that it’s actually practical to make.

With comics, all you really need to do is to draw a few of the most important “frames” and your audience’s imaginations will “fill in the gaps” between them.

To use a classic example, if you wanted to show your main character punching someone in an animation, you’ve have to work out how to make their whole body move realistically. You’d have to work out exactly how the other character would react etc… You’d probably spend quite a lot of time animating something that would only be on screen for a second.

However, if you’re making a comic, all you need to do is to draw one panel with your character’s arm drawn back and one panel with their fist extended (and the other character reacting to being punched). You’ve only shown the beginning and the end of that action, but your audience will know exactly what happened. In other words, a comic can do in two drawings what an animation can only do in 12+ drawings.

Talking of time, one other great thing about comics is that you have a lot more control over how fast the story progresses. Although each comic panel is a snapshot of a single moment in time, you can decide how far apart those moments are. Like with writing prose fiction, you can devote an entire page of a comic to anything from a single second to a thousand years.

However, with animation, you’re limited to real time. Yes, you can show a series of scenes that take place at different times but time will always pass at the same rate in an animation. A second of animation is a second of animation. Ten minutes of animation is ten minutes of animation. I’m sure you get the idea.

Finally, there’s the subject of tools and costs. To produce a comic, all you basically need are a pen and several sheets of paper. Yes, it helps to have a digital camera or a scanner (as well as an image editing program and possibly a graphics tablet), but all you need in order to produce a comic are a pen and paper. To produce anything more than a flick-book animation, you either need a computer and/or lots of film equipment.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂