Should You Give The Year, Precise Location etc.. In Historical Comics? (Plus, A Comic Preview)

2017 Artwork Historical webcomics detail article sketch

Well, I thought that I’d talk about historical comics today because, at the time of writing, I’m busy making another time travel-themed webcomic mini series. It will appear here in mid-May and it will be set in a stylised version of 1990s America (mostly inspired by Hollywood movies, old TV shows etc..). Here’s a preview:

The full eight-comic mini series will appear here in mid-May.

The thing that surprised me when I was making this comic was that I haven’t actually specified the precise year or location (California in 1993/4 if anyone is curious) within the comic itself.

In fact, I hadn’t even thought of a specific year (other than “early-mid 1990s”) when I started making the comic – but, from some of the inspirations I’d had and the cultural references I’d included in the comics, I was able to work out where and when it was set fairly quickly. And, yet, I still decided not to actually include this specific information within the comic itself. Why?

Well, it probably has to do with the style of the comic itself. Although it’s technically a historical comic, it’s a silly sci-fi comedy comic that was mostly inspired by my nostalgia about various films, TV shows, computer games etc… that I first encountered when I was younger. It’s also set in a country that I’ve never actually visited. As such, I realised that historical accuracy would be neither possible or desirable within the time I’d allotted to make this comic.

So, by keeping things slightly vague within the comic, it basically tells the reader “this isn’t a serious historical drama“. Not only that, it also allows me to include the occasional anachronism (eg: something from after the time period in question) and quite a bit of artistic licence too, without breaking the immersion.

I guess that the general rule with historical information in comics that are set in the past is that, the more “serious” your comic is, the more detailed information you should give about it’s time and location. After all, more serious historical stories (whether biographical or fictional) gain part of their seriousness by being grounded in fact.

However, if your story is slightly sillier, somewhat stylised or more fantastical, then it can often be best to only give the readers a vague idea about where and when it is set. By reducing the setting to a more vague category (eg: “Victorian England”, “The Roaring Twenties” etc…), this allows you to draw on a much wider range of inspirations and to tell a greater variety of stories.

Not only that, by reducing the setting of the comic to a general category, this also allows you to tell a more stylised story – since you can draw on the general popular impression of that particular era without having to go into specifics. In other words, a vague setting allows you to include more nostalgia etc… in your comic.

So, yes, the more serious your historical comic is, the more specific historical details should be included.

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Sorry for the ridiculously short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

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Making The Locations In Your Art Look More Realistic (Plus An Art Preview)

2016 Artwork Realistic Backgrounds article sketch

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this topic before but, since I can’t think of any other ideas for today’s article, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about a mistake that people who are new to making art can make (and which I still make occasionally too).

I am, of course, talking about making the locations in your artwork look too “perfect”. It’s an easy mistake to make – after all, it’s easier to draw a pristine room or a perfectly-organised bookshelf than it is to draw something a bit more realistic, for the simple reason that “perfect” locations often contain a lot less detail.

Yes, there are some situations where using “perfect” locations can be justified, but there aren’t that many of them. One example of a situation where even a more experienced artist might use “perfect” locations is in a daily comic. Since there is a strict time limit, the emphasis is on getting the art finished as soon as possible – so, making all of the locations look “perfect” can be a good way to speed things up.

But, for stand-alone works of art, the background locations should actually look like places that people have actually, well, lived in.

So, how do you do this?

There are several ways to do this. The most simple is just to add clutter and mess to your artwork. Draw a few everyday objects lying around randomly, like they might be in somewhere that has actually been inhabited by someone. Here’s a preview of part of one of my upcoming paintings that contains an example of this:

Notice the random piles of books lying around on the floor (the bonsai tree might have been a bit too much though).

Notice the random piles of books lying around on the floor (the bonsai tree might have been a bit too much though).

Another way to make your locations, especially outdoor locations, look a bit more realistic is to make everything look a bit worn-down. In other words, if you’re drawing or painting a city street, then don’t make everything look new, clean and/or “shiny”. Show the advertising posters on the walls, show the rubbish on the ground, show the chaotic crowds etc…

With rural locations, remember that every tree should look at least slightly different and remember that, in the wild, the grass isn’t usually neatly cut to a single length. Basically, when drawing natural locations, add some variety and variation to all of the things that are growing there.

The thing to remember here is that “perfect” locations don’t usually exist in real life. When they do, they’re usually the exception rather than the rule (which is why they can look so strange and/or creepy).

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Sorry for such a short and basic article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Small Artistic Details, Uniqueness And Places – A Ramble

2015 Artwork Small Artistic Details article sketch

Once again, although this is an article about making art (and possibly comics too), I’m going to have to start by talking about videogames and plastic bowls for a while. Yes, plastic bowls. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.

Anyway, a few months ago, I ended up watching a series of “Let’s Play” videos for a really interesting sci-fi/horror Playstation Four game called “Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture”. As cynical as I am about modern games, this one actually looks sort of interesting because it’s set in rural Shropshire in the 1980s.

This is the kind of setting that you’d find in classic 1970s-90s splatterpunk novels (by writers like Shaun Hutson and James Herbert), rather than in modern videogames with astonishingly realistic graphics.

That said, the most recent Playstation console that I own is a Playstation Two and – even if the game was ever ported to the PC – the graphics look like they’d be far too realistic to run on my computer. So, why am I mentioning this game?

Well, during one of the “let’s play” videos, the commentator made a really interesting observation. She pointed out that the kitchen sink in one of the houses in the game doesn’t have a large plastic bowl in it.

This is an unrealistic detail that I hadn’t really noticed, but using large plastic bowls in our kitchen sinks is apparently something that we only do in Britain. And, now that I think about it, I really don’t understand why we put plastic bowls in our sinks (I mean, sinks are made out of stainless steel, so it isn’t like the bowl has to protect it from rust). It’s just some kind of strange tradition, I guess. I mean, it’d actually feel kind of weird to use a kitchen sink that didn’t have a plastic bowl in it.

So, again, why am I mentioning this?

Well, I’m mentioning it because it illustrates how small details can either enhance the sense of place in a piece of art or how small details can become part of your own unique art style.

Whilst it’s probably fairly obvious how realistic small details can reallly make a painting or a drawing (or even a videogame) of somewhere really come alive, I thought that I’d spend the rest of this article talking briefly about how small details are also a part of your personal art style too.

To use a phrase coined by Shoo Rayner (I can’t remember which video he came up with this phrase in though), all artists have their own mental “library” of what things look like. When we draw or paint something from our imaginations, we use this mental library.

However, since this mental library is based on things that we’ve seen in real life, in movies, on TV, on the internet etc… then it’s going to be slightly different for everyone.

For everyday items, you’re probably going to base them on things that you’ve seen in real life – so, to everyone everywhere else, your ideas of what, say, a kitchen sink, or a plug socket or anything like that will look like will seem distinctive and unusual.

So, even if you don’t pay too much attention to the small details in your art (or your comic), then it’s still going to look fairly distinctive nonetheless.

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Sorry for the short (and fairly rambling) article, but I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Weird Stuff In Stories, Comics etc… Is Best When It Is Subtle

2015 Artwork Subtle Weirdness article sketch

Although this is an article about writing stories and/or comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about TV shows and other random stuff first. Trust me, there’s a reason for this and I’m not just doing it for the sake of it.

However, I should warn you that this article will contain SPOILERS for seasons 1-3 of “Fringe“.

Anyway, thanks to a Christmas present I got a couple of months ago, I had the chance to re-watch a really cool American TV show called “Fringe”. It’s kind of like a modern version of “The X-Files”, where FBI agents (and scientists) solve various paranormal and/or science fiction-based mysteries.

Anyway, one of the really cool things about the show is that from the ending of the first season onwards, a lot of the story revolves around the relationship between our universe and a parallel universe.

As someone who is absolutely fascinated by the whole concept of parallel universes, I absolutely love this part of the show. But this article isn’t a review of “Fringe” or an article about parallel universes. So, why am I talking about it?

Well, it’s because the scenes set within the parallel universe in “Fringe” can help us learn some interesting things about how to portray weird things in stories, comics etc…

Basically, the parallel universe in the show is pretty similar to our own – but with some differences. Some of these differences are extremely large and very noticeable (eg: the Twin Towers are still standing in New York, people sometimes travel by airship, everyone uses slightly more advanced technology etc….).

But the most interesting and dramatic differences between the two universes in “Fringe” are actually the far more subtle ones (eg: Martin Luther King Jr. is on American banknotes, Eric Stolz starred in “Back To The Future” instead of Michael J. Fox etc…). They’re the kind of things that are only on screen for a couple of seconds at most and they are the things that really give you the sense that you’re watching a show set somewhere that isn’t ordinary.

Because we are surrounded by thousands of subtle things every day, we’re so used to the subtle details of the world and our lives being the same that we don’t even really think about them most of the time – unless there’s something different or “wrong” with them.

This is hardly a new idea – I mean, Sigmund Freud actually wrote an entire essay about this subject back in 1919!

So, suddenly noticing something subtle that we’ve never really paid attention to before is a far more memorable way to get people’s attention than just suddenly showing them something obviously weird.

In addition to this, it’s also a good idea to mostly show the weird aspects of your story or comic through subtle details because it’s more realistic.

Many of us have had at least some slightly weird experiences before – eg: when we think that we notice something out of the corner of our eye, when something is actually slightly different to what we remember, when someone remembers something differently to how we do, when we experience small synchronicities etc….

Generally, when weird stuff happens in real life, it’s usually fairly subtle. It’s usually the kind of thing that we can either ignore or go “hmm… that’s strange” and then pretty much forget about. But, when it happens in fiction (where larger weird things can conceivably happen), it makes us feel intrigued – it makes us wonder “why?“. It makes us wonder what else might be different.

Yes, it might not stand out as much as something larger and more obvious, but it’s the kind of thing that’s much more likely to be either memorable, cool, funny and/or creepy than any of the more obvious “weird” parts of your story or comic will be.

Of course, there’s also something of a balancing act here. If you make the weird details of your story too subtle, then people won’t notice them – so, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that most of the weird details in your story are fairly subtle, but to also add one or two larger and more obvious ones too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂