Three Reasons Why Physical Media Is Awesome

Although there are certainly a lot of things to be said for digital media (for starters, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I actually had to publish it as a physical magazine), I thought that I’d talk about physical media today.

This is mostly because, I definately prefer certain things on physical media (eg: paperback novels, DVD boxsets etc..). Physical media is absolutely awesome for a whole host of reasons. Here are a few of them:

1) Discovering random signed things: One of the cool things about physical media is that writers, musicians etc.. can actually sign it. What this means is that sometimes you can end up inadvertently buying a signed copy of something new or second-hand. Yes, it doesn’t happen that often, but it can certainly happen.

My most recent experience of this happened the day before I wrote the first draft of this article. This was mostly because I ended up finding my CD copy of Cradle Of Filth’s “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder” after feeling slightly nostalgic about the album.

I’d bought it in Aberystwyth during the late ’00s and I wanted to relive my memories of that time. Since the album was new at the time (and I was a little wealthier then), I ended up getting the special edition version.

Whilst the discs were still fine, my present-day self was annoyed that the special edition has some rather flimsy cardboard packaging. However, I soon stopped being annoyed when I tilted the back of the sleeve slightly and noticed a small signature in black ink against the dark brown cardboard. Somehow, I’d never noticed this before! Ok, I couldn’t work out if it was an actual signed copy or whether the signature had just been printed on the sleeve, but it was a really cool surprise nonetheless.

Here’s a close-up, featuring the signature in question. It’s a little hard to see, but I’m still not sure if it is actually a “proper” signature or whether it was just printed onto the CD cover.

But, my coolest memory of accidentally finding a signed copy was when I bought an old second-hand copy of Shaun Hutson‘s “Victims” from a market stall in Truro during a holiday in Cornwall when I was a teenager. When I opened it a while later, the first thing that greeted me was none other than the signature of my favourite author at the time! Needless to say, I was amazed!

Seriously, seeing THIS for the first time was such a cool moment! Although, annoyingly, it seemed like such a cool thing that I didn’t dare to sully this precious object by actually reading the novel. Still, this is something you can’t experience with e-books.

Amusingly, a few years later, I later found several signed hardback copies of one of Hutson’s books (“Twisted Souls”, I think) in the bargain bin of a sadly-defunct bookshop in Aberystwyth called Galloways. At first, I’d just bought one copy but, as soon as I learnt that it was signed, I made the decision to trudge back into town the next day to buy the other copies of it in the bargain bin (I can’t remember if I followed through with this or not, but I bought at least one extra copy of it. Alas, it is lost amongst my piles of books though).

But, yes, this is an experience which you can only really have with physical media.

2) Second-hand stuff (is awesome for so many reasons!): This is a fairly obvious one, but you can actually buy second-hand copies of physical media. Yes, sites that sell digital goods will occasionally reduce the prices of older things and occasionally have sales, but it isn’t really quite the same.

For starters, there’s something wonderfully democratic about second-hand copies of things. Yes, you can’t keep up to date with everything if you mostly buy second-hand copies, but the fact that you can buy decent quantities of books, DVDs etc… at sensible prices is absolutely brilliant if you are on a budget. It’s what has allowed me to build up a fairly decent DVD library these days and to build up a decent collection of novels when I was younger.

Secondly, although I mostly order second-hand things online these days, one cool thing about second-hand stuff was the experience of actually visiting the shops that sell it – whether that was dedicated second-hand shops or just charity shops. These places are awesome for so many reasons. Not only do second-hand bookshops have really cool “old”/ “non-corporate” atmosphere to them, but they are also places where serendipity can happen.

What I mean by this is that you have no way of knowing what they do or don’t stock. And, in the pre-smartphone age (or the present day if you avoid these irritating gadgets like the plague), if you found a book that you’d never heard of before then you had to judge whether it would be any good by looking at the cover and reading the first few pages. And, since the prices were fairly sensible, there was more of an incentive to take a chance on unknown authors. Yes, sometimes this didn’t work out, but sometimes it did. Of course, on the internet (where you have to actively search for specific things), it is a lot more difficult to have an experience like this.

Thirdly, there’s the historical element of it. Even though I only really “discovered” second-hand books during my teenage years during the 2000s, I got quite the education in 1980s-90s horror novels, 1950s-60s science fiction novels etc… for the simple reason that these cool historical relics were cheaply available in second-hand and charity shops.

Finally, second-hand copies (and physical media in general) are awesome because they put the consumer in control! To give you an example, it isn’t exactly unheard of for companies to remotely delete e-books from people’s e-readers (yes, the news report is almost a decade old and this sort of thing doesn’t happen often, but it’s still creepy that they can do it in the first place). So, physical media ensures that the consumer is in control, as they should be!

3) Cover Art: Although I only really even began to get serious about being an artist in 2012, I’d already had much more of an art education than I knew. This was, of course, all thanks to physical media. Or, more specifically, cover art.

Yes, digital media will sometimes try to include “cover art” by including digital image files. But, having physical copies is also kind of like owning a collection of art prints too. Seriously, cover art is one of the most under-appreciated types of art out there!

Not only that, thanks to my preference for second-hand and/or slightly older things, I got to see a lot of cover art from the 1980s and 1990s. And, wow, people certainly knew how to make good cover art back then! To give you an example, here’s the cover art for the 1989 UK paperback edition of Clive Barker’s “Cabal“:

Seriously, the cover art for this paperback edition of “Cabal” could almost be a movie poster! Not only does this cover art make effective use of high-contrast lighting, but it also uses a complementary orange/blue colour scheme too.

In fact, one of the major parts of my art style can be directly attributed to cover art. Virtually all of my art uses high-contrast lighting (my rule is that 30-50% of the total surface area of each of my paintings has to be covered with black paint), and it looks a bit like this:

“Metallic Magic” By C. A. Brown

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

And this is a direct result of seeing numerous horror novel covers, heavy metal album covers, VHS/DVD covers etc… over the years. Although I couldn’t name that many famous artists when I was younger, my artistic tastes and sensibilites were already being unknowingly moulded and shaped by physical media.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Things That Books Could Learn From DVDs

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Well, I still seem to be in the mood for writing about books at the moment. So, as a counterbalance to the slight luddism of yesterday’s article, I thought that I’d look at some of the things that books can learn from DVDs. And, yes, I’m aware that watching DVDs is probably also bordering on luddism these days but, well, they’re still my favourite video format.

So, what can books learn from DVDs?

1) Special Features: Although we seem to be moving towards a world where DVDs are more ‘bare bones’ than they used to be (eg: thanks to Blu-ray discs getting all of the special features), the whole idea of “special features” was popularised by the DVD format. It was one of the things that originally set DVDs apart from VHS tapes 10-20 years ago.

Books could learn a lot from this. Although some modern novels do include additional stuff at the end, it usually just consists of either a list of reading group questions, an author bio and/or a small preview of the author’s next novel. By DVD standards, this would probably be considered ‘bare bones’. Sometimes, books will also contain a brief foreword or a list of acknowledgements too. But, this still doesn’t compare to the average DVD from the heyday of the format.

When I was a teenager who read a lot of grisly splatterpunk fiction, one of the most innovative things that I found was a page on Shaun Hutson‘s offical website which included things like extra short stories, a grossly disturbing “deleted scene” from one of his horror novels (which it is implied was possibly censored by the publishers) and an alternate ending to one of his other novels. I’m not going to link directly to Hutson’s official site here but, if you aren’t easily shocked, then the things I’ve mentioned can be found in the “exclusives” menu at the top of the home page.

But, the question I have to ask is why isn’t this sort of thing commonplace in actual books? Almost every published book usually ends up getting edited at some point or another. Most authors probably produce multiple drafts and versions of their stories, and probably end up adding, changing or removing stuff in the process. Would it really be that difficult to include a “deleted scenes” segment in most novels, showing off the best scenes that didn’t make it to the final edit?

2) Chapter titles and contents pages: Yes, books have had chapters for much longer than DVDs have even existed. But, if there’s one thing that is often missing from new books that have been published within the last couple of decades, it’s the good old fashioned “contents” page. A page which tells you how long each chapter is and which easily allows you to remember which chapters key events of the story took place in. It’s quicker to jump to a specific chapter on a DVD than it is to do the same in a modern novel.

Of course, there are practical reasons for this. Ever since Dan Brown popularised ultra-short chapters during the early 2000s, contents pages for some modern novels would probably be at least 3-4 pages long. Likewise, the decline in interesting chapter names (as opposed to just “chapter 1”, “chapter 2” etc…) has probably also lessened the popularity of contents pages in novels.

Yes, I appreciate that in some genres – like the thriller genre – short chapters can improve the pacing and that generic chapter titles are “unobtrusive”. But, in a lot of books, the lack of a contents page and/or proper chapter titles just comes across as lazy.

I mean, one of the cool things about TV shows on DVD is that the episode titles will often give tantalising hints about what to expect in each episode. A contents page filled with intriguing chapter titles can also do the same thing. It’s something that can make readers more interested in the story ahead. So, why isn’t it used more often?

3) Cover art: One of the cool things about physical media formats is that they include cover art. As well as being a source of entertainment, they’re also ornamental objects too. Not only that, the cover art also serves as a form of advertising – enticing people to look closer. These days, DVDs often have far more interesting cover art than novels do.

For example, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the covers of the 2011 Harper Voyager (UK) paperback edition of “A Feast For Crows” by George R.R.Martin and the cover art to the 2015 UK edition of the “Game Of Thrones” season 4 DVD boxset (which loosely correlates with some of the events of “A Feast For Crows”, if memory serves correctly):

Click for larger image.

Click for larger image.

The DVD cover on the right has a dramatic image of a screeching three-eyed raven made out of swords. The book cover on the left has… a goblet.

Likewise, although it’s a little hard to read in the scanned image, the DVD cover also has a melodramatic subtitle about death. The book cover, on the other hand, has a much more mild-mannered quote from Time Magazine. Even though both covers are fairly minimalist, the DVD cover is the more attention-grabbing of the two.

Yes, DVDs are a visual medium and it is easier for cover designers to make dramatic-looking covers by manipulating stills from the film or TV show in question. But, the DVD cover I showed you earlier isn’t directly taken from any scene from the TV show. It was designed by an artist and/or graphic designer, just like a book cover.

So, yes, there’s really no reason or excuse for books from large publishers (who can afford experienced professional artists and/or designers) not having the kind of attention-grabbing, dramatic cover art that is commonplace on DVDs.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Entertainment Formats and ” ‘Jumping In’ Time” – A Ramble

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I originally wrote this article a couple of days after Christmas last year, when I found myself in the wonderful (but paradoxically annoying) situation of having several different types of entertainment on the go at the same time.

At the time of writing, I’m still in the middle of a computer game called “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” (which I will review sometime in the future), I’m watching season four of “Game Of Thrones” on DVD and I’m also reading a novel called “Brighton Belle” by Sara Sheridan.

So, with things in three different mediums, it’s hard not to make comparisons. And, for today, I’ll be looking at what I call ” ‘jumping in’ time”. No, this doesn’t refer to time gaps in stories. It refers to the amount of time it takes to start or continue enjoying something, and how much control the audience has over this.

The novel I’m reading at the moment has a really short ‘jumping in’ time. It’s currently sitting within arms’ reach of my computer desk and, if I feel like spending five minutes reading it, I can just pick it up and carry on reading. If I feel like spending half an hour or more reading it, I can also do this without really thinking about it too much.

It’s written in a way which is descriptive enough to make the novel immersive, but functional enough to ensure that the story keeps moving. It isn’t the kind of ‘slow’ novel that can take literally weeks to read, but it isn’t the kind of fast-paced thriller novel that pretty much demands that you read the whole thing in one 3-6 hour sitting. This balance between these two extremes means that it’s the kind of book that you can easily pick up at will and just read for as long as you want to.

Plus, unlike a lot of modern novels, it’s only a slender 243 pages in length. This shorter length also invites the reader to ‘jump in’ to the story by suggesting that it won’t take too long to enjoy the story.

It’s also part of a longer series (I got the first three books for Christmas), where every novel in the series is completely self-contained. In fact, I accidentally started reading the third book (“England Expects”) for about 10-20 pages before I even realised that it was a later part of the series, and switched to the first book instead.

Best of all, since it’s a paperback book, the “system requirements” aren’t that high. As long as your eyesight is good enough and you are literate, then you can enjoy it. “Brighton Belle” was first published in 2012 and it requires exactly the same ‘hardware’ to read as a book from 1992 or 1952 does. Now, compare this to a high-budget modern computer game or one of those online-only TV series that are all the rage these days, and you’ll see why it has a massive advantage in terms of being accessible to audiences.

On the other hand, the “Game Of Thrones” season four DVD boxset I got for Christmas has something of a longer ‘jumping in’ time. Not only do you have to know all of the backstory and the characters (which I do already), but the box is one of those elaborate boxes where you have to remove a cardboard sleeve, then remove a box from inside another box and then unfold a concertina before you can even get to the discs.

In addition to this, you obviously have to watch the series in almost one hour increments. Whilst this allows for easier time-planning than, say, a two-hour film – it still means that you have to set aside about an hour or more to watch it. It isn’t something that you can enjoy for five minutes, twenty minutes or one and a half hours. You can only enjoy it in strict one-hour increments.

Now, compare this to the average Youtube video. Although “Game Of Thrones” might have much better production values, a compelling story etc… the average Youtube video is only about 3-10 minutes long. They’re the kind of thing that you don’t have to put much thought into watching. They have a very short ‘jumping in’ time. Even though I really love “Game Of Thrones”, I probably spent much more time watching Youtube videos in the days after Christmas.

On the other hand, “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” has an even longer ‘jumping in’ time than all of these things. Whilst it is well-made enough to run on even fairly old computers (like mine), you have to download more than a gigabyte of data once you buy it, which can take a while. Likewise, there’s also a small 20mb patch that takes almost as long to install as the actual game does.

Although it’s really fun, it’s also a very slow-paced game. Not only are there long loading times (although this might be an old computer thing) when you start playing, but the game’s combat system is designed to be more of a slow and strategic chess-like thing.

Combine this with the fact that it will only allow you to save your progress at seemingly random points in the game and the fact that the story, characters, game world etc… are really compelling, and it’s the kind of thing where you have to set aside at least 1-2 hours whenever you want to play it.

Now, compare this to another game like “Doom II” (or, rather, fan-made levels for it). Since this game is extremely old, it loads almost instantly. The gameplay is designed to be fast, responsive and intense. It also allows you to save your game wherever you want. It’s the kind of game which you can literally play for five minutes, or an hour or whatever.

Although it would be the gravest of heresies to call “Doom II” a ‘casual’ game, it is a game with a ridiculously short ‘jumping in’ time. And, as such, my decision to play it is usually a lot quicker than it is when I decide whether or not to play some more “Shadowrun: Dragonfall”. Even if both things are extremely fun.

So, what was the point of all of this? Well, the shorter the ‘jumping in’ time for your story/comic/film/game etc…, then the more likely your audience are to return to it regularly. If your audience has a high degree of choice over the amount of time they spend with something, then they’re going to spend more time with it.

Yes, things with a longer ‘jumping in’ time can still be great, but this can also mean that the audience is more reluctant to enjoy them on a more regular basis.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Awesome Advantages Of Watching DVDs Whilst Making Art

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This probably isn’t for everyone, but I thought that I’d talk about something that I tend to do quite often when I’m making art. I am, of course, talking about watching DVDs in the background (usually whilst both listening via headphones and keeping the subtitles on, to avoid missing any of the dialogue).

Again, this isn’t for everyone. Some people prefer to work in absolute silence, some people just like to listen to music and some people actually prefer to have other people in the general vicinity when making art. For me, solitude and non-interactive background things (eg: TV shows, music etc..) seem to work best. But, different things work for different people.

Likewise, it’s only possible to do this if you make traditional (eg: completely non-digital) or semi-traditional art that mostly uses fairly portable materials.

For example, whilst I heavily edit/process most of my art on the computer after I’ve scanned it, the actual drawing (and painting, using watercolour pencils) usually takes place in a sketchbook that is resting on my knee whilst I’m watching DVDs on my computer.

But, what are the advantages of watching DVDs whilst making art?

1) Time limits: If you’re making art regularly, then it’s often good to set yourself time limits. If you can make a fairly decent painting or drawing within 1-2 hours, then this level of efficiency is probably going to help you out when you’re making more time-intensive things, like comics projects.

In addition to this, setting a time limit also means that you’ll quickly learn to actually finish most of the pieces of art that you start making. It stops you from turning into a perfectionist who never finishes anything.

And, if you’re watching TV shows (or possibly shorter films) on DVD whilst you’re making art, then it’s a lot easier to set a time limit. After all, you can tell yourself that you’re going to finish your artwork within the time it takes you to watch 1-2 episodes of a TV show, or one 90 minute film. This can also sometimes (but not always) help you to prevent yourself from binge-watching your DVDs too.

2) Physicality And Ritual: This might just be my traditionalist side, but there’s something good about the actual physicality of using a DVD (rather than just watching modern streaming video).

Since making semi-traditional art is often at least a slightly physical experience, it just feels right that the things in the background should also share this quality too. I mean, if computers could play VHS tapes, then this would be even better. But, they can’t, so DVDs are a good substitute.

In addition to this, actually getting the DVD out of it’s case and putting it in your computer can add an interesting element of ritual to the whole experience too. The only downside is the other ritual of replacing the DVD drive every couple of years….

Whilst every artist probably has their own “rituals” (and mine also include things like drawing guide lines on the sketchbook page I’ll be using etc..), these sorts of things can help you to get into the mood for creating things.

3) Purpose: One of the strange things that I noticed after I’d been painting or drawing whilst watching DVDs for a while is that, if I watch a DVD when I’m not painting something, I’ll sometimes feel like something’s missing. I’ll sometimes feel like I’m wasting my time.

In other words, making art whilst watching DVDs can turn what is typically a fairly passive and “lazy” experience into something that feels a lot more productive. Plus, the incentive of watching a DVD can help you to feel motivated to keep up your art practice on the days when you are feeling less enthusiastic.

4) Inspiration: Watching a DVD in the background whilst making art can help you to feel more inspired in at least a couple of different ways.

First of all, having a background distraction can be useful to take your mind off of any feelings of uninspiration for a few minutes. If you’re thinking about the story of the film or TV show you’re watching, then you’re less likely to be thinking things like “Oh god! What should I paint?!?!“, “I can’t think of anything!!” etc… And, as any creative person will tell you, these kinds of thoughts only make you feel more uninspired.

Whilst you shouldn’t procrastinate for too long (see #1 on this list), a small amount of distraction can sometimes help to shake you out of an uninspired mood.

Secondly, you can also take inspiration from the things that you’re watching too. Whilst you need to know how to take inspiration properly (and the difference between inspiration and plagiarism) before you do this, it can be surprisingly useful.

In general, I’ve found that TV shows will sometimes give you a general direction that you can take your art in. Whilst you’ll still obviously have to work out a lot for yourself, having some hint of which genre you can use takes some of the uncertainty out of planning a painting or drawing.

For example, here’s a preview of what my art looked like when I was watching a cyberpunk anime series called “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex”:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 15th July.

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 15th July.

And here’s a preview of what one of my paintings looked like when I watched season one of “Twin Peaks”, as you can see, it has more of a 1980s/90s kind of look – as well as some slight strangeness too.

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 13th August.

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 13th August.

So, watching DVDs whilst drawing or painting can help you try out different genres of art and, whilst it may not make you feel completely inspired, it will at least point you in a particular direction.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂