Three Reasons Why Creative Works That Are Never Made Seem So Good

The day before I wrote this article, I happened to find a really cool video on Youtube where, by editing together various audience recordings, someone was able to reconstruct what a live concert video for Iron Maiden’s 1986/7 world tour would have possibly looked like. This was a tour that was apparently never officially filmed and, were it not for the fans, would have been lost to the mists of time.

Although the tour was from before my time, I was astonished by how awesome this fan reconstruction was. Everything from the “Blade Runner”-themed introduction, to the costumes to the performance of songs that the band rarely plays live were really amazing. The blurry camcorder footage also made me wonder how much more awesome a proper official live video would have looked like if it had ever been made.

And this, of course, made me think about the topic of creative works that were never made. In particular, why they can sometimes seem better than things that were actually made.

1) Imagination: This is the most obvious one. If something is never made, then people will have to use whatever clues they can find in order to imagine what it looks like.

First of all, everyone’s imagination is at least slightly different. So, your idea of what a cool-sounding unreleased computer game/film/album/novel etc… would look like will probably be at least slightly different to that of the people who would have made it.

In addition to this, our imaginations also have very little in the way of limitations. In other words, we don’t have to worry about things like budgets, practical concerns or anything like that when we imagine what an unreleased film, game etc… might look like. So, it is probably going to look better in our imaginations than it ever would in real life.

2) Fandom: Following on from this, if you’re imagining something that was never made, then you are probably a fan of whoever would have made it. In other words, you’re probably judging it by the high standards of everything else that they have made. At the very least, you will probably expect it to be similar to these things.

The thing to remember here is that things that aren’t made sometimes aren’t made for a good reason. Maybe the underlying idea had a flaw of some kind? Maybe it was something that sounded cooler in principle than it actually did in practice? Maybe it would have required the person creating it to change something in a way that would alienate fans? etc…

A good videogame-based example of this is probably “Duke Nukem Forever”. For many years, this was a legendary unreleased game from the makers of the 1996 FPS classic “Duke Nukem 3D”. Everyone expected it to be like an enhanced version of “Duke Nukem 3D”. Of course, when it was eventually released in 2011, it was widely criticised for including all of the worst elements of modern FPS games (eg: linear levels, two-weapon limits etc..).

So, yes, “lost” creative works can seem better for the simple reason that you expect them to be like things that have already been released.

3) Context: Another reason why “lost” creative works can seem so amazing is because of the historical context surrounding them. In short, they evoke nostalgia. When we think about them, we think about the time period that they could have been made in.

We think about the earlier days of our favourite musicians, writers, game companies etc… and find ourselves wishing that we lived in that time period. And, whilst released creative works can evoke this nostalgia, unreleased ones tend to evoke it a lot more powerfully for the simple reason that we aren’t familiar with them (since they were never actually made).

As such, even a few vague clues about these things can seem like something “new” from the glory days of our favourite creative people.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Partial Fandoms

One of the most surprising sources of creative inspiration for writers, artists, comic-makers etc… can often be when you really like a few things that have been made by someone (or a few things in a particular genre), but don’t really consider yourself to really fully be a “fan” of everything that falls into this category.

To give you a musical example, there are four songs by AC/DC that I absolutely love (eg: “Thunderstruck”, “Hell’s Bells”, “Highway To Hell” and “Back In Black”, in that order). But, those few songs aside, I’m not really an AC/DC fan. To give you a literary example, I’m not really a fan of fantasy literature, even though I absolutely love some of the George R. R. Martin, Terry Pratchett and Clive Barker novels that I’ve read in this genre.

So, you might think, what on earth does any of this have to do with creative inspiration? After all, most people like a few things by someone or a few things in a particular genre, without being a fan of literally everything.

It’s important for creative inspiration for the simple reason that having a few of these “partial fandoms” can help you to come up with a unique mixture of inspirations for the things that you create. After all, if you only like one author in a particular genre or a few things made by someone, then this usually prompts you to ask “Why? What makes these things different?“. Once you’ve found the answer, you can use it to improve and expand the things you create.

For example, one reason why I like a few fantasy authors, despite not being a major fan of the fantasy genre as a whole is because they often do things like incorporating elements from the horror and/or comedy genres into the fantasy genre.

So, if I made a piece of fantasy-themed artwork, I’m going to do something a bit similar – like in this reduced-size preview of an upcoming piece of medieval fantasy-style artwork of mine:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 13th March.

Although I was in the mood for making fantasy-themed artwork at the time, I remembered the lessons I’d learnt from the few things I love in the fantasy genre and added some elements from the horror genre. For example, the ominous dark robes that the archer is wearing were mostly inspired by the evil cultists in a horror-themed computer game called “Blood“. Likewise, the menacing fiery lighting was inspired by various scenes from “Game Of Thrones“. Not to mention that my general attitude towards colour and lighting was inspired by some of my more major inspirations like the cyberpunk genre, old heavy metal album covers etc…

Of course, if I was much more of a fan of the fantasy genre, the painting would probably look different. It’d probably be brighter and more detailed. It would probably include a complex background and mythical beings (eg: elves, dragons, goblins etc..), rather than a dark and impressionistic medieval castle in the background. If I’d had a lot more fantasy-based inspirations, the picture would look very different as a result.

Likewise, if I’m going to include fantasy elements in a short story, then I’m probably going to add a lot of comedy too. For example, in this short fantasy-themed cyberpunk story of mine from late 2016, I don’t take the fantasy elements of the story even close to seriously, and I had a lot of fun writing it even though I certainly wouldn’t consider myself to be a “fantasy author”.

So, being a partial fan of something can actually improve your creativity and help you to feel inspired for the simple reason that it reminds you that good creative works come from having a mixture of different inspirations. Likewise, it can also help to expand the range of different things that you feel that you can create.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Current Long-Running Fandoms That Either Cost Nothing Or Very Little To Join

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This article is a little different from my usual articles, since it isn’t really about creating things – but about being part of the audience. Still, given the mild writer’s block that I’d experienced recently, this ultra-long article idea seemed too interesting to miss out on. So, please bear with me.

A few hours before writing this article, I was watching computer game/videogame-themed Youtube videos when I realised that modern mainstream gaming was a subculture that I was even further away from than I thought.

These days, it’s as much due to a preference for older games and modern retro-style indie games as anything, but it’s also to do with the cost of gaming. New mainstream games are expensive, and that’s not even including the cost of the PC upgrades and/or consoles you need to play them.

One of the strange things about a lot of modern games-related media is that it assumes that literally everyone can easily keep up to date with the latest games. But, mainstream gaming is an expensive fandom to belong to. This, of course, made me wonder about fandoms that don’t cost an arm and a leg to belong to.

In fact, some of the best current (eg: lots of fans still exist for these things) fandoms can either be joined for free and/or for very little. Best of all, since these fandoms have been going strong for a long time, there’s also lots more fan-related stuff on the internet, more discussions about them etc… than you’ll probably find for more expensive trendy new fandoms. Here are four of them:

1) Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock Holmes is one of the most timeless fictional characters ever created. He is also one of the most influential characters in the detective genre.

If you don’t mind the slightly old-fashioned (but not as old-fashioned as you might think) narrative style, then Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original “Sherlock Holmes” stories can still thrill, chill, puzzle and/or surprise you when you read them for the first time. They also have one of the largest and longest-running fandoms in existence.

“Sherlock Holmes” was a modern-style TV series from before television was even invented. The original (mostly self-contained) short stories were first released in monthly magazines and then collected together in book-length collections. Like modern TV shows, there was even a “to be continued…” two-part story (“The Final Problem” and “The Empty House”, if you’re curious). Likewise, there are also four full-length novels too. These can all be read in any order that you want to too.

But, best of all, this is a fandom that you can join for free (or for very little, depending on your preference). In most parts of the world, the copyright on the original Sherlock Holmes stories has expired.

What this means is that you can either legally download and/or read all or most of the original stories and novels for free on sites like Project Gutenberg or Wikisource, or you can find extremely cheap “classics” reprints of them in many bookshops.

A good place to start would probably be “The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes” – or, if you can’t find that, then “The Hound Of The Baskervilles”. The best short story collection, but the least common in print form, is probably “His Last Bow”.

However, whilst all of the original stories/novels are out of copyright in the UK, mainland Europe etc… one short story collection (“The Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes”) is still copyrighted in the US. But, if you’re American, then don’t worry. It’s probably the worst of the original books. Seriously, all of the other books are twice as good, and aren’t copyrighted in the US.

2) Classic “Doom”/ freeware “Doom Engine” games: If you are a fan of first-person shooter games and you’ve somehow never heard of a trio of games from the 1990s called “Ultimate Doom”, “Doom II: Hell On Earth” and “Final Doom”, then you are in for a treat!

Whilst these games didn’t invent the FPS genre, they popularised it and – like Sherlock Holmes – they’re timeless too. They are as thrillingly fun today as they were in the 1990s, and they still have a huge fanbase and modding community too. These games, and free legal alternatives to them, also don’t require an expensive modern computer to play either.

Although the classic commercial “Doom” games are best, there are also some really good free legal alternatives too if there isn’t room in your budget for these (fairly inexpensive) games.

This is because the underlying computer code that allows the games to function is open-source (eg: the programmers have given permission for it to be freely modified and freely distributed by anyone). As such, this underlying code has been used as the basis for new free “Doom”-like games.

If you have the internet, but no gaming budget whatsoever, then start by downloading a free program called a “source port” (I’d recommend one called “ZDoom) that will allow “Doom”-based games to run on your computer (and to use things like modern-style controls too).

Once you’ve done this, you can legally download any of the following free game files to use with your source port – “Freedoom”/ “Freedoom: Phase II“, “Hacx 1.2“, “Harmony” and, of course, the official “Doom” demo (get the “v1.9” version at the bottom of the page).

If you get “Harmony”, then (if I remember rightly) the download also comes with a source port already included – so, it’s probably the best one if you don’t want to be bothered with setting up a source port. However, the “Freedoom” games are the closest in style to the original ‘Doom’ games. “Hacx 1.2” is more of a cyberpunk FPS game.

With the sole exception of the official “Doom” demo, these free games will be different from the official “Doom” games. For legal reasons, they feature totally different levels, graphics, sounds, monsters, weapons etc… but, in terms of the actual gameplay, they will be very similar to the official “Doom” games because they use the same computer code. And they’re a lot of fun!

If you’ve got a little bit of money, then buy either “Doom II” and/or “Final Doom” from a reputable direct download site. They shouldn’t cost more than a few pounds, euros or dollars, and you can easily use the game’s files with the source port of your choice (rather than the one they come packaged with). The reason to buy “Doom II” or “Final Doom” instead of the first game, is because they are also backwards-compatible with fan-made levels for the original “Doom”.

Yes, the reason why the old “Doom” games will give you more than any other FPS game is because there are over 20 years worth of free fan-made levels (called “WADs”) freely available for them on the internet. New ones are still being made too. In fact, some of these levels (eg: ones that don’t add new textures etc..) are also compatible with the free “Freedoom” game files that I mentioned earlier.

3) “Star Trek”: Yes, there isn’t a completely free equivalent to ‘Star Trek’, but it’s still a fairly cheap (and large!) fandom to join if you’re a sci-fi fan.

This is mostly because it is one of the most widely-syndicated, well-known and frequently-repeated TV show franchises in existence. Likewise, there are literally hundreds of mostly self-contained novels – many of which can either be bought cheaply second-hand or found in libraries.

Despite a reputation for extreme nerdiness, it’s a lot easier to get into “Star Trek” than you might think – I mean, I was first introduced to “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” sometime between the ages of ten and twelve and I still really enjoyed them even back then. Seriously, they’re still compelling drama shows, even if you might not understand every precise detail of the futuristic technology that the characters use.

So, if you’re new to “Star Trek”, I’d recommend looking through the TV listings for repeats of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. If you can’t find any, then look for repeats of “Star Trek: Voyager” (it has different characters and a different premise, but is slightly similar in many ways – if very slightly gloomier in tone).

If you live in the UK then, the last time I looked (in 2016), the channel you want to look for to find various ‘Star Trek’ repeats is a freeview station called CBS Action.

Both of these shows are new enough (eg: “The Next Generation” ran from 1987-1994 and “Voyager” ran from 1995-2001) to still seem slightly modern and they also mostly consist of self-contained stand-alone episodes. So, you don’t really have to worry too much about watching them in order. After all, these shows came from a time before modern binge-watching, so they were designed to be more easily-accessible to new viewers.

The original 1960s “Star Trek” TV show is good, but looks very dated by modern standards. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is also good, but the later seasons have a long-running storyline that is best watched in order (on DVD etc..). “Star Trek: Enterprise” is also surprisingly good too, but it’s more like a typical mid-2000s sci-fi show in tone, style etc.. than classic ‘Star Trek’. So “The Next Generation” and/or “Voyager” are the best ones to start with.

Likewise, because of it’s age and popularity, you can pick up a lot of “Star Trek” stuff fairly cheaply second-hand. As I mentioned earlier, the hundreds of novels (many of which are self-contained) based on the TV shows can be found cheaply in second-hand bookshops, charity shops/thrift shops or online. Likewise, DVD releases of many of the TV show episodes, and the films based on the series, can often be found relatively cheaply second-hand too.

4) Iron Maiden: If you like rock music or heavy metal music then, it almost goes without saying, but take a look at a band called Iron Maiden. Even if you just watch the free music videos on their official Youtube channel, listen to them. Like Sherlock Holmes and “Doom”, they are also timeless.

Not only have they probably influenced almost every metal band that appeared after them, but they’re still going strong too. Plus, since they’re one of those rare bands who have never released a “bad” album (yes, even the two albums released during Blaze Bayley’s tenure as lead singer are surprisingly good), just choose the cheapest Maiden albums you can find if you’re on a budget.

They also have one of the largest, most widespread and most enthusiastic music fandoms that you can find. They aren’t “mainstream”, but you can find literal hordes of fans in pretty much every country in the world.

Plus, because they’ve been going for over four decades, their fandom is completely generation-neutral.

I’m in the latter half of my twenties and I discovered the band when I was a young teenager. Yet, there are also lots of thirtysomething, fortysomething, fiftysomething, sixtysomething etc.. Maiden fans too. Being an Iron Maiden fan is neither a “young” or an “old” thing. It’s also probably one of the best, if not the best, music fandoms you can ever find – with very little “trendiness”, pretentiousness, politics or elitism.

Likewise, because of their popularity, there are also a lot of Iron Maiden tribute bands out there too. So, if you want to experience their songs played live but don’t want to spend a fortune, then check out some of these bands. Yes, they aren’t quite as good as seeing Iron Maiden perform (something I’ve only done once) but, since they often play in smaller venues, the atmosphere of these tribute band concerts (at least the ones I saw in mid-late 2000s Britain) is really something!

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Can Art And Webcomics Have Secondary Fandoms?

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Well, I thought that I’d talk about “secondary fandoms” today. This is the best term I can come up with to describe that bizarre experience where you find something really cool, that is a tiny part of something else (that you may or may not interested in).

For example, I’m not really a huge fan of the modern role-playing genre of computer games and my computer is probably considered “vintage” these days. So, I’m probably not going to play “Skyrim” and yet, thanks to numerous cover versions that I’ve heard on Youtube, I think that it’s theme tune is one of the most epic pieces of music ever invented. Even though I absolutely love the theme tune, I can’t exactly call myself a “Skyrim” fan. Hence, “secondary fandom”.

Although secondary fandoms don’t always lead to people joining the “main” fandom for something, they can certainly be a useful tool for building a fandom.

For example, I initially got vaguely interested in “Game Of Thrones” after I saw a really cool Youtube video of someone playing the show’s epic theme song using eight modified floppy disk drives as an instrument. When a relative later recommended the books to me and lent me one of them, I was curious enough to read the first hundred pages. Then I ended up watching some of the TV show, which got me interested in the books again, which got me interested in the TV show again etc… But, this may or may not have happened if I hadn’t heard a version of the show’s impressive theme tune on Youtube first.

But, it’s probably quite telling that the two examples that I’ve given have been computer games and TV shows. After all, due to the complex nature of these mediums, they’re going to contain many additional elements that can draw in a secondary fandom. After all, they also contain music, art (even if it’s just cover/ poster art), architecture/set design, costume design, catchphrases etc…

However, art and webcomics contain far fewer different elements. With comics, you’ve just got text and art. With art, you just have art. So, can these things actually have secondary fandoms?

In a word, yes. Although it’s probably more difficult than it is with things like TV shows and computer games.

With webcomics, you can probably gain a secondary fandom by producing interesting-looking stand-alone drawings or paintings of your characters. If this art looks like the kind of thing that people would want to use as a desktop background, the kind of thing that people would want to use as an online avatar etc… then there’s a good chance that you’ll gain a secondary fandom.

With art, the only real way to gain a secondary fandom is if your art appears in other contexts, or if one or two pieces of your art become more famous than the rest.

For example, I’ve been a massive fan of a band called Iron Maiden for at least a decade (after hearing one of their songs in a slightly old computer game when I was a teenager). Anyway, one thing that I loved about the band when I first discovered it was how cool all of the cover artwork for their old albums looked.

In fact, I even ended up accumulating quite a few Iron Maiden T-shirts purely because of the coolness of both the art and the band. However, it was only relatively recently that I learnt that all of the “classic” Iron Maiden artwork was made by an artist called Derek Riggs. I’d spent years being a fan of an artist whose name I didn’t even know!

Likewise, literally everyone knows what the Mona Lisa looks like. It’s widely considered to be one of the best and most valuable paintings ever made. And, yet, very few people can probably name or remember too many more of Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings or drawings (except possibly The Last Supper and/or the Vitruvian Man). Although the Mona Lisa is just one of many pieces of art that Da Vinci made, it has a level of appeal and popularity which means that it’s audience consists of more than just Renaissance art experts.

So, yes, art and webcomics can gain a secondary fandom – even if it is more difficult than it probably is for TV shows, games, films etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Fandom As Continuing A Tradition – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Creative Traditions and fandom

Traditions. Usually, these tend to get a bad reputation as something boring and old. Sometimes this can be for a good reason, but when it comes to creative things, I’d argue that traditions can often be a great thing. So much so that people will often continue them completely of their own choice. Hell, sometimes people will even start them.

Once again, although this will be an article about making art (and writing fiction/ making comics too), this article was inspired by something computer game-related. And, yes, it is relevant to what I’ll be talking about (although not in the way you might expect). Still, if you don’t want to read about computer games, feel free to skip the next four paragraphs.

A few minutes before I started writing, I was looking at random things about interesting levels for the original “Doom“. As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m a major fan of the old “Doom” games and I usually try to review at least one fan-made level per month here.

Without repeating myself too much, there are a lot of reasons why 1990s FPS games are better than modern mega-budget ones. One of the many reasons for this is the complex, non-linear level design in a lot of these old games. Anyway, I suddenly remembered something really obvious that I’d forgotten about again – these kinds of levels are still being made! In 2016!

I knew this already, but I kept forgetting about it. Why? Because they weren’t “official” levels. They were fan-made levels that were made for fun by people who admired these games so much that they actually wanted to carry on the tradition of good level design. 1990s-style FPS games haven’t faded into obscurity, they’ve just turned into an “unofficial” fan tradition.

Yes, the fans don’t have the resources to create entirely new games, but they’ll often do the next best thing. There are, for example, many modifications for “Doom” that change so many things about the game (eg: weapons, graphics, monsters etc…) that they may as well be new games.

But what does any of this have to do with art, fiction and/or comics?

Now, you’re probably expecting me to start talking about “fan art”, “fan comics” and “fan fiction”. But, I’m not going to – at least not in the modern interpretation of these terms. This is because I’d argue that a creative tradition is much larger than just one thing. Yes, fan traditions might be started by one or two things, but they often turn into something much larger.

In fact, I’d argue that a true fan tradition begins when people start creating new and “original” things that have been inspired by something else. Whilst, with computer games, ordinary people only usually have the resources to modify existing games – we don’t have this limitation with more traditional mediums like art, fiction and comics.

Yes, a lot of people enjoy making fan fiction and fan art (and fan art can indeed be fun to make) but, unlike game modders, we aren’t limited to just extending existing pre-made things.

No, a fan tradition gets started when people look at what made something great and then try to create something totally new that includes these elements. They create something new that is different from, but reminiscent of, something they consider to be great.

They don’t do this because they’re too lazy to think of “100% original” ideas, they do it because the only way they can create things that they can truly love is by taking everything that made their favourite things great and trying to improve on it.

This is, incidentally, the foundation of all creativity. Even the greatest and most “original” works of art and fiction in world history have all been inspired by something else. Although the very best things are inspired by a mixture of different things, they still often have a main inspiration of some kind.

The reason for this is fairly simple. We all want to see more of our favourite things. However, with most great things, they either only exist for a short period of time or there are only a few examples of them. As such, it is up to us to make new things that are in the same tradition as the things we love.

For example, I’m a major fan of the movie “Blade Runner” and, by extension, I’m a fan of 1980s/90s cyberpunk. However, the mainstream science fiction genre has unfortunately moved away from this kind of thing.

So, whenever I make science fiction art, I’ll usually try to continue the tradition of 1980s/90s sci-fi by making new and “original” pieces of art that were inspired by things like “Blade Runner”, William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, “The Matrix” etc… like this:

"Strange Case" By C. A. Brown

“Strange Case” By C. A. Brown

This isn’t modern “fan art” that is explicitly based on something else. Yes, it’s reminiscent of two or three pre-existing things, but it’s part of the tradition that they started. It contains general elements from other things (eg: rain, billboard adverts, flying cars, leather trenchcoats, machines etc…) and even some subtle references to pre-existing things, but it’s not just a copy of something else. It’s part of a tradition.

Going back to games yet again, a great example of all of this can be seen by games companies in the 1990s. “Doom” was such an inspirational game that it prompted other companies to start making original FPS games. These games had totally different storylines, characters, programming, weapons etc.. to “Doom” but, for a few years, they were apparently referred to as “Doom clones”.

Eventually, the term “doom clone” was replaced with “first-person shooter”. Yes, this is how genres get started. It’s all because of fandom and traditions.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Sherlock Holmes

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Well, since I couldn’t think of a proper idea for an article, I thought that I’d ramble about my experiences with one of the greatest fictional characters ever invented.

I first discovered Sherlock Holmes in the summer of 2005. At the time, I was shopping in Waterlooville and had been browsing in a charity shop for quite a while, when I thought that I should probably buy something out of politeness. Since the most interesting book on the shelf was an old Penguin Classics edition of “The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes”, I decided to get it.

Needless to say, within a couple of weeks, I had a boxset of all of Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories. I read them in the same way that you would watch a DVD boxset of a fascinating TV show. In other words, I tried to ration myself to just three or four short stories a day. Not only that, when I’d finished reading them, I re-read them again. And again.

In fact, one of the many coolest moments from the following year was discovering that, in my haste to read all of the stories, I’d actually missed one (“The Adventure of The Six Napoleons”) and I had a “new” original Sherlock Holmes story to read.

To say that I was obsessed would be an understatement. These books had an impact on me, on my writing style and even on my personality at the time. I loved everything about the stories, from the intricate mysteries, to Holmes himself, to the atmosphere of Victorian London, to the old-fashioned (yet still interesting, unlike the Victorian set texts I had to read at college at the time) narration.

I have never really been quite as interested in a series of books ever since. Discovering Sherlock Holmes by accident was as much of a significant life-changing moment to me as discovering heavy metal music by accident (in 2001) was.

The great thing about Sherlock Holmes is that he’s a timeless character. He can appear in any part the world in any part of history and he’ll still both fit in perfectly and stand out as someone slightly strange. The same can’t really be said about many other fictional characters.

Not only that, there are also decades of fan fiction about him out there. In fact, he was probably the very first character to inspire what we now know as fan fiction. The only real difference being that most old pre-internet Sherlock Holmes fan fiction was actually of publishable quality.

Like with fan-made levels for the first two “Doom” games, the world will never run out of new stories and films about Sherlock Holmes. Like the original “Doom”, Sherlock Holmes is timeless and eternal. In fifty years time, people will still be reading Sherlock Holmes and playing the original “Doom”. In a hundred years time, people will still be playing the original “Doom” and reading Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes a character that has been re-interpreted and parodied countless times and yet he still retains everything that makes him great. Unlike many other heroic characters, Sherlock Holmes’ strength comes almost entirely from his mind (and maybe his boxing practice too).

He solves seemingly unsolvable mysteries purely through the power of thought and observation. He’s a “realistic” superhero (but without the silly spandex outfit and all of the other usual superhero nonsense).

But, best of all, Sherlock Holmes is an eccentric, a misfit, a geek and an introvert. Not only is he these things, but they are also his strengths – rather than his weaknesses.

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Anyway, I hope this was interesting 🙂

Why do some genres end up being “hidden” within other genres? – A Ramble

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Although this is a short article about art, writing and comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about my own experiences with music for a while. There’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Although I recently mentioned how I now have slightly more appreciation for abstract art than I used to, something similar happened to me musically around the same time too. For the first time in, well, forever, I was sort of interested in jazz music (bebop music mostly).

I’m not sure if this is just a brief phase or not, but there were a whole host of reasons for why I suddenly became interested in jazz/ bebop music, mostly because I’d seen it in a surprising number of computer games, TV shows, online articles within a relatively short period of time and this made me curious about it.

Naturally, I went straight onto Youtube and checked out some music in the genre. And, wow! It’s the kind of music that makes you feel ten times more sophisticated when it’s playing in the background. It’s the kind of music that lends even the most boring afternoon in the most boring room a cool “film noir”-style atmosphere.

But, thinking about it, I’m honestly surprised that it took me this long to appreciate this genre. Especially when you consider that my favourite anime series (which I discovered in 2008, when I went through an anime phase) is literally called “Cowboy Bebop” and features lots of bebop music. Likewise, my favourite movie of all time (“Blade Runner”) features at least a small amount of smooth jazz/ blues music on it’s soundtrack.

So, why am I rambling about music?

Well, the fact is that the jazz / bebop genre was “hidden” in a lot of other things that I’d seen or played over the years without me really paying that much attention to it. When I finally started listening to it, I automatically thought of it as “cool” and “sophisticated” music because of all of the times I’d seen it used in movies, games etc…

It’s always interesting how some genres can hide in the background of novels, films, comics etc… in a way that it both noticeable and unnoticeable.

So, how and why does this happen?

Well, the simple answer is that fans of these genres thought that they were cool and found a way to incorporate them into things that they made in different genres. For example, if a filmmaker is a fan of a particular type of music, then they’re probably going to find a way to include it in at least some of their films.

Likewise, if someone who is making comics really likes a particular art style, then they’re probably going to find some way to incorporate it into their comics because, well, it looks cool.

This also has the side-effect of introducing people to all sorts of interesting genres without them always really noticing it. Because, let’s face it, fans (of anything) are at least slightly evangelical.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was interesting 🙂

Splatterpunk Ain’t What It Used To Be – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Splatterpunk Ain't What It Used To Be

[Note (26th November 2018): This article was written during a time when I wasn’t reading much and, for various reasons, had gone off splatterpunk horror fiction slightly. It doesn’t reflect my current views about the genre or about Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” either.]

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The night before writing this article, I was binge-reading a really cool blog about old horror fiction that I’d found a few days earlier. Naturally, I skipped to the parts about my favourite horror authors and my favourite sub-genres of horror fiction – and I’d never felt geekier (in a good way) in my life.

To see actual serious articles (and lots of them) about the genre that I used to read regularly when I was a teenager was absolutely amazing. I mean, the splatterpunk genre was already kind of old hat by the time that I found my first second-hand 1980s/90s splatterpunk novel in a market stall at about the age of thirteen but, to me, it was the coolest genre ever.

There are lots of reasons why splatterpunk no longer exists as a genre and I’m sure that I’ve talked about them before (eg: the most prominent reason is probably that everything that made splatterpunk splatterpunk has now been absorbed into mainstream horror fiction), but one of the annoying things about splatterpunk fiction is that it was too recent and too obscure to really be of historic interest to magazine journalists etc…

Literally, the only splatterpunk fiction-related thing I saw in the surrounding culture when I was younger was ( when I was an older teenager) this excellent parody of 80s/90s splatterpunk authors on TV.

Although there was an abundance of actual splatterpunk novels in second-hand bookshops and charity shops for my teenage self to read, there was no real surrounding fan culture to go with them.

So, finding a blog with lots of articles about the genre – filled with both critical commentary and nostalgic pictures of wonderfully lurid splatterpunk cover art was amazing. Even though the creator of the site isn’t a fan of one of my old favourite splatterpunk authors or the type of splatterpunk I liked when I was a teenager, it was still really cool to see a retrospective of this writer’s works and to hear someone else talking knowledgeably about him.

Not only that, the site also contains wonderfully cynical comments about both Guy N.Smith and Richard Laymon’s horror novels. Finally! Someone else who thought the same way about those two authors as I did when I was a teenager! Unfortunately, I didn’t find any cynical comments about how Stephen King used to almost monopolise bookshop horror shelves in the 00s though.

Naturally, after reading this site for a while, I decided to dig up some of my old splatterpunk novels to see if I could get myself back into the genre again. Although I don’t really read anywhere near as much fiction as I used to, the few horror novels I’ve read this decade have all been modern splatterpunk-influenced horror novels. So, I thought that it wouldn’t be too difficult to get back into the genre again.

After a little bit of searching, I turned up a 1990s reprint of “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson. This was one of the old splatterpunk novels that still stuck in my memory and it was one of the cooler ones that I’d read when I was a teenager.

I remembered the story’s dramatic ending and I remembered how the novel was pretty much almost like a Romero-style zombie movie in all but name. Since gory zombie novels were hard to find when I was a teenager, this was an awesome and memorable surprise.

So, naturally, I decided that I’d take a quick look at it again and read the first couple of chapters. My reactions were very different as an adult.

I found the first scene of the story (where a horse on a farm suddenly turns evil and starts violently attacking everything and everyone near it, seemingly without reason) to be laughably melodramatic, rather than compellingly and rebelliously macabre. From the way that it was written, it seemed more like dark comedy than shocking horror.

Even in the second chapter, when Shaun Hutson describes the setting of the novel, I couldn’t quite take all of it seriously because one line of the description (where he describes the local farms producing “full bounty”) sounded exactly like something that Garth Marenghi could say. I stopped reading after this point.

Maybe I’d just grown up? Maybe now that I’m more than old enough to buy proper horror movies, I no longer need splatterpunk novels to tell me luridly gruesome horror stories? Maybe it’s like the old saying that “you can’t go home again”?

As strange as it is to say, my memories of splatterpunk novels are probably a lot cooler than the actual novels probably were. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, I guess.

It’s strange that the genre which got me interested in writing fiction and which has also had a subtle influence on my art too, is actually cooler in my imagination than it is in reality.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

One Cool Way To Get Inspired Again

2015 Artwork Combining two cool things article sketch

Although this is a short article about how to feel more inspired when making art, making comics, writing stories etc… I’m going to have to start by talking about music for a couple of paragraphs. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.

A few months ago, I ended up looking at a really cool music channel on Youtube that I’d almost forgotten about. This channel is run by an expert guitarist who often plays heavy metal-style covers of all sorts of things. Anyway, one video caught my attention. It was, quite simply, titled “Blade Runner Meets Metal“.

Since I’ve been a fan of heavy metal since I was about thirteen or so, and since I’ve been a massive fan of “Blade Runner” since I was seventeen – I was absolutely fascinated by this video.

Although only some parts of the cover sound like the end credits music from “Blade Runner”, it was still astonishingly cool to see two of my favourite things being mixed together.

One of the easiest ways to get inspired is to just think of two (or more) of your favourite things and to work out an inventive way to combine them.

However, if you want to make something genuinely creative (eg: something you could theoretically publish commerically), then it’s usually a good idea to start by thinking of your favourite things in a very non-specific way.

In other words, if you’re a fan of – say – “Star Trek” and “Game Of Thrones”, you could make a non-commerical fan art picture combining characters from both of these things. But, since G.R.R. Martin hates fan fiction, how can you legitimately write something that was inspired by both of these things?

Simple. You just need to take a step back and think of your idea as being “military sci-fi meets medieval fantasy”, rather than “Star Trek meets Game Of Thrones”.

Once you’ve boiled your mixture of cool things down to the very basics, then try thinking of original characters, settings, storylines etc… that also fit into this concept.

Yes, your finished comic or story will probably still be vaguely reminiscent of both of your favourite things, but it’ll also probably stand on it’s own feet as an original work too. Not only that, because you’ve combined two radically different things, your story will probably be a lot more creative than you might expect.

To give you an example from my own artistic work – I love the zombie genre and I love 1980s/90s-style noir sci-fi, so I ended up making a series of retro sci-fi noir zombie drawings earlier this year. Here are a couple of them:

"Dead Sector" By C. A. Brown

“Dead Sector” By C. A. Brown

"Balcony Of The Undead" By C. A. Brown

“Balcony Of The Undead” By C. A. Brown

These drawings then ended up inspiring a comic a couple of weeks later:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Dead Sector - Page 1" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]
“Dead Sector – Page 1” By C. A. Brown

And this was all because I thought that it would be a cool idea to combine two of my favourite things. So, yes, this can be a powerful way to get inspired again.

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

Why You Should Make Your Characters Fans of Something

2015 Artwork Make your characters fans article sketch

Although this is a fairly short article about a really sneaky (if somewhat basic) technique you can use to add extra depth to the characters in your comic or novel quickly, I’m going to have to start by talking about music and TV shows for a while. As usual, there’s (sort of) a good reason for this.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been watching the first season of a TV show called “Supernatural” on DVD recently. This is a show about two twentysomething brothers who travel across America, both in search of their missing father and to solve various paranormal mysteries in the small towns that they visit.

Why am I mentioning this show yet again? Well, one of the interesting things about the show is that Dean (the older brother) is a fan of classic rock and always insists on listening to it whenever the brothers drive between towns. Initially, I thought that the show’s creators included this either as an excuse to include lots of vaguely cool background music or because they were classic rock fans themselves.

Then, the night before writing this article, I realised that this creative choice was actually a lot smarter than I’d first thought. After all, as a twentysomething myself, I can only think of maybe one or two people of my own age that I knew growing up who really liked classic rock.

Even though my own tastes in 1980s-90s metal, punk and gothic music are somewhere towards the older end of the spectrum (seriously, many of my favourite musicians are either a similar age to my parents or older than my parents), even I was never really that interested in classic rock from the 70s. Twentysomethings who are massive classic rock fans exist, but they’re kind of rare.

So, why did the creators of “Supernatural” decide to make Dean a classic rock fan? Very early in the series, it’s mentioned that – unlike his younger brother- Dean was very close to his father when he was growing up. In fact, he was probably more like his father’s second-in-command than his son.

So, it makes sense that he probably didn’t have time to discover new bands and probably just ended up liking the same music that his father listened to. By default, his musical tastes were the same as his father’s.

Now that is an example of extremely clever, if somewhat subtle, characterisation.

It’s a fact that pretty much everyone is a fan of something. Everyone has their own favourite movies, musicians, authors, games, foods etc… and these things often reflect something about either who we are, how we see ourselves or who we want to be.

So, why should it be any different for your characters? You can include a lot of subtle details about your characters’ personalities, backstories and worldview simply by either mentioning or showing what they happen to be a fan of.

Even if you’re nervous about copyright (although I’m not a lawyer, mere references to things and prose descriptions of things aren’t really covered by copyright. Just don’t quote any song lyrics or anything like that), it’s still a good idea to come up with convincingly realistic fictitious bands/movies/ TV shows for your characters to be fans of, in order to both make your characters more realistic (after all, everyone is a fan of something) or to give them more characterisation.

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