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 🙂

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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 🙂

Five Lessons About Creativity And Life That I’ve Learnt From Playing “Doom”

Well, technically, "Doom II" or "Final Doom" is actually my favourite game.

Well, technically, “Doom II” or “Final Doom” is actually my favourite game.

Although this is an inspirational article about writing, art and life in general, I’ll be spending most of it talking in a rose-tinted way about my favourite old computer game from the 1990s. Don’t worry, there’s a reason for this and – apart from the introduction to this article – I’m not geeking out about computer games just for the sake of it.

(Although I am going through another “obsessed with Doom” phase at the moment, so expect some fan art tonight. Normal articles will resume tomorrow.)

Anyway, in case you’ve never heard of the “Doom” games before – they were a series of sci-fi/horror/action games that popularised the first-person shooter genre in the early-mid 1990s. People still play these games enthusiastically (and make new levels for them ) over twenty years later.

“Doom” probably wasn’t the first FPS game I ever played (that honour probably goes to either “Wolfenstein 3D”, “Ken’s Labyrinth” or “Duke Nukem 3D”) but, ever since I was a teenager, I’ve played the old “Doom” games on at least a semi-regular basis.

Of course, if you believed all of the scaremongering in the media at the time of Doom’s release, all of this regular exposure to “Doom” should have turned me into a nihilistic violent psychopath of some kind. But, it didn’t.

In fact, it actually taught me quite a few positive lessons about creativity and about life in general and I thought that I’d share some of them with you today:

1) Nothing is unsolvable: The most fun part of playing “Doom” isn’t the times when you obliterate hordes of monsters with your most powerful weapons, it’s the times when you are quite literally doomed.

It’s the times where you only have a couple of health points and a few rounds of ammunition left, and you still have to get past a large horde of monsters in order to complete the level.

It takes a bit of skill, but 99.9% of the time, you can still complete the level. In fact, finding a way to complete a level under these seemingly “unwinnable” circumstances takes a lot of strategic thought and puzzle-solving skills.

But, once you’ve done it a few times, then you’ll actually look forward to these “unwinnable” situations and relish the challenge they bring or, at the very least, you’ll enter into them with the confident knowledge that you can win if you’re clever.

And, well, sometimes this feeling of confidence can carry over into my creative work when I’m uninspired. If I’ve got writer’s block or artist’s block, then I know that I will eventually produce something – but that I’ll probably just have to find a clever way to do it (eg: basing a blog article on my favourite computer game).

So, yes, “Doom” taught me that no problem is unsolvable and no situation is completely hopeless if you’re willing to think about things in a slightly different way.

2) Timeless things can still be made: When you hear the word “timeless” used to describe a creative work, you’ll probably think of really old stuff like Shakespeare’s plays, Rembrandt’s paintings etc… And, if you’re a writer or an artist, then it can be very easy to feel discouraged because of this.

After all, it can often seem like “timeless” things could only be made a few centuries ago and that we’ve all missed the boat. And, well, the old “Doom” games prove that this is just not true. Timeless things can still be made these days.

Computer and video games usually have a very short lifecycle. Usually after about five years at the absolute most, a game will be seen as “old hat” by most players, who will move on to the next big thing.

“Doom” is one of the few games to have avoided this fate (the only other example I can think of is “Tetris“) and you can still find playable versions of “Doom” on just about anything (even calculators!) more than twenty years after it was originally released. Chances are, people will still be playing it two hundred years from now.

The first “Doom” game was only released in 1993. So, what’s to say that you can’t make something timeless today?

3) Openness and fanworks: One of the reasons why “Doom” still has a dedicated fanbase these days is because, unlike a lot of modern mega-budget games, the creators of it actually left it open to fan interaction.

In the late 1990s, they released the source code for the game – so that people could modify it to their heart’s content and create versions of the game that would run on modern computers.

Likewise, “Doom” has always had a large community of people who build new levels for it – purely for their own enjoyment and for the enjoyment of other fans. Some modern games companies clamp down on this sort of thing with their games, so that they can sell new levels as “downloadable content”. But not “Doom”.

Ever since it’s inception, fan-made levels have been encouraged and supported. And, well, this is one of the main reasons why the game is still going over twenty years later.

So, what can we learn from this?

Well, one of the best ways to keep your creative works popular is to open them up to the fans. To allow people to make fan art and write fan fiction and to participate in your work in whatever ways they enjoy. Far from “ruining” a story or a type of art, allowing fan works is one of the main keys to it’s longevity.

4) Originality is overrated: It’s true. Execution matters a lot more than originality does and there’s no better example of this than “Doom”. Although it’s a great game, there’s very little completely original stuff in it.

The game’s backstory about hell was taken from Christian mythology, the gameplay is a slightly refined version of the gameplay found in other FPS games of the time and all of the sounds in the game were taken from a commercially-available sound library.

Not only that, the background music in “Doom” was heavily inspired by pre-existing heavy metal songs (like this one) and even some of the iconic weapon models were just digitised photographs of BB guns and a chainsaw.

So, if “Doom” isn’t a very original game, then why is it so great and what can it teach us?

It’s a great game because of the way that it took all of these “unoriginal” elements and combined them in a way that was shockingly new at the time and in a way that is still enjoyable many years later. In other words, it’s something that is far greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Yes, completely “original” things can be great – but things that take stuff from other great things and then turn them into something even greater are often far better.

In the words of Isaac Newton, it’s important to remember that we are all “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

5) The value of practice: One of the other useful lessons that playing “Doom” has taught me (or at least reinforced) is the value of regular practice.

You see, when I was a teenager, “Doom” was a lot more difficult game than I remembered. Yes, thanks to the “Doom 95” source port I used on my old Windows 98 PC at the time, I could select different levels – but I rarely actually finished the more difficult ones. Even on the easier difficulty settings.

Fast forward a few years later, and I can actually complete the notorious “Stardate 20X6” episode for the game (on the “hurt me plenty” difficulty setting). And this all comes down to having lots of practice, learning the “rules” of the game and learning the right tactics to use.

And, unsurprisingly, exactly the same thing is true for any creative skills that you want to learn. Anyway, I should probably end this article here before it turns into an essay of some kind.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Basic Tips For Making Good Fan Art

Fun fact - every game of "Duke Nukem 3D" actually begins with the player stealing Duke Nukem's bubblegum...

Fun fact – every game of “Duke Nukem 3D” actually begins with the player stealing Duke Nukem’s bubblegum…

Although I’m often fairly cynical about the creative merits of fan fiction, I absolutely love making fan art. And I’m honestly surprised that I haven’t written an article about making fan art in ages.

This is probably because, starting tonight, I’m going to be posting series of fan art paintings and cartoons about obscure 1990s TV shows, games etc… Yes, I know that it contradicts what I said in yesterday’s art post, but it seemed like a good idea nonetheless. Anyway, here’s a preview:

"Fan Art - Bits (Preview)" By C. A. Brown

“Fan Art – Bits (Preview)” By C. A. Brown

Anyway, since I seem to have got back into making fan art at the moment, I thought that I’d offer a few basic tips about how to make good fan art that people will love. So, let’s get started:

1) Have a unique art style: Like a good cover version of a song, a good piece of fan art shouldn’t just be an identical copy of the TV show, game etc… you’re basing your fan art on.

In other words, one of the central appeals of fan art is seeing how different artists interpret the same character or group of characters.

So, what this means is that you should probably take the time to develop your own unique art style before you start making fan art. Not only will this make your fan art stand out from the crowd and have more “personality”, but it also means that your fan art is clearly recognisable as fan art too (and no-one can accuse you of just tracing original artwork or anything like that).

2) Have fun: One of the things that makes fan art so fun to look at is the fact that fan artists can often do all sorts of hilariously unexpected things with the source material.

Fan art that is just a simple drawing or painting of a character is often slightly boring, unless the artist has a very interesting style. However, even badly-drawn fan art can be fun to look at if it is imaginative and/or funny.

In other words, let your imagination go wild when you’re making fan art and also don’t be afraid to caricature and/or to parody the things that you really love. Remember, the people who will mostly be looking at your fan art are fans themselves, so they will probably still get even the most obscure and random in-joke that you can think of.

Likewise, showing your favourite characters and/or actors in cool situations that weren’t in the original source material can be a great way to make your fan art interesting to other fans. Just remember to be tasteful here…

But, most of all, adding some humour and/or imagination to your fan art shows everyone that you’re a fan yourself. After all, if you were making fan art based on a TV show that you’ve never seen or a game that you’ve never played, then you probably won’t be able to think of any good jokes about it.

3) References: Generally, if you’re making fan art based on something, then it’s a good idea to look at a few stills from it in order to make sure that everything looks right.

Google Images is absolutely perfect for doing this. But, you should only use these images as a general guide and/or reference and you shouldn’t just make an identical copy one of them. Not only is this bad practice, but it also looks boring and shows a total lack of imagination too.

But, if you absolutely have to copy something identically for your fan art, then at least try to make sure that your fan picture is a composite of parts from several different pictures (the more the merrier) and that you’ve added at least a small amount of your own imagination and/or creative thought to it too.

4) Copyright: This is a huge grey area when it comes to fan art and there is some controversy over whether fan art can legally be considered “fair use” and/or, in some cases, a legitimate form of parody under various countries’ copyright laws. I’m not a lawyer, so none of this should be taken as legal advice.

But, in general, there are a couple of things you should remember with fan art – most TV Channels, celebrities, game studios etc… will generally tolerate fan art as long as you aren’t making a profit from it in any way (eg: don’t sell your fan art!) and that it’s fairly tasteful (eg: outright parodies are usually ok, and sometimes protected by law – but nude/erotic fan art is unlikely to be acceptable).

In fact, smart businesses will usually see non-commercial fan art as either a form of free advertising or a way to maintain fan interest in their products. Plus, no-one wants to be seen to be threatening their own fans for expressing their fandom (in a tasteful way, of course). As for my own views about other people making fan works based on my work, take a look at my fan art/fan fiction policy.

However, according to this article about American copyright law that I read a while ago, it isn’t a good idea to use logos/trademarks in ordinary fan art.

Unless, to my knowledge at least, you’re parodying the logo/trademark in question. Likewise, if you only show part of a logo, then it’s usually clear that something is unofficial and/or a parody (and therefore probably unlikely to be a trademark violation, since people are unlikely to confuse it with the “official” product). But, again, I’m not a lawyer and none of this should be taken as legal advice of any kind.

I didn’t realise this when I started making this series a while ago, so I’ve had to crop most of my upcoming fan art pictures to remove TV show/game logos (except one that clearly parodies the design of a TV show’s logo ), which is why many of them will be slightly smaller than my usual paintings are. I’m probably just being paranoid here, but sorry about this in advance.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Small Ways To Make Your Fans Geek Out About Your Story Or Comic More

2014 Artwork Three small geeky things sketch

The fact is that, often, the things which make us really geek out about stories, movies, games, comics etc… aren’t the big things. They’re the small things that we can carry over from our favourite fictional worlds into real life.

They’re the small things that make our daily lives just a little bit more amusing, cool, interesting, imaginative or just downright fun.

There are probably too many of these things to list, but I thought that I’d look at three of them today in case they can help you to cultivate a fandom of your own. So, let’s begin.

1) Catchphrases: I’m going to start by listing a few catchphrases from various things, see how many of them you recognise: “I’ll be back”, “Valar morghulis”, “Live long and prosper”, “Filthy assistants”, “The truth is out there”, “Use the force”, “The cake is a lie”, “No power in the ‘verse can stop me”, ” One does not simply walk into…” etc…..

How many did you get? One? Five? Ten? Chances are, if you’re at least vaguely interested in science fiction or fantasy, then you’ll have probably smiled to yourself when you saw at least one of these catchphrases. In fact, you may well have used one or two of these catchphrases in real life at some point or another.

Catchphrases are one of those few small things that you can take away from a great story and use in real life. As such, they give a story some “added value”. So, if you can find a way to add a memorable phrase or line to your story that can be used by geeky fans in real life, then they will probably thank you for it.

Yes, coming up with a good catchphrase can be difficult, but this can sometimes happen completely unintentionally (and it probably will if you’re good at writing dialogue). So, it’s usually a good idea to err on the side of caution and include several memorable and easily-quotable lines so that there’s a good chance that at least one of them will end up being picked up and used by your readers.

The best example I can think of at the moment is probably in “The Terminator”. I can’t remember where I heard this, but the one line that the people who made this film initially intended to be a catchphrase (Arnold’s brilliantly deadpan “F**k you, asshole” line) unfortunately didn’t become a catchphrase for obvious reasons.

However, since the film contains so many other great lines (“Come with me if you want to live”, “I’ll be back” etc…) it has still lived on in popular memory through some of these lines. So, it’s best to err on the side of caution and include several cool catchphrases in your story or comic.

2) In-universe jokes: Sometimes the thing that can really make fans of a show, comic or a novel squeal with nerdy joy is when their favourite story doesn’t take itself entirely seriously for a moment.

I’m talking about when there’s a brief moment of self-referential humour which takes place entirely within the context of the story and feels like it could have genuinely happened in that particular fictional world.

For “Star Trek” fans, a good example of this would probably be the “come to Quark’s, Quark’s is fun” adverts which Quark illicitly posts around the station in an episode from season four (?) of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”. Not only is this scene hilariously funny for fans of the show, it actually seems like something that Quark would genuinely do too.

Not only do these small jokes live on in the imaginations of your fans, they also reward your fans for getting to know the characters and the fictional universe of your story too.

I mean, if you’ve never watched “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” before, then the Youtube clip that I linked to earlier probably won’t be quite as funny as it would be if you were a fan of the show.

3) Designs: Sometimes the small thing which can really make your fans geek out about a story can be the logos, symbols and designs in it (eg: like the distinctive badges in “Star Trek”, the ‘I want to believe’ poster from “The X-Files”, Spider Jerusalem’s distinctive glasses from Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics etc….).

Not only do these things give geeky fans something to “latch onto” and use as a symbol of their fandom, you can use these designs to create merchandise that you can sell (eg: T-shirts) and/or you can allow your fans to create their own non-commercial stuff (eg: T-shirts, models, jewellery etc…) that uses them.

Whilst the latter might seem counter-productive from a business standpoint, allowing your fans to use these symbols freely not only increases their loyalty to your story but it also reminds them that you are a fan yourself (rather than a mercenary copyright-obsessed corporate businessperson who doens’t care about your own story, other than how much money it can make for you). Plus, it saves you actually having to make the merchandise yourself too.

Plus, although this technique obviously works best in visual-based storytelling mediums like comics, movies, TV shows and computer games, it can also work in prose fiction too.

For example, George R. R. Martin’s excellent “A Song Of Ice And Fire” novels chronicle the many wars and machinations between various noble houses in a medieval-style world. Each house has it’s own distinctive symbol (eg: House Lannister’s symbol is a lion, House Greyjoy’s is a giant squid etc…) and, although there are small pictures of each symbol in the appendix at the end of each novel, they are described so well that you can easily picture them even if you’ve never read the appendix at the end of the book.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂