The Joy Of… Genre-Specific Creativity

2017-artwork-joy-of-genre-specific-things-article-sketch

Although this is an article about art, comics and fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking about music. This is mostly because, a day or two before I wrote this article, I heard a rather interesting song called “Metal Inquisition” by Piledriver that made me think about audiences and genres.

“Metal Inquisition” is a song which heavy metal fans will find absolutely hilarious and non-metal fans will probably find mildly disturbing. It’s a knowingly silly song about a Spanish Inquisition-style group who try to ensure that everyone listens to heavy metal… or else!

And, it’s also the perfect example of a genre-specific thing. It’s a comedic song that is written specifically for heavy metal fans. If you aren’t a metalhead, then you probably won’t get the joke (eg: it’s about heavy metal’s [lack of] mainstream popularity etc..).

There’s certainly something to be said for things that are squarely aimed at fans of a particular genre. For starters, the trouble with making everything suitable for everyone is that, unless it’s done extremely well, it often ends up appealing to no-one.

Unless you are the mythical “normal person” that mainstream cinema, pop music, advertising, gaming etc… exists to serve, then there will be a certain emotional distance between you and the creative work in question. And, well, no-one is that idealised “normal person”. We’re all geeks or nerds in some way or another. We all have preferences and fascinations. We’re all fans of one thing or another. After all, we’re all unique human beings.

Creative works that are squarely aimed at fans of a particular genre acknowledge that uniqueness. They say “some people like this, and that’s cool. Some people don’t, and they should probably find something else“. As such, if you find something that you are a fan of, then it’ll feel more meaningful to you. It’ll feel like something made specifically for you.

This is also useful for creating a sense of community too. After all, if you’re a fan of a slightly obscure genre, then genre-specific things can be a thing which reminds you that “other people like this stuff too!“.

For example, going back to “Metal Inquisition”, the song is such an amazing song for the simple reason that it is a gleeful celebration of heavy metal music (a bit like Saxon’s “Denim And Leather”, Judas Preist’s “Deal With The Devil”, Helloween’s “Heavy Metal (is the law)”, Sabaton’s “Metal Machine” etc… ).

It’s a song that amusingly imagines what the world would be like if heavy metal was the most mainstream genre instead of the least mainstream genre. It’s a song that recreates the feeling of going to your first metal concert and seeing literally hundreds of other people who also like the same music you do. That awestruck sense of actually belonging somewhere.

But, in addition to this, genre-specific things are also awesome for the simple reason that they’re an expression of creative freedom. They show that the person who made them is such a fan of that particular genre that they felt compelled to actually make things for other fans. They show how great stories, films, games, albums etc… can inspire people to create things themselves. After all, you don’t make a genre-specific thing unless you’re a massive fan of things from that genre.

Genre-specific things aren’t “manufactured pop band # 345,237” who were designed by committee in order to maximise sales to the 16-24 demographic. They aren’t “Generic military action videogame #17” churned out annually in order to sell more games consoles. They aren’t “CGI-filled Hollywood Movie # 500,000” with 20% less dialogue to reduce translation costs for international distribution. They aren’t “hip fashion trend #7653” that will empty the wallets of trendy people in London, New York etc… 50% faster than usual.

No, genre-specific things are things made by people for people. They’re the sorts of things that people would make even if they didn’t get paid. They’re things that are made out of love, rather than out of greed. They are things that aren’t “mass-produced”. They’re things that are brave enough to say “if you like this, then that’s great. If you don’t, then find something else!

Genre-specific things are a testament to the power of creativity for the sake of creativity, and to the value of individuality.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Ways To Make Your Audience Feel Like Connoisseurs

2014 Artwork Audience Connoisseurs sketch

Let’s face it, everyone wants to be a connoisseur of something. Whether it’s art, food, music, beer, wine, tea, coffee, guitars, cigars, chocolate, TV shows, movies, games, comics, novels etc… people like to think that they’re a discerning and all-knowing expert in something.

I don’t know why, but this seems to be a fairly common part of human nature – after all, being a “connoisseur” might not be any different from being a geek, a nerd or an expert, but it sounds about ten times more sophisticated and worthy of respect.

And, if you’re smart, you can use this to your advantage when you’re writing fiction or creating art. How? Well, here are a few tips:

1) Have a unique “style”: Although I’ve already written quite a few articles about how to find your own art style and writing style, it’s very important to be aware of what your own style looks like.

Why? Because it’s the one thing that sets your work apart from other things in the same genre and it makes it a lot easier for both actual and wannabe connoisseurs to talk about your work and compare it to the work of other artists and writers.

Or, to put it another way, when people start describing other things that are similar to your art or writing as “[your name]-style”, then it’s safe to say that you’ve got more than a few connoisseurs (or people pretending to be connoisseurs) in your audience.

Not only that, if your style is distinctive and unique, then it offers something new and exciting to a jaded and cynical audience who have already seen and read a lot of different things. If there’s one thing that can be said about connoisseurs, it’s that it’s a lot harder to surprise them pleasantly and make them feel like they’ve discovered something totally new.

2) Do your research: Chances are, if you want to write, draw or paint something that will appeal to connoisseurs – then you’re probably a connoisseur yourself. After all, if you only had a casual interest in the genre that you’re working in, then you probably wouldn’t be too interested in investing lots of time and energy into adding things to it.

But, if you’ve just discovered something that you really like and you want to make things like it that will appeal to connoisseurs, then do your research. In other words, if you want to make something that will appeal to connoisseurs and make your audience feel like they’re connoisseurs, then you need to be one yourself. It’s that simple.

3) Reference other things: One of the ways to make wannabe connoisseurs in your audience jump with joy is to include a few subtle references to other stories, artworks etc… in the same genre that you’re working in.

If you want to make even the newest members of your audience feel like discerning experts, then try to reference popular and mainstream things in your work that they’ve probably heard of before (eg: a brief “Star Trek” reference in a sci-fi story).

But, if you want to appeal to actual connoisseurs, then try to make the references as obscure as possible (eg: like the references to “Zombie Flesh Eaters” in one part of Jasper Bark’s “Way Of The Barefoot Zombie”).

Yes, as I said in the first point on this list, your work should be primarily unique and distinctly recognisable as your own. But, dropping in a few subtle references to similar things can be a fairly quick and easy way to make your audience feel like they know more about the genre than most people do.

4) Quality: Although I usually advise people to focus on quantity rather than quality, if you want to make your audience feel like connoisseurs then you are going to have to focus on quality.

In other words, your work needs to be better than other things in the same genre in at least one way (eg: the writing, the dialogue, the level of detail etc…).

Why is this so important? Well, when people who see themselves as connoisseurs are discussing their genre of choice, then they usually tend to mention the thing from it that they consider to be the best example of that type of writing and/or art. And, if your work happens to be that example, then it’ll probably inspire wannabe connoisseurs to check it out.

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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 🙂

A Futuristic Way To Keep Your Fans Interested In Your Stories and Comics.

2014 Artwork Parallel universes sketch

Although I try to keep my philosophical beliefs out of these articles, I’ll have to mention them here. Don’t worry, there’s a practical reason for this and I’m not trying to evangelise in any way.

I’ve come to these beliefs through my own thoughts and subjective experiences, yours might lead to other equally-valid [in personal terms] beliefs. Different beliefs work for different people.

Anyway, amongst other things, I believe in the concept of parallel universes and a fairly new-agey version of the “many-worlds” interpretation of the universe.

In a nutshell, the “many worlds” theory suggests that, for literally every possible decision or uncertainty, all possible outcomes are played out in a variety of different parallel universes. The theories about exactly what happens next may differ slightly, but we only end up experiencing one of these outcomes – even though the others may or may not still exist or play out in parallel universes.

Yes, there are probably a couple of scientists facepalming at the screen right now and I apologise – these are personal beliefs [loosely-based on scientific theories] and not necessarily facts. I might personally see them as facts, but that doesn’t mean that you should.

So, why am I mentioning this stuff in a blog about art, comics and writing? No, this isn’t an article about writing sci-fi stories, but you can certainly use what I’m about to tell you for sci-fi stories and comics.

I’m mentioning it because, one of the most fascinating things about parallel universes is that they allow us to think about “what might have been” or, more accurately “what may exist somewhere else”. I’m absolutely fascinated by the idea of alternate versions of myself and the idea of alternate timelines where my life played out differently.

I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world who doesn’t at least have a passing fascination with this kind of thing. Some of your fans may have a vague curiosity about it too.

So, to keep your fans, interested in your work – it might be an idea to give them a tantalising glimpse into “what might have been”. No, I’m not talking about writing stories or comics that include parallel universes (although this can obviously work too). I’m talking about taking a look at all the projects you either left unfinished or the plot ideas which you eventually decided not to use.

If people are interested in your work, then they’ll also be interested in the things you could have made and the directions your stories could have gone in.

So, you can satisfy their curiosity by providing things like alternate endings for your stories. For example, I did this in my “Jadzia Strange” comic from last year – although this was only because I couldn’t decide which ending I preferred. Choose for yourself:

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Page 60" By C. A. Brown [The "Original" Ending]

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Page 60” By C. A. Brown
[The “Original” Ending]

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Alternate Ending" By C. A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Alternate Ending” By C. A. Brown

In addition to this, it can sometimes be a good idea to release sketches from comics you decided not to continue and to release tantalising short extracts from unfinished stories you’ve written. These sorts of things make your readers start to wonder and theorise about what could have been.

These things make your reader try to complete the story in their own imagination and discuss their ideas with other readers. Hell, your fans may even bring your unfinished and abandoned ideas to life in their own fan fiction and fan art. Whatever they do, they’ll be thinking about and/or talking about your stories.

And, in keeping with all of this, here is an exclusive never-before-seen piece of art. It was the cover art to a sci-fi comic I was going to make about a month and a half ago called “Orbis Viridis”. For various reasons, I never got round to making the rest of the comic – but, for the first time, here’s the cover of it:

The cover to a comic that I never actually made...

The cover to a comic that I never actually made…

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Anyway, I hope that this has been useful 🙂