Four Reasons Why Prose Fiction Being “Uncool” Is A Good Thing

2017-artwork-why-its-cool-that-books-are-uncool

Leaving aside both politics and the news in general, if there was one thing that shocked me last year, it was how easy it was to get back into both reading and writing fiction again.

After having gone at least a year without properly reading a novel, I suddenly found myself reading a detective novel shortly after Christmas (and wondering why I ever stopped reading novels). Likewise, after drifting away from writing fiction for quite a while, I also managed to write 24 short stories last year (they can be read here and here ).

Yet, my experiences with only enjoying other types of entertainment media (DVDs, computer games etc..) during the time that I wasn’t reading or writing much fiction made the differences between these things stand out a lot more. Returning to prose fiction felt reassuringly familiar, even though it didn’t have the same “coolness” that other media often have. Still, this isn’t an entirely bad thing. Here are a few reasons why.

1) There’s less pressure: When I got back into reading fiction, I read a novel from 2012 by an author that I hadn’t really heard of before (“Brighton Belle” by Sara Sheridan, if anyone is curious). In fact, aside from a few famous authors, many of the novels that I’ve read and really loved are stories that probably aren’t that well-known when compared to, say, the latest films or games.

One of the cool things about fiction being less “cool” than other media is that there’s a lot less pressure to be ‘up to date’ with everything. Since books don’t usually tend to have saturation advertising coverage, there’s less of a feeling of falling behind current culture than there is if you haven’t seen the latest movies or if, like me, you prefer to play older and/or lower-budget computer games.

Plus, since there are so many authors in so many genres, there isn’t really one “mainstream” culture when it comes to fiction, in the way that there is with things like film, television and games. This again, means that there’s less pressure to keep “up to date”, because there are just too many writers, genres etc.. for anyone to keep up to date with. So, it’s a lot more relaxed as a consequence 🙂

Likewise, because the vast majority of authors aren’t celebrities, discovering a great author is all the more interesting. Yes, even with popular authors like Lee Child, there’s still an actual sense of discovery when you read one of their books for the first time. In other words, you have the satisfaction of finding something that you love, rather than just watching or playing something because it’s what everyone else is into at the moment.

2) There’s less greed: Keeping “up to date” with film, television and gaming seems like a fairly expensive hobby. Since these things cost millions to produce, there tends to be a lot of greed involved. A good example of this would be how modern large-budget games always require you to have the latest computer or the latest games console. Or how television seems to be moving more towards numerous online subscription services etc..

Although e-books are still a thing these days, there are no “system requirements” for traditional books. You can still read books from past decades and modern novels without having to “upgrade” anything. As long as you can read, then you can read anything.

If you want to check out something modern by your favourite author, then it’s only going to cost you the £7-10 it costs to buy a new paperback (or less if you buy second-hand, or wait for a special offer). You don’t have to spend hundreds on extra electronics, you don’t have to pay a subscription fee or even travel to a cinema. At the very most, you might splash out £20-30 on a hardback edition if you absolutely have to read the latest novel right now.

Because fiction is an old and an “uncool” medium, then there’s a lot less greed involved in it. Which is great for the audience 🙂

3) There’s more personality: One of the cool things about prose fiction is that there’s only one person involved in creating it. Although an editor might have made some improvements, when you read a novel, you’re reading the exclusive work of just one person. As such, novels tend to have a lot more ‘personality’ than other types of entertainment.

I can’t remember where I read this, but I remember reading that one reason why older computer games are more creative and interesting than their modern counterparts was because they had smaller teams of people working on them. The fewer people involved in a creative project, the more distinctive it tends to be. The fewer people there are, the more people feel free to experiment or to do something that might “rock the boat”.

And, as I said, most novels are only written by one author (and maybe an editor too). They may not have the polished flashiness of things that are designed by large teams to have mass appeal (eg: blockbuster movies etc..), but there’s a real sense of individuality and imagination in prose fiction that is often lacking in other media (except possibly [non-superhero] comics).

4) It’s wonderfully solitary: Unfortunately, we live in a very “social” age at the moment. Even modern video games are apparently no longer something that you play alone or with one or two friends. These days, the most popular games tend to be heavily focused on online multiplayer, at the expense of traditional single-player or local multiplayer gaming.

Well, one of the cool things about books which, paradoxically, is why they’re seen as “uncool” – is the fact that they are resolutely solitary things 🙂

Only one person can read a copy of a novel at any one time, and everyone who reads the same novel will probably imagine the characters, locations etc… in a slightly different and unique way. They’re a truly private and solitary form of entertainment 🙂

Best of all, in the good old days before the invention of *ugh* smartphones (and even for a fair while afterwards), reading a book in public was the easiest way to avoid unwanted conversations, eye contact or other social interactions. And, unlike a mobile phone, there’s no danger of a book ringing suddenly or running out of battery.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Reasons To Make A Webcomic Mini Series

2016 Artwork Webcomic mini series  Article sketch

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about a webcomic format that I’ve been experimenting with over the past couple of months. I am, of course, talking about the webcomic mini series.

In case it isn’t obvious from the name, a webcomic mini series is a “newspaper cartoon”-style webcomic series that only runs for a short number of episodes at a time, rather than continuously.

For example, my mini series from March was just twelve comics long and my mini series from April was fifteen comics long. My current mini series will also seventeen comics long.

But, what’s so great about this format? Well, here are a few reasons why I tend to use it and why it might be worth experimenting with.

1) It’s like a TV show: Surprisingly, I got the idea for a webcomic mini series from looking at a few American TV shows. Whilst British TV shows have historically tended to run for a small number of episodes (traditionally six) per series, “seasons” of American TV shows often tend to go on for much longer.

However, long-running American TV shows will occasionally have much shorter seasons for a variety of reasons. For example, the series of “24” that was released in 2014 was only twelve episodes long, the final season of “Warehouse 13” is only six episodes long and the modern continuation of “The X-Files” is apparently only six episodes long.

This idea of it stuck in my mind when I thought about reviving one of my old webcomic series yet again. The idea of a webcomic being like a TV show with short “seasons” just made the whole thing seem a lot cooler.

And, yes, when you’re making a webcomic then you need all of the motivation you can get. So, thinking of your webcomic like a TV show (and structuring it like one) can be a great way to feel motivated if – like me – you’re a fan of quite a few TV shows.

2) It keeps things fun: One problem with making a “traditional” long-running webcomic is that it’s a huge commitment. It’s a heavy responsibility. You’re making comics regularly for, well, possibly forever. It’s a marathon. It’s a long-distance event. It’s something that requires grit, determination and perseverance. It can be enjoyable and rewarding, but it can also be gruelling and intimidating.

A mini series, on the other hand, is just something you can do for a few days. It’s a fun project with an easily visible beginning and end. It’s something that you do for as long as you feel that you can. Then you take a break and start another one. This also prevents you from feeling burnt out or exhausted too.

For example, back in 2014, I hardly made any comics. I’d started an over-ambitious comic project (which I never published online, apart from a few excerpts – like this one) early that year and, after 20-30 pages of it, I was just completely burnt out. I abandoned the comic out of sheer exhaustion and frustration long before it was finished.

After that, I just couldn’t get back into the mood for the longer comics projects that I’d made so eagerly back in 2012 and 2013. It wasn’t until 2015 that I realised that I could actually enjoy making comics again if I kept them relatively short.

3) It makes you focus on quality more: On the whole, one thing that I’ve noticed is that the quality of my recent webcomic mini series tend to be much better than back in 2012/ 2013, when I’d work on this comic series for weeks or months at a time.

Yes, my current mini series had the occasional dip in quality but even that was fairly short-lived (and only affected maybe a third of the updates).

Whilst some of this increase in quality is due to using slightly different art supplies and, most importantly, having more drawing and writing practice – it’s also because making a shorter comics series can be a way to motivate yourself to make better comics. If your series isn’t going on forever, then each comic matters slightly more.

Yes, when you’re starting out, quantity is a lot more important than quality. If you want to learn how to make webcomics, then you need to make lots of updates as regularly as possible. But, once you’ve had a fair amount of practice and have got used to making comics, then making short mini series can be a good way to focus on improving the quality of your webcomics.

4) You quit when you’re ahead: As I kind of mentioned earlier, a bad experience with ending a comic put me off of making comics for about a year.

However, when I’m making a mini series, I often tend to “quit when I’m ahead”. In other words, since I don’t feel like I have to keep making the comic series for weeks or months, I can end it whenever I feel like doing so.

What this usually means is that I’ll actually miss making comics after a while. And, although I might be glad to take a break from making comics, I remember how fun it was to make comics. In other words, I’m more likely to get back into making comics again.

Everyone is probably different with regard to this, but keeping your comic series short can be a great way to keep yourself interested in making comics – and eager to make more.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Think Of Your Comic As A TV Show – A Ramble

2016 Artwork TV shows and comics are similar

Well, I still seem to be in the mood for wiring about comics at the moment, so I thought that I’d ramble about the similarities between comics and scripted TV shows. Although most of these similarities are pretty obvious, there’s a good reason why I’m pointing some of them out that I’ll explain in the second half of this article.

Anyway, even though comics and scripted TV shows are obviously very different from each other on a technical level, they also share quite a few interesting similarities.

The most obvious similarity is that, like scripted drama shows, comics often tell an episodic story. Whether it’s a webcomic that updates twice a week or a traditional print comic that is published weekly or monthly, comics are one of oldest forms of visual episodic storytelling.

Likewise, just like how many TV shows that are collected into DVD/ Blu-Ray/ Video On Demand etc.. boxsets after they’ve been broadcast, traditional print comics are often collected into trade paperbacks.

Even traditional daily newspaper cartoons (eg: “Nemi“, “Dilbert“, “Garfield” etc..) aren’t that different from TV shows. Although each comic strip might be a self-contained joke, they often share a common cast of characters and – if you put a month’s worth of these comics together, you’d end up with something vaguely resembling a comedy sketch show or possibly even a sitcom episode.

The similarities between comics and scripted TV shows can be seen by the fact that, when a popular TV show gets cancelled prematurely, it’ll sometimes be continued in comic format. This has happened with quite a few of Joss Whedon’s TV shows (eg: “Buffy”, “Angel”, “Firefly” etc…), but it’s happened with other TV shows (especially in the sci-fi genre) too. It’s very telling that when it comes to finishing a TV show’s story on a lower budget and in a different medium, comics are always the first choice.

But, you probably know all of this stuff already, so why am I mentioning it?

Well, the chances are that you’ll never get to produce a high-quality scripted TV show. Ok, streaming sites like Youtube have made it much easier for people to publish videos, not to mention that digital video editing technology is apparently a lot more accessible and affordable than it used to be.

But, producing a TV quality scripted drama show (especially in effects-heavy genres like the sci-fi genre) on a limited budget is still something that many people would probably struggle with.

And, if you’re a television fan like I am, this is a really depressing fact. Still, even though you might never make TV shows – you can certainly make the next best thing. Like this self-contained comic featuring the characters from both another self-contained comic and a long-running comic series of mine:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "The Horror Of Hardtalon Hall - Page 3" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “The Horror Of Hardtalon Hall – Page 3” By C. A. Brown

Comics are relatively easy to make and don’t require a huge budget. Yes, you’ll need to put in quite a bit of practice if you want the art to look good but, you’d be surprised at how simple comic art can be. Seriously, the format itself pretty much requires slightly simplified art – given that you’re basically making lots of drawings within a relatively short period of time.

Not only that, in comics, the writing matters more than the art quality does – if you don’t believe me, just look at a very popular webcomic called “XKCD“, where all of the characters are literally stick figures.

With comics, you can do pretty much everything that TV shows can do, but on a fraction of the budget. Not only that, you can actually do more than TV shows can. For example, you can do things like directly showing your character’s thoughts, you can use unusual panel layouts etc…

Yes, like any storytelling medium, you’ll need to do quite a bit of practice before you get even vaguely good at writing and/or illustrating comics (here’s one of my badly-drawn and badly-written episodic comic series from 2013 to show you what I mean). But, if you have a vague dream of making a TV show but also know that you’ll never be able to make it, why not turn it into a comic instead?

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂