Three Basic Tips For Making Lovecraftian Art

First of all, if you’ve never heard the word “Lovecraftian” before, it simply refers to things in the horror genre that have been influenced by the fiction of an early-mid 20th century author called H.P.Lovecraft.

Although Lovecraft himself held some fairly terrible opinions, his influence on the horror genre is undoubtable and he pioneered a distinctive style of sci-fi influenced horror fiction that focuses more on things like atmosphere, implied horror, mysterious cosmic events beyond the comprehension of humanity, the limits and misuse of science, unreliable first-person narration etc…

However, since Lovecraft was a writer rather than an artist (although he did make this sketch), knowing how to translate Lovecraftian horror into art can be somewhat confusing for novice artists. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips.

1) Read the original stories: This is pretty obvious, but it’s important to take a look at the original source material in order to get a deeper understanding of what sets Lovecraftian horror apart from other genres of horror. Luckily, this isn’t as much of a time-consuming or costly task as you might think.

First of all, due to the state of the publishing industry at the time Lovecraft was writing, he mostly wrote short stories (in addition to one novella). Although some of his short stories contain an over-arching mythology and/or a few common features, they can be read in any order. As such, you also don’t need to read literally all of them if you don’t want to.

Likewise, all of Lovecraft’s works are out of copyright in both the UK and mainland Europe (since 2008). So, if you live here, you can legally read them all for free on the internet or find inexpensive “classics” reprints of them. However, if you live in America, then things are a bit more complicated.

From what I understand (and I’m not a copyright lawyer), any of Lovecraft’s stories that were published before 1923 are out of copyright in the US – in addition to several post-1923 stories whose copyright was not renewed properly under the system in place at the time.

But as easy as it is to get hold of the works of H.P.Lovecraft, it can take a while to used to his narrative style – which deliberately imitates the more formal, complicated and verbose styles of 19th century fiction. Even so, after you’ve read a few stories, you’ll probably get used to his slightly old-fashioned writing style.

2) Visual style: Generally speaking, most things that take visual influence from H.P.Lovecraft tend to have a few common visual features. These include things like gloomy lighting, old buildings, tentacles, slimy monsters, old books, bleak landscapes, rural and/or coastal locations etc…

Although Lovecraftian horror-themed artwork can include gruesome elements, these should be kept relatively subtle (eg: trickles of blood, bloodstains/ pools of blood etc..) and should focus more on blood than on gore. Still, if you are going to include gore in Lovecraftian horror artwork, then it must also have some other underlying element that makes it disturbing (eg: the gore itself shouldn’t be the main source of horror).

The general emotional tone that you want to go for in “proper” Lovecraftian horror artwork is one of gothic bleakness, infused with a foreboding sense of mystery. As such, your colour palettes should include things like muted browns/reds, cold blues and eerie greens.

Although Lovecraftian horror art has traditionally favoured a more realistic style, there’s certainly something to be said for fun, cartoonish art that uses the main features of this style. Not only is the juxtaposition of cartoonish art with “gloomy” horror inherently amusing, but there’s also a certain knowing geekiness to making Lovecraftian art in this style. Like in this upcoming painting of mine:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 18th July.

3) Add other stuff: One of the best and most creative ways to make Lovecraftian art is simply to blend it with another genre. For example, the picture I showed you earlier also includes elements from the film noir genre too.

Although blends of Lovecraft and film noir are quite common, Lovecraftian horror can be blended with pretty much any type of art. The only real limit is your own imagination and creativity. But, a good way to learn more about this is to see things that include some elements of Lovecraftian horror whilst also fitting into another genre.

For example, the movie “The Thing” includes some Lovecraftian elements (eg: unknown horrors, desolate arctic locations etc..) whilst also including relatively more modern-style science fiction and horror elements.

Likewise, the movie “Alien” is a blend of Lovecraftian-style horror (eg: mysterious alien civilisations, unearthly monsters etc..), futuristic science fiction and traditional gory horror. Then there’s “The Evil Dead” which blends ludicrously gruesome dark comedy and some vague elements from the zombie genre with more traditional style Lovecraftian horror.

In terms of games, the classic computer game “Quake” uses some vaguely Lovecraftian-style settings, monster designs etc… whilst avoiding the slow, implied, psychological horror of Lovecraft’s stories in favour of thrilling, fast-paced gory combat-based gameplay. Another good gaming-based example is “The Last Door” which adds some surrealist and Edgar Allen Poe-style elements (in addition to a few modern-style jump scares) and 1980s/90s-style pixel art to it’s Lovecraft-influenced story.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why The Monster Genre Is Brilliant

Well, during one of my 1990s film reviews a few days ago, I was reminded of how much fun the monster genre is. Seriously, as horror sub-genres go, it’s certainly one of my favourites.

So, I thought that I’d list a few of the many reasons why the monster genre is such a fun, interesting and distinctive part of the horror genre.

1) Non-scary horror: Simply put, monsters aren’t scary. Like zombies and vampires, they don’t actually exist in real life.

What this means is that when you watch a monster movie or read a monster-themed horror novel, then you get to see all of the techniques, features and tropes of the horror genre (eg: suspense, gore, melodrama etc..) but without any of the lingering fear that accompanies more “realistic” or more psychological horror stories.

I’ve written about non-scary horror before, but some of the reasons why this is such a fun type of horror include the fact that it makes the audience feel like they’re really “tough” (since they’re experiencing something in the horror genre, but aren’t terrified by it) and the fact that it can often turn into an absolutely brilliant type of horror-themed comedy. After all, if you’re seeing all of the tropes and features of the horror genre in a context that isn’t scary, then they can come across as hilariously melodramatic.

In addition to this, the monster genre is also a “safe” way to experience something in the horror genre. One of the problems with more “serious” horror is that it can often leave you feeling nervous and/or miserable for hours or days afterwards. The monster genre has none of that. Even if a monster story ends with the monster eating the main characters or wiping out civilisation, then it’s still funny rather than scary because of the unrealistic silliness of it all. So, it’s a way to enjoy the horror genre without any negative emotional side-effects.

2) Disaster without the disaster: Another cool thing about the monster genre is that it allows the audience to experience all of the thrilling elements of the disaster genre, without any of the real-world “it could happen” seriousness that accompanies things in this genre.

Although some things in the monster genre are supposed to be metaphors for real-world threats (eg: Godzilla was originally meant to be a metaphor for the atom bomb), this subtext often doesn’t appear in the monster genre.

Even so, the monster genre has a lot in common with the disaster genre. Whether it is an intrepid band of survivors trying to survive against all odds, or a group of experts trying to contain a disease-like group of creatures or the military/emergency services doing their job in a spectacular way, the monster and disaster genres are very similar. But, since the monster genre involves hilariously unrealistic giant creatures, all of these elements become joyously thrilling rather than dramatically serious.

In addition to this, monster stories often end with the monster being defeated or scared away. Given that the news is often filled with terrible events that we have no control over, seeing a story where some kind of calamity or catastrophe is defeated through ingenuity, courage and/or strength can be fairly satisfying on an emotional level.

3) No pretentiousness: Yet another awesome thing about the monster genre is that it knows that it is meant to be silly fun. It isn’t trying to win awards or impress pretentious critics, it exists purely to entertain. And it is so much better as a result!

Because it isn’t looking for formal mainstream recognition, the monster genre has a lot more room to be inventive, silly and fun. It’s like American horror comics during the 1940s-50s or computer games during the 1990s. This generally results in a much more light-hearted tone, an emphasis on fun and a lot more creativity.

The low filming budgets and/or lack of bestseller status mean that works in the monster genre have to find more creative ways to intrigue or entertain the audience. It also means that they can be a bit more fun or light-hearted, since their target audience consists of fans of the genre.

This lack of pretentiousness also extends to a lack of obsession about celebrity too, which is very refreshing when compared to mainstream culture. Things in the monster genre will often be by lesser-known authors (with a dedicated fan-base) or they’ll include unknown actors and/or actors who are less famous than they used to be. And, in a world that is obsessed with fame, this can be extremely refreshing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Genre Fluidity

As regular readers of this site know, I tend to write these articles quite far in advance. As such, last April, I found myself thinking about genre fluidity after looking at some of the media surrounding the heavy metal genre. “Metal Hammer” magazine had been revived a few months earlier and I’d also been binge-watching a Youtube channel filled with quite a few heavy metal- themed lists too.

Although it had been a while since I’d really looked at all of the media surrounding the heavy metal genre, one of the changes I was glad to see was that generic, shouty mid-late 2000s metalcore was less of a popular thing than it used to be. But, one of the things that really surprised me was that there was even more genre fluidity in the metal genre than I remember.

For example, two modern bands recommended in the two issues of “Metal Hammer” that I read weren’t the sort of thing that you’d traditionally expect to see in a metal magazine.

One of the bands, “Creeper”, is a band who are kind of like an AFI-style gothic punk band, mixed with mid-2000s indie music. Another song I found on Youtube after a recommendation from the magazine (“Cult Drugs” by Blood Command) sounds a little bit like the kind of synthesiser-heavy nightclub music (eg: Crystal Castles, Alphabeat etc..) that was popular in the late 2000s.

Likewise, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this list of “hard rock and metal protest anthems[NSFW] on the metal-themed Youtube channel I mentioned earlier consisted of about one-third punk bands. I’d always thought that metal and punk were supposed to be very different genres and, yet, seeing the two of them together was really cool. It was like my two favourite musical genres rolled into one.

All of this, naturally, made me think about the whole subject of genre fluidity and how awesome it is.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, one of the best ways to create something truly original is to have a wide range of different inspirations. The more inspirations you have, the more original your creative works will be.

The thing to remember about genres is that they’re artificial things. They were invented to make it easier for people to find the types of stories, films, games etc.. that they like. They’re a descriptive thing, rather than a prescriptive thing. They evolve from creative trends, rather than being a set of rules that people have to follow.

A good example of this process in action is the development of the First-person shooter genre of computer games over the past 25-30 years. Whilst 1993’s “Doom” certainly wasn’t the first FPS game ever made, it was the first one to really gain any level of popularity. As such, it inspired other game developers to make games that were similar to “Doom”. These games were originally called “Doom-clones” by the popular gaming press.

It was only when the genre became even more popular that the more generic term “First-person shooter” was eventually coined. This is kind of like how old “film noir” films apparently weren’t originally called “film noir” at the time they were made, but were referred to as “melodramas” etc.. at the time, with the descriptive “film noir” genre label being applied slightly later.

So, regardless of what some traditionalists might say, genres aren’t set in stone. They’re a byproduct of creative people being inspired by other creative people. They’re something that bookshops, record stores, game shops etc.. use to make things easier for their customers. They certainly aren’t meant to restrict creativity in any way.
In fact, most new genres appear because someone “breaks the rules” and mixes or modifies elements from pre-existing genres.

So, yes, genre fluidity is awesome 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Looking At Genres On A Thematic Level – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by spending a while talking about my experiences with listening to punk music. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

At the time of writing, I still seem to be going through a bit of a “1990s American punk music” phase. As I’ve probably mentioned before, this was the first “cool” genre of music I ever discovered and – although I’m more of a heavy metal fan these days – I still find myself returning to it every now and then.

This time round, I found myself discovering a new band or two, buying a few extra punk albums and listening to bands that I vaguely knew about in slightly more depth. This had some surprisingly mixed results (eg: I learnt that Green Day’s “Warning” is actually a good album [and so is “Insomniac” too], I discovered a band called “No Use For A Name” who I should have discovered years ago etc..). But, this slightly deeper look at one of my favourite genres of music completely changed my opinion of it.

Since the very first punk band I ever discovered (sometime in the late 1990s) was The Offspring, I’d always thought that 90s American punk music was all about fun and rebellion. After gradually discovering a few other bands over the years, I still sort of thought the same sort of things about the genre – but I realised that it could also include things like lyrical complexity, gothic elements, shock value, political rebellion etc…

But, after listening repeatedly to several of Green Day’s classic albums and No Use For A Name’s amazing “Making Friends” album. I realised something about the genre that I’d never really thought about too much before. For all of it’s energy and passion, it’s often a genre about failure and misery. For a genre that I thought was all about cheerful nostalgia, intelligent thought and the kind of rebellious attitude that the world really needs these days, it’s actually surprisingly depressing if you actually read the lyrics.

This, of course, made me take another look at some of my favourite punk songs and albums and – yes- this theme also seems to be present there, albeit in more subtle ways. Although the genre still sounds amazing and fills me with nostalgia, it’s become a bit less of a “feel good” genre than it used to be because I now know more about the genre than I thought I did.

So, why have I spent several paragraphs rambling about the punk genre?

Well, it’s because it’s about the importance of looking at genres on a thematic level. This is something that you can often only do if you research a genre as much as you can. Since, the more things (by different people) you see within the same genre, the easier it is to spot common themes.

This might sound pretentious or overly academic but there are some good practical reasons to look at genres thematically if you’re an artist, writer etc…

If you understand the common themes in a genre, then you’ll find it easier to make things in that genre. You’ll find it easier to come up with ideas for stories, comics, paintings etc… since you can ask yourself “if I made something about [this theme], what would it look like?” This is especially true if it’s a genre that you really love, but don’t know how to make things in it.

In addition to this, if you know what the common themes of a genre are, then it’s also a lot easier to include elements from other genres. After all, if you make something that looks like it belongs to another genre, but contains the themes from one of your favourite genres, then you’ll probably come up with something a lot more original that will still be recognisable as part of your chosen genre.

Likewise, studying the themes in other creative works can show you how to include “difficult” themes in subtle ways. For example, if you watch the music video for “Soulmate” by No Use For A Name, it seems like an “ordinary” song about a failed relationship. But, if you actually listen to the lyrics, it isn’t a song about romantic relationships at all. It’s an incredibly depressing song about a life of paranoia, worry, despair etc.. since the “soulmate” in the title is shown to be those emotions rather than a romantic partner.

Finally, looking at the themes of your favourite genres can help you to think about the types of themes that you want to include in your own creative works. Yes, you’ll probably end up doing this without realising it anyway. But, thinking about it more consciously will probably allow you to make your creative works have more emotional impact, depth, complexity etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three More Things That (Visual) Artists Can Learn From Heavy Metal Music

Well, as something of a continuation of an article about the heavy metal genre and artistic inspiration that I posted a few days ago, I thought that I’d look at a few more things that (visual) artists can learn from the heavy metal genre.

1) Humour, silliness and theatricality: One of the brilliant things about heavy metal music is that, despite the melodramatic imagery that is often associated with it, it doesn’t always take itself entirely seriously.

There are too many examples of humourous metal songs to list here, but they include songs like “Born To Be Epic” by Equilibrium, “Metal Inquisition” By Piledriver, pretty much anything by Alestorm, “Mr. Torture” by Helloween etc…

Even more “serious” metal often tends to have a slightly tongue-in-cheek element to it that is absolute joy to listen to. These songs are deliberately melodramatic in a way that makes them much less “serious” than they might initially appear to be. Some examples of this kind of song include “Kill For Metal” By Iron Fire, “Iron Maiden” by Iron Maiden, “For Your Vulgar Delectation” by Cradle Of Filth, “Metal Machine” by Sabaton etc..

So, what does any of this have to do with art? Well, including the visual equivalent of this kind of thing in your art can be a great way to give your paintings or drawings a distinctive look.

Including overly melodramatic (but knowingly humourous) horror imagery and/or dark humour in your art can really make it stand out from the crowd.

Although this is something that I should probably do a lot more in my own art, I’ve experimented with it a bit, like in this digitally-edited painting called “Skeleton Service” (which was originally inspired by old horror novel covers):

"Skeleton Service" By C. A. Brown

“Skeleton Service” By C. A. Brown

2) Minimalist storytelling: One of the great things about heavy metal songs is that they sometimes contain a certain amount of storytelling. Whilst this is hardly exclusive to the metal genre, it seems to be a much larger feature of the metal genre compared to many other genres. Within the space of just 100-500 words, a metal song can tell a dramatic story in a similar manner to the epic narrative poems of old.

For example, Judas Priest’s “The Sentinel” tells a story about gladiatorial combat in a post-apocalyptic world using just 189 words. Iron Maiden’s “Number Of The Beast” tells the story of someone witnessing an evil ritual using just 301 words. Turisas’ “To Holmgard And Beyond” tells the story of an epic Viking sea voyage (with multiple fictional characters) in just 279 words etc…

So, again, what does all this writing-based stuff have to do with art?

Well, it’s all to do with the power of minimalist storytelling. When you make art, you often have to tell part of a story within the space of a single image and often without using words.

So, learning the value of compact, minimalist (visual) storytelling can be incredibly useful. And learning how to focus on important details, important events etc.. is something that listening to narrative-based metal songs can help you with.

3) Metal Covers: One of the awesome things about the metal genre, especially within the past couple of decades, is that metal bands will occasionally cover non-metal songs in a metal style. Sometimes, this is just done for laughs, but it can often give these songs more intensity and depth than they originally had.

Examples include Cradle Of Filth’s dramatic covers of both Shakespeares Sister’s “Stay” and The Sisters Of Mercy’s “No Time To Cry”, The Birthday Massacre’s cover of James And The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now”, Die Apokalyptischen Reiter’s Cover of “Ghost Riders In The Sky”, Nightwish’s epic cover of Gary Moore’s “Over The Hills And Far Away”, Alestorm’s hilarious cover of Taio Cruz’s “Hangover”, Inkubus Sukkubus’ creative cover of Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps And Thieves” etc…

So, yet again, what does any of this have to do with art?

First of all, it isn’t a suggestion that you should directly copy other people’s art. With a very small number of exceptions (eg: private practice, parodies, making studies of out-of-copyright paintings etc..) this is usually considered to be plagiarism. So, stick to just taking inspiration from art that you consider to be cool.

Anyway, the reason why I mentioned metal covers is because they’re often examples of a band showing off their own distinctive “style”. It’s also an example of why it’s so important to develop your own unique art style since, like with metal covers of non-metal songs, whatever you paint or draw will be distinctly “yours”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂 Now, listen to some metal \m/

Why The Cyberpunk Genre Is A Genre About Creativity Itself (And Why It’s Good For The World)- A Ramble

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Even though this is a long rambling article about why the cyberpunk genre is a metaphor for creativity and imagination itself and why the world needs the cyberpunk genre, I’m going to have to start by talking about about the experience of reading and playing various things. There’s a reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later in the article.

Although I had been busy with making my Halloween webcomic the night before I wrote this article, I got distracted. Naturally, the cause of this procrastination was none other than a computer game. Yes, “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” again. I’d originally planned to set aside an hour or two to play it, but I ended up having the kind of marathon 3-5 hour gaming session that I haven’t had in a while. And I still haven’t finished the damn thing yet!

This, in combination with a few other things I’d been looking at recently, made me think about the subject of trances and creative works. Because, one thing I noticed when playing “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” was that I was feeling a slightly similar sense of.. immersion.. to the one I feel when watching a good TV show or reading a good novel. But, because of the game’s interactive nature, it was a bit more like the sense of immersion I feel when I’m making an inspired piece of art or, more accurately, when I’m writing fiction (and feeling very inspired)!

This is the kind of feeling where the outside world seems to fade away slightly and you become part of the thing that you’re reading, writing, drawing, playing, watching etc…

The best way to experience this for yourself is to put a playlist or a CD of good music on in the background whilst reading a really good novel. When you stop reading the novel, you’ll suddenly realise that you can’t remember hearing the last few songs on the playlist. They were playing, but you didn’t notice them because your consciousness was somewhere else.

Likewise, the experience of suddenly looking away from the screen after binge-watching a compelling TV show or playing a fascinating computer game for a few hours can feel like a very mild existential crisis of sorts. For half a second, the world around you seems both starkly empty and bizarrely alien at the same time. For a second, nothing seems to mean anything.

In essence, being immersed in a creative work (whether making or experiencing it) is almost a mild trance-like state. The best description that I’ve read of this can be found in a short story called “An Extra Smidgen Of Eternity” By Robert Rodi. Rodi’s description is: ‘Stories are hope. They take you out of yourself for a bit, and when you’re dropped back in, you’re different – you’re stronger, you’ve seen more, you’ve felt more. Stories are like spiritual currency.’

Likewise, I also found a fascinating Youtube video which pointed out that patterns of brain activity whilst playing a computer game that you’re really good at are actually closer to patterns of brain activity during daydreams than anything else. And, yes, I haven’t mentioned daydreams in this article because that would be a whole article in and of itself.

This naturally made me think about the cyberpunk genre, since I’d seen the word “trance” used in combination with it a couple of times recently. Once was when I played a game called “Technobabylon” a few months ago (in the game, connecting to virtual reality is called “trancing”) and the other was when I watched an absolutely brilliant low-budget sci-fi movie from the 80s called “Trancers“. It’s a weird film about time travel, zombies and hardboiled detectives. It’s barely cyberpunk in the technical sense of the term. But, neither is “Blade Runner” and the cyberpunk genre would be a lot poorer without that film. But, I digress….

In it’s most traditional form, the cyberpunk genre is entirely about this trance-like state that I mentioned earlier. It’s a genre of fiction/cinema/gaming about characters who spend more time existing in rich, detailed virtual reality worlds than they do in the stark, dystopian “real world” of the future. It’s a literal embodiment of the “existential crisis” thing that I mentioned earlier, when talking about looking away from the screen after being immersed in a game or DVD for hours.

But, more than that, it often frames this “escapism” into virtual reality as a heroic thing. Which is awesome 🙂 The heroes and heroines of the cyberpunk genre aren’t muscular soldiers, charismatic figures or anything like that. They’re people with mediocre, boring and/or crappy “real” lives who only truly flourish within imagined artificial worlds. They become vaguely shamanic explorers who are more than they might appear to be on the surface. Writers, artists, introverts and/or nerds of all kinds can probably see the appeal of this metaphor.

Escapism tends to get a bad press. Even I had to suppress a bit of a laugh at myself when I talked about a “marathon 3-5 hour gaming session” at the beginning of the article. Ok, I didn’t drink any energy drinks or start talking in l33tspe4k or anything like that, but I couldn’t help but affectionately think of myself as a hilariously pathetic “nerd” afterwards.

But, if there’s anything that this world needs, it’s the trance-like state that comes from creative works. I write these articles quite far in advance, but I can’t imagine that the real world right now is any better than it was at the beginning of this year. Not only does this trance-like state help to preserve our sanity, but it also helps us to develop as people too. And, as much as activists of all kinds might disagree, it’s probably good for the world too.

If you enjoy this kind of thing you’re (like me) probably something of an introvert. Don’t worry, immersion in creative works isn’t going *ugh* to turn you into some kind of brash, superficial, hyper-social charismatic figure or anything like that. During 2016, several parts of the world were thrown into chaos by these kinds of charismatic businesspeople, journalists, politicians, celebrities, religious figures etc…. The world needs less of these type of “heroes”. They tend to mess things up. What the world needs is subtlety and nuance.

The world needs new heroes. It needs a type of heroism that can actually be translated into real life. Charismatic superhero-like “strong men” are always far better in fiction than they are in real life.

But, the kind of people who can navigate the landscape of their own imaginations and turn the things they find into things that inspire other people or expand other people’s view of the world (and themselves) are the kind of heroic people we need. Even if you just read/watch/play a lot of things and don’t create anything, you’re probably going to have a more intricate, nuanced and developed understanding of the world, of politics and humanity than you might think. It’s educational!

Going back to “Shadowrun: Dragonfall”, it is a cyberpunk fantasy computer game that is set in an anarchist mini-state in Berlin. Although this isn’t a major part of the game, it will probably teach you more about both the pitfalls and the benefits of anarchy than anything else will.

The main plot of the game is, in part, about the problems of relying on one person for leadership. The community of characters in the game is also an example of a (mostly) functioning society without a leader. People follow their vocations in life and, in the process, help other people. It’s a bit like John Lennon’s “Imagine” in some ways. Society is, mostly, fairly laid-back and non-judgemental (but not in a preachy way).

Yet, the game doesn’t shy away from the reality of anarchy either. With no police force, people are forced to rely on armed mercenaries (like the character you play as) to solve their problems. With no laws, people have to rely on verbal contracts that can easily be broken if they aren’t mutually-beneficial enough. Likewise, with no law or order, the only thing keeping amoral mega-corporations and violent political gangs in check is other mega-corporations and violent political gangs.

Spending hours in a trance-like state playing this game might seem like “wasted time”. But, it’ll make you think more about politics, humanity and the world than you might expect. It’ll help to add nuance to your opinions about things like the role of government etc… It’ll also give you a slightly deeper understanding of humanity itself, of the value of mutally-beneficial things etc…

It’s like the lyrics to a song (I can’t remember which one) by an acoustic punk band called Johnny Hobo And The Freight Trains: “A punk rock song will never change the world/ But I can tell you about a few that changed me“.

We need more introverted “heroes” in the world, and the cyberpunk genre provides these in abundance.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Using Influences From Outside The Cyberpunk Genre In Cyberpunk Fiction

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Well, for this article in my series about writing cyberpunk fiction, I thought that I’d take a brief look at how you can improve your cyberpunk stories by using influences and inspirations from different genres.

This was something that I was reminded of when I wrote this short story that was posted here late last year. My first idea was to write a dystopian story about some kind of police robot, since I’d watched an absolutely brilliant TV miniseries called “Robocop: Prime Directives” on DVD. I was in the mood for some good old-fashioned dystopian science fiction. With heavily-armed robots.

But, before I wrote this story, I remembered an extract from a short horror story I’d read somewhere on “Too Much Horror Fiction[NSFW] a few weeks earlier. Although I can’t seem to find the exact page or remember the author’s name (I think he was the son of a famous horror author), the extract was especially interesting because it was a vampire story that was narrated using just 1-2 word sentences.

This gave me the idea to narrate my short story from the perspective of the robot. After all, this kind of terse, abrupt narration has a slightly “robotic” sound to it. However, I soon realised that I wouldn’t be able to use this exact style in the story because I also wanted to include slightly longer things like descriptive error messages in the story too.

But, the idea of it helped to turn what would have been a generic sci-fi story into something a bit more interesting. By using something similar (but different) to this style, I was able to write something that was only about 400 words long, which told a reasonable-length story and which left enough details to the reader’s imagination to be either chilling or hilarious (depending on your sense of humour).

And this never would have happened if I’d only taken inspiration from the cyberpunk genre.

One of the problems with the cyberpunk genre is that it’s a relatively small genre. There just aren’t that many things in it, when compared to many other genres. It’s a tiny sub-genre of the science fiction genre, whose heyday was 20-35 years ago. It’s amazingly cool, and it’s had something of a resurgence within the past few years, but it’s still fairly obscure. So, taking inspiration from other genres is especially important.

In fact, many of the classics of the cyberpunk genre do exactly that. For example, the 1982 movie “Blade Runner” takes huge amounts of inspiration from old 1930s-50s “film noir” movies. Likewise, the brilliantly distinctive narrative style in William Gibson’s “Sprawl Trilogy” has strong echoes of both hardboiled detective fiction and thriller fiction.

Likewise, Warren Ellis’ excellent “Transmetropolitan” comic series is very clearly inspired by the unique journalism of Hunter S. Thompson. Plus, the original “Deus Ex” computer game takes a lot of influence from pre-existing conspiracy theories, alongside more traditional cyberpunk influences (like “Ghost In The Shell).

What I’m trying to say here is that, if you’re writing cyberpunk fiction, then you need to look outside the genre for inspirations and influences. In fact, this is true for whatever type of fiction that you are trying to write.

“Unique” and “distinctive” fiction usually just means that someone has been inspired by something that the audience didn’t expect them to be inspired by. So, if you want to make your fiction stand out more, then try looking outside of your genre of choice for inspirations.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What Makes A Story Cyberpunk? – A Ramble

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Well, continuing my series of articles about writing cyberpunk fiction (which were originally written when I was writing these stories), I thought that I’d look at what makes a story cyberpunk.

Like all genres, “cyberpunk” has a few common traits but no real fixed boundaries. For every rule someone can come up with about the cyberpunk genre, there will be an exception.

For example, if you think that things in the cyberpunk genre should revolve around computers or the internet, then what about “Blade Runner” ? It’s the film that pretty much defined the look of the entire cyberpunk genre, but you’d be hard-pressed to find more than the most basic computers in it. The internet isn’t even mentioned once.

Jeff Noon’s “Vurt” is a strange and surreal novel about people who use hallucinogenic feathers in order to explore alien dream-worlds. It sounds more like some kind of hippie fantasy novel from the 1960s, but it actually comes from the early-mid 1990s and the writing style, the characters and the premise of the story are about as cyberpunk as you can get! Seriously, if you aren’t easily shocked, just take a look at this partial webcomic adaptation [NSFW] of it by Lee O’Connor if you don’t believe me.

On the other hand, George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” ticks all of the boxes for a cyberpunk story. Rebellious protagonist? Check. Dystopian future? Check. Omnipresent technology? Check. But, that novel was published in 1949, long before personal computers were even a thing and at least a decade or two before the earliest beginnings of the internet began to form. It is not generally considered to be a cyberpunk novel, despite having a lot in common with cyberpunk fiction.

But, then there are Eric Brown’s excellent “Bengal Station” novels. These are novels that are set on a giant space station, and they follow a hardboiled detective who sometimes uses cybernetic implants to read minds. It sounds very cyberpunk, but the actual stories are more like classic sci-fi and/or ordinary harboiled detective fiction. They’re more like something you’d expect to see in a Hollywood movie than in anything in the cyberpunk genre.

So, there are no fixed rules or boundaries. But, you can still often tell whether or not something is cyberpunk. But, why?

Well, it has to do with the attitudes, inspirations and/or style of a creative work. The first clue is in the name, cyberpunk. Things in the cyberpunk genre often have a very distinctive rebellious attitude. Whether it’s done in a fairly subtle way (eg: through moral ambiguity) or whether it’s exaggerated for comedy value (like in the old “Judge Dredd” comics), it’s usually there. Cyberpunk stories often either tend to have a playful sense of cynicism, or they express outright nihilism.

The main characters are usually “outsiders” of one kind or another. Often, they’re morally-ambiguous magician-like computer hackers, bounty hunters, assassins, private investigators etc…. But, then you have a TV series like “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex” where the main characters are official government agents who are very clearly “the good guys”. Yet, this show is also pretty much the textbook definition of “cyberpunk”.

I suppose you could say that, if something is inspired by a lot of other cyberpunk things, then there’s a good chance that it’s probably going to be cyberpunk too. Then again, the cyberpunk genre was in it’s infancy when many of it’s defining works (eg: “Neuromancer” by William Gibson, “Blade Runner” etc..) were released. They couldn’t have been inspired by too many, if any, other cyberpunk things.

So, that just leaves style. There’s a very “traditional” cyberpunk writing style, invented by William Gibson in the 1980s, that moves along at a mile a minute – dazzling the reader with vivid descriptions and futuristic jargon. It’s like hardboiled pulp fiction turned up to eleven and pumped full of amphetamines. It is sublime.

But, people were writing cyberpunk fiction before Gibson was and they used slightly different narrative styles, like in this earlier short story by Bruce Bethke. So, “does it sound like William Gibson did in the 80s?” is hardly a way to judge whether a narrative is cyberpunk or not.

So, I guess that if you’re writing a vaguely cynical sci-fi story which includes some kind of focus on technology, then it’s possibly cyberpunk. If you’re writing a slightly gothic sci-fi story with “outsider” main characters, it’s possibly cyberpunk. If the humour in your story is of the cynical dystopian variety, it might be cyberpunk. But, like the shifting ever-changing mass of the internet, nothing is ever fixed in the cyberpunk genre.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Does Dystopian Science Fiction Actually Change Anything?

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Ever since I discovered the genre when I was a teenager, I’ve been a fan of dystopian science fiction. Hell, I even read “Nineteen Eighty-Four” twice when I was about thirteen or fourteen. If I remember rightly, I was absolutely fascinated by the ominously mysterious, yet creepily fascinating, world that the novel is set in. It was a little bit like the vintage 1970s-90s horror novels I enjoyed reading at the time, but it also contained sci-fi too.

Not only that, the cyberpunk genre has been one of those “dystopian” types of science fiction that I’ve been fascinated with for a long time. In fact, I read my first cyberpunk novel when I was about twelve ( one of the “Tom Clancy’s Net Force Explorers” books, I can’t remember which one) without even realising that it was cyberpunk.

Since then, I’ve had something of an on and off fascination with the genre. Most recently, I’ve become fascinated with the genre again because it has proven to be an amazing source of artistic inspiration (like in this recent sci-fi comedy comic of mine).

The cyberpunk genre is often labelled as dystopian science fiction and, whilst there are certainly dystopian stories, films, books, games etc.. in the cyberpunk genre, it never really feels “dystopian”. Not only does the cyberpunk genre often feature breathtakingly beautiful neon-lit cities, but it often includes enough intriguing background details and dark humour to offset any depressingly “dystopian” elements of the genre.

The most recent example of this that I’ve seen is in a computer game called “Technobablyon” that I mentioned yesterday. I’d played some more of it and found myself playing a part of the game (that involves solving a grisly murder) that should have been disturbingly horrific. However, thanks to the dialogue from the characters and the sheer weirdness of the solution to the mystery, this part of the game was more of a hilariously farcical dark comedy than a disturbing glimpse at where a technology-filled future could lead:

Talking of dark comedy, a while before I played this part of the game, I was curious about another work of dystopian science fiction – Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror” TV series. I’d been vaguely thinking about getting it on DVD since it was something that should have appealed to me – given my cynical sense of humour. Yet, when I read a few plot summaries on Wikipedia, I realised that it was actually serious dystopian science fiction…. and not in a fun way.

The story outlines I’d read seemed depressingly bleak and genuinely frightening. Even a mere description of some of the technology-based storylines in the series filled me with a real sense of paranoid dread. It was probably where technology might lead to in the future, and it terrified me. This is, of course, what dystopian science fiction is supposed to do.

It’s supposed to show the audience where the future could lead, in the hope that the audience will somehow prevent such a terrible future from coming true.

But, it doesn’t work. When I read those descriptions, I realised that there was literally nothing I could do to prevent any kind of dystopian future. I mean, it’s a long-standing joke that governments don’t see “Nineteen-Eighty Four” as a warning, but as a manual. Extending surveillance (and censorship too) seems to be part of the psyche of many major political parties, so it happens regardless of which one wins an election. The left and the right are just as bad as each other in this regard.

Dystopian science fiction is supposed to be like a vaccine – giving people a small dose of something terrible in the hope that it will prevent something even worse from happening in the future. But, this comes with the assumption that people can actually prevent worse things from happening.

In a more optimistic age, when real news mattered more than fake news, when people cared more about things like free speech and privacy, when people debated ideas instead of being lost in filter bubbles and the many left-wing/right-wing echo chambers on the internet etc… this might have been true.

But, in this modern world, dystopian science fiction is just another genre of entertainment. It can be a really cool one, or it can be an extremely depressing one. But, I think that the argument that it can actually change the world for the better has long since been proven wrong.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Very Basic Tips For Making Heavy Metal Art

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Although heavy metal is perhaps the most awesome type of music in the world, it’s always been a genre that I’ve found difficult to use for direct artistic inspiration. Although I might be listening to it when making a lot of my art, relatively little of my art has actually been recognisable as “heavy metal art”.

Likewise, although some of the visual techniques I use all of the time (eg: tenebrism etc..) were probably inspired by heavy metal album covers, I still found it difficult to make art that was explicitly “heavy metal art”.

But, when I was feeling uninspired the day before writing this article, I eventually decided to try to make some heavy metal art. In the process of working out how to do this, I learnt a bit about how to make art in this genre. But, here’s a preview of part of the painting that I made (which will be posted here in early-mid March):

This is a preview of a painting that will appear here in early-mid March.

This is a preview of a painting that will appear here in early-mid March.

So, here are some basic tips for making heavy metal art if you haven’t really made any before, but already have some art experience/practice:

1) Music: This almost goes without saying, but there is only one genre of music that should be playing in the background when you are making heavy metal art. I probably don’t need to expand on this point much.

2) Research: Do a quick image search for heavy metal art online (it’s probably not a good idea to do this if you’re at work etc.. though!) and look at as many pieces of it as you can. Likewise, dust off your CD collection and look at as many album covers as you can.

Once you’ve done this, try to look for common visual themes in all of the heavy metal art that you’ve seen. For example, during my research, I found that the common visual elements were tenebrism, skeletons (glowing eyes are cool, but optional), swords, semi-nude/nude women, semi-nude muscular men, grotesque monsters, gory violence, creepy old buildings etc…

When you’ve found all of the common visual themes, choose the ones that interest you (for the painting earlier in the e-mail, the elements were tenebrism, skeletons and old buildings) and try to find a way to incorporate these generic elements into a new and original painting.

3) Action: If there’s one thing that can be said about heavy metal art, it’s that it includes a lot of action. Something is always happening in a heavy metal painting. So, when doing your research into heavy metal artwork – look at the kinds of things that are happening in each piece of art.

Once you’ve looked at enough examples, try to think of a dramatic scene that looks like something from a horror movie and then use this new imagined scene as a basis for your painting.

Likewise, if you see a common/ frequently-used pose that you like, then find a slightly new variation on it and use it in your artwork. Although I’m not a copyright expert, my brief online research on the subject seems to suggest that poses, in and of themselves, probably cannot be copyrighted (under the same principle that ideas, but not specific expressions of those ideas, cannot be copyrighted).

Still, both to err on the side of caution and to make your art slightly more distictive, it’s best to come up with a very slight variation on any poses that interest you.

For example, the “outstretched hand” pose used in my painting was probably made famous by Iron Maiden, but variations have also been used in art for bands like Children Of Bodom. My own variation features a slightly tilted head, a very slight forward lean, an outstretched left arm and a few other small changes that help to differentiate it from either of these things (as well as the fact that the actual content of the art is totally different to either example).

4) Other inspirations: It almost goes without saying, but your inspirations for heavy metal art should be more than just other heavy metal art. The thing to remember here is that the best heavy metal art is often a heavy metal-style twist on another genre of art. All of the classic metal album cover artists have probably taken inspiration from things like horror movies, comics, old paintings etc… rather than just other heavy metal album covers.

So, make sure that you have other sources of inspiration too. For example, my painting was at least partly inspired by the wonderfully grotesque artwork in old American horror comics from the 1940s/50s. Likewise, the lighting in the painting was inspired by both classic computer games. I could probably go on for a while, but this painting has more inspirations than just other pieces of heavy metal art.

If you have some non-metal influences, then your art will look significantly more original and interesting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂