Awesome Art Can Lurk In Unlikely Places – A Ramble

Well, although this is an article about art, I’m going to have to start by talking about a TV show for a bit. This is mostly because, after discovering a random “funny moments” clip on Youtube, I ended up watching a DVD of a modern version of “Scooby Doo”. In addition to the humour, this was mostly because this cartoon series is a surprisingly good work of visual art. Here are a couple of examples to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from season one (2010-11) of “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated” that includes dramatic high-contrast lighting, clever use of silhouettes and a brilliant purple/orange colour scheme.

This is another screenshot from season one, which includes an ominous red/blue colour scheme (with a reassuring hint of orange/yellow), some hints of high-contrast lighting and hints of 1960s-style watercolour artwork too.

This is a cartoon series that includes bold high-contrast lighting, a really interesting 1960s-inspired modern art style, well-chosen colour schemes, some really dramatic compositions and a whole host of other amazing artistic stuff that you wouldn’t traditionally expect to see in a Saturday morning cartoon. And, of course, this made me think about finding awesome artwork in unlikely places.

The most inspirational artwork isn’t usually found hidden away in art galleries. Instead, it is usually “hiding in plain sight” in all sorts of places that you wouldn’t expect.

For example, one of the major elements of my own art style (eg: high-contrast lighting) was mostly inspired by all of the old second-hand 1980s/90s horror novel covers I saw when I was a teenager and the cover art for all of the amazing old heavy metal albums I found back then.

Likewise, as I’ve mentioned at least a couple of times before, many of the best examples of dramatic composition, clever use of perspective, clever lighting etc… that I’ve found have been in the old “survival horror” computer/video games that I played during my youth:

This is a screenshot from the 2000 PC port of “Resident Evil 3” (1999). Notice how the “camera” not only lurks far away from the player’s character in order to create a feeling of both insignificance and of being watched, but also how the game designers use lighting to draw the player’s attention to where they are supposed to go next.

So, what was the point out all of this?

Well, it is that amazing art is all around us if we are willing to look. On any given day, you’ll probably see more pieces of art than you even consciously notice, and many of these are a lot more sophisticated than you might initially think – if you’re actually willing to look at them.

Not only can all of this amazing “hidden” artwork have an influence on our art styles without us even consciously noticing, but it is also the perfect riposte to people who think that art is a “pretentious” or “irrelevant” thing.

The fact is that the world looks the way that it does because of artists. Art is the background to all of our lives in ways that we may not even consciously notice. And, what this often means is that some of the coolest and most dramatic works of art can be quite literally “hiding in plain sight”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Hidden Creative Works – A Ramble

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

The day before I wrote this article, I ended up thinking about hidden creative works after listening to most of the secret track on AFI’s “Sing The Sorrow” album. It was kind of a tradition for American punk albums during the 1990s-early 2000s to have a hidden track at the end. Usually, there will be a few minutes of silence after the final track plays and then the hidden track will start playing. Usually, it’s just the band goofing around or playing an instrumental piece in a different style or something like that.

But, on AFI’s “Sing The Sorrow”, one of the best tracks on the album – “This Time Imperfect” – is buried within the secret track. Since it’s hidden behind several minutes of poetry, silence and depressing instrumental music, it wasn’t something that I happened to listen to until I happened to leave this track playing in the background whilst doing something else.

But, when I listened to it, I was absolutely astonished! It was energising and depressing at the same time. It was both a very “personal” introspective song and the kind of song that deserves to be bellowed out at full volume to an adoring stadium of fans. Davey Havok’s voice has never sounded so good in this song. It’s also a song that is filled with endearingly nostalgic early 2000s emo-style gothicness. It was awesome! But, it was completely hidden.

At the time that I accidentally listened to this song, I was going through another phase of binge-reading my favourite webcomic. I am, of course, talking about Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality“. In particular, I was looking for any secret bonus pages on the comic’s site that I’d missed.

However, unlike on AFI’s “Sing The Sorrow”, most of the secret bonus pages on the “Subnormality” site aren’t Rowntree’s best work (they’re still really good though). They’re random pieces of extra art, they’re old abandoned projects and stuff like that. They’re a cool bonus for fans who are prepared to do a lot of Googling (or to read the site’s accompanying blog), but the best comics are the ones that have been posted in less obscure parts of the site.

So, why have I talked about listening to punk albums and reading webcomics?

Well, it’s because these two examples show radically different attitudes towards hidden creative works. On the one hand, there’s the view that a hidden creative work should be some kind of buried treasure. Something extremely awesome that only the luckiest or most dedicated will ever find. This approach is designed to reward people who are willing to take a closer look at something, but it runs the risk that most of the audience will miss the best parts of whatever you make.

On the other hand, there’s the attitude that the very best work should be easily available to the public and that any hidden creative works should be more like the special features on a DVD – something that’s interesting to fans, but the sort of thing that “wasn’t good enough” to include in the public parts of the project. This approach is a lot more low-effort and it ensures that everyone gets to see your best works, but it’s appeal is limited to only the most enthusiastic fans of your work.

Both of these approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. But, they both rely on the fact that discovering something hidden is a really cool experience. It makes us feel like archaeologists or members of some kind of arcane secret society. Either approach will give your creative works a bit of extra “added value” and I imagine that it’s a lot of fun to include.

Surprisingly though, I really haven’t experimented that much with hidden content though. Yes, there’s a small hidden part of this site (which I added as a bit of a joke in 2013. Just go to this page and enter the password “mzzyzplex” – as mentioned in this old article) but there really aren’t that many secret parts or “Easter Eggs on this site. This is because of one major flaw with the whole “hidden content” thing.

Simply put, hidden content usually means that you have to put extra time and effort into things that aren’t essential to your project. If you set yourself regular deadlines (to stay motivated) or you have a time limit or if you can only maintain enthusiasm for a project for a limited amount of time, then coming up with extra secret content can sometimes seem like a waste of time, inspiration and/or resources.

For example, I scan the line art for many of my better paintings and all of my webcomics. This would be perfect fodder for hidden content, but it’s just too damn useful to hide. If there’s a problem with a scheduled article, then my stock of line art means that I can quickly replace it with a filler post closer to when it is scheduled to appear. Likewise, I’ve turned showing off the line art for my webcomics into a regular feature (like this), because it seems like a cool way to come up with an extra blog post or two every month.

But, in a way, this blog contains a lot of hidden content by default. Simply put, when a site gets large enough, then public parts of it can become more difficult to find if they aren’t linked to prominently or mentioned that often (such as this compilation of unfinished articles, short stories and poetry).

So, hidden content can appear by default if you’ve been running a site for long enough. Still, whether you take this approach, whether you hide your best work or whether you just add some quick “bonus content”, hidden creative works are absolutely fascinating.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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

2016 Artwork Hidden Genres article sketch

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

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

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

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

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

So, why am I rambling about music?

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

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

So, how and why does this happen?

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

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

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

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

Comics And Hidden Influences

2015 Artwork Hidden Comics influences article sketch

Well, I thought that I’d talk about comics, and about what can influence your comics without you even knowing, today.

Although I’m going to spend quite a while talking about my own comics (yet again), there will hopefully also be some stuff later in this article that might be useful and/or interesting to you. But, you might want to skip to the last few paragraphs if you aren’t interested in reading about my comics again.

Anyway, even though it’s been six days since I finished posting my “Diabolical Sigil” comic here, I started to think about what influenced it and about the subject of influences and comics in general. I should warn you that this article will contain plot SPOILERS for “Diabolical Sigil” though.

One of the things I noticed after I finished making this comic was that it was far more influenced by manga comics than I expected.

Although my art style has used a few small elements from anime/manga styles for most of the time that I’ve been drawing (this was probably due to watching “Pokemon” on TV when I was a kid ), there were a few manga-like things about my comic that caught me by surprise.

Most of these things were kind of subtle, but they certainly stood out to me. One of them was the rather convoluted, and vaguely “Death Note” – like mystery at the heart of the comic.

If you’ve never read “Death Note”, it’s a supernatural thriller series by Tsgumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata about a high school student who finds a book that will kill anyone whose name is written in it (since it orders a creature called a “Shinigami” to kill them) and about an amateur detective who is trying to track him down.

It’s a really cool comic – it’s filled with plot twists and (slightly convoluted) schemes and tricks. It’s a story of a battle between two highly sophisticated minds and it’s incredibly compelling.

Anyway, it’s been about seven years since I read all of “Death Note” and I certainly wasn’t thinking of it consciously when I was making this comic. But, somehow, I ended up making something of a parody of “Death Note” without even noticing (after all, I’d just set out to write a comedy/horror comic). See what I mean:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Yes, without even realising it, I'd made a parody of "Death Note".

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Yes, without even realising it, I’d made a parody of “Death Note”.

Not only that, I also noticed that the panel layouts and style of my comic (eg: using black gutters between each panel etc..) was also heavily influenced by manga comics in general.

This is probably due to the facts that I made this comic in black and white and quite a lot of manga comics are traditionally printed in black and white (I’ve obviously read non-manga B&W narrative comics, but at least half of the B&W narrative comics I’ve read were manga ones).

In other words, I’d picked up a lot of tips about how to make comics in black and white without even consciously realising it until shortly before I wrote this article.

Hell, even some of the humour in my comic was at least slightly manga-like in nature, like this:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] I was puzzled why the humour in this page was different to my usual cynical sense of humour. Now I know why - I'd been influenced by manga comics.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] I was puzzled why the humour in this page was different to my usual cynical sense of humour. Now I know why – I’d been influenced by manga comics.

So, yes, there was a lot more of a manga influence in my “Diabolical Sigil” comic than I even realised and – well – this made me think a lot about the subject of hidden influences.

As this excellent punk song by Bad Religion points out, everything that you read or encounter will leave some kind of impression on you.

This means that, for example, things that you really liked a few years ago (but have almost forgotten about) may still have an influence on what you create. This is for the simple reason that they’re part of your own personal definition of what a “cool” comic/movie/novel etc.. looks like.

To a certain degree, you can consciously use this process to your advantage. For example, after reading the holy trinity of cool novels (“Lost Souls” by Poppy Z. Brite, “Neuromancer” by William Gibson and “Crooked Little Vein” by Warren Ellis), I noticed a significant improvement in the narrative voice that I used when I wrote fiction. I’d read some cool things and I wanted to write stories that were like – but also very different to – them.

But, this process is far more interesting when it happens completely unconsciously. It’s at it’s absolute best when you finish a creative project and then suddenly realise “hey, this is a bit like that really cool thing I read a few years ago“. Seriously, it’s really fun when this happens.

Experiences like this make you realise that all creative people are just “standing on the shoulders of giants” – but that, to a certain degree, we all get to choose which giants we stand upon.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂