Although the gothic horror genre has a very long and interesting history, I thought that I’d focus on 1990s style gothic horror today. This was mostly because I was reminded of how great gothic horror was in the 1990s when I started playing a retro computer game from 1999 called “Shadow Man” a few days before writing this article.
So, how can you add some 1990s gothic horror to your art, comics etc…? Here are four of the most basic ways that I’ve learnt from things I’ve seen in the genre.
1) Lighting is everything: If there’s one thing to be said for the 1990s (and the 1980s), it’s that people knew how to use lighting well back then.
If you look at a lot of “gothic” things from the 1990s, you’ll tend to notice that they often make heavy use of ambient lighting contrasted against a dark background. It looks a bit like these modern 1990s-style digitally-edited paintings of mine:
“Skeleton Catacomb” By C. A. Brown
“Late Return (II)” By C. A. Brown
“Another Bedroom In Arles (After Van Gogh)” By C. A. Brown
This gothic style of lighting is probably most notable in many old-school 3D computer and video games from the 1990s, but it can also be seen in a number of sci-fi and/or horror films from the era like “The Matrix”, “Ghost In The Shell”, “Cube”, “Death Machine”, “House On Haunted Hill (1999)” etc…
With this type of lighting, the general rule is that at least 30-50% of your painting or comic panel should be shrouded in darkness. Likewise, you should also learn the basics of how to paint realistic lighting – since you’ll need to use the few light sources in your painting not only to illuminate key details of the picture, but also to hint at whatever is lurking in the mysterious darkness. You can do this by adding silhouettes to the foreground, only illuminating part of an interesting-looking location etc…
2) Victorian England: Ok, this is kind of a timeless thing in the gothic horror genre, but it’s quite telling that some of the best gothic horror games (except for the original “Silent Hill”) from the 1990s that I’ve played have had some connection to Victorian England.
For example, “American McGee’s Alice” is a gothic horror game (released in 2000, but presumably made in the late 1990s) that is based on ‘Alice In Wonderland’. Likewise, although the main plot of “Shadow Man” technically takes place in the 1990s, the storyline revolves around Jack The Ripper’s activities in the afterlife.
Many of the more well-known classics of the gothic genre come from Victorian England too – “Dracula” being the most notable example. Of course, over in 19th century America, there was also Edgar Allen Poe too. But, if you ever want to make something look instantly gothic, then add some connection to Victorian England and/or the 19th century. Yes, even if it’s a silly comic mini series about time travel:
“Damania Repressed – Goth” By C. A. Brown
3) Nihilism: With more “modern” things in the gothic horror genre that were made in the 1990s, nihilsm and/or alienation often seem to be the main emotional themes. I’m really not sure why, but these themes seemed to be a lot more popular in the 1990s than they are today. Whilst this is probably difficult to get across in art, it might be worth bearing in mind if you’re creating characters for a comic or webcomic.
Just try not to go overboard with it. Too much cynical nihilism can easily turn into comedy (eg: the hilarious “My whole life is a darkroom… One, big dark room” line from a 1980s movie called “Beetlejuice”). Likewise, there’s also a fine line between ‘broodingly gothic’ and ‘depressing for the sake of depressing’.
4) The fashions: Finally, one important thing to remember is that gothic fashion in the 1990s seems to have been a lot more understated than 1980s gothic fashion.
Whilst 1980s gothic fashion was inspired by the punk genre (and often had a certain theatricality to it), 1990s gothic fashion was probably more inspired by the industrial and/or metal genres, plus the general “anti-fashion” trend of the 1990s too.
So, instead of giant spiky hairstyles, fishnet vests/stockings and lots of eyeliner, any goth characters in 1990s-based gothic horror comics or art that you make are more likely to be wearing things like black vest tops, leather trenchoats, shades etc…. Just watch “The Matrix” for lots of great examples of this type of fashion. But, in essence, your “goth” characters should look more like this:
“Cold Road” By C. A. Brown
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂