Personal Humour And Creative Inspiration – A Ramble

[Ooops! Sorry about the late article everyone. I accidentally scheduled it for the same time as today’s art post.]

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about the value of personal humour in the creative process. When I talk about “personal humour”, I mean things that you find hilarious for no real reason, in-jokes amongst friends, amusing thoughts and this kind of thing.

I was reminded of this when I was making a slightly random and stylised self-portrait painting. The idea for this picture came to me when I was playing a set of fan-made “Doom II” levels and I suddenly thought “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if there was a Caravaggio-style painting of someone playing ‘Doom II’?

After all, famous historical artists like Caraviaggio, Manet etc… would occasinally paint what would have been ordinary scenes from everyday life. But, of course, these “ordinary” paintings revered as famous works of art today. So, the idea of doing a “modern” version of this just seemed too funny. Here’s a preview of the self-portrait:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 13th November.

But, why is personal humour such a great source of creativity?

The first reason is that it usually involves thinking about familiar things in different ways. Usually, an in-joke or a personal joke appears when something is compared to or combined with something else. It often involves, for example, combining something serious with something silly. Or it involves applying a particular viewpoint to something different. In short, it prompts different and original thought – however weird or random it may be.

The second reason is that other people won’t always get the joke. Although this may seem like a bad thing, it doesn’t have to be. Usually even the weirdest of personal jokes has some kind of logic behind it. So, even if your audience think about it in a “serious” way, then things inspired by a personal joke will come across as “unique” or “quirky” rather than “incomprehensible”. As such, it can add personality to your creative works.

The third reason is because a good personal joke makes you want to laugh more. It’s the sort of funny thing that you don’t want to forget. As such, this feeling can make you want to immortalise the joke in a drawing, story, comic etc… Or even to make something else, so that you can sneak the personal joke into it. So, personal jokes can be a great driving force for actually making stuff.

The fourth reason is that personal humour is usually completely unfiltered and uncensored. Although this means that you might not be able to directly translate it into something that can be published or posted online, it does at least put you in a more irreverent frame of mind (and this feeling of irreverent rebelliousness can prompt creativity). Plus, trying to work out a way to turn said personal jokes into something publishable can be an interesting creative challenge in it’s own right.

The fifth reason is that personal humour encourages you to be more “well-read”. In short, the more things that you’ve seen/read/played, the more material there will be for your imagination to surprise you with via amusing thoughts (by comparing things). And whilst this can be an obvious source of inspiration for parodies, it can also provide the beginnings of more original ideas too.

Finally, having random amusing thoughts is usually the sign of a healthy imagination. So, it’s usually a good sign that you’re feeling inspired.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Basic Tips For Finding A Distinctive Comedy Style For Your Webcomic

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making next month’s webcomic mini series. Anyway, one of the things that I sometimes worry about before starting a collection of comic updates is that I don’t have my own distinctive style of humour. Then again, everyone probably does this.

Still, if you’ve seen a lot of other things in the comedy genre, it can be easy to think that everyone else has their own unique “style” of humour and you don’t. Again, this isn’t true. But, here are a few ways that you can rediscover your own unique style of humour.

1) Your favourite comedy: This is a fairly obvious one, but look at all of your favourite things in the comedy genre. All of the things that really make you crease up with laughter. Your own style of humour is a mixture of all of the types of humour found in these things.

If you’re not sure about the humour type of your favourite things in the comedy genre, just read or watch as much of them as possible. You’ll soon start to notice patterns, styles of jokes etc… Yes, most good things in the comedy genre will contain a mixture of different types of humour, but there will often be one or two that stand out more than the others.

These types of humour might include things like character-based humour, “shock value” humour, political/social satire, parodies, cynicism, slapstick humour, clever wordplay, subverted expectations, amusing narration, old things in modern settings etc…

The trick here, of course, isn’t to directly copy any one thing – but to try to find the types of jokes that you want to tell. Once you’ve found a few types of humour that you really like, then come up with your own jokes that use this style and include them in your webcomic. The thing to remember is that distinctive comedy styles come from a unique mixture of pre-existing types of humour.

2) Don’t be afraid to experiment: One of the reasons why I sometimes worry that I don’t have my own “style” of humour is that I tend to experiment with different types of humour from time to time. For example, this comic update of mine combines cynical humour with more philosophical elements:

“Damania Reflection – Mind, Body & Spirit” By C. A. Brown

Whereas, this comic update of mine is more like something from a gaming webcomic:

“Damania Regression – Community” By C. A. Brown

I could go on for a while, but part of finding your own “style” of humour is experimenting with lots of different types of humour. And this usually involves taking inspiration from lots of different things along the way. So, if your humour changes every month or two, then it just means that you’re adding more stuff to your repertoire. It means that you are improving or refining your own unique style of humour. It’s a good thing!

3) Look back: If you’ve been making webcomics for a while and you’re still worrying that you don’t have a unique type of humour, then just look back at some or all of the comics that you’ve made in the past.

When you look at comic updates that you haven’t seen in a while, you’ll probably have a slightly more distanced perspective. And there’s a good chance that you’ll start to notice at least some hints of your own distinctive style of humour lurking in there too. And, since you made these comic updates in the past, it means that you already have a unique style of humour. You just needed a reminder.

4) Your perspective: I’m usually sceptical about people who tell you to “write from experience”, since they’re often the kind of annoyingly extroverted people who seem to think that everyone else should be just like them. No, a much better piece of advice is to “write from your own perspective”.

I don’t mean that you should make your webcomic autobiographical, but that you should take a look at the way that you think about the world.

Take a look at the topics and ideas that interest you. Take a look at anything you’ve seen or read recently that had some kind of emotional or intellectual impact on you. Take a look at your dreams and daydreams.

Once you’ve thought about these things, try to find a way to make them (or things like them) funny. This will instantly give your comedy a certain level of personality and uniqueness.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What 1990s Computer Games Can Teach Writers And Comic Makers About Why Humour Is Important

Although this is an article about writing fiction and/or making comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about computer games for a while (again!). As usual, there will be a good reason for this that will become obvious later – and it’s not just because I’m going through a bit more of a retro gaming phase than usual at the moment.

Anyway, at the time of writing, I’m playing two games from the 1990s that – despite many superficial differences – have one thing in common.

One game is a fiendishly difficult sci-fi first-person shooter game from 1998 called “SiN” that features a tough action hero called John Blade who fights hordes of henchmen. The other game is a fairly non-violent fantasy “point and click” adventure game from 1993 called “Legend Of Kyrandia – Hand Of Fate” which is about a magician called Zanthia who has to go on an epic quest to stop her world from disappearing.

On the surface, these two games seem very different. Yet, they have something in common with each other. It doesn’t come across that well in these screenshots, but see if you can spot it:

This is a screenshot from “SiN” (1998)

This is a screenshot from “Legend Of Kyrandia – Hand Of Fate” (1993)

Yes, you got it! Humour! Even though these are games from five years apart, in radically different genres (both thematically and in terms of gameplay), with very different graphical styles, with different characters and different target audiences – they both include a lot of humour! Both games are filled with hilariously sarcastic and/or witty dialogue, silly background details and the refreshing sense that they aren’t meant to be “100% serious“.

And, the surprising thing is that this seriously improves both games in so many ways! Whether it distracts from the constant cheap difficulty and occasionally terrible level design in “SiN” or whether it distracts from the fact that “Hand Of Fate” is (if my memories of playing about half of it during the early 2000s are correct) filled with frustrating early-mid 1990s adventure game puzzles, the humour does a lot to cover up the shortcomings of both games.

It also makes the audience want to keep returning to the game, just to see what funny things will happen next. In addition to this, it lends both games a lot more personality. Thanks to the narrative humour and character-based humour, both games seem like distinctive and unique things that were actually made by people – rather than designed by committee or anything.

So, what does this have to do with comics and/or fiction?

Aside from all of the benefits that I’ve already mentioned earlier, another great thing about including humour in the things you create is that it makes your stories and/or comics as much about the journey as they are about the destination. In other words, the main events of the story you’re trying to tell aren’t as all-important as they might be in a more “serious” story.

This focus on enjoying the journey (or making the journey enjoyable) rather than racing towards the ending, lends creative works that are sprinkled with humour a much more relaxing tone. They are something where your readers won’t be frantically turning the pages to see what happens next, but will actually sit back and take the time to savour the thing you’ve created.

So, yes, whether it’s masking problems, adding uniqueness or just making your story or comic more relaxing, humour can be a surprisingly useful tool for writers and/or comic makers.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

You Know All That Art Practice Is Paying Off When…

2017 Artwork Fringe Benefits Of Regular Art Practice article

Well, I thought that I’d do something a bit sillier (but with a serious point) for today’s article. Namely, I thought that I’d write a list of cool things that can happen if you stick to practicing making art regularly.

If you’re making art regularly, you might recognise some of the things on this list and – if you don’t – then this might help get you in the mood to practice more often. Of course, it might just sound like smug, self-righteous nonsense. And, if this is the case, then I apologise and promise that tomorrow’s article won’t contain any of this (it’ll probably be a computer game review, since I haven’t written one of these in a while).

So, without any further ado…..

You Know All That Art Practice Is Paying Off When….

– Your “totally uninspired failure of a throwaway painting (that you just KNOW everyone will hate)” that you made just to keep up with your practice schedule looks like the sort of thing that would have literally knocked you off your feet with it’s sheer awesomeness if you’d made it a few years ago.

– The time between feeling “completely uninspired” and actually making a painting is measured in minutes (or possibly hours in extreme cases) rather than days or weeks.

– You can look at a random piece of art in a magazine or on the internet and not only be able to instantly tell whether it was made with digital and/or traditional materials, but also sometimes what materials were used.

– When a time traveller from the ancient year of 2015 asks you what colour the dress is, you can look at it for literally one second and say “light brown and grey/blue/white”, because those are the colours you would instinctively use when painting it.

– The idea of not making art every day/two days/ week etc… feels more “difficult” than the idea of making art on a regular schedule.

– When you see a confusing photo, you are usually quickly able to tell what is happening in it because your image analysis skills have been finely honed by years of studying pictures in order to learn how to draw or paint better (or, more accurately, learning how to draw or paint more things).

– You finally understand the truth that is is impossible for any creative work to be “100% original”. As such, you have slightly more complicated and nuanced thoughts about copyright than you did a few years ago.

– When you want to draw a scene from a first-person shooter game for a comic, it’s really easy to do, since you have an intuitive understanding of one-point perspective. This is despite the fact that, a few years ago, you would have thought of the idea and then spent the next three hours thinking “how the hell do I draw THAT?!

– When you see some seriously cool-looking art in a comic, your first thought is “what can I learn from this?“. Your second thought is “how much can I get away with learning from this?

– When you realise that you can make your own greeting cards.

– You not only have a very clear idea of what your art style looks like when you draw people, but you also know what it looks like when you don’t draw people. You may also possibly know how to spell the word “chiaroscuro” without having to look it up (well, I almost spelled it correctly in the first draft of this article. But the spellchecker soon pointed out my arrogant hubris).

– You’ve used, and abandoned, at least one or two different art mediums- before finding the right one for you.

– You know what you don’t know, and you know exactly how you would learn these things… when you eventually get round to it.

– You can call yourself “an artist” without feeling too embarrassed.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Humour Types In Webcomics (With Comic Preview)

2016 Artwork Humour Variety In Webcomics Article sketch

Although I’m busy making the next mini series of my long-running webcomic (it’ll be posted here in early- mid August, but you can check out the previous mini series here, here, here and here) at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk very quickly about humour types in webcomics.

One of the things that I noticed with a couple of my previous comics projects is that they didn’t contain as many types of humour as they probably should.

What do I mean by this? Well, a lot of the humour was very cynical humour. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great type of humour and it’s easy for a cynical person like myself to write. But, well, it can get a little bit predictable and boring after a while. It can go from “Ha! I actually wrote that!” to “Meh. Time to be cynical again“.

So, it can sometimes be a good idea to include different types of humour in your webcomic just to keep yourself interested in it. In addition to this, using different types of humour in your webcomic will also make it more interesting to read for the simple reason that, like anyone else, the members of your audience all have a subtly different sense of humour from each other.

In my upcoming series, I’ve made an effort to include a few different types of humour in order to add a bit more variety. In addition to the usual cynical humour, there’s cheerful humour, random/surreal humour, nerdy humour, slapstick comedy, character-based humour and even an old running joke too.

Here’s a preview of one of the funniest comic panels from my upcoming series that I’ve made so far. It’s also an example of character-based humour, since it sums up the differences between two of the characters (Harvey and Roz) absolutely perfectly:

It's even funnier when you read the whole comic (which will be posted here on the 11th August). But, it's a good example of character-based humour, with a slight hint of cynicism too.

It’s even funnier when you read the whole comic (which will be posted here on the 11th August). But, it’s a good example of character-based humour, with a slight hint of cynicism too.

Whilst you shouldn’t include lots of different types of humour in your comic just for the sake of doing so, it’s worth doing if the opportunity arises and if you think that a different type of joke will work well in that particular comic.

If it works in the context of the comic that you’re making, then using several types of humour can make things more interesting for both you and your audience.

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Sorry for the ludicrously short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Thinking Of Your Webcomic Like A Sitcom

2016 Artwork Sitcoms And Webcomics article sketch

Well, since I was busy making a short webcomic series at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk briefly about one interesting way of looking at webcomics.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but one thing that I’ve noticed about writing short self-contained 3-6 panel webcomic updates is that they’re a lot like the scenes from a sitcom. Although an episode of a sitcom tells a continuous story, many sitcoms can be broken down into lots of shorter funny moments.

This is why clips from sitcoms are so popular on sites like Youtube and why you sometimes even see DVD compilations of clips from classic sitcoms being sold (in the UK, a few years ago, at least). Their structure often allows them to be broken down into lots of smaller self-contained jokes.

The best way to think of a webcomic update (if you’re making self-contained updates) is like one of these scenes from a sitcom. You’ll only usually have room for one joke and, therefore, it can often be a good idea to look to sitcoms for inspiration when it comes to learning how to write these kinds of comic updates.

"Damania Resurgence - Film Night" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurgence – Film Night” By C. A. Brown

To give you an example from the comic I made a couple of hours before writing this article, the style of humour in the comic above is similar to the “cut away” jokes that are sometimes found in American sitcoms like “30 Rock”, “Family Guy” etc…

These are jokes where the background etc.. changes significantly in a couple of the panels and yet everything goes completely back to normal a few seconds later. When done well, they’re absolutely hilarious.

Whilst you obviously shouldn’t copy any specific jokes from sitcoms, it can be a good idea to learn things like the structure of a joke and how to set up a joke quickly (by watching sitcoms) if you’re making self-contained webcomic updates. Since, as I mentioned before, webcomics aren’t really that different from sitcoms in some ways.

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Sorry for the ridiculously short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Four Ways To Add Humour To Interactive Fiction

2016 Artwork Interactive fiction humour sketch

Well, after writing yesterday’s article, I was in the mood for writing some “Fighting Fantasy“/”Choose Your Own Adventure“-style interactive fiction.

(Edit: If you’re interested in my interactive story, it can be read here. And, yes, I write these articles fairly far in advance of when they’re posted.)

As you might have guessed, it’s a horror story – or at least it was going to be a horror story. Of course, it seems to be some unwritten rule that whenever I try to write horror fiction, comedy quickly emerges instead.

Still, there’s something awesome about writing comedy in interactive fiction that you don’t really get if you write comedy in “ordinary” fiction. This is mainly because there are a few comedy techniques that only really work well in interactive fiction. So, I thought that I’d give you a few quick tips about how to make your own interactive fiction funnier.

1) Player dissonance: Interactive fiction is typically written in the present tense and from a second-person perspective (eg: “you open the door”), since the reader is meant to be the main character. A good “serious” interactive fiction story will try to make the main character an “everyman” and/or “everywoman” kind of character. They’ll make the main character into a generic, reasonable person that the reader can easily superimpose themselves onto.

However, if you want to add some humour to your interactive fiction, then you can make the main character a little bit more eccentric. You can make them do slightly silly things or even act in a downright bizarre way. Yes, this breaks player immersion in the story slightly, but if it’s handled well, then it’ll amuse your readers to no end. Good comedy comes from the difference between your readers’ expectations and what you actually show them.

For example, most horror-themed interactive stories (like this excellent one by Steve Jackson) involve an “ordinary” character exploring somewhere scary. My story begins with the player enthusiastically preparing to join an evil secret society that lives in a creepy old mansion. No real explanation for this is given, but it’s the last thing that you’d expect in an interactive fiction story.

2) Silly options: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but when it comes to adding options at the end of a page or paragraph, feel free to throw in a slightly silly or random one too.

If you’re feeling really evil, you can make the silly option the one that the player needs to choose in order to succeed. If you’re feeling slightly less evil, you can make this option result in the main character’s death.

If you’re feeling even less evil, then choosing this option could possibly just make the reader loop round to the previous options page or something like that.

3) Death scenes: In most interactive fiction stories, the player’s chances of winning aren’t 100%. If the player makes the wrong decision, then the main character can end up dying or being trapped somewhere or something like that. Like in all games, winning is more enjoyable when there’s a very real chance of failure.

However, these scenes can be kind of annoying to read for obvious reasons. So, they are the perfect place to add humour. If you can make your readers laugh during one of these scenes, then they’re less likely to stop reading. So, be sure to make your death scenes hilariously inventive or make sure that they’re narrated in a humourous way.

For example, in my interactive fiction story, choosing one option can leave you stranded in the middle of a field filled with undead skeletons. The scene in question ends with these lines:

Fun fact: Skeletons are nowhere near as evil or fierce as horror movies often make them out to be. In fact, they’re actually rather hospitable to anyone who happens to stray upon their ancient ground. But, well, what kind of host would leave their guest standing on the roof in the middle of a thunderstorm, when there’s warm tea and crumpets waiting in the coffins below?

In fact, skeletal hospitality is so well renowned that one hundred percent of their guests quickly end up becoming skeletons themselves. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess.

4) Narration: Traditionally, the narrator in an interactive fiction story should be as “neutral” and descriptive as possible.

If you’re telling a serious interactive story, then you want to put as little distance between the story and the reader as possible. This is why the narration in many interactive stories can sometimes be a bit “functional” and “matter of fact”. *Yawn*.

Of course, if you actually want to add some humour to your interactive story, then just give the narrator a bit more personality. Let your narrator make sarcastic comments occasionally, or even “break the fourth wall” every once in a while.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂