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 🙂

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Three Quick Tips For Including Obscure In-Jokes And References In Your Webcomic (With A Comic Preview)

2017 Artwork Obscure In jokes

If you’re making a webcomic, it can be very tempting to include all sorts of obscure/nerdy references and in-jokes in your comic. After all, it’s a really fun thing to do. However, if you aren’t careful, you can end up confusing and bewildering a large portion of your audience.

So, how can you avoid this? Here are three quick tips:

1) Mention it: This won’t work in every context, but sometimes a good way to avoid confusing people with an obscure reference is to mention what the reference is.

This works best during dialogue, where another character can comment about the reference. Like in this scene from yet another upcoming webcomic mini series of mine that I was busy making at the time of writing:

The full comic update will appear here on the 7th April

The full comic update will appear here on the 7th April

The dialogue is a parody of “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg (or the one part of it that I can remember at least). But, since many people haven’t heard of “Howl”, I thought that I’d briefly mention Allen Ginsberg in the dialogue (in case anyone wanted to look him up on Wikipedia or whatever).

You can also do something similar to this in your dialogue by having your characters say something like “This is just like that one time in ‘Star Trek’ when…” or something like that before making a reference and/or in-joke.

Obviously, it isn’t practical to do this kind of thing for all of your in-jokes and references, but try to do it for at least a few of them.

2) Independence: Ideally, if you’re making an obscure in-joke or a reference, then try to make sure that the humour doesn’t rely entirely on the audience understanding the reference.

In other words, either surround the in-joke with lots of “ordinary” jokes or tell the joke in such a way that the audience can still find it funny from the context (regardless of whether they’ve read or seen the thing you’re referencing).

For example, the scene immediately before the comic panel I included earlier shows Roz (the beatnik character) offering Harvey (the detective) a joint. If you’ve read “Howl”, then the dialogue in the example is a funny parody of the poem.

If you haven’t read “Howl” – it’s also an amusingly cynical, if strangely-phrased, description of how people sometimes act when they’re stoned.

So, try to include at least a few “dual-purpose” references in your comic, which are funny regardless of whether your audience gets the reference or not.

3) Background details: This one is fairly obvious but, in comics, the best place for super-obscure references and in-jokes is often in the background details.

Since precise background details aren’t often essential to the plot, the references will probably be ignored by people who don’t get them – but noticed by people who do. So, you can add a lot of obscure humour for people with the same interests as you, but without ruining the experience for people who haven’t read the same books, played the same games etc… as you have.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Basic Ways To Create A Mythos In Your Stories And/Or Comics

2015 Artwork Creating A Mythos Article sketch

Surprisingly, I didn’t even really hear the word “mythos” until I was about seventeen. When I was seventeen, I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories and quite a few of H.P.Lovecraft’s horror stories.

Both of these collections of stories tend to have something of a mythos to them – an underlying “mythology” that connects many seemingly different stories. For example, in many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories, Sherlock Holmes will mention other cases that he and Watson have solved.

Likewise, although a certain famous creature only really appears in one of H.P.Lovecraft’s stories, he’s mentioned in other stories. Not only that, there are lots of other things that Lovecraft’s seemingly stand-alone short stories have in common (eg: Miskatonic university, the old ones, the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred etc…).

There are many good reasons for adding a mythos to your stories – not only does it prove something extra for fans of your work, but it can also mean that your work can turn into something greater than you could possibly create on your own. This is for the simple reason that, if you come up with an interesting enough mythos, other writers will find ways to reference it in their own work.

So, how do you create a mythos? Here are a few tips:

1) Common locations: One of the simplest ways to come up with a mythos is to come up with an interesting enough location in one of your stories and then to either feature it in your later stories or to mention it briefly in stories that are set somewhere else.

A good example of this can be found in the novels “Lost Souls” and “Drawing Blood” by Poppy Z. Brite/ Billy Martin. These are two of the best novels that I’ve ever read, but they’re completely different stories and feature (mostly) different characters.

“Lost Souls” is a gloriously gothic story about vampires and musicians. “Drawing Blood” is an absolutely unique story that somehow fits into many different genres (horror, 1990s cyberpunk, erotica, thriller fiction and 1960s beat literature spring to mind for starters…). So, what do they have in common?

Simple – both novels feature scenes set in the fictional American town of Missing Mile, North Carolina. Although only about one character from “Lost Souls” appears in “Drawing Blood” – if you’ve read both books, then you’ll certainly see the connection between the two stories.

So, adding a mythos to your story can be as simple as just re-visiting (or even mentioning) a familiar location from one of your previous stories.

2) Common Items: When I wrote a lot of fiction in my very early 20s, I’d always try to make sure that at least one or two items turned up in many of my stories.

There are probably too many to list here, but the most notable ones were a frosted drink called “Tangerine Frost”, the number “1367” and a book called “The Forgotten Art Of Oneiromancy”.

Even though I haven’t written much prose fiction over the past few years, these items still turn up in my work every now and again. Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted references to “The Forgotten Art Of Oneiromancy” and “1367” in my ‘Conspiracy 1983’ comic from a couple of months ago:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Conspiracy 1983 - Page 2" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Conspiracy 1983 – Page 2” By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Conspiracy 1983 - Page 3" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Conspiracy 1983 – Page 3” By C. A. Brown

Although this is more of an obscure in-joke than a way of creating a mythos – it can still be used to create a mythos ( eg: H.P.Lovecraft did this by mentioning a book called “The Necronomicon” in a few of his stories). One of the advantages of using common items to create a mythos is that it’s easier to add them to seemingly disconnected stories without confusing your audience.

3) Recurring background characters: This is probably the most obvious way of creating a mythos, but having a couple of background characters who appear in many of your stories can be a good way to show a connection between your stories.

If you want a perfect example of this, then read some of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics. Not only are the seven central characters (a group of mythical beings called “The Endless”) in these comics essentially just recurring characters in each others’ stories, but Neil Gaiman also does a lot of other cool mythos-like things with the background characters too.

For example, the main character in the second comic (“The Dolls’ House”) lives in a shared house with several random people. They include a seemingly “perfect” couple who are called Barbie and Ken – and look like how your would imagine them to look. Barbie and Ken are slightly humourous and creepy (but fairly two-dimensional) background characters in “The Dolls’ House”.

However, when you read the fifth comic (“A Game Of You”) not only is Barbie the main character, but she also turns out to be a far more interesting and complex character than she appeared to be in the second comic. Not only that, Barbie is also living in the same block of flats as the ex-girlfriend of one of the characters from the first comic (“Preludes and Nocturnes”).

These are just a few examples out of many, but if you want a good example of how to use recurring background characters in a cool way, then check out some of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics.

Of course, if it isn’t possible to actually show a recurring character in one of your stories – then you can get around this in a number of ways. You could show other characters talking about that particular character or – if your story is set in the past or future – you could show one of the recurring character’s relatives or ancestors.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂