Limitations And Nostalgia – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about nostalgia in general, I’m going to have to start by talking about musical nostalgia for a couple of paragraphs. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A while before I wrote this article, I was going through a bit of a musical nostalgia phase and, whilst listening to the first track of Sum 41’s “Half Hour Of Power” album, I suddenly remembered that they were one of the few punk bands that I knew about when I was a teenager. And how they seemed even cooler as a result of this.

A while earlier, I had also found myself listening to “Virus” by Iron Maiden. This is a bonus track that was included on one of the first Iron Maiden albums I ever bought (the “Best Of The Beast” compilation) and it reminded me of when I first discovered the band and how I knew relatively little about them at the time, but was eager to learn.

So, what was the point of this brief trip down memory lane? Well, it’s all to do with how limitations can affect and provoke nostalgia.

One of the interesting things about growing up at a time when the internet was a little bit less common is that information was harder to find. These days, if I see or listen to something interesting, then it’s a simple matter of searching for more info about it online. Likewise, finding information about other things that are like it isn’t too difficult either. Yes, this is really cool – but it means that anything you find probably won’t provoke quite the same type of nostalgia when you remember it in the future.

If you found something really cool 15-20 years ago, then it was a much more significant event. Chances are, you probably even have some kind of convoluted story about how you first found it.

For example, I discovered Iron Maiden (in about 2000/2001) by accident because they were on the soundtrack to “Carmageddon II” – which was a game I only got by accident because it happened to be included in a multipack with the PC port of “Resident Evil 2”.

Finding something cool 15-20 years ago was also a much more significant event for the simple reason that it was a bit more difficult to tell whether there were other things like it out there. As such, finding something really brilliant was like finding a rare treasure. Instead of eagerly researching it on the internet, you tended to savour it whilst also hoping that you might possibly chance upon something similar in the future.

Finding something cool 15-20 years ago also relied on chance, luck and serendipity a lot more than it does now. It involved noticing things in magazines, hearing recommendations from people, happening to watch things on TV, happening to hear something good on the radio or finding random things in shops. As such, discovering cool things tended to feel like more of a matter of luck or fate than it does now.

Then, of course, there’s all of the nostalgia that you didn’t actively seek out. In the days before the internet was truly mainstream, mass culture used to be much more prominent. I mean, if you asked me to name ten songs by current pop bands, I’d probably look at you like you’d asked me to translate this article into hieroglyphics.

But, during my childhood in the mid-late 1990s, I could probably reel off twenty song names without even thinking about it. Why? Because it was the main type of music (aside from the occasional pop-punk or rap song) that I was exposed to back then. The only real variation was the fact that the local radio station I listened to regularly at the time also used to play 1980s pop music too. So, a lot of my musical nostalgia is from genres that I don’t really listen to much these days.

Of course, limitations also provoke nostalgia in other ways too. Whether it is the graphics in older computer/video games (that force the player to use their imagination more and which place more emphasis on the actual gameplay, story etc..) or the fact that special effects in movies looked cooler in the past because there was no modern photo-realistic CGI to compare them to, the limitations involved in creating things in the past often tends to evoke a lot of nostalgia.

So, yes, a lot of what makes nostalgia “special” can often be due to the limitations of the past.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Books Vs. The Internet – A Ramble

A while before I originally wrote this article, I was waiting for my computer to finish a disk check. So, to pass the time, I ended up re-reading a couple of chapters of Warren Ellis’ surreal noir detective novel “Crooked Little Vein”.

Although it had been a little under a decade since I last read this book, it still retained the power to make me laugh out loud at regular intervals, to make me want to keep reading more of it and to make me wish that I had the boldness to write something even half as good.

After flicking through a couple of random chapters, I ended up reading an author interview that was printed at the back of the book. In the interview, Ellis stated that one of his main sources of inspiration was finding… strange… websites on the internet.

However, he also mentions that most of the sites that inspired him no longer exist. Yet, his novel serves as a permanent record of them.

This, of course, made me start to compare books and the internet….

The first obvious difference is that there is less censorship in books. Whilst the US has always had the first amendment, the concept of literary freedom only really began to appear in Britain after the “Lady Chatterley” trial during the 1960s. This gives books a real advantage over the internet in some ways.

For example, I read a lot of books when I was a teenager because books were a lot less restrictive compared to other forms of media (eg: age restrictions on films, stricter censorship standards in videogames, system requirements for computer games, dial-up internet etc..). For financial reasons, I mostly ended up reading second-hand books that were mostly written before the internet was really a popular thing.

But, whether it was the unflinchingly macabre imaginations of horror writers like Shaun Hutson or Clive Barker, the eccentric journalism of Hunter S. Thompson, the retro dystopias of Orwell and Ballard, the sheer weirdness of tattered old sci-fi novels from the 1950s/60s etc.. a lot of the second-hand literature of my teenage years would probably wouldn’t survive for long if it was freshly posted on the internet these days. It’d probably break some content policy or another.

Yet, at the same time, books lack the sense of connectedness that the internet has. If an old book uses some obscure jargon or makes an old cultural reference, then you either have to work out what it means from the context, ignore it, remember to research it later or just use your own imagination to “fill the gap”. If you see something that you don’t understand on the internet, then it’s just a simple case of doing a quick ten-second web search in another browser tab.

Whilst this will probably make you a more knowledgeable person, it also reduces the amount of individuality that everything on the internet has. After all, suddenly seeing something that you don’t understand in a book tells you that you are looking at another person’s imagination. You are seeing something by someone with different experiences and a different frame of reference to you. It reminds you that both you and the writer are different people with different minds and different lives.

Likewise, because books rely entirely on written descriptions, no two readers will have exactly the same experience of reading the same book. Every reader will imagine the characters, locations etc… in a very slightly different way. Yet with, say, a video on the internet or an online article that contains images – everyone sees exactly the same thing as everyone else does.

Yet, at the same time, the internet has the advantage that it is open to all. If it had never existed, then the sharing of ideas would be restricted to whoever the publishers happened to like. Cultural works would only get out into the world if people thought that they had “commercial potential”. Although there is the argument that the old methods of publication served as a “quality filter”, it has also been an unnecessary limitation and/or a source of discrimination of various types.

But, more interestingly, there are also a lot of things that books and the internet have in common. In particular, the feeling of being engrossed in a fascinating novel and reading a fascinating website are pretty much the same. That kind of beautiful trance-like state where you almost feel like you’re somewhere else, like your mind has somehow temporarily taken flight from your body. Like how, in old cyberpunk novels, the main characters would spend hours lost in fascinating virtual worlds.

Yet, even this differs between the two mediums. With books, it is a lot more focused and intense – since you are only reading one book by one person. But, with the internet, there’s more of a sense of exploration. If a topic fascinates you, you can flit between multiple browser tabs, run multiple searches,watch multiple Youtube videoes etc….

So, yes, books and the internet certainly have their differences. And their similarities. It’d be foolish to say that one was better than the other though – after all, this article was inspired by reading a book, it was written on a computer and it was posted on the internet.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Completion, Continuums And Constant Creativity – A Ramble

2016 Artworkcontinuums and creativity article sketch

One of the coolest things that has happened within the past decade or two is that the internet has changed how artists, filmmakers, comic makers, musicians, photographers, non-fiction writers, fiction writers etc… have distributed the things that they create.

Although I’ll talk about how things have changed for the next three paragraphs, I really want to talk about how this changes how we (as artists, writers etc..) see our own work.

Traditionally, the distribution model for writers, musicians etc… was to spend a large amount of time working on a single project (eg: a novel, an album, an issue of a comic etc..) and then to release the whole thing at once. Even artists would either spend months on a single painting or they’d create a collection of paintings or drawings for a single gallery exhibition.

Back in the days before the internet really became popular, this made a lot more sense from the perspective of traditional publishers. After all, it’s easier to print thousands of copies of one novel or press thousands of copies of one CD/ vinyl record every year or two than it is to make and distribute lots of shorter things every few days.

Of course, these days, artists can show off their work online very easily, anyone with a camera can post a couple of online videos a week, artists/writers can post webcomic updates every day, bloggers can post non-fiction articles online several times a week etc…

As someone with a short creative attention span, I think that this is great. Having the ability to create lots of shorter things and to publish them online on a more regular basis is absolutely perfect for me, although it can come with it’s own unusual problems.

The most significant one of these is that nothing ever feels like it’s finished.

When you’re constantly posting new art, comic pages, non-fiction articles etc.. online, there isn’t really any demarcation in the way that there used to be when writers released physical books every year, when artists gave gallery shows, when musicians released albums every few years etc…

If you’re constantly releasing lots of smaller things, then it can feel like your work is part of a never-ending continuum which you’re constantly adding to. You don’t really quite get the satisfaction that, say, a writer might get from finishing a single novel. After a while, this can make you feel like your work is somehow “less” than the things that traditional writers, artists, comic makers etc.. make.

Of course, there are ways that you can lessen this slightly – such as by making themed art series of several similar paintings or drawings, making short comics, adding story arcs to webcomics etc… but these things often still feel like they’re part of a continuum rather than serious stand-alone works.

Although the benefits of releasing things online regularly vastly outweigh this one small problem, I think that I’m having this problem (and I’m probably not the only one) for the simple reason that the internet is still a relatively new medium.

I mean, I’m in my twenties and the modern World Wide Web (but not the internet itself – which began in the 1960s) is younger than I am.

When I grew up, the things that inspired me and shaped my imagination were mostly traditional media and this has probably also shaped how I think about how “serious” creative works are released (eg: in instalments, rather than as part of a continuum).

Who knows, maybe future generations won’t have this problem?

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s “Damania” Comics (30th November 2013)

Well, I made two “Damania” comics today and I really like how they both turned out, although they both ended up being computer/internet-themed comics for some random reason.

Since “Damania – Someone Needs To Make This” contains characters and settings from an old computer game, only “Damania – Copypasta” will be released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Damania - Someone Needs To Make This" By C. A. Brown

“Damania – Someone Needs To Make This” By C. A. Brown

As the title suggests, “Damania – Someone Needs To Make This” is about a “Doom” mod/TC which someone really needs to make! If I actually knew how to use the “Doom” engine and didn’t pretty much have an allergy to anything even vaguely resembling programming, then this is probably one of the things that I would make…

In case you’re totally puzzled by this comic, “Duke Nukem II” was a platform game from the 1990s which was the second game to ever feature Duke Nukem (and the first game to spell his name correctly). Along with the “Commander Keen” games, I have a lot of fond memories of playing this game when I was a kid and it would be so cool if someone was able to make a version of it that works on the “Doom” engine.

Yes, there was “Duke Nukem 3D” a few years later, but the atmosphere and style of that game is surprisingly different to the first two “Duke Nukem” games and it’d be interesting to see what “Duke Nukem II” would actually look like if it was an old-school 90s FPS game.

"Damania - Copypasta" By C. A. Brown

“Damania – Copypasta” By C. A. Brown

The title of “Damania – Copypasta” is something of a misnomer since the comic is actually about those random joke e-mails which almost always seem to circulate around the internet. Seriously, who writes these?

Rarity, Creativity And The Internet

Thank heavens that the internet is making this kind of thing history!

Thank heavens that the internet is making this kind of thing history!

(Although this is an article about art and writing, I’ll be talking about music a lot because it provides the best examples of what I am discussing in this article.)

I was randomly surfing the internet recently (when aren’t I?) and I found this amazing site called “The Iron Maiden Commentary” which contains a detailed list of pretty much every official and unofficial Iron Maiden record, CD and single ever produced – with reviews and commentary too.

In case you’ve never heard of them, Iron Maiden are a British heavy metal band which was formed in the late 1970s and are still going strong to this day.

Iron Maiden was one of the first “cool” bands that I ever discovered when I was a teenager (after listening to cheesy 1990s pop music for much of my childhood).

Discovering a band like Iron Maiden when you are a teenager is one of those rites of passage which I think that everyone should go through.

If you’ve never listened to their songs before, then you’re in for a treat – check out the official video for the first Maiden songs I ever heard (whilst playing “Carmageddon II” of all things..) – “Be Quick Or Be Dead” and “Aces High“.

Anyway, the part of the website which fascinated me were all of the rare things which were mentioned on there, such as obscure B-sides on singles released a couple of decades ago, The Soundhouse Tapes and countless old bootlegs from the 80s and 90s.

Of course, I’d heard many of the obscure B-sides and rare songs before on various CDs and any that I hadn’t heard could be quickly found on Youtube. Most of them are amazingly good and it’s almost like the band has a second, hidden discography. A second discography that is a hell of a lot more rare (especially when it comes to the original releases of most of these songs) and harder to find than their widely-released discography.

Anyway, after seeing and listening to something as cool as that, I had the same response that I normally do to cool things – namely “I want to make something like that“.

Now, having no musical talent and very little musical experience, I wondered how I could make something similar with my art, writing and/or comics. I thought about making a collection of obscure chapbooks (something like this one by Billy Martin/ PoppyZ. Brite) or a rare spin-off comic from one of my main comics or something like that. I wanted to make something rare and fascinating.

Then I realised that I couldn’t. Unless I went through the old-school channels of physical printing and publishing, I could never have a large rare second collection of my own work for people to geek out about and collect.

In fact, the closest thing I have to rare and obscure examples of my own work are three short stories (“The Widow”, “Cognition” and “Refinery Girls”) published in two small print run short story collections from 2009 and 2010. I think only 100-300 copies of each collection were ever produced and they were only ever sold in one small town. But, again, these are old-school offline printed books.

I’m sure that there have probably been whole dissertations written about this topic, but no creative work is rare these days. Or at least, no digital file is rare. Because digital files can be copied, sold, streamed and/or distributed an infinite number of times, nothing is rare on the internet.

But, is this a good thing?

As a member of the audience, the answer is an unequivocal “YES!” It’s made everything a lot more democratic and egalitarian – great obscure songs and live recordings are no longer just hidden in the dusty record collections of a few wealthy collectors, the shelves of people who know where to buy old-school bootleg CDs and the collections of people who were lucky enough to be around when some of these songs were officially released. Everyone gets a fair chance. Music is no longer elitist.

These days, both long-time fans and new generations of fans (who will almost certainly buy or already own the official albums too) can listen these hidden gems relatively easily on streaming sites like Youtube. If the record companies are smart, then they can get advertising revenues from ads placed before these songs rather than playing a losing game of whack-a-mole with millions of Youtube uploaders like some record companies have been known to do in the past.

For most of the fans (apart from more elitist fans who also have large collections of rare stuff), for the smart people in record/media companies and for famous creative people who want to keep and/or expand their fanbase, the fact that nothing is rare on the internet is a good thing. A very good thing.

But, if you’re a less famous creative person who can only really release things digitally, is it a good thing?

Is the fact that none of your work will ever become rare, obscure and sought-after a good thing?

In all practical terms, it sounds like it should be. After all, it provides more things for your fans to enjoy and geek out about. It also means that everyone has a fair chance to look at and enjoy your work too.

But, in emotional terms, my feelings about this topic are a bit more mixed. If something is rare or obscure, then it means that you have a lot more creative freedom since the only people reading or listening to it will probably be die-hard fans.

Going back to Iron Maiden, a fair number of their obscure B-sides (such as “The Sheriff Of Huddersfield”, “Roll Over Vic Vella”, “More Tea, Vicar” and Nicko’s version of “Age Of Innocence”) are a lot more light-hearted, bizarre and eccentric than anything on their albums. These songs show the band messing around and/or experimenting with different musical styles.

Now, if they’d originally put these songs on their albums alongside more serious songs about war, death, nightmares, history etc… then it would have reduced their albums to a confusing and jarring mess. But, since they had the outlet of releasing these songs as obscure and rare B-sides to people who were already fans, they had the creative freedom to mess around and try different things without worrying how they would be seen in the context of their wider body of work.

And, this, I guess is what I miss about the fact that nothing is rare in the digital age. I can’t imagine any “serious” modern band (apart from punk bands) doing something as light-hearted as this. Likewise, on the dark day when digital publishing eventually overtakes and eliminates physical publishing, some authors might be less likely to release short stories (which they might have sent to magazines or story collections in the past) which are very different from their main body of work. Artists may also be less likely to deviate from any more recognisable or famous art styles that they use.

In other words, if less people are looking at your work, then you have a lot more creative freedom. You can go crazy and try different things without worrying as much about what people will think. Having rare and obscure things still allows you to enjoy this freedom, even when you’re a lot more successful. And, let’s face it, almost every creative person dreams of being successful one day.

So, yes, if you’re a creative person, the fact that nothing is rare on the internet isn’t an entirely good thing. But, as I said earlier, it isn’t an entirely bad thing either.

Still, if you want to release anything obscure then there’s still good old-fashioned offline methods of publication, I guess. With all of their gatekeepers, printing costs, physical storage, logistics etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this article was interesting 🙂

The Pros And Cons Of Putting Most Of What You Create Online

2013 Artwork Post Most Things Sketch

Back in the old days, if you wanted to publish something you’d created, you to send it to a publisher or a magazine and hope for the best. Of course, these days, publishing your work can just involve is just clicking “upload” or “submit” on whatever art, video streaming and/or blogging sites you prefer.

Yes, it doesn’t have the prestige of professional and/or print publication (and you probably can’t really call yourself a “published author” if you just put your own stuff online) but it can be useful if you’re starting out/still learning, if you’re intimidated by the world of professional publication and/or if you enjoy sharing your creative works.

Now, if you’re practicing writing and/or practicing drawing or painting regularly, you’ll end up producing a lot of stuff. Of course, it’s up to you how much of it you do or don’t put on the internet. Personally, I tend to err towards putting most of what I create on the internet but some people only put what they feel to be their best work on the internet.

Whilst I can’t really talk extensively about the latter of these two things, I thought that I’d write a list of the pros and cons of putting most of what you create online in case you are unsure whether or not to go down this route.

Although, I should point out that I’ll probably be focusing more on the pros rather than the cons – so, read a few other articles before making up your mind about this subject.

The Pros Of Putting Most Of What You Create Online:

1) A large body of work: If someone looks at one piece of your work and likes what they see, then they’ll probably want to see more of it. If you have lots of your own work on your site, then there’s even more for them to look at than if you’ve only put a small portion of your own work online. In fact, if they like a few things that you’ve created, then they’ll probably end up becoming a fan of your work in general.

Not only that, having lots of stuff on your site can help you to feel more like a creative person too. After all, if you’re ever feeling uninspired or uncreative, then a quick glance at the large amount of stuff in your gallery/blog/Youtube account etc.. can help you to feel like a creative person again.

2) Backups: Putting most of your stuff online also serves as an additional backup in case of computer problems (especially if you upload to multiple websites). Although you should obviously keep non-online backups of everything you create too.

For example, I had some fairly bad computer problems in autumn 2010 and eventually ended up losing a fair amount of data. Whilst I was able to salvage most of what I’d written and drawn up until sometime in 2009 from backup discs and memory sticks, I’d forgotten to make any backups in 2010. This was a pretty stupid mistake.

Whilst I permanantly lost a few short stories, the digital copies of most of the art I’d produced back then would have also been lost (and I really didn’t feel like re-scanning and re-editing 100+ drawings) were it not for the fact that I was able to just go over to my DeviantART gallery and download most of it relatively quickly.

So, yes, putting most of your stuff online can be a good way to preserve it for at least as long as the website you’re using still exists.

3) Motivation: Posting things online at regular intervals has a certain momentum to it. After you’ve done it for a while, you’ll probably want to keep it going. As such, posting most of what you create online can be a good way to stay motivated.

4) It’ll get copied/shared: If you post anything on a publically-viewable part of the internet, then you have to assume that at least some of the people who look at it will probably copy it and/or share it. Whatever your views are about copyright, this will probably still happen regardless.

However, I’d argue that this is mostly a good thing – especially if you’re just starting out. I can’t remember who said this, but there’s a brilliant quote which goes something along the lines of “the enemy of new artists isn’t piracy, it is obscurity”. In other words, if people like your work enough to share it, then this is basically a type of free advertising for you.

5) It may attract professional publication: Well, we can all dream….

Seriously though, if your work is pulling in a very large number of views, then this may be worth mentioning if you want to publish something else professionally. After all, if there’s a large pre-existing audience for what you create, then this means that at least a portion of these people are guaranteed to buy something of yours which is published professionally.

However, unless you’re lucky enough to pull in thousands of views on a regular basis at the very least, then this might not appeal to publishers..

6) Honesty & Criticism: If you put most of what you create online, then you can’t be a perfectionist. In other words, you’re probably going to end up putting some crappy things online. This isn’t an entirely bad thing if you’re honest about it in the comments/descriptions accompanying your work. No, I’m serious.

For starters, it forces you to be honest about your own work and to point out when and how you make mistakes (and how to avoid them in future). If you don’t notice mistakes in your work, then someone is probably going to point them out to you. So, being honest about when you’ve screwed up can also pre-empt some criticism too.

However, if someone gives you constructive criticism online (eg: “This drawing is good, but the perspective is totally wrong”), then remember to be polite and to think about what they’ve said. In fact, even non-constructive criticism (eg: “This is awful”) can sometimes also help you to think about what you need to improve.

In addition to this, being honest about when you produce things which aren’t great (and actually showing them) can be reassuring to people who are absolute beginners in your own area of creativity. After all, if you only ever see things which are “perfect” when you’re learning something new, then this can sometimes be kind of intimidating – even if it also gives you something to aim towards.

However, if you see something which is slightly flawed by someone who has also produced some fairly good things, then you’re more likely to think “well, as long as I keep trying, then it’s ok to make mistakes occasionally” and be more likely to keep practicing.

Plus, if you see something absolutely terrible, then you’ll probably think “hell, even I can make something better than that“. Apparently, this exact thought has launched more than a few creative careers (I remember reading somewhere that Shaun Hutson was originally inspired to start writing horror fiction after he read a badly-written horror novel and thought that he could do better).

The Cons Of Putting Most Of What You Create Online:

1) It may hinder professional publication: There are obviously exceptions to this, but from all I’ve read and heard about the subject, professional publishers are mainly interested in publishing things which haven’t been published anywhere else before.

This is pretty much for purely financial reasons – after all, they want to be the only place that distributes a particular creative work.

So, whilst putting things online might have a lot of benefits, it might also make it more difficult for those things to get published professionally. So, if you’re serious about professionally publishing something you’ve made, then it probably isn’t a good idea to put it online.

2) Criticism: If you put a fair amount of stuff online, then there are going to be a few people who will criticise at least some of it.

Whilst constructive criticism is often useful and even non-constructive criticism (eg: “This is awful”) can also help you to think about what to improve, you shouldn’t put things online if you’re worried about the possibility that they will be criticised or disliked by some people. Although, of course, most people who dislike what you create will probably just not bother looking at any more of it rather than leaving comments about it.

3) Self-censorship: Putting something you’ve made onto a site where anyone can look at it might make you feel like you have to censor yourself. Likewise, different sites have different policies about what is and isn’t allowed on their sites (or what can only be posted with viewing restrictions that reduce your potential audience – eg: the “mature content” category on DeviantART) and this might also make you pre-emptively censor yourself if you’re putting most of what you create online.

4) It’ll get copied/shared: I mentioned the good aspects of this earlier in the article, but it’s something to bear in mind if you’re an absolute traditionalist when it comes to your own copyrights.

If you’re uncomfortable with even the possibility that people might share or copy whatever you put online, then it might be worth keeping most of your creations offline.

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Although this article mostly focuses on the pros rather than the cons, I hope that it was useful nonetheless 🙂