Back when I used to see myself as mostly being a writer, I read a lot more fiction than I do now.
I’d buy more books than I could ever read from charity shops/second-hand bookshops and I’d usually have a horror novel, a detective novel, a thriller novel or a sci-fi novel on the go at any given time.
But, when I started to focus a lot more on making art and (occasionally) comics, I found that I did pretty much the same thing… but with visual media instead.
Instead of reading novels regularly, I often have a second-hand DVD of a TV series on the go at any given time. I also watch Youtube more, play even more computer games and binge-read any interesting webcomics I find.
For quite a while, I worried that all of this meant that I was becoming less “sophisticated”. But, then, I realised that I was merely trying to be “well-read” in visual media. It was pretty much exactly the same thing as I used to do when I wrote fiction a lot more often. Just with pictures instead of words.
But, why is being “well-read” (whether in visual media or written media), so important?
1) It gives you more understanding: One of the cool things about being “well read” in your chosen medium is that it enables you to see things like inspirations and allusions a lot more clearly. If you have a good background knowledge, then you can work out what inspired your favourite writers, artists, comic-makers, game developers etc…
For example, although it might be a while until I review it, I started playing an indie computer game called “Technobabylon” a couple of days before I wrote this article. When I first heard of this game, the cyberpunk screenshots on the shop website intrigued me and I thought “This looks a bit like “Blade Runner“. When it goes on special offer, I’m getting a copy!”
Of course, in the time between first hearing about the game and eventually buying it, I had seen and played a few other things in the cyberpunk genre.
So, when I started playing it, I thought more complex things like: “Although the visual style of the game has some influence from “Blade Runner”, it’s a lot more like the “Ghost In The Shell” anime films/TV series (which were, in turn, inspired by “Blade Runner”).”
Here’s a comparison to show you what I mean:
This is a screenshot from “Technobabylon” (2015). Although the background is reminiscent of “Blade Runner”, it has a much stronger influence from the “Ghost In The Shell” anime franchise.
This is a screenshot from “Ghost In The Shell: S.A.C 2nd Gig” (2004/5). As you can see, the cityscape looks a lot more like the one in the screenshot above than…
-… This screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982, remastered in 2007), which also contains a dense cityscape, albeit a lot less ‘clean’, ‘bright’ and ”neat’ than in the other two things that it inspired.
Even if you don’t ever plan to write reviews, then being “well-read” can help you to see how inspiration works. It can give the things that inspire you a lot more depth.
It can also show you what is popular within a particular genre and, more importantly, why it is popular (which is something you’ll probably only truly learn when you see popular tropes etc.. being used in different ways by different people).
2) It teaches you a lot : Although you can learn a lot about the theory of writing or the theory of making art from things like reading tutorials, taking lessons etc… One of the best learning tools for art or writing (apart from regular practice, of course!) is actually seeing examples of it done well.
If you read a well-written novel in your favourite genre or see a few cool-looking images, then you’re probably going to wonder how they manage to be so great. This might prompt you to work out what elements (eg: narrative style, description style, colour combinations, artistic techniques etc..) make these things so interesting. And, once you’ve worked this out, you can then use those elements in new ways in your own creative works.
Likewise, getting a good sense of what does and doesn’t “work” in stories, paintings, comics etc… is something that you’ll only really pick up after you’ve seen numerous examples of the things in question. The same is true for a lot of more subtle skills, like working out how many panels to include in a webcomic update, how to arrange them etc…
3) It keeps your work original: First of all, there’s no such thing as a “100% original” story, comic, painting etc… Whether it is conscious or not, every creative work is inspired by something else. If you’re unsure about the difference between reasonable inspiration and actual copying, then check out this article.
But, although there’s no such thing as “true” originality, originality still exists. However, the only way to produce work that people consider to be “original” is to have as many influences as you can. The more things you are inspired by, the less your creative works will look like or read like any one thing.
This also applies to things like finding your own narrative style or art style. It’s ok to copy other styles when you’re learning but, the more styles that you copy at the same, the more different your style will look like. It will look or sound more original for the simple reason that it’s a mixture of different things, rather than just one thing.
For example, here’s one of my cyberpunk paintings:
“Antique Shop” By C. A. Brown
First of all, if you read the early part of this article, you can probably guess two of the largest influences on the content of this picture. But, the focus on 1990s technology was also inspired by an episode of “Cowboy Bebop” (where the characters have to find a Betamax VCR) as well as my general fascination with the 1990s.
The actual drawing style that I used has had many inspirations over the years, including “Pepper Ann“, “Pokemon“, “South Park“, various old comics from the 1950s-90s, Frank Kozik’s booklet art for The Offspring’s “Americana” album etc… This is a style that has been evolving for most of my life (although I put much more effort into it within the past five years), so it has a lot of influences.
The composition of the painting (eg: placing large inanimate objects in the close foreground, like the shop window in my painting) was inspired by the compositions used in old 1990s “Point and click” computer games. The colour scheme I used in this painting was mostly inspired by a really cool set of fan-made “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens“.
The high-contrast lighting and high-contrast colours in this painting were inspired by things like heavy metal T-shirts, Derek Riggs’ album art for Iron Maiden, numerous 1990s computer games, “Blade Runner” (again!), “Ghost In The Shell” (again!), the cover art for old splatterpunk horror novels, old VHS cover art I’ve seen on the internet etc…
So, yes, if you want to keep your work original, then try to read, watch, play etc… as many things as you can. The more things that inspire you, the more original your work will be.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂