Top Ten Articles – March 2018

Well, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for me to collect a list of links to my ten favourite articles about making art, making webcomics and/or writing fiction that I’ve posted here this month (plus a few honourable mentions too).

All in all, this has been a reasonably good month in terms of articles, even if I ended up writing more “critic”-style articles than usual (where I talk about a genre or something like that).

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – March 2018

– “Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics Are More Similar Than You Think – A Ramble
– “Nostalgia Is A Different Source Of Artistic Inspiration For Everyone – A Ramble
– “Good Horror Shouldn’t Linger – A Ramble
– “Finding The Right Type Of “Easy” Art To Make When Making Art Feels Difficult
– “What To Do If You Feel Creatively Inspired By Something You Don’t Like
– “Another Cool Thing Computer And Video Games Can Teach Artists
– “Three Quick Ways To Make “Retro” 1980s/90s-Style Art (If You’ve Never Made Retro Art Before)
– “The One Skill That Writing, Art etc.. Courses Don’t Always Teach Directly – A Ramble
– “Three Ways To Reduce Or Increase The Emotional Impact Of Fictional Violence
– “Three Quick Reasons Why Cyberpunk Art Is Easier To Make Than You Think

Honourable Mentions:

– “Two More Similarities Between Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics
– “Creativity As Variation – A Ramble
– “Three Reasons Why Novelty Art Supplies Are Awesome – A Ramble
– “Why It’s Important For Artists To Be Part Of The Audience Sometimes – A Ramble

Advertisements

Two More Similarities Between Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics

Well, since I still seem to be going through a bit of an animated sitcom phase at the time of writing, I thought that I’d write a follow-up to an article about the similarities between webcomics and animated sitcoms that I posted here about a week ago.

So, here are two more awesome similarities between animated sitcoms and webcomics:

1) Side stories: The day before I wrote this article, I was watching a second-hand DVD of season six of “American Dad” and happened to notice a really interesting episode. The episode is called “Rapture’s Delight” and it’s this 1980s-style religion-influenced sci-fi horror comedy thriller episode that is at least slightly visually and tonally different to the rest of the show:

This is a screenshot from “Rapture’s Delight” (2009/10). This post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror comedy episode of “American Dad” is very different to a typical episode of the show, and yet it works really well!

The episode is so wonderfully cheesy on so many levels, the “Doom” -style dystopian future, the 1980s-style electronic and heavy metal music, the stylised American Christmas scenes and the fact that it’s a cheesy sci-fi/horror/comedy/thriller story in the middle of a sitcom. Yet, it still works as an episode of “American Dad”. Not only that, it also made me think about webcomics too.

This is mostly because some webcomics will occasionally do something similar to this, where they will include a somewhat different side story in place of their usual self-contained comic updates. Although it’s been quite a while since I’ve really read it regularly, Holkins and Krahulik’s long-running gaming webcomic “Penny Arcade” will occasionally include more “serious” graphic novel style story arcs in place of the usual topical gaming comics.

These are two panels from “Sand” by Holkins & Krahulik (2013). The characters, visual style, subject matter and tone of this “wild west” sci-fi comic is significantly different from the usual videogame-themed “Penny Arcade” webcomic updates that they post on their site.

But, why do webcomic makers do this? Well, there are several reasons – but the main one is that it gives us a chance to try something a bit different. To break with routine for a while and remind ourselves of how fun making comics can be. It’s also something a bit different for the audience as well.

For example, my own occasional webcomics have featured things like science fiction story arcs (like this one, this one and this one), detective stories (like this one, this one, this one and this one), a zombie story and even a story arc set in 1990s America. In addition to this, I also recently tried to make comics that included no dialogue whatsoever. So, yes, this sort of thing happens as much for the sake of the webcomic creators as it does for their audience.

2) Historical cameos: One of the great things about any drawing-based medium is the fact that it is ridiculously easy to include amusing cameos from historical figures. After all, you don’t have to find actors or models who look like the people in question.

Although this sort of thing can also be done easily in prose fiction (John Kendrick Bangs’ “A House-Boat On The Styx” being the classic example), it obviously lacks the visual elements found in webcomics and animated sitcoms.

Anyway, a good example of historical cameos can be seen in an episode from season two of the animated sci-fi sitcom “Futurama” called “A Head In The Polls” which features a hall filled with the re-animated heads of many US Presidents, who have amusing conversations with the show’s main characters.

This is a screenshot from the Futurama episode “A Head In The Polls” (1999). Re-creating this scene in a live-action sitcom would be ridiculously difficult yet, since this is an animated sitcom, the creators of the show were easily able to include a scene like this.

This concept of historical cameos is explored a lot more comprehensively in Kate Beaton’s excellent “Hark! A Vagrant“, a webcomic which mostly revolves around history-themed comedy. Beaton’s comics often feature amusing meetings between historical figures and/or silly situations involving historical figures, and it is hilarious.

These are two panels from episode 213 of Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant!”. This comic update revolves around Jules Verne sending Edgar Allen Poe some obssessive fan mail, and it is one of many examples of historical comedy in this webcomic.

So, why do webcomics and animated sitcoms do this kind of thing? Well, the obvious answer is because they can. The more subtle answer is that it is a very good source of comedy, for the simple reason that history is often treated with a very high degree of seriousness and reverence. As such, it is perfect for irreverent humour. It can also be a good way to pay tribute to historical figures and/or to critique the way that history is recorded and remembered too.

Although this is something that I haven’t done that often in my own occasional webcomics, this mini series of mine features silly historical cameos from Ada Lovelace, Karl Marx and Jack The Ripper. I mostly just did this for the fun of it, but it certainly gave the mini series an extra something.

“Damania Repressed – Analytical Engine” By C. A. Brown

———————

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Quick Tips For Making Webcomics In Adverse Conditions

At the time of preparing this article, I was busy making a webcomic mini series that will appear here in mid-late April. Despite the fact that there had been a heatwave for several days beforehand, and I’d been having a rather uninspired month, I was determined that there would be comics posted here in April. Here’s a panel from one of the upcoming comics:

The full finished comic update will be posted here on the 20th April.

So, how do you make webcomics in adverse conditions? Here are a few quick tips:

1) Downsize: Simply put, make smaller webcomics and/or fewer webcomics. For example, despite switching to 6-8 panel A4-size rectangular comics for most of the comic updates that have been posted here since last autumn, I decided to go back to my old four-panel square comic format for this mini series.

Although the comic updates are a bit smaller, shaving a couple of panels off of each comic update was a way to ensure that I actually made some comics. Best of all, since each update was smaller, this increased my feelings of confidence about actually being able to complete the project.

So, if the weather conditions etc… mean that it’s harder to work up the motivation to make webcomics, then don’t be afraid to downsize your comic a bit. Remember, a shorter comic update that is actually finished and posted online is a billion times better than a longer update that isn’t finished or posted online.

2) Shortcuts: When faced with adverse conditions, don’t be afraid to use every kind of sneaky shortcut that you can think of in order to actually get your comics finished.

For example, the preview I showed you earlier actually involved a lot more digital image editing than usual. What this meant was that the actual painting time for the comic update was a lot shorter and more manageable.

Here’s what a panel from the comic update looks like without any digital editing. As you can see, it looks a lot more “unfinished” than my comic updates usually do once I’ve finished the painting stage (but haven’t started the digital editing stage)….

Yes, this is what a panel from the comic looked like after I’d finished painting. This time, I decided to finish the comic update on the computer for time/effort reasons.

Since the image editing program I uses has a fairly decent “fill” tool, I could just fill in all of these areas digitally after scanning the comic update (and making all of my usual adjustments to the brightness,contrast, hue and saturation levels). Yes, this means that the physical copy of the comic update looks unfinished – but it also means that I actually had a finished comic update!

3) Inspirations: A couple of days ago, I talked about animated sitcoms. Surprisingly, these were also a key part of why I eventually worked up the motivation to actually start making a webcomic mini series for next month (despite the hot weather, the lack of enthusiasm etc…).

In essence, animated sitcoms were one of the many things that originally got me interested in the idea of making comics. So, watching some of them again reminded me of just how awesome cartoons can be. It reminded me of why cartoons are one of my favourite storytelling mediums. Likewise, it reminded me of how awesome it is that a few drawings can quite literally elicit laughter from the audience.

So, yes, if you are faced with adverse conditions, then go back to one or more of the things that originally got you interested in webcomics. With any luck, these things will remind you why you make webcomics and give you the motivation to make some more 🙂

———

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics Are More Similar Than You Think – A Ramble

Well, although I’m still going through a bit more of a nostalgic phase than usual, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about 1990s computer games to talk about one of the other “nostalgic” things that I rediscovered recently – animated sitcoms. In particular, I’ll be talking about what animated sitcoms can teach us about making webcomics (but, for time/practicality reasons, I’ll only be looking at two “immature” animated sitcoms here [eg: “South Park” and “Family Guy”], as well as a few webcomics too).

These two mediums have a lot more in common than you might think. Both tell stories using stylised drawings, both have to be made (relatively) quickly, both rely heavily on well-written dialogue, both have a limited amount of time and/or space to tell a story, and both are usually deliberately “unrealistic” in all sorts of inventive ways.

A good example of this can probably be seen in Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “South Park“. This is a long-running animated sitcom where each episode is apparently written and produced within the space of about a week or so (in order to allow for more topical satire). As such, the show often tends to use a fairly primitive level of animation – where the emphasis is much more on the comedic dialogue and the amusing events of each episode than on detailed art or fluid/realistic animation.

This is a screenshot from season 7 of “South Park” (2003). As you can see, the art is deliberately undetailed. Likewise, the animation is done using CGI that emulates traditional “cut out” animation. This allows the show’s creators to make episodes quickly, albeit at the cost of less realistic and less fluid animation.

Sacrificing art/animation detail for speed is something that anyone who makes or reads regular long-running webcomics will probably be familiar with.

A good example of this has to be Zach Wiener’s “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal“, a daily webcomic which often uses undetailed backgrounds and very cartoonish art in order to maintain a constant daily schedule.

These are two panels from one of Zach Wiener’s “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal” comics from last year. Like with “South Park”, less detailed art is used in order to increase the speed and regularity that these comics are made.

Like with “South Park”, the emphasis of the comic is on amusing/ irreverent/ silly dialogue (or amusing situations). As such, the audience is more likely to focus on this than the level of artistic detail in each update. This also allows for daily comic updates too.

For comparison, take a look at Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” – this webcomic looks absolutely beautiful, but all of the hyper-detailed art takes a long time to make, so the comic only updates once every few months at the very most.

This is a panel from “muZeM” by Winston Rowntree (2015). As you can see, the level of artistic detail is considerably higher. However, one result of this is that the comic can sometimes only update 1-2 times per year (as opposed to every day or several times a week).

So, yes, the level of artistic detail in a webcomic depends heavily on factors like the update schedule, how topical the comic is etc.. Just like animated sitcoms.

Moving on to another TV show, I was lucky enough to find a cheap second-hand DVD of Seth McFarlane’s “Family Guy” (the DVD cover claims that it is season ten, but Wikipedia suggests that the episodes are from season nine).

Anyway, one interesting thing about this DVD boxset is that it contains an hour-long special called “And Then There Were Fewer“. This is a slight parody of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” and it is probably one of the most visually sumptuous episodes of “Family Guy” that I’ve ever seen (plus, having made an Agatha Christie parody comic of my own last year, I was naturally curious to see how “Family Guy” handled this topic).

This is a screenshot from Seth McFarlane’s “And Then There Were Fewer” (2010). As you can see, the art looks a bit more detailed than “South Park”.

Anyway, the reason that I mentioned this episode is because some parts of it use fairly obvious CGI effects (as opposed to more subtle CGI that imitates traditional animation).

For example, many of the establishing aerial shots of the mansion that the episode takes place within are quite clearly created using cel-shaded 3D models, rather than “traditional”-style animation. And, this is a good thing! It allows the show to do something that would be near-impossible with traditional-style animation in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost.

It’s also a good example of how webcomic creators shouldn’t be afraid to use whichever technologies make it easier and/or quicker to make better webcomics. I mean, it’s no coincidence that many regular modern webcomics will often use digital tools (for example, my own occasional webcomics use a mixture of digital and traditional materials) since they allow for things like the easy correction of mistakes, the fast addition/alteration of colours, the addition of digital effects and the seamless re-use of previously made artwork.

This is one of my own comic updates where, due to time limitations, I created the central panel using entirely digital tools. The other two panels are digitally enhanced ink/watercolour drawings.
(“Damania Replicated – Records” By C. A. Brown [2016/17])

And, no, this isn’t “cheating”. As long as it is your own original work, then there’s no rule against using whatever procedural shortcuts you need in order to get your comics out on time and/or make them look good. As cynical as it sounds, most readers will be more interested in reading your comic than working out how it was made, and most other webcomic artists will understand that shortcuts can be an essential part of making a webcomic.

So, yes, those are two things that animated sitcoms can teach you about making webcomics – the dialogue matters more than the art, and that you shouldn’t be afraid to use digital tools (if this makes your art look better and/or makes it quicker to make).

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Basic Tips For Storytelling In Wordless Comics

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making a mini series of wordless comics that will appear here in March. Although they’re somewhat different to most of my comics, they’re certainly fun to make and, to my surprise, I’ve found that they are both easier and more difficult to make than I expected. Here’s a preview of one of the comics:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st March.

So, here are some basic tips for making this type of comic:

1) Show, Don’t Tell: If you’ve ever even vaguely wanted to be a writer, then you’ve probably heard the old adage of “show, don’t tell” at least a few times. In writing, this refers to getting story and character information across to the reader by describing things rather than just “telling” the reader everything. It’s an example of storytelling through implication, rather than through explicit explanation.

However, the usual rule with webcomics is that the dialogue matters more than the art. After all, webcomics are designed to be made quickly and posted online regularly. So, undetailed backgrounds and simple character designs are often a necessary part of actually making a webcomic. This is why, for example, a comic like XKCD can still have a huge audience despite the fact that the characters are basically stick figures.

But, of course, you can’t do this with wordless comics. So, you have to rely on telling a story by implication. You have to show the audience things that hint at a story. As such, background details matter a lot more.

For example, one of my wordless comics is set in Britain during the mid-2000s. This isn’t an essential part of the comic, but it emerged from the original idea I’d had for the comic.

But, since the comic can’t include any words, I can’t exactly say “on one day in 2004…“, so I had to get this information across to the reader through implication. I did this in several ways – indistinct newspaper covers in the background show pictures of Tony Blair and a speed camera, the people use slightly older and chunkier mobile phones, some of the clothing designs hint at fashions of the time etc…. These details are all fairly easy to miss, but they get story information across without using words.

Good detailed artwork is also important for the simple reason that if, like me, you’re slightly new to wordless comics then you might not get it right. Some of your wordless comics might be a random, confusing mess that makes sense to you but doesn’t make sense to anyone else. Still, if the art is detailed and interesting, then at least your audience’s time won’t have been completely wasted, and they will have a reason to look at your comics.

2) Do some research: You’ve probably seen more examples of wordless storytelling than you think you have. But, even so, it’s worth looking at or remembering as many examples of it as you can.

There are probably very few guides out there for making wordless comics and there are no guides for the one specific comic that you want to make, so what this means is that you’re going to have to work it out yourself.

In addition to good old trial and error, the other way to work out how to make these types of comics is simply to look at as many examples as you can and try to work out what they have in common, what “rules” they follow etc.. and then try to apply them to your own work.

3) Simplicity and complexity: Thinking of comic ideas that don’t require words is slightly different to thinking of ones that do. In short, the idea has to be simpler and more complex than an “ordinary” comic idea. You have to come up with a simple, short series of events that also makes some kind of grander point about something.

You have to come up with a story that can be read on several different levels, either as a basic sequence of events that can be “read” in less than a second or as something that will reward people who are willing to look at it closely.

This means that once you’ve thought of the grand point that you want to make, you have to find a way to distil it into a simple series of “silent” events. Then, you have to do lots of other stuff (that casual readers might not consciously notice) in order to add as much complexity as you can.

This can include things like consciously choosing the colour scheme that you use for your comic (to create a particular mood), carefully choosing the panel layout of each comic (eg: one of the themes in my mini series is “cycles”, so they include things like repeated panels, mirrored layouts etc…) or even, as I mentioned earlier, clever use of background details.

———————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Top Ten Articles – January 2018

Well, it’s the end of the month. So, as usual, it’s time for me to provide a list of links to my ten favourite articles about making webcomics, making art and/or writing fiction that I’ve posted here over the past month (plus, a couple of honourable mentions too).

All in all, this month was a reasonably good month in terms of articles, although there were slightly more reviews than usual. Not to mention that I had at least a few uninspired days (which led to the occasional repetitive and/or opinionated article)

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – January 2018

– “Three Reasons Why Combining Two Awesome Things Can Sometimes Be Less Awesome
– “Three Tips For Quick “Formal” Writing”
– “A Perfect Example Of How To Take Inspiration Properly – A Ramble
– “The Importance Of Having Multiple Inspirations – A Ramble
– “Are Futuristic Settings An Essential Part Of The Cyberpunk Genre?
– “Three Basic Things To Do If You Start Running Out Of Inspiration In The Middle Of A Painting
– “Four Reasons Why We Enjoy Things That Are ‘So Bad That They’re Good’
– “Five Free Pirate-themed Creative Inspirations (That Don’t Involve Digital Piracy)
– “Three Tips For Getting To Know An Obscure Genre (If You Want To Make Stuff In It)
– “Three Tips For Taking Inspiration From Other (Web)Comics, Whilst Keeping Your Webcomic Original

Honourable mentions:

– “How To Have More Than One Main Inspiration
– “Why Do Critics Have A Reputation For Being Cynical ? – A Ramble

Three Tips For Taking Inspiration From Other (Web)Comics, Whilst Keeping Your Webcomic Original

Well, at the time of writing, I’m still busy making a webcomic mini series for late February.

So, I though that I’d give a few tips about how to apply the proper techniques for taking inspiration to making webcomics, whilst also ensuring that your webcomic is still an original webcomic.

1) Humour styles: One of the best ways to take inspiration from other comics and webcomics is simply to read multiple (seriously, more than one!) other webcomics/comics until you start to get a sense of how the humour in these comics “works”. To get a sense of what the “rules” are for the humour in the webcomics you’ve read. To see what they have in common and what differs from webcomic to webcomic.

Once you’ve got this, try to think of a different situation or a different subject for your humour. Then, using the mixture of “rules” you’ve learnt from the webcomics you’ve read, try to see how you can turn this into something new that is also amusing.

Look at the general humour style in two or more webcomics and then try to find a way to apply the “rules” you have learnt from them to your own webcomic, using new subject matter and new jokes that are actually relevant to your characters.

2) Other inspirations: Even if you are mostly taking inspiration from one other webcomic, you can still make sure that your own comics are actually original by ensuring that you also take lots of inspiration from things that aren’t webcomics.

This will help to ensure that your inspired webcomics are still very much their own thing, even if they may be vaguely reminiscent of another webcomic.

Having other inspirations is also especially important with the art in your webcomic too, since this can help to give your webcomic a more unique and distinctive look, whilst also helping you to develop your own unique art style at the same time.

Of course, if you already have your own art style, then you don’t need to do this (although you should obviously always be on the lookout for techniques etc… you can use to improve your art).

3) Common sources: This is kind of the opposite of the previous two points on the list and it can work just as well, provided that you don’t mix it with anything else on the list.

Basically, look at a couple of webcomics and see what kind of general subject matter they tend to use in a lot of their comics (eg: videogames, politics, everyday life etc..) and then do some research about that particular subject.

Once you’ve done some research, try to come up with new jokes and ideas about the subject in question. This will help you to think of a topic for your next comic update and it will allow you to create comics that are “in the tradition of” your favourite webcomics. However, you should pay extra attention to making sure that the characters, jokes etc.. are different enough from your inspiration.

—————–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂