Why You Should Create Your Own Fictional Universe When Making Comics – A Ramble

At the time of writing, I was busy preparing this month’s webcomic mini series. Although it’s a series of writer’s block-induced remakes of some of my older comic updates from 2012/13, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of schadenfreude when I read this online article (reader discretion advised) last year (and, yes, I write these articles quite far in advance).

In short, in late 2017 Marvel Comics announced a “create your own comic” tool that contains a surprisingly onerous list of content restrictions on what could and couldn’t be included in the superhero comics assembled from pre-made parts.

Even though I self-censor far too much when making webcomics these days (eg: even my upcoming mini series is probably “PG-13” at the most), I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking “how is anyone supposed to make an interesting comic with those rules?” But, although I’d planned to write an article about why comics need at least a little bit of rebelliousness, I thought that I’d look at the core issue here – creative control.

Because, the only reason why Marvel was able to get away with imposing ultra-strict comic censorship on aspiring superhero comic makers is because these officially-sanctioned fan comics use their characters and take place in their own fictional universe.

Although fictional universes of your own creation may not be as popular as the mainstream superhero-based comics that depressingly seem to be synonymous with “comics” these days, it does give you creative control and this is important for so many reasons.

Creating your own fictional universe means that you can make a comic that is uniquely yours. It means that you can include your own ideas and humour in the comics that you make. Even if the setting of your comic, like my webcomic, is loosely-based on the real world – it still means that you can include quirky “unrealistic” details from time to time. Like this:

“Damania Regression – Art House” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconnected – Campfire” By C. A. Brown

What this means is that your comic will be something uniquely, refreshingly different. It also means that you have the freedom to tell the stories and jokes that you want to (within reason). Yes, your comic should still be consistent with itself and should follow some over-arching story rules. But, you get to write those rules.

A brilliant example of why creative control is important can be found in an utterly amazing webcomic called “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree. The updates for this comic are often long, dialogue-heavy things. The backgrounds are crammed with quirky satirical details. The art style is totally unique. This is a comic that substitutes intelligent drama for mindless super-powered action. This is a comic that is both surprisingly realistic and imaginatively unrealistic. Now, could you imagine a comic like this being made in the old days of traditional print comics?

So, yes, even though you’ll have to do a lot of art practice and your comic might not be as famous as certain types of comics are, there is nothing more important than creating your own fictional universe. It gives you creative control, it allows you to make more unique comics and it reduces the amount of external censorship that you have to deal with.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Guardians Of The Galaxy” (Film)

Well, although I first heard of “Guardians Of The Galaxy” a few years ago and thought that it looked vaguely interesting, I only finally got round to actually watching it a while before writing this review (ridiculously far in advance of publication) since it happened to be shown on TV a few days earlier and I had time to set up the DVR.

One thing that made me slightly wary about this film is the fact that it was made by Marvel. But, thankfully, it isn’t really that much of a *groan* superhero movie. In fact, it’s more of a sci-fi movie 🙂

But, is it any good? Let’s take a look. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

“Guardians Of The Galaxy” is a sci-fi/comedy/action film about a group of intergalactic outlaws and a mysterious metal sphere. The film shows how these outlaws meet and the story mostly revolves around various characters trying to get hold of said sphere, in addition to a small amount of galactic politics.

For a “fun” action movie, the plot is slightly more detailed and complex than you might expect and it would probably take me quite a while to describe it in detail – hence the short summary.

Although the film shoots along at a surprisingly fast pace, it never really feels rushed and – to my surprise – the two-hour running time didn’t seem to be anywhere near as bloated as I had initially expected it to be. Likewise, despite the film including a ridiculous amount of multi-million dollar CGI, most of the film’s many action set pieces never really feel like empty drama either. This film had the potential to be another generic CGI-filled modern Hollywood movie, but it’s something significantly better. Why?

Simply put, it has an actual personality.

In addition to a lot of humour, the film actually takes place in a distinctive sci-fi universe that is reminiscent of “Farscape“, “Firefly” and “Blade Runner“. Space is shown to be a lawless place filled with criminals, bounty hunters and dens of iniquity. It also looks really bloody cool too:

This film was released in 2014. Although this awesome 1980s/90s-style cyberpunk aesthetic reappeared in 2017 (eg: the “Ghost In The Shell” remake, “Blade Runner 2049” etc…), it was a fairly rare thing in the year when this film was released.

Seriously, this could almost be a really cool-looking heavy metal album cover!

And I just LOVE this ancient temple location and cool-looking lighting in one of the early parts of the film.

In addition to including a really, really cool-looking 80s cyberpunk-inspired “used future” aesthetic and lots of awesome high-contrast lighting in many scenes, the setting of the film has a real “wild west” atmosphere to it too that is reminiscent of the cyberpunk genre. The galaxy is shown to be a truly lawless and alien place, in a similar way to “Farscape” albeit with it’s own unique backstory and fictional world.

Like in “Farscape”, the main characters are a group of human and alien outlaws. However, unlike “Farscape”, the main human character (Quill) isn’t exactly new to the galaxy.

Yet, despite the slight resemblance to “Blade Runner”, this isn’t really a cyberpunk film. It’s an action comedy film (with a vaguely “Star Wars”-like swashbuckling science fantasy tone) and it excels at both of these things for different reasons. The many action scenes in the film “work” fairly well for a number of reasons.

The first is that they sometimes use the futuristic nature of the settings to full advantage (eg: when the characters break out of a prison on a space station, they cut the artificial gravity at one point) and the second is that most of the action scenes in the film usually take place for a clear reason that is actually relevant to the plot.

Thirdly, there’s the occasional epic spaceship battle. Since these are one of my many favourite parts of classic sci-fi TV shows from the 1990s/2000s, it’s always great to see them getting the large-budget Hollywood treatment. However, the final spaceship battle (which takes place above a city) does get a little bit too over-dramatic for it’s own good (although this is mitigated somewhat by fight scenes that take place within one of the spaceships) and occasionally comes across as more of a CGI tech demo.

Fourthly, because the characters aren’t quite immortal superheroes (with the possible exception of a tree-like alien called Groot, and one part of the ending), there is an actual sense of suspense and tension during many of the action scenes.

Yes, they’re the main characters. But, when they are outnumbered or outgunned, they occasionally have to rely on their wits rather than just their weapons in order to prevail. This helps to stop the action sequences from becoming mindless or meaningless and it helps to avoid the “God Mode” -like boredom that comes from superhero movies (and some superhero-like action movies, like “A Good Day To Die Hard).

Yes, there’s a lot of traditional combat. But, sometimes, the characters have to actually use their brains to get out of difficult situations… what a novel concept!

Fifthly, the film gets the pacing of the action scenes right. Although there are a lot of them, they never really get tiring because they’re interspersed with non-action scenes in a way that neither type of scene gets too much screentime. Unlike some action movies, this allows the film to include lots of action without leaving the audience feel jaded or bored. The only other example of a film I can think of that manages to sustain so many action scenes over a relatively short space of time is “Dredd” from 2012:

Not to mention that some of the set designs in “Guardians Of The Galaxy” also remind me a little bit of “Dredd” too.

As for the humour, it works fairly well for the simple reason that the characters are surprisingly well-developed. Although the film only contains a few carefully-chosen moments of serious emotional drama, these carry a surprising amount of weight and they really make the audience care about the characters. Likewise, since the characters are a band of outlaws who are forced together due to circumstance, there are lots of hilariously sarcastic interactions between them.

One other thing that really helps with the humour in this film is that it relies on several different types of humour. Yes, there’s lots of hilarious irreverence and sarcasm, but there’s also slapstick humour, eccentric background details (like the dog that the Soviets sent into space), jokes that reference earlier moments in the film, occasional 1980s pop culture references and a couple of random cameos (eg: Stan Lee, Howard the Duck etc..) too. This mixture of humour types and the mixture between serious drama and comedy helps to ensure that the film is fairly consistently funny in a slightly unique way.

Plus, I don’t know why, but there’s something inherently hilarious about characters drinking from fountains, hoses etc..

All in all, despite being made by a company that has a reputation for making *groan* superhero movies, “Guardians Of The Galaxy” is actually a surprisingly good sci-fi, comedy and action movie. All three elements of this film go together absolutely perfectly to produce something that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Even though it’s two hours long, it crams about three hours worth of storytelling and world-building into that time. Not only that, but the film is also worth watching just for the beautiful set designs too – seriously, some parts of this film are a work of art!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.