Four Tips For Adding Some 1990s-Style Silliness To Your Story Or Comic

One of the endearingly nostalgic things about the media during the 1990s (TV shows and computer games especially) is that it wasn’t afraid to be completely and utterly silly at times.

This is one of the distinctive qualities of media from the decade and it was probably caused by a number of factors, such as the fact that the 1990s fell between the end of the Cold War and our current post-9/11 world, so the general mood was a bit more optimistic.

But, regardless of what caused it, media from the 1990s often has a certain joyous silliness to it that modern media often lacks. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to add some 90s-style silliness to your prose fiction and/or comic projects.

1) Focus on some other element and work backwards: Technical limitations aside, one of the reasons why computer games from the early-mid 1990s were often so gleefully nonsensical was because the story was often something of an afterthought.

Usually, the designers would focus on coming up with a fun game and then add the story at a later point. This, of course, led to some hilariously random – but extremely fun – games.

This is a screenshot of a 2D platform game from 1993 called “Bio Menace”. This scene involves climbing a giant tree and fighting slime monsters, sentient balls of fur etc…. Yes, games were a bit more random in the 90s, since fun gameplay took priority over storytelling.

Even more “serious” games from the time, like “Doom II” (1994) [pictured], would often be considered somewhat “random” or “silly” by today’s standards. Again, this is because the designers primarily focused on fun gameplay, rather than storytelling.

So, one way to replicate this silly randomness in your story or comic is to come up with an interesting idea, find a totally random subject and/or come up with a silly gimmick. Then, once you’ve done this, try to see if you can work backwards and add a story to it. The main thing here is not to come up with the story idea first, but to find some other thing and then try to shoehorn a story into it.

2) Take a concept to the max: One trend that lent the 1990s some of it’s distinctive silliness was the fact that there were relatively fewer “serious” issues in the news. As such, if someone wanted to create a thrilling, scary and/or dramatic story, then what they would sometimes do would be to take some idea or concept (the more random and/or “ordinary”, the better) and then just take it to a ludicrous extreme in order to extract some melodrama from it.

A good example of this can be seen in a gloriously cheesy mid-late 1990s TV show called “Sliders“. This is a sci-fi show which revolves around the characters visiting a different parallel universe every episode. Often, these universes would be based on some idea or another being taken to a hilariously silly extreme.

For example, in this episode from season 1 of “Sliders” (1995), the main characters end up in a timeline where the American Revolution never happened. Even though it’s the mid-1990s (when the Spice Girls etc.. were popular in Britain) – everyone dresses like they’re from the 1950s, speaks in received pronunciation and drives old cars. There’s also a hilariously silly band of rebels and a few references to “Robin Hood” too.

So, one way to add some 90s-style silliness to your story or comic is just to find an ordinary idea (eg: try looking for some slightly “silly” stories in the newspaper. Yes, in an actual newspaper) and then just take it to some kind of silly extreme.

3) Assume your audience know less: Although people were no more or less intelligent during the 1990s than they are now, there was one crucial difference. The internet was a lot slower, a lot more expensive and a lot less widely-used than it is now. As such, the writers of mainstream things like TV shows couldn’t just assume that their audiences had instant access to all of humanity’s knowledge.

As such, things from the 1990s often tended to rely on much more “timeless” commonly-known references and source material. Likewise, sometimes, TV shows would occasionally spell things out to the audience that modern shows rightly assume that contemporary audiences already understand. This slightly patronising “stating the obvious” element often drains all seriousness from what the show is trying to say and turns it into unintentionally hilarious melodrama.

As great as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is, this screenshot from the season 7 episode “Masks” (1994) provides an example of what I’m talking about. The characters state the obvious sometimes and the episode uses a lot of fairly generic Aztec-style settings.

So, one way to add some 90s-style silliness to your story or comic is simply to state the obvious a few times and to rely more on “timeless” cultural references – however hilariously incongruous they might be with something made in the present day.

4) Chaos and anarchy: One of the easiest ways to add some 1990s-style silliness to your story or comic is just to contrast some “ordinary” characters with some silly and/or chaotic characters.

There are at least two hilariously silly movies from the first two years of the 1990s that do precisely this. So, this type of comedy was obviously a bit of a trend back in the day.

This is a screenshot from “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990). In this film, a state-of-the-art office block is taken over by anarchic, hedonistic Gremlin creatures, after the main characters’ pet creature Gizmo is accidentally fed after midnight. Hilarity ensues.

This is a screenshot from “Drop Dead Fred” (1991), a film where the main character’s childhood imaginary friend (Played by Rik Mayall) suddenly appears in her life again and causes all sorts of hilarious chaos.

This is something that isn’t really seen as often in the modern comedy genre, and it is kind of a follow-on from the comedy horror traditions of the 1980s (eg: movies like “Beetlejuice”, the original “Gremlins” and “Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark” also include elements of this). So, adding some anarchic slapstick humour (involving slightly weird characters) can be a good way to inject some 1990s-style silliness to your story or comic.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂


Short Story: “Demo” By C. A. Brown

Note: This story is a stand-alone companion piece to this story.

If there was one thing that Kirsty missed, it was demo discs. Back in the day, videogame magazines used to come with discs filled with the first levels of seven or eight different games. Sure, it was meant as a promotional thing. But, she thought, there was something democratic about it. It was like catching an episode of a drama on TV, rather than only being able to see it in an online boxset. It was democratic.

She was about to mention this to James, but he just sat back on the sofa and pulled out his phone. He tapped it a couple of times and stared at the tiny screen, absorbed in something. Probably some trendy article about “de-cluttering” or whatever.

So, she read a book. It was an old paperback horror novel from the ’80s that she’d picked up in a charity shop for 50p. The cover read “SCYTHE MANIAC!” in dripping red letters and showed some dude with glowing red eyes standing in front of a midnight sky and swinging a scythe at the reader. Within a few seconds, she’d lost herself in the story….

Above the roar of the combine harvester, Farmer Green focused his attention on the spinning blades in front of the windscreeen. Rage roiled inside him. The sheer cheek of that supercilious little man from DEFRA insisting that.. he… went on a safety course! He’d been working the harvester since he was a lad and had not suffered so much as a scratch from the efficient, slicing blades.

Grumbling to himself, Farmer Green heaved the steering wheel. His gnarled fingers nearly slipped on the hasty gaffer tape repair to one segment of it. No doubt that the silly bureaucrat would probably moan about that too. But, the trendy people at the harvester company had stopped making spares. Even though, he thought, this venerable old machine would probably outlive any of the fancy bleeping gadgets that those slick salesmen kept pushing on poor farmers like him.

And then Farmer Green saw it. Behind the yellow haze of chaff, the shadow of a man stood in the field. The farmer’s face went beetroot red and he stamped on the brake as hard as his old legs would allow. If it was that stupid lad from Wilson’s farm again, then there would be harsh words spoken. Balling his fists, he waited for the harvester to judder to a halt. But, when the clouds of chaff fell to the ground – there was no-one there.

He rubbed his sweaty brow and blinked twice. Maybe it was all just a trick of the eye? Maybe he was imagining things in his old age? Letting out a sigh, he started the engine again. But, before he could even put foot to pedal, the window beside him exploded in a shearing shower of sharp shards. The tip of a scythe shot through the hole like the beak of a hawk swooping in for the kill. The razor point slashed…

Kirsty was interrupted mid-sentence by James shouting ‘Alita! Is the internet down? Alita! Dammit!

The silent smart speaker sat on the table next to the TV. A green light stared back at him. He tapped his phone frantically. He walked over to the router and poked it a few times.

Finally, he turned to Kirsty and let out an exasperated sigh: ‘Typical. We get one bloody peaceful afternoon and they decide to repair the internet or whatever. What the hell are we going to watch, read or play?

Nostalgia Is A Different Source Of Artistic Inspiration For Everyone – A Ramble

A while before writing this article, I found that I was going through more of a nostalgic phase than usual. However, rather than looking for “new” things from the 1990s and early-mid 2000s that I’d never seen before in order to learn more about these familiar, but still tantalisingly mysterious, parts of history – I found that I was much more interested in revisiting “old” things and old memories.

Whether it was old things like Ocean FM, late night channel 4 broadcasts, “South Park”, various audio cassettes, certain old computer games, Youtube videos of the Windows 98 “Maze” screensaver, shouty early-mid 2000s metal songs etc… these were all things that I’d experienced before in some way or another. They were a mildly more “personal” type of nostalgia.

To use a slightly more vague example, when I went out to water a plant in the early evening before preparing this article, the air had a cool yet warm crispness to it and a slight floral/dried grass smell which suddenly made me think of random things from my childhood. It made me think of old kitchens, metal tins, green shoeboxes, a vaguely American-style church in Havant that I saw during the late 1990s, a pair of hideous old curtains, the very first time I ever tried to pull an all-nighter and a whole bunch of things that are personally nostalgic, but not “nostalgia”.

And this made me think about nostalgia and artistic inspiration. Because, most of the time when I try to make “nostalgic” art, it is often based on a highly stylised (and Americanised) version of the time periods that I’m trying to evoke. It’s often more based on the internet pop culture “version” of the decades in question than my actual memories of 1990s and early-mid 2000s Britain – like this:

“From The 1990s” By C. A. Brown

“Future 2004” By C. A. Brown

Of course, this is an easier way to make “nostalgic” stuff for the simple reason that the research material is more easily available. Likewise, it often relies on a commonly-known set of visual symbols (eg: for the 1990s, this would include things like floral prints, floppy disks, sweatshirts worn like belts, backwards baseball caps, audio cassettes, POGs, Tamagotchis, game cartridges, VHS tapes etc..). But, the downside to doing this is that these types of nostalgic art can lack individuality and personality.

Yes, the exact mixture of “nostalgic” pop culture and technology that is alluded to in this type of nostalgic art will vary heavily from person to person. And, to a large extent, this can be a good way of adding some individuality to your nostalgic art. After all, the really cool stuff that instantly makes you think of the 1990s or the early-mid 2000s will be at least slightly different to the things that evoke the same feeling in other people.

But, making art based on actual memories and/or feelings of nostalgia is significantly more difficult. This is mostly because memories can fade or blur over time, which means that trying to make “accurate” art based on them can be next to impossible. Yes, you can make art that sort of vaguely looks a little bit like them, but the exact details will probably be wrong. Like this:

This is based on my vague memories of ferry journeys during the mid-1990s and of how modern and “cool” the duty free shops looked back then. Again, it looks nothing like what actual duty free shops at the time probably looked like.
(“Duty Free 1996” By C. A. Brown)

The exact feeling of nostalgia is also one of those things that is near-impossible to put into words, let alone into pictures. It’s one of those highly complex emotions which can simultaneously exist in several versions and which also varies from person to person too. It is something that cannot be described or depicted fully and will always get “lost in translation” whenever this is attempted.

For example, one of my “nostalgic” moods is heavily based on the mood that childhood memories of visiting my cousins, listening to novelty “South Park” songs and/or looking at Windows 3.1 evokes in me. It’s a wonderfully warm, cosy and reassuring, but understated, mood. It is also a strangely “American” mood (even though I’ve never been to America). It’s a mood that I also experienced slightly when I played this set of modern “Doom II” levels. But, no doubt, this entire paragraph probably won’t tell you a thing about what this mood actually feels like.

So, yes, the less specific and personal nostalgia happens to be, the easier it is to use for artistic inspiration. But, even so, your own version of “pop culture” nostalgia will still be somewhat unique for the simple reason that the exact mixture of commonly-known inspirations you use will probably be slightly different to everyone else’s.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Short Story: “Temple” By C. A. Brown

For the first time in her life, Debs thought that she was in America. The strangest thing of all was that it felt so ordinary. She’d always imagined that it would be like some magical moment, some beautiful culmination of nearly three decades spent watching shiny Hollywood films, enthusiastic Youtube videos and immaculate TV shows. But, like something from the middle of a dream, it felt oddly mundane.

A few minutes earlier, Jake had quietly raised his phone and pointed it at a scuffed marble urn. The tendrils of a withered plant reached out of it like a zombie’s hand. He whispered: ‘Stay out of shot. I’ve got to get the angle right, if our reflections are seen in any surface…

Debs rolled her eyes: ‘I know. I know. But, honestly, I don’t think that anyone’s going to be too bothered about a few people sneaking in here. It’s hardly the crime of the century.

Jake sighed: ‘If this goes viral, someone’s probably going to notice. I mean….

Debs let out a quiet chuckle: ‘If I remember rightly, trespassing is a civil offence. This place is abandoned, who’s going to sue? Anyway we’re historians, not thieves.

With a hint of a grin, Jake hummed the Indiana Jones music. A second later, the phone clicked. The noise echoed through the cavernous hall. It bounced off of metal shutters and grimy tiles. On a faded poster, a man with a perfect smile almost looked surprised. A few seconds later, the noise was followed by the quiet pattering of rain. A minute later, the first water droplet splashed onto the tiles below. It was, Debs thought, the closest thing to a wash this place had probably had in weeks.

Jake walked over to what was once a MVC video shop. Standing back from the large wall of steel shutters, he angled his phone towards the sky blue hoarding and centred the screen on the navy blue losenge logo.

With a hint of a sigh, he said: ‘I got my first horror movie from here. Zombie Flesh Eaters. I’d seen it advertised in a game mag. A proper full-page spread about how it had been banned in the ’80s. How I convinced the guy behind the counter that I was over eighteen…

Oh my god, the nostalgia!‘ Debs laughed ‘I think I’ve probably still got that magazine somewhere. But, I always remember getting video tapes from that place. It was back when everyone was going over to DVD. For a while, you could get things on both. And then the videos were moved to a separate shelf.

Which kept getting smaller and smaller.‘ Jake laughed. His phone clicked again. ‘By the end, the videos were so covered with special offer stickers that you couldn’t even see the titles.

I heard that, if you went there one day, they actually paid you to take them away. Of course, it was a school day. These things always happened on school days. And it was usually someone’s cousin or older brother who supposedly went there.‘ Debs grinned.

Folklore.‘ Jake laughed. ‘These days, it’d be pics or GTFO. I miss folklore.

Oooh, we should get some footage. Like in those dead mall videos from America.’ Debs fumbled for her phone.

I told you. What about the reflections? If we’re seen…‘ Jake started.

An impish smile crossed Debs’ face ‘If you’re worried, we could try talking with an American accent during the video to throw everyone off. Let the cops in Texas or wherever worry about them gosh darn kids sneakin’ into the mall.

Jake stared at her blankly for a second before creasing over with laugher. As he caught his breath, his voice became a disjointed hybrid of southern accents from Britain and America : ‘Genius! I love it!

For a while, they walked the halls with phones held aloft, their accents shifting from Californian to Hawaiian to New York to Georgian every few seconds. When the low battery symbol flashed on Jake’s phone, they reviewed the footage. Jake raised his eyebrows: ‘It’s convincing! I don’t believe it, it’s actually convincing.

Too convincing.‘ Debs muttered. A puzzled look crossed her face. Like a picture of an old church, the place on the screen could have come from literally anywhere. It would have seen the same rituals, the same nameless crowds and the same hallowed songs. She could have been in Seattle, Paris, Tokyo or Moscow and the footage would be the same. Yet, she thought, it didn’t feel strange. Like something from the middle of a dream, it just felt boringly ordinary.

Three Random Tips For Creating Things Set In (mid-late) 1990s Britain

As a follow-on from my article about why it’s so hard to create things that look like they were made in the past, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to create things (art, comics, writing etc..) that are set in 1990s Britain. This is mostly because a lot of the most easily-available online research material, pop culture nostalgia etc… about the 1990s tends to come from America.

Of course, although there were probably some similarities, 1990s Britain was a very different place in terms of culture, attitude etc.. to 1990s America. Although I remember 1990s Britain, I was fairly young at the time (so, my memories are a little vague and I can remember the mid-late 1990s far better than the early 1990s). Still, I’ve probably seen more things from and about 1990s Britain than I probably think I have.

So, for the benefit of my international readers, I thought that I’d give a few pointers about creating things set in 1990s Britain.

1) The attitude: If there’s one thing that sets 1990s Britain (especially mid-late 1990s Britain) apart from 1990s America – it is the attitude. Generally speaking, 1990s Britain tended to be a bit more cynical, a bit more rebellious and a bit more hedonistic than 1990s America.

This attitude is surprisingly difficult to describe, but it is one of the things that makes 1990s Britain so cool (in comparison to miserable modern Britain). The best way I can think to sum it up is that it was a decade where even a manufactured pop band like the Spice Girls still had a slightly “punk” attitude. It was a decade where British game developers created controversial game franchises like “Grand Theft Auto” and “Carmageddon“. It was also a decade where slightly less controversial games like “Tomb Raider” were being made too.

It was a decade where a TV show like “Bits” could be made. This was a wonderfully sarcastic and surprisingly “punk” TV show about computer and video games that was mostly presented by Emily Booth, Aleks Krotoski and Emily Newton Dunn. It was eccentric, random, hilarious, low-budget and cynical… and a perfect distillation of everything cool about late 1990s/early 2000s Britain.

Although this show is impossible to find on DVD or video, there are thankfully still some clips of it on Youtube and an in-depth, if somewhat cynical, documentary video about it too [slightly NSFW].

It was also a decade where artists could actually be rockstars! I mean, whatever you think about the quality or sophistication of Tracey Emin‘s art, there’s no denying that she is one of the coolest art-related celebrities in British history. During the 90s, she was controversial, outspoken, hedonistic etc…. and just generally cool. By comparison, the most “rockstar”-like artist in present-day Britain is probably Banksy. A mysterious anonymous graffiti artist who paints political cartoons on buildings.

It was a decade where comedy on the TV tended to be a lot funnier, quirkier and more cynical than many of the more “mainstream” comedy offerings from across the pond (except the animated ones like “The Simpsons” and “South Park”).

This was the heyday of shows like “Harry Enfield & Chums“, “Goodness Gracious Me!“, “Spaced“, “Absolutely Fabulous“, “The Thin Blue Line“, “Red Dwarf“, “Brass Eye“, “Men Behaving Badly“, “Bottom” etc… These were cynical, slightly rebellious comedy shows that tried to make a point – now, compare them to something like “Friends“….

Even nerd culture in 1990s Britain seems to be different from it’s American equivalent. For starters, it didn’t really seem to be a mythologised “culture” in the way that traditional American “nerd culture” seems to be presented these days. Yes, there were probably some things in common, but there also seem to have been quite a few differences – for example, in southern England in the 1990s, someone who was into tabletop games was probably more likely to play “Warhammer 40K” than “Dungeons & Dragons”.

2) The crappiness: If there’s one thing to be said for 1990s Britain, it’s that it was possibly the last decade where Britain was still “crap” in a more traditional way. This is not to say that modern Britain isn’t crap, but the crappiness of 1990 Britain was a different kind of crappiness to the crappiness of present day Britain (or even the crappiness of Tony Blair’s mid-late years in office), and it’s kind of difficult to describe concisely.

This cynical attitude about Britain has been a part of British culture for at least a few decades and, surprisingly, it’s actually a good thing. Not only is it a source of everyday humour, but it also serves as something of a bulwark against aggressive nationalism too (or it used to before all of this Brexit stuff, anyway). Likewise, going back to the 1990s, it also meant that a lot of really cool stuff (food, films, music etc..) from abroad started to become a lot more popular during the 90s because it was, well, better.

Even so, 90s Britian was slightly more limited in some ways. For example, unless you were rich enough to afford satellite TV or lucky enough to live somewhere where Channel 5 was a terrestrial channel, you literally only had four TV channels available to you (BBC 1 &2, ITV and Channel 4). The pubs still all closed at 11pm sharp. The trains were being privatised, but still maintained their reputation for lateness and general crappiness. Some discriminatory laws about LGBT people were still on the statute books. We got films and games later than people in the states did. The film censors tended to be a lot stricter about action movies and horror movies etc…

That stuff aside, being slightly “backwards” when compared to America also had it’s advantages. For example, I was shocked to read that CD singles weren’t really a thing in the US during the late 90s, whereas they were a key part of my childhood musical memories of late 1990s/early 2000s Britain.

But, whilst a lot of popular media from 1990s America often seems really optimistic, trendy and futuristic, this is a million miles away from 1990s Britain. This is a really difficult quality to describe, but it’s a far cry from the more stylish “aren’t we awesome!” portrayal of America in culture from the period. Many creative works made here during the 1990s knew that Britain was crap and derived affectionate humour and/or gritty drama from it.

The best TV show for research into this is probably the earlier series of “Jonathan Creek“. Likewise, even a “super-cool gadget filled spy show” from the time, called “Bugs“, contains some of it in terms of the humour and the nature of the storylines. But, of course, classic BBC sitcoms from the 1990s are the best place to see examples of the “crappiness” of 1990s Britain pointed out to you. Plus, if you’re into computer games, try to track down an old game by Gremlin Interactive called “Normality” for a slightly stylised example of this. Or, if you have less time and/or money, check out a freeware game called “Beneath A Steel Sky“.

3) The fashions: For the most part, fashions in 1990s Britain were fairly dull and understated. Whether it was ordinary businesswear or jeans and a T-shirt, 90s fashion in Britain was mostly fairly “ordinary”. Yet, when it wasn’t, it is at least mildly different from 90s fashion in America.

The most famous example of 1990s British fashion has to be Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress. But, unlike America where things like grunge fashion were more popular in the 1990s, the slightly more “distinctive” parts of British 1990s fashion tended to include things like sportswear, wrapping a jumper around your waist like a belt, formal floral dresses, crop tops, cargo clothing etc…

It isn’t really as distinctive or eccentric as American fashion during the 90s was, but this kind of fits into the “crappiness” thing that I mentioned in the second segment of this article.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why It Is Difficult To Emulate The Past – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to do my usual thing of going off on a slight tangent about computer games for a couple of paragraphs. As usual, this will be relevant to the point that I’m trying to make.

One of the great things about being somewhat behind on computer technology is the fact that, aside from a few modern low-budget 2D indie games (like “Technobabylon“, “Abyss: The Wraiths Of Eden” etc..) and a tiny number of low-spec modern 3D games that will actually run on my computer, most of the games I’ve played over the past decade or so have been made in 1993-2006.

So, I felt a bit of schadenfreude when I saw this negative video review of a modern “retro-style” action game that I’d been vaguely interested in, but couldn’t play due to the system requirements. This was a game that apparently tried to emulate first-person shooter games from 1996-9. Yet, despite an abundance of research material for the developers to draw on, the game apparently fails miserably at this for a multitude of reasons. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

But, what does any of this have to do with art, comics and writing?

It’s because emulating the past can often be a surprisingly challenging thing. As regular readers of this site know, I’m a fan of the 1990s (and, to a lesser extent, the 1980s and early-mid 2000s) – yet, it’s taken me quite a while to get even vaguely good at making art that even looks like a modern tribute to these three time periods:

“Metallic Magic” By C. A. Brown

“Marina” By C. A. Brown

“Death Takes A Holiday” By C. A. Brown

Not only that, my attempts at writing “realistic” fiction set in the 1990s didn’t turn out that well. Plus, although many of my occasional webcomics are heavily inspired by slightly older comics, they still don’t quite seem to have the same quality of humour as many older 1980s-mid 2000s comics do.

So, why is it so difficult to emulate the past? The main reason is that it not only requires a surprising amount of research, but you also have to work out how to use that research in order to create new and original things. You have to study a surprisingly large number of things from the past to see what they have in common and then see if you can derive any “rules” from this that you can apply to your own work.

For example, if you want to include “1980s cyberpunk movie” and/or “late 1990s computer game”-style lighting in your artwork, then the general rule is that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting or drawing has to be covered with black paint or ink, in order to make the lighting stand out by comparison.

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

In addition to finding rules to follow, you also need to know where to look and what to look for. This can, surprisingly, be the most challenging part of the research process.

To give you an example, one of the most informative/inspirational pieces of 1990s research material that I’ve found within the past year or two has been an old American TV show called “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“.

This is a screenshot from season one of “Lois & Clark” (1993-4). As well as being a fascinating look at a stylised version of part of 1990s America, it’s also something in the superhero genre that ISN’T an ultra-serious, CGI-filled part of a “cinematic universe”. Seriously, I wish that the superhero genre was more like this one good example of it.

It’s a cheesy TV show about superheroes that has been pretty much forgotten when compared to some other TV shows from the time period (eg: “The X Files” etc..). In fact, the only reason that I eventually thought to seek it out on DVD was because I had a vague memory of seeing a repeat of it on the BBC once when I was a child. Yet, although the early seasons of the show are a fantastic source of research material for things like 1990s fashions, 1990s interior design, 1990s optimism, 1990s storytelling etc… it’ll only tell you about a stylised fictional city that is based on 1990s New York.

I mention the location because culture tended to be less “universal” in the past, which also makes it more difficult to emulate – or, more likely, means that your “retro” art/comics/fiction will be a hodge-podge of different cultures from the same time period. For example, something from 1990s California will be very different from something from 1990s Britain. Yet, if you’ve been heavily influenced by both things, then your creative works will be an ‘unrealistic’ mixture of the two. They will still be unique and cool, but probably not “accurate” in the strictest sense of the word.

Finally, even if you’ve done all of this stuff, trying to create new things in the style of things from the past is also challenging for the simple reason that we’re living in the present day. What this means is that we will inevitably be influenced by parts of modern culture when creating things. It also means that we won’t have the limitations that creative people back then used to have (which would often give historical creative works a distinctive “flavour”).

For example, although the written word hasn’t changed much within the past 2-3 decades, the resources available to writers have. These days, if a writer wants to research something or get inspired, they have the whole internet at their disposal. They have streaming video sites, search engines and vast online encyclopaedias. A writer in, say, the 1980s or the early 1990s wouldn’t have had this, so this limitation would have influenced what they wrote about and possibly even how they wrote.

So, yes, emulating the past can be surprisingly difficult. But, it’s incredibly fun nonetheless.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Reasons Why Some Creative Works Become Better With Time

Well, for today, I thought that I’d look at why some older creative works can seemingly become better with time. This was something that I noticed when I happened to re-listen to Iron Maiden’s “The Final Frontier” album from 2010 a while before writing this article. When this album was originally released, I really liked a few songs from it but didn’t quite consider it to be one of Iron Maiden’s better albums.

But, a few years later, it seems like a considerably better album than I’d originally thought that it was. So, I thought that I’d look at a few possible reasons why some creative works can seemingly become better with the passage of time.

1) Hype and expectations: Carrying on with the example I used earlier, Iron Maiden albums are one of the few things that I tend to buy when they’re still “new”. When a new Iron Maiden album is released, it’s an incredibly exciting time. There’s a lot of expectations and pre-release information (and the occasional music video) on the internet. The same sort of thing is probably true for anything made by your favourite musicians, writers, game developers etc..

One of the advantages of revisiting things that have stopped being new (or looking for older creative works) is that they aren’t surrounded by lots of hype and expectations. In other words, it’s easier to look at these things on their own merits. If something is good, but different, then this is easier to see when your mind isn’t clouded by hype and anticipation.

It’s also easier to see these things as one stage in a band’s, novelist’s or game franchise’s creative development when you can also see later things that have been made by the same people. Being able to put a creative work in context can sometimes make it seem even better as a result (either because you can see hints of older works or newer works in it).

2) Nostalgia and historical curiosity: This is a fairly obvious one, but looking at older creative works can be a great way to “travel back in time” to better parts of our lives or to interesting parts of the past. This alone can make some creative works seem a lot better than they probably were at the time.

For me, a good example of this is an American TV show from the 1990s called “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“. I saw at least two episodes of this on the BBC when I was a child. But, I considered it to be somewhat cheesy. It wasn’t a bad program, but it didn’t really impress me as much as other TV shows of the time did.

Yet, during a “1990s nostalgia” phase late last year and earlier this year, I ended up getting most of the show on DVD. This time round, it seemed to sum up everything wonderful about the 1990s. The fashions! The set design! The production values! The optimistic attitudes! The guest stars! The humour! The gloriously silly storylines! I could go on. But, the show seems to work a lot better as a “retro” historical artefact than it did when it was actually “modern”.

So, yes, when something goes from being current to being “a way to step back into the past” or even “a way to escape from the present day for a while”, it will generally seem better as a result.

3) You’re older: Following on from my last point, if you revisit a creative work several years after you first encountered it, then you aren’t the same person you were then. You’ve got more experience, you’re more intelligent and your tastes might be very slightly different.

As such, you’re more likely to see things that your younger self dismissed as “boring” or “crap” in a slightly different way. You’re more likely to pick up nuances or themes in a creative work that your younger self might have missed. You’re more likely to be able to empathise more with some characters than you were before. You’re more likely to enjoy things like slower-paced storytelling, philosophical depth or narrative complexity.

Of course, this sort of thing can cut both ways. Things that seemed really cool when you were younger can seem trite, superficial and/or embarassing when you’re slightly older. But, even so, it will allow you to enjoy some creative works significantly more than you did when you were younger.

4) Modern culture: This one is a bit cynical, but one reason why creative works that seemed “mediocre” when they were new can seem “amazing” when they’re a bit older can be because current culture has got worse.

When this sort of thing happens then anything from a time that you consider to be a “golden age” gets an almost instant upgrade. After all, it’s better than the modern stuff by comparison. A good example of this can probably be seen with many computer and video games.

Even slightly “mediocre” games from the past can seem better when compared to everything I’ve seen and read about their modern counterparts. For example, even the crappiest 1990s first-person shooter game will still include things like non-linear level design, imaginative weapon designs, a focus on single-player gameplay etc.. But, from everything I’ve heard about FPS games from this decade, many of them seem to be linear, militaristic, simplified, multiplayer-focused things that focus more on fancy graphics than enjoyable gameplay.

So, yes, if one of your favourite genres of entertainment has gone downhill in recent years, then even mediocre things from the past can start to look like masterpieces.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂