History, Nostalgia, Creativity And Subtlety – A Ramble


Although this is an article about creating historical art, historical comics, historical fiction etc…. I’m going to have to start by talking about real-life “anachronisms” and some vaguely geeky stuff. As usual, there’s a good reason for this.

The night before I wrote this article, I happened to find an absolutely fascinating historical video online. This was one of those mildly unusual things that, like colour footage of 1920s London (or colour photos of 1910s Russia) or old footage from the 1920s/30s that seems to show people using mobile phones, seemed like an anachronism. But, what was it?

It was a modern-style HD video of New York… filmed in 1993. Seriously, you can actually watch this in 1080p if you have a fast enough connection and/or enough available RAM. I watched it in 720p, but it was still pretty astonishing, given when it was filmed.

Some of the high-definition scenes in the film look wonderfully retro and some look slightly eerie (eg: modern-style footage of the Twin Towers etc..), but a few scenes look like they could have been filmed today.

For example, there’s some aerial filming which – if it wasn’t for a barely-noticeable helicopter shadow on a building– could easily be modern HD drone footage. Likewise, there’s a close-up of an old man sleeping on a bench, which literally looks like something from a modern HD documentary.

So, what does any of this have to do with creativity?

Well, one of the many interesting things about this modern-looking HD video from 1993 was the comments below it. One thing that seemed to “shock” a few people was the fact that nobody was staring at a smartphone in the footage of the busy streets. People were actually *gasp* acting like people whilst walking down the street.

I was more distracted by the retro fashions etc… to notice this (which is especially odd, given that I made an entire webcomic about smartphones, time travel and 1990s America a while ago), but the absence of smartphones seemed to be one of the things that made it stand out as something from the 1990s.

And, yet, it’s a really subtle thing.

So, this obviously made me think about works of art and fiction that are set in the past. Often, when we’re making art or comics about the relatively recent past, it can be very easy, and very fun, to go down the “nostalgia” route and exaggerate notable features from the time in question. Like with some of my own “nostalgic” 1990s-themed artwork:

"1990s Office Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Office Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

"1990s Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

But, often the most telling signs that something ‘serious’ is set in the past are a lot more subtle. For starters, many things are surprisingly timeless. Although the inclusion of these things in historical works might make them seem ‘modern’, they’re often anything but modern.

For example, the copious use of four-letter words in the fictional medieval-style setting of “Game Of Thrones” is probably closer to how people actually talked in medieval Britain (even if many written records of the time were kept by pious monks etc… who didn’t use four letter words). Even a few centuries later, the old French slang term for British people – “les godames” – comes from the fact that we used to use the word ‘goddamn’ a lot. So, it’s hardly a modern thing.

Likewise, historical change isn’t really an instant thing – so, the best way to show that something is set in the past is often to focus on these timeless things and to keep the “old” details relatively subtle.

This also reflects how nostalgia actually works. For example, in late 2016, I had a sudden and vivid moment of 1990s nostalgia that actually led to me spontaneously writing a short essay and making a cartoon.

All of these old memories were suddenly brought back to life when I happened to hear about a videogame series that I played when I was a lot younger. It was a subtle “background detail”, but it probably evoked more nostalgia than a picture of the Power Rangers playing POGs whilst watching a Tamagotchi advert that was playing on a CRT television in the middle of an episode of “The Fresh Prince” probably would.

So, yes, nostalgia and a sense of history can often work better when they’re fairly subtle.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Nostalgia Itself Can Sometimes Be More Inspirational Than The Things That Provoke It- A Ramble


Although I’m going to start this article by talking about a time when I revisited a game that I felt nostalgic about, there’s a good reason for this. But, if you’re interested in some ideas about nostalgia and creative inspiration, then it might be worth skipping the next four paragraphs or so.

The afternoon before I originally wrote this article, I was in a vaguely nostalgic mood and decided to take another look at a computer game from 2006 called “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” that I played for the first time in late 2011 (after playing the original “The Longest Journey” game during summer 2011).

Although I didn’t feel like replaying the whole thing, I wanted to quickly relive some of the good memories that I had of this game. So, I loaded up one of my old save files from near the beginning of the game – ready to jump back into the complex immersive fictional world that I remembered so fondly.

But, it didn’t seem right. Dialogue that seemed significant and emotionally powerful just a few years ago just came across as needlessly melodramatic or “depressing for the sake of depressing”. Likewise, the large explorable futuristic version of Casablanca that I remembered from the beginning of the game actually just seemed to be a few linear streets. Previously interesting characters just seemed to be more annoying than anything else. There were also more loading screens than I remembered.

After a few minutes, I stopped playing. This wasn’t the game that I remembered! Sure, it looked vaguely similar. Sure, the characters looked the same. But, it just seemed less enchanting, immersive and dramatic than it was a few years ago.

This, naturally, made me think about the nature of nostalgia.

It took me a while to remember that nostalgia is as much about the difference between the person you were in the past and the person you are now as it is about any specific game, movie, book, TV show, song, comic etc…

Generally, we become nostalgic about things for one of two reasons. Something either seems to sum up a particular time period perfectly (eg: floppy disks, audio cassettes and POGs sum up the 1990s quite well), or it has a strong emotional impact on us when we first encountered it. It was exactly the right thing that we needed to play, watch, hear or read at a particular time in our lives. It was something that either fired our imaginations, helped us to understand ourselves and/or provided something good during a gloomy time.

If nostalgia falls into the latter category, then it is often best to avoid revisiting it. After all, even though it was a small- but essential – thing that helped to make you the person you are today, you are almost certainly at least a slightly different person to the one you were in the past.

So, if you try to revisit something that used to have an emotional resonance with you, then it probably won’t have exactly the same resonance any more. You’ll probably end up looking at it in a more dispassionate and disconnected kind of way. Needless to say, it won’t live up to the vital and important memories that you have of it.

However, if you don’t look at it again, it’ll still be the amazing thing that it once was. You’ll remember it as being much better, much more dramatic, much more significant, much more detailed etc… than it actually is. And, if you’re a creative person, then this is exactly the sort of thing that you need in order to get inspired.

After all, inspiration comes from using your imagination to turn pre-existing things into new things. It comes from seeing something and thinking “I want to make my own version of that!” and/or “I wonder what something like that would be like if I added something else to it?

Since nostalgia tends to do some this for you automatically, you’ll be in a much more advantageous position to start coming up with creative ideas if you take inspiration from the nostalgia itself, rather than the thing that actually made you feel nostalgic.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Joy Of… New Nostalgia


As regular readers probably know, I write most of these articles quite far in advance of publication. Anyway, the night before I originally wrote this one, I watched the first episode of “Red Dwarf XI” and was absolutely astonished by it. This is a sitcom that has been going since the late 1980s (although I only started watching it on VHS and DVD in the early-mid 2000s)… and they’re still making genuinely funny new episodes of it!

But this is hardly the first “old” thing that I remember discovering when I was a teenager or when I was even younger, that is still going in some way or another. In fact, I’d originally written something approaching a full-length article about my history of being a fan of Red Dwarf, Iron Maiden, The Offspring, Blade Runner, the “Doom” games, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes etc.. before deleting it because I realised that it probably distracted from the points that I’m going to make in this article.

There’s something amazing about things that are “old” and yet “new” at the same time. These are all things that are kept alive by both their creators and their fans.

For example, there’s a new “Doom” game (which is too modern to run on my computer 😦 ) and there’s going to be a “Blade Runner” sequel. Yet, the old versions of both things were and are still going strong because of fan-made content. Whether it’s the fact that there are still thousands of people making new levels for the old “Doom” games or the fact that “Blade Runner” has inspired so many other things in the sci-fi genre (including a lot of my own sci-fi art, comics etc…) for literally decades after it was released, both things were kept alive by their fans as much as, or more, than by their creators.

But, yet, none of the TV shows, films, bands, games etc… I’ve mentioned in this article really pander to their fans in any huge way. Sure, they’ve kept the best bits of their older incarnations, but they aren’t afraid to try subtly different new things. I mean, an Iron Maiden album from the 1980s and an Offspring album from the 1990s sound both similar and different from anything that these two bands have released in 2012-16.

They aren’t like a lot of much more “popular” things, which often seem to be defined and designed as much by things like marketing data as they are by actual people. They often don’t have planned obsolescence built into them (eg: like superhero movie/comic reboots, games that move to the latest consoles etc..) to ensure that the latest version is the “coolest” thing. The latest version is just another version, often no better or worse than the outstandingly brilliant older versions.

In other words, they actually seem like they were (and are!) things that are created by people, rather than focus groups and marketing departments.

They’re things that have been created by people with a particular sense of humour, a particular set of musical tastes, a particular worldview, a particular attitude towards their creative medium of choice etc… In today’s world, this sort of thing would probably be seen as “uncommercial” . In fact, it was probably seen as uncommercial several decades ago. And yet because of this these things still have the kind of dedicated fans that cash-obssesed marketing departments can only dream of.

They aren’t advertised incessantly and yet they still pick up new fans. I mean, most of the “old” things that I consider to be my favourite bands, games, books, films etc.. certainly weren’t “popular” when I discovered them by serendipity, accident, recommendation or curiosity back when I was a teenager. They were inherently cool, but they weren’t the kinds of things that the “cool kids” were enjoying when I was a teenager.

In fact, many of these things have something better than advertising. They have an imaginative fanbase. They have a fanbase that is so inspired by these things that they will actually make their own things inspired by them.

For example, “Blade Runner” may only be one movie but the number of other films, games, TV shows, songs, comics and artwork (including many of my own paintings and some of my own comics) that have been inspired, influenced by, or make references to this one little film are too numerous to count. And, yet, the film itself isn’t something that is advertised everywhere or directly remade every five years.

Likewise, many of these “new and old” things are things that were created by people who are still learning and experimenting after several decades. They are things that are both very much their own thing and yet are open to new influences and inspirations.

One perfect example of this is probably the band Iron Maiden. They’re a band who have made very few covers of other songs, and yet their own musical style has both changed drastically and remained instantly recognisable over more than three decades. It’s probably been influenced by more things than the band will ever reveal, yet it’s very much it’s own thing. They’ve had three different lead singers and they’ve gone through both “dark and serious” and “light and fantastical” phases, and yet an Iron Maiden album is still very much an Iron Maiden album.

I could probably go on about this for hours, but there’s always something uniquely wonderful about finding something that is both old and new at the same time. Something which is both thrillingly new and reassuringly old when you first discover it and twhich later ends up taking up residence in your mind and shaping large parts of your own imagination.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Why Is It More Difficult To Make “Nostalgic” Art, Comics, Stories About More Recent Times? – A Ramble

2017 Artwork Recent history nostalgia article sketch

Even though this is an article about making comics, art etc.. I’m probably going to have to spend several paragraphs talking about a strange experience that I had shortly before I wrote this article. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

As regular readers of this site probably know, nostalgia is one of the things that inspires a lot of the art, comics etc.. that I make. Most of the time, this is nostalgia about the 1990s (I grew up in that decade, but wish I’d been older during it) and – accidentally – possibly the early 2000s too. Sometimes I even get nostalgic about decades that I haven’t even lived in.

However, I recently had an experience that made me feel very nostalgic about a very specific period of recent history (mid-2009 to mid-late 2010).

Whilst looking through some old desktop icons, I decided to dust off my old Spotify account and take a look at some of the playlists I’d made back then. Instantly, I was transported back to a very rose-tinted version of this very specific period in time. It suddenly almost seemed like it was a whole decade in and of itself.

It was a time when pop music was, very briefly, actually good – where “popular” bands (eg: La Roux, Metric etc..) had a slightly 1980s-inspired/indie/sophisticated kind of sensibility. It was a time when many people didn’t quite have smartphones just yet.

It was a time when websites were still primarily designed for desktop computers, rather than for phones or tablets. It was a time when DVDs still felt like they were modern and timeless ( I still use DVDs regularly, but people these days obviously use video streaming services a lot more- despite the fact that they don’t actually get to own copies of any of the TV shows or movies they buy..).

It was a time when the UK’s Tory/Lib Dem coalition government was still new and exciting, and “austerity” was a dusty old word that only appeared in history books. It was a joyous time when people of my generation actually used to go out drinking and clubbing slightly more often. It was a time just before indie games really had a resurgence, so retro gaming was perhaps more popular than it is now. It was the glorious last days before the UK Government tried again to price everyone out of going to university.

It’s an oddly difficult time to describe concisely, but it feels like it was very different from the present day. As I said, this 1-2 year time period almost feels like it was a different decade altogether.

This, naturally, made me wonder why it’s more difficult to make “nostalgic” things that revolve around more recent time periods. I mean, this is something that I’ve even joked about in one of my more recent webcomics – but it’s something I’ve never really thought about in depth:

"Damania Resolute - Four Nights" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resolute – Four Nights” By C. A. Brown

I think that part of the problem is that it’s very difficult to spot what is and isn’t memorable when you’re actually living in a particular decade. Likewise, it can often be next to impossible to predict how the subtle facts of everyday life will change in the future.

Plus, we’re often also already comparing the present day to the past most of the time – so the idea that the present day will become “the past” isn’t something that is easy to think about. Then again, this probably depends whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist.

I mean, if you think that the world is constantly getting better, then the thought that the present day will become the past isn’t too unsettling. However, if you think that the world seems to be on an unstoppable trajectory towards more misery, gloom, petty restrictions, authoritarianism etc.. then the idea that the present day may eventually seem like “the good old days” in comparison to the future is a deeply frightening one. And a thought best avoided.

Then there’s also the fact that “nostalgic” things tend to be more distinctive when they’re noticeably “old”.

I mean, if you saw someone using a portable cassette player then it would probably seem more noticeable and “retro” than if you saw someone using a MP3 player – despite the fact that *ugh* smartphones have all but replaced good old MP3 players these days. Portable cassette players became “obsolete” in the 1990s (thanks to portable CD players), but MP3 players only became “obsolete” less than a decade ago.

Plus, unless you’re the kind of person who is hyper-modern in every possible way, it’s probably more likely that (in some way) you’re still living in the age that you’re trying to get nostalgic about.

Whether it’s the technology you use, the TV shows/games/books etc… you really like, your fashion sense etc.. we’re all living in the past in some way or another. Which is probably for the best, given that the present day probably won’t be worth getting nostalgic about until sometime in the 2030s…..


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons Why The 1990s Are A Great Source Of Artistic Inspiration

2017 Artwork 1990s inspiration article sketch

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m a massive fan of the 1990s. I could spend several thousand words talking about that decade but, since this is an article about art, I thought that I’d look at why you should let the 1990s influence your art.

So, here are some examples of cool things from the 1990s that are also great sources of artistic inspiration:

1) Traditional mediums: Although digital art was a thing during the 1990s (and at least one of the image editing programs I currently use comes from the late 90s), the 1990s was the last decade where traditional art materials were king.

As such, illustrations, comics etc… from the 1990s have a very distinctive look to them. They instantly look like they’ve actually physically been drawn or painted. They look both old-fashioned and modern at the same time.

This particular “look” is obviously fairly easy to re-create. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use any digital tools – just make sure that any digital effects that you add to the scanned versions of your artwork are slightly more basic (eg: brightness/contrast/hue/saturation adjustments, noise effects etc…), like this:

"Salvage" By C. A. Brown

“Salvage” By C. A. Brown

2) The lighting: If there’s one thing to be said about movies from the 1990s, it’s that the lighting in many of them was significantly more interesting than in many modern movies. During the 1990s, one thing that was popular in films was to use gloomy locations that made the lighting stand out even more (in a way that was vaguely reminiscent of old Tenebrist paintings).

As well as looking really atmospheric, it also allowed film-makers (and artists) to emphasise parts of the image through the careful use of lighting.

This gothic, shadowy, ambient style of lighting was surprisingly popular in the 1990s, and even classic computer games like “Doom” and “System Shock” tried to use a more primitive version of it to lend their locations a rich sense of atmosphere (although, from what footage I’ve seen, their modern re-makes seem to do this better).

So, yes, learning how to draw or paint realistic lighting and shadows is totally worth it just to be able to re-create this awesome type of lighting:

"At Midnight" By C. A. Brown

“At Midnight” By C. A. Brown

"And I Fell Into Yesterday" By C. A. Brown

“And I Fell Into Yesterday” By C. A. Brown

3) Imagination and freedom: Culturally speaking, the 1990s was a more imaginative decade than the 2010s. The world seemed more optimistic overall, Hollywood actually produced new and imaginative films more regularly, computer games tended to be less “realistic” (in terms of story, graphics etc..), comics were still an “alternative” medium etc…

I was also going to write about how the 1990s seemed like an age with more creative freedom (despite there being stricter official censorship and fewer ways for creative people to get their work to the public). But, every time I tried, this article got a bit too opinionated.

So, all I’ll say is that whilst there seems to have been more formal censorship during the 1990s, there seems to have been a lot less informal censorship. If someone disliked or disagreed with a creative work, then they either ignored it (and looked at something else that they actually liked). Or they grumbled to their friends about it in person. Or, at worst, they wrote to their local paper and/or MP. What they certainly didn’t have was something like Twitter….

As such, there was more of a gap between creative people and their critics. So, creative people didn’t have to worry as much about negative opinions, and could express themselves more freely as a result. Whilst this is no longer the case, it can at least be encouraging to think that there was a time when it was.

4) Stylisation: Since the internet was still very much in it’s infancy in the 1990s, the options for creative research and obscure cultural references were somewhat more limited.

Although I certainly wouldn’t like to be an artist in those days, one cool side-effect of the relative lack of instant research materials is that art, comics, movies etc.. were a lot more stylised than they are now. They tended to rely more on imaginative uses of well-known tropes than on meticulous research. This gives art from the 1990s more of a timeless and stylised kind of look.

And, even though doing a bit of research first (so you know what things are supposed to look like) is probably a good idea, it’s still a good idea to use slightly stylised versions of events, settings etc… in your art if you want to give it an imaginative 1990s-style look. Like this:

"1990s Tropical Paradise Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Tropical Paradise Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

"Sail Ahoy!" By C. A. Brown

“Sail Ahoy!” By C. A. Brown


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

All Five Of My “Back To The 1990s” Short Stories :)


Well, in case you missed any of them, I thought that I’d provide links to all five short stories in my “Back To The 1990s” series. You can also find links to many more short stories here.

This collection was something of an experimental project and, in part, I consider it to be something of a failure. It was one of my first attempts at writing vaguely “realistic” stories (compared to science fiction, horror etc..) in quite a while and, well, it isn’t exactly my best genre.

Likewise, whilst I’d expected to write a lot of stories about different years in the 1990s in both Britain and America, I hadn’t really put aside enough time for research. So, most of the stories were set in mid-late 1990s Britain because, although I was fairly young at the time, I still actually remembered it. Likewise, I’ve never actually been to America, so “realistic” (as opposed to stylised) American settings quickly seemed like a bad idea.

Anyway, here are links to all five stories, with brief plot summaries. Enjoy 🙂

1) “Grey Cartridge” By C. A. Brown: Two game journalists in early 1997 receive a strange parcel in the post…

2) “One Hit Wonder” By C. A. Brown: A singer has found fame! Or has she?

3) “Routine” By C. A. Brown: American stand-up comedian Jack Carlicks dazzles London with his brilliantly cynical humour. It’s just a shame that there’s a time traveller from June 2016 in the audience, who is hell-bent on heckling him.

4) “Silly Rules” By C. A. Brown: Back in the 1990s, film censorship in Britain was hilariously strange.

5) “Booze Cruise” By C. A. Brown: A couple go on a short holiday to France, displaying the high level of international knowledge and cultural sophistication that makes British tourists so widely respected and well-loved around all of mainland Europe.

“Routine” By C. A. Brown (Back To The 1990s – Short Story #3)

Stay tuned for the next 1990s-themed short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT :)

Stay tuned for the next 1990s-themed short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

… And, London, have you ever wondered why they never play heavy metal on the radio? Or at least something other than the same five love songs sung by five thousand different people. I mean, it’s like fricking pollution!‘ Jack Carlicks took a sip of water and fell silent, waiting for the applause. It came a few seconds later, loud and rapturous.

The stage lights came on behind him, turning him into a gaunt silhouette. He cradled the mic in his arms and said: ‘You know, when the aliens eventually pick up our radio transmissions, they’ll think that the word ‘baby’ is a type of punctuation. No wonder that there hasn’t been any recorded contact with alien life. It is, and you heard it here first, a government conspiracy to scare away the cool planets.‘ A few giggles rippled through the theatre.

You’ve all seen Star Trek, right?’ An eerie silence filled the room ‘Seriously? Not one of you? Well, this is the worst science fiction convention I’ve ever been to!‘ Laughter erupted, Jack continued: ‘It’s set in a future where there’s no rockstars, no adult magazines, no wrestling, no motorbikes, no horror movies, no violent videogames and nothing but wine coolers to drink. Everyone has to wear skintight leotards too. But, get this… humans are STILL the coolest people in the United Federation Of Planets.

And, you know why? It’s like that thing in high school. You do have high schools here, right? Anyway, if you can’t hang out with the cool kids, then you hang out with the nerdiest nerds you can find. So, you look cool… by comparison. NOW do you see why there’s nothing but pop music on the radio?‘ The audience convulsed with laughter.

Jack reached into his jacket and pulled out a tabloid. For a second, he sat down, took another sip of water and leafed through a few pages. Bewildered murmurings filled the theatre. The mic crackled slightly.

Throwing the paper away and leaping to his feet, Jack grabbed the mic and said: ‘I’ve been here a week and I still can’t get enough of your press! There are paranoid conspiracy theories about Europe on page two, there’s nudity on page three to distract from the rabid rantings on page five, there’s all sorts of scary stuff about terrorism on page four and there are even calls to … bring back… the death penalty, on the front page! It made me feel homesick, just like that.’ He clicked his fingers. The air rumbled with laughter.

But, you’ve gotta wonder how they print this crap? I mean, we’ve got the first Amendment. Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press. And, with all that freedom, they still don’t print this kind of rubbish. It’s so… boring.‘ More laughter filled the air. ‘What are people supposed to laugh at every morning?

There were a few boos and hisses. Jack arched his eyebrows: ‘You mean, some of you actually…. take this stuff seriously? Even the stories about how Germany is planning to ban pint glasses from your pubs?‘ A solitary drunken holler echoed through the silent theatre. Jack chuckled: ‘Dude! There’s more beer in a stein! It’s like two pints… for the price of one.‘ He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper: ‘They’re. Doing. You. A. Favour!

By now, the audience was roaring with laughter again. Jack chuckled and launched into a routine about John Major, Bill Clinton and a golden saxophone.

When the audience had stopped guffawing, he smiled and said ‘Well, I’m glad you actually know who John Major is. When I did that joke in Texas, all I got were blank stares. Anyway, that’s all I’ve got time for at the moment. It’s…‘ He tapped his watch ‘…Half past ten, which means that you have exactly half an hour of drinking time left. Maybe the stein isn’t such a bad idea after all. Goodnight. Peace out.

The curtain fell.