Three Reasons Why The Fictional “Worlds” In Art/Novels/Webcomics etc.. Often Seem To Be Slightly Old

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Quite a while ago, I read a fascinating article on TV Tropes which talks about how and why most films and TV shows are basically set in the 1990s, even though they might look modern on the surface.

Although that article explains why this happens in film and television, I’ve noticed it happening to a lesser extent in my own art, comics and fiction. For example, most of my webcomics tend to be more like something from the late 1990s-early/mid ’00s (or possibly the late ’00s at most) even though they were made in the mid-late 2010s and include some modern things like smartphones.

So, I thought that I’d give a few reasons why this sort of thing happens in art, fiction and/or webcomics.

1) Inspirations: Simply put, everything is inspired by things that were made in the past. This is either because writers, artists etc.. discovered their main inspirations during an earlier time in their life, because they happened to discover some amazingly cool old stuff in the present day or because they were eager to find things that are similar to their earlier inspirations.

For example, the main influence on how I depict “futuristic” settings in my art is probably the classic movie “Blade Runner“. Although I watched it on VHS for the first time when I was about fourteen, I only truly began to appreciate this film when I was about 17. When I seriously got into making art during my early-mid 20s, this film had more and more of an influence on any sci-fi art that I made.

Of course, having just one influence is never a good thing so, during the past couple of years, I looked for as many film/TV/shows/games in the cyberpunk genre as I could in order to help me refine my style (and because I loved the genre and wanted to find more of it). These new influences include things like “Ghost In The Shell (1995)”, “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“, “Akira“, “Deus Ex“, Trancers“, “System Shock“, “Technobablyon“, this set of ‘Doom II’ levels, “Robocop 2”, “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” etc…

Many of these things were, of course, either made during the heyday of the cyberpunk genre or were influenced by the classics of the genre. So, even the more modern examples (like “Technobablyon”) are heavily influenced by things from the 1980s and 90s.

When it comes to actually writing science fiction, my main influence was probably William Gibson’s cyberpunk “Sprawl Trilogy” from the 1980s, which I read during my late teens/early twenties. Although I’ve read other types of science fiction, the writing style in this one had a huge influence on me and although I don’t really use too much of a Gibson-like writing style in my more recent cyberpunk fiction, these stories from the 80s certainly played a role in how I write sci-fi.

So, yes, the inspirations and influences that a writer or artist has can be one reason why a lot of stories and art seem to be set in some vaguely modern version of the past.

2) It looks cool: Visually speaking, the past also often seems to have a more distinctive “look” to it than the present day does.

Maybe this is because the present day just seems “ordinary” because we see it every day (and, by comparison, the past looks more unusual)? Maybe this is because mass culture and popular trends used to be a more prominent thing in the pre-internet days? Maybe the benefit of hindsight makes it easier to depict the past in a stylised way? Who knows?

But, regardless, the past can sometimes look cooler than the present day does. Old technology (eg: intriguingly bulky phones, giant CRT monitors etc..) can ironically look more “futuristic” than modern-looking technology does, the fashions of the past can seem more unusual and creative (albeit slightly sillier sometimes), plus things like art deco architecture were more common in the past etc…

3) Scheduling: This probably varies from person to person, but most creative works tend to be prepared and finished some time in advance of publication. For example, I actually wrote this article in late February (and I was also preparing this year’s Christmas comics at the same time). Because of this, it can be hard to include “up to the minute” topical content.

So, if you’re preparing something far in advance and you don’t want it to appear too obviously out of date when it gets published, then it can often be best to make slightly “timeless” things. And, “timeless” can often translate to “basically set in the past in all but name” or “subtly old-fashioned”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Vague Tips For Making Early-Mid ’00s Style Artwork

Well, since I seem to be in a nostalgic mood, I thought that I’d look at how to make art that is reminiscent of a time period which people haven’t really quite started getting nostalgic about yet. I am, of course, talking about the early-mid ’00s. Although this time period certainly wasn’t the best one ever, it’s starting to grow on me a bit after I re-listened to some music from back then recently.

So, how can you make early-mid ’00s style artwork? Although this article won’t really give you any specific pointers about technique, it will show you the types of things that you should look at or think about before you try to make some early-mid ’00s style art.

1) Do your research: Knowing a bit about the time period you’re basing your art on is always a good idea. But, chances are, you probably remember the early-mid ’00s anyway.

Even so, it can be hard to crystallise it into a single stylised image for the simple reason that pop culture hasn’t quite decided what the defining features of the early-mid ’00s are yet (since, at the moment, cultural nostalgia as a whole has finally started reaching the 1990s 🙂 ).

But, if I had to define a “nostalgic” version of the culture of the early-mid ’00s (in Britain, at least) , then it would probably include things like:

– Disposable cameras being the best and cheapest way to take holiday photos etc…
– Punk music sounding “heavier” than it did in the 90s, and heavy metal music sounding gloomier and/or more filled with angst.
– VHS tapes and audio cassettes just about still being available in shops. DVDs were still excitingly new and shops still stocked CD singles 🙂
– That annoying “Crazy Frog” thing that seemed to be everywhere in 2004/5. He didn’t even look like a frog!
– Japanese-style horror movies (with lots of jump scares etc..) being the most popular type of horror movie in cinemas. The very beginnings of the resurgence of more extreme horror movies was starting too (eg: the release of “Saw” in 2004)
– Hollywood produced very few superhero movies, and popular culture wasn’t saturated with superhero-related stuff 🙂
– Emo hairstyles, moral panics about “chavs”/”hoodies”, and the appearance of “Boho” fashion.
– Brilliant satire about Tony Blair and George W. Bush
– Mobile phones (with monochrome screens and games like “Snake”) were virtually indestructible and only had to be charged weekly. Smartphones didn’t exist 🙂
– Geek culture was still slightly obscure, “nerdy” and “uncool”.
– It was a time when it was still just about cool to be “edgy”,”controversial”, “rebellious” etc…
– It was a time when “social media” meant things like internet forums, blogs, MSN Messenger etc… Plus, Twitter didn’t exist and Facebook barely existed 🙂

I’m sure you can think of some things of your own. But, if you can’t, then the things on this list might be worth researching online.

2) Digital art, webcomics and manga art: If there were three major artistic trends in the early-mid ’00s, they were probably the increasing popularity of digital art, the beginnings of a lot of popular webcomics (since webcomics were still a fairly new medium then) and the increasing popularity of manga art styles.

Thanks to the wider availablity of the internet and the founding of blogging sites and art sites like DeviantART, artists had far more opportunities to share their art. This meant that a lot of art and comics on the internet were a lot more “unpolished” or “low budget” (compared to print publications) because the people making them were still learning. Likewise, digital art tools began to become even more available to ordinary people during the early-mid ’00s too.

Plus, although anime and manga have existed for decades – they only really seemed to get seriously popular in the west during the early-mid ’00s. This art style is still the most popular one on the internet and this trend can possibly be traced back to this period in history (although I can’t be certain about this).

3) Wider context: If there’s one thing to be said in general about the early-mid ’00s, it’s that it was a time when the post-cold war idealism of the 1990s died. Mostly because of 9/11 and everything that happened afterwards.

Yes, it wasn’t as dystopian as the age of austerity, Brexit, Trump, ISIS, mass surveillance etc.. that would come later, but it felt more dystopian for the simple reason that everyone wasn’t so desensitised to it back then. This naturally had an effect on culture as a whole.

It was a fairly major culture shift in a lot of ways. Creative works in the early-mid ’00s were more likely to be more “serious” or more “topical”. A good example of this is probably the thriller genre. Back in the 1990s, the plots of novels and films in this genre tended to be loveably silly – the villians were often from made-up countries, their evil plots were cartoonishly absurd and there was a more jovial atmosphere. But, in the early-mid ’00s, virtually everything in the thriller genre tended to be a lot “grittier” and more “realistic”. Perhaps as a response to news stories about Guantanamo Bay etc.. depictions of torture in the thriller genre also suddenly became a lot more common too.

So, if you’re making art about the early-mid ’00s, then give it a slightly more gritty, paranoid or pessimistic tone. Yes, the early-mid ’00s wasn’t an age of unremitting bleakness and misery. But, the emotional tone of things set in the early-mid ’00s is a lot more “modern” than things set in the late 1990s.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (4th October 2017)

Woo hoo! Sorry about another month-long wait, but I am very proud to present the first comic in “Damania Resized”, a new webcomic mini series 🙂

Unlike the abject failure that was the previous mini series, I’ve decided to drop the “back to basics” approach and try something a bit different. Yes, the comics in this mini-series will be self-contained but they’re larger and contain the same high level of artistic detail that many of my other mini series this year have. The production schedule for these new-style comics will be a little bit slower, so (at the time of writing) I’m not sure how long this daily mini series will end up being.

If you’re interested, you can find links to lots more of my comics here.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Resized - Nostalgia Cycle" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Resized – Nostalgia Cycle” By C. A. Brown

Nostalgia vs. Memory – A Ramble

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Although this was supposed to be an article about creating things (art, fiction etc..) that are inspired by the past, I ended up spending all the article talking about my own experiences with the difference between nostalgia and memory. Likewise, I wrote the first draft of this article before I wrote these short stories. Still, this might help you to think about the differences between the two things more clearly.

A couple of days before I wrote this article, I went through a bit of a musical nostalgia phase. Whilst I can’t remember exactly what prompted it, I ended up looking through my collection of old CD singles again (anyone remember those?) for songs that made me feel nostalgic about the 1990s.

Whilst I bought relatively few CD singles during the 1990s (since I was a kid then, and I tended to listen to the radio and to audio cassettes more), I later went through a phase of buying every interesting old CD single I could find in charity shops when I was about seventeen. So, this wasn’t exactly my first musical nostalgia phase.

The interesting thing was that the songs that made me think about the 1990s the most were pretty much the last ones I expected. Whether it was Geri Halliwell’s surprisingly good cover of “It’s Raining Men”, “Beautiful Stranger” by Madonna or “Brimful Of Asha” By Cornershop, most of the songs that instantly made me vividly remember the 1990s weren’t exactly the kind of “retro” music I usually listen to these days.

In fact, the only songs that genuinely remind me of the 1990s that are close to my current tastes in music are probably a couple of punk songs from The Offspring’s “Americana” album. This, of course, makes perfect sense given that, although I discovered the punk genre in the late 1990s, I didn’t discover the heavy metal genre until about 2001 or the gothic rock genre until 2008. When I was a kid during the 1990s, the only music I listened to was what was easily available in the charts and/or on the radio.

Yet, if you were to ask me to think of “nostalgic 90s music”, I’d probably think of all sorts of cool bands that – to me now – seem very “1990s” but which I hadn’t actually heard during the 1990s. This, of course, is the difference between nostalgia and memory.

But, it’s not just music, it’s lots of other things too. Whenever I try to imagine a 1990s setting for a short story, comic or painting – my first thought is often about old American TV shows from the 1990s. Yet, I’ve never actually been to America. When I want to make something “look 90s”, I think of movies and music videos from the era that I never actually saw back then. When making “1990s style” art, I also tend to think of fashion designs that were a lot more common across the pond than over here.

I think that part of this is due to the fact that my nostalgia about the 1990s is a relatively recent thing. Even up until about 2008 or 2009, I was much more fascinated with the 1980s than the 1990s. So, I’ve had to do a lot of research into a decade that hadn’t quite fully entered mainstream nostalgia. Of course, American TV shows, movies, journalism, fashions etc.. tend to be a lot more well-documented online. So, they tended to turn up a lot more during my research.

Yes, in some ways, this is a little bit annoying. Because, from what I can remember and from everything I’ve seen later, the culture of 1990s Britain was really cool. It had more of a punkish rebelliousness to it than ’90s America did.

Whether it was ‘edgy’ TV shows like “Bits” or “Queer As Folk“, whether it was the cynically humourous attitude of (print) game journalism back then, whether it was the watered-down punk attitude of the Spice Girls (compared to modern pop bands, they were practically punk! One of their music videos from 1997 is also cyberpunk too!) or whether it was gleefully rebellious celebrities like Tracey Emin (I may not be a fan of conceptual art, but she was one of the coolest artists of the 90s) the 90s was a much more edgy, hedonistic, rebellious, creatively free and generally cool decade in Britain than in America. It’s just a shame I wasn’t old enough to truly enjoy or appreciate it back then!

But, is this disconnect between nostalgia and memory an entirely bad thing? No. I really like the stylised “nostalgic” version of 1990s America that I’ve built within my own imagination. It’s excitingly different to the more mundane everyday memories of 1990s Britain that I have. It’s really fun to make things (like this comic) that are based on this imagined version of another decade in another country.

But, at the same time, it doesn’t really have the same level of personal intensity as things that are actually based on memories. Making things that are based on memories, rather than nostalgia tends to have a level of vividness that doesn’t come from trying to conjure up an imagined version of the past. It feels like you are revisiting the formative parts of your imagination.

So, yes – like fantasies and reality, nostalgia and memories can be two vastly different things. But, they can both be good sources of creative inspiration.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Magazines

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[Note: I prepare these articles quite far in advance and, in the time between preparing this article and posting it here, Metal Hammer magazine was saved. Still, I’ll post the original draft article for the sake of posterity.]
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Magazines are one of those things that sit in the background of everyday life and aren’t really noticeable until they start disappearing. This happened late last year when I read, to my horror, that “Metal Hammer” magazine was shutting down. Luckily, I was able to get a copy of the final issue, but the whole thing made me think about magazines and how awesome they are.

Although I’ve only been a semi-regular magazine reader at most within the past few years (mostly for financial reasons), it’s surprising how important magazines have been to me over the years. I mean, I was first introduced to the zombie genre thanks to having a subscription to CVG magazine for a few years during my childhood. Back in the mid-late 1990s, they constantly ran previews of “Resident Evil 2” and it looked like the coolest thing in the world (even though I wouldn’t get to actually play it until the early 2000s).

Likewise, when I was a teenager, I had a subscription to “Official Playstation 2” magazine. This was during one of the very few times in my life that I was actually up-to-date with current gaming. Actually having a slick, shiny physical magazine (with a monthly demo disc, no less) just made the whole thing feel a lot more modern. Even though I only ended up getting a fraction of the games featured on the discs, actually being able to play parts of current games was amazingly cool.

Hell, one of the many reasons why I’m still so interested in retro gaming is the fact that, thanks to modern digital sales, I can actually play many of the cool computer games that I read about and/or saw on demo discs in the gaming magazines I read when I was a lot younger.

Then there were all of the various lifestyle magazines. Yes, these actually used to be a lot more popular (during the 2000s at least), and they were one of the coolest things in the world back then. Plus, whether it was “Attitude”, “Loaded”, “Bizarre”, “Diva”, “Hello” etc.. there was something for everyone too.

Plus, to some extent or another, these magazines elegantly straddled the line between “respectable informal journalism” and “daringly risque” well enough to actually appear on the main shelves of a fair number of newsagents during the 2000s.

In the simultaneously more liberal and more puritanical world of the internet, there doesn’t really seem to be an exact equivalent of this fascinatingly rebellious intelligent middle ground any more.

Anyway, going back to “Metal Hammer” – when I got the last issue of this magazine, I thought that it would make me feel nostalgic. After all, I’ve probably discovered at least a third of my favourite metal bands via this magazine. I have a lot of good memories associated with this magazine, even though it had been a while since I last read it.

But, when I actually read the final issue, there was nothing “nostalgic” about it. They were still reporting in depth about the current metal scene and interviewing all sorts of current bands that I either had or hadn’t heard of. It felt like I’d barely been away from the magazine at all. Although it came in a format that is “obsolete”, it felt more vivid and alive than most websites do. The quality of the writing was significantly better too.

And, yes, that’s one thing I miss about magazines. Magazine journalism. There’s something about the space limitations of a physcial format that promotes good writing. There’s something about the authority of words printed on paper that leads to better writing. There’s something about the monthly format that eliminates the need for gossipy “clickbait” articles. Likewise, curated letters pages in magazines often tend to be far more enjoyable to read than online comments are (especially if, like in CVG magazine, the editor would sometimes write politely sarcastic replies to the more opinionated letters).

Because of this, the tone of magazine journalism somehow manages to be both formal and informal at the same time in a seamless way. This is something that you don’t really see that often online (I mean, “Cracked” is the only online example of this I can think of).

Yes, I love blogging and I wouldn’t give up the freedom of the internet for the world. But it’s kind of sad that both online writing and magazine journalism don’t seem to co-exist as much as they used to. Both are good in different ways, and there should be a place for both in the world.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (14th August 2017)

This silly “mid-2000s nostalgia” digitally-edited painting was surprisingly fun to make. Basically, after watching a few episodes of a ‘so bad that it’s good’ anime series from the mid-2000s called “Tokko“, I was in the mood for making another attempt at painting a ‘nostalgic’ painting set in the mid-2000s.

But, then, I realised that there’s a good reason why the world isn’t saturated with mid-’00s nostalgia. I may have been a teenager back then, but it was probably one of the most hilariously uncool decades ever (second only to this dreary, austere and puritanical decade).

Sure, flip phones were cool and maybe flame shirts were too (not to mention that DVDs are timeless, and ‘The Da Vinci Code’ isn’t a bad book) – but almost everything else was just hilariously silly – sickly alcopops, fake Chinese script tattoos, Limp Bizkit, boho fashion, “l33t haxxor” elitist nerdiness, emo fashion, chav fashion, that bloody ‘crazy frog‘, endless American remakes of J-Horror films, the sequels to “The Matrix”, MSN Messenger, MySpace etc…

So, this painting is as much a parody (I certainly had a laugh when making it) of the mid-00s as it is a ‘nostalgia’ painting.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Like 2005" By C. A. Brown

“Like 2005” By C. A. Brown

Three Tips For Finding Your Own Artistic Interpretation Of “Retro”

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The word “retro” means a lot of different things to different people. Depending on who you are, it can refer to anything from the 1920s to the 1990s, perhaps even the early 2000s. Everyone has their own subtly different definition of what is “retro”.

Of course, if you’re an artist, then making “retro”-style art can be a great way to get inspired and to make your art both distinctive and fascinatingly nostalgic. But, of course, the trick to doing this is to actually find your own interpretation of “retro”. So, how do you do this? Here are a few tips:

1) Retro techniques: The best way to give your art a “retro” look, whilst still making it look unique, is to look at the kind of techniques that artists used to use in your favourite parts of modern history.

Although you shouldn’t directly copy the exact details of any part of someone else’s art, there’s no rule against learning and using general things like colour combinations, lighting styles, common compositions, general fashion types etc…. If you’re unsure of the difference between inspiration and copying, then read this article.

Generally, the more research you do into art, films, TV shows, illustrations etc… that were made during the time period in question, the more unique your application of these techniques will be. Why? Because you’ve seen lots of techniques used in so many different ways, you’re unlikely to directly copy the style of any one thing.

Plus, by learning “retro” art techniques, you’ll be able to give artwork that is set in the present day a ‘retro’ look too. For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited painting of mine that is set in the present day, but heavily inspired by both the 1980s and the 1990s.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th September.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th September.

The action-filled composition of this painting was inspired by the fact that old 1980s horror novel covers often feature a lot of dramatic movement. The high-contrast lighting is a technique that has been inspired by too many things from the 1980s/90s to list here, and which I use in virtually all of my paintings.

Like with a lot of my more recent art, the colour scheme was mostly inspired by a modern set of 1980s-style “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens“. The punk-style skeleton was inspired by old comics, heavy metal album covers and VHS cover art from the 1980s and 1990s.

So, if you look at lots of retro stuff (and modern retro-inspired stuff) and learn the techniques that are used in it, you can give your own original artwork a uniquely “retro” look. Even if your art is set during the present day.

2) Know yourself: Don’t try to make your art look “retro” just for the sake of it. You should only add “retro” elements to your own unique art style if you genuinely think that they look cool, and if they genuinely make you feel inspired. In other words, you have to know your own aesthetic tastes really well.

Just because a particular type of “retro”-style thing is fashionable (or unfashionable) at the moment doesn’t mean that you should copy it. Ignore fashion and focus on what you personally think is cool. If you’re not sure what that is, then look at your favourite old movies, comics, games, album covers etc… and ask yourself “what makes them look so interesting?“.

If you make retro-style art that is inspired by the things that you personally find “cool”, not only will you have a lot more fun making it (and feel proud of it) but you’ll also come up with a much more unique interpretation of that particular “retro” style than you will if you just try to make a particular type of “retro-style” art because it is fashionable or unfashionable at the moment

For example, with something ike retro music nostalgia, I tend to get nostalgic about FM Radio, audio cassettes and CDs. I’ve never really used vinyl and have no real interest in it. Yet, vinyl is the thing that people always think of when they think of “retro” music. This difference has inspired at least one comic of mine (it’s from 2016, so the art looks kind of old though):

"Damania Resurrected - Trained From Birth" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurrected – Trained From Birth” By C. A. Brown

Likewise, when people on the internet talk nostalgically about retro console gaming on the internet, the original NES is often the console that they mention. Yet, all of my early childhood console nostalgia is about the SNES (and the original Game Boy). So, if I was going to make some art inspired by old console gaming, it would probably be SNES-inspired rather than NES-inspired. Even though the NES is more “fashionable” these days.

So, if you know and understand yourself, your “retro” art will be a lot more meaningful.

3) Have fun:
You shouldn’t take this “retro” stuff ultra-seriously. It’s ok to only be partially-inspired by old art. In fact, if you want your art to look unique, then your art shouldn’t be entirely inspired by any one thing (including one time period). So, don’t fuss too much about whether your “retro” art looks “authentic” or not.

It doesn’t matter if it looks “authentic”, or “historically accurate”. All that matters is whether it looks cool or not. So, don’t be afraid to blend things from different time periods. Don’t be afraid to add modern-style elements if you think that it improves your artwork. Don’t be afraid to change things. Don’t be afraid to use artistic licence.

As I said earlier, you should only make retro style art if it is something that you personally enjoy doing and because you personally think that it looks cool. To use a phrase from the 90s, “stop trying so hard”. If retro stuff inspires you, then add it to your art. If it doesn’t, then don’t. The goal is to have fun and to make cool artwork.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂