Why Do Webcomics Often Get Political ?

2016 ArtworkWhy  Webcomics get political  Article sketch

Although this is an article about why webcomics (and traditional syndicated newspaper comics) sometimes include political cartoons, I’ll start by briefly talking about an example of when this happened to me recently.

One of the strange things that I’ve noticed since I started making a webcomic mini series called “Damania Returns” (it’s a follow-on to these two mini series here and here) is that it has included a lot more political and philosophical stuff than I had expected.

But, first, here’s an example of one of the more political cartoons in my mini series:

"Damania Returns - Big Fictional Guns" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Returns – Big Fictional Guns” By C. A. Brown

This was originally just going to be a comic about how old First-Person Shooter computer games from the 1990s and early 00s were considerably more imaginative and well-designed than modern ones.

But, before I knew it, I’d remembered an article I’d read quite a while ago and soon the comic ended up turning into a surprisingly political tract about the arms industry – even though I tried to hide it by adding a contradictory joke at the end. Without thinking too much, my apolitical cartoon had become a political cartoon.

But, this is hardly something that is exclusive to me. Whilst some long-running print comics series have managed to remain pretty much apolitical (eg: Garfield, The Beano etc..), it’s surprisingly difficult to make comics – especially regular ones- that don’t involve politics. There are several reasons for this.

One of the reasons why politics turns up so often in webcomics and syndicated comics is because of the way that they’re made. Unlike traditional narrative comics which can take a long time to make and which tell a single self-contained story, with both webcomics and syndicated comics, the writers have to think of new ideas for stand-alone comics every day.

Thinking of new jokes and comic ideas every day (even when making short webcomic series, that are posted daily for 1-3 weeks) isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. As such, people who make comic strips regularly sometimes need a quick and easy source of interesting ideas. And, well, the writer’s/artist’s own opinions about the world and about politics are an easy source of ready-made comic ideas.

If you don’t believe me, try talking about a topic that doesn’t interest you for twenty minutes. It’s challenging, isn’t it? Now try talking about a topic that you have strong opinions about for less than five minutes….

In addition to this, webcomics can often sometimes become political for the simple reason that webcomic makers have far more freedom of speech than traditional newspaper cartoonists do. Because anyone can post pretty much anything on the internet in many democratic countries, there’s no editor or censor to tell you to tone down the political parts of your webcomic.

Likewise, there’s something uniquely powerful about expressing your opinions in cartoon form. This probably has something to do with the fact that comics are both a visual medium and a written medium. Because of this, comics can have twice the impact of either journalistic articles or films. When you make a political point in a comic, it just feels a lot more serious than it does if you’d just expressed your opinions verbally or in written form.

Finally, I guess that politics appear so often in webcomics for the simple reason that – unlike a TV show or a movie – most webcomics are only made by one or two people. As such, they often have much more of a “personality” than things made by larger groups of people do. And, well, most people’s opinions are a large part of their personalities.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Editorial Cartoon: “Our ‘Culture’ Secretary! “

Most of the time, I try to avoid politics on this blog [eg: I’m still not sure if I’ll talk about the EU referendum or not]. But, after reading news stories like this and this earlier today, I felt so shocked and incensed that I just had to make a scathing political cartoon about John Whittingdale’s nefarious plans to damage the BBC. All in the name of helping out the “commercial” stations (bastions of quality programming, that they are...).

The BBC is one of the many things that makes Britain great. Yes, it probably isn’t perfect and, yes, the licence fee is an endless source of controversy. But, it’s pretty much the only broadcaster we have that is known and respected across the world. It’s independent (from government and advertisers) and it exists to produce quality programs and impartial news reporting. It is a rare and beautiful thing. It is the envy of many other countries. Like the NHS, it’s one of the few things that everyone in Britain – regardless of their political views– can be proud of.

If I was in a more intemperate mood, I’d use words like “vandalism” or “sacrelige” to describe what our so-called “culture secretary” plans to do with the BBC. But, I’ll satisfy myself by saying that the role of a culture secretary is to promote and preserve culture, not to damage or destroy it.

(And, yes, making a political cartoon about this is about as useful as signing an online petition. But, well, it’s something that I just had to make.)

Unlike most of my art, this editorial cartoon is NOT released under a Creative Commons licence of any kind.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Editorial Cartoon - Our 'Culture' Secretary!" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – Our ‘Culture’ Secretary!” By C. A. Brown

Three Tips For Writing Sci-Fi Political Drama

2015 Artwork Sci-fi political drama article sketch

One of the interesting things about the sci-fi genre is how it can often include things from lots of other genres too (eg: horror, comedy, adventure, thrillers etc…) so, for today, I thought that I’d look at how to add political drama to sci-fi stories.

Although political drama is usually a background detail in many sci-fi stories, comics, TV shows etc… it’s something which can really add a lot of complexity and drama to your story. So, here are a few basic tips for how to do it:

1) Systems of government: one of the cool things about sci-fi political drama is that it allows you to use any system of government that you want.

Whether it’s the noble houses in Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, the totalitarian dictatorship in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” or the Borg collective in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, science fiction allows writers to experiment with all sorts of unusual forms of government.

In other words, the politics in your sci-fi story or comic don’t have to be a carbon copy of modern politics. However, your choice of political system will influence how your audience see the world of your story.

For example, if you use an “old” form of government – eg: autocracy, feudalism, absolute monarchy, colonialism etc.. then your story will have more of a historical fantasy-style atmosphere to it.

However, if you include something that is arguably more futuristic, like direct governance by corporations, a type of hyper-democracy where everyone votes on every political issue via the internet or possibly governance by a supercomputer of some kind, then your story is going to have more of a “traditional” sci-fi kind of atmosphere to it.

Of course, even if you just reflect modern democracy in your sci-fi story, then you can still play with it quite a bit. You can use it as an example of how a democracy should work (eg: politicians that are actually ordinary people, referenda on major issues, proportional representation, very strict rules on political donations etc.. ), but you could also use it as a way to satirise or criticise modern democracies (eg: corporate influence in politics, political party dogma, participation in politics only being available to the wealthy etc...)

But, whatever you do, it’s important to think about how your choice of which system of government you’re going to use will influence how your readers see your story.

2) Simplification: If you’re creating an entirely new political system, then you’re probably going to have to simplify it slightly. Whilst most people have a reasonable knowledge of the political system of their own country (and possibly another country or two too ), your readers won’t have this background knowledge if they’re reading a sci-fi story.

What this means is that you’re going to have to explain your system of government to your readers in an interesting way. Since long descriptions of political systems can be, well, boring – you’ll probably need to simplify the political system in your story slightly so that you can explain it to your readers fairly quickly.

You can show more details of it through the events of your story, but the basic idea/ premise of your story must be simple enough that it can be summed up in a few sentences at most.

Likewise, don’t be afraid to leave some of the less-important parts of the political system in your comic unexplained. After all, in stories and TV shows that are based on real political systems (like an American TV show called “The West Wing”) obscure political traditions and rules are sometimes mentioned without any real explanation. As long as you don’t do this too often, then it will add extra depth to your story.

3) Realistic politicians: This is probably fairly obvious but, even though your story is set in the future, you still need to make the politicians in your story realistic characters – this goes for both the good and the bad ones.

To use a totally hypothetical example, if one of your characters is an evil politician who wants to make the poor poorer, to ban and censor everything, to erode civil liberties etc… then you need to show how he or she came to hold these opinions. You need to hint at things like his or her aristocratic background and the company that he or she keeps (eg: ultra-rich people and influential right-wing press barons).

Just turning this character into a cartoon villain without any explanation might be melodramatic, but it won’t be dramatic. The thing to remember here is that every politician, no matter how evil, thinks that they’re a good person who is doing the right thing.

The same thing goes for the “good” politicians in your story. You need to hint at the formative experiences that led to them holding the opinions that they do and you need to show the thought processes that led them to campaign for more benevolent policies. Just having a character that is good because they are good is just as melodramatic as having a character who is evil for the sake of evil.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

2015 UK Election Reaction Ramble

2015 Artwork Election Ramble sketch

Although I usually try to avoid talking about politics on here, I thought that I’d make another exception to this rule, given that there was an election yesterday.

I’ve stayed up to watch most of the coverage and, at the time of writing this article, most of the results have come in and it seems very likely that the Conservatives will form a majority government.

I have to say that, for me at least, this election has been a lot more dramatic and suspenseful than usual. This is because, if you read all of the press speculation before the election – it seemed almost certain that there would be another hung parliament (with no party having an absolute majority). I was actually kind of looking forward to this since I’m not a fan of the Tories, but I’m also certainly not a fan of New Labour either.

The idea that the worst excesses of both major parties would be moderated by no party having an overall majority was actually quite an appealing and hopeful one.

I don’t know, although the Tory/Lib Dem coalition was far from perfect – I’m quite a fan of coalitions. At the very least, it makes politicians actually seriously debate stuff, because they can’t just rely on their majority to force bills through parliament. Coalitions are just more democratic than single-party governments are.

But, no, we’re probably going to a single-party majority government who can basically dictate the future of this country for the next five years, without any seriously effective opposition or coalition partners to keep them in check. This time it’s of the austere Tory variety, rather than the authoritarian New Labour variety. But, it’s basically the same thing.

But the biggest shock of the election was how the SNP now dominate almost all of Scotland. I had fairly mixed views about the Scottish independence referendum last year (of course, being English and living in England- I couldn’t actually vote on this issue anyway) and I have even more mixed views about the whole subject of “English votes for English laws”. But, it’ll be interesting to see how the SNP affect the future of the UK with regard to these two issues.

Both expectedly and unexpectedly, the Lib Dems suffered pretty heavily in this election – with some of their former cabinet ministers even losing their seats. Now that they’re no longer the third major party in parliament, I hope that the SNP step up to offer opposition to both Labour and the Conservatives. Because, well, we need a relatively strong third party to keep the two major parties in check.

Of course, since Cameron is almost certainly going to be the next prime minister – we’ll also be having a referendum on the EU in 2017. I probably shouldn’t comment on this too much, since this ramble could easily turn into an essay.

But, whilst I love referenda (because democracy) – I dread to even contemplate how much damage it will cause to trade, civil liberties etc… if we end up pulling out of the EU. For all of the EU’s many faults, it prevents any UK government from having absolute power and this is a good thing (regardless of whether it’s a Labour or a Tory government).

So, yes, for a brief time – it seemed like British politics would move towards a more moderate and sensible pattern of coalition governments. But, no, it looks like we’re back to the same old single-party rubbish that we’ve had to put up with for centuries.

So, yes, a depressing night indeed.

Finally! We Can Parody Things In Britain … Thanks To The EU :)

2014 Artwork New parody laws sketch

Although I usually try to avoid talking about politics on this blog, one of the few exceptions I make to this rule is the whole subject of copyright laws.

But, although I’m normally very cynical about politics, I actually have to congratulate parliament today. Yes, you heard me correctly, parliament has done something I actually approve of.

As of today, people in Britain now have the legal right to make parodies of other things – this is a right that Americans have enjoyed for decades at the very least (thanks to their sensible “fair use” copyright rules). But, now, Britain has finally emerged into the 21st century with regard to this issue 🙂

But, like a few other sensible reforms in the UK ( such as with things like LGBT military service and transgender healthcare) it wasn’t the UK parliament itself that was behind this sensible change in our laws. No, it was the EU.

Seriously, for all of the criticisms people make of the EU, it can occasionally be something of a civilising force in British politics. But, I’m getting off-topic here….

Amusingly though, the new British parody rules seem to be the polar opposite of the American ones. Whilst, in the US, a legally-protected parody must make some kind of serious critical comment about the work that it’s borrowing things from, the BBC News article about the new UK laws seems to suggest that legally-protected parodies in the UK actually have to be funny.

Even so, it’ll probably be down to the courts to determine the limits of our new parody laws. I hope that they interpret them in the widest possible way (and that no-one’s lives are ruined by the inevitable court cases) – but, no doubt, we’ll probably still end up having more restrictive laws than some other western countries like the US.

But, this aside, these new laws are at least a small step in the right direction. So, well done parliament and, more importantly, well done to the EU as well 🙂

Editorial Cartoon: Why You Should Care About UK Internet Censorship

This cartoon is released without copyright. Click for full size.... Read it before it gets banned.....

This cartoon is released without copyright. Click for full size…. Read it before it gets banned…..

Well, as much as I try to keep my political opinions off of this blog, there is at least one subject which I feel like I have to speak out about as much as I can. That subject is censorship. This affects everyone and, as a writer and an artist, it’s something I care deeply about.

I’m sure, if you live in the UK, you’ve heard about David Cameron’s plans to “Filter” the entire internet. Initially, he just seemed to want to block more risque sites but now, he wants to block a lot more.

So, I thought that I’d make a copyright-free political cartoon about it which you can distribute as widely as you like in order to spread the word about this terrifying issue.

And if anyone is puzzled by the fourth panel, it’s a reference to this [note: this Wikipedia page contains Anglo-Saxon words which may offend censors]

[Edit (moved to the bottom of the page): I’ve just posted a short article on PekoeBlaze Uncut (NSFW) about what you can do to prepare yourself for internet censorship]

Editorial Cartoon: “Putting The Genie Back In The Bottle”

"Putting The Genie Back In The Bottle" By C. A. Brown

“Putting The Genie Back In The Bottle” By C. A. Brown (click to enlarge)

Ok, I normally try to keep my political opinions out of this blog. But, after reading yet another story about planned internet censorship (in this case, the BBFC’s rather creepy plan for a voluntary “Traffic Lights” censorship system on websites like Youtube etc…).

Not to mention, of course, David Cameron’s patronising plans to ‘filter’ the internet for literally everyone in the UK too , unless you explicitly declare that you want an uncensored internet, rather than the Cameron-approved PG-rated version.

Yes, it’ll probably be thankfully ineffective, but the fact that they’re even trying to censor the internet is definitely disturbing in a country which calls itself “democratic” and claims to have free speech.

Regardless of your views about what they’re filtering, once you give a government the apparatus and the permission to censor whichever parts of the internet they want to, then don’t be surprised if they start censoring other things (I don’t know, say, opinions they don’t like)…

Anyway, I had the perfect idea for a political cartoon about this earlier and I just had to draw it. I’m not sure whether editorial cartoons will be a semi-regular feature on this blog, but this cartoon was certainly fun to draw (and I ended up spending much longer on it than I anticipated too).

Needless to say, this cartoon is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.