Three Shocking Tips For Writing 1980s-Style Splatterpunk Horror Fiction

Well, I thought that I’d talk about 1980s splatterpunk fiction today. This is mostly because I’m re-reading an old 1980s horror novel called “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson that I first discovered when I was a teenager during the early-mid ’00s. Back then, old second-hand splatterpunk novels from the 1980s (or, more accurately, the mid-late 1970s to the early-mid 1990s) were the coolest thing in the world. Or at least I thought that they were. Alas, I was a little late to the party.

But, having refreshed my memory about this awesome historical genre (which, for some reason, I lost interest in a few years ago), I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write 1980s-style splatterpunk fiction. And, yes, some of these might shock you. Because…. *organ trill*… old splatterpunk fiction has more in common with high-brow literary fiction than anything else. Allow me to explain…

1) Characterisation!: Whether it is more visceral “video nasty”-style stories by Shaun Hutson, poetic and sophisticated splatterpunk stories by Clive Barker, the supernatural drama of Graham Masterton or the classic stories of James Herbert, old splatterpunk novels had one thing in common – Characterisation!

A classic splatterpunk technique is to start a chapter by introducing a new character. The writer will then spend a couple of pages showing the character going about their daily life, whilst also giving the reader a bit of information about their backstory and personality. Usually, the character’s life will be slightly mundane, unusual and/or miserable. The audience is given a while to get to know this character. Then the character dies horribly in some kind of ultra-grisly way.

This technique works because of the characterisation. Because we get to see the ordinary life of the character and learn a bit about them, their inevitable grisly demise is more dramatic and shocking. They aren’t some generic background character, they’re an actual, relatable character. This technique is especially effective in the early parts of a splatterpunk story, when the audience can’t quite be certain which characters will be the main characters and which characters won’t survive to the next chapter.

But, regardless, characterisation is more important than you might think in 1980s-style splatterpunk stories.

2) Eloquence: 1980s splatterpunk fiction is more sophisticated than you think! In order for the genre to evoke the emotions of foreboding, disgust, suspense and/or horror that it is known for, it has to be well-written. In other words, splatterpunk fiction is a genre that involves painting with words, poetic descriptions and all sorts of sophisticated stuff that you might not expect.

For example, whilst you might not think of him as a “high-brow” writer, Shaun Hutson’s narration is often a lot more eloquent and complex than you might initially think.

To show you what I mean, here’s a quote from Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus”: ‘In the high street, one or two half-timbered houses sat almost reluctantly alongside red brick shops and small offices.‘ This sounds a lot like something from a literary novel. Not exactly what you’d expect from a novel that looks like this

This is the cover of the 2002 Time Warner (UK) paperback reprint of “Erebus” (1984).

…And contains more blood & guts than ten horror movies. But, why do 1980s splatterpunk novels include such eloquent language?

Simply put, it has to do with the contrast between beauty and ugliness. A lot of what makes 1980s splatterpunk fiction such a distinctive genre is because it describes ugly things (eg: death, decay, violence etc..) in beautiful ways. Classic splatterpunk fiction renders grisly scenes of horror with the skill and finesse of a poet describing a beautiful sunset. If you don’t believe me, then read Clive Barker’s “Books Of Blood” for some expert examples of this.

So, if you’re writing a 1980s-style splatterpunk novel, then you need to paint with words. You need to be eloquent. Your writing needs to be sophisticated.

3) The mundane: Like with “high brow” literary fiction, splatterpunk stories will often focus heavily on ordinary, mundane, dreary everyday life. The characters will be ordinary people. The locations will often be ordinary towns, suburbs and cities. But, why?

Aside from making the settings and characters more relatable to the audience, and contrasting the ordinary and the grotesque for dramatic effect, the main reason why old splatterpunk writers do this is because of the “punk” part of the splatterpunk genre.

In short, the crappiness of grinding, dull, mundane everyday life is part of the horror. It is shown to be something inherently oppressive, bleak and menacing. The world isn’t shown in some stylised, idealised way – but with the bleak cynical clarity of a nihilistic punk song. The world is shown warts and all. And this is before the giant rats, zombie vampires, deranged serial killers etc… begin to appear.

So, if you’re writing a 1980s-style splatterpunk story, then focus on the mundane.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Things To Do When You Can’t Make A Horror Story Too Gruesome

Well, I thought that I’d talk about writing horror fiction today. This is mostly because I originally wrote this article whilst I was busy preparing last year’s Halloween stories (and this article will contain SPOILERS for the first two of them). In particular, I’ll be looking at the topic of gruesomeness.

This is mostly because, although most of my early literary influences from the horror genre were the old second-hand 1980s-90s splatterpunk novels that I read when I was a teenager, I felt somewhat wary about making last year’s Halloween stories too gory.

In part, this was because my sensibilities had changed somewhat but it was also because I wasn’t sure whether I could get away with posting ludicrously gruesome 1980s-style horror fiction here.

So, what can you do if you want to write some horror fiction but – for whatever reason – can’t make it too gory? Here are a few tips:

1) Take influence from other aspects of gruesome horror: Horror stories that focus on gore, and gore alone, often aren’t that scary.

Gruesome horror stories, movies and games that have scared you enough to be a literary influence on you will often have some other element which is just as creepy – or more creepy – than the actual gore itself.

For example, one of the influences on the series of short stories (this one and this one in particular) that I wrote for last Halloween was my vague memories of a short story by Clive Barker called “The Forbidden” (from volume five of “The Books Of Blood”).

Although Barker’s story has some gruesome moments, the things that really make it memorable aren’t these parts. Instead, the creepily memorable parts of the story include things like the grimly bleak urban environments, the tension between curiosity and danger etc…

Likewise, another influence on last year’s Halloween stories was the fact that I’d re-played “Silent Hill 3” a few days before I wrote the stories.

Although the first story includes a couple of subtle “Silent Hill” references, the main inspirations that I took from the classic “Silent Hill” games weren’t to do with the series’ copious use of blood and guts. After all, the classic “Silent Hill” games are truly terrifying because of their focus on things like suspense, the visual theme of disease/decay, ominously dark environments, psychological instability, eerily malfunctioning technology etc….

To give another example, horror novels like “Audition” and “In The Miso Soup” by Ryu Murakami are shockingly horrific because they’re less gruesome than the average modern horror novel. Or, more accurtely, Murakami’s novels handle gruesome moments in a really clever way.

Many of Ryu Murakami’s horror stories only include one relatively brief grisly scene. However, these scenes are much more shocking than the average splatterpunk novel because Murakami spends almost the entire novel building up to them. So, devoting 80-90% of your story to building up suspense can be a way to make even relatively mild scenes of horror seem ten times more horrific.

So, if you can’t write a ludicrously gory horror story, then look at the ludicrously gory horror stories that have inspired you and see what else they do to scare or shock the reader.

2) Replace the gore with something else: One interesting thing that I noticed when writing the first two stories in last year’s Halloween collection was that there was something of an emphasis on bones, skulls, skeletons etc…

This was mostly because it was a way to imply that grisly events had happened, without including too much in the way of blood and guts. It also allowed me to emphasise things like the ferocity of various monsters and the passage of time too.

Plus, in the first story especially, I tried to write about the desolate and grim setting of the story in the same way that a splatterpunk writer might describe something grisly or gruesome.

For example, the story’s monster is described as having “a mouth like a slashed bin bag“. This is horrific because of the focus on decay (eg: a bag of rotting rubbish) and the implied violence (eg: slashing), but there isn’t a single drop of blood in this scene.

So, if you are worried about censorship, then you can replace the gore in your horror story with something equally grim or disturbing – but completely bloodless.

3) Implication:
This is the oldest trick in the book, but it works. If you leave the grisly events of your story to your readers’ imaginations, then your audience will probably make these scenes more horrific than you can.

For example, my second Halloween story ends when the main characters realise that they’ve entered somewhere that they probably won’t be leaving alive. The presence of a skeleton, the possible sound of a door locking and an ominous message scrawled in (what is implied to be) dried blood tell the reader that the characters are in mortal danger. But, the details of that mortal danger are at least partially left up to the readers’ imaginations.

In addition to all of this, another way to make sure that implied horrific events have an impact is through the location descriptions throughout your story. If you can fill your story with mildly creepy descriptions of everyday things (eg “dead radios”, “squealing” machinery etc..) , then this is going to put your readers in a frame of mind where they are going to imagine the worst when you don’t show something.

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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?

Things That Splatterpunk Fiction Can Teach Writers (Even If They Don’t Write Horror)

2017-artwork-things-splatterpunk-can-teach-writers

Well, with Halloween getting closer, I thought that I’d look at how one old sub-genre of horror fiction can teach you about writing… even if you don’t write horror fiction. I am, of course, talking about splatterpunk fiction.

This is a sub-genre of horror fiction that was popular in the 1980s-1990s, although it has pretty much been absorbed into the “mainstream” horror genre these days. It’s a pivotal genre in the history of horror fiction because it was the first time that horror writers stopped relying on subtle implication and actually described the grisly parts of their stories in a level of extreme detail that varied from coldly clinical to poetic word-painting depending on the author.

Although I read quite a few old second-hand splatterpunk novels when I was a teenager and have read a few vaguely splatterpunk-style modern horror novels (such as “Double Dead” by Chuck Wendig) during my twenties, it’s a genre that I’ve drifted away from somewhat. But, it’s still a genre that has had an influence on my creative works. So, what can it teach you, even if you don’t write horror:

1) Pacing, contrast and descriptions: Although there are some notable exceptions to this rule, one of the fascinating things about the splatterpunk genre is that how splatterpunk writers sometimes varied the detail level in order to emphasise parts of the story. Most of a splatterpunk novel might be written in a fairly “ordinary” kind of way but, whenever something horrific or gruesome happens, then the level of description skyrockets.

By describing certain scenes in considerably more detail than others, a writer can lend those scenes a lot more dramatic impact. However, and this is the important part, highly-detailed descriptions only stand out when they are contrasted with shorter and more “mundane” descriptions in other parts of the story. It’s kind of like how a lightbulb might not look that bright in the middle of a sunny day, but it looks significantly brighter in the middle of the night.

If there’s one thing that you can learn from splatterpunk fiction, it’s that it’s worth saving the extensive, poetic descriptions for scenes where they really matter.

2) Cover art: Although people might tell you not to judge a book by it’s cover, cover art matters. And the splatterpunk genre contains so many great examples of this. With a couple of notable exceptions, many splatterpunk authors weren’t famous. So, if their publisher wanted to attract new fans, attention-grabbing cover art was essential.

If you look through a second-hand bookshop, you’ll be able to recognise the 1980s-1990s splatterpunk novels at a glance. They’re the novels with the ominously dark covers that are often emblazoned with dramatic macabre imagery. For example, the cover art of the very first splatterpunk novel I read (“Assassin” by Shaun Hutson) just featured a decaying zombie’s hand holding a revolver, contrasted against a solid black background.

Publishers of splatterpunk fiction knew how important dramatic cover art was. They knew that, even if the audience didn’t know what the genre was called, they still needed to be able to easily recognise splatterpunk novels. So, they made sure that the cover art gave the audience a general expectation of what to expect if they bought the book.

3) Trends, meaning and variation: One of the more amusing trends during the heyday of the splatterpunk genre was a weird craze for writing about plagues of evil animals. This probably started with James Herbert’s “Rats” novels, but it led to things like two novels about flesh-eating slugs by Shaun Hutson and a series of novels about giant homicidal crabs by Guy N. Smith.

The interesting thing about this trend is that no other author seemed to be able to replicate what made a couple of James Herbert’s “Rats” novels so creepy. The first “Rats” novel is, from what I can remember, as much about poverty and the misery of everyday life in 1970s London as it is about giant rats. Likewise, the third (and best) novel in the series (“Domain”) is genuinely chilling because it’s more about the horrific aftermath of a nuclear war than it is about giant rats. In both books, the killer rats aren’t really the only source of horror.

But, seeing the success of these books, other authors probably assumed that they were popular because they contained plagues of evil creatures. This, of course, led to some hilariously silly – but enjoyable – monster novels. But, although these novels are brilliant examples of how to create original variations of a pre-existing concept, they’re also a cautionary tale about what happens if you follow trends without looking at why something was so effective or popular.

So, if you’re fascinated by a literary trend and want to be a part of it, then ask yourself why the things that started this trend became so popular. The answer might surprise you.

4) Extremity (isn’t everything): If there’s one word that defines the splatterpunk genre, it’s “extreme”. The genre was truly revolutionary for the time because it took the horror genre to new extremes of gruesomeness and grotesquerie. No-one had really done this before.

There’s something to be said for extremity in fiction. It’s something that gets authors noticed and talked about. It’s something that makes the audience remember what they’ve read. But, it has to be done in a sophisticated way in order to stand the test of time.

To use two non-splatterpunk examples, Chuck Palahniuk’s “Guts” is a short story that will probably shock, disgust and repulse you the first time you read it. But, once you know what happens in the ending, a re-reading of the story will make all of the story’s underlying hilarious dark comedy stand out a lot more.

On the other hand, I once read a couple of chapters of Charlotte Roche’s “Wetlands”. This is perhaps the only story I have stopped reading out of genuine revulsion. Yes, it might be because I was too easily-shocked, but there didn’t seem to be anything there to accompany the “shock value” and turn it into something greater.

Many splatterpunk novels feature ludicrously gory descriptions, but these are often accompanied by things such as a mysteriously thrilling storyline, dark comedy or other types of horror (eg: psychological horror, supernatural horror etc..). In other words, they contain more than just extremity.

So, if you’re going to include any kind of extremity in a story, then there has to be something else there to give the extremity value and meaning. Extremity for the sake of extremity rarely works well.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

“If Splatterpunk Still Lived….” By C. A. Brown (Short Story #7 – Halloween 2016)

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT/UTC

Stay tuned for the next short story tomorrow at 9:30pm GMT/UTC

You’ll always know a splatterpunk novel when you see one. They’re the battered books with gruesome, shadowy cover art that you can find in a dank corner of any decent second-hand bookshop. They’re horror novels that actually look like horror novels.

Even when Mary Whitehouse was cruelly murdering horror movies during the 1980s, her grey zombie hordes ignored splatterpunk fiction. After all, it was always tucked away in the horror section of bookshops. It was a collection of dark spines that you could easily miss if you weren’t looking. It was the sort of thing that was designed to scare away fusty old conservatives, concerned parents and tabloid journalists before they even open the book.

For a while, in the eighties and nineties, splatterpunk reigned supreme. Then it died. For a genre that turned gruesome deaths into poetry, it died in a way that surpassed the worst nightmares of every splatterpunk writer combined. A slow death from natural causes.

Horror simply went out of fashion for a while. Whatever horror writers remained quietly dissected the old splatterpunk novels, grafting their withered flesh onto the edges of the mainstream horror genre. Soon, one was indistinguishable from the other. Splatterpunk was dead.

But, what if it didn’t die? What if, like an ageless monster lurking in the sewers, it just simply refused to die? What if it went mainstream instead? What would that world look like? Here’s one idea…..

Somewhere on the internet, a troll starts writing a Twitter post. His death threats are woefully unimaginative. People tell him so. After all, everyone has studied Clive Barker’s “Books Of Blood” in GCSE English, everyone has been bored by their mums trying to lend them their crumpled old collection of Shaun Hutson novels and everyone has visited James Herbert’s birthplace on at least one dull school trip.

The troll slinks away back into the dark corner from whence he came, muttering angrily. The crowd roll their eyes with disinterest and return to complaining about how the new Ghostbusters movie doesn’t contain nearly enough entrails, viscera or brain matter. It goes against tradition, after all.

In a dark corner of a bookshop, a teenage boy crouches beside one of the shelves. He’s trudged past no less than twenty racks of horror novels, consulted two online maps and looked at every shelf of every rack until he found the ten books on the half-empty bottom shelf with a faded label above it.

He scans the books with beady eyes, hoping that it will be here in this shop! After all, he couldn’t exactly order it online, and his mates wouldn’t even dream of lending him their copies. His parents would go ballistic if they ever found out. Finally, his eyes light up as they fix on a single elaborate word on the cover of one book – “Twilight”.

Meanwhile, a rotund man reclines on a sofa and cheerfully asks for another glass of cola. A jovial man in a balaclava pours him one and offers a selection of pastries too, whilst sharing a funny story about chickens. Another man perches behind the cold lens of a video camera. A rictus grin crosses his face as he begins to imagine how terrified the public will be when this shocking display of friendship and hospitality is posted on the internet.

Unfortunately for him, blurred stills from the mortifying video get relegated to page three of the Daily Mail and page nine of the Daily Express. After all, both of them are too busy getting outraged about “Sick Video Game Shocker Sold To Kids”.

A stern spokeswoman from Mediawatch UK laments the fact that kids today are playing a new game about love and friendship called “Gone Home”. Where is the killing? She cries. Where are the guts? Where are the howls of agony?

In her day, she tells a million middle-aged readers, kids played wholesome games like “Doom II: Hell On Earth” every night after school. The readers grunt and nod in agreement. In her day, children had proper role models like Graham Masterton!

On a roll, she ends her editorial by demanding that the “sick peace sim” be banned and that schools should introduce compulsory knife-carrying for all pupils immediately.

If splatterpunk fiction didn’t die, it would slowly get eaten alive by it’s feral offspring. It’s kind of ironic really. People may have worried about splatterpunk corrupting the mainstream, but the mainstream would probably corrupt splatterpunk. After all, isn’t that the scariest horror of them all.

Splatterpunk Ain’t What It Used To Be – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Splatterpunk Ain't What It Used To Be

[Note (26th November 2018): This article was written during a time when I wasn’t reading much and, for various reasons, had gone off splatterpunk horror fiction slightly. It doesn’t reflect my current views about the genre or about Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” either.]

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The night before writing this article, I was binge-reading a really cool blog about old horror fiction that I’d found a few days earlier. Naturally, I skipped to the parts about my favourite horror authors and my favourite sub-genres of horror fiction – and I’d never felt geekier (in a good way) in my life.

To see actual serious articles (and lots of them) about the genre that I used to read regularly when I was a teenager was absolutely amazing. I mean, the splatterpunk genre was already kind of old hat by the time that I found my first second-hand 1980s/90s splatterpunk novel in a market stall at about the age of thirteen but, to me, it was the coolest genre ever.

There are lots of reasons why splatterpunk no longer exists as a genre and I’m sure that I’ve talked about them before (eg: the most prominent reason is probably that everything that made splatterpunk splatterpunk has now been absorbed into mainstream horror fiction), but one of the annoying things about splatterpunk fiction is that it was too recent and too obscure to really be of historic interest to magazine journalists etc…

Literally, the only splatterpunk fiction-related thing I saw in the surrounding culture when I was younger was ( when I was an older teenager) this excellent parody of 80s/90s splatterpunk authors on TV.

Although there was an abundance of actual splatterpunk novels in second-hand bookshops and charity shops for my teenage self to read, there was no real surrounding fan culture to go with them.

So, finding a blog with lots of articles about the genre – filled with both critical commentary and nostalgic pictures of wonderfully lurid splatterpunk cover art was amazing. Even though the creator of the site isn’t a fan of one of my old favourite splatterpunk authors or the type of splatterpunk I liked when I was a teenager, it was still really cool to see a retrospective of this writer’s works and to hear someone else talking knowledgeably about him.

Not only that, the site also contains wonderfully cynical comments about both Guy N.Smith and Richard Laymon’s horror novels. Finally! Someone else who thought the same way about those two authors as I did when I was a teenager! Unfortunately, I didn’t find any cynical comments about how Stephen King used to almost monopolise bookshop horror shelves in the 00s though.

Naturally, after reading this site for a while, I decided to dig up some of my old splatterpunk novels to see if I could get myself back into the genre again. Although I don’t really read anywhere near as much fiction as I used to, the few horror novels I’ve read this decade have all been modern splatterpunk-influenced horror novels. So, I thought that it wouldn’t be too difficult to get back into the genre again.

After a little bit of searching, I turned up a 1990s reprint of “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson. This was one of the old splatterpunk novels that still stuck in my memory and it was one of the cooler ones that I’d read when I was a teenager.

I remembered the story’s dramatic ending and I remembered how the novel was pretty much almost like a Romero-style zombie movie in all but name. Since gory zombie novels were hard to find when I was a teenager, this was an awesome and memorable surprise.

So, naturally, I decided that I’d take a quick look at it again and read the first couple of chapters. My reactions were very different as an adult.

I found the first scene of the story (where a horse on a farm suddenly turns evil and starts violently attacking everything and everyone near it, seemingly without reason) to be laughably melodramatic, rather than compellingly and rebelliously macabre. From the way that it was written, it seemed more like dark comedy than shocking horror.

Even in the second chapter, when Shaun Hutson describes the setting of the novel, I couldn’t quite take all of it seriously because one line of the description (where he describes the local farms producing “full bounty”) sounded exactly like something that Garth Marenghi could say. I stopped reading after this point.

Maybe I’d just grown up? Maybe now that I’m more than old enough to buy proper horror movies, I no longer need splatterpunk novels to tell me luridly gruesome horror stories? Maybe it’s like the old saying that “you can’t go home again”?

As strange as it is to say, my memories of splatterpunk novels are probably a lot cooler than the actual novels probably were. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, I guess.

It’s strange that the genre which got me interested in writing fiction and which has also had a subtle influence on my art too, is actually cooler in my imagination than it is in reality.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Hidden Influences On Your Art Style Can Lurk Anywhere!

2016 Artwork horror novel cover influences sketch

Although this is another article about finding “hidden” influences on your own art style, I’m probably going to be spending most of this article talking about another example of discovering a (really cool) hidden influence on my own art style. Since, well, it seemed cool enough to write about at length.

Anyway, I was trying to find a link to a picture of an old Clive Barker book cover online (for the description for this art post), I happened to stumble across this fascinating site called “Too Much Horror Fiction” which contains a large gallery of old horror novel cover art.

If you’ve never seen classic 1970s-90s splatterpunk cover art before, then it’s really something. Although it’s obviously often fairly gruesome (seriously, how did they get away with displaying some of these covers in shops?), it also contains a really cool artistic trick that I’ll talk about later.

But, for something that instantly evoked so much nostalgia in me, I’m surprised I’d almost forgotten about this amazing genre of art (and fiction). Back in the early-mid 2000s, when I was a teenager, I was an avid fan of splatterpunk horror fiction from the 1970s-90s.

Whenever I went into a charity shop, second-hand bookshop and/or market stall, I’d scour the shelves for any old splatterpunk novels from decades past. Needless to say, I have a lot of nostalgia for this genre and, as I’ll explain later, the cover art has had more of an influence on my art than I’d expected.

Anyway, one of the cool things about old splatterpunk novel covers is that they often focused very heavily on visual contrast. Usually, they’ll have a solid black background with only a few vivid realistic details in the foreground. This contrast between the background and the foreground really makes everything stand out a lot more and it makes these novels recognisable at a glance.

When I was looking for the Clive Barker novel cover on Google Images, I happened to see lots of other horror novel covers too and – instantly – I felt at home amongst the grinning skeletons, the grotesque monsters, the gory artwork and the vivid red and gold book titles. But, apart from a lot of good memories, seeing lots of these book covers collected together also felt familiar to me for another reason.

I suddenly realised that they were actually another “hidden influence” on my art style!

It’s true! Even when I’m not making horror-themed art, then one of my favourite things to do is to contrast a vivid foreground with a dark background – as can be seen in this decidedly non-horrific painting from an art series that I was working on at the time of writing this article:

"Awesome Architecture" By C. A. Brown

“Awesome Architecture” By C. A. Brown

The interesting thing was that I didn’t really start doing this consciously. Although most of my art is fairly gloomy, when I first really started using plain black backgrounds in some of my paintings, it was mostly as a time-saving measure for my daily paintings (since I didn’t have to draw or paint a detailed background).

Still, I thought that it looked really cool even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I thought this, even when I made paintings like this:

"Purple Skull" By C. A. Brown

“Purple Skull” By C. A. Brown

But, all of it comes from reading lots of cool old horror novels when I was a teenager. This was a massive influence on my art style and I barely knew it until recently.

So, as I’ve said before, it can sometimes be a really eye-opening experience to look at the things that you thought were really cool when you were younger since there’s a very good chance that they’ve had some kind of influence on your art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂