Eccentric Humour And Storytelling Must Still Include Logic- A Ramble

Well, since I’m still preparing this month’s webcomic mini series at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk briefly about eccentric storytelling and eccentric humour.

This is mostly because the mini series will consist of large single-panel monochrome comic updates (since I was busy with other stuff at the time of making it). This more limited format means that the humour in my comic has become somewhat more eccentric as a result. Here’s a detail from one of the upcoming updates.

The complete comic update will be posted here on the 22nd August.

Whilst eccentric humour or storytelling might seem like a free for all at first, it is important to remember that it still must contain some kind of logic. Yes, the logic can be a little bit strange – but the audience still needs to be able to discern that there’s a reason, system or pattern behind what is happening.

One of the easiest ways to do this is simply to understand your characters. If you know how your characters think, or even just your character’s personality traits, then you can extrapolate from this in order to come up with eccentric humour and plot elements that either have a consistent logic behind them or have a reason that makes sense on a narrative level (even if might seem strange or silly at first glance).

Several good examples of this can be found in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. Although Sherlock Holmes will often do somewhat strange things, there is almost always some kind of reason for it. Even if it’s just that he’s stressed out because he hasn’t got a case, or that he wants to improve his scientific knowledge (which will help in future cases), Doyle virtually always shows that Holmes’ more strange behaviour happens for a reason.

Likewise, even if a story is thoroughly surreal, then there still has to be some kind of underlying logic, system or reason behind what is happening. In other words, there still has to be an actual story that makes sense on some level.

Even if the underlying logic in your story is more like dream logic (eg: based on symbolism etc…), then it still needs to include actual logic. It can’t just be completely random. There has to be some way for the audience to, theoretically at least, understand what is going on. Likewise, if there’s a possibility of the story being confusing, then there needs to be some other element to keep the audience’s attention (eg: humour, mystery, horror etc..)

A good example of this would probably be a Satoshi Kon film called “Paprika“. Even if you don’t understand literally everything about the story of this surreal sci-fi film, it’s still a very fascinating and memorable film because is also filled with lots of visually-complex animation, creepy horror etc..

So, yes, if you are going to use eccentric humour or tell a somewhat surreal story, then there must be some kind of logical reason behind the stranger parts of your story. Or, failing this, there must be something else to keep the audience interested.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Why Do Artists Use Unrealistic Colours? – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Why Do Artists Use Unrealistic Colours

Although I’ve probably mentioned this subject here before, I thought that I’d take a more detailed look at the question of why artists often use unrealistic colours in paintings, drawings etc…. This is mostly because, until sometime in either 2014 or 2015, it was something that I never really quite understood.

These days, of course, it’s a significant part of my art style. Here are some examples:

"Engine Square" By C. A. Brown

“Engine Square” By C. A. Brown

"Fake 80s Movies - Fossils" By C. A. Brown

“Fake 80s Movies – Fossils” By C. A. Brown

So, why do artists do this? The “traditional” reason that is often given is that – after the invention of photography – artists were no longer expected to be able to produce realistic images of the world. Since cameras could do this, artists had a lot more freedom to be unrealistic and to try new and interesting things.

But, there’s a lot more to it than just this. One of the first things that made me more interested in using unrealistic colours was learning a bit more about colour theory. If you don’t know what “colour theory” is, it refers to how different colours interact with each other within the same image.

This covers things like “complimentary colours” (groups of colours that look nice when placed near each other- like orange and blue). If you want to find a pair of complimentary colours, then draw a straight line across a colour wheel and the two colours at each end of the line will compliment each other. You can also find groups of three complimentary colours by drawing a triangle over a colour wheel and looking at the colours at the points of the triangle.

I also learnt that colour theory also covers things like visual contrast – for example, a pale grey square will look darker when placed against a white background, and lighter when placed against a black background. Although I knew about this for quite a while, it was only after reading a book about painting earlier this year that I realised that it could deliberately be used as an artistic technique in and of itself (rather than just being a byproduct of making “realistic” art).

This, for example, is how I was able to paint the especially bright sunset in the background of the painting below this paragraph. The sun itself is completely white, but because it’s surrounded by a slightly darker yellow outline, it looks significantly brighter by contrast.

"1994" By C. A. Brown

“1994” By C. A. Brown

Of course, knowing about some of the cool things that you can do with colours will probably make you want to experiment. It’ll probably make you wonder what would happen if you turned it “up to eleven”. This, of course, leads to (carefully selected) unrealistic colour schemes in paintings and drawings.

For example, did you know that you can make a painting look significantly more futuristic and/or frightening by using a red and blue colour scheme?

"More Sci-Fi Stuff" By C. A. Brown

“More Sci-Fi Stuff” By C. A. Brown

In addition to this, another reason why I’ve gravitated towards using carefully-selected unrealistic colour schemes in most of my art is because it is both challenging and relaxing at the same time. On the one hand, it has a similar level of minimalist simplicity to it as making black & white drawings does, since you only have to worry about using a couple of colours.

However, although you only have to worry about using a limited number of colours, working out how to use them effectively can be an enjoyable challenge. Like with getting a good balance between black, white and shaded areas in a B&W drawing, you have to work out how to distribute your limited number of “unrealistic” colours throughout your painting, so that every detail looks “right” and the painting as a whole also looks good.

It can take a bit of trial and error to learn how to do this, but it’s a skill that is well worth learning. Not to mention that it can be quite enjoyable too.

So, yes, those are just a few of the reasons why I use “unrealistic” colours in my art. There are probably lots of other reasons, but these were the only ones I can think of.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Unravelling The Mysteries Of Art – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Unravelling the mystique of making art

One of the most interesting things about being a self-taught artist is that you gradually get to understand a lot of the “weirder” parts of making art, albeit at a slower pace than people who learn how to make art in the traditional way probably do.

Although I’ve been making small doodles and cartoons for pretty much all of my life, I only really got serious about becoming an artist in 2012 when I decided to make at least one piece of art every day.

I started out making drawings (using ink and coloured pencils) before moving on to using ink and watercolour pencils in early 2014. Here’s a picture that compares what my art looked like in 2010 and what it looks like these days:

"A Character From 2010" By C. A. Brown

“A Character From 2010” By C. A. Brown

Even though I’ve learnt a lot of interesting technical stuff in that time and my art has improved as a result, the experience has also – to some extent at least – demystified art for me. Yes, there’s still a lot about art that I don’t understand but I’m constantly amazed at how much weird stuff I now understand that I didn’t before.

For example, I’ve never taken a life drawing class. In fact, back when I was in Sixth Form, I was always kind of puzzled when some of my friends who were on art courses mentioned that they’d had to do a life drawing class. I couldn’t think of anything more strange and awkward than having to sit in front of a nude model for an hour and draw them.

A while before I wrote this article, I happened to read a (slightly NSFW) online article written by a life drawing model. The thing was, when I was reading this article, I didn’t really find the idea of life drawing as strange as I did when I was sixteen. In fact, if anything, my initial reaction to the article was more along the lines of brash over-confidence than anything else.

Since I’ve become vaguely competent at making still life paintings/drawings, copying old paintings and making drawings/paintings from photographs, I knew exactly which types of observation skills I’d have to use if I ever went to a life drawing class.

But, as any artist will tell you, drawing or painting people from life is significantly more challenging than making still life paintings or making art based on photos. On the rare occasions that I’ve tried drawing portraits from life (where everyone thankfully kept their clothes on), it proved to be a lot more difficult than I expected.

Not only that, any artist will tell you that it’s easier to draw clothed people even vaguely realistically than it is to draw nude people. Seriously, nudes are a lot more complicated to draw or paint well than you might think. In fact, the only way I can draw or paint even slightly realistic nudes is to copy old paintings.

So, thanks to all of this experience, I now know that life drawing classes are designed to challenge artists, rather than being some kind of bizarre arcane ritual that involves nudity.

There are other strange things about art that I’ve only really begun to understand recently too. For example, for quite a long time I was always puzzled about why some artists tend to use unrealistic colours in their artwork. It always seemed like one of those strange “modern” things that was more about pretentiousness than about anything else.

Of course, over the past year, I’ve learnt a lot more about colour theory (eg: which colours go well with each other and how to work this out). Not only that, as an interesting challenge, I also spent about a week or so practicing painting using a limited palette (eg: I only used three or four watercolour pencils) and produced a lot of art that looked a bit like this:

"Horror Hour" By C. A. Brown

“Horror Hour” By C. A. Brown

"To Perdition" By C. A. Brown

“To Perdition” By C. A. Brown

From this, I’ve learnt that artists sometimes use unrealistic colours for several reasons. The first is that a good colour scheme can make a piece of art stand out from the crowd. A good colour scheme can also add extra atmosphere to your painting or drawing too.

Not only that, making a painting using only a couple of colours is a brilliant test of both an artist’s skill and their knowledge of how to use colours.

Another thing that I’ve learnt is that even “non-weird” things can be surprisingly weird. For example, as regular readers of this site know, a lot of the paintings that I made in the days before writing this article, but posted here in early February (since I seem to be much further ahead with these articles than I am with my daily art posts) were my attempts at learning how to paint realistic fog.

Even after I’d tried to improve my original paintings with digital effects, some of these attempts have still been better than others. Here are the four “fog” paintings that I’ve made at the time of writing this article:

"Through A Window In A Dream" By C. A. Brown

“Through A Window In A Dream” By C. A. Brown

"Realm Of Fog" By C. A. Brown

“Realm Of Fog” By C. A. Brown

"Misty New Orleans" By C. A. Brown

“Misty New Orleans” By C. A. Brown

"Station Corner" By C. A. Brown

“Station Corner” By C. A. Brown

You’d think that fog would be easy to draw and paint, but it isn’t. I understand how fog works (from looking at lots of photos of it) better than I used to, but it’s still more of a challenge to put that knowledge to use on paper than you might think.

Sometimes, I’ll do it really well, and sometimes I’ll fail miserably. At the time of writing this article, painting realistic fog is still more of a game of chance than anything else.

On the other hand, making art regularly has also helped me to see through at least some of the bullshit that surrounds art. For example, I’ve become a lot more cynical about conceptual art over the past few years as a direct result of practicing painting and drawing regularly.

When you put a lot of time and effort into making paintings and drawings regularly, seeing someone earn thousands (or even millions) from just arranging a few pre-made objects in a vaguely unusual way seems a little bit unfair to put it mildly. Not only that, making conceptual art doesn’t really seem to involve anything near the level of skill and practice than making paintings or drawings does.

In conclusion, being able to see art from both the outside and from the inside is an absolutely fascinating experience. Within the past three or four years, things that once seemed amusingly strange or bizarre have gradually become a lot more “normal” to me. I guess that the only true way to understand the stranger parts of art is to actually make art yourself.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Some Thoughts On Mysterious “WTF?” Endings – A Ramble

2015 Artwork Mysterious endings article sketch

Although this is an article about writing, comics and storytelling, I’m going to have to start by talking about films and TV shows for a while. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.

However, I should warn you that this article will contain SPOILERS for both “Battlestar Galactica” and “A Field In England”. It’ll also contain spoilers for my “The Horror Of Hardtalon Hall” comic too (or, at least an explanation for the second half of it).

Anyway, a while before I wrote this article, I finally watched the last few episodes of “Battlestar Galactica“. Although I’d accidentally heard about some of the ending to this show before I actually watched the last episode, some parts of the ending still left me absolutely baffled.

In the ending, one of the main characters (who seemingly returned from the dead earlier in the series, without any real explanation) just suddenly disappears. There’s also a whole sub-plot about “god” and “angels”, which is only barely foreshadowed in earlier episodes. Although it’s a very dramatic ending to a spectacular series, some parts of the ending just make no sense.

This then made me think of a rather surreal film that I watched in 2013 called “A Field In England“. Although a lot of this film doesn’t quite make sense, the ending is especially puzzling.

About the only logical explanation for it is that the main character is trapped in some kind of bizarre time loop… in the 17th century. Either that, or he hallucinated some of the events of the film. Or he died on the battlefield and is possibly in some kind of old-fashioned purgatory. It’s a very puzzling ending to a very puzzling film

For writers and comic creators, mysterious and puzzling endings are a real double-edged sword. One the one hand, they force your audience to think about the ending of the story and to spend quite a while working out what really happened. Because the ending isn’t fully explained, these kinds of endings can make your audience feel curious about your work and more interested in re-reading it to try to understand the ending.

On the other hand, there’s also a good chance that your audience will feel cheated by an ending that doesn’t quite make sense. If your audience have invested quite a few hours of their time in reading your story or comic, then a puzzling ending can make them feel like that time has been wasted.

A good compromise if you plan to include a “WTF?” kind of ending in your story or comic is to logically resolve at least a few parts of the story, before you include something bizarre. This way, your audience still has something to feel curious about – but, because there’s some resolution, your audience won’t feel completely cheated.

For example, although the ending to “Battlestar Galactica” had some really bizarre scenes in it, the main plot of the series was still resolved in a fairly logical way. The main characters defeat the bad guys and finally find a planet to settle on (our planet, no less)… and then a few weird things happen a bit later.

However, if you’re going to include a mysterious ending in your story or comic, you should know what it means. In other words, even the most bizarre ending must have a meaning of some kind that your audience actually has a chance of working out for themselves if they think about it for long enough.

In other words, you shouldn’t use these kinds of endings as a way to finish your story abruptly because you don’t know how to end it. And, yes, it can be very tempting to do this when you have writer’s block at the end of your story. In fact, I almost did this with my “The Horror Of Hardtalon Hall” comic, which was posted here in late October.

Basically, in the second half of the comic, a lot of strange stuff happens. At the time, I thought that this was a way of including a lot of interesting drawings and vague parodies of various things in my comic.

The last page also contains a tiny bit of lazy writing too (eg: the laws of physics are conveniently suspended for a few seconds, although it is foreshadowed by other strange stuff happening earlier in the comic). But, a while after I finished this comic, I suddenly realised that the second half of the comic did have a meaning.

Roz and Rox are excited about it – and they discover lots of cool stuff in the mansion (Roz discovers more cool stuff, since she’s more excited). Derek is indifferent to the news and has a rather boring (and mildly crappy) time in the mansion. Harvey, on the other hand, is shocked and terrified – and he’s the only one to find anything genuinely terrifying in the mansion. In other words, the mansion is a reflection of each character’s emotions. It’s a strange mirror of some kind.

So, yes, make sure that your strange endings have at least some kind of meaning and try to resolve at least some of the plot before you bewilder your audience.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons To Include Unfashionable or Strange Clothing Designs In Your Art

2015 Artwork Unfashionable clothing designs article sketch

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about fashion – but not in the way that you might expect. In fact, I’ll be talking about why you shouldn’t pay the least bit of attention to fashion when you’re coming up with clothing designs for your artwork.

Yes, if you’re trying to paint or draw a realistic scene of everyday life, then it makes sense to pay attention to current fashions and to use similar clothing designs in your art. But, I’d argue that there are a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t be afraid to include unfashionable or strange clothing designs in your art. Here are a few of them:

1) It’s memorable: Generally speaking, mainstream fashions are all about conformity. They’re either about blending in or about standing out in a socially-approved way. Even something as cool as gothic fashion, punk fashion or heavy metal fashion (eg: some of my favourite fashion styles) is all about signifying that you belong to a group of people who like good music etc…

In other words, current fashions aren’t always particularly memorable because lots of people are wearing them. However, unfashionable or strange clothes stand out a lot more and are a lot more memorable. In real life, this is unfortunately usually for all of the wrong reasons (eg: negative attention, ridicule etc..). But, in art, it is for all of the right reasons.

It draws attention to your character and it makes your audience remember them. It gives your art a slightly “unrealistic” and “stylised” look that makes it stand out from the crowd. It makes people wonder why the people in your paintings are wearing strange clothes and it hints at the idea that people don’t have to conform to mainstream fashions if they don’t want to. It’s a world away from the slick and polished images that people see everyday in advertising and the mainstream media. It’s attention-grabbing and it’s rebellious.

2) Fashion history: Generally speaking, things that are unfashionable now used to be fashionable at one point in time. Sometimes things that were unfashionable end up coming back into fashion. Sometimes, they don’t.

But, nonetheless, you’ve probably seen at least one or two interesting old fashions – either in real life or in old movies, TV shows etc… that you wish would make a comeback in some way or another. And, well, one of the easiest, cheapest and (ugh) most socially acceptable ways to do this is to include these fashions in your art.

If it isn’t practical for you to buy lots of interesting vintage clothing or if you don’t feel confident enough to express your own historical fashion interests in real life, then you can at least show them off in your art. Yes, it’s a secondhand form of self-expression, but it’s better than no self-expression.

3) Because you can: Yes, if you’re trying to make your artwork look “modern” and “realistic” then it makes sense to pay attention to current fashions – but, let’s be honest, where’s the fun in that?

Don’t get me wrong, striving to make your artwork as technically realistic as possible (eg: using realistic lighting, drawing people realistically etc…) is a good thing, but if your paintings all look like ordinary scenes from everyday life then, well, where’s the fun in that?

One of the great things about being a traditional artist or digital artist is that you can create pretty much anything, without being limited by reality in the same way that a photographer is. Yes, photography is a type of art – but it’s an artform that is very much limited by whatever the photographer happens to be standing in front of when he or she takes a photo. On the other hand, traditional and digital artists can use their imaginations – so why not use yours?

4) Artistic considerations: In art, there are at least a few rules (about things like composition, colour schemes etc…). You can have a huge influence on how your audience sees the “unfashionable” clothing designs in your art by choosing whether or not to follow these rules.

In other words, you can make the “unfashionable” clothing designs in your art look a lot cooler and more interesting by following all of the usual artistic rules. Conversely, you can make them look obviously unfashonable by ignoring all of the usual artistic rules.

For example, take a look at this digitally-edited painting of mine from earlier this month:

"And Pixels In The Sky" By C. A. Brown

“And Pixels In The Sky” By C. A. Brown

In this painting, I ended up using two sets of complimentary colours (purple/yellow and red/green) almost unconsciously because I wanted to make the character’s outfit look cool in a quirky, nerdy retro kind of way. If I’d gone for a less complimentary colour scheme, the clothing designs would have looked more obviously strange or unusual.

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

An Artistic Gimmick Isn’t Always Enough

2015 Artwork You need more than a gimmick sketch (censored)

A couple of months ago, I was watching an American news discussion show on Youtube called “The Young Turks“. Normally, they mostly talk about more “serious” stuff, but I was surprised to see an art-related story on their front page. So, I decided to take a look at it.

The video, which is Not Safe For Work (or for more prudish audiences), can be seen here [EDIT: Between the time I wrote this article and when it appeared on this site, the censors at Youtube have unfortunately placed this amusing video behind a content warning – so, you will need a Youtube account to watch it].

If you don’t feel like watching it, it’s about an artist who paints portraits of people… using a certain part of his body instead of a paintbrush. I’ll leave the details to your imagination.

My first reaction to this video (other than “tee hee, the censorship bar doesn’t always quite cover up everything“) was something along the lines of … “Wow! This guy is actually a fairly good painter“.

Seriously, the portrait shown in the Youtube video is actually a fairly decent portrait. Yes, it isn’t quite photo realistic, but it’s still slightly better than my own attempts at painting and drawing portraits (using more conventional art supplies, of course).

Anyway, most of the discussion in this video was about whether novelty artists are annoying or brilliant. It’s kind of an interesting discussion and certainly worth watching, but I thought that I’d give you some of my own thoughts about the subject.

Gimmicks can be an absolutely great way to drum up publicity and to set yourself apart from other artists, but they should never be used as a substitute for actual art.

In other words, if you can think of a strange enough gimmick that will still allow you to produce art that other people will like even if they don’t know about the gimmick, then kudos to you. You’ve been able to produce good art despite doing things differently and this confirms the fact that you are indeed a talented artist.

But, if the main attraction of your art is the gimmick itself, then this isn’t so great. Yes, your gimmick might be something shocking or “cool”, but if all it results in is the kind of art that someone could produce without any practice and/or training, then it’s nothing great. You’ve just done something strange and produced some rather unremarkable art.

You may have done a fun party trick, or something daring – but that’s all it is. A party trick. If anything, the “art” you have produced is nothing more than a quirky souvenier for anyone who watched you make it.

As I said earlier, the true test of an artistic gimmick shouldn’t be “how much publicity did it get ?“, but “can the thing that the artist made be appreciated by people who don’t know about the gimmick?“.

Now, before anyone thinks that I’m being snobbish or pretentious, there are good practical reasons for taking this approach to novelty art.

The first is that although people are likely to read about your gimmick before they see your art, it’s possible that they may see your art first – so it’s a good idea to make sure that your art is impressive enough to hold their interest until they read about your gimmick.

The second reason why it’s best to focus on the art itself rather than just on whatever gimmicky way you’re producing it, is because it will give your work lasting value.

If all of the emphasis is on the gimmick, then you’ll get your fifteen minutes of fame, but you’ll quickly fade into obscurity when the next artist decides to do something attention-grabbing. However, if your art is actually fairly good, then people might stick around to look at more of it, even after you’ve been pushed out of the media spotlight by someone else.

So, remember, you should only use gimmicks to support and enhance your art – not the other way around.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Weird Stuff In Stories, Comics etc… Is Best When It Is Subtle

2015 Artwork Subtle Weirdness article sketch

Although this is an article about writing stories and/or comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about TV shows and other random stuff first. Trust me, there’s a reason for this and I’m not just doing it for the sake of it.

However, I should warn you that this article will contain SPOILERS for seasons 1-3 of “Fringe“.

Anyway, thanks to a Christmas present I got a couple of months ago, I had the chance to re-watch a really cool American TV show called “Fringe”. It’s kind of like a modern version of “The X-Files”, where FBI agents (and scientists) solve various paranormal and/or science fiction-based mysteries.

Anyway, one of the really cool things about the show is that from the ending of the first season onwards, a lot of the story revolves around the relationship between our universe and a parallel universe.

As someone who is absolutely fascinated by the whole concept of parallel universes, I absolutely love this part of the show. But this article isn’t a review of “Fringe” or an article about parallel universes. So, why am I talking about it?

Well, it’s because the scenes set within the parallel universe in “Fringe” can help us learn some interesting things about how to portray weird things in stories, comics etc…

Basically, the parallel universe in the show is pretty similar to our own – but with some differences. Some of these differences are extremely large and very noticeable (eg: the Twin Towers are still standing in New York, people sometimes travel by airship, everyone uses slightly more advanced technology etc….).

But the most interesting and dramatic differences between the two universes in “Fringe” are actually the far more subtle ones (eg: Martin Luther King Jr. is on American banknotes, Eric Stolz starred in “Back To The Future” instead of Michael J. Fox etc…). They’re the kind of things that are only on screen for a couple of seconds at most and they are the things that really give you the sense that you’re watching a show set somewhere that isn’t ordinary.

Because we are surrounded by thousands of subtle things every day, we’re so used to the subtle details of the world and our lives being the same that we don’t even really think about them most of the time – unless there’s something different or “wrong” with them.

This is hardly a new idea – I mean, Sigmund Freud actually wrote an entire essay about this subject back in 1919!

So, suddenly noticing something subtle that we’ve never really paid attention to before is a far more memorable way to get people’s attention than just suddenly showing them something obviously weird.

In addition to this, it’s also a good idea to mostly show the weird aspects of your story or comic through subtle details because it’s more realistic.

Many of us have had at least some slightly weird experiences before – eg: when we think that we notice something out of the corner of our eye, when something is actually slightly different to what we remember, when someone remembers something differently to how we do, when we experience small synchronicities etc….

Generally, when weird stuff happens in real life, it’s usually fairly subtle. It’s usually the kind of thing that we can either ignore or go “hmm… that’s strange” and then pretty much forget about. But, when it happens in fiction (where larger weird things can conceivably happen), it makes us feel intrigued – it makes us wonder “why?“. It makes us wonder what else might be different.

Yes, it might not stand out as much as something larger and more obvious, but it’s the kind of thing that’s much more likely to be either memorable, cool, funny and/or creepy than any of the more obvious “weird” parts of your story or comic will be.

Of course, there’s also something of a balancing act here. If you make the weird details of your story too subtle, then people won’t notice them – so, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that most of the weird details in your story are fairly subtle, but to also add one or two larger and more obvious ones too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂