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About Me

My name is Kirsten Zirngibl. I am a concept artist and illustrator living in San Diego. I am interested in writing/world-building, and am currently working on "Simversion" (a science fiction project).

Services

Services

ENTERTAINMENT:
-- Blue sky/brainstorming sketch work
-- Pitch illustrations
-- Orthographics/Production art
-- Environment, architectural, & prop designs

PUBLISHING:
-- Cutaway Diagrams
-- Full color cover/interior
-- Full color trading card art
Specialty in science fiction & architecture

About Simversion-image

About Simversion

"Simversion" is a project I'm currently building. It deals with how humans and sentient "microbot swarms" depend on each other, and blurs the line between physical and virtual.

Client List

I have contributed to:
- Wizards of the Coast (Magic: The Gathering card illustration)
- Dynamic Attractions (ride/experience design)
- Google ATAP (concept art)
- Paizo Publishing (Pathfinder interior illustration)
- Riot Games (League of Legends reskins/splash art)
- Bethesda Software (pitch concept work)
- Psyop (pitch concepts)
- Neurohacker Collective (scientific illustration)
- Fantasy Flight Games (Netrunner concept work, Star Wars illustration)
- Dark Roast Entertainment (The Lucadian Chronicles card illustrations)
- Holoplex (concept work)
- Hollis Brand Culture (pitch concepts)
- Provantage Corporation (illustration)
- Heartlands game (concept art)
- Essentia (card illustration)
- Wildfire Games (illustration + miniature design)

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Zirngisketch

This is the homepage of the Zirngisketch artbook project. Check it out here!

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For free texture files, tools, digital store updates, and selected livestream announcements. I won't be spammy, promise.


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Facebook

Friend me on Facebook!

This is where I announce my general art updates and livestreams. Also the home of my "Daily Zirnspiration" microblog.

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Artstation

Follow me on Artstation!

Artstation is a new commercial art networking site with a focus on Sci-Fi/Fantasy work. It's currently my favorite.

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Pinterest

Follow me on Pinterest!

I have been accumulating a hefty collection of things that inspire me, from natural to the man-made.

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Instagram

Follow me on Instagram!

(Username: @kirstenzirngibl)

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Twitter

Follow me on Twitter!

I use Twitter to announce when I Livestream digital painting, so please follow me if that interests you.

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DeviantArt

Watch me on DeviantArt!

DeviantArt is my oldest account, and I try to keep it fairly comprehensive. It's eclectic, but is the best display of my journey.

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DrawCrowd

Follow me on DrawCrowd!

Drawcrowd is a "just-show-me-the-art"-style networking website, still in beta.

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CGSociety

Follow me on CGSociety!

I've had an account here for awhile, but only really started adding/participating since they changed it recently.

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Infected by Art

Watch me on Infected by Art!

Infected by Art is a contest-driven art community focused on imaginative illustration.

Zirnworks

Zirnworks

Zirnworks.com is my shop dedicated to unusual design inspired by mathematics, biology, and architecture.

Zirnworks.com

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INPRNT

Shop at my INPRNT!

I sell high quality giclee prints there. It's a great service.

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Gumroad

Shop at my Gumroad!

This is my digital storefront. I also use it to provide free textures, walkthroughs, and tools.

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Behance

Follow me on Behance!

Behance is where I currently post design and illustration work that falls OUTSIDE the category of science fiction and fantasy.

BIO

I was born in Ohio. I attended CCAD and TAD. Now I live in San Diego.

Welcome to my blog!

For proper formatting:
After expanding a post, click on its title to view it in the full page. Thanks!

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Zirngisketch!

I’m excited to announce the Zirngisketch artbook project!  I have already created a “lite” version of the book to debut at Spectrum Live in Kansas city this year.

The objective of the book is to give a raw look on my ideation process.  Here is the official website of the project:  https://www.zirngisketch.com/

 

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Abstraction in Science Fiction

Check out the original post + discussion here.

There is such a rich edge between abstraction and science fiction. I want to depict exotically complex worlds. But to truly represent that, things must go (at least a little bit) beyond the viewer’s recognition and understanding.
Thought experiment: You are a hunter-gatherer living 100,000 years ago, intimately familiar with the land you grew up on. Then, as an adult, you are suddenly teleported to Times Square, 2017. How would you process this environment? Without anything like this in your library of experiences, you would probably read the your surroundings as mostly abstract, instead perceiving the overall level of complexity. You might notice details ignored by everyone else, simply because you don’t know what should be prioritized. After studying things for a bit, you could still pick up on patterns and form theories of what is going on, but probably without a lot of confidence that you’re right.

I want to evoke that same feeling for people living today! Technologies on the horizon could dramatically change our experience. (There’s that ol’ “Law of Accelerating Returns” if you follow current technofuturebabble.)

Technology can open up the possibility of creating entirely new kinds of language, perhaps starting in the realm of data visualization, perhaps rooted in direct brain interfaces. Augmented reality is a big one for me personally, eclipsing virtual reality in its potential impact on society as a whole.

These themes are not new in sci-fi literature, many of which contains descriptions of complex and fantastic imagery based around virtual life/communication tech/materials science, but I’ve been surprised at the lack of visual artwork depicting them, or deep exploration of cultures and worlds built around them in the mainstream.
I’ve started to view the “visionary art” genre as doing a better job communicating this kind of headspace than traditional scifi/fantasy. Much science fiction art today is TOO understandable to me, too airtight. There are some good reasons for this, though. Films, games, and other media want to tell a story, and often have limited time to do so. If viewers couldn’t immediately tell how the setting worked at a fundamental level (objects, spaces, communication), they would probably not engage with the plot quickly enough.

Authors who plunge into exotically advanced worlds are often subject to criticism for “dumping the reader into their world without a life raft” even when that was often the point! There seems to be a fine line between too much exposition and not enough for many readers. I suspect that line is broader in the realm of visual art… I hope it is, anyway! I personally like being thrown in as the caveman sometimes.

I think 1970’s science fiction art did the best job of addressing this, and it correlates with my favorites from that era. In all of these images, the abstraction doesn’t lie as much in the composition but the content. They evoke wonder, or confusion, but are all charged with energy and emotion.

I would love to hear from some of my friends who were actually making art during this era, and what drove them, what kind of art direction they had, and whether psychedelic art was an influence.

Anyway, here are some 1970’s examples! (Header image by Richard Powers.)

Ian Miller

Ian Miller

Josh Kirby

Richard M Powers

Richard M Powers

Richard M Powers

John Berkey

Frank Frazetta

Paul Lehr

Paul Lehr

John Harris

Roger Dean

Steve Dodd

 

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Da Vinci Syndrome

Check out the original post + discussion here.

Back in high school, my art teacher told me I had Da Vinci Syndrome. When I first heard this, I admittedly wasn’t too upset. A DVS diagnosis sounds like a compliment. But take it from me, this inclination can really hold you back.

So what is it? Da Vinci was famous for starting way too many projects than he could ever finish. He was constantly jumping from one to another. We can probably all agree that wanting to create fresh and interesting work is not a bad thing, but there is a point at which you can’t get anything done as a result.

Da Vinci’s studies of the fetus in the womb. Felt like a symbol of my own sketchbook pages, full of little “idea fetuses.”

I am addicted to possibility, branching out countless potential/fictional scenarios then weaving some of them together to form a hypothetical accomplishment, a road map to creation. I am most at home with myself when brainstorming. However, that elation is temporary, as I am constantly churning out these new project blueprints. These in turn push down the old ones until most are eventually smothered.

When I’m actually working on manifesting one of my personal plans, that “new idea engine” is still running in the background. When I hit rough patches and development slows down, I start to ask myself: Is realizing this current idea REALLY the best use of my time? Should I be slogging through this now-stale stuff when I could jump ship to this NEW one? The new one is superior in X ways, and better still, I could probably finish it faster than it would take to finish this OLD idea… yeah!

So I jump ship. I rationalize this as “using my creative time most effectively.” I also tell myself that I can always return to the old idea when I’m “more prepared” and have “better skills.” I am sitting on a countless pile of unfinished projects as a result of this process.

The Meyers-Briggs test tells me I’m an “INTP.” I WISH I was INTJ for purposes of accomplishing my career goals. (P stands for “Perception” and “J” for “Judgement.” P’s tend to like to explore and keep their options open as much as possible. J’s like to make decisions and act.) I don’t view the M-B test as an all-encompassing authority on categorizing people, but it is still some kind of a shortcut for talking about things.

The Bright side:
I realize that DVS is not all bad though. I shine most as a concept artist when in the “blue sky” phase of a project, as I can rapid-fire idea after idea, bottlenecked only by how fast I can sketch them down. Finding and contributing to more projects at this stage is a priority to me right now. There are also ways to design personal projects around this inclination rather than fighting it, which I am actively pursuing.

The Common Thread:
Another use for DVS it allows me to better see the “common thread” tying all my endeavors together. It’s as if every unfinished project is still an angle of attack in attempt to draw out some kind of internal truth, that thing that remains unchanging in everything I am truly drawn to. Each another chip at the stone, perhaps?

The Reductionist Approach:
When it comes to figuring out exactly what you’re about as a creator, the experience of starting every project is like creating a new eyeball in space pointing at a slightly different direction. Everywhere, the overlaps between these vision cones adds dimension to that “essence” of the theme. This will give life and depth to the few lucky projects that survive to the end of the road.

The Expansionist Approach:
As opposed to chiseling away at an essence, a pile of unfinished projects can also build up some kind of overall structure of what you’re about. It’s like throwing multiple dead-end ideas down on a tabletop and figuring out how they might actually be compatible and link up with one another. Perhaps their “spat” shapes can be modified to interlock to form an ever-growing jigsaw puzzle. This can be a trap as well, though, as it could go on that way forever and water down your theme in the process.

Integrating Reductionism with Expansionism:
There’s a mental model I can’t escape: A closed-loop tree, or fountain-like cycling torus. I like it because it elegantly makes reduction and expansion two parts of the same form. The expansionist approach is the branches. Parent projects/ideas spawning derivative children ideas. The branches loop upward and outward, but eventually curve downward until they touch the ground, where they become roots and integrate back into one trunk either by distilling into a whole. In some sense, it is simultaneously a multitude and a one.

Combating DVS:
The rational part of me knows that there IS no “one lifetime project.” I don’t need to come up with the roadmap of my life’s work while I’m still in my mid-20’s. I just hate the idea of anything I work on to become a dead-end. It is just so easy to try to continually modify the bounds of my “project” for the rest of my life in order to fit whatever creative whim that takes me over. Easy, but wrong.

I find one tool for fighting it is contest and convention participation. These provide a hard deadline while still allowing for maximum creative freedom. This is the best of both worlds for me. I am also in the process of rolling out a Patreon, another form of this same principle.

I know I’m far from the only one who experiences this. I’d love to know whether my creator friends have found other upsides/downsides/solutions to this!

 

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Behind “The Platform”

Check out the original post + discussion here.

At my booth in Denver this weekend, I received some questions regarding this breakthrough personal piece. Last May I forgot to share that I was interviewed about it by “Lovelossdevotions” – a community volunteer at DeviantArt. So I decided to repeat the interview here with some minor additions. It delves into the process of trying to depict the mind’s eye. I have had other thoughts and better ways to talk about this since then, but this interview is a start!



In the description that accompanies “The Platform,” you talk of the very personal factors that went into the concept, ones that also reflect your own unique form of perception. Can you discuss more of what this entails and how it informed your creative approach?

This is a difficult one, and I’m still trying to figure out a systematic way to communicate it! But I will give it a shot.

First off, this actual artwork was more of a style test. The primary goal was to communicate the look, feel, and overall idea of this “world” rather than anything really specific. I felt like I had the idea of this place for many years, so it felt good to get out.

Regarding my own perception, I’m referring to involuntary mind’s eye association which happens in response to sensory stimulus (vision/audio) as well as abstract thinking. The umbrella term for these things is called “synesthesia.” The most common one is “grapheme-color” (associations between letters/numbers and color). Others include “chromesthesia” (sound-color), and “temporal-spatial synesthesia” (imagining time “seen” spatially around the individual). It can go way beyond color, though. Graphemes and tones can have shapes and “characteristics” as well. And on top of that, the stimulus can be more abstract than sensory, such as having certain “visual” abstractions going on in the mind’s eye as a direct result of thought. “Ideasthesia” is the term for these associations to abstract images rather than specific sensory stimulus.

I have all of the above to some degree.

When I think of a problem (or anything really), its different inputs/variables have “shapes” as well as characteristics like color and hardness/texture Some are cloud-like, swarm-like, liquid-like, others are more crystalline and solid. When these shapes overlap, they perform “operations.” Some can cancel each other out at the overlapping shape, some leave the overlapping shape. Sometimes solving a problem is like slowly eating into a shape, eroding it until it can’t be eroded any longer (reductionist). Sometimes it’s like casting out multiple branches of possibility and following them to their ends, then looping them back to their origin points to iterate again (expansionist). That part gives the impression of being in a forest full of “looping trees.”

There’s a dance between reduction and expansion overall, eliminating possibilities while simultaneously casting out new ones.

There are different “viewing modes,” as well. They can be 2D or 3D, or in between. One common mode is 2D shapes iterating in space, leaving a trail of previous frames. So as they animate, each frame builds above the last, leaving a 3D shape as a result. I love thinking of time as a 3rd dimension! It’s a shape that represents past progression of thought. Others are just 3D and don’t leave a “time trail” and instead just move in real time. There’s kind of a seamless switching between modes that I haven’t figured out… Maybe someday.

I can try explaining the shapes better. Imagine an axis with an origin point. At many different angles from the origin are different “variables.” At any given moment, the value a variable has is reflected in how close it is to the origin. So if all “variables” were balanced, it would be a circle (2D) or sphere (3D), but that is rarely the case. It is usually lumpy, lopsided in some way, spiky or blobby depending on how many variables there are and how they are interpolated between themselves. Shapes can also fit together with others to form compounds, maintaining their own topologies or merging them. I can then “look” at the shape and get a sense of what’s going on in a concept. It is hard to get really specific though, it’s more like an impression that can act as a guiding light without exact instructions. For example, if I’m solving a math problem, I still have to work through the steps rather than just being able to “see” the answer. (Benoit Mandelbrot COULD do that, though, so it is certainly possible. I’m jealous!)

Things are not always so vivid for me. Sometimes I just get the sensation of interacting/mixing colors and characteristics, and the shapes are too vague to recreate as art. It depends on my mental state and what I’m thinking about.

Finally, the line between “object” and “place” is often blurred. Visuals of an entire place are often more like a forest, sometimes they surround me, or I surround them. But having a horizon line is common. I tend to see levels of abstraction as taking place above this “ground” with the random noise that (I think) seeds consciousness in part.

So back to the art. I was thinking: what if there was an artificial world that used the same “rule system” my brain uses to process inputs? What fascinates me is the idea of a completely visual form of communication BETWEEN individuals, say, through augmented reality. That’s part of the science fiction world I’m working on, actually. I have chunks of it figured out, but am still trying to figure out how to tie it all together.

Imagine a post-singularity world with different kinds of “visual operating systems.” People can literally peer at calculations happening visually in these kinds of “worlds.” I was inspired and fascinated in high school by the idea of virtual life, cellular automata, etc… so I want to explore these things in a visual way in the context of science fiction. This piece was an attempt to break the ice in that regard.


“The Platform” instantly challenges the viewer to look closely and view it from all angles. Take us inside your work process and tell how you were able to successfully transform your ideas into such complex imagery.

To make “The Platform”, I actually started with animation. I animated “seed shapes” created in Photoshop and then broke the animation into frames and vectorized them, then brought them into 3D and arranged them so that time was essentially the third dimension. I proceeded to manipulate them a lot in 3DS Max using various warp and symmetry modifiers, as well as boolean operations (buggy and not recommended, but very good for mimicking what happens to shapes in my thought process). I then brought in some of the shapes/domes I’d modeled previously for other projects, and modeled supporting shapes from scratch. I then made a bunch of different render passes in Mental Ray, such as:

— ObjectID passes to mask shapes
— A wireframe render to preserve linework if needed.
— a zdepth render to add atmosphere via masking.
— a custom shader render that determines color based on angle relative to camera space and world space.


PROCESS STEPS

(1) Brainstorming sketches.

(2) Top view wireframe screenshot of the scene. Over 20,000,000 polygons! (Although some were unnecessary.)

(3) Side view wireframe

(4) Large block mask render

(5) Shape mask render

(6) Wireframe render – I didn’t end up using this one except for tiny details, but thought it looked cool.

(7) Z-depth render, used to add atmosphere through masking.

(8) World-space RGB render. Pretty proud of this one – this shader uses angle to camera to determine pixel RGB value, and this can be isolated via channels in Photoshop to add secondary light sources and select planes.


Did you encounter any creative challenges when working on the piece? If so, how did you tackle them? Is there anything you would do differently now if you could?

One challenge was that I was constantly tempted to try to add extra “meaning” to it, but the meaning then messed with the aesthetic in my head. Because this still doesn’t look exactly like things do in my head. (I was trying to remove all the fuzziness and soft edges for this version.) The colors are also not very accurate to what I see, I made it bright and artificial to try to sell the idea that this is a synthetic space. It was harder to work with colors like that, but more fun in its own way.

Another challenge was trying to add a lot of detail but bumping against the limits of my machine’s processing power. I’m also on the hunt for software that can easily do boolean operations with very complex shapes, because those are the most accurate way to describe how the visuals work. I’m going to try it with Zbrush next time around I think.

What’s one piece of advice that you would share with other artists hoping to reach this standard of work in the future?

Technical advice: Have a lot of patience, but also be really willing to experiment and play with techniques. Learn to love the import/export functions! You can combine specialized software in cool ways with that approach. Also if you want to make work with this level of detail in 3D, get a good graphics card/processor and a LOT of RAM.

Overall advice: Don’t worry about being representational in your personal work. Abstract art has a bad name among many contributors to the entertainment/illustration fields. We can get into the mindset that what “the industry” wants (representational narratives) is the only valid approach, and things that don’t tell an immediate story are a lesser form of visual communication. But when you give yourself permission to explore your inner world, what you find can still be used towards commercial artwork! It can inform your style and personal voice.


What does this DD feature represent or mean to you at this stage of your artistic development? What can your watchers look forward to next?

I’ve kept rather quiet about this stuff in the past. I was uncertain about where I was going and what I was trying to say, didn’t want to look foolish for it. Like many artists, I often attempt to psychologically distance my own identity from my work to the point that I’m “shielded” by criticism/indifference others might feel towards it. Seeing a positive response to something more personal was a validation of sorts. Since I’m gunning for being completely independent as a creator, selling work and products directly to people requires finding an audience who understands and appreciates what I’m attempting to say. This DD feels like a step towards that goal.
Bonus question: Can you cite a memorable reaction to this piece in the comments at DA?

A memorable reaction was from hannibus42 :
“Dangit, you have the best neurological condition ever!….. lucky!
This impacted me, because I don’t tend to think about the way I think as a “gift” the way he did. It’s just something that… is. It’s hard to imagine thinking another way.

Excerpt from my response to him:

“I do wonder though whether it hinders certain modes of thinking that are entirely in the abstract though, by consuming mental bandwidth. I also have really low memory capacity for my visualizations, it’s kind of ‘in one eye and out the other’ so to speak, so recording things as they actually happen is a challenge.”
I was trying to say that it wasn’t some secret tool for making art. It’s more of a side effect to thinking/creating than a driving force. I decided it might be a good idea to present the flaws in this kind of thinking, as it’s not my intention to generate envy. In his second reply, he mentioned an idea I frequently think about: having exact control over what associates to what. It’s a cool notion!

 Here’s a link to the original interview.

 

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“African Digital Art” feature

My Kampala illustration has been featured on “African Digital Art!” The article includes some never-before-shown process shots.

Link to article

I love geometric art, and saw this assignment as a good opportunity to look at and play with traditional African designs. Fractals lie deep in African indigenous design sense, and thought it would be cool to carry that quality into futuristic architecture!

I was inspired by this Ba-Ila floor plan, and these Ethiopian coptic crosses. I also looked at Ukhamba baskets, and Mande mud architecture for elements in this.

The image features layered arcologies (the stripey forms in the background). Each stripe is a floor, as residents live near the edges for access to windows. Deeper within the arcologies are aquaponics and other life support/infrastructure systems. Fusion power is used extensively, so everything is fairly clean.

 

 

 

 

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My keybind script is free now!

Just free-ified my keybinding script! It allows you to keybind click toggles, and provides a workaround for taming the previously-unbindable “lighter/darker color” blending modes. More importantly, it and opens up the “windows” key to us crazies ran out of traditional hotkey combos.

https://gumroad.com/l/pskeyscripts

 

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Daily Deviation + INPRNT

INPRNT has free shipping (or 15% off sitewide) through Sunday. I finally added “The Platform” to my shop after getting a lot of recent post-Daily-Deviation print requests, so this as good a time as any to announce that.

https://www.inprnt.com/gallery/kirstenzirngibl/the-platform/
Free ship code: SHIPFREE416
15% off code: RMN472016

 

 

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An old dream…

I used to want to be an inventor. This was an idea I had in freshman year of high school, it’s a “home stem cell cultivator” where you’d give it a urine sample and it’d spit out injectable stem cells. I don’t have an image of component 1 or all of handwritten descriptions for each label, but be glad… (Really bad graphic design.)

I wasn’t really using the internet back then so it was NOT well researched. I consider it a medical Rube Goldberg machine, hah.

Link to high res.

 

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I don’t like superheroes

I love fiction and the idea of escapism. I also love comics and consider them a very high art form, one of the highest in terms of creative potential and the ability for a single person/small team to communicate to their audience in a robust way.

I just don’t resonate with the mainstream superhero approach to escapism. To me, the best escapism is placing ordinary characters into extraordinary settings. With superheroes, it’s the opposite: placing extraordinary characters in ordinary settings. The audience is expected to “escape” by pretending they’re the hero and having to make the tough decisions about how to use their powers. Box office stats suggest that many people do well at that.
So why do I have such a hard time empathizing with the hero? I’ll watch a superhero movie when it’s the path of least resistance, but I always leave the theater feeling rather empty. I’m entertained, but all the time I’m very aware that I’m sitting in a theater watching a movie. (Same feeling reading the comics, too, I’ve tried.)

I love man vs. environment stories because of the extra worldbuilding they entail. That’s the escapism I prefer. It may also have something to do with the fact that environments hit me deeper than characters.

I also just prefer stories where more large-scale teamwork is required to solve big problems. Where strategy, diplomacy, and manipulation trump raw “power.” (Certainly these can be elements in superhero stories, but they aren’t the driving force.) It’s definitely harder to wedge action into such stories. And I actually DO like watching action, it’s entertaining. I’ve kind of made peace with the fact that there won’t be much overlap between action-heavy stories and “satisfying” ones.

——

Moving from personal opinion…
From an academic standpoint, I do think that the popularity of superheroes is interesting, like they’re a modern mythology of sorts. Marvel’s big tangled mess of a universe is kind of like the Greek Pantheon. Maybe thinking of extraordinary beings dealing with normal human emotions tickles the same part of our brains that the Gods’ struggles did for the ancients. Like symbols, or a cultural shorthand.
Alan Moore said something that hit home with me:

“I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

^ It’s really the opportunity cost that bothers me. In the film world especially, “Big Superhero” is gobbling up resources that we could be using towards new worlds in entertainment, new ideas that are more relevant to today’s society, and, well, adults. Creators blame marketers for so many nostalgia-driven remakes and sequels, and marketers blame the public for being scared to try anything new (or too bombarded to really register it). The public then blames studios/publishers for lack of fresh content, closing the blame circle. I think broad-spectrum marketing is to blame, trying to make works that both adults and children would see en masse.

The post started out as a simple personal opinion, and turned into something more. I’m also greatly oversimplifying here. Major comics publishers are still coming out with more unique IP’s. There is also some really quality writing/art that’s going into the genre.

But the talent pool doesn’t automatically defend its essence though, and it’s essence is what I don’t care for.

I’m curious about what others have to say about the cultural relevance of superheroes, and whether I should be trying to emphasize with the common themes. Maybe I’m missing something really great!

I anticipate some hairsplitting over what IS a superhero. (For example, I don’t consider Hellboy comic a “superhero comic” because the setting is more fantastical, but others would argue that it is.) Just assume I’m talking about the really mainstream ones.

 

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CCAD Visit

Finally compiled some photos from different sources to document my time speaking/demoing at my alma mater. So glad everything worked out, I had a great time. Thank you Joe Kovach for putting this together!

View Album on Facebook

 

 

 

 

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