I frequently say this to people who react incredulously when I tell them what my favorite artistic medium is. It’s not entirely true; every once in a while I’ll require the services of a Photoshop knock-off to get a detail right for one of my Paintings. It almost always relates to text within a piece; Paint’s text tool is strictly linear, and sometimes I need it to wrap around something, like on the Camp Redblood logo. I suppose I could just draw the text, but even I don’t have that kind of patience. So while it might not be 100% true that Paint can do anything, it sure feels like that to me sometimes, especially when it relates to Camp Redblood. After all, Camp Redblood was basically conceived in MS Paint.
These were created way back when I was still futzing around with Paint, unaware that it would become my primary tool in creating artwork. I knew I loved the summer camp milieu, and I knew I wanted to do my own take on it, but I couldn’t put it into words just yet. It would be some years before I did, but these two illustrations captured the tone I was going for. What eventually emerged from these illustrations was a stand-alone horror screenplay that went through a few working titles, beginning as Last Stand at Camp Hawkeye (the camp was called “Hawkeye” until I stumbled upon a real camp with the same name, located rather inconveniently in he exact same region as my fictional camp) and eventually becoming Something’s Out There.
At the time, I had ambitions of raising money to make the movie with friends, and I thought one way garner interest would be to produce a series of concept illustrations the way George Lucas did with Ralph McQuarrie’s indelible proof-of-concept work for the original Star Wars.
My movie never came about, either because of my own laziness or my growing dissatisfaction with the script. Hindsight, however, reveals a third reason: I wanted to know more about this summer camp and its people before I burned it to the ground. Something’s Out There was a straight-up horror story, and many characters (several of whom appear in Camp Redblood and the Essential Revenge) do not survive the tale, but they all felt like they’d known each other for a long time, and presumably spent many summers together. There was a shared history there. Yet I remained resolute in the idea that this would be a one-and-done story; creating backstories is fun, and for me at least, necessary, but in the past it had turned to quicksand with almost every writing project I’d embarked upon.
Enter MS Paint.
When you’re drawing literally pixel to pixel sometimes, details become important. Initially, I tried to make the camp as nondescript as possible without completely robbing it of personality. The rationale being, the more ordinary it was, the scarier it would be once I introduced ghosts or knife-wielding maniacs into the fray.
Little by little, however, small details would creep up in these concept illustrations. Small details in the background that hinted at more. A photo on a wall. The camp flag. The camp motto. Graffiti left on a wall or toilet stall. Like the characters, the camp itself was hinting at a rich history. It got to the point where I was creating Camp Redblood material long after I’d left the screenplay to languish in my “completed works” drawer.
Slowly the urge to write a complete piece came back, and an idea for a short story pulled me up out of all my creative quicksand. “Bombardment” was really the springboard for the novel that would follow. With it came a bevy of MS Paint designs that would shape the relationship between Camp Redblood and her nemesis, Camp Eagle. Eagle quickly asserted itself as the quintessential summer camp for rich snobs, with Redblood emerging as the slowly-eroding den of the underdog.
Snobs vs slobs has been done in plenty of subgenres, especially the summer camp one, but I thought I could bring something new to the table that I wouldn’t have been able to had I been constrained by a movie budget. Camp Redblood exists in a mostly-realistic 1980s, but it’s still something of an alternate history, one where “supercamps” became a fad. These supercamps, specifically Camp Eagle, allowed me to run wild with my imagination, creating cool structures and ridiculous features like the elaborate obstacle course that encircles the place.
It also gave me leave to make Redblood itself a bit cooler than it would have been in a straight horror tale. Before long I had no problem making it into my own private Hogwarts, improbably situated atop a mountain, filled with secret passageways, and featuring cabins that would never pass a building inspection in a million years. None of this could have been done without Paint. I’ve never been very technically inclined, least of all when it came to drawing. Perspective was always difficult for me, and any time I had to use a ruler I would spend half my time erasing, so drawing buildings was always an uphill battle. With Paint, however, it was simple enough that I could create schematics (or at least schematic-like drawings) that didn’t slow me down, and that I could build on in my head when it came time to write. The entire final chapter of Essential Revenge saw me basically pushing chess pieces around a Camp Eagle layout I created with the program.
I used to assume I’d eventually move on from MS Paint. Then my artwork began to get noticed just because it made in Paint, but that’s not why I’ve stuck with it. Seen in that light, it’s little more than a novelty, something you only see on clickbait websites. The real reason I stuck with it is simple: it’s the one medium where the end result always lived up to what I had in my head.