ANSI Art from the Days of Yore

Back in the early 90s, a few friends and I decided to start what was then labelled an “art group.” This was a digital collective out to create ANSI and ASCII artwork for the computer communication medium of the day: bulletin board systems. A BBS was kind of like a website, but you dialled directly into it (its address being a phone number), and all it could serve you was text, with a hint a color.

This format was colloquially known as ANSI (although that technically refers to the character set, but stay with me), and is a plain text file with so-called escape codes that describe background and foreground colors. You have 256 characters to work with, although 32 of those are things like line-break, so it’s actually fewer than that. Here’s the lot:

256 character codes

Color-wise you had 8 background colors, and 16 foreground colors. This set of restrictions actually made for an interesting challenge. And, you know, a decent download experience on your slow-ass 9600 baud modem.

When you dialled into a BBS, you would generally be presented with a pretty functional page of menu options, where you could do things like read news, browse some files, and maybe chat with the sysop—the system operator. Here’s what they might have looked like:

A typical BBS menu
A typical BBS menu

Well that’s pretty boring, and all around the world kids thought they could do better, and they did. Here’s one of the many I came up with:

A BBS menu concept of mine

Worldwide, art groups sprang up to take this limited medium and elevate it, play with it, mix it up, and create amazing things. Some of the biggest were ACiD and iCE. These guys and gals came up with some mindblowing stuff.

My friends and I, clever (and Luxembourgian) as we were, came up with Black Maiden as a name. Despite the rumour that the name was a mashup of popular bands we liked (Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden), it was actually inspired by a clipart outline of a black angel. That didn’t make it any better. Still, over the years, Black Maiden grew from a trio of friends into an international group of friends of some repute. We branched into the demo scene, went to competitions, and won some. We even launched our own demo party in Germany. And as I’m researching for this article I find out it’s still active and about to have its 20th anniversary party. Man.

So here I am, about 25 years later, and I thought it time to collect some my ANSI and ASCII (like ANSI but sans color) art together. Please bear in mind that when I created these, I was a juvenile git with delusions of grandeur, and a loose grasp on the English language, so please ignore much of the drivel that accompanies this stuff.

Oh, and I went under the handle of VOiCE back then.

I hope you enjoyed this little trip down my memory lane. Let me know in the comments.