ANSI art is a product of the BBS scene of the 1980s and 1990s. It's a special form of computer art that takes advantage of the colors and characters available on PCs running MS-DOS.
Other computers had their own special character sets; for example, Atari 8-bit computers had ATASCII and Atari 16-bits used VT-52. But the MS-DOS character set had a lot of special characters that made it well-suited for drawing. It also had the advantage of 16 colors.
ANSI art was used all over a BBS. You might see a spectacular image on the login screen. Menus might be bright and colorful. Games certainly employed lots of ANSI screens. Notable examples include TradeWars 2002 (which also used ANSI animation to create cutscenes) and Legend of the Red Dragon (LoRD).
Sysops often asked ANSI artists to design ads for their boards. A cool-looking ad might attract a lot of new users.
Over time, artgroups developed. Several artists would work together and release artpacks periodically. Fierce competition developed between rival groups.
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Throughout the 1990s, I was an involved BBS user in the 314 area code. At first I called primarily Atari BBSes, but eventually I began calling WWIV PC BBSes. It was in this environment that I first encountered ANSI in all its glory.
I was not an artist nor part of a group. In fact, I was basically ignorant of the stuff happening in the artscene, since it was a pretty small and exclusive group of people.
But when I became cosysop of Something in the Attic BBS, I started to fool around with ANSI. I did everything I could to recruit users to the board. Part of that included making my own ASCII and ANSI advertisements, as well as menus for the board. My work was nothing compared to what you'd find in an artpack, for example; but since I made them, I thought they were pretty cool.
I also made some advertisments for a couple chapters of my SRE Text Series, which I distributed on various St. Louis BBSes.
In my attempts to create ANSI art, I had some disadvantages. The main problem is that I was using an Atari ST, which did not natively support the ANSI character set. Also, my ST's medium-res text mode (80x25) supported only 4 colors, compared with 16 on the PC.
There were many terminal programs for the ST which claimed PC-ANSI compatibility. While many of them mimicked the character set, they couldn't deliver the 16 colors. Only one could do that: ANSIterm by Timothy Miller. Once I found this program, it became my default terminal for most of the years I called BBSes.
The most popular program on the PC for drawing ANSIs was called "TheDraw." I monkeyed with this occasionally in a PC-DOS emulator on the Atari, but it was extremely slow. Then I discovered FANSI, by Eric March. Like ANSIterm, it used special tricks in order to allow an 80-column, 16-color text mode on the Atari.
Suffice it to say that I was not an ANSI or ASCII artist by an stretch of the imagination. But I wanted to preserve my own work here, along with other screens from local St. Louis boards I was able salvage from my archives.
Since creating this page in 2010, and later starting the website Break Into Chat, I have heard from both Timothy Miller and Eric March. I wrote more about my history with their programs.
Also, as of 2020, I'm part of the artscene! I have released a number of ANSI pieces as a member of Blocktronics. You can read about some of my experiments with parallax ANSImation and other things.
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