ASCII art can essentially be categorized as the first form of computer art. It is a graphic design technique that uses computers for presentation and consists of images pieced together from the 95 printable (from a total of 128) characters defined by the ASCII Standard from 1963 and ASCII compliant character sets with proprietary extended characters (beyond the 128 characters of standard 7-bit ASCII). It usually requires a fixed-width font such as Courier in order to appear correctly, since characters on consecutive rows or lines must line up properly on multiple computers to convey the illusion of a complete image.
There were precursors to ASCII art being made by typewriter and teletype, but officially it wasn’t until the ASCII Standard came into effect that ASCII art began. In the 1970′s and 1980′s, with the rise in popularity of home computers and BBS’s, ASCII art was at it’s prime. This was prior to any internet, cell phones, cable, or DSL, when we had to use big, clunky modem’s to connect one computer to another over a phone line. It was slow and noisy, and the only graphics we had that could be transferred at a reasonable enough speed were made using ASCII characters. The BBS, or bulletin board system, was sort of the equivalent of the modern website, but it was usually hosted and run entirely on someone’s home computer. People were thus forced to get creative and some pretty amazing ASCII art resulted. It continued to be used into the 90′s, and is still in use today in different evolutions. More modern variants include emoticons and computer-generated text-based collage images, which can be indistinguishable from a photograph when viewed at a distance. There are, however, still some oldschool ASCII artists out there engaging in their craft, and it can still be appreciated by any viewer.
The skull has always played a significant role in ASCII art. Along with the emergence of the home computer and video games came a rise in software piracy, and the earliest software pirates were quick to adopt the Jolly Roger skull and crossbones symbol for their own. It became common practice among such groups to adopt creative monikers and home brewed ASCII art logos to claim a new crack as their own. Groups such as Paradox, SKiDROW, ProjectX, Myth and Reloaded are a few examples. This trend continues even today as underground piracy groups crack and release movies, television shows, music, and video games, often including .nfo files with ASCII art. The infamous Pirate Bay, whose logo incorporates a form of skull and crossbones, is probably one of the best known and longest-living distribution networks for pirated and cracked media, and they too have an ASCII version for their logo.
All of the ASCII art images in this post are added as image files for proper viewing, but you can easily find them in text format at the following link: