In 2004, I founded an annual event called 24 Hour Comics Day. It’s gotten to be a pretty big thing. Last year, there were over 1200 cartoonists involved in eighty-some official 24 Hour Comics Day events in 17 countries, and an unknown number of additional cartoonists working privately. The goal for each cartoonist is to draw a 24 page comic (normally months of work) in 24 straight hours.
I don’t have the numbers for this year’s event, because for the first time, I’m not running the darn thing. I’ve passed the organization of this over to ComicsPRO, a comic book retailer organization with the expectations that their additional resources would help it grow even further (and what numbers I have seen say that it has.) And this freed me to actually particiate for the first time.
Saturday at noon found me ensconced in The Comic Bug, a comic shop in Manhattan Beach. Mrs. Nat’s TV drove me down, because when you’re staying up for 24 hours straight, you ought not drive yourself home. Fifty people were signed up to celebrate at The Comic Bug, some of them with the serious intent of crafting 24 pages of deadline-driven greatness, others seemingly more interested in creatively messing around for a few hours in the midst of this driven group. The folks at the store encouraged the noses-to-the-grindstone types to sit in the front of the store, with the back of the shop having the big screen TV showing Hell Comes to Frogtown and being used for some Guitar Hero, and thus being surrounded by those who were more interested in distraction.
Now, I’ve done a 24 hour comic before, but that was before the founding of 24 Hour Comics Day. I was just some writer doing a rare job of drawing, and I expected (correctly) that no one would care much. But now I was doing it as The Found Of 24 Hour Comics Day, and I feared there was the risk that someone would want to know what I’d done and expect greatness, or at least some form of competence. At the very minimum, I absolutely had to get the 24 pages done.
Toward that end, I chose to do my comic electronically. It doesn’t mean that it would be a great work – nothing is going to turn me into an artist. But doing it on computer would allow me to easily keep it smooth and slick on some levels, giving the illusion of competence. It also allows for various forms of, well, let’s calling it “efficiency” rather than “cheating”. Art can be reused. Dialog is simply typed, rather than trying to handwrite quickly and hoping that it will be legibility will be an issue. I was prepared with my Macbook laptop, a Wacom tablet, a USB-powered scanner, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and various other digital art tools. I never used the scanner, nor Photoshop, and only used the tablet for a small portion of it.
I was the only person at The Comic Bug going the digital route, which is not that surprising. Not that nobody ever goes the digital route on 24 Hour Comics Day, but it seems that those that do are more likely to be stuck at home with their desktop machines. My system – which I run my entire publishing empire from – is meant to be portable.
The folks there were friendly. I’d met a few of the other cartoonists at various times, including visiting the Bug during previous 24HCD events. I wish I’d realized that the guy sitting across from me was Robbie Rodriguez, the talented artist of Maintenance and Tek Jansen comics, before he moved to sit near the talented, friendly, and unrelated Tone Rodriguez. I ended up spending the bulk of the 24 hours sharing table space with guy (name escaping me at the moment) who usually works digitally, but was using physical media for this event; and a gal named Kendra who was working in a mix of ink and watercolors.
I wanted to start with a blank slate, so other than having a sense I wanted to do a roundish character in Illustrator, I went in with no content in mind. To force out any preconceived notions, when the event started at noon I rushed to grab a nearby magazine (Comic Foundry), stuck a finger in, and found two nearby words to build my comic around. “Percentage” and “Due”. Thus, my comic became entitled Percentage Due, and despite my joking about how one can tell what happened in the two weeks before 24 Hour Comics Day each year by the topical references in some stories, I ended up building my story around the subprime mortgage crisis.
Well, at least to the extent that the story was built around anything. I wanted to get rolling, so I didn’t plot and plan the tale, but got right down to it. Rarely as I was working on a page did I have a real concept of what would happen two pages later (although I knew the ending when I was on page 20; really, you have to work toward an end at some point.) If the work seems a mite episodic and not always heading toward the ending that is eventually reached, that’s why.
24 pages in 24 hours means averaging a page an hour, but most folks drop behind that rate at the start, as they have to design their characters. This effort is exaggerated working electronically; at the start, I’m creating the digital elements that I’ll be using repeatedly through the tale. Draw the house once for the first page, and I can copy it whenever I need it on later pages. Page one took an hour and a half, page two took an hour and a quarter, page 3 was the first one done in under an hour, and by the end of page 5 I was a full hour behind. So a very simple single-panel splash for page 6, which even so took me 20 minutes, got me closer to caught up. Lots of falling behind and catching up after that, but by page 16, I was ahead of the clock to stay. Finished page 24 at 9:20 in the AM (and would’ve finished sooner but I lost 20 minutes of work on the final page when Illustrator crashed while I was experimenting with a tricky effect I would’ve ultimately abandoned anyway.) Then I made an ill-advised pass to clean up the borders by properly cropping things that went outside the borders of the page – not only utterly unnecessary, but in my tired state, I missed that some of my “fixes” actually changed the stacking of elements on the page, overlapping things that shouldn’t have been overlapped. So my official 24 hour version has some unnecessary mistakes added in, which I removed for my more-readable touched-up-the-next-day version.
These events are snacky by nature. I arrived with two peanut butter sandwiches, four cereal bars, a Clif bar, some Jolt caffeine-and-guarana-and-ginseng chewing gum, and some ginger chews. I ate all of that but one cereal bar, the gum, and some of the chews. However, most of my sustenance was provided by The Comic Bug and their local restaurant and market supporters – pizza from two locations, burgers from Tommyboy’s(?), various chips, little donuts, a breakfast of bananas and muffins provided by Trader Joe’s. Around 5 AM, I wandered down to the nearby McDonalds to read the menu on their drive-thru; if they’d had a $1 breakfast sandwich, I probably would’ve sprung for 20 of them to feed the room myself, but their minimum prices were about twice that.
Beverage-wise, I downed about a quarter of the two-liter Mountain Dew Code Red I brought, and 3/4s of the liter of Tejava tea, and the two bottled waters… plus one bottle of Bawls energy drink (Bawls was providing free product to a large number of event sites.) Oh, and OJ from Trader Joe’s in the morning. I was obviously sufficiently caffeinated, and while I felt tired at some points, I never felt sleep impending. At 4 AM, I got goofy and dancy.
By the time I was done (exactly 10 AM, 22 hours in), my lower back was sore from being bent over in a plastic chair all night, and my right hand and wrist were sore and cramping from manipulating the touchpad on my laptop. By the time I got home, took care of things, and let myself go to sleep, I’d been up for over 29 hours. Took a five hour nap. Woke up, and my elbow had developed an ache. Got a good night’s sleep that night, and today I was utterly lumpy. And the comic is silly and not great, and I don’t even know the species of one of the main characters, nor the gender of another.
But yeah, it was worth it. It’s not just facing the challenge and getting it done, but it’s also that I don’t get a chance to be really focused on anything these days. Part of that is my own fault, the way I ensconce myself at home creates to many opportunities for distraction, but in general things have not been the same since Allison offsprung into our life. So setting myself a goal, working fairly continuously at that goal, and achieving it was well worth it.
(But if I do it again, I’ll probably use a physical medium. Then not show anyone.)