Art and Narrative: Everything I Needed to Know About Comics I Learned in 24 Hours

When my friend Matt first suggested it, I thought it sounded a little crazy. I’d read Scott McCloud’s dare, and I knew that plenty of people had already done it. But could I do it? I’d never drawn so much as a three-panel comic in my life.

Then again, I’d never tried.

Whereas in many cases I might have let the fear of producing a piece of crap prevent me from going through with the experiment, for some reason I agreed to take the dare, and Matt quickly signed us both up for the Solitary Confinement event, sponsored by Altbrand.

I don’t imagine that everyone tackles the twenty-four hour comic the way that we did last year. We sat and doodled for the first hour or so, putting together a series of character sketches. When we were done that, I moved on to thumbnail sketches of all the pages I was about to draw, while Matt, being a webcomic writer, actually started scripting his comic at this point.

I had no idea what I was going to do before I sat down that morning, nor did I know how my doodling would serve me over the next twenty-four hours, but as I worked the comic began to take on a life of its own. Characters spoke of their own accord and asked questions that I would not have thought to ask, myself. Panels began to fill themselves in and give shape to a story I didn’t know I had inside me. It was terrific and yet terrifying at the same time, because no matter how hard we worked the clock kept ticking and the pages weren’t piling up as fast as either one of us would have liked.

We started just after ten on a Saturday morning, and worked through the night, stopping from time to time to go for a walk, pick up some supplies or grab some grub, but the comics came together, and twenty-two hours(!) after we started we were putting the finishing touches on our comics, toasting the occasion with a few cold beers from the fridge (despite the fact that it was 8:30 in the morning).

Though I’d had my doubts as to whether or not I could do it, it was done, and I couldn’t wait to share it with as many people as I could. Apart from Matt, though, no one else who I approached with my stack of bristol board quite understood what it was we had accomplished, or why we would have done it in the first place.

"It’s like climbing Everest," Matt said at one point, "you do it because it’s there." I think, for the most part, that that was all there was to it. It was a matter of proving we had it in us, and we both did that – Matt with his "The Haar", and me with "Le Mouton Perdu".

My first twenty-four hour comic experience taught me that: (1) you can’t fail unless you try, nor can you succeed; (2) everyone approaches the creative process from their own perspective; (3) you do your best work when you do the work and forget about yourself; (4) a cold beer for breakfast is better than a kick in the pants any day; (5) do it because it’s something you want to do. It wasn’t exactly Kindergarten, but I definitely took something away with me.

This year, there was no organized event per se, but Matt and I decided to take on the challenge again, and we brought friends (and girl friends for that matter).

There were six of us from various sundry backgrounds when we sat down to work the last Saturday in June, ready to climb the comics "Everest" once more, loaded up with plenty of paper, snacks, and good music. We didn’t get underway until 11:00 AM, after Matt had finished the breakfast dishes, and everyone had found a corner (or a shady spot outside) in which to work.

Last year’s lessons were reinforced this year, but I picked up a few new tricks as well. I struggled with how to start, and where I wanted to go, but by the end of two hours I had begun thumbnails of all my pages, and I was beginning to work things out. Matt and the others each approached their comics from a different direction, and each one wound up with something entirely unique.

Repeating the process reminded me of many things I had forgotten in the wake of last year’s comic. I had forgotten the moments of despair that creep up from time to time – when you look at what you’ve done and where it’s going, and you wish that you could start over again (or stop entirely). The only way to overcome those moments is to press on. It’s the same for any creative endeavor, but within the confines of the twenty-four hour comic the creative process becomes compressed, and you quickly learn that there will be moments like that, just like there will be moments when you think you’ve concocted a master-piece. The important thing is to stick with it.

Matt and I have stuck with it two years in a row, and if I’ve learned this much from only two climbs, I can only imagine what a third one will bring. In fact, why don’t you all come to Matt’s next year and find out.

He has a spare futon, and there should be plenty of beer in the fridge. 🙂

Bill Duncan is the Art Editor for the site.

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