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Why Do Online Comics by Iain Hamp

For about as long as I have been doing online comics, I have wanted to try my hand at a 24-hour comic (please visit this page if you are unfamiliar with the concept).

I loved the idea of it. I thought the challenge seemed like something I would enjoy. Most of all, it seemed like a sort of "trial of passage" event that every comic artist worth their salt and serious about their craft would eventually have to pass through. Finally, in November of 2003, I found an opportunity to do one.

My wife was flying out of town to attend a convention for a few days, and I would have the house all to myself to focus on nothing but 24 hours of creating a comic. As a webcomic artist, I chose the online variation, whose rules call for doing at least 100 panels of comics, format them, and get them on the internet all within the 24 hour period. I started at ten o'clock Friday morning. By two in the morning on Saturday, I was completely exhausted. Having worked nearly nonstop, I managed to complete 56 inked panels on paper. The panels weren't scanned, weren't colored, the dialogue was not written except in my mind, and it certainly wasn't online before the time was up. So, after 24 hours, I had 56 panels of artwork and the starts of a good story to show for my efforts. Which seemed pretty good overall, and was certainly more than I have ever previously created in such a short time.

As it turned out, I coincidentally chose the same weekend as Jeffrey Rowland to attempt my 24-hour comic. John Allison posted a little note about Jeff's attempt on his website, but due to a severe case of the typos John accidentally declared that a 24-hour comic is when you create 24 pages of comics in four hours.
Well, this typo got myself and a friend thinking, and we decided to see what would happen if we did try to create 100 panels (or 24 pages) of comics in four hours instead of 24. We bent up the rules a bit, in that while ideally you should do your project in four hours straight, if you need to pause the clock to eat, run an errand, whatever, that's okay so long as you come back to it relatively quickly and that the end result is you only worked four hours total on it.

In those hour hours I spent doing my first four-hour comic attempt I finished 60 panels, inked them, colored them, added the dialogue, and got them up on my website. By constraining myself to only four hours I pushed myself a lot harder, and at the end of it I had more comic product than I had created in 24 hours just a few weeks before.

The most significant advantage to doing the four hour comic versus its 24-hour brother is that it is a more realistic goal for the average Joe (or Jane) who works 40 hours a week, sleeps 6-8 hours a night, and has a lot of other time sinks in their life (marriage, church, friends, school, etc.). It took me four years to find the time for a 24-hour comic, but I can find a four hour block of time almost every single week, and I can certainly string together four hours in, say, a 48 hour period.

Furthermore, as I mentioned before it creates a more pressurized temporal environment to work in. In any 24-hour period hour, one can get the false sense that there is plenty of time left and get distracted. With a four-hour comic you tend to have a constant sense of urgency, that every second counts, especially when you realize you have just over two minutes to complete each panel (or ten minutes per page depending on which version you are doing).

Two minutes a panel?! That's barely enough to draw stick figures, right? Well, for some, sure, but for some people 24 hours isn't enough time to do a 24 page stick figure comic. We all have to start somewhere, but we also only get better with practice. My second four hour comic attempt went at a pace of twelve panels every half hour, which was just shy of the rate I would need for 100 panels done and online in four hours, but a big improvement over the pace of my first attempt. Now that the holidays are passed, I am going to try to do a four-hour comic at least twice a month. Then, in a year, I'll try my hand at another 24-hour comic and see how much higher my resulting quality and quantity of production measures up against my first attempt.

Time-constrained comics in general are a terrific way to get your work moving. I frequently tell my friends that the hardest part of drawing comics is the "drawing comics" part. Actually getting started, sitting down and just forcing myself to draw something instead of letting my perfectionism or self-doubt or laziness or whatever get in my way. I look at my sketchbook and I get one of those attitudes like "An artist has to be in the mood, has to be inspired." I'm totally kidding myself, justifying my being a slacker to myself. Once I actually finally get myself over the hump and get the process of creating the comic done, I look back at it and think "That was easy! I should have done that months ago!" Time-constrained projects like four-hour comics are a tool I have found irreplacable in making the difference between "comic creator" and "empty sketchbook owner".

By setting up a goal like a time-constrained comic, you shove yourself into the work. And even if what you whip up isn't up to the standards you generally hold yourself to when you create at "normal speed", the fact is you got the ball rolling. Maybe you can rework the idea of what you created into a nicer, cleaner version. Maybe what you created is something you'd like to avoid getting out into the public at all costs, but you've gotten yourself working again, and often that is the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Next January I'll let you know how my second attempt at a 24-hour comic goes. In the meantime, if anyone tries their hands at a four-hour comic themselves, I'd love to hear about it.

Illustration by R*K*Milholland.

Iain Hamp is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.


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