24 Hour Comics

What is a 24 Hour Comic?

It’s a 24 page comic completed in 24 hours, a challenge originally issued by Scott McCloud to Steve Bissette in 1990. Since then, 24 Hour Comics Day has become an annual event, observed by groups and individuals around the world.

The purist approach is to begin with absolutely nothing– no characters, no outline, no storyboards– and to then conceive, pencil and ink the whole story in the allotted time. Breaks are allowed, but the clock keeps ticking.

My various attempts, with overly extensive notes, follow. Click on the image to read the comic. Note: the random seed generator I mention several times has since been taken down, hence, no link.

Hercule Blinkey, Private Eye: July 2006

I made my first attempt at the home of illustrator and comic author David Chelsea. He hosts a 24 Hour Comic session every year, and half a dozen veterans were in attendance. I started with a character created years ago and improvised the story page by page.

I stopped after about 20 hours. Everyone else had either finished or quit. I had 23 pages penciled, 15 inked, and I couldn’t imagine a 24th page. However, I kept working on it in the following weeks and finished in 24 non-consecutive hours. I’m not sure if this is a recognized “noble failure” (see “The Gaiman Variation” and “The Eastman Variation”) but it should be.

Dictata Obscura (Or, The Cheating Author’s Direct Explanations)

  • One reader asked me, “What’s with the wrenches?” They’re flying monkey wrenches. Get it? Flying monkeys? Eek eek?
  • I had recently read The DaVinci Code, which I thought was pretty terrible. All references to Earth-shattering secrets and historical puzzlemasters are meant to satirize Dan Brown.

The Danger Club: October 2006

I worked with Rachel Mendez and Anya Hankin to host a 24 Hour Comics session at PNCA, and took up the challenge again. As with my first attempt, I couldn’t sleep the night before, so I was somewhat sleep-deprived from the get go. Despite that (or maybe because of it), this second attempt was much more successful for me. I used a random seed generator to get a starting location (treehouse), then made up all the characters along with the story. I tried to move in a surprising direction on every page. My goal was to get out of the way and let the story occur as honestly as possible. The result may not look very personal, but my most authentic self-expression tends to manifest as strange little creatures. (How’s that for an artist’s statement?)

I finished with about 3 hours to spare. There are a few points that don’t come across very clearly, but I consider this a good rough draft for what may eventually be a larger story.

Dictata Obscura

  • Winkie cannot pronounce double vowels. This started out as her saying “Dweb” because there wasn’t enough space for “Dweeb,” and became one of those barely noticeable running gags.
  • Although Winkie and Quibbel go to the dance together, they go as friends, as a remembrance to Nudd. It was pointed out to me that if Feenk was there with them, their intention would be clearer. I’m terribly tempted to Photoshop Feenk into the scene, but I hesitate to pull a George Lucas.

Zigzag Runs Away: April 2007

David invited me to another gathering at his house on April 21, 2007. This time, I planned to do it right. I got plenty of sleep the night before, stocked up on ink and remembered my ruler. To keep from getting too comfortable, I decided to try for a 4 act story, rather than 3. I arrived a few minutes early and got started on time. With another random seed from my favorite generator (circus acrobat, illustrated manuscript, in the belly of a beast) I was off.

This one got frustrating almost right away. By page 6, I was already imagining the conclusion, and suddenly I felt trapped, with 12 pages of filler ahead of me before orchestrating the climax. Somehow I lost the page-by-page approach that worked so well in The Danger Club. I tried to veer away from my own setup, and felt like it just wasn’t going anywhere. Around 7 pm, a mere ten hours in, I started to feel exhausted.

I had more energy after we broke for dinner, but I still didn’t think much of the comic. It wasn’t until the weest of wee hours that I started to like it. Despite the inconsistencies of my approach, the story came together, perhaps in the truest spirit of the 24 Hour Comic. I’m very happy with the artwork, which I feel stayed surprisingly tight for most of the exercise. I sort of feel like revising or continuing this one as well, but I also sort of feel like it can only exist in it’s current form.

Dictata Obscura

  • The eagle who shows up on page 4 was originally a parrot, with a tiny pirate on his shoulder. I tried to give the parrot a feathery beard, and gave him a dark coat, and he undeniably became a bald eagle. By then I had already decided the little guy shouldn’t be a pirate, because I’d done pirates in The Danger Club, and anyway there’s just too much pirate stuff out there already. So, he became a tiny astronaut, called Buzz instead of Polly. His radio static is meant to mimic the squawks and whistles that pepper parrot speech. What, you didn’t get that? Just because the gag had been self-referenced three times before ink hit paper?
  • The Ringmaster always talks through his bullhorn, except on page 6 when he looks through it like a telescope.
  • Note the appearance on page 13 of The Bearded Accountant.
  • The mysterious manuscript clearly had to possess some terrible power, but once again, I felt like I was retreading, what with all the conspiracy theory and magical tuba in Hercule Blinkey. So I let the book just sit there in the background until something suggested itself. It turns out the book has the power to transform even a soulless, treacherous bureaucrat into a curious, adventurous, all-around decent critter, if said soulless bureaucrat contemplates the book on a deserted island for three years. The Triplicate plotline is pretty inelegant in its final form, but I’m happy with where it ended up.

Abe Snowman: October 2007

PNCA hosted a second annual 24 Hour Comics Day gathering on October 20-21, 2007. My goal this time was to draw for the full 24 hours, even if I went over 24 pages (I quit early on Blinkey and finished early on The Danger Club and Zigzag). As it turned out, I finished page 24 with just enough time to go back and finish inking some previous pages. Without the commitment to a specific page number, it was easy to get away from thinking in terms of three 8 page acts, which bogged me down somewhat last time. However, I kept everything too open with Abe Snowman, so much so that the characters don’t develop and the story doesn’t go anywhere. I think the art on this one is the best yet, but the story is the weakest. I’m eager to try again.

Dictata Obscura

  • Page 7 is my response to the grossly inappropriate use of Iggy Pop in cruise line commercials. No one gets that.
  • In October of ’07 a lot of people were wrecking their iPhones by mixing downloadable updates with hacked networks, or something. The whole story was forgotten much faster than I thought it would be. Anyway, that’s what’s happening on page 12.
  • You may notice a stray “beep” on page 19. Originally I had little Stella Beretta pressing a remote control and blowing everything up. After inking the text, blowing up a school (even a spy school) suddenly struck me as in very poor taste. I try not to censor myself just to protect anyone’s delicate sensibilities, but with the story so thinly developed I couldn’t see a compelling reason to keep the bomb. So I changed it to a sewer escape, which gave me a little more to work with anyway.

Roly Blankwater, Mercenary Butterfly: October 2008

It’s looking like all my 24 hour comics take place in the same universe, and the various characters could run into each other at any time.

This is a short one, only 19 pages. I’m happy with it though. I sort of meant to go political (three guesses who the Ultimate Overlords of Unspeakable Malevolence are. Also, Blankwater? Blackwater? Missed that one, didn’t you?) but never got around to it. I did not allow myself any “filler” pages; every page had to advance the story somehow. Even the splash pages have additional inset panels. Also I was performing certain host/organizer duties that kept me away from my table for at least a couple hours. So even though the page count fell short, I consider it a success.

Cap’n Billy Buckstar XB-19: August 2009

I missed two sessions this spring (both at Cosmic Monkey Comics if memory serves) so I decided to do one at my house the weekend that Marcie was in DC. By the time I committed to the date, only the estimable Adrian Wallace was able to join me.

I’m quite happy with this one. At 26 pages it is my longest 24 hour comic. It’s also probably the tightest story, with early random elements coming back around to significance later on. Marcie’s comment (after “You’re messed up!”) was that it’s less esoteric than my previous efforts, which suggests that I was able to make the narrative-driving gag structure more readily apparent, and that less explanation is required here.

A little explanation nonetheless: as usual I started with my favorite random story seed generator, and got a robot-cowboy-spaceman-pirate as a character (traditional pub was the place, overclocked kitchen appliance was the object). I built the whole story on the overloaded nature of Cap’n Billy’s identity.

I’ve said before that these manic, surreal funnies tend to produce my purest form of self expression. Now, with a few days distance, I can see what Billy Buckstar has to tell me about my own overclocked self. (I’m a cartoonist! No, an animator! No, a writer! But what I really want to do is direct!)

Shamanic Lemonade: October 2009

I made some deliberate risky choices going into 24 Hour Comics Day this year. I decided to work on very large paper (18″ x 24″). I brought colored refills for my brush pen (it’s the Pentel Color Brush, but I’ve always just used black ink). Also risky, though I didn’t realize it, was the change of venue. For the first time we held PNCA’s annual event off campus, at Backspace Cafe. Some unforeseen logistical issues caused us some inconvenience, and while most people didn’t mind too much, as organizer I felt thrown off balance. It may be for these reasons that this is by far my weirdest 24 hour comic ever.

While I always make up the story as I go, usually I can see at least a narrative trajectory from early on. This time, I had no idea. at 1:30 am, on page 15, I got my first inkling that there might be a way out of the hole I’d dug myself. At 4:45 am and page 19 I could finally see an ending. When I finished it, I felt like certain parts worked in isolation (I really like page 1 all by itself) but as a whole it had gone off the rails. However, the more time that goes by, the better I feel about it. I think I was mostly successful in letting the story be what it needed to be, without resorting to my usual safety cushion of wacky nonsense.

There is wacky nonsense, to be sure, but in the service of larger things. Mostly. Professor Flatworm being the most egregious exception. He showed up to fill an empty space on page 10, and I thought he might be a useful device to counter the increasingly murky weirdness. But right away it felt like a cop-out, so I left him un-inked and planned to erase. Then I reached the end of the story on page 23, and having no better ideas, I brought the Professor back. Maybe the better idea would have been to leave him out and let the comic be 23 pages.

I hate to give anything away, but it’s come to my attention that I’m too cryptic and alienating in general. So I’ll give you the multiple-choice question I’m trying to get you the reader to ask and then answer for yourself:

When ingested, the stars and swirlies brought on by a blow to the head cause what?

A) hallucinations
B) visions of true reality
C) travel to another dimension
D) all of the above
E) other

Last thing: people have had trouble with the transition from page 17 to 18. Just go with it. It may help to note the contents of Potato-Roy’s vomit. (That’s probably the best sentence I’ll ever write.)

wp4HThe Four Humors: November 2011

I missed two 24HC events in 2010. In 2011, we ended up with no family obligations for Thanksgiving, and I thought it would be fun to host a 24HC event at home that weekend. Only Adrian Wallace was able to stay the whole time, but we had fun and I produced The Four Humors. We spent a lot of time goofing off, so I had to draw a lot of essentially single panel pages to finish in time. This may be my weakest 24 hour comic, but I’m happy with it. It’s pretty much an elaborate pun I just had to get out of my system.

WPcrepsThe Crepusculars: May 2012

The following spring I hosted another gathering, on a weekend less prone to family commitments. This would be my last group 24HC event in Portland. I’m glad my good pals Adrian, Conch, and Spider were able to make it. By this time I’d posted all my 24 hour comics to my new site on Comic Fury. I figured if I do two 24 page comics a year, I could post one page a week all year long. However, I found with The Four Humors that 1 page a week is too slow.

So for The Crepusculars, as an added challenge, I drew on extra large paper and designed each page to split in half, so that I could have two pages to post each week. In other words, 48 pages of narrative on 24 sheets of paper. Would this be twice as arduous as 24 straight pages? Not at all. It prevented me from using some of my tried-and-true shortcuts, and forced a denser story, but certainly was not twice the work of the comics I’d done before. I stuck with this format for my next few attempts.

WPbky2Blinkey II: October 2012

The rest of 2012 was consumed by prepping the house, selling the house, and moving to Minnesota. On the official 24 Hour Comics Day in early October, we had just put the house on the market. There was no way I or anyone else could expect to plant ourselves for a whole Saturday of drawing comics. But then the house sold, much faster then we expected. Then Marcie left for her week-long conference in LA. There was still much to be done for the move,  too much to devote a whole weekend to comics (it’s best to set Sunday aside to sleep and recover), but I decided to try to work it in around the move preparations.

My plan was to draw 12 pages in 12 hours for two consecutive days while I had the house to myself. What I discovered is that there is no substitute for setting aside 24 hours and sticking to that one day deadline. Things came up, there were distractions, amorphous breaks, and I couldn’t accrue 12 hours of drawing in a day. It then became just like any project that you work in around your daily life, and took me three weeks to complete. It’s not really a 24 hour comic at all, but it is The Return of Blinkey.


Bunnirah, Count of Monsters: May 2013

By Christmas we were in our new house in Minneapolis. In May, Marcie traveled again for a meeting and I had the place to myself for a week with no pressing engagements. On the spur of the moment I decided to draw a 24 hour comic. Months ago I had mentioned a dream I had on Facebook, in which I drew a comic about a giant radioactive vampire bunny. Several people demanded that I make the dream a reality. I knew then who would star in my next 24 hour comic.

This was my first completely solo, legit 24 hour effort. I never managed to hit the one page per hour pace, even thought I broke the split-page format a couple of times to speed things up. At hour 24 my last five pages were still in pencil, and the story was only 22 pages long. I didn’t want to rush inking the final pages, so I threw in the towel and went to bed. I dozed for about an hour, and then people were working on the street outside (a hazard of doing 24 hour comics midweek), and the dog was barking, and I couldn’t sleep. I read, watched tv, expected to doze off again, but didn’t. So I went upstairs and finished inking the comic. I consider this a successful 24 hour comic as per the Eastman Variation. It may not be my best effort, but I had an absolute blast with these characters. Be assured they will return.

Bunirrah 2: Vancouver All Monster Mega-Throwdown, October 2013

ImageCurses! 24 Hour Comics Day is regularly observed at the Center for Book Arts here in Minneapolis….until the year I move here! Apparently the prime organizer of years past had too much other stuff going on, and no one else filled in. So, no group drawing session for me this time. I have met some Twin Cities cartoonists, and they are fine fellows, but I don’t know any of them well enough to invite them to my house to draw for 24 hours. I think they would find that as awkward as I would.

But! Going solo hasn’t stopped me before. So I planned to draw the sequel to my last one on October 19th. I do have some good friends I could invite over, but they don’t draw. So I invited them over for a Lord of the Rings marathon. Not quite 24 hours, but a goodly chunk of time (all the extended versions, naturally). I figured if I could get the first 12 pages penciled by the 1 pm movie start time, I could ink while the movies are playing and stay pretty much on schedule. Nick brought some miniatures to paint. Jeff had to leave to keep a dinner date but came back for Return of the King.

It didn’t quite go according to plan. I only had 8 pages penciled when we started the movies. After 20 hours of drawing, I had 16 or so pages penciled and 13 inked, and it was obvious I wouldn’t finish by hour 24. So I went to bed, slept for a few hours, and spent Sunday finishing up. In the end I finished after almost 40 hours. I was generally happy with the resulting comic, but that’s way too long to work on one of these things. Next time, I will strictly limit myself to 24 hours and let the story fall where it may.

I get the impression that Bunnirah is not a favorite among readers of my 24 hour comics, but I still find him and his cohorts tons of fun. Clearly I’m adhering to the advice for writers/artists I read somewhere, “follow your obsessions.” Maybe the writer’s obsessions should be tempered with something else…an editor perhaps. I might still create some posters or t-shirts or other merchandise with the gang of nuclear dickweeds, as Ted calls them.

The Crystals of Kwa-Bulawayo, October 2015

It’s been awhile since I got to do a 24 hour comic. Last year it was pretty much out of the question with a 3 month old. But this year, the artsy cartoony community of the Twin Cities came through! Organized by the local chapter of The International Cartoonist Conspiracy, hosted by the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, supported by Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and sponsored by The Source Comics and Games, 20-plus artists gathered on October 3rd to take up the challenge.

targetcomickitA couple years ago, as a joke birthday present, some of our new friends gave me a comic making kit for kids. It came with markers, some sound effect rubber stamps, and two 32 page books of blank panels. While designed for kids, it seemed like a great tool for drawing a spontaneous story. Normally I like to draw on much bigger paper, with fewer panels per page, so I knew I would have to change my style to make it work. I stuck to my larger format for the Bunnirah comics, and held the kit in reserve for a completely spontaneous story. I tried for a pared down style that would read well as very small images. I had a half-formed notion of doing the whole thing after the fashion of Chris Ware’s semi-stick figures, with a static camera, but I didn’t stick to it. I also thought I might have a page or two with lunatic colors and rubber-stamped effects, but that didn’t happen either. Still, I think there are a couple pages with very effective interaction between panels and content. I’m happy with it overall.

tcok_thum01My go-to story seed generator sites are all gone. This time I turned to Wikipedia, and did three random article searches to get a jumping off point. Wikipedia gave me the old capitol of the Zulu empire, a Columbian airline from the 30s, and a bad 2001 caper movie. I knew I wanted a female main character. As a privileged white male doofus I’ve been tripped up by blind insensitivity before, so a black character felt risky, but what’s the point of art if you don’t risk anything? I did some quick image searching for Zulu dress, and tried my best to make Bapoto a real person, at least within the context of my usual cartoon weirdness. I’d also been reading Philip K. Dick and listening to a lot of Legendary Pink Dots, so an atmosphere of post-disaster dystopia crept in. The result is The Crystals of Kwa-Bulawayo.

I still have the second book of blank panels, which I will probably use in a more dedicated attempt at a super-iconic, semi-stick figure comic, but not a 24 hour comic. Next October (or next May if I can make it work) I will go back to my large format for 24 hours.


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