Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The 24 Hour Comic Book Challenge

I was only at the 24 Hour Challenge for about 12 hours. So sue me. I’m old. I had other things I had to do. But, for the time I was there, I had a blast! Next year I’ll plan my time so I can stay for the whole thing.

These 24 Hour Challenges occur around the world on the same day – this year Saturday, October 2 – coordinated by ComicsPro, “the only trade organization dedicated to the progress of direct market comic book retailers, allowing us to move forward together.” Huh? The challenge is to create a 24 page original comic book in 24 hours.

Annex Comics on Broadway in Newport, Rhode Island hosted the event I attended. Wayne Quackenbush is the proprietor of Annex Comic Books. He has gone out of his way to help some of the kids I work with at the East Bay Met School. He gives them internships in his store and encourages them to display their artwork in his shops windows.

I drew at a table in the back of the store surrounded by racks and racks of comics, graphic novels, obscure science fiction and horror videos, and pulp fiction of several genres. Eventually, gathered around the table were six young men in their late twenties and early thirties, one fifteen year old, and me. There were an equal number of artists working at another table in the front of the shop.

Here was another situation where I was at least 30 years older than everybody else. I love times like this where I’m the outlier. For example, I like going places where I’m the only gringo and everybody else is Hispanic. I think the reasons I enjoy this status are complicated and perhaps to some small degree suspect. The positive pay off for me is that I get to hear and see things that I wouldn’t otherwise come across. I value and seek out experiences that make me reconsider my default perceptions of the world. If I spent all my time with old, relatively well off, white guys, I wouldn’t get much of that. Also, being a bit off to the side, makes for good observation. I get a little distance that allows me to take it in while not being 100% in it.

The things to watch out for in being an outlier, it seems to me, are being a poseur and/or being a voyeur.

I’m clear that if I hang out with young comic book artists, that doesn’t make me a young comic book artist. I’m still an old artist who happens to appreciate what they do. Likewise, when I’m with Hispanics, I’m clear I’m still a gringo. So I’m not too worried about being a poseur.

Voyeurism is one of my great pleasures. I love to watch, take it all in, soak it up, but I’m almost always a participant-observer. I might be an outlier, or a bit off to the side, but I’m not sidelined. I take part.

You are supposed to come to a 24 Hour Comic Book Challenge without having prepared anything. It is billed as a marathon of creativity in which the concept, the characters, the story, the drawings emerge on the spot. For me, it was impossible not to do some thinking ahead of time. I had recently seen a story on the news about a poet that writes by selecting words on a newspaper page. He blacks out the whole page except the words that appeal to him. He then indicates what order the words should be read in and that is his poem. I decided I’d adopt this approach for the Comic Book Challenge. I’d work on newspaper and select words from the text on the page. I also decide to do self-portraiture. I had hopes that a monologue would emerge and that I could use speech balloons or thought bubbles to indicate that I was delivering the monologue.

I did six pages in this way. While I was working, there had been a lot of conversation at the table about a chair in the woods. The fifteen year old said that when he bunked school he would go to the woods and sit in his favorite chair. There were many jokes about what one could and should do while bunking school and sitting in a chair in the woods. The older artists encouraged him to drop his plans to do a zombie comic book and do an autobiographical story about the chair in the woods. I asked him to describe the chair and it turned out to be an ordinary folding chair. I drew one and went to Staples to make copies of my drawing in various sizes. The chair in the woods got incorporated into all my pages.

I wasn’t getting anywhere with the monologue idea. However, I was enjoying my time at the table more and more. I decided that I would use my pages to document the 24 Hour Challenge. To the self-portraits and the chair drawings, I added portraits of the other artists. I had thought I’d throw in samples of the banter that was flying around the table, but I ran out of time and energy.

Is what I did even a comic book? For many people the preferred term for comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels is sequential art, but can it be sequential art if it has no narrative and no obvious sequence?

Whatever. It was fun to be there and I’m proud of the work.

One of the things that made my time at the Annex so enjoyable was watching the interactions between the fifteen year old and the guys in their late twenties and early thirties. Frankly, the younger guy was a pretty obnoxious kid. He’d insert nonsequiturs into ongoing conversations and break silences with random remarks that had little meaning to anybody, maybe not even himself. (“Hey do you guys know Justin Thompson?” “No whose that?” “He was in my math class last year and…” “How in the hell would I know some random kid in your math class last year?”) Although he was at the table the whole time I was there (and talking pretty much non-stop the whole time) his total output was the title “Zombie Invasion” and a few ballpoint pen stick figures drawn in a tiny notebook with lined pages. He could really try your patience, but the more accomplished artists at the table were great with him. They made jokes about the things he said and teased him mercilessly, but during this they advised him, cajoled him, encouraged him the whole time. They also paid him the respect of not talking down to him. It was like he instantly had six older brothers who were totally on to his shit, but at the same time were sticking with him in a very positive way. I didn’t see any improvement in the kid’s social skills, but I think the time was good for him, better than therapy.

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