Friday, 25 October 2013

Taking on Scott McCloud's 24-Hour Comic challenge: By the Numbers

24 Hours.
3 XL Tim Horton's coffees, black
3 pens killed in action
5 PB & J sandwiches
2 bottles of water
1 weird little vial of ginseng extract
1 severely cramped hand
1 couch that is too short to properly sleep on
Innumerable instances of asking Why the hell am I doing this...?


Yup. That's it. I only produced five pages of work in a challenge to draw a twenty-four page book. Defeat? Perhaps. A learning process? Undoubtedly.

I don't think I ever actually thought I was capable of the 24-page goal. I have a pretty solid grasp of just how slow I work and just how motivated I am, generally speaking, at 4 o'cock in the morning. So I figured I might make it to fifteen pages, twenty if I was lucky, the full twenty-four if I drew like a god among cartoonists. I was so pumped to start this thing that I could barely sit still through Art History class on Tuesday. I bolted back to the studio, pulled out all my pens, got my music going, and by 1 PM I was going at it.

I burned out two pens on the first page.

Which, really, I should have taken as a hint that maybe I was using too much ink. A ludicrous amount of ink, even. But I didn't. Instead, I went SHIT I NEED MORE PENS, and promptly hopped a bus downtown to buy more pens than I actually knew what to do with. Back in my studio, having blown a solid hour and a half on my pen run, I put my nose back to the proverbial grindstone and started drawing once more.

And drawing.

And drawing.

Two-thirty AM rolled around. My hand was a cramping mess, vocally arguing with me that no, it didn't want to hold the pen, #*@$ you. My contacts had dried out and my vision was a blurred mess. I had three and a half pages done, and I was too tired to process what had gone wrong. I pulled the offending lenses out of my eyes, collapsed onto the old-as-the-hills studio couch, and fell asleep.

I woke up at five-thirty...and then I woke up at six-thirty. At seven-thirty I grabbed myself by the throat and dragged myself to the washroom, where I forced my contacts back into my eyes at gunpoint and staggered down to Tim's for another cup of black liquid life. And then I drew some more.

And that, really, is the whole story. I wrapped up page five a little early with a massively obese eldritch assassin in a bar, radiating Kirby Krackle from his cellulite-laden arms, and called it finished. I sat back at that point, looked at the pile of paper that I had intended to consume that night, and asked myself for the first time just where I had gone wrong. Well for starters, nobody (I specialize in sweeping and unfounded statements when I'm writing outside my academic practice) can fill twenty-four sheets of 11x14" paper with ink in a 24-hour cycle. First mistake: scale. Secondly, I should never have employed multiple shades of gray (distinctly fewer than fifty, for those who were about to ask) and a couple different greens in this project; black is, really, all you need for something of this nature. Second mistake: shading/colour. And lastly, I'm just too friggin meticulous. My profs have been on my case for years, and now dear Mr. McCloud's challenge has driven the point home. Final mistake: detail.

All told, this endeavour appeared at first to be a failure, but I am way too happy with what I produced to just write it off as such. I was pushed to redraw many times a character that I had only just created, something I don't do nearly often enough. I had to come up with page composition on the fly, and panel composition, and dialogue...and when I work fast and rough like that my language filter shuts down and I end up scrawling obscenity and violence onto the page out of instinct, which is rather a lot of fun. I learned a lot about my working process and my physical limits. I learned that having company in the studio while you work is a beautiful thing. I've been listening to a lot of radio interviews the last couple weeks on the CITR 101.9 station out of UBC Vancouver. Robin McConnell's show Inkstuds, where he interviews a new comics creator every week, is an excellent way to occupy the ears while drawing. What I hear a vast majority of these people say is that being a cartoonist is a lonely career. You work long hours, late at night, by yourself in the studio. I saw a lot of truth in that this week. I found myself questioning whether such a job is my cup of tea. I'd also read some blogs by people who have done the challenge, and found people calling it a rite of passage as a comics creator. Looking back, I suppose I would agree with that. It was a long, lonely night, but I came through the other side of the thing feeling like I could call myself a cartoonist in earnest, like I had just attempted the Mt. Everest of comic projects and, even though I didn't summit, I still climbed the damn thing. And frankly, I'm really stoked to do it again!! 

I will be kicking off next semester in the new year by tackling the challenge a second time, armed with nothing but a black brush pen and a simplistic drawing style. I'm debating working on my "comic scroll", and attempting twenty-four linear yards of narrative drawing instead of pages. We'll see. At any rate, the five pages I did are waiting to be scanned and in late November will be included in a short anthology of my comics work from this semester. Drop me a line if you're interested in buying a copy; prices at this point are negotiable, I think I'd ask for somewhere around $5-10. Anywho, cheers! I'm off to the books and the small mountain of research I have to do. Check out my Twitter feed @Vitaeleous for some snapshots of the comic to keep you entertained...until next time.

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