10 things I learned from 24-Hour Comics Day in 2010

We're only a few days away from 24-Hour Comics Day 2011, and I feel like reflecting on what I learned in 2010. Be forewarned! This is gonna be a long post with a lot of visual aids.

This year -- just like last year -- Pittsburgh's 24HCD will be held at the Toonseum. Joe Wos is kind enough to open his doors to the PGH comics community again and house this marathon event.

I'm not bringing up the location just so you can stop down and say hi. The "where" is integral to the first lesson I learned last year: 1. Your location sets the tone. In 2010, there was a parade on Liberty Ave right outside the Toonseum's front door. Massive distraction! And not only that, but it also complicated the buses, making it hard for Justique to visit me.

And Justique's visit brings up the second lesson I learned: 2. If you want to end up with a finished book, then remember that 24HCD is about making comics and not hanging out. I'm not going to encourage Justique to visit me this year. She can if she wants, and of course I'd love to see her. But I'm doing this to test my limits and make a comic in one day, not be social.

Now there's one (count it -- one!) thing I did right last year -- I made it the entire 24 hours without sleeping. Myself and Chris Maverick were the only ones to do so. How'd I do it? A combination of proper rest, focus, and food. So: 3. Get a good night's sleep the night before and eat good stuff throughout the day. Ya know, low-carb grub that won't make you slip into a food coma.

But I didn't make the most of my 24 hours. Even though I stayed awake, I wasted them. I was too social, I was too distracted, and I was too indecisive. Which leads me my next lesson: 4. Avoid breaks, avoid trips that take you away from your work, and avoid thinking too much. Granted, that's kind of like two lessons in one right there, what with the thinking stuff. But the reason I group it together is because too much research or too much obsessive flip-flopping about your story is a form of procrastination.

I approached the day with a tight schedule that laid out what I'd be doing every half-hour. Ahahahahahaha! What a fucking joke!!! That schedule was blown out of the water in two hours. Thus: 5. Don't waste your time trying to work on a set schedule -- just work as fast as you can.

So what did I do for the first two hours? I wrote a script. Which leads me to my next lesson learned: 6. Don't write a script. A nice idea, but very impractical.

Here's the script I wrote for my comic, Maximum Cactus #1:

It's a fine script and all. But totally pointless. Why? Because I only got done nine pages!!! See, I thought I'd be able to breeze through the process by working digitally. WRONG! Again, a nice idea... if I'd been comfortable working digitally. But I'm not. I like to draw on paper and then scan stuff in.

And that leads me to my next lesson: 7. Draw in the most comfortable way possible. I don't mean comfortable like sweat pants. I mean comfortable as in the way that feels most natural to you. I shoulda drawn on paper with Paper Mate Flair pens. That's the easiest way for me to work.

Another mistake I made was trying to tell a story with a lot of dialogue and boring imagery. I was too reliant on exposition and not reliant enough on stuff that's fun to draw. So, as you'll soon see, I ended up with a lot of talking heads. Which flows into my next lesson: 8. Draw stuff that you like to draw. That's where my script messed me up -- I wrote a story that I loved but not one that I wanted to draw.

As for the actual drawing process, it was fun but slow. I planned too much and didn't let myself feel the moment. Thus I learned another lesson: 9. Be improvisational. When the clock strikes 2 AM and you suddenly realize you don't give a shit about what you need to draw for page 14, you're screwed if you have a strict script that's binding you to a set story. However, working improvisationally will allow you the necessary wiggle room to change things on the fly.

So how much did I finish last year? Nine unlettered pages. [cue sad trombone]

I didn't start to enjoy my art until the second half of page eight. And even then, I still had a lot of misgivings about it. But it was a great learning experience and a fun journey, even if I left the Toonseum the next day feeling defeated by 24HCD.

In summation, I have only one more lesson to impart: 10. Plan to make a comic that you can complete in 12 hours, not 24. Then maybe -- just maybe -- you'll be able to finish a 24 page story in one day.

10 Responses to “10 things I learned from 24-Hour Comics Day in 2010”

  1. Dan says:

    Hey Nick, great thoughts on 24HCD, although we differ on a few points (as always...hahaha) and made me think of a couple more.

    First, let me get the disagreement out of the way. After participating in four 24HCDs I think you absolutely need to take a break at some point, whether it's simply to stretch your legs, get some fresh air or walk around and check out what other people are working on. It helps get your blood flowing and you feel a little recharged.

    I'm 50/50 on your comment about having visitors as they might offer distraction. It certainly felt that way last year, that there were distractions, but I think because the room we were in was so narrow, that the extra people made it feel very claustrophobic. However, two years ago when 24HCD was held at Time Tunnel, the people that stopped by really added a different dimension to the process. At one point my best friend and his wife came in and later on my parents actually stopped by because we were very close to their house. It was neat to explain the event and see how impressed they were at the prospect of completing a 24 page comic in 24 hours. Personally, that really invigorated me to have people rooting for me.

    Speaking of being cheered on, one thing I did last year was update my Facebook and Twitter feeds throughout the 24 hours. There was a lot of support online and people really liked seeing the progress, so I would suggest that to participants.

    Another thing I would suggest because this has pretty much happened every year, PLEASE don't assume that everyone wants to hear your music. Don't bring external speakers, plug your iPod in and ask if anyone minds if you play music. No one is going to say "Yes I mind." because we're all generally polite, but trust me, it's a big distraction. If you want to listen to music, BRING EARPHONES.

    Also, don't go around asking how many pages everyone has done just so you can compare it to how many pages you have done. Just don't. Don't be that guy. Everyone works at a different pace. If you have ten pages done in five hours, good for you, but keep it to yourself unless asked. It was the great University of Texas Head Coach Darrell K. Royal who said "When you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before." In other words, have some class.

    And finally, don't get discouraged if you're not keeping pace with everyone else. The first year I completed 9 pages, the second year I completed 13, the third year I completed 19 and the fourth year I finished 24 pages with an hour to spare. Every year I learned something different and tried different techniques. You may strike oil the first time out and pump out 24 good pages of a comic, but if you don't it means absolutely nothing. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and every time you participate in a 24HCD you get a little stronger and a little leaner. You learn what works and you throw out what doesn't.

    Here endeth the lesson.

  2. Nick Marino says:

    EXCELLENT LESSON, Professor Dan!!! You crushed it last year with Spacebase 01. Beautiful book and it came together so nicely.

    All I have to say in reply to what you said is... I'm a newbie to 24HCD. So my observations here are of a failed first-timer who's serious about making it happen this year. Thx for dropping the knowledge!!!

    I'm definitely a little extreme in this post when it comes to breaks and socializing. But last year I was really indifferent towards both of those things, and I found myself being way too engaged in them and not spending enough time working. So my stance this year is to shut them out at first, and slowly let them in as I relax and hit my stride.

    Also, my suggestion for combating unwanted communal music -- BRING BIGGER SPEAKERS AND BLAST YOUR MUSIC FIRST! Hehehe.

    • Dan says:

      Happy to help and I'm looking forward to what you produce this year.

      • Nick Marino says:

        Whoops! I totally wrote more after you replied!!! BTW, more about what I'll be drawing on Sat in tomorrow's blog post.

    • Dan says:

      I totally understand your feelings on the social aspect of 24HCD and like you said, you have to decide what you're there for; to buckle down and draw a 24-page comic in the allotted time frame or draw a few pages and chat with the other artists.

      For my part, I try to strike a balance between being social and being productive, but I definitely lean more toward being productive. I think the second year I did it, a group of artists sort of collected in one part of the room and talked about movies, comics, music, etc while they casually worked on their pages. Fortunately, it was a large, loft-sized space that we were hosted in that year, so I chose to separate myself and sit on the other side of the room so I could concentrate on working. 

      When you're in a tighter or more intimate space like we were last year, that's not really an option, so when I sit down, I put my ear buds in and don't look up unless I have to.

      • Nick Marino says:

        Yeah, I tried to do the same thing last year with my headphones but it just didn't work. So instead I'm really focused on speed this year, and I'm hoping that the speed goal will force me to be a bit detached... but in a friendly way.

  3. Byron says:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. I was there till 10AM too! Just because I stepped out for a couple hours (10-2) doesn't mean I didn't stay up the full 24 hours.

    My intentions was to do 24 pages using the iPad. What I found out is that my style/technique is best suited for paper. Too many technical issues kept getting in my way. About 5 hours in, I think, I switched. The iPad was great for writing the script and research. By the end of the 24 hours, I finished 6 pages. Sad trombone as well.

    I wish I could do the challenge this year, but prior commitments have prevaled. At least you won't be bothered by my interruptions. Best of luck to you.

    • Nick Marino says:

      But... your interruptions are the interruptions I'll miss the most!!!!

      And true, you did make it until the end. I stand corrected.

      I had a similar experience with my laptop, where the technology became more of a distraction and a burden than a benefit.

  4. Nat Gertler says:

    I've done 4 24-hour comics so far (three on 24 Hour Comics Days), and for me, I need to take breaks... getting up for a few minutes, walking, stretching, helps limit the cramping up and also the numbing of the mind. What I find useful is to set times for the breaks (i.e., every two completed pages, I can take a break) and to set limits for the break (a 5-minute break). That's not to say that I didn't sometimes violate it, didn't sometimes get up earlier when a physical need was felt, but it gave me a structure which I could fall back on.

    • Nick Marino says:

      Now I feel like some kind of horrible 24-Hour Comics Day taskmaster after seeing these comments about how breaks are good 🙂

      To clarify -- I'm not saying don't take breaks at all. I just personally think it's wise to avoid them. As in trying to avoid as many as possible but take them when you feel like you have to take them. Kinda like going on a long road trip, and only stopping when you really have to pee.