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.