By WAQAS NAEEM
If Jack Bauer can do it in 24 hours, so can Missouri’s comics artists.
Completely armed with the weapons of art — pencils, pens, paper and ink — 11 comics artists took on a creative endurance challenge at the Artlandish art gallery on Saturday. Their goal: to brave the night and draw 24 pages, each in 24 hours straight.
The annual “24 Hour Comics Day” was organized by the Mid Missouri Comics Collective for the fifth year running.
The challenge begins
Scott Ziolko took his cell phone out of his pocket and checked the time. Ziolko, a member of the Mid Missouri Comics collective was organizer-in-chief of the event. He had brought in food supplies, water bottles, soda cans, trash bags and a coffee machine, among other things. However, he forgot coffee mugs and his watch.
Now, he waited for his cellphone to strike twelve. Around him, the artists had chosen their spots in a secluded section of the art gallery, a garage that connected to the main gallery through a flight of steps, a bar, two hallways and a staircase. Eight of them had taken up the tables set up in the garage. A small flight of stairs connected the garage to the bar, where the other two had set their drawing materials on the bar. Ziolko counted down the imaginary seconds, his cellphone only showing minutes.
“3, 2, 1… Go guys,” he said and took his place on the bar next to local artist Michael Beyer’s drawing board and lamp.
The challenge had begun.
Before he started drawing, Ziolko had a word of caution for the participants.
“Everyone needs to find their own way home after the event, so is everyone cool on getting home?” Ziolko said, over the sound of pencils scratching on paper.
His precautionary announcement was taken seriously by the artists. Most of them had taken part in 24-hour comics events before and knew that staying awake around the clock and drawing all the while could take its toll.
This year’s event had a low turnout compared to previous years, but those present were excited about the event. Among them was Dustin Hoffmann, of Columbia, who had done an online comic for eight years.
“I feel good, we’ll see how long I’ll last,” Hoffmann said.
The artists were following one rule very closely: not to think out themes for their comics beforehand.
“For this event, obviously, you are not supposed to have preconceptions of what you do,” Hoffmann said. “You are supposed to come up on the fly and have a coherent story or something interesting.”
Matt Guittar, who had traveled from Jefferson City to take part, said he agreed with the rule.
“I do a lot of cartooning so I have like all kinds of ideas bouncing around in my head but I have no idea what’s going to end up on paper tonight,” Guittar said.
Soon the conversation started to gain momentum. Most of the artists knew each other from previous 24-hour events organized by the comics collective. For St. Louis resident Kelly Major, this was her fourth 24-hour comics event. Her interests in comics developed through her love of writing.
“I started working on scripts as if I was doing an animated movie,” she said as she sketched the outline of a woman dresses in a chic hat and jacket on paper. “You cannot make an animated movie by yourself so I moved in to doing comics to get the story out and eventually just got sucked in to the medium.”
Techniques and technology
While Ziolko’s comic started to take shape in a fantasy world on regular A4 sized paper, other artists had chosen different techniques to get ahead of time.
Guittar and Hoffman used big sketch book sheets for their art. Beyers drew a thin panel on a broad sheet.
MU student Keith Chan from San Diego did a mini-comic. One page would amount to a quarter of a regular page and the final product would be in the shape of a flip book, Chan said. Chan was drawing the adventures of a regular teenager, Keeley, who becomes a superhero at night and fights crime.
One artist carried the torch for technology amid all the paper and ink. Josh Nichols chose to draw his comics on an iPad with the help of a stylus. Major dubbed him “Mr. fancy schmancy with technology.”
Nichols, who works at MU and is the website designer for the Mid Missouria Comics Collective said there were a few apps available that allowed drawing on an iPad.
J.B. Winter, of Columbia, continued his tradition of being the novelty artist of the day. Last year, he used chalks to draw comics on the sidewalk. The year before, he drew on tortillas with edible ink and fed them to the participants.
This year, Winter delved into photography by opting for ‘light painting’ his comics.
Light painting is a process where the artist sets up a camera and leaves the shutter open for several minutes, Winter said. While the shutter is open, the artist paints with a hand-held light source in front of it.
Winter set himself up in a dark room separate from the rest of the artists. A sign on the wall outside the room cautioned the public to knock before entering since sensitive photo work was in progress.
Inside, Winter had set up a camera on a tripod and a piece of glass, affixed to a wooden semi-frame to make it stand vertically, in front of it.
Winter said the meticulous process required him to draw each panels three times. He would first plan the drawing and sketch it on paper, then transfer it to the glass sheet and finally trace it out with a fiber optic light pen so that the camera could capture it.
“There’s the (24 hours) challenge itself, but I try to set up another challenge in addition to that,” Winter said.
How it all started
The inception of the 24-hour comics day is attributed to artist and theorist Scott McCloud. On his website, McCloud wrote that in 1990 he dared his friend Steve Bissette to draw a complete 24-page comic in one day. In the end, they both did it together, and so began the saga.
“Basically the challenge he (McCloud) laid out was that it’s possible to create a 24 page comic in a 24 hour period,” Ziolko said. “People just picked on it and ran with it to the point where it became an international event.”
The idea became popular after famous comic writer and publisher Nat Gertler suggested comic stores host local artists so they could make 24-hour comics of their own. The first event was held in 2004 in various cities across the U.S. and since then, the event has gained international acclaim and has been held in 18 countries worldwide.
“We happen to be the only one at that in Missouri, so we’re pretty proud of that.” Ziolko said.
The night’s still young
The anticipation of how the night’s going to turn out had lurked heavily in the artists’ conversations up until sun set. With the sky getting dark, the artists started easing out.
Between the drawings, they talked about their favorite tv shows, movies, music and food. Ziolko would often drop references from his favorite movie, Army of Darkness, while Major regretted the absence of music.
“We should get a karaoke machine next time,” Major said.
Somebody suggested video games instead, but Ziolko didn’t agree.
“Video games are just a bad idea because then we wouldn’t get anything done,” he said.
By the time they had had pizza for dinner, most of their comics had taken story form. Ziolko had inked several pages of a monster hunter narrating his own journey in a fantasy world, occasionally reminiscing about his past. Major had named the sidekick but not the protagonist of her story. Chan’s superhero, Keeley, was getting attacked by an army of raccoons and Beyers had his characters — Buster, Drake and Argo Alpha — sent to Pluto to investigate a mysterious robot army.
While his colleagues worked to finish on time, David Cobb was having fun, with only three and a half comic strips done.
“I’m switching to postage stamps,” he said to the amusement of his fellow artists.
Midnight had struck. Outside, it was pitch black. Inside the art gallery, the night was still young.
A word of gratitude
The art gallery provided the perfect setting for the artists to engross themselves in their creative process. Earlier in the day, visitors to the gallery would wander into the garage and discover people sketching and painting feverishly.
“Already this year, we’ve had more visitors than usual,” Ziolko said. “It’s pretty cool. Part of the reason why we do it is just to get attention to the comic book community around here, just increase awareness I guess.”
Ziolko said he was grateful to the Artlandish Art Gallery for hosting the event.
“Lisa Bartlett is a supporter of all arts and I approached her last year about hosting this event last year because we didn’t have a space and she was all for it right away,” Ziolko said. “She has pretty much given us free reign of the space.”
“It all comes together in the end.” Ziolko said Saturday night. Now, he was stuck on page 20 of his comic. There were still six hours to go. The group went out to Ernie’s Café next door for breakfast. The breakfast rejuvenated their efforts and Ziolko finished his remaining pages within three hours.
While Ziolko completed his 24 pages, Major opted to end her story at 10 pages. She said it was a complete story and she was happy with the quality of the pages.
For some it was the breakfast, for others the soda and coffee was keeping them in good spirits.
“I had two mugs of coffee and three sodas, which definitely aided, and four ibuprofen,” Painter said.
Camaraderie and creative growth
Major said the conclusion of their challenge is mostly a low-key affair, sometimes attended by friends and family of the artists.
“Usually it’s just us looking at each other’s stuff,” she said.
The camaraderie among the artists at the event helped their creative growth, Painter said.
“We feed off each other, to put in most concise terms,” he said. “We give each other ideas, boost each other’s morale.”
Most of the artists plan to publish their comics online. Nichols said the collective had previously published an anthology of work where some of the artists contributed four or five strips. Artists had used the express machine at the MU Bookstore to get it published.
“We might do one this year,” Nichols said.
That’s all folks!
At 9 a.m. Sunday, Oct 3, Guittar was a little behind on speed with 15 of the 24 pages completed, mostly because of his detailed drawing, but he said he would finish on time.
“I’m gonna take the last half hour and doodle something big and fill up some pages just like it to get 24 done on time,” Guittar said.
Beyers was the only artist who didn’t letter his comics, in text clouds, on the spot, only drawing the pictures. He said he would scan the pages afterward and add the text and other effects in Photoshop. Beyers finished his 24 pages at 10 a.m.
“I’m done, I’m finished. I’m going home. I’ve had enough of this place,” Beyers joked, then quickly added, “I’m happy with what I’ve got.”
“Drawing is fun,” Painter said as he put in a final comment as the deadline grew close.
“It was nice to get like something done.” Ziolko said about finishing his comic well ahead of time.
But that didn’t mean his work was finished. Being the organizer, Ziolko had to clean the place up before he could leave.
“I just don’t wanna clean up, he said at the end. “I just wanna get a magic wand like the fairies in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and wave it like the broom and mop and magically clean everything. That’d be awesome.”
The artists had other suggestions for Ziolko.
“Scott has young children,” Cobb replied instantly and they all burst out laughing.
Amid the laughter, Ziolko’s cellphone was registering noon again.
Johanna Somers contributed to this story.