"DON'T DRINK CAFFEINE for a week beforehand. Don't drink beer," advises local illustrator David Chelsea. "It's best to be open, not to bring too strong or defined of an idea... not to try to do too much." He's talking about 24 Hour Comics Day (24HCD), an annual, nationwide challenge to artists to create a 24-page comic book in 24 hours. And Chelsea should know—he's the 24HCD world record holder, having completed the challenge 11 times.
While Chelsea's advice is simple, it's based on his own mistakes and the shortcomings he's seen in others. "A lot of people's style deteriorates as the day goes on," says Chelsea. "My style stays fairly consistent throughout." It's true that Chelsea's panels of black-lined characters are a constant, though he admits that over-planning and plot digressions have made themselves an Achilles' heel in recent years.
Where Chelsea sees planning as a potential pitfall, Emily Block, another local illustrator, finds a relationship between the late hours of the challenge and a shift in artistic focus. Block says, "It's kind of fun to see how things deteriorate—or take a really 'creative' turn—as you start to nod off in the 19th or 20th hour." Last year she did the challenge for the first time, creating Marina (published on Top Shelf's website at topshelfcomix.com), which she summarizes as "a wordless comic about a little girl by the sea who puts on her father's sweater, discovers her ability to fly, and saves the day." On pg. 22 of Marina there's a noticeable stylistic shift: Block's lines become wide-ruled and bold, her once-complex backgrounds are reduced to hatch-slashes, and her characters are distilled to quick sketches.
While there are varying perspectives on the late-pages phenomenon (whether it's over-planning or exhaustion), most illustrators agree that there's a certain creative rhythm and approach to detail that carry a cartoonist into their 24th page at the 24th hour. Chelsea says that illustrators should aim for a page an hour, and that perfection must be abandoned.
Like Chelsea, Pete Soloway also sees perfection as a potential barrier. Soloway's perfectionism hardened to a mere six pages last year (admittedly, the most visually pleasing six pages I've seen produced under the challenge). Working digitally, Soloway employs erasures on black fields to create positive space and depth. "The last time I tried a 24-hour comic, I first asked a friend to write me a script so I wouldn't have to come up with a story on the fly," says Soloway. "Unfortunately, I liked his script too much to rush through drawing it; by morning, I'd only drawn the first six pages." So 24HCD success isn't necessarily about making something pretty—it's about balancing quality and length.
Illustrator Dan Wheeler seems to have found the happiest medium. Combining the simplicity of stick figures with one-off, strip-format comics, Wheeler eschews sequential plot and visual complexity in favor of telling many self-contained stories. In one strip titled "Two Hipsters at a Show" Wheeler takes the classic "Who's on First?" format and applies it to indie band names. In another, a pair of stick figures wear "I'm with Stupid" shirts, while a third is sighing, wearing one that reads, "I'm All Alone." The simplicity of this format lends itself to quick repetition—a strong approach to the 24HCD challenge that might be a helpful model if you're thinking about giving it a shot this year.