Monday, August 29, 2005

An afternoon update on the Brattleboro Museum 24-Hour Challenge:

I've queried Scott McCloud and About Comics 24 HOUR COMICS anthology publisher Nat Gertler, and it's still a bit up in the air:

Nat wrote:
"The record for the most participants is held by Austin Books
in Austin, TX. They counted 70 participants this year, although
that includes some folks who just hung for a while drawing then

HOWEVER, in the end they had complete just over 900
pages of comics (I think the number was 911), which is a
hearty amount of comics but I suspect your event had more.
Brattleboro may have the highest number of comics pages
produced at a single location in 24 hours."

Well, OK... the page count is underway! Will report back with more info as this develops. Of course, all this quantitative measuring (of participants, of pages) doesn't alter the fact that this weekend's event was a stunner. As Scott wrote, this only bodes well for the upcoming Oct. 7 24 HOUR COMICS DAY events, as critical mass and interest continues to build.

What I find most interesting is the fact that clearly the MEDIUM of comics is appealing to more people than I ever imagined possible -- the 'democratization' of the medium to all ages, gender, and classes was never more apparent to me than it was yesterday. I mean, these weren't boys and men, girls and women, turning out to READ comics -- these were men and women of all ages turning out in a small rural community, from all demographics, to MAKE THEIR OWN comics! And yet it seems that the INDUSTRY of comics has never been more constricted. What a curious juncture we're at.

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OK, here's the scoop:

From Noon to Noon, Saturday August 27 to Sunday August 28, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center in downtown Brattleboro, Vermont hosted the 24-Hour Comics Challenge. By my current count, 49 adventurous individuals actively participated; all completed comics (though not all needed the full 24 hours, or made it to the ideal of 24 pages completed -- though most did); I will verify that count later today, after I touch base again with the good folks at the Museum (hello, Margeret!).

The participants were women and men of all ages, from all walks of life. It was an amazing, electic mix of people, from avid comics and manga readers age 16 and up to non-cartoonists their 50s -- artists, writers, poets, students, teachers, musicians, radio djs, reporters, etc. -- and the energy was unlike anything I've ever experienced. They came from the Brattleboro community and beyond: some drove up from Connecticut, Massachusetts, or in from New Hampshire (including a die-hard group from Keene who had already done their own 24-Hour Comics earlier in the summer), or came in-state from as far north as Milton and St. Johnsbury (and those are up thar). Some took the bus, some drove, some sauntered in.

There was a writer who'd never really drawn who had almost talked himself out of coming, but was glad he was there. One women told me she hadn't drawn since her 6th Grade art class (and was quite satisfied that she "still drew the way I did then!", showing me her beguiling completed pages), another was one of my son Dan's high school science teachers (hello, Mike!) who was taking the Challenge as a window of opportunity to finally put down on paper a character he'd had in his head for years. Others were clearly experienced hands, including at least three hackers using laptops to produce pages using technology that simply didn't exist when Scott McCloud invented the form -- the challenge -- fifteen years ago.

That's where I come in: I wasn't participating in the challenge, really, but I was there with the opening remarks a little before noon on Saturday and for the closing remarks at noon on Sunday. See, I had a hand in the 24-hour comic's invention: it was the gauntlet thrown down by my good friend Scott McCloud back in the summer of 1990. Scott (who was then best-known for his series ZOT and the one-shot DESTROY!; UNDERSTANDING COMICS was still a gleam in his eye and notes in his sketchbooks).

Scott and I both had bad reps for being s-l-o-w cartoonists, challenged by even the most expansive of deadlines. But Scott had seen me doing sketches, and recognized that the furious energy of my freehand sketches was somehow disconnected from the laborious glacial movement of pages across my drawing board.

So Scott, being a bit of an inventor like his father, invented the 24 Hour Comic as a challenge for he and I, a way of breaking logjams and freeing constrained energy by completing, sans preparation, an entire 24-page comic in a mere 24 hours, start to finish. Whatever we did during that 24 hour stretch -- including distractions like eating, using the bathroom, napping, walking, whatever (in my case, it included making my two kids lunch and picking them up from school) -- the clock was still ticking. We had ONE DAY, 24 consecutive hours, in which to do the deed.

Now, Scott issued the challenge as one we would both complete that August (1990). Scott also knew I wouldn't do it if HE didn't do it, so he had to go first. We were also both procrastinators by nature. Thus, Scott completed his -- the first 24-Hour comic in history -- on the last day of August 1990, between 6 AM and 11:30 PM. Unlike Scott, I had kids, so my session took a bit more strategic family planning: I sat down at 10 AM on (ahem) August 36th and worked through to 1:30 AM the next day, completing "A Life in Black and White." My own ground rules were: I would complete pages in their narrative order, only moving forward; no looking back; no corrections, no insert pages.

Scott and I were pretty pleased with the results, and happily mailed photocopies of our bastard offspring to friends and peers near and far. By the time I published Scott's "A Day's Work" in TABOO ESPECIAL and my sordid tale in TABOO 7 (both 1991, though I hasten to add Dave Sim published a preview of my story in CEREBUS), the bug had already bitten others. If memory serves, the first to jump into the breach was Dave Sim (with his fifteen-hour opus "Bigger Blacker Kiss" (October 26-27, 1990, 11:30 AM to 2:45 AM), with Rick Veitch immediately introducing a fresh permutation (drawing 24 dream comics -- transcribing his dreams from the night before -- in timed one-hour sessions, 24 days in a row), which soon spawned his RAREBIT FIENDS comics series and graphic novels. Neil Gaiman soon offered another approach, a non-artist laboring over a 24-hour period (FAXing pages to Scott and I as they were completed) to produce his marvelous 13-page "Being an Account of the Life and Death of the Emperor Heliogabolus." As Scott McCloud later wrote, "Neil was unable to finish the full 24 pages, but created as much as possible within a full 24 hour session... Having gone the distance, at least where time and physical endurance were concerned, we christened it Noble Failure Variant #1 -- The Gaiman Variation."

Before long, Scott was hearing from many, many creators who had taken the challenge. It's amazing how quickly it spun into other hands, other venues, other media: The 24-Hour Play emerged by 1995; in theater circles, Tina Fallon (co-founder of Crux Productions of NYC) is credited with creating the theatrical form, and by 1997 the event had expanded into the New York Fringe Festival's mind-boggling "240 hours of plays" -- 10 days of successive 24-hour-play challenges (creating a performance from scratch to performance in a 24-hour stretch, including performance). My daughter Maia Rose participated in one of the 24-Hour Play events when that whirlwind blew into Brattleboro (April 14-15 of 2000), at the Brattleboro Flat Street Boys & Girls Club, produced by Adrienne DeGuevara as a fund-raiser for the club (anyone interested, see The Brattleboro Reformer A&E section for Thursday, April 13, 2000, page 22). By that time, Scott told me of a 48-Hour Movie challenge that was zipping through digital filmmaking/video circles. When I taught/tutored an alternative home schooled group of Vermont and Massachusetts teenagers (2003-2004) in storytelling and cinema, I had a single assigment for them at the end of our studies: the students had to create something in one 24-hour period, a single sitting, either separately or together (they each had their own skills and expertise: writing, music, drawing, etc.). They rose to the challenge and surprised me during our final week with a completed short film, which they conceived, scripted/improvised, filmed, edited, and scored in one 24-hour session.

Scott had created something amazing and ever-adaptable.

I cannot tell you how blown away I was Saturday morning when I walked into the Brattleboro Museum to see almost fifty people spread on every table, in every corner of the galleries, eager and ready to take on the challenge... just about ten miles from where I'd drawn my 24-hour comic, in the lone little 1940s trailer-studio I had parked behind my garage at our rented Lower Dover Road home in the late summer of 1990. I was even more blown away when my wife Marjory and I bopped into the Museum 11:30 PM on Saturday evening to see the beehive still buzzing: people savoring the hospitable warm summer night working outside, with improvised lighting and drawing spaces; people inside busy at every table, in every nook and cranny, while others stretched, walked the galleries, drank inspiration from the art hanging from the walls, or took a break for a chat or a smoke outside. Come Sunday morning at 11:30 AM, I knew the twelve hours since my last visit was going to have taken a toll, but I was overjoyed to see almost the entire group still there. A few had completed their comics and gone elsewhere to eat or crash, but only a few -- at least forty folks were hanging in for the 'end gong' and final celebration. They'd DONE it! There were a couple of "Neil Gaiman Variants," but only a couple.

I can't wait to sit down and read the comics themselves -- a few eager participants made sure I left the Museum Sunday with a photocopy of their accomplishments in my hot little hands.

I'll post the names of the participants here once I confirm the final lineup with Margaret, Konstantin, and the Museum later today or early tomorrow. In the meantime --

There's an online story from the Brattleboro Reformer (it made the front page of the print edition this morning!); please note one immediately evident error, I did NOT draw the FIRST 24-Hour comic (that was Scott McCloud, natch) -- anyhoot, it's waiting for you
  • here!

  • For those interested, the Museum's website on the 24-Hour Challenge is at:
  • 24-Hour Comic Challenge!

  • Konstantin von Krusenstiern is the director of the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center; Gabriel Greenberg curated the Green Mountain Cartooning exhibition (which is up through February -- check it out!) and worked with the Museum to coordinate the 24-Hour Comics event (while participating as a creator, and completing his comic in the timeframe WHILE handling much of the 'host' chores). I also worked with Teta Hilsdon, who is the Museum Office Manager, along with Margaret Shipman (who is the smiling face most often greeting visitors at the front desk) and summer intern Eliza Thomson. Also involved, one way or another, with the exhibit, sponsorship, and/or the 24-Hour Comics event were Lynn Barrett, Susan Calabria, LaVonne Betts, and Roger Wilken.

    The museum's website is
  • here!

  • For info on the current exhibit "Comic Art in the Green Mountains," featuring work by yours truly (SWAMP THING and TYRANT original art), Rick Veitch, Frank Miller, James Kochalka, and James Sturm, go to
  • Green Mt Cartoonists

  • For more info on this event and 24 Hour Comics in general:

    The 24 Hour Comic blog is at
  • 24 Hour Comics

  • For more info and another perspective on the Brat Museum event, check out Alan David Doane's article on his visit to the Brattleboro Museum on Saturday, as the event launched -- it's at
  • Alan David Doane tells it as he saw it!

  • Nat Gertler of About Comics has become the publisher/archivist of the 24-Hour Comics scene, with the full participation of 24-Hour Comic inventor/founder Scott McCloud.

    If you're interested, the main book to pick up is 24 HOUR COMICS, edited by Scott McCloud, which features my "A Life in Black and White" story, Neil Gaiman's (still among the best reads of 'em all), and seven others for a mere $11.95.

    About Comics also has 24 HOUR COMICS ALL-STARS (with Scott McCloud's first-ever-24-Hour-Comics-in-history, plus 24 Hour comics by Paul Smith, Sean McKeever, Tone Rodriguez, and five others; $12.95) and 24 HOUR COMICS DAY HIGHLIGHTS 2004 (24 stories including Josh Howard and Christian Gossett, about 500 pages, $24.95). There's a new volume coming out in October: 24 HOUR COMICS DAY HIGHLIGHTS 2005 (same format and price as 2004).

    Go to
  • About Comics

  • Of course, you can still purchase my own 24-hour comic in its original publication in TABOO #7, or its initial reprint in SPIDERBABY COMIX #2, from my standing website:

  • SR Bissette Comicon site

  • (Check the menu bar on the left of that site's homepage, and you'll find 'em there.) It's old, creaky, and sorely in need of a revamp -- which will be up SOON!

    More later!

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    The Brattleboro Museum's 24-Hour Comic creation marathon was amazing. The Museum opened all their galleries to the participants -- there were tables and seating in every available space -- and with the great weather that lasted through Sunday morning (when the rains came), many also worked outside. When I arrived at 11:30 Saturday to open the event, every table and chair was taken. Most were ready with their paper and drawing tools, but a few had desktop computers (an almost unthinkable potential when Scott McCloud invented this beast in 1990!).

    There were almost 50 participants; I'll post a final head-count as soon as I can confirm the number with the Museum. With a couple of exceptions (reportedly one young participant wrapped up his comic in three or four hours; another gent arrived in the wee hours of the AM and completed a 24-pager in a similarly tight timeframe), all were done or wrapping up their labors at noon Sunday, when I announced the end of the event.

    With a little waffling -- making it clear the facts would have to be checked -- I announced to the group that they'd made history: this was, to my knowledge, the largest community of 24-Hour Comics participants ever. Whether this was indeed the largest group to ever gather to create their own 24-Hour comics will have to be sorted out in the next couple of days, but it was a momentous event nonetheless.

    I had prepared bags of goodies for each participant: working from the list Museum staffer Teta Hilsdon provided, I signed and personalized a couple comics (SPIDERBABY COMIX #2, which reprints my own 24-Hour comic, "A Life in Black and White", and TYRANT #4) and popped 'em in a red plastic bag with an issue of the CBLDF newsletter (BUSTED!, with a James Kochalka cover to tie-in with the Vermont cartoonists exhibit now at the Museum thru February). I then wrote the name of the person on the bag, and did a sketch 'portrait' of each of 'em as they now looked, "24 hour later..." (basically, puffy Big Daddy Roth-monster eyes and shit-eating grin mouth). Everyone got one, a commemorative gift for their marathon performance.

    More after breakfast -- my stomach's growling, and the beast must be fed!

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