Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The 24 hour comic marathon at The Lakes festival

It was the Lakes International Comic Art Festival last month and along with it the 24 hour comics marathon. I watched from the sidelines last year and wondered if it was something I could ever do. Last year's marathon produced some fantastic comics but it was seeing how enthused every was after the event that made me think I wanted to take part. It's organised every year by Dan Berry who also takes part (because, y'know, he hasn't got enough stuff to do!). The rules aren't quite as strict as the Angouleme/Scott McCloud model so you are allowed to prepare in advance. I came up with a story (in the spirit of the marathon) as quickly as I could. I'd taken a photo in Japan back in March of a suburban street and I knew I wanted to do something using that as the springboard. I wanted to draw a street with crisscrossing electricity cables and knew that was an image I could have fun with and thought if I got a strong opening page at least I'd have achieved something! I'd have one page I could look back on fondly. My aim going into this was to finish and not to disgrace myself too much!

My story was a mixture of The Sorcerer's Apprentice and The Cat in the Hat with a Japanese setting. I looked at a lot of Tokyo homes on AirBnb to make sure the interior of the house looked convincing and wandered up and down Tokyo suburbs on Google street view to find just the right kind of street I had in mind. We've spent a lot of time in Japan and I wanted to make it look convincing. Getting the details wrong would really irritate me. Once I had a story I broke it down into 20 pages and made A6 thumbnails of each page. I then blew these A6 thumbnails up to A3 so I could lightbox them on the day. See examples below.

I didn't want the thumbnails to be too detailed. If I was just tracing lines it wouldn't be fun on the day. I left out just enough so I could improvise a bit (you can compare the thumbnails with the finished page above). I also made sure I wasn't drawing 9 panel grids or lots of talking heads. As I said before I had to keep it FUN. I used a light box to trace each page lightly in pencil. First I added the lettering (from my prepared script) using a Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pen and then I added the pink ink that I'd mixed at home with a brush. I wanted a slightly dirty pink colour (described perfectly as "Minnie the Minx pink" by Craig Conlan!). I then added the grey tones and the black lines using the Pentel Colour Brush pens (my favourites). I decided to go through the comic chronologically using the same process - pencil lines, lettering, pink tones, grey tones, black lines - rather than lettering every page first or alternating a page from the front with a page from the back and meeting in the middle. I was enjoying drawing each page one by one so decided that if it remained enjoyable then just keep doing it (for 24 hours).

I then repeated this process roughly once an hour from 3 o'clock on Thursday for the following 24 hours. We were in a function room at the Castle Green Hotel so occasionally we'd get visitors from the bar. When you've been sat at the same table for over 14 hours it's an odd experience to look up and find Darwyn Cooke, Seth and Kate Beaton watching you draw. As well as an endurance test it's a great exercise in keeping focus and also letting things go. I'd decided in advance I was not going to redraw anything unless it was absolutely necessary. I've done a few allnighters in the past with editorial illustrations but that's always been in a room on my own with just iTunes and the dawn chorus to keep me going. This was a whole other ballgame. We went out to see the sun go down and then later on to see the sun come up, we laughed (a lot), I had a 4:30am call from Woodrow Phoenix, there was a conga line, we ate rice krispie cakes and cold pizza in the middle of the night. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Mostly it was the best of times.

It was quite an experience. I was in a room alongside some extremely talented people - Dan Berry, John Allison, Emma Vieceli, Richard Short and Jade Sarson - and our Lakes volunteers Katy and Phil (who also blogged throughout the entire event HERE). Louise also stayed up with me for the entire duration and even made a felt version of the main character of my comic. Louise was also there to take photos for me and also to sing an impromptu duet with Emma (I Know Him So Well in case you were curious) during the 7am power ballad hour.

We all finished within the 24 hours and then we stayed up a little longer to make sure it all went off to the printers on time (thanks again to Dan) and by midday Saturday we had 50 printed copies each ready for the official launch on Sunday morning. We even got a trophy! Here's a photo of the presentation with our host, Stephen Holland from Page45.

At certain points in the middle of the night I did wonder what the hell I was doing - I just wanted to go to bed! - but in the end I was really, really glad I did it. I don't do enough comics as it always seems too daunting a prospect and now I've produced a 24 page comic in 24 hours. There's no excuse! I sold out of my comic, The Helper, on the Sunday but a bigger A4 reprint is available in my shop now. Thanks to Julie Tait and LICAF for making this happen!