24 Hour Comics Day has been over for a little while now, but I thought I might explore some takeaways from attempting the project. It’s important to reflect on any new project you attempt in order to improve things next time around, and I certainly feel like I’ve learned a lot.
To recap, I was able to complete 12 pages out of the 24 page assignment. You can read the pages on my Tumblr. I worked from 9 or 10am until 10:30pm with sporadic breaks, so it was basically a 12 hour work day. Here are some things I learned about making comics on the fly.
I hadn’t heard about 24HCD until a couple days prior, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. In fact, I was pretty sure I was just going to ignore it. Plus I had plans with friends on Saturday night. It’s so easy to fall into this trap. Roy held me accountable and pointed out that if I’m going to take comicking seriously, then this is something I should really do. I could’ve argued about the plans I had with our friends, or that I didn’t really know anyone else doing it. But he was right. I shouldn’t blame external forces for my lack of commitment to making comics.
So I cancelled plans and announced my decision to do 24HCD on my Friday Jambox update. Announcing a project publicly encourages accountability, even if no one is actually going to follow up on you about it.
Have a Core Concept
I had trouble sleeping the night before since I was nervous about doing this, so I brainstormed some ideas and somehow a story of the Little Mermaid in Space popped into my head. What if she was granted legs and decided to go on a space journey instead of search for her prince? I liked the idea enough to pursue it. I wanted to put the protagonist in a wheelchair, since in the original fairy tale it was incredibly painful for the mermaid to walk with her human legs.
Having this core concept helped shaped the direction of the story, and even though creating a story on the fly was super taxing on my brain, at least I could remind myself of the concept as I went and made decisions.
Assess Your Normal Process and Discard Steps
Since everything has to be laid out and planned within the 24 hours, I had to decide how to divvy up my work time. Normally I write a script, sketch out some character/setting designs, and thumbnail every page before I even start laying out panels in Photoshop. Since I was under a crunch period I decided to forgo the script and improvise dialogue as I went. It would just take way too much time to write a script, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish all the pages in the 24 hour time span anyway.
I also avoided coloring or adding tone and opted to stick with simple cross hatching to add depth. Instead of using the rectangle tool to make panels, I just held the shift key down to create boxes quickly and eyeballed everything. Those two decisions not only helped speed up the process, but I ended up really liking the end result. I would’ve never learned this if I didn’t attempt the project! So even just these little adjustments made it all worth it.
Keep Things Simple
Another reason why I opted to have the story take place in space is that I wouldn’t have to google references every five seconds. I could make shit up. I used lots of black space. There’s only one human character. The story doesn’t take itself seriously.
Other ways I was able to simplify the process:
- I created a really simple character reference sheet so I wouldn’t have to rely on my memory to draw the characters (human memory is notoriously faulty)
- I recycled my shark character that I used for a submission to a zine (changed his clothes and gave him a Segway)
- I drew in batches of six pages at a time (e.g. sketch six pages & ink them; sketch another six, etc.)
- Used fewer panels and experiment with spacing
- Use the shift key to eyeball environments and perspective
- Use a pre-made page template so I didn’t have to worry about sizing
- Use only one brush to ink
- Use specific brush sizes for each element (size 15 for details, size 20 for the animals, size 25 for panel lines) – it might sound like overkill, but it was nice not having to think about it
It sounds counter-intuitive to work slowly, but I didn’t want my pages to look rushed (although sketchy is okay.) I tried to be really conscious about what I was drawing. In a time-sensitive project like this, it’s easy to constantly worry about the next step and rush through one panel just so you can work on the next. I’d rather end up with 12 pages that look kinda solid versus 24 pages that look sloppy.
Not gonna lie: towards the end of the day, I was freaking out. A LOT. I was convinced the story was stupid (it is, but it’s not as dumb as I thought it was), and it was all just falling apart and why should I EVEN BOTHER. I allowed myself to freak out because I kept working anyway. I’ve experienced this type of mental hurdle before, and I knew I had it in me to keep going, even though my entire body was ready to just lie on the floor and let my cats eat my face.
So I pushed myself to keep going until the second batch of pages were done, then I called it quits. I didn’t finish the 24 page assignment by a long shot, but 50% isn’t so bad either.
Allow Yourself to Be Done
I’m a recovering perfectionist, so when I was done with the pages I was already thinking that I would finish the story down the road before I showed it to anybody. Haha. Ha.
First of all, I know myself well enough that if I were to finish this story, I’d have to scrap this improv attempt and start fresh. I’d need to flesh out the story and write a proper script. Plus I have two short stories in the pipeline already! I had to remind myself that this story was just an experiment and it had served its purpose. I had to let it go. So I just posted and let it be.
My Biggest Takeaway
So all of the above stuff is what I’ve learned when trying to rapidly throw together a semi-decent looking comic. My biggest takeaway, however, has to do with the lack of planning that went into the story.
I mentioned earlier that I nixed writing a script in order to save time and focus on drawing. I’m not saying this was a mistake – I’m glad I improvised as I went. What I didn’t realize is how integral planning is to my normal process. Without a script, I had no direction and constantly had to make decisions on the fly. THIS HURT MY BRAIN. It felt like being in a constant state of writer’s block, but you had to keep going. Even laying out the panels was mentally taxing since I wasn’t sure what was going to go in them.
This project made me want to cling to my scripts, my sketches, and my thumbnails. I don’t want to think about anything when it’s time to draw, except for how translate all the preliminary stuff into a visually pleasing story.
I’m glad to have experienced the stress and madness of 24 Hour Comics Day. I now know I have it in me to produce 12 pages in a single day, and that’s with very little planning. I can now lay out pages faster, and I like working on them in multiples of 6 (it’s like reps for your comics!). My latest short story is already benefiting from the lessons I’ve learned from this one stressful day.