I'm about to head out to Dragon's Lair in Austin to participate in the 24 Hour Comic challenge. [link]
Should be pretty cool! I'll blog about the experience afterward.
If there any fellow Deviants headed there, let me know.
So, my epic begins on Saturday, the 1st of October, when I walk into Dragon's Lair, an Austin gaming hub packed with graphic novels, manga, and every tabletop or roleplay supplement or miniature you can imagine. I sit down, my cell rings, and two friends that had said they wanted to do the challenge with me say they're bailing. I'm on my own.
I had arrived with the vague idea of wanting to do a sequel to my little 10-page dinosaur comic The Pact
, and had scribbled out a small thumbnail storyboard. I promptly made the acquaintance of
, who moved to sit near me after overhearing my friends abandon me. She was to prove a copic marker genius and a faithful warrior (I'm still kicking myself for not recruiting her as a colorist for my own comic.)
The room was packed with plastic chairs that would prove a nightmare for my neck, shoulders, and the titanium rod in my spine, and filled with tables and around 20 or so eager participants. There was another long set of tables lining the wall of the store with another 20 or so. Neckbeards abounded, snatches of Internet memes could be heard everywhere, and geekery was in full hue and cry. No jock place was this. Quite a few were there only to hang out and work on projects of their own in the company of other artists; the social aspect of this had completely escaped me. I suppose I'd imagined the contest to behave more like life drawing class: a roomful of silent concentration. In hindsight, the social option might have been the greater of the two; I sure wish I could have gotten to know some folks better. That is the first thing I'll say about the contest: you can socialize, or you can do art, but you can't do both. (I feel I sabotaged
by discussing My Little Pony one too many times.)
A feeling of gleeful optimism pervaded the air, which was redolent with the awkward aggression of jousting nerds. Two such specimens got into the Star Wars "Who shot First?" argument; one said that it didn't matter, the other insisted it mattered to the point of rewriting the entire Star Wars universe as we know it. A non-nerd, a man with the build of a trucker and Sharpie skills that belonged in the era of Jack Kirby, looked up and said, "If you're even having this argument, you're watching the wrong damn cut of the movie." I am not kidding when I say there was an immediate tension in the air, the kind that comes before a lightning strike. Animosity ozone. Even I kind of paused for a moment, mostly because I couldn't conceive of women ever having this kind of argument, ever, especially when the need for validation rested on something so insubstantial. In the unhappy silence, someone said, "Ya bunch of nerds", breaking the tension and dissolving the room into laughter. Not long after, the level of nerd rose into the stratosphere with an impromptu chorus of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." A well-spoken fellow from Israel joined me and
to sketch silhouettes:, and I pointed out to him something that would become a highly ironic echo: "You know, we're all competing for a $25 gift certificate. 24 hours of back-breaking, soul-shattering work for a rate of pay that not even the meanest, most desperate artist in the world should ever aspire to get."
He corrected me: "That's if you win
Many folks had girded themselves for a death march: the intent to stay up all 24 hours straight. They carried bottles of 5-hour energy, kept sodas and coffee close at hand, and set themselves on a do or die course. I refused. To me, it wasn't worth 5 hours of bad work and the misery it would cause. In hindsight, I cannot imagine the state I would have been in had I chosen to do so; very likely I would not have finished. The wee hours of the morning broke many a spirit and resolve, and I attribute my success to the simple act of going home and sleeping for a while. I drove 45 minutes to get back home, and didn't get to sleep until around 12:30 (mostly due to my Rottweiler discovering a raccoon on the back porch. I was ready to strangle him.) I awoke before my 6AM alarm went off, and amazed even myself by getting up at 5:15, getting dressed, and heading back into the fray.
I arrived back at the store before sunup, knocking on the door to be let in. Entering the store was like seeing the remains of a bombshell. Bodies littered the floor, faces covered with blankets, heads on cheap pillows brought from home. Where before every table spot had been filled, and the buzz of happy conversation reigned, now silence, empty chairs, and sad, lonely candy wrappers. Numerous people expressed hoarse, exhausted surprise when I reappeared; many had assumed I'd dropped out. My previous night's work had resulted in all of my lines and preliminary sketches being completed; I set to the arduous task of dialogue and lettering. My script was undergoing changes up to the moment I was actually inking. It took me a good 4 hours or so, which shocked me. Everything else had gone so quickly; lettering and dialogue was without a doubt the most difficult part. It knocked a massive chunk of my resolve away and left me with very little wind in my sails.
I moved out to the tables lining the store wall to seek the company of others because I knew I could not go on without stimulation of some kind. The back room had slowly emptied out, as one by one, defeated and exhausted folks took their leave. Only two others remained, one them the Sharpie genius, who was working on Canson Comic Sheets and had known from the beginning he wouldn't finish anything but wanted to work 24 hours straight just to see what would happen. A rather desolate air filled that room, so I escaped it for brighter environments. Although I had armed myself with McDonald's breakfast, the physical toll from last night quickly caught up to me. I was sore as hell, and with nothing but 21 pages of inking left to go, the completion of each one was no triumph, but a reset button. While other people were still in the game, only myself and two others had a real shot at completion.
Around 10 in the morning, the Warhammer 40k gamers flooded the store, their raucous speech no doubt proving daggers in the ears of those trying to sleep.
awoke, but nearly fell down her first attempt at trying to stand up. Believe me when I say that the toll the contest takes on you is draining on every conceivable level: physical, emotional, mental, and creative. I was in a state I hope never to be in again. I had a tendency to stare at one spot on the page and fixate on it, while my hand moved. The physical act of drawing was not painful physically, but painful in a soul-sucking kind of way. If hell exists, the terrible monotony and total lack of satisfaction that comes with every stroke of the pen will surely define it. My pens began to die, and so did my black brush marker. I sat with two girls, one who had simply come to be her friend's cheerleader. Her friend worked on a digital comic from a laptop, but was sadly too far behind to have a hope of completing it by 5PM. Not that she wanted to at that point.
joined us not long after. I am sincerely grateful for the presence of that little group, who kept my fried mind stimulated enough for me to keep saying "Keep going, keep going
I think if I hadn't spent so much money on food and gas, I might have quit. But I was solidly in do or die; otherwise, what was the point? (The aforementioned $25 prize irony has not escaped me; for the amount I spent I could have driven down to Dragon's Lair and bought $25 worth of something and still have spent less. Why? Why!?) My two contenders each finished by turn, their triumph making my own slog that much worse. One of the store employees came around every once in a while with doughnuts or just general praise and encouragement for each of us.
supplied me with a .08 Micron after my own knockoff version died. I preferred my knockoffs, and declared, "Hello, Micron, my old nemesis." A chorus of protest arose from my trio; how could I not like Microns!? I was entirely too tired to argue, even when the devil in my hand bled ink all over my fingertips. I would later describe my state of being as "able to see through time." I floated in a kind of hypnotic state, and would have easily succumbed to staring dreamily into space for all eternity. The girl with the laptop and her friend finally decided to give up, and left with good luck-wishes. I was the only one left out of 40 some-odd contenders. To my utter shock,
decided to stay, supporting me as I limped through the last pages, even drawing me a little fanart of one my own characters. I finished with 2 hours to spare.
I bid her an exhausted goodbye and drove home with the radio to keep me awake. I stuffed myself with fried chicken and mashed potatoes and fell into bed. I had an online art chat at 7, and set my alarm to keep it. I could barely think, let alone type. Everyone had told me the triumph of completion would be an enormous sense of accomplishment, but I felt a pyrrhic victory at best. Even attempting a creative thought seemed to summon the draining feelings and physical aches in a kind of Pavlovian response. I still hurt, am still a blank void creatively speaking, but my mind is back, at least. I still have no idea why the hell I did it, and insisted upon doing it when I could have stopped. And probably would have had a better time just hanging out for a wacky night of art hijinks. The judging will come back on the 7th; I suppose if there's a demand I can post the comic.
Here ends my story.