Monday, 22 October 2007
Good weekend in London for a couple of reasons, other than getting to see my Dad and pals. Firstly for the first time ever I walked out of a comics shop richer than when I walked in, Gosh Comics having sold all 10 copies of TeenWitch and pressed £14 into my palm. Could have easily spent it (and plenty more) there and then, but figure that with my birthday next month I might get one or two nice books then, fingers crossed.
Secondly, other than half an hours doze at 4am, I managed to complete 24 comic pages in 24 hours, as part of worldwide 24 Hour Comic Day. Though we weren't locked in the room for the full stint (ICA venue having to close at 11pm) I battled on round at the formidable Alex Pott's house, as did he.
I wasn't entirely sure why I wanted to volunteer for such a torturous event, as staying up for 24 hours doing anything is pretty stupid. Maybe it was that I new it would be wrong if I didn't have a go at it, as I'm supposed to be a comic artist. Regardless of motivation, it seems all participants felt a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction by the end. Like the rest of them, throughout the challenge I experienced alternating waves of enthusiasm and exhaustion, which are probably evident from the lulls in quality of drawing produced. Alex's strategy of inking pages out of order seemed to pay off, making any potential inconsistencies absorbed into the strip, rather than the story deteriorating or tailing off as it went along. This trick ensures that your characters look the same on the first and last pages, foiling any kind of chinese whispers effect that can easily happen. Alex and I also found listening to Dead Meadow, Earth and Bardo Pond in the early hours most productive.
Being part of the group and the camaraderie involved in this made it all the more tolerable. I now know something of the solidarity you see between motorcyclists on winter mornings. The 24hr challenge is not one I would have ever considered to tackle on my own - I just don't have the discipline, plus I'm way too easily distracted by my list of other jobs, projects and chores, whether boat painting, cat portraits or planning workshop stuff. This was a great opportunity to put all that to one side, knuckle down and get some pages done. In fact that might be the most important thing I've got out of the exercise - realising that time needs to be allocated and energy needs to be focused if comics are going to happen. I guess it's fairly obvious that comics are hard work - I always tell workshop groups how good comics are very quick to read but frustratingly slow to actually produce. I'm guessing that what I've managed in 24 hours would have probably taken my well over a month of faffing about and finding other things to do instead.
I've learnt that if I just sit down and get on with it then I can actually do it. I also feel a bit like I've earned a month off from drawing anything. Before entering the room at the ICA (photographs here), I'd decide to avoid making things difficult for myself. Eradicating speech, thought, sound effects and narration reallocated probably 5 hours into telling a story with just the artwork. Creating a silent comic was also a good opportunity to see if I can convey action and emotion in this way. Also on my mind was how I really didn't fancy 2 or more hours of measuring and drawing out margins and panels, so they were banished too. As long as the images have enough space and the sequence is clear, then who needs panels? Looking around the room I spotted plenty of people dividing their pages up into all these little boxes, and I felt a huge relief that I wasn't putting myself through that too. I guess some might say it's lazy of my having just one or two images on each page, and maybe it is, but then I do think making a good comic is about knowing what to include AND leave out.
I've also gained a new confidence in my tools. Those around me sniggered at my draughtsmans brush when I first produced it from my bag, but by the end of the event they were clamoring for something that would sweep away their eraser rubbings with elegant ease. I had also been looking forward to getting to know how to use my recent purchase, the Pentel Brush Pen. Having found it recommended in various blogs and online forums, I can now add my own seal of approval. What it can't really do (or more what I can't yet do with it) is small precise detail - I've found on certain faces I'd have been much better off switching to my usual drawing pen for eyes, mouths and whisker follicles. What it can do is produce a good solid but animated black line, fill large areas easily, and it is very fast - as in capable of keeping up with you as you dash around the page. As I was using a medium textured watercolour paper, I found I was also able to create greytones of an almost charcoal appearance, by tilting the brush and lightly sweeping the surface.
Perhaps my greatest Pentel revelation was that by the end of the 24 hours, I wasn't experiencing any pain in my hand or wrist. This is in stark contrast to how tightly clutching a Rotring or my usual technical drawing pens affect my hand after just an hour or so. Instead of forcing a needlepoint against the page, the brush allows a relaxed and spontaneous method of dabbing, placing and pulling lines and marks around. Four ink cartridges later, and I'm still not quite in charge of what it does, but certainly a lot quicker, bolder and expressive than before, and for me that's reward enough for taking part.
All 24 pages will be posted soon on my main website, which I'll point you towards when it happens.