24 Hour Comics: A Personal Story

August 27, 2005 was a perfect summer day in Brattleboro, Vermont. The fog cleared off early, and local residents were treated to warm breezy weather as they went about their normal Saturday routines: Farmer’s Market on Route 9, yardsaling, or lazing about listening to Car Talk on VPR.  It was the kind of day that warmed rocks and rustled leaves.

Dan and I (we’d been dating a year at this point) decided to go down to the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center to join in their first (and only) ever 24 Hour Comics Challenge. Dan, the comics geek, knew more about it than I did and had expressed interest in going. Me? I just like to do fun, off-center things. So I said I’d go with him. Neither of us draw, but it was supposed to be a judge-free zone.

About 50 amateur and professional cartoonists of all ages showed up, and most of them stayed through the night and into the purpling morning. We spread ourselves between the various rooms of the museum, even sprawled out on the lawn and drew by starlight and streetlamp. The participants ranged from fresh out of high school to nearing retirement, and we worked on paper (most of us) or digitally. We went across the street to the Brattleboro Food Co-op for fortification. Some of us went home for sleep only to return later, others bundled up in our sleeping bags in a dimly-lit quiet corner. The rest of us (me included) toiled away ceaselessly.

A comics jam from the early days of Trees and Hills, courtesy of Daniel Barlow

The 24 Hour Comics Challenge has very little rules: no advance prep, bring your own art supplies, and make a 24 page comic book in 24 consecutive hours.  That’s it. Easy, right? Steve Bissette, whom I worked with at First Run Video, gave the opening remarks. He was one of the artists on display in the BMAC’s “Green Mountain Comics” exhibit. You know, Swamp Thing, Contantine, Tyrant, etc.

Dan and I still remember that event fondly, partly because we were still new in love and discovering one another, and partly because it started Dan on a comics-oriented life that has not slowed since. Dan went on to form Trees and Hills Comics Group with Colin Tedford, whom he’d met at BMAC. T&H is a social cartooning group for VT, NH, and Western MA that focuses on building and connecting communities via the publication of socially progressive comics. Their anthologies have gotten picked up by Microcosm Publishing, and “Seeds” was deemed “lust-worthy lit”, according to Readymade Magazine. He now writes comics that other people illustrate, attends most of the major comic conventions on the Eastern seaboard and writes about cartoonists and their work for such publications as Panel to Panel. He’s at work on his first graphic novel that he will illustrate himself—with photographs. We have 24 Hour Comics Challenge to thank for all this.

I’d made a resolution this year to make the things happen that I’ve wanted to have happen in this little city, 24 Hour Comics being one of them. (Town-wide book swap will have to wait until next year. E-mail me if you’re interested in collaborating on that.)  The other ones being an improved Art Walk and National Poetry Month events. After the success of my work with the Kellogg Hubbard Library’s POETRY Alive! event, we approached them about this. And guess what? They said yes!

Supergirl Comics, courtesy of The Kellogg Hubbard Childrens Library

We’ve about two weeks to go before IT HAPPENS! The “official” international challenge date this year is Saturday, October 2nd. We’re doing registration at 10 a.m. (when the library opens), opening remarks around 10:30 and official start time is 11 a.m. This means that the library will remain open for us for an entire 24 HOURS! They’ve wrangled some of the local Rotarians into volunteering for this event, are gathering donations, and working out the logistics as I write this.

Alec Longstreth will be on hand to give opening remarks to the participants, many of whom have never done this before. I was first acquainted with his work after Dan came back from his first trip to MoCCA with The Dvorak Zine. He’s a past fellow at the Center for Cartoon Studies and currently teaches there. He’s completed the 24 Hour Comics Challenge many times over and so is a wealth of knowledge.

We’re expecting cartoonists from Gilsum, Winchester and Portsmouth, New Hampshire as well as Vermonters from Brattleboro, White River Junction and Johnson. I expect we’ll have quite a few walk-ins.

The event is modeled after the BMAC event of 2005, so it’s open to those 16 and up. But for younger cartoonists, we will have a three-hour comics-making workshop led by Marek Bennett, creator of the syndicated strip Mimi’s Doughnuts. The participants will probably consist of members of the library’s Supergirls and Dark Knights Comics groups. Marek has also completed the 24 Hour Comics Challenge numerous times and now travels the world teaching children the joy of making comics.

Penny watches Marek draw comics, courtesy of Marek Bennett

Want to register and have a life-changing experience? Please email organize@treesandhills.org and put “24 hour comics” in the subject line.  Or call (802) 223-3338. For the children’s portion, please call (802) 223-4665. If you need a personal cheerleader, let me know. I’ll be there for the full 24 hours!

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