A few people have asked what I did in preparation for our recent 24h comics marathon. As you may already know, we deviated from the original 24 hour comics challenge by allowing artists to prepare whatever they wanted in advance, short of drawing the final page. I finished drawing all my pages in about 12 hours, which sounds impressive, but you have to remember I had planned very thoroughly and have a style which lends itself to working quickly and spontaneously. I needed to get finished as soon as possible so I could begin compiling everyone else’s books and get them ready for print, so I over-prepared.

My story, Nicholas & Edith started life as a story about two kids exploring a haunted scrap yard. As with all my stories, it started life as a note on my phone. The more I thought about it, the more it changed and shifted into the story it is now. I’m sure if I had longer I’d still be rewriting it now. There was a long period in the middle of development where it was absolutely vital to me that the recurring motif of a box of matches and a lamp was included although I couldn’t tell you why that is now.

I wrote about a dozen outlines of the story, not worrying about getting the words right, but the sequence of events. This was probably the hardest part. I began running out of time, so I settled on the most up-to-date version of the story and started thumbnailing it all out in my sketchbook to figure out the pace and flow of the story. I did my thumbnails while simultaneously writing the script from the outline. I wrote on my iPad so I could either easily print it off, annotate and edit it or copy it into the roughs to lay out as text.

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I scanned in all my thumbnails and edited them into shape as a rough page. This did mean scaling, skewing or stretching them, so where I did this I worked back over the top with my cintiq to correct any mad errors.

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I then lettered the whole thing in a typeface I’d made a while ago from my own lettering. Then I printed it all off and bound a quick full size rough of the book to check it read as I wanted. I also printed off an A4 version and a between A4 and A5 version. I did this so that I had options of what size to draw when it came time for the event itself. I ended up using the smaller of the roughs in the end. They were larger than print size but not too big. They worked out to be about the right size for me to draw quickly and comfortably. I think it was 80% of A4 or thereabouts.

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On the day, I had my lightbox, paper, extra ink, pens, watercolours and a really big jar or water for watercolours. More water means that it lasts longer and I wouldn’t have to keep going to get fresh water.

When we began at 3pm, I started out by drawing out all of my panel borders for every page, then doing the lettering. I find lettering the most physical stressful part of the process and wanted to get that out of the way before I got too fatigued.

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Once everything was lettered, which took about an hour and a half, I jumped into line work. I had two pens for the line work, a Peyton Street Pens Soquel Ebonite for the daytime scenes, and a Swan Mabie Todd for the wild night time scenes. I find that different pens lend themselves better to the different ways I draw. The Soquel has a fine nib with a good degree of flexibility while the Swan is slightly broader with a much more flexible nib which suited this story nicely. My roughs meant that I’d figured out what needed to be drawn and where it should go, but not how it should be drawn. I found this useful because I didn’t at any time feel like I was tracing. It all felt like drawing. I know this might sound strange, but I make a distinction between tracing and drawing in my work. I get much more from the process, and feel that the work is better, more fresh if it feels like it is the first time I’ve drawn it. Having loose roughs forces me to draw, not trace.

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I found not colouring the pages straight away quite difficult. Without a wash, I think my work tends to look a bit flat and lifeless. I didn’t want to accidentally smudge anything before it’d dried, and it’d be easier to keep consistency with my colour if I did it all in one go.

I’d done most of my line work by about 10:30pm and moved on to the colour. I had worked out a colour palette beforehand, with notes to myself in case I got tired and confused detailing how much of each colour to mix together for which shade, which was very useful in the small hours of the morning. I worked with a #4 Series 7 Windsor & Newton brush, which is probably a little too big for the size I was drawing, but I find it lends itself to spontaneity quite nicely. I used my normal dozen half-pans, leaning heavily on my neutral tint and Paynes Grey. I used a heavy dilution of Brusho Colourcraft powdered ink for the reds. I hadn’t tested it beforehand, which was dumb in hindsight but it worked out well. I found that the red, when dropped into a wet wash really overpowered it. It was great, exactly what I was hoping for.

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The most interesting thing about the colouring, which probably took about 4-5 hours in total, was that my confidence with the brush grew with every page. By page 19 I achieved something like paintbrush zen. I knew exactly how much paint was on the brush by weight, I knew where both the leading and underside edges were touching the paper and I knew how flat or textured a wash would sit. That or I was starting to get delirious with fatigue. Either way, it was a very agreeable sensation.

I finished painting the last page and resisted the urge to go back and tinker at about 3am. I drew the covers, scanned everything in, adjusted the levels, isolated the panels against a transparent background and got everything into an indesign document. It was then that I realised I was making dumb mistakes and went to get a couple of hours sleep at about 5am.

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The next day was spent getting everyone else’s books ready for print, taking them to the printers, picking up boxes of books from the printers and then celebrating.

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If I get the chance to do something similar again, I’m not sure there’s anything here I’d deviate from. I reckon doing more pages could be fairly straightforward, but I think that the difficulty level soon ramps up if you times pages by tiredness. Would be interesting to see what I could do working at that pace for an extended period though. I did these 28 in 12 hours, but I don’t think I could double that and do 50 pages in 24 hours. There’s probably a steep curve on that graph.

I think my takeaway lesson from all this is that I really need to plan ahead and focus on the task in hand. In previous 24h comics I’ve done, I’ve spread out the different tasks across the whole day - a bit of ink, a bit of colour, a bit of pencil, repeat etc. This time around I tried to discipline myself into focussing on one thing at one time. I’ve thought for the longest time that multitasking is impossible for me, and I think I confirmed it for myself here. I didn’t check twitter, emails or instagram. I listened to music I’d heard a hundred times before and wore comfortable clothes. I didn’t go nuts and drink wild amounts of coffee to stay awake, I brushed my teeth and changed my socks at 11pm and 5am, both of which were real treats.

I think there were a number of factors that really helped. Being accountable to a team of volunteers and to Kristyna, Jack, Sarah, Joe, Warwick and Fumio was a big thing. I didn’t want to let anybody down. Being in an unfamiliar location, the Castle Green Hotel in Kendal, was helpful in that there was no ‘normal’ routine there that I was breaking, so it didn’t feel so odd to be up and working for so long. Also being visited by some really big names in this game - Scott McCloud, Jeff Smith, Bryan and Mary Talbot, Gail Simone, Junko Mizuno and Joost Swarte and having their kind words of support really helped too.

The 24 Hour comic is a really gruelling challenge even when you get the chance to prepare ahead of time. Knowing your tools and knowing your process are really important. Your tools need to be boring to the point of being invisible so they don’t get in the way of all that drawing.