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The Indy 5-Ohh!:Nat Gertler creator of 24-Hour Comics Day!

Written by J.M. Hunter on Friday, September 30 2011 and posted in Columns
The Indy 5-Ohh!:Nat Gertler creator of 24-Hour Comics Day!

Nat Gertler creator of the 24-Hour Comics Day event and writer of numerous The Complete Iditot's Guide stops by to talk with Indy Hunter before Saturday's 24-Hour Comic Challenge starts!

The 24-Hour Comics Challenge has now been a "staple" in the efforts of many comic creators old and young, pro and newb. Created originally by legendary Scott McCloud another man took it a step further and helped fashion it as an international event. That man is Nat Gertler!

J.M. Hunter, the Indy Hunter is about to embark on the 24-Hour comics journey once again, this Saturday October 1st, but before he does, he decided to talk to Nat Gertler and find out some tips and tricks and more importantly the history of 24-Hour Comics Day. But first...he needs to stop talking about himself in the third person!
So with that said, here's my one on one, (mostly) with Nat Gertler, special guest appearance by the Outhouse's own Bluestreak.

IH: Hey Nat, thanks for taking time out to talk with us. So first question for those that don't know is: What prompted you to create 24-Hour Comics Day and years later what are your thoughts on the phemom it's become?

Nat: People had been making 24-hour comics for over a decade since Scott McCloud had first dared Steve Bissette to create a 24 page comic in 24 hours. I was gearing up to publish the first book collecting 24-hour comics, edited by McCloud himself, and to get publicity, I started looking for comics retailers willing to host a little event in their store. More retailers were interested than I'd expected, so I said "hey, let's do this all on one day", and on April 24, 2004, the first 24 Hour Comics Day was held.

And that's the way it rolled from there, regularly being more than expected. The first year, we had one location - I think it ended a one person location - that wasn't in North America, and that was enough for me to claim it was an international event.... and that that made other locations feel welcome. Each year, it's been bigger, more locations. I think it's in 20 countries this year. The number of participants is in the low four figures, and while not all complete the 24 pages, it does mean that the number of pages completed each year is in the tens of thousands. Measured in sheer output, that might be the biggest art event in the world.

I ran the event for the first four years, then passed it on to other hands, feeling that I'd already brought what growth to it that I could with my personal tools. Now it's grown up, left home, and I get to sit back and look at my creative offspring with pride. Plus, having retired from running it, I've gotten to actually participate for the past three years.

IH: Looking back, what would you say was the most challenging part of coordinating an event like this?

Nat: For me, it was trying to figure out what things needed to be done, what things I had to do, and what things didn't need to be done or i could trust others to handle. I'm always a more do-it-myself kind of guy, not because I'm great at everything, but because if things go wrong, I'd rather blame myself. I've got no interest in being an employer; I'm not competent at delegating. So with the first 24 Hour Comics Day, I was mailing video tapes of Scott McCloud explaining the 24-hour comics challenge to all the event sites, I was collecting lists of everyone who took part and mailing them participation certificates... and I figured out that those were Things Which Did Not Need Doing. The things that I really needed to do - keep event organizers informed of the basics, provide central publicity and press relations, and manage the event location list - they were things which I could do. I won't say I was great at each thing, but they got it done. If there was a book on how to create a worldwide creativity event, I would've read it. Well, maybe not. If I had known I was starting an annual, worldwide event, I might have run and hid.

IH: For those that are new to the challenge, any advice you'd offer them? From all of the events you covered during your time with the event was there ever a "do's and don'ts" list compiled from the various participants? More importantly could I get it in "For Dummies" format?

Nat: Well, I have one suggestion that's really not a suggestion, it's a command: do not under any circumstance drive yourself home from a 24 Hour Comics Day event after participating. It's my nightmare that someone confusing the effect of four Red Bulls with actually being attentive will cause an accident that will kill him/herself and/or some bystanders.

Beyond that, I've seen plenty of lists of "how to" coming from people sharing the techniques they succeeded with... in some of the most aggressively promoted cases, even when they don't succeed. I've come to believe that these lists are not very useful, because one method does not fit all. If you're going to make it through this marathon, it's because you did it your way, not because you put your energy into trying to match someone else's style. Start by building a plot, or dive right in? Well, taken the 24 hour comics challenge four times, and I've completed it four times (admittedly, to varying degree of satisfaction in the results), and I've always dived right in. But that's me, and the odds are pretty good that that's not me. Other people do it differently, and that's them.

And if the technique you tried ends up not working? Congratulations, you've learned something, and next time you'll do it differently. Some people think that taking the 24 hour comics challenge is only worth it i you end up with a good comic. But even if you didn't, you learn things... you figure out techniques, or perhaps you just learn about what you are and are not capable of. Win!

IH: Since 24-Hour Comics Day started have you seen various hybrids of the challenge spring up? If so, what are some notables of said 24-Hour mutation?

Nat: There definitely are things that were inspired by McCloud's original 24 hour comics, like the 24 hour play, possibly the 48 hour film, but those are things that predate the founding of the Day. There are some things where I've been told directly that 24 Hour Comics Day was an influence, like the Workday Comic, which is an 8-hour, 8-pages event. But something like the Hourly Comic - which was an event where various people did one comic strip documenting their previous hour for each waking hour of the day -- is that influenced by the Day? I suspect so, since it's not just a creative challenge but a coordinated one across multiple locations. But I don't have proof.

One thing which I know was a side-effect of the day is Dewey's 24 Hour Read-A-Thon, which was founded by a woman who wanted something to do while her husband and son were off participating in 24 Hour Comics Day.

IH: Now that you've had some time and distance away from heading the event, what's the experience like when people ask you about it or mention it? More currently what are you working on these days?

Nat: Oh, I'm a proud papa on this thing. When I see it being mentioned, whether it's a newspaper article or just a blog entry where someone's planning to take part, there's a little glow, knowing that a lot of people are finding this creative outlet because of 24 Hour Comics Day. And when I see it's happening in some place which hasn't taken part before -- there's a 24 hour Comics Day event in South Africa this year -- it just makes the world a smaller place, all these people in places I'll probably never be, pulling together as part of this.

As for me, I've been clearing my plate as a publisher, hoping to be able to spend more time focusing on my writing. I released or sent to press seven books this month, one from the About Comics line (The Misadventures of Prince Ivan, written by popular fantasy writer Diane Duane, hitting stores in October) and six from Combustoica, my prose print-and-ebook line. But at this point, I'm not sure what I'm going to write next.... I have both a novel and a graphic novel script that are in need of completion, a couple new comics concepts I want to get out there to mainstream book publishers. However, a lot of what I've done in the past were projects I was approached to write, and I never know when someone will ask me to do something interesting. You have to be open to what life brings you.

IH: Bonus question from or our own:
BlueStreak, ( ) writer of the weekly Idiot's Guide to Comics column asks:
"Hey Nat, from one aspiring Idiot's Guide writer to an established one, let me ask you what tips would you offer someone who's working on their own Idiot's guide? (mutually talking or know Hunter doesn't count!).

Nat: Well, my first piece of advice is to be careful of calling what you write an "Idiot's Guide", as Penguin, owners of the "Complete Idiot's Guide" trademark, has been known to be understandably protective.

I've written or co-written or co-written nine Complete Idiot's Guide (counting different editions), and I've found that where you have to be careful is when you're writing about how to do something that came naturally to you. When you haven't had to struggle to figure something out, it can be easy to overlook what would make it difficult for someone not so blessed. And do keep a sense of humor in your work; I've sometimes prepared for writing one by reading some Dave Barry essays, as his comedic rhythms make a good influence.

Well, folks, I don't think I could've said it better myself. To find out more about Nat Gertler check him out at his site, so with that, look for me this Saturday to try my hand at the 24-hour comics challenge. Will I get anything on paper? Will I freeze or will I please? Who can say, that's the thrill of the challenge, test your comic making mettle. Until that day, I remain, J.M. Hunter, the Indy Hunter!
Thanks for reading!

Written or Contributed by: J.M. Hunter

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