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Barlow: Cartoon Challenge

This weekend hundreds of people all over the world will gather for 24 consecutive hours to write and draw their very own comic book. Here in Vermont, Artists' Mediums in Williston will host a group.

It's called the 24-Hour Comic challenge and the rules are simple: You write and draw a 24-page comic book over 24 hours. You work individually and can't have put pencil to paper before the clock begins. When that last hour is over, you’re done. No changes, no revisions.

Crazy, right?

But maybe the craziest thing of all is that this creative challenge actually has its roots here in Vermont.

The 24-Hour Comic challenge was designed to knock down the excuses of procrastination – and it was invented more than 20 years ago by comics’ theorist Scott McCloud as a challenge to his friend, Vermont cartoonist Steve Bissette. Both men had reputations for missing monthly comic deadlines.

McCloud did the first 24-hour comic. Bissette did the second. Then it snowballed.

In fact, it’s inspired a whole cottage industry of timed creative challenges, including a 48-hour film challenge, a three-day novel-writing challenge and a 30-day album-writing contest. Some of these predate 24-Hour Comics, but the popularity of their comic cousin helped them all soar and grow over the last few years.

My first 24-hour comic challenge was in August 2005 in Brattleboro. A local museum hosted the challenge to promote a gallery showing of original comic book art. More than 50 people showed up to participate in what may have been, at the time, the largest 24-hour comic gathering in history.

And it changed my life. It swept me up, tore me apart and put me back together again. I was tired and hungry, but much the better for doing it. The secret is to try and do one comic page per hour - and that works fine for the length of an average workday. Around the 17th hour of the challenge, however, delirium set in and I drew comic pages I don’t remember drawing.

It turns out that timed creative challenges - whether it’s making a comic book, a movie or a novel - are transformational experiences because they force us out of this world and back into our own head. Everything else is gone: the job, the bills, and at least for the moment - even the family. Our only responsibility is to ourselves, to the characters on the page, to the vital role of storyteller.

They’re also incredible bonding experiences; I met some of my best friends at that challenge nine years ago and that mashing of people and creativity led me down the path to creating more and more comics of my own.

It took a leap of creative faith just to show up especially since I’d never drawn a comic before. But I made the leap – and I’ll be forever glad I did.

Daniel Barlow is the co-founder of Green Mountain Graveyards, a photography and research project devoted to Vermont cemeteries. He also serves on Montpelier's Cemetery Commission and works as a lobbyist for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
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