Comic books artists draw on stamina in 24-hour challenge


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It was all fun and games until weariness set in. Then, despite the heroic struggles of a plucky band of comic book artists, everyone just threw in their ink-stained towels and went home.

In truth, the story line was this: seven self-published and/or amateur artists sat down around 3 Saturday afternoon to create their own graphic novels as part of an international "24-Hour Comics" day.

Patrick Donley, owner of Time Tunnel Comics in Castle Shannon, organized the event in the hope that shared inspiration -- not to mention pizza, beer and soda -- would spark a kind of "Hey kids, let's put on a show!" enthusiasm among local creative types.

"I'm hoping to take pictures and put them up every hour on my Facebook page," Mr. Donley said. "Pictures of our gradual decline."

The store owner would end up napping on the couch, but for the most part, the artists kept going with the dogged reserve of Lois Lane in pursuit of a story.

Artists throughout the world -- and for some reason, a large number in Finland -- took up the challenge. A standard 24-page comic book might normally take weeks or months to complete.

According to Scott Hedlund, a Bellevue artist whose project consisted of creating panels to document the Time Tunnel event every 10 minutes, most of his colleagues left between 4:40 a.m. and 9 a.m. with almost all pages drawn but not inked.

A couple -- Dave Hobbs of Dormont and Nate McDonough, a recent Art Institute of Pittsburgh grad from Columbus, Ohio -- finished their projects.

"I'm having fun," Mr. Hobbs said around 11 p.m. Saturday, "although I haven't actually sat down to draw for more than an hour straight in years ... my hand is killing me."

His comic was a bizarre mix of "Mr. Men" characters acting out the plot of the Bruce Willis thriller "Die Hard."

Alan Rickman was played by "Mr. Rude," with "Little Miss Scary" as his henchman, Karl. This is one comic that won't be posted or published, alas, because the licenses belong to others.

"I just wanted to do this for myself," said Mr. Hobbs, who was treating the event "as a minimalist episode."

Many of the artists have worked on the classic superhero graphic novel, but there was more of a sense of fun in these projects.

Barry Linck was a student at West Allegheny High School when he created "Phineus, Magician for Hire." Twenty-two years later, he has created 27 issues around the adventures of his paranormal investigator, his wife and assorted monsters and vampires plaguing contemporary Pittsburgh.

The print books are available through his Web site (www.phinmagic.com), where online episodes are updated at least three times a week.

The youngest artist taking the 24-hour challenge was Mr. McDonough, 21, who produced a black-and-white second issue of a self-published comic about a character named "Grixly." Issue No. 1, which he had on hand, cost 99 cents and was labeled "Suggested for mature readers."

"That cover [message] has nothing to do with what's inside of it, it's only because there are immature things contained within that I have to have a disclaimer," he said.

Working in his stocking feet, he said, "I'm doing my best to make myself at home here."

Casual was certainly the mood, with mp3 players knocking out tunes through portable speakers around the six tables set up in the back of the Time Tunnel store. Scattered around the tables were 2-liter bottles of soda, numerous opened bags of chips and other snacks, cookies, leftover pizza and, nearing the end of the day, three large stainless steel urns of coffee were brought in from a shop in Mt. Lebanon.

There had been stagings of the 24-hour challenge around Pittsburgh before but this was a first for Mr. Donley, who said he was hopeful of trying it again next year.

Besides bringing in food, drink and Sharpies, Mr. Donley had arranged something even more valuable. Larry Young, a San Francisco-based publisher and a longtime friend, flew in to chat up the artists and customers, and was willing to take a look at portfolios.

"You're like the Lando Calrissian of this place; you're the administrator of this facility," Mr. Young said to the owner.

Mr. Young's company, AiT/Planet Lar, carries a lot of weight in the independent publishing industry. He said a few artists brought their work into Time Tunnel for a look-see, most notably one guy who had "maybe 80" pages of a graphic novel retelling of Shakespeare's "MacBeth" ... done in pointillism.

"This thing was completely unabridged, and he decided at one point there had to be a better transition between scenes, so he wrote one in."

One of the 24-hour participants had a more modern take in creating his comic. Dan Greenwald of Shaler works by day as an administrator for Carnegie Mellon University. Three times a week, he works on his online vigilante comic, "The Blue Wraith." (www.bluewraith.com). For this event, however, he was doing a very unheroic take on a slice-of-life story set in an office -- "Just for something different, just to stretch myself," said Mr. Greenwald.

His work was not done in pen and ink, but entirely on a laptop computer. After scanning standard comic-book frames squares into an Adobe Photoshop program, he was drawing with a WACOM interactive stylus.

"It's kind of a hybrid," he said.

Some of the others, like Mr. Greenwald, had met during 2006 and 2007 24-hour challenges. Although he was enjoying the exercise, he said, "I'm at the hobbyist level with aspirations to go further but have no real delusions that this will afford me a living at this point."


Maria Sciullo can be reached at msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478.


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