Comic books are a very diverse, rewarding hobby. One doesn't have to stop at collecting comics. To be a fan in today's comics climate, you can get by on movies and television alone. The offerings movies and television provide are quality. It doesn't stop there. With social media, anybody can create a comic and post it for their followers to view. That leads me to a comic challenge that I am not sure many people know about. The 24-hour comic, this poses the challenge to any comic book fan who has the guts or nerve to create a 24-page comic book in 24-hours.
My guest on this month's Panel for Panel has a breadth of experience for the 24-hour comic. Emily R. Gillis is the co-founder of the publishing company Wayward Studios. Also, a founder of the Baltimore-Washington D.C.-Virginia based cartoonist society, Square City Comics. Emily has produced a 24-hour comic every year since 2011. I hope you enjoy this interview and make an attempt at the 24-hour comic. Emily shares her tips and knowledge from first-hand experience.
Keith Howard: I first heard about the 24-hour comic book when I was in high school. I was at a summer art residency. I was just wondering how did you find out about the 24-hour comic book?
Emily Gillis: So, I first learned about the 24-hour comic back when I was in college. I think I was a Junior and I don’t remember who first discovered it first but we would all get together and do 1 single comic. So there were I wanna say 6 of us, and we all got together and wrote a story. everybody took a page, everybody inked a page, and because we had so many people we actually managed to color it. we did all of that in 24 hours. I kind of forgot about it for awhile, and years later when I helped start up my comic group called Square City Comics, we decided to pick it up again and try to make this sort of a party thing where we all just got together and made 24-hour comics. I started doing them again back in like 2011, I wanna say. The right way, were I was solo.
KH: Were you reluctant at first to try it? I know for me it’s very intimidating at first to think about.
EG: It is intimidating but at the same time I get really bogged down with long term projects. Like I’ve got my main comic “Jikoshia” that I am doing since High School. When I did my first solo one I was just really really bummed out at how long the comic was taking and decided this would be a great way to try and get something 1 and done. No matter if it was good or not, id have a complete story. I’ve learned since then, it just really helps to, you know revitalize my inspiration. Revitalize my motivation for bigger projects.
KH: That is pretty cool. So, Wayward Studios, is that a way to facilitate your 24-hour comic book obsession? Did you create that or co-create that to get these 24-comic books out? Because you do 1 a year, right?
EG: Yea I do 1 every year. Wayward Studios actually started before I got into doing 24-hour comics again. Wayward Studios is myself and my best friend and we started that as a way to help each with our comics. Like I was doing “Jikoshia” and she was giving me lots of advice on how to improve my coloring skills. One day she just took a page and just decided to color it for me to show me what she meant. It was so good we decided to just team up. So now we’ve become assistants on each other’s comics. We edit each other’s works and we’ve started to really get into the collaborative element. So Wayward Studios is more of a way to motivate each other and make sure we are making the best content we can.
KH: So is it just the 2 of you, or do you have a lot of collaborators with Wayward Studios?
EG: just the 2 of us
KH: Oh wow. So I was looking, you have a lot of different titles but are a lot of those titles 24-hour comics? Like how many are on-going?
EG: Ongoing ones there is “Jikoshia”, “SkyBorne” and “Aspect”, and then all of the mini comics we do with the exception of “Chosen” are 24-hour comics.
KH: OK Ok, you said you started in 2012 doing them or 2011 doing 1 a year? Is that what it was?
KH: So that is a lot, that is a large endeavor.
KH: So, are you a student of the whole write or create what you know? How do you come up with your stories? I know the Cats story (“A Day in the Life of My Cats” 24-hour comic), it says in your bio that you have cats. That must have been from your life?
EG: They were a huge inspiration for that first comic for sure. I used to be a big proponent for write what you know, but at the same time. Writing is a great way to explore what you don’t know. So you might attempt a topic that is completely alien to you, and it will give you some insight as to how that could possibly work. By showing it to other people who might know more about the topic than you. That can give you feedback and further inform how your writing turns out.
KH: Talk about your ongoing title, ha I am going to totally butcher the name
EG: Jikoshia is a project I started back in like I said High School. It was heavily inspired by all the anime I was watching at the time. Like Sailer Moon, all of the classic magical girl animes basically. That is a story of a girl who gets dared to enter an abandoned house and discovers another world called Jikoshia inside of it. there she learns of the legend of these warriors who are sworn to save the world. So naturally she has to become one of these warriors and save the world alongside a woman who takes the job too seriously and a cat who just wants food and belly rubs. That comic has undergone 3 revisions. Each one getting to chapter 13 before deciding to scrap it and start all over again. With Crystals help we kickstarted the first book back in 2012 and I’ve decided this is it. This is my final form, no more going back, plot holes be damned, we are moving forward.
KH: Haha that is funny. When you first did the 24 hour comic, you said you had a lot of your friends help you and you all kind of worked on it. do you now do them pretty much solo?
EG: Oh yea. We weren’t completely familiar with the rules in the 24-hour comic when we did our first one. So it was just an excuse to hang out and draw a comic with friends. But now, I definitely do it solo. I will do it alongside friends, and we can bounce ideas off of each other, but all of the writing, all of the drawing is done by myself.
KH: I know “A Day in the Life of My Cats” isn’t colored but are a lot of yours black and white?
EG: All of the 24-hour comic books are black and white. I am actually working on a revision of my second one “Winter Games”. That is actually going to have spot coloring in it, but everything else is black and white. Doing color is just going to take too much time. I already push the limits for how much time I have.
KH: How do you find the motivation to do these? For me it was always my white whale. It is just 24 pages in 24 hours, it just seems very risky or very tough.
EG: it’s definitely gotten more difficult over the years I think. As I get older, as I have more on my plate. I just really like the idea of having that completed project at the end of the 24 hours. Finishing something is the best motivator for continuing my projects. That feeling of being done and being able to show it to people. “here is a thing I did, isn’t that cool”, I’ve just really liked that feeling.
KH: You saying that reminds me, I was at a comic convention a couple of years ago in Connecticut and Jerry Ordway was there. He drew and inked Superman in the 90s and stuff like that. He was telling me and my friend that no matter how good or bad what you are working on is, always finish it. it is good, even if it isn’t your best work to completely finish it, don’t leave it half done.
EG: I think it was Chuck Jones who said that every artist has 1000 crappy drawings in them, and the only way to get them out of the way is to draw them out. I love that idea. You have to get the bad parts out of the way, you have finish those before you can make your magnum opus.
KH: Is that Chuck Jones from Looney Toons?
EG: I think so yea
KH: How do you prepare for a 24-hour comic book? What is your mantra, what do you do? Do you get everything together first? Your source material, your ideas down?
EG: Well so you’re not allowed to write anything down before the 24 hour countdown starts. That is part of the challenge. To come up with everything on the spot. So I will prepare my materials, I will make template pages that I printed out off my computer. I’ve got a set of story cubes that help me come up with ideas. I set up the space, I set up myself and I get myself plenty of sleep. Make sure I have food prepped for the next day and just go.
KH: Really, I was totally unaware, I always thought you could kind of prepare a little bit. It sounds like you have to come up with everything on the spot.
EG: Yeah, the intention is to come up with it on the spot. But I will admit, I will have an idea I keep around in my head. So long as I don’t write it down, I think it counts. If it’s not physically written down, you can use the idea for a 24-hour comic. The less you have prepared the more true you are to the spirit of the 24 hour comic.
KH: When thinking of these do you have a style in mind, or do you ever work with various kinds of materials? How it is going to look, do you think of the look beforehand?
EG: As I’m writing I will kind of think of the look but with this challenge I typically stick with what I am comfortable with. I don’t vary my style. I don’t do a lot of super detailed stuff until I go through and revise it for print. Just because of time, you work with the tools you are most comfortable with, work with the style you are swiftest in and you are going to make your time work the best.
KH: How different are the 24-hour comic books you do every year to the ones you actually bring to print for Wayward Studios? Are they more like rough drafts for what becomes the completed work?
EG: So for my comics, typically the only editions I make after the fact are cleaning up the text and maybe adding in some spot blacks. Like with “All You Held Dear”, which is from 3 years ago, I added in some shadows. But if you are looking at “Cranky Cthulhu”, the text and all that was added at the time. If you look at “Shadow Play”, all of that is as is. The cat comic I updated 2 years ago. So that has a lot of art cleanup. Just to make it more professional, it is my most popular comic. I really felt like I should up the ante on that one.
KH: I wonder, I have never seen a 24-hour comic on sale before. It was really a surprise that I was able to catch one. Now that I know you guys are located on the east coast, it is very interesting to see that kind of distribution all the way on the west coast.
EG: So funny thing, I’m on the east coast but Crystal is in Seattle. We are a cross country duo. There is a new sort of Indie distributor out in Seattle who she has been in contact with, getting out books in stores out there.
KH: is it that Emerald one that came out a couple of months ago?
EG: Yea Emerald Distro
KH: Yes OK, I’ve heard of that. That is neat, were you friends from childhood or did you meet online?
EG: We met in college actually. We both went to school in Colorado and we both have been doing comics in our youth and became instant friends because of that and a number of other things. After college, we just kept in touch and kept making comics.
KH: I was really shocked to see that (tal king about the comic in a comic shop), id imagine that distribution is pretty hard for a mom and pop operation.
EG: Distribution market is definitely the trickiest part of being an independent cartoonist. At least for me. I know very little about it. when Emerald Distro came about we were like “oh my god someone to do this for us? Yes please!”. So hopefully they do very well, it has been good for us.
KH: I heard about it on Bleeding Cool News a couple of months ago. I think they are building steam. What advice could you give someone who wanted to start doing one of these 24-hour comic books?
EG: The best advice I can give is don’t look back. Don’t be afraid to makes mistakes, if a line isn’t perfect, that is fine move on. When I am making my comics, it is very important to keep moving. So I will be working on the script and I’ll hit a road block. I’ll say you know what fine, I will start drawing what I have. I’ll keep drawing, drawing and drawing until my wrist gets tired. I’ll go on to inking a little bit because that is a little easier on my wrist. If I get tired of that I will back to writing and just jump around. If a page isn’t working for me I will jump to another.
KH: So, don’t get right into detail? Would you say don’t flesh everything out first?
EG: I think it depends on what you are most comfortable with.
KH: You are up for 24-hours, how do you fight your body when it wants to break down?
EG: Get up and move around, do some jumping jacks or something. Having company can really help out. I’ve done the energy drink thing and that usually doesn’t end well. I don’t advise that.
KH: All of your 24-hour comics seem to be different. how hard is it to come up with ideas? You said you have an idea generator?
EG: I have used idea generators online but I have a set of story cubes. They are just a set of like 9 dice that have graphics on them. They don’t necessarily mean anything in particular. You roll however many you feel like you need to use to create your story. so with “Shadow Play”, which is my comic from 2 years ago. I came up with this beasty type monster, a lantern and I forget what the last cube was that I picked, but that ended up turning into a story about a kid who tries to curse her brother but turns her into her brother’s shadow.
KH: Are you the only one at Wayward Studios who does the 24-hour comic?
EG: Nope Crystal does them too. She just released “Light and Shadow” which was originally a 24-hour comic she failed because she didn’t do it in the time allotted. But the story was so good that she fleshed it out and it actually jumped to I think 32 pages. We made a final product that we released earlier this year. She also did “Tikoloshe”, which was her previous one that is a different take on this mythical being in Africa. And then she did one in I think 2013 call “Till Death Do Us Part” which is all about a girl who marries a ghost. She is not as prolific as I am but she enjoys taking on the challenge as well.
KH: You have to start somewhere, right?
KH: I have to start eventually, I’d like to. It is really interesting and a really cool accomplishment in comic books.
EG: At the same time, it is extremely difficult though. Which is why my friends and I have come up with a watered-down version of the 24-hour comic that we call the 12-hour comic. Obviously 12 hours instead of 24 and instead of pushing to 24 we push people to do 10 pages so it is a little less intense but you get the same thing out of it.
KH: Have you gone to any 24-hour comic book events at conventions or anywhere else?
EG: I haven’t done them for shops or conventions. I have done them privately with my local comic group out here.
KH: Tell me more about your local comic group.
EG: It’s called Square City Comics. It started back in 2010, about the same time that Wayward Studios started. It was just an endeavor for me to meet a few other people to try to find some comradery amongst the cartooning community. Cartooning can be a very lonely thing. It started out with just 6 of us meeting in a little restaurant and its since blown up to be over 200 members in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore-Northern Virginia area. We have monthly meetings, we just had a table at Baltimore Comic Con. We host our own 24-hour comic parties and out anthologies and such. It is a very cool place to be if you are on the east coast and are into making comics.
KH: Very cool very cool. What is the best way for people to access your work?
EG: Just got to WaywardStudios.net, if you want to learn more about Square City Comics you can go to SquareCityComics.com. I am on most social media as @thealmightym
KH: Social media is where everybody finds everything. Do you post and update a lot for your comics?
EG: I am not as good on social media as I should be. We try to post new pages of “Jikoshia” online every week. It is on hiatus right now as I finish a move but it will be starting back up early October.
KH: Is there any other big news for Wayward Studios?
EG: Well we are just about to finish up our first art book. Back in February Crystal did a Kickstarter for their make 100 campaign where she drew 100 sketches of birds. She’s finally finished the 100th bird and now we are getting ready to bring it to print. That will be coming out next month as well.
KH: Is that going to be full color or black and white?
EG: Yup full color!
KH: I will have to check that out when it is ready.
EG: If you want to see the birds, we still have to update the final list but you can find them all online at birdbrained.waywardstudios.net
KH: That is a really cool name, with that I believe that is all I have for you thank you for coming!
EG: Thank you for having me.