By Elias Savada.
Ever wonder what it’s like to spend a long day in the life with a comic book artist? Or maybe eight of them?
Dream no more, as 24 Hour Comic offers an interesting look inside the creative minds of some of the disposable/collectible medium’s brightest architects, when they have gathered together and a normal work flow (one comic book per month) is super-compressed into a single day’s super-intense effort. Milan Erceg makes a lively, whimsical debut as a feature film director, even if it did take him several years to turn basically a one-day shoot three years ago into a 70-minute film. It was worth the wait.
The cross-sampling of talent his cameras focuses on assembled at a store in Portland, Oregon, back in October 2013. The largest city in Oregon is known for “coffee, books, bikes, and comics.” I’ll put aside the oversight for forgetting beer, especially if you consider whether any of the artists would down any of the area’s fine brews and end up sleeping through the assignment. Plus, one of the artists was just barely a teenager.
This “not a contest” offered no prizes. Bragging rights are limited to finishing the endurance test, which offers an outlet for creating a 24-page book over a 24-hour period. Scott McCloud (cartoonist and author) actually cooked up this hardcore challenge many years ago. The event mushroomed and, in 2004, became a national holiday (well, the retailers celebrate it the first Saturday in October).
The film’s eight participants include several big names from the Portland area. Paul Guinan is known for Boilerplate, a fictional but incredibly realistic 19th-century robot that has been integral to our planet’s history. (J.J. Abrams has the film rights.) Guinan is also a founding member of Periscope Studio, a high-profile comics and illustration company. There’s also David Chelsea, sporting Harry Potter eyeglasses, who has a pre-natal connection to Erceg. Their fathers were both born on the same day, and went through their complete education and army experiences together. Chelsea’s self-referential idea for his day’s effort is to sketch a reality show comic book about the 24 hour comic event. With him as the host. Jacob Mercy, constantly reticent (to a mildly funny degree) to be on camera, wants to draw a high school heist for his own story, but will also assist his friend, freelance illustrator Pete Soloway, collaborating a Pizza Gun web comic about Barkles, America’s favorite dog. Tom Lechner, a tall stalk of an artist, has one of the most distracting voices I have ever heard. Pokémon fan Sera Stanton (now known as Opal Pence), adorned with pink-tinged hair and small nose tusks, is fascinated with moths and Mothra. Rachel Nabors, an award-winning comic artist who quit the business, is now earning a living (something most comic book artist wannabees can’t do) as a web developer. The other female participant is also the youngest, 13-year-old Rebecca Celsi, who will offer her spin on Leaf, a most unusual squirrel. Her father is nearby.
After making the brief introductions, Erceg moves his attention across the spectrum of talent, in engaging slow tracking, quick zoom, and amusing pull focus shots, with occasional stops on a dwindling donut supply. There’s an overlaid countdown clock that pops up every few minutes. The editing is clever and spritely, with a plucky score by Score Keepers. Intercut visuals wisely complement the various talking heads.
As the film progresses, you’ll get some addition backstories. Some are veterans of the 24 hour format; many (in general) have never completed the task. On average, only 15% hit the mark. The well-focused David seems to grasp the concept and flourishes time after time. Jacob, who is David’s part-time assistant, boastfully believes he can best his master.
There is brief filler chat from industry titans sprinkled about, from Mike Richardson and Scott Allie of Dark Horse Comics and Andrew McIntire, VP of Things From Another World, the local store that is the film’s ground zero. There are side trips, to the local Stumptown Comic Con or a road trip to Seattle, and stats about the comics biz that get flashed up on the screen. A fan boy, some drunks, a radio host, and two brothers (long time graphic novelists Arnold and Jacob Pander) walk into the store. (This is where you provide a joke.)
While the artwork is shown in brief snippets, Erceg emphases the artists and their routines. Hopefully the pamphlets will be offered as an extra on the DVD/Blu-ray.
Director Erceg, who also edited the film (and produced it with his wife, Shawna), shares writing credit with David Chelsea and Ryan Sage. But it’s pretty much Erceg’s baby (he also photographed with Arlo Rodieck). A labor of love. Formerly a creative director of a boutique motion picture graphics company in Los Angeles, Erceg returned home to Portland to tend his ailing mother. His schedule’s flexibility allowed him to film Chelsea and the other in their day-long write of passage.
The film recently world premiered at the D.C. Independent Film Festival; Gravitas Ventures will be distributing 24 Hour Comic later this year.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2017 by Centipede Press).