Scott Ziolko put his pencil down. Mortar the Mighty is half-drawn, but Ziolko needs a break. It was 2:15 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 8, and he had been drawing for almost 15 hours. He still had nine hours left to complete a comic book — 24 pages in 24 hours.
Ziolko sipped from one of many sodas he had consumed and held up a penciled sketch of a robotic-like god.
The Missourian's Mark Johnson offers a onClick="window.open('','popup','toolbar=no,menubar=no,resize=yes,scrollbars=yes,width=700,height=500')">
multimedia experienceof what it was like to participate in the 24-hour comic book challenge.
“I’m a little bit ahead,” he said. “I could take a five- to 10-minute break.”
Ziolko had not moved more than 20 feet from this table since he first sat down shortly before noon the previous day. He was among 15 or so artists who brought drawing supplies and sustenance to Quinlan Keep, a comic book shop on Eighth Street owned by Boen Quinlan, to celebrate 24-Hour Comics Day. The event, created in 2004 by cartoonist and author Scott McCloud, was celebrated in 89 locations around the globe this year. For the first time, Columbia hosted the event and served as Missouri’s only site.
“There is a strong enough comic book community in Columbia,” said Ziolko, who has participated in the event twice in Kansas City. “This is the first time we are having an event to make people more aware of the comic book scene in Columbia. We have interesting creators here.”
If Quinlan Keep had caption bubbles like the pages of a comic book, the onomatopoeia would have been the rustling of papers, the scratching of a busy pencil or the snap of an opening soda can rather than the ZAP! POW! or SPLAT! of a fight between good and evil. Quinlan, a man who knows his customers by name and reads whatever sits on the shelves of the shop he opened last January, decided to hold the event after Ziolko approached him with the idea.
“Scott came in and said he’s done this event in the past and wanted to do it locally,” Quinlan said. “I’m all about supporting the local people.”
The event presents a publication opportunity for comic book artists if they complete a story on 24 pages in the given time slot, Ziolko said. Although surrounded by ideas of immortal superheroes and otherworldly heroic abilities, attempting to stay awake and focused on their work tests the artists’ creativity, endurance and consistency, he said.
“It’s a challenge to stay up for that amount of time, but it’s a lot of fun because you are with your peers,” Ziolko said. “Having others around with that same interest keeps you motivated. In that sense it is not as hard compared to if you do it by yourself. ... It’s kind of fun to see the types of ideas that come into your brain around the 15th hour.”
There are no set rules restricting participants from taking breaks or sleeping, but managing time is critical to completing a story, Ziolko said.
As the clock ticked and light-gray sketches become dark outlines of villains and heroes, ideas bounced among the artists and became stories on paper; these stacks of paper turned into thin books. Each hour brought a new page, and it was each artist’s hope that the day would yield a new book, a process that often takes weeks to accomplish.
At three minutes before noon on Saturday, Oct. 7, Quinlan Keep was more crowded than usual with tables and chairs that were set up in between boxes and shelves of comic books. Bags of chocolate-chip cookies and containers with pumpkin bars were scattered across the tabletops, along with piles of white computer paper, rulers and writing utensils.
“If you don’t finish 24 pages, it’s OK,” said Quinlan, trying to dispel the anxiety in the room. “This is just for fun.”
Quinlan glanced at his watch. “OK, two minutes, guys...Coke and water are in the fridge, and the bathroom is in the back. There is a trash can right here.”
John Fortman sat in the back corner and looked over his comic book prompt. The inch-deep paragraph began, “Dear Uncle Johnny, once upon a time” and ends with “THE END.” In between was an account of a fairy frightened by ghosts and ghouls. His 5-year-old niece, Lily, wrote it so that her uncle could draw a comic book for her.
At the next table, Justin Lawson, an MU senior who goes by “Dud,” rolled his skateboard under his feet and organized his papers.
“I have a short attention span,” Lawson acknowledged, “so I’ll probably go out and get lunch.”
Two people have decided to work outside in the sun, and music from their headphones was slightly audible over the sound of passing traffic.
At high noon, the clock started running. Talk stopped and was replaced by the scratch-scratch of pencils and less frequent squeak of erasers.
Seven minutes in, Andrew Christianson, 17, held up his first page to show to his neighbor: A uniform-clad figure stood tall and mighty on the page. It was Christianson’s cover page, and he now questioned whether he needed it.
Fifteen minutes later, Ziolko went over the pencil sketch of a woman’s face in pen. Fortman had made sketches for six pages, and the ghosts from his niece’s story line had transformed from words to pictures.
“I was explaining this to my girlfriend,” Lawson said, “and she just can’t grasp it.”
“My wife told me I was crazy,” Ziolko responded.
At 12:25 p.m., a customer walked into the store to buy a comic book.
“Is this a draw-in?” he asked, handing Quinlan his money.
As Quinlan explained, Fortman looked up from his panels of a dark forest on paper. “Feel free to watch,” he said. “We will draw you in.”
Seeing the scattered Coke cans, the customer asked if the participants planned to measure their caffeine intake.
“I think the caffeine will be measured in gallons,” Fortman said.
Kelly Major, leaning over a pad of paper on her crossed legs, pointed to a bottle of water and shook her head.
“I will consume no caffeine,” she said.
Ziolko looked up. “I’ve already downed one soda.”
Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” came on over the iPod speakers at the front desk, prompting chuckles.
Ziolko had finished his first page. Quinlan had started his own comic strip based on Blinky, a stick figure. Lawson had added color to the bus station scene featured in two of his panels.
After one hour had passed, Lawson got up and headed out the door with his skateboard to get food.
“We can get it for you,” Quinlan offered.
“No, man,” Lawson said. “It’s OK.”
By 1:30, a neighbor had delivered a cake, and Fortman looked up from his growing pile of panels. “We are going to explode by hour six,” he said.
“Well, no one has brought us apples yet,” Quinlan said.
By then, other artists had joined the event. At 1:48, Christianson’s style of surrounding his drawings by words had taken him to his fifth page. He had created a man with a good side, Arkun-Calun, and an evil side, Antur-Calun. Major penciled her second page, and Fortman began adding darker details to multiple panels showing a fairy, ghosts and werewolves. Christian Young, who sat outside and had started out using gold paint on her pages, glanced across to Joe Whelan and then looked at the work she still needed to do.
“We need to label this table ‘progress and crazy.’” Young said. “He is progress, and I am crazy.”
Darkness engulfed the comic book shop, but inside the lights were on and music played. Heads bent over scattered piles of paper. Though the atmosphere seemed mellow, inside the heads and hands of these artists battles raged, mysteries persevered and heroes emerged. About 12:45 a.m., someone put on a pot of coffee.
An hour later, Major, still sticking to water, was standing up to work on her 16th page because sitting had become too tiring. Fortman had finished 24 panels and now sat with a dark pen, turning faded circles into heads and vague lines into trees. Christianson surpassed his goal of finishing 12 pages to create 20 and left about 8 p.m., after the artists had pizza. Young had set aside her gold paint in favor of something new and had started a second and third type of comic.
Blinky, Quinlan’s comic, had by now helped an old lady cross the street and stolen candy from a baby.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching things evolve,” Quinlan said. “My goal is to have 24 panels of Blinky. I think I’ll surpass it, though.”
About 2:15 a.m., a woman brought donuts for the artists. Pages filled with Ziolko’s Mortar the Mighty, Fortman’s werewolves and Lawson’s rebellious characters as the artists braved the night.
Ziolko later reported that between 3 and 4 a.m., he had his doubts.
“I was thinking, why they heck did I ever want to do this?” Ziolko said. “I was low on energy and went to sit in a chair up front. Boen came and got me back on track.”
It took a lot for the artists to concentrate on their goal.
“We all got pretty loopy,” Quinlan said later. “Everything became a ‘your mom’ joke. That was the highlight of my evening. ...There were a few points where I thought I would crash, but then I would get another burst.”
As the sun rose, it was as if they could literally see the light at the end of the tunnel, Ziolko said. About 7 a.m., Quinlan put a comedian on his iPod to keep the group alert, and, about an hour later, bagels were delivered.
“Everything was funny,” Quinlan said. “...(At 11 a.m.), I was really about to crash. I was falling asleep in that chair.” He pointed to a love seat with cushions so comfy that they were as dangerous as kryptonite to the sleepy artists.
By then, Blinky had more than 24 panels in his name, and Quinlan had put down his pencil.
“(Blinky) kind of was a source of inspiration for people,” he said. “People would take breaks and read them.”
At noon, light poured into Quinlan Keep, and Quinlan was the only one inside. He swept up lost Rice Krispies and scraps of paper. Eight people, including Fortman, Ziolko, Major and Lawson, had become their own super heroes — they had completed 24 pages in 24 hours.
Ziolko, who finished about 10:30 a.m., said he produced his best 24-Hour Comics Day comic yet.
“It was awesome,” he said. “We accomplished the goal of getting people excited about comic books...there was a lot of caffeine, but a lot of my energy came from being surrounded by such creativity.”