Monday, March 14, 2005

Nat Gertler Interview

I would like to thank Nat Gertler for agreeing to answer the following questions via e-mail last month.
* What exactly is a 24 hour comic?
In its purest form, a 24 hour comic is a complete 24 pagecomics story created by one person in single 24 hour period.To anyone who doesn't know comics, that may not sound likemuch, but the typical comic book series needs a team ofpeople working on it just to put out an issue a month.The idea was invented by Scott McCloud, the most respectedliving comics theoretician, who had a friend who normallyproduced finished comics very slowly but could sketch veryquickly. Scott challenged him to try creating a comics storyin 24 hours, and to meet the challenge, Scott did it himselffirst.There are a couple variations that are considered "noblefailure 24 hour comics". One is if you work on it for 24 hoursstraight, no sleep, and turn out a complete story that's lessthan 24 pages. That's called the Gaiman Variation, afterbest-selling author Neil Gaiman who only managed to completea great 13 page story during 24 hours. The other is theEastman Variation, named for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtlesco-creator Kevin Eastman, who didn't finish 24 pages in 24hours, but he just stayed awake until the tale was complete.So a 24 hour comic isn't just a creative thing and it isn'tjust an endurance thing. In order to get that much work donethat quickly, you basically have to let yourself go withthe flow and not plan or rethink a lot of things. It endsup becoming the comics equivalent of free-form jazz, an improvisation that could take you some place horrible or someplace wonderful, and you just have to ride with it.
* Why did About Comics decide to sponsor a national 24 hour comics day?
Let me clear something up: it's not national, it's -international-.Last year, we had official event sites in three countries, andindividual participants celebrating on their own in a number ofother places. This year, we already have event sites lined up onthree different continents, with people from at least ten differentcountries planning to participate.When I decided to found 24 Hour Comics Day, it wasn't supposedto be nearly that big. We were about to publish a book entitled24 Hour Comics, which collected Scott McCloud's choice of nineinteresting 24 hour comics. I thought I'd round up 3 or 4 storesto host 24 hour events, and use that to get a little publicityfor the concept and the book.When word of this idea got out to the retailers, they jumpedaboard quickly, and it grew all out of control. The day wentoff with more than 50 event sites--mostly comic shops, butalso schools, comics clubs, and a museum.
* Why did you pick this particular date (April 23)?
When I went to pick the date for last year's event, I knewit had to be in late April, so that it would occur when thebook was freshly out. And it had to be a Saturday, so thatmost folks would have time to recover before they had to beat work. When I looked at the calendar, it was like a LightShining Down From Above -- April 24th. 4-24-2004. I couldn'thave designed a better date for something called "24 Hour ComicsDay." At least, not before the year 2424.This year's date seemed less miraculous. I wanted to do iton a Saturday about a year from last year's date. I sawthat if the 24 hours started on Saturday, April 23rd, it wouldend on April 24th.
* How closely do you work with comics retailers, like Columbus' Laughing Ogre, who hold 24 Hour Comic Day events?
I provide them with the guidelines, answer their questions,and do what I can to help them drum up publicity. Mostof the real work of running the event on the day itself has tobe done locally, and the folks at the Ogre and other placesare generally quite good at handling that.I tried to provide them with as much support as I can remotely.I run the website, generate some publicity,provide them with forms and information for press releases,access to promotional t-shirts and buttons. I'm trying to roundup sponsors -- not people to give money, but food companies,soda makers, art supply manufacturers to donate product that willhelp the cartoonists reach their goals.
* After last year's event, how many people submitted their finished works to About Comics?
One of the little rules of 24 hour comics is that you haveto give a copy of the finished work to Scott McCloud, whocreated the concept. Since we wanted to put together 24 HourComics Day Highlights 2004, a book of just comics made on 24Hour Comics Day, we had the stores send copies to us, so thatwe could consider them for the book, and then we passed them all to Scott when we were done. While over 500 cartoonistsparticipated at event locations (and untold more celebratedthe day on their own), only 300-and-some actually sent the work in.
* What criteria did you use in choosing from among those comics the ones you put in the book?
I wanted a book that was not only an interesting read, but thatreally made a picture of what went on that day. So I was lookingfor not only quality stories, but also diversity in the stories,in the creators, in the circumstances of their creation. Thereare stories by men and women, a 12 year old and a fifty year old,foreign and domestic, folks who have never even considered drawinga comics story before and folks who are well-respected professionals.We were lucky enough to get one photo-comic that actually showedwhat was going on at an event site during the day, which served allkinds of needs.Some of the stories were easy to weed out. They weren't finished,the text was illegible, they just weren't that interesting. Therewere some beautiful full-color ones, but printing in color wouldhave blown the budget utterly, so they had to go. There were somethat used other people's copyrighted or trademarked characters,which is great fun to create but I didn't want to get sued. Afterweeding those out, though, we still had eighty-some which wereworthy of serious consideration, and saying "no" to any of themwas painful.All in all, 24 Hour Comics Day Highlights 2004 has 24 stories,which makes for one thick book. Plus it has individual panels fromabout 20 more, and some text pieces talking about what 24 hourcomics are and what happened on the day.
* Tell me a bit about About Comics: When was it founded? By whom?
About Comics is really just a one-man operation. I founded itin 1998 to publish some comics I wanted to write. As a writer,I'd written for literally dozens of other publishers, but I wantedto write some things that were hard to find a publisher for, sothe easiest path was to become a publisher myself. It was actually a few years before I expanded into doing things which weren't my writing.
* What are some of your past and upcoming projects?
We just released It's Only A Game, which is a long-forgotten,never-before-collected comics feature created by Charles Schulz,the same guy who created Peanuts. We also have Panel One andPanel Two, a pair of anthologies of comic book scripts by variouswriters, so that people can see how comics writing is done.We're actually slowing down a bit on new projects, because Ihave a new baby in the house and that's taking up a lot oftime and energy. The next thing up is 24 Hour Comics All-Stars,which is being released to celebrate the second 24 Hour Comics Day.All of the stories in this book are done by folks who have donework for the commercial comics field, including the very first24 hour comic by Scott McCloud. After that comes the secondissue of Licensable BearTM, the adventures of a little fellowwho just wants to be licensed to appear on t-shirts and toys.You can learn more about him at
* What do you see as your primary mission as a comics publisher?
The About Comics motto is "publishing things that oughta bepublished", and I take that seriously. I want to make money,of course, but I also see that there is a lot of good materialcreated over the years that is now unseen and forgotten, someof it very influential, and it's a shame. Charles Schulz dida series 45 years ago and no one's ever collected it in abook? That's sad on so many levels. It's the same thing withthe whole 24 Hour Comics situation. Over the years, plenty offolks in the business had gone up to Scott and said "y'know,someone ought to publish a book of these". After more than a decade of that, I was the first person to say to him "I want to publish a book of these". Although if I knew what a wild ride I was getting into... I still would have done it. No reason life has to be boring!

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