With a lot of ink and some cheating, here’s HOW I illustrated H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Memory” and survived my first 24 hour comics challenge.
My whole being screamed “Fuck yes! I’ll come”when Jens K Styve, a childhood hero of mine, asked me to participate in in his event Oslo 24h Comics Challenge, but it took some maneuvering to get to run off without wife & kid for the whole duration of this and the proceeding Oslo Comics Expo. And by maneuvering, I mean begging, whining, and groveling.
A 24 hour comic is a terrifying thing. In addition to the 24 pages in as many hours, there was the added pressure of delivering print-ready files no later than the 27th hour, and being locked in a library with some of Norway’s best cartoonists. So I decided to cheat. Instead of coming up with something original within the 24 hour span, I decided to do a project I had been postponing too long. I could write a whole book on why I choose to densely illustrate Lovecraft’s so-called prose-poem “Memory”, but for now let’s just say I think it is fucking awesome.
I’ve been fascinated with drawing directly with ink, and with drawing as a form of meditation, ever since I was 17 and stumbled upon the Pentel Colour Brush. These fascinations have intensified and merged with music, of the dark and fucking heavy kind, since I started sketching live metal concerts. Jumping off the night train and crawling through the morning rush of Oslo, I knew needed something atmospheric, perhaps doomy, melancholy, and repressive, for my playlist for the session. The choice fell on both of Tripykons albums repeatedly, which in all honesty filled only some of the requirements. But I had other, comic-related undt secret reasons to choose them as well. Secret, secret…
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why I head-bang when I draw live metal concerts. When I first started, it was simply a result of getting in to the music, but more and more I see it as a meditative technique. This meditation is not one of peace and tranquillity, it is a meditation of violence. By tearing loose and banging my head, I achieve three things: A clearing of thoughts, taking away all distractions. A rhythmic blurring of the vision, making it impossible to be precious about mistakes. And finally a deeper connection to the music. These things help by taking away the three factors that most often ruin the sketches: Overthinking, overworking, and distance to the music.
When drawing concerts, the images on stage become like a mantra for the meditation. Under ideal conditions, these flickering images should be the only thought in my head, while art should just come as automatic, thoughtless extensions of the rhythms. In real life, these ideal conditions happen only in small glimmers spread out over whole concerts. But you know… you try.
With “Memory”, closeness to the music was not a point in itself, but treating it as a meditation of violence very much was. I’d like to say I have big enough balls to not give a shit what anyone thinks, but in a room filled with experienced and talented peers in deep concentration I was somewhat self-conscious about head-banging. Add a head-set and glasses, and it was more bursts of rhythmic nodding, rather than a one man pit. Feeble as my head-banging was, it still occasionally had the intended effects.
I cut the text up into 22 little pieces(With number 1 and 24 taken up by the cover and back cover), and each line of text became the mantra for accompanying sketch. Rather than analysing the snippets and planning an appropriate image, I tried to just keep the text and the feeling in my head, and to start each sketch of with a random splatter or line made in beat with the music. Only from that first splatter should I start figuring out what the illustration was going to be, guided by the music and the mantra. Most of the time it was a struggle, and sometimes an image got so stuck in my head when reading the text that there was no escaping committing it to paper, but once in a while… just once in a while… I actually managed to do a completely and magnificently thoughtless image. And that’s fucking awesome.
I knew I was going to make 48 pages, split between the text and the art, so I brought 50 pieces of heavy watercolour paper. I could then afford two mistakes, both of which I spent at the final few pages of lettering. Having a limited stock of paper forces concentration, and adds a gleeful thrill to it all.
The art part was done pretty quickly, and I had all the interior art and lettering finished after about 10 hours, when a major newspaper visited and I just happened to spread all my pages all over the floor. And yes, I was well aware that this was a good thing to do with a photographer in the room. But more importantly, I always do this when finishing a comic. Being able to see the whole work in one take makes it easier for me to judge how well it fits together. It looked pretty good. Yes. I think.
Being the first to “finish”, I of course had to help out with dinner and dishes and other stuff that makes a 24h comic challenge extra memorable. I squashed and cut garlic ’till my fingers were red and sore, for Per from Jippi Comics magnificent bacalao. Late evening dinner with a bunch of cartoonists outside at the stairs of a library in downtown Oslo. Pretty groovy.
The trouble was, when I finally started scanning and finishing up everything, nothing seemed to work and everything got ten times harder from the increasing lack of sleep. The danger of being “done” early is that it ain’t over ’till it’s over. I sent the print-files at 07:30 in the morning, just inside the 24 hours. Stumbled like a zombie through the streets of Oslo, found my coffin, and laid myself to rest.
So… sorry about this way too long post. I’ve really tried to make it short and concise, but I’m a total fuck-up and writing short takes a lot longer time. Anyhow… What else? Looking back at my first 24h comic, it is barely a comic but I think it works like a charm. I set out to explore narrative within the frameworks of art made through violent meditation, and I think the results fit the mood of Lovecraft’s story. Lovecraft’s shortest tales are oft misunderstood, and very underrated, and I think I’ve managed to present “Memory” in a fashion that both illuminates the hidden strengths of the fable, and also adds my touch to it. And that’s what I aim for.
I’m not done with this. Neither “Memory” nor Lovecraft’s prose-poems. But for now you can check out the digital download version, just as it was created in the 24 hour space, at Sellfy.com. And remember, as with everything I do, this is released under an open license, so if you buy it feel free to share it and use it any way you want. The price is $4.99, or just $1.00 if you share the link first. Buying it is a good way of pushing me to do more of these.