Friday, October 1, 2010

Nat Gertler Interview

(Tomorrow is the seventh annual 24-Hour Comic Day, a day during comics artists will test their creativity and endurance as they attempt to write and draw an entire 24 page comic story within a mere 24 hours.  Here in Columbus, OH, several such brave souls will gather at an event sponsored by Packrat Comics.
Back in 2005, when I served as Pop Culture Editor for a short lived free paper called The Atomic Tomorrow, I interviewed Nat Gertler, the founder of About Comics, the sponsor of 24 Hour Comics Day, for a feature article about that year's event. The full text of the interview was then posted on my blog The Word From On High.  In honor of this year's 24 HCD, I've decided to re-present that interview here on Gutter Talk.)
* 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 like much, 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 himself first.There are a couple variations that are considered "noble failure 24 hour comics". One is if you work on it for 24 hours straight, no sleep, and turn out a complete story that's lessthan 24 pages. That's called the Gaiman Variation, after best-selling author Neil Gaiman who only managed to complete a great 13 page story during 24 hours. The other is the Eastman Variation, named for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, who didn't finish 24 pages in 24 hours, but he just stayed awake until the tale was complete.  So a 24 hour comic isn't just a creative thing and it isn't just an endurance thing. In order to get that much work donethat quickly, you basically have to let yourself go with the flow and not plan or rethink a lot of things. It ends up 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, and individual participants celebrating on their own in a number of other places. This year, we already have event sites lined up onthree different continents, with people from at least ten different countries planning to participate.When I decided to found 24 Hour Comics Day, it wasn't supposed to be nearly that big. We were about to publish a book entitled24 Hour Comics, which collected Scott McCloud's choice of nine interesting 24 hour comics. I thought I'd round up 3 or 4 storesto host 24 hour events, and use that to get a little publicity for the concept and the book.When word of this idea got out to the retailers, they jumped aboard quickly, and it grew all out of control. The day went off with more than 50 event sites--mostly comic shops, but also 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 knew it had to be in late April, so that it would occur when the book was freshly out. And it had to be a Saturday, so that most folks would have time to recover before they had to beat work. When I looked at the calendar, it was like a Light Shining Down From Above -- April 24th. 4-24-2004. I couldn't have designed a better date for something called "24 Hour Comics Day." 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 saw that if the 24 hours started on Saturday, April 23rd, it would end 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. Most of the real work of running the event on the day itself has to be done locally, and the folks at the Ogre and other places are 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 will help 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, who created the concept. Since we wanted to put together 24 Hour Comics Day Highlights 2004, a book of just comics made on 24 Hour 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 cartoonists participated at event locations (and untold more celebrated the 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 that really made a picture of what went on that day. So I was looking for not only quality stories, but also diversity in the stories,in the creators, in the circumstances of their creation. There are stories by men and women, a 12 year old and a fifty year old,foreign and domestic, folks who have never even considered drawing a comics story before and folks who are well-respected professionals.We were lucky enough to get one photo-comic that actually showed what was going on at an event site during the day, which served all kinds 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. There were some beautiful full-color ones, but printing in color would have blown the budget utterly, so they had to go. There were some that used other people's copyrighted or trademarked characters,which is great fun to create but I didn't want to get sued. After weeding those out, though, we still had eighty-some which were worthy of serious consideration, and saying "no" to any of them was painful.All in all, 24 Hour Comics Day Highlights 2004 has 24 stories,which makes for one thick book. Plus it has individual panels from about 20 more, and some text pieces talking about what 24 hour comics 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 wanted to write some things that were hard to find a publisher for, so the 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 and Panel Two, a pair of anthologies of comic book scripts by various writers, 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 second issue of Licensable Bear (TM), the adventures of a little fellow who just wants to be licensed to appear on t-shirts and toys.You can learn more about him
* What do you see as your primary mission as a comics publisher?
The About Comics motto is "publishing things that oughta be published", 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 a book? That's sad on so many levels. It's the same thing withthe whole 24 Hour Comics situation. Over the years, plenty of folks 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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