Follow this link or scroll down to read my comic from this year's 24-Hour Comic Day. Warning: it contains male nudity, graphic violence, and adult themes. I have lots of commentary but read the book first to avoid spoilers.
All done? Let me start by confessing that I cheated. I spent the week leading up to our marathon writing, drawing roughs, and printing them in blue on letter-sized paper to pencil on the big day. I never expected to get more than halfway through but I pulled it off with a bit of rushing and the next day I spent about 8 hours doing minor touch-ups and adding dialogue and sound effects on the computer so I could post the final result here. The blues were left in so you could see them, but if I go through with my urge to color it, I'll post a nicer version later.
My previous 24-hour comic was completed under the official rules, which require that you go in empty-handed -- without a story -- and exit with a finished comic. I'm really proud to have accomplished this in the past, but last year I aspired to something more than I could do within the time frame, and hated the taste of failure. Now my attitude towards 24-Hour Comic Day has changed -- because a 24-hour marathon takes so much out of me, I want to stack the deck to make sure it ends with something to be proud of. Since I participate primarily to actually produce a full-blown comic then I have no qualms with cheating if it helps me do so. In this particular case, cheating made me really happy.
The idea used for comic was the same one I failed to execute on at the previous year's 24-Hour Comic Day. It's basically my take on the "reach enlightenment to become the ultimate combatant" from stories like Matrix, Star Wars, and Karate Kid, drawing inspiration from a moment in the Avatar: the Last Airbender cartoon series, where Ang was being trained and was told to abandon his desire for someone he loved to reach the final level of power. This thread was abandoned during the series, but I thought it would be fun to create a hero with the same hindrance, only to have the person he loves overcome his problem for him.
The pit fight seemed like a natural setting for the idea. Roughly, I knew it would be about a pit fighter sentenced to death via combat, and a girlfriend who was in the audience, and who eventually killing herself to help him overcome his desire for her so he could save himself and wipe out everyone responsible. I worried that it would be too hard to sell everyone on the protagonist's rapid ability to fight through his own grief in a matter of panels, but I felt the idea was interesting enough to shoot for it.
Writing was the time consuming part of the process. I used Excel to map out all of the plot structure beats I wanted to hit, and then paired each one with page descriptions and dialogue that matched, fleshing out the in-betweens as needed. I tried to picture the dialogue and events of each page as best I could, but had sections of broad strokes for things like the Rat Pack fight. If you want me to post the Excel file, lemme know.
In the beginning, I assumed I would have to do flash-backs of the protagonist's love, training moments with the master, as well as some story of what brought them to the arena, but all of this was ditched because it seemed unnecessary to say what needed to be said. Having things as trim as possible was an objective not just for a honed message, but because I wanted plenty of room for combat -- I love when action has lots of panels to breath with little time passage between them, because it seems to flow better, like a movie. I ended up with decent space, though not as much as I wanted. For this same reason, I made a point to run the story past as many people as I could, and listening to their feedback really helped (thanks guys).
Layouts took about 16 hours, plus an additional 4 hours or so on 24-Hour Comic Day. Working in Ryan Ottley's office lets me mimic his layout method and use his tools to do it. Each page started as a thumbnail that became the basis for layouts done on the computer using the Cintiq -- basically a sloppy stab at each page. The advantage to this approach is letting you move, zoom, rotate, or paste in reference content until everything feels right without having to erase or make a big mess on a physical page. Then everything is converted to blue and printed. I chose letter-sized paper because that's what I usually draw on. Why mess with a good thing?
Thunder in Big Trouble In Little China or Tetsuo in Akira. I always wanted to draw it and just went for it without enough explanation. At first I considered adding a halo or fire around Ben that shoots into the antagonist to help make it clearer, but it seemed to complicated to add effectively at 6 A.M. in the morning after a drawing marathon, so I just let it go. If I color things, I might make the glow from Ben's eyes mentioned earlier surround Ben during the swirl and flow down his body in the punch, shooting out of the antagonist's eye sockets and lighting up his interior as he expands.