As if they're not gonzo enough: local cartoonists stay up all night and all day to produce a marathon work
Fizzing on pizza, nachos, caffeine, beer, cigarettes, ink and revelatory insomnia, the dozen cartoonists seemed to have formed a collective brain.
The Minneapolis Cell of the International Cartoonist Conspiracy, a sort of jam group of local comic artists, was on a mission: each individual artist was to compose a full-length 24-page comic book in 24 hours.
The hive started work midnight, Friday, April 23, in the Doubletree Guest Suites, 1101 LaSalle Ave., before moving at noon, Saturday, April 24, to Grumpy's Bar and Grill, 1111 Washington Ave. S., where they drew until midnight.
A silver timer struck on the hour to provide a menacing wake-up call for the industrious cartoonists -- participants in the 24-Hour Comic Book Draw. As they hunched over paper, pencils, and pens and dreamt of sleep, so did participants in 58 other comic book teams across the world, including groups in South Korea and Canada.
The local Cartoonist Conspiracy meets monthly at the Spyhouse Espresso Bar and Gallery in southwest Minneapolis where they draw a progressive comic strip in an assembly line. Steve Stwalley, a Web designer for Space 150, 212 3rd Ave. N., founded the group, which has grown from eight to 20 attendees in less than two years.
Participants, mostly 20-somethings, portrayed their own graphic demise with black-and-white stories that spoofed their outlandish endeavor such as: "The Next 24 Hours," "24 Hours with Trog," "24 Hours," "The Man Who Drew Too Much," "The Rupture" and "Cleaning My Work Area."
"Clearly, I'm insane," said curly-haired Kevin Cannon, a portrait artist who lives above Hell's Kitchen, 89 S. 10th St., in his own comic.
"It's never too early to resort to stick men," said a swirly eyed, black-and-white Stwalley.
It was an all-male affair. Adam Wirtzfield, a graphic designer/illustrator whose studio space is located in the same building as Cannon's apartment, addressed the issue: "There are women who come to the monthly meetings. They all had something better to do . . . They didn't even want to offer moral support."
Many local businesses sponsored the comic marathon. In addition to use of their space, Grumpy's helped feed the artists. Penco Graphic Supply, 718 Washington Ave. N., contributed supplies. Pizza Luc/, 119 N. 4th St., also helped feed the crew. And, in addition to selling the comics the event eventually produced, Big Brain Comics, 81 S. 10th St., helped pitched in on the front end, along with Dreamhaven books in Uptown and Northeast.
The self-confessed shy conspirators began their all-day/all-night caricatures in a conference room at the hotel, where they ate pizza and attempted to complete half of their comic pages. Some fell asleep. When they arrived at Grumpy's with 12 hours remaining; their eyes were bloodshot, but determined.
Except for the scratching of pens/pencils/erasers, everyone worked quietly.
"I've never tried to put out 24 pages in one day before, so it's going to be sloppy," warned illustrator Ken Avidor, a veteran illustrator at 48 and the man behind "Roadkill Bill" comics available at local comic stores.
They told small tales and tall tales on 81/2' x 11" textured Bristol Board and sheets of 36" x 48" paper where they crosshatched and shaded clowns, villains, science fairs and explosions. Visually, they pushed, pulled, shrunk, and enlarged advantages and disadvantages.
Some wrote about love: Sean Tenhoff, a decorative painter by day, drew "How the Square Fell in Love with the Triangle," a polite romance between two different shapes. Tenhoff had a yellowed 1987 Webster's Dictionary nearby to check his spelling and a blue, plastic ruler to help him draw straight lines.
Others talked about hate: Daniel Ochsendorf, or Danno, who works at the IDS Center Kinko's, 80 S. 8th St., wrote "Mermzy in Wormzer's Big Day" about a previous co-worker. Mermzy is a bully with a potluck stomach and bug eyes. By the end of "Wormzer's Big Day," everyone has perished -- except for Danno, who's off drinking screwdrivers.
Some depicted themselves: Cannon's tale was semi-autobiographical, splaying a weary "Kevin" battling restlessness and Hollywood. "Look at what I'm holding! Twenty-four pages of egocentric self-reference! This is pure gold!" the character Shad (a Cartoonist co-conspirator) said to the illustrated Kevin, midway through the story.
Cannon, who also works as a chauffeur and landscaper, worked neatly with a cutout grid for clean lines and straight edges. Outlining the grid first, he wrote dialogue second and drew pictures last. He said he's grown more interested in the writing aspect. He averaged 10 minutes to get through a panel.
Wirtzfield said he didn't know what he was doing until the 12th page. The cartoonist, who draws hydraulic part diagrams by day and runs the www.bushboy.com and www.playpolitics.com Web sites, said he focuses on creating comics that he finds "personally meaningful, but utilizing lots of different styles and techniques."
That usually means political satires, but for this night he drafted an action-adventure, "the most clich/d comic here," he said.
Avidor's fuzzy creatures were on the brink. So was Avidor, who wore a bright teal jacket. "Ahh! Muttering is such a chore," he said wrinkling his face and shutting one eye. Avidor, who often draws about transit or the environment, penned "Rupture," before he nodded off.
Out of the closet
"Heckle and Jeckle" started it all for Stwalley, 33, who stopped counting how many comic books he'd acquired years ago. He reads newspaper strips, underground comics, superhero tales, and funny animal antics and had to build shelves for his collection in a room of their own: "I couldn't hide them if I wanted to, which I never would."
Stwalley acted as the Conspirators' voice when he declared comics to be the world's greatest art form -- emphasis on "art." He defended the underdog genre, praising its accessibility and unpretentiousness.
"Unfortunately, most people can't see past all the spandex men, and funny animals, [comics] are viewed as a children's medium. How ridiculous would it be to judge all television based on the merits of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'The Teletubbies'?" said Stwalley.
Youthful comic interests among the conspirators launched more serious pursuits. Wirtzfield, for example, loved classic "adolescent power fantasy" such as the Spider-Man and Batman series as a kid, but abandoned them for the underground artists who showed that comics can be more than pages of "muscle-bound men in tights."
"We all just grew out of that, collecting, and now appreciate the comic art form," Ochsendorf said. "But that little dork is still there. Hiding. Craving."
Stories of cannibalism on desperate islands camps entered conversation, as the number of heads decreased at the retro Grumpy's tables. Like an episode of "Survivor," some succumbed to the pressures of the outside world.
"You'll be intently drawing and eventually you look up, and people are gone," said Cannon. One finished at home while another left due to a medical emergency. At noon on Saturday, three cartoonists were missing in action.
Eventually, Cannon and Ochsendorf were the first to finish. Just before midnight the cartoonists' malaise disintegrated to sheer crabby-ness and their cartoons had assumed, as one of them put it, "a nutty quality."
"My seventh panel would've made a Cirque du Soleil contortionist jealous," said Damian Sheridan, an Eden Prairie resident whose freelance writing and graphic design work often brings him Downtown.
"You're hallucinating," Avidor retorted.
On the morning of Sunday, April 25, the crew regrouped at the Downtown Kinko's to print an anthology of their works. They planned to distribute them at an upcoming Sci-Fi enthusiast's convention, as well as sell them at Big Brain Comics and Dreamhaven books. For five hours, they worked off the energy of pastries and coffee.
They also posted their work online. In fact, the Minneapolis crew boasted the most hits of any group involved in the international event on their site, www.24hourcomic.com.
Although Avidor likened the experience to "hitting your head with a hammer for 24 hours, if someone bribed him with pizza and all the Summit Pale Ale he can consume," would he do it again?
"You betcha!" he squealed. Most nodded their heads in agreement, albeit slowly.
Works by the cartoonists who survived The 24 Hour Day are available at Big Brain Comics, 81 S. 10th St.