Muñeco: A 24-hour comic

If you just want to download the comic and not read my preamble/essay, it’s available right here as a PDF. Feel free to spread it around, with the appropriate credit to me.

To this day, I’m not sure why I did it.

But let’s start at the beginning. In high school, I was in thrall with cartoonist/comics theorist Scott McCloud, especially after reading his seminal Understanding Comics (the first work of comics theory done explicitly in the form it analyzes) and his retro sci-fi series Zot! back to back in 1994. In the former, he gave me—and thousands of other readers—license to think about comics as an art and specifically about the art’s formal characteristics and effects on the reader. In the latter, he presented his own work as a case study to be read using the critical apparatus of Understanding Comics and, though I didn’t know it at the time, largely introduced the structure and grammar of manga to me. Both works have now been criticized amply and argued over but nevertheless remain touchstones in comics. They’re primary sources for any serious reader interested in the comics form.

In college a few years later, I began hearing an insistent buzz about the 24-hour comic concept, which Scott McCloud had first created—more or less on a dare—in 1990. About a decade later, he codified the rules, in an explicit dare to his readers:

To create a complete 24 page comic book in 24 continuous hours.

That means everything: Story, finished art, lettering, colors (if you want ’em), paste-up, everything! Once pen hits paper, the clock starts ticking. 24 hours later, the pen lifts off the paper, never to descend again. Even proofreading has to occur in the 24 hour period. [Computer-generated comics are fine of course, same principles apply].

No sketches, designs, plot summaries or any other kind of direct preparation can precede the 24 hour period. Indirect preparation such as assembling tools, reference materials, food, music etc. is fine.

Your pages can be any size, any material. Carve ’em in stone; print ’em with rubber stamps; draw ’em on your kitchen walls with a magic marker. Anything.

The 24 hours are continuous. You can take a nap if you like but the clock will continue to tick!

It’s more than a little crazy. And yet hundreds of cartoonists would eventually write and draw their own, an official, annual “24-Hour Comics Day” would established and marketed, and I would be compelled to create my own.

I have always loved to draw. I doodle a lot—during work meetings, on my notes for a blog post, in the margins of books. I once got a B+ in an intermediate drawing class at my college. Generally, I prefer drawings and sketches to finished paintings and 3-D architectural mockups. I’ve been an avid comics reader since childhood.

I am not, however, a cartoonist, either by profession or training. I’m just not good enough, and my skills haven’t developed since junior high, nor beyond the rudimentary. It’s just not in me. I didn’t own the proper pens, nibs, ink, art pencils, high-end erasers, or even a sketchbook.

The 24-hour comic, though, presented a challenge that pulled me in. Maybe it was love of comics. Maybe it’s because I had nothing to do one weekend. Maybe it was because I was trying to crush a bout of writer’s block. Probably, it was a combination of these things but I’d like to think it was because of a book I was reading at the time.

Muffler Men explores the world of these folk-art sculptures created by mechanics and amateur welders in their spare time, from busted muffler and other junk-shop parts. In the New York Times, Rita Reif compared them to cigar-store Indians but noted that “the skinny metal figures with shimmering muffler heads and torsos and pipe-thin legs found outside auto repair shops are wittier, more imaginative and flamboyantly painted.” It was the first book I’d seen devoted to the funny statues I would see driving around Mississippi, and being collected by my (richer, more successful) colleagues and friends. Muffler men were showing up in local art galleries with four-figure price tags. My friend Pete has one—a rusty cross between an insect and an armadillo—that lurks on his front porch.

I’ve always liked the sculptures. That fall, A children’s book idea, about a muffler man who comes to life, was rattling in my head. I figured—perhaps wrongly—that there wasn’t enough “there” for an illustrated book. Besides, I could barely draw. But I liked the book and its copious amount of photographs. The more my book idea banged around my brain, the more I wanted to flush it out of my system.

At the very least, I could flesh out the book. On a Saturday in late October 2000, I went to a local art supply store and stocked up on close to $50 worth of necessities. Fifty bucks, by the way, was a big deal to me then—a week’s worth of groceries at a time when I made $22,000 a year. I had decided, however, to force myself to create my muffler man story, by making a 24-hour comic.

The following Friday found me, at 8:00pm, with a full pot of coffee, my dining-room table cleared of debris, assorted snacks, and only the vaguest idea of a story. Ready, set, go.

Go, I did. Other than love-making, kite flying, and a weeklong hiking trip in Big Bend National Park, I doubt I’ve had that much fun. I quickly learned that I had no skill in drawing mechanical things, so I fudged a lot on cars and parts. (Keep in mind that the whole story takes place in a automobile mechanic’s shop.) My lettering was too thin and tight. I had no idea how to mix black ink properly or to paint it evenly. Gestures and perspective presented severe problems. Around 2:00am, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. So, I went to sleep until 6:30am.

I dreamt of the comic. I woke before my alarm, energized and with fingers antsy for my pen and brushes.

Even better, the story had fully formed in my mind. I felt bad that my ambitions overmatched my technical skill by a ratio of 10 to 1. Then again, what artist is ever 100% pleased by his final product? Besides, I was so absorbed in figuring out form—getting layouts, lettering, and design to tell my story gracefully—that I didn’t sweat (too much) the fact that I couldn’t draw.

Finally, at 8:00pm on Saturday evening, I finished applying white-out and touching up mistakes, and signed and dated the thing. I didn’t make it to 24 pages; mine is only 20. The drawing is crude. From panel to panel, faces didn’t have the consistency that I would like. The ending is rushed. My understanding of Hispanic characters is somewhat limited.

I like “Muñeco,” anyway, as much for its failures as its successes. For what it’s worth, I think there’s plenty of the latter. The cat, based on my own Eliza, comes across convincingly to my eyes. Though the overall layout is inconsistent, it’s clean and inventive on a page-by-page basis. Design-wise, it does some interesting things. The damn thing hangs together narratively. Little touches—the odd joke about Finnegans Wake (which remains unfinished on my nightstand), the King Crimson t-shirt (I do not, and never have, liked the band; why did I choose this?)—make me smile.

Mostly, I like it because it’s funny. It was rare (at the time) for me to attempt humor. Eight years after I drew the comic and buried it beneath other papers, I giggle at it.

I hope you will, too.

—————————————

Download “Muñeco” (“Muffler Man”) here. I hope you enjoy it. If nothing else, you’ll learn my real surname.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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3 Responses to Muñeco: A 24-hour comic

  1. winter says:

    That’s really awesome. Poor robot.
    Though Jaime would never carry an accent on the “e.” You ignorant assh*le.

  2. LMc says:

    I like it! Especially the cat.

  3. Ernesto says:

    Yea, seriously…aigu…mofo!

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