what do comics and documentary filmmaking have to do with libraries?

Nothing, really? Except maybe…

I spent the weekend working on a project Shaun is just starting – a documentary that takes a geographic look at why Portland has become such a central place for comics creators and publishers. He’s had to push his production schedule way up because the Stumptown Comics Fest, which has been in September, moved to April. So he doesn’t have the student crew he is planning to have yet (if you know a talented student filmmaker at OSU or WOU who would like some independent study credit – email me) and none of his volunteer crew was available on short notice to spend the weekend in Portland.

So it was just him and me filming 24-Hour-Comics-Day. That really means it was just him, with me to do the stuff that required more than 2 hands – holding the mike was a big part of my day. The 24 hours in question extended from 10 am Saturday morning to 10 am Sunday morning, and the artists and writers who participated spent this time around a table at Cosmic Monkey comics in northeast Portland. Their task was to produce a 24-page comic in 24 hours from start to finish.

Around 20 people signed up for the event, about 20 showed up and about 20 were there much of the time — but as Leigh Walton (who liveblogged the whole event – check it out) said, they weren’t always the same 20 people. When we walked back in on Sunday morning there weren’t 20 people there, but there were more than 10 and some of the people who were gone were gone because they were done already.

(No, we didn’t stay the whole night. The camera did.)

The people there ranged from first-timers who may or may not have ever put together a comic of this length, to established names like Jim Valentino (creator of Normalman), Neal Skorpen (doing his fifth 24 hour event) and David Chelsea (participating in his TENTH 24 hour event). And people were doing the event for all kinds of reasons – which is one of the more interesting things about these timed, creative contests I think.

When we do things like the 48 hour film project or the IDC, it’s usually to see how good of a film we can make in that period of time, yes. And when we talk to people about how we’ve just done a short film in 2 days or a documentary in 5, that marathon-like aspect of it is what people focus on — the idea that you do these things like people run a marathon, to see if you CAN do these things. If you have what it takes, the strength, the speed the stamina, or whatever. And there’s a “best time” variation on that — even if you know you CAN create a comic in 24 hours or make a movie in 48, there’s still – how good of a thing can you make in that time?

But with these creative contests – there are so many more reasons why people do these things. When we do the film contests part of it is pulling a community together in our smallish part of the state that’s interested in this kind of creativity – the Willamette Valley Film Collective idea. And that community aspect also came through loud and clear this past weekend — Shaun was thinking about how doing film as his scholarship is interesting because unlike writing books or articles, you can’t make a movie all by yourself. At the very least, you need your wife to hold the mike. And the artists and writers in the room were on the opposite side of things – what they do, they do by themselves a lot and having the chance to do it in a room with other people was part of the draw.

But another reason why people do these things – has nothing to do with marathons at all. Some people sign up for NaNoWriMo, 48 Hour Film, Script Frenzy, International Documentary Challenge or Madison’s Mercury Theater Blitz not to see if they can create a play or novel or movie in that time period – but to see if they can create a play or comic or movie or novel at all. Whether because they need the deadline, or the community of people doing the same thing fuels the competitive drive, or because they haven’t been able to manage doing it a little at a time and they need the excuse to just drop everything and put some sustained effort towards creating — they think “this is how I can finally get it done.”

So what has this to do with libraries? Well, probably nothing. But after I went to Picture Poetry to read the live blog of the event, I stuck around a bit reading Leigh Walton’s posts about Portland and comics and publishing — and I was struck by this older entry which starts off with the observation that “the distribution and retail network for comics is broken like whoa.”

The post itself is mainly a long excerpt from another person who is explaining why he shops online for comics instead of supporting his local shops — and if you read it, doesn’t it sound a lot like people talking about libraries? I mean, there’s the overwhelming difference that if you choose between an online shop and a brick and mortar shop you’re choosing where to spend your money, while if you choose Amazon over your library you’re choosing TO spend money — but other than that, a lot of what they’re saying sounds exactly like what we say in libraries — even down to the “let’s put a coffee shop in to be more welcoming.”

Which gets me thinking about the community aspect of things – and the role that the community plays in supporting people who just want to see if they can do stuff, produce stuff, create stuff, and more that the 24 hour comics drawpocalypse represented. In other words, I think I’m saying if we’re just a place to consume information, whether that information takes the form of comic books or academic books, I’m not sure we can compete with the Amazons and what have you. I mean, I’d rather do the consuming part at home on my couch, all things being equal. But all things aren’t equal, because we’re about more than consumption. One of the reasons that people get out and go to their local yarn store is for Stitch and Bitch night, one of the reasons people go out to the comic store is to draw a comic in 24 hours — libraries are also spaces where people don’t just consume, but also create, and create together with other creators — how can we build more into that aspect of what we are.

2 thoughts on “what do comics and documentary filmmaking have to do with libraries?

  1. I think that your description of why people do these events is a good one, especially the idea that many people enter to see if they can do something. This is one reason why I wish there was more of a chance to use these events as more active learning experiences, which kind of happened this past weekend. The advantage of 24-Hour Comic day is that you do gather with others while you work. Even if you go to a screening after a 48 Hour Film Project or IDC, you’ve lost that “generative” moment and don’t get a chance to build a relationship with your competitors.

  2. i think people do these things for tyheir own self acheivement not for the marathon for it! they know people can do it so theuy say to there selves thats too easy and the race begins.

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