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24 Hour Comics
Edited by Scott McCloud
Published by About Comics; $11.95 USD

Editor Scott McCloud writes about his 24 hour comic concept with an enthusiasm he seems to think is infectuous. This go-get-'em attitude will not be unfamiliar to readers of McCloud's two books on understanding and reinventing comics, Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics.

While brevity may be the soul of wit, a brief, predetermined length of time in which to write, draw and/or color an entire comic book does not necessarily translate into a story primarily consisting of either brevity or wit. There are nine stories contained within 24 Hour Comics, "nine of the best" of hundreds of 24-hour comics McCloud says have been created, but there's a pretty wide variation in quality, if a consistent fervency of tone.

The one story contained herein that seems to defy that nearly ingrained sense of rushing to the 24-hour finish line is Paul Winkler's "Cat." In his assigned 24 pages, Winkler brilliantly evokes a day in the life of an average cat, using sophisticated narrative gestures to reproduce with startling, tactile familiarity the unique sense awareness cats use to safely navigate through a world that is not their own.

Echoing human observation, Winkler begins and ends his story with the glorious rays of the sun beating down on the relaxed body of the cat. He fits in a universe of experience in the 24 hours that must surely pass between the two showers of sunlight that the cat luxuriates in. Mingling among a forest of human legs before scuttling off with another cat to a real forest of gargantuan, god-like trees, the cat's perceptions become our own. A brief, aggravated tiff with the other cat is prompted by overfamiliarity and presumption, before our attention is riveted, diverted and wholly occupied in that unique feline manner by the unexpected arrival of a flock of birds diving through the forest. The cat's stare and the manner in which the black, bird-shaped blobs of ink obliterate all other sensation perfectly reflect that extraordinary narrowing of feline attention to a laser precision; we see it every day, but never do we experience it in waking life as we do here through Winkler's cat's eyes. It's a dreamlike verisimilitude that is astonishing to experience.

A dog threatens us. We have become the cat. A narrative jump; we are in a tree, instantly. Of course. Cats don't wait to see what the dog's intentions are, and anyway, his dumb, slack jawed study of our feline grace tells the whole story. The jump into the tree is electric. We really have become the cat.

Later, insultingly, the skies pour down rain on our fur. Wet, annoyed, the dog having slunk off in defeat, we extend our claws into the bark and gingerly, gently defy gravity until we're safely on the wet forest floor. Must find a dry place to hide. Very glad no one is looking.

The cat finds refuge, but not without further peril; eventually, a return home. Under the safety of the house, an unexpected encounter with another cat. Passion, claws, screaming, pleasure, sleep, together as when we were kittens. Finally, later, the sun's rays return as they always do, warming the fur and reassuring the endless, prideful patterns of life. Life as a cat. Life as this cat.

Winkler's piece is marvelous, truly, and well deserving of the praise McCloud lavishes on it in his introduction. An extraordinary piece of master storytelling, complete and whole unto itself. Winkler need do no more in comics, if he chooses; he's done enough.

If only any other contributor here rose to the level of grace in storytelling that Winkler achieves. Horror cartoonist Steve Bissette delivers a tongue-in-cheek rumination on bad luck that amuses and diverts. Neil Gaiman writes and draws a biography of a forgotten Roman emperor, utilizing his usual sardonic wit in what McCloud somewhat insultingly refers to as a "noble failure" because Gaiman didn't meet McCloud's strict rules for creating these 24-hour stories.

David Lasky contributes an earthy, contemplative tale of a secret boyfriend stuck in the closet while his girlfriend makes love to her real boyfriend and while his semen dries in the condom he holds throughout the miserable event. After the pair leave, he wanders the woman's apartment in an intriguing one-man stageplay that ends in the best minor victory one could hope for in such a predicament.

Alex Grecian's "Little Remains" is a wistful bit of formal experimentation, testing the readers perceptions in a style reminiscent of Eddie Campbell's "Alec" stories. Matt Madden checks in with a directionless bit on incest and disgust that starts promisingly and ends with the lead character and the reader both stranded in the rain.

Al Davison's ambitious "The Invisible Library" closes out the book and is touted by McCloud as the very best 24-hour comic yet created, and the editor defies readers to top this one. As is all of Davison's other work I've read, "The Invisible Library" is dreamy, spacey, bordering on the impenetrable and ultimately all about him and his lifelong and admirable struggle against spina bifida. I applaud his victories and his talent, but at this late date I don't know how much more I am to be personally evolved by seeing his self-portraits with penis.

There's more here, nine stories in all, as I said. "Cat" justifies the presence of this book in any reader's library, and stories like Bissette's and Gaiman's do no harm and hold their minor charms. As a Magna Carta for a new nation of 24-hour comics, McCloud fails to convince with this selection of stories that the experience of creating a 24-hour comic benefits the reader as much as the creator. As a technical exercise I am sure any cartoonist will benefit from seeing what comes from a frenzied 24 hours of non-stop comics creation and applying those lessons to their pursuit of art in the future. As a holistic collection of the very best of what this strange subset of comics has to offer, I'm afraid I must use McCloud's own label and call 24 Hour Comics "A noble failure." Grade: 3/5

-- Alan David Doane



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