24-Hour Comix Challenge comes to campus

As demonstrations kicked off across Philadelphia on Saturday, October 5, Patricia Gutierrez ’15 sat quietly at a desk, buried in sheets of loose-leaf paper. The Latin American Studies major had planned to participate in the marches taking place on the National Day of Organization for Immigration Reform; instead, she found herself in Haverford’s Ryan Gymnasium, working — not on homework, but on a comic.

The 24 Hour Comix Challenge, part of the Tri-Co Mellon Creative Residency series, entailed much of what its name implies: one day — and one day only — of condensed comic creation. The concept began as a private dare between cartoonists Scott McCloud and Steve Bissette in 1990,  garnering attention as the comics circulated amongst friends and peers. Fourteen years later, the first inaugural 24 Hour Comic Day was held as a publicity stunt for the publication of “24 Hour Comics,” an anthology composed of McCloud’s personal favorites. By 2007, organizers in eighteen countries were hosting the event.

Haverford’s take on the tradition included oversight by Mellon Creative Resident Pato Hebert — the man behind McCabe Library’s “The building exhales” and the word search overlooking LPAC from the second floor of Kohlberg. He plans to return to Haverford in December to create an installation featuring the comics produced during the Challenge.

Of the thirty participants who popped in throughout the day, only the Swatties — four students from Professor Erica Cho’s “Asian/American Media” — crashed on couches overnight. For Christopher Chalaka ’15, the experience was a major highlight of the fall semester.

“The differences in experience disappeared,” Chalaka said. “It didn’t matter that I’d only drawn one comic before […] It was kind of like we’re all in this together and we’re all starting from scratch.”

Unlike Chalaka, Gutierrez has a long history in the medium. Growing up, comics were an object both of personal fascination and familial bonding: introduced to the form by her older brothers, she remembers crawling into bed with her siblings to page through X-Men or a favorite Marvel comic book.

On Saturday, Gutierrez knew she wanted to incorporate immigration reform into her project, a field she hopes to enter into post-graduation. Initial plans included a discussion of national patterns and concerns. Sixteen hours later, her completed comic told a slightly different story: hers, one of family, history and migration — and a love of comics.

Natalia Choi ’15 is new to comics like Chalaka; the process of creating panels for a class assignment and her experience at the challenge has given her a new appreciation for the medium.

“It’s powerful because it combines text and image,” Choi said. “If I just wrote about something really heavy and deep, writing it might just feel a little too dense or a little too hard to really get through to the depth of everything that I’m feeling. Being able to play around not only with words […] gives you a lot more tools to experiment with and think about whatever is inside you.”

Choi’s comic from Saturday explores her developing relationship with her mother.Chronicling a close adolescent relationship as it splintered into separately formed identities, her panels tell of immigration, moving away from her family to attend boarding school and coming to college after her family returned to Korea.

With the events of last spring in mind, Choi chose the course not only for its content but its professor: Cho is the first educator she’s had in America who shares her cultural background.

“I realized [inclusivity and diversity] are problems in my own educational experience. Ever since I left Korea, I haven’t really seen people of Asian descent as my teachers,” Choi said.

Studying comics in an academic setting has given Gutierrez a different sense of affirmation: one that recognizes different skills and talents within the classroom. Coming from one of the poorest-performing high schools in California left the self-described introvert feeling unsure of her ability to contribute to class discussion in her first years on campus. For Gutierrez, Cho’s class provides a space for forms of knowledge often left uncelebrated in more traditional classroom settings.

Chalaka, Choi and Gutierrez all described the intimacy and support inherent in a class based on creative projects. Sharing their comics with one another in the week leading up to the Comix Challenge fostered a sense of community as students trusted one another with sensitive stories and experiences.

“There were personal things and funny things, and I think we just got a better sense for each other as human beings,” Choi said.

On a campus comprised of human beings, their experiences seem to reinforce the sentiment behind Chalaka’s motivation for joining the class.

“Part of it is trying to figure out my identity, but part of it is feeling like art is really important, and feeling like it’s not as big a focus as it should be.”