Bridge: a story that began its life as a 24 hour comic in France in 2013.
I have a new short story out in the “mini kuš!” series of minicomics from the discerning Latvian publisher Kuš!. It’s called Bridge and it has an interesting backstory I’d like to share with you here.
24 heures de la bande dessinée, 2013
The first chapter of this story begins in Angoulême, France. In 2007, Lewis Trondheim was the president of the Angoulême Comics Festival and he established a 24 hour comics day (called Les 24 heures de la BD) which continued to be hosted at la maison des auteurs until a few years ago.
I was in my first year of residency and doing a lot of public events and workshops around my work with Oubapo and constraints, so MdA director Pili Muñoz asked me to be the M.C. of the 2013 edition. This involved not simply firing the starting gun but coming up with a constraint to announce at the beginning of the 24 hour session: Lewis had declared that an extra constraint should be proposed each time. He had two reasons for this: one, it gives everyone a story starter, something to get their juices flowing; and two, it prevents cheaters from showing up with a fully formed story already laid out in their minds!
So one February day, I stood before the gathered artists and a camera crew to welcome everyone and announce the constraint (You can watch the full video on youtube, English begins around 1:30, español around 2:00).
And here is the constraint that I came up with: every page needs to represent the same unit of time. So, if one page equals one minute of time passing, your story will have to last exactly 24 minutes of “story time,” one minute per page.
I decided to participate myself and I didn’t want to violate Trondheim’s Second Law of Constraints by preemptively deciding what time unit I would use. So I opened up to the room and asked someone to give me a suggestion… and it was none other than Lewis himself who impishly threw out: “decades!”
I was pretty flummoxed at first: how could I have a scene last more than one page?? What kind of story could cover 240 years in 24 pages?? But I started thinking about generations of people instead of an individual character and once I realized that I could fit three whole lifetimes into that framework I started thinking about ways to link them together I hit on a structure that I was happy with, especially since it led to a Twilight Zone-like twist ending.
Here I am in another video shot the night of, showing my first page as I lament how I’m already making bad decisions about the page layout (a little secret: I’ve never finished a 24 hour comic in 24 hours. Both times I’ve finished I’ve had to cheat and take an extra afternoon to finish inking!):
Redrawn version, 2016
One reason I have occasionally but rarely taken on the 24 hour comic challenge is that it plays to all my weaknesses: I’m a slow, even plodding worker in general and I struggle to find a way to draw that looks good when I work quickly. I pretty much failed on that account—the first iteration of Bridge was nothing terrible to look at but it wasn’t ready for prime time either.
But a couple of years passed and Bridge really stuck with me. The story, the structure, even the echoes and repetitions I was able to work into the visual narrative (pay attention to the swing, for example), worked really well, I thought.
So in 2016, my last half-year in France, I decided to redraw the book and try to get it published. I basically copied the original pages and refined the drawings and the inking style. I often made only slight changes to framing or composition, as you can see in this comparison (old version on the left, new one on the right):
Kuš! edition, 2021
After letting this story sit around for too long, I thought to send it to David Schilter at Kuš!. He and his partner Sanita Muižniece publish fantastic art comics in small formats out of their home base of Latvia.
They liked it, so we got straight to work at laying out the book and coming up with the cover art. One issue that came up right away is that my pages are boxier (3:4 ratio) than their taller books with more of a 2:3 ratio derived from the DIN 476 standard used in Europe and much of the rest of the world.
One solution David suggested was to add a decorative border and in playing around with some sketches I realized I could use the “sparkle” associated with the bridge as a decorative element, and that made me further realize that it would have to be a white-on-black background. Once I did some tests changing the gutters to black instead of white, it was like I was seeing the comic truly finished for the first time:
So, my thanks to Kus! for agreeing to publish me and also pushing me into one last corner to make the book I’ve been dreaming of making for years now!
Some reviews are starting to trickle in: Frédéric Hojlo of ActuaBD.com called it “brillamment classique” on Facebook, while Ryan C.’s Four Color Apocalypse blog posted a thoughtful review concluding that Bridge is
a human story humanely told, and packs a pretty solid emotional wallop — however, it’s also effectively constructed, structured and, most crucially, drawn.
You can order the book from the publisher (or $7 with free postage) or ask your local comic book store if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with a store that regularly orders from international art comics publishers (I am: shout out to Partners and Son!)