David Chelsea in Love, published in 1992, is a comics classic. Imagine yourself a cartoonist and, as if on a dare, you chronicle your love life in excruciating detail for 192 pages. And you have the talent to pull it off. Then, as you get older, as you go on to become a professional illustrator, you begin to wonder if you can make the time for something like that again. Well, if you are David Chelsea, you're always up for a challenge. That explains his fascination with comics pundit Scott McCloud's most popular challenge: the creation of a 24 page comic in 24 hours. Chelsea's latest comics offering is the result of such a labor of love.
24 x 2 is a 48 page pamphlet that collects two of Chelsea's all-night comics marathons. The first one, "Everybody Gets it Wrong!," features much of what you'd expect from such an endeavor: ranting, theorizing, random experimenting. That it's done by an artist of the caliber of Chelsea makes all the difference. I don't happen to agree with his theory in this comic that the only method that works within an autobio comic is to take the creator/main character out of the action of his or her own story. He would prefer to have the panels only display what the main character was seeing but not actually show the main character for the sake of accuracy. But isn't such a first person narration just too rigid? What would
American Splendor, for instance, really be without the spectrum of emotions displayed by the various drawings of Harvey Pekar? As I say, it's Chelsea who is doing the arguing and we want to go along for the ride, especially when it involves unexpected treats like a hippo battling a giant tape worm.
One of the biggest problems with 24 hours comics sessions is that they can get too caught up in theory and not really amount to much in practice. They, in fact, look like they were created in 24 hours. So, it's very nice to see Chelsea really put his theory into practice with his second 24 hour comic, "Sleepless," a little masterpiece of a dream sequence that just keeps going. Chelsea's style, in writing and drawing, is made up of soft yet precise observations. It's oddball mayhem mixed with deadpan humor, very much the stuff of dreams. He loves to stipple which gives his art the fuzzy look of what we see when we dream. Each panel in this story gets the Chelsea stippling effect. The story beautifully mimics the poetry of slumber: one moment we're looking at Dan Quayle's forehead and the next, a banjo.
The main character, who, of course, we never see, is having trouble going to sleep. Maybe it has something to do with having eaten mutton for dinner. At first, he can only see goats, or sheep. He tries to count back the Vice-Presidents of the United States. Maybe he should watch TV...or play the banjo. No, he should take a walk..but the police are outside. Well, maybe the girl who lives behind the wall can help him.
"Sleepless" is the best 24 hour comic I've ever read. It just gets better with every reading. It's been sitting by my nightstand the last few nights and it's proven to be just the thing to read before I head off to dreamland.