The 24-Hour Comic started simply enough—I did mine, Steve Bissette did his—and that might have been the end of it. But Steve sent copies of his to a few friends of ours, and because of those friends, a comics phenomenon was born.
Dave Sim, Neil Gaiman, Kevin Eastman, and Rick Veitch each picked up the dare in the months that followed. Dave printed several of the resulting comics in Cerebus, popularizing the idea far and wide. Neil got to 24 hours and finished his story at 14 pages (the "Gaiman Variation"). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin got to 24 hours and kept going until he was done (the "Eastman Variation"). Rick used his as a springboard for his long-running dream comic Rarebit Fiends.
Every year, more and more artists took the challenge, often after seeing the Cerebus reprints. I started amassing a collection of the comics (one of the early "rules" was to send me a copy). I started listing many on my website a few years later and did my best to keep that up, until....
Originally, making 24-hour comics was a solitary event, but group events gathered steam in the late '90s and early '00s. A handful of amateur and professional artists might gather over a weekend, stock up on music and junk food, and turn out a comic each before groggily heading back to their day-jobs.
In 2004, "group event" took on a new meaning.
Local comics writer and publisher Nat Gertler had published an anthology of some of my favorite 24-hour comics (available here) and to promote it, suggested a retailer event where comics stores and other venues could host local artists to make 24-hour comics of their own.
On April 24, 2004, the first annual "24 Hour Comics Day" (more comics, fewer hyphens!) took place at comics stores all over the country, producing thousands of pages of comics in a single weekend. By 2007, the celebration had grown to events in 18 countries, involving over 1,200 artists and an estimated 20,000+ pages of comics.
In 2008, the overworked Nat happily turned the reins over to ComicsPRO. Check their official site for the latest info on upcoming events.
By far, the most unexpected result of the 24-hour Comics was the emergence of the 24-hour Plays.
Tina Fallon of Crux Productions in New York, conceived of the event for an upcoming Fringe Festival after hearing about the 24-hour Comics from a friend. Her hypercompression of the theatrical process proved so exhilarating for the participants that it's become something of a tradition (I later found out that my old pal, the legendary Brian Dewan, had been a writer for one of the first, though he had no idea it was related to my comics). As happened with the comics, Tina's idea soon spread beyond Crux and eventually beyond New York to other cities and countries. Hundreds of 24-Hour Plays have since been produced.
The plays, in turn, inspired the 48-Hour Film Festival, which may well have inspired the Insomnia Film Festival. There have also been 24-Hour Website, Animation, Game and Album competions. Some were inspired by the comics, some not, but I've honestly lost track at this point.
In mid-1998, my wife Ivy and five of her former teen improv students (now grown) teamed-up to bring the process full-circle by putting on a 24-hour play of their own. While Tina's New York invention had packed all of the elements of the theatrical business (including 8 x 10's, auditions, full written scripts, etc.) into a 24 hour period to create very short plays, Ivy and her "kids" took a route closer to the comics tradition and created and performed a full 70 minute play all by themselves in the 24-hour period. It was fantastic.
Oh, I tried, I tried, but after 24-Hour Comics Day, I gave up hope of ever catching up on my backlog of submissions for the 24-Hour Comics Index. But if you'd like to take a look at a bit of comics history, here it is.