The Penn Relays; An Artist-Writer Meet-up Comic Challenge

The Penn 24Hour Comic Jam


– Comics are a unique story-telling language. They have a set of conditions and a methodology that is unlike other collaborative mediums such as film and theatre, but are specific and well-known to the people who work in this field. Yet those conditions can feel a bit hermetic and it is often difficult for newcomers to “crack the code”; hard for writers and artists unfamiliar with the idiom to learn a clear vocabulary and an established rhythm for working together. This comic-making experiment is intended to give artists and writers a chance to learn how to work together and to maximize the potential of comics as a collaborative art form.

For this challenge a number of two-person teams will meet and work together for the first time to create their own short comic story arc from a genre of their own choosing. The only constraints put upon them will be the use of a nine-panel grid (we see this Kirby page as a keen example) and the time they allow themselves as a team. We will provide teams with some guidance into the collaborative process. If you are a writer who wishes to learn how to write for the heavily-visual end of comics and provide an artist with everything he needs, this experiment helps. If you”re an artist looking to articulate what you’d like out of script, to learn how to articulate your own vision into scripts, or even to meet new writers, this is an excellent exercise for you.

The constraints of the nine-panel grid, made popular and established by such fantastic work as WATCHMEN, heightens and specifies the choice of images associated or linked to the text. We’ll show teams how to utilize that format to get the greatest potential of their combined skills as artists and writers in the collaborative fire of comic-making. Here is how we will proceed:

A brief presentation will be offered at the beginning on how the nine-panel grid operates and how it can be used, or broken, for narrative potential. We will show a few examples of particularly successful nine-panel arrangements. We will then allow you to take some time understanding the pattern together as a team and then plan for the best times to break that very pattern, and for what effect.

Participants will register as either artists or writers. Their availability through the weekend and the number of hours they are willing to spend on this particular comics challenge will also be noted so that we can pair them up with an ideal partner (two-person teams may also register, but they need to agree upon their individual roles of artist or writer).

Artists and writers will meet the day of the event and, given the time they have to offer, will decide first upon the length of the story they would like to do. We suggest “genre-driven” stories here so that people working together for the first time bring a kind of common understanding to the table. The time provided for this decision is limited to one hour. Seriously, folks. You’re meeting for the first time and really need to get on with it.

Working together this new team will then commit to doing a comic story in the the time left to them (if you’ve signed on for four hours, you’re on that team for four hours. If you’ve signed on for eight, you’re there for eight). Our suggestion here is to choose from many numerous genre stories and find a manageable page count for something you’re both interested in seeing through. We’ll work with each team to make suggestions on how to keep that a reasonable goal and show you how some short cuts might be achieved.

Teams will then learn how to apply their unique talents separately  in the pre-production stage with writers making thumbnails while artists determine character and location design.

Then, as the pages go into full production, we will go around and discuss with each team methods for assisting and streamlining that process. What’s a writer to do once the script is turned in? Well, you might be surprised…

There is no commitment here to building a full 20-page comic with someone you’ve never met before. There’s also no desire on our part to let this be a “speed dating” environment for comics. Although you should feel free to register with a friend, it has been our experience that, in today’s comics market, writers and artists seldom get the chance to meet and talk about what they need from one another, seldom get the chance to think about what they’re asking for or learn the language for articulating it. This experiment is intended to help with all these challenges and give you a taste of the life.


-beginner and above. The team-up process here is much more related to the amount of time participants are willing to spend on the challenge than upon a balanced skill level


-this experiment is time proscriptive, meaning that teams can do as much together as their own investment of time allows. Please indicate your availability when registering. This one is also an excellent choice for people wishing to participate in the workshop off-site and online in their own small team situations. While the equipment and facilities of our Collab Room at Penn will focus on only three teams at a time, we’re happy to connect with other teams taking the challenge off-site and give them all the support we can manage. It may also be possible for an artist on location with us in the room to be matched with an off-site writer, and vice versa!


-access to a laptop and large format (11X17in) scanner that utilizes Comiclife and photoshop (some hands-on assistance provided in using each of these programs)

-Layout bond paper set to a nine-panel grid for generating thumbnails


-11X17in bristol board for finished artwork

-inking materials that are comfortable to the cartoonist. All work for this experiment is suggested as black&white, but there may be people who wish to work differently. If so, please indicate that by email when you register

-bringing your own sketchbook is particularly useful for this experiment, and I suggest it, but layout bond paper will be provided for those who need it

-a more detailed list of suggested materials, and how to keep it cheap, can be found HERE




I might’ve gone anywhere for a good example of the nine-panel grid but, as some of you might know, I’m the biggest CAPTAIN AMERICA fan you’ll ever meet. Might’ve gone anywhere for that image as well, but fellow cartoonist Dean Haspiel has wonderful things to say about Kirby (and comics in general) so I’ll link to him here;


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