This past Fall, I took part in the month-long Inktober art challenge, attempting to make a new comic strip out of each of the daily word prompts.
As anyone who has participated in Inktober can tell you, it’s difficult enough to just make a clever drawing out of each prompt. Coming up with an conceptual idea that uses the prompt, figuring out a composition, finding the time to draw and ink the finished art — for 31 straight days? Not easy. Adding in the challenge of turning each prompt into a comic strip with a punchline?
Let’s just say it’s a really, really hard challenge. Really, really hard.
My first attempt at this challenge was in 2019. Sundae Comics was less than a year old. I was struggling. It was taking me over a week to write and draw a single comic strip — I was just too slow and I knew it. I needed to shake things up. The comics I made in the first few days of Inktober that year were… awkward. Rushed and unfinished. But day by day, I improved. By the end of the month, I’d finished 19 comics! And the results were far better than I thought possible under such a tight deadline.
The outcome was no less impressive in 2021. Only this time — completely out of the blue — I somehow created an entire new comic series in the process!
It all started when I got stuck on the first day of the challenge. The prompt for the day? Crystals! What was I supposed to do with crystals? Not only did I find the idea of drawing shiny rocks unappealing, I just couldn’t think of a single thing about them that seemed at all funny or interesting.
Well, I mean… I did have one idea. It involved a witch. But the punchline wasn’t as funny as I’d have liked. It was… cute? Wholesome? And it required me to use color in the final panel. But Inktober is a challenge to make black-and-white art — right? Wouldn’t it be a cheat to use color?
With only a single day to complete a comic strip, there comes a point where there’s no choice but to settle on an idea and move forward. Otherwise there won’t be time left to pencil, ink, letter, scan, and post the comic by the end of the day! If the idea I had landed on wasn’t liked because it lacked a funny punchline or because I’d added color — I’d just have to live with it. The clock was ticking — I had to execute.
Boy, was I in for a surprise!
The finished comic I posted that day got an immediate reaction on Instagram. The number of likes and follows that started rolling in caught me completely off-guard. It was a hit!
Without any real plan, I made another comic using the same witch character the next day. And again the day after that. My notifications were flooded with likes and my follower count continued to grow. I enjoyed writing dialog for this crafty old witch character — so why not keep going?
The strip I wrote for day 3 suggested a follow-up strip for day 4. But that would mean introducing continuity. A story! As much as I liked the idea of challenging myself to write an on-going story, I really didn’t want to make Inktober any more difficult than it already was. Not only would it mean I’d have to come up with a concept for the day using the word prompt — but I’d also have to figure out how to connect it to the event that took place in the comic the previous day. Could I even do that?
I really didn’t have much time to think about it. The clock was ticking. I rolled the dice and went for it.
The characters didn’t have names. Or backstories. I had absolutely no plan. I knew about as much about what was going to happen in the next comic as the readers did.
I was writing by the seat of my pants.
The extreme uncertainty was frightening. What if I completely messed up the story? What if I ran out of ideas? I tried to think ahead — to plan-out the entire story and ensure it had a proper ending. But when the day would arrive to execute on those pre-planned ideas, a new and better idea would occur to me — one that seemed more true to the characters and world. And all that planning went out the window.
Day by day, the world and characters came alive. By the end of the month, I had 16 finished comic strips — that’s a new comic every other day for an entire month! Not bad! I wasn’t able to finish the story I’d begun — in fact, I’m still working on it as I write this. But readers continue show support and enthusiasm for this new series I’ve created and I plan to see it through to its conclusion.
I have now made 19 comics about the witch Iris Bloom, her niece Sunflower Daffodil, Hettie the raven, and Gardenia the cat, and I have at least ten more comics to go before their current adventure comes to an end. The support and enthusiasm from readers has made the comics an absolute joy to work on.
If you are interested in learning more about this new world of witches and magic and angry birds, you can find their adventures as a guest feature hosted on Sundae Comics and, as always, on my Instagram.