Everybody Gets It Wrong! is an odd little duck. This is not a hardcover comic collection that you should pick up because of its visual artistry, nor is it one you should grab based on the literary merits of its narrative. To do so in either case would be pretty damn foolish, quite frankly. This thing is rife with asinine storytelling verging on the absurd, rushed art that amounts to little more than hastily-scribbled doodles and a peppering of typos so liberal, it would make the dyslexic cringe. So why do I so highly recommend it? Have you ever heard of the 24-Hour Comic? Well limber up, sunshine, cause you’re gonna...
Picture it: the stylistically-tender days of 1990. Parachute pants and puffy neon shell suits are still (inconceivably) without the realm of irony, revolutionary television programs like Blossom and Wings are about to change the world, and a young comics theorist (which apparently is a thing) named Scott McCloud has just officially levied a challenge to his friend Stephen R. Bissette that he can produce a single, fully-completed comic book within the tight span of 24 hours. Accomplishing the feat within the same year, the 24-Hour Comic was born, and its legacy lasts today as a right of passage for any creator brave enough to take its plunge ... like David Chelsea, for example.
In the comic book world, Chelsea is probably best known for his work in the anthological Dark Horse Presents title. However, as, himself, a comics theorist of sorts, he has also helped fellow creators more functionally with his books, Perspective! For Comic Book Artists and EXTREME Perspective! For Artists, which is presumably for snowboarders. These books have helped many an ink-slinger ply his or her trade in a more professional manner by teaching them the nuts and bolts of sequential art. And yet, like the protagonist in one of those ridiculous dance movies, this is a man unafraid to take his formal ballet training to the streets!
Weirdly enough, this brings me back to Everybody Gets It Wrong! While being neither technically-sound nor literarily impeccable, this remains a hugely compelling venture, as each of its stories was written over a period of a single day and in accordance with the rules established by McCloud. This is not a collection of refined, fully-realized comic books, this is a peek behind the eaves of sequential art storytelling, a look at the comic clockwork. As the foreword says, “This is live jazz” - it’s speed chess, a Def Poetry Jam, freestyle rap ... but in comic book form. This is not a book that should be judged simply on how good it looks or how well it reads, because it’s not about polish. It’s about process. And it’s pretty damn fascinating.
The first story, called “The Harold Project,” exemplifies what is at the heart of the 24-Hour Comic Challenge, perhaps because it is Chelsea’s first attempt. This sketchily-drawn story quite simply sees a man trying to scale the face of a building in a bid to win himself one million dollars. Meanwhile, in the wings, a man who appears to be Donald Trump attempts to thwart his efforts via a mouse, some pigeons and a balloon filled with itching powder. The beginning, middle and end of this story are utterly ludicrous, if not fantastically random, but it also illustrates how “on the fly” 24-hour comics are by nature.
This is non-sequitur, spots-on-your-apple comics, and because of that, there’s a certain freedom to enjoy the barebones storytelling of the form. This may be flash cartooning, warts and all, but given its context, it also proves a greater depth within Chelsea’s at-first cavalier-seeming skill, with a rough yet ready humor and a ridiculous theme that is matched perhaps only by its inventiveness and scope.
“August 29, 2004” is Chelsea’s second 24-Hour Comic, but it’s more of a smorgasbord than his first. What starts out in a name-guessing game that the author plays with his kids, continues with a frankly pretty funny story of raspberry-ravenous, world-traveling tomatoes named Singar & Mingo. There follows further a series of short cartoons based on song lyrics and a day-in-the-life look at a character named Mugg, who, in an ironic twist of fate, has a coffee mug for a head. What is most interesting about this story, however, is not its diversity, but rather the way in which it diverges.
The great thing about “The Harold Project” was that, for all its oddity, it had a certain cohesion. In this second attempt, however, there is a lot of jumping around, a sequential art potpourri, really, which shows a more non-linear approach that the 24-Hour Comic can take. When viewed together, this is comic book chaos theory, showing the bends within the stream of consciousness.
To skip around a bit, two of the book’s other stories, “Jesusland” and “Bingo the Cat,” while not consecutive in this collection, are thematically linked as more straight-up attempts at storytelling, with the former using anthropomorphic critters to argue the legality of separation between church and state, thereby commenting on Karl Rove’s 2004 reelection strategy for George W. Bush. It has some great social commentary about government, Hollywood, inter-religious politicking, Scientology and Canada, and is followed by a weird little story about a man, a woman and their very surreal date that reminded me of something Shel Silverstein might have written. “Bingo the Cat,” on the other hand, simply sees the eponymous feline as he tumbles down a wordless adventure that would make Alice in Wonderland’s head spin.
The true accomplishments of this hardcover, however, are its namesake, the short story, “Everybody Gets It Wrong,” which was originally published in 24x2 (a Top Shelf mini-comic), and the somewhat similar “From an Infinite Distance.” I say somewhat similar because both stories approach a discussion to which David Chelsea is no stranger: perspective.
As the author himself says, “Everybody Gets It Wrong” is more of an essay, wherein he explores how autobiographical comic book creators should preserve authenticity by using the subjective camera, or first-person point-of-view. It sticks with the premise for a while, exploring why both comics and film use third-person perspective and the benefit of changing that trope, before careening off into a fun sort of nonsense, as Chelsea seeks to prove his point by illustrating his own dreams. He then does something that can only be described as laziness ... if it didn’t end up being kind of brilliant.
At one point, seemingly to fill space and time, Chelsea fills his page with pictures of a ticking clock, showing how long it takes him to think of something next to draw. At first, I explained this away as just filler, but the more I thought about it, the more it became evident that this was the illustration ofprocess, and thus, perhaps the key visual for this book in total.
We are watching time pass on the comic book page, literally, in panels of minutes ticking away, as that 24-hour deadline quickly approaches. It’s not necessarily “great storytelling,” but as an image, I thought it was an interesting (though, as it turns out, unnecessary) way to sum up what drives this book: that sensitive process, where images and words bow beneath the weight of time.
“From an Infinite Distance” is yet another exercise that begins as a lesson in perspective - this time about “vertical oblique parallel projection” - which, as I understand it, is the perspective used in games like The Sims and Paperboy, the references of which I’m hoping will reach at least one generation of gamer. After explaining this type of perspective visually through diagrams and examples, Chelsea then sets out to illustrate it in a story that is not even flirting with the idea of making sense. And you know what? It’s pretty great. Oh, it may be the comic book equivalent of verbal diarrhea, but it’s still (wait for it) the shit. Funny, pregnant with purpose and innocently, nonsensically fun, this is the ideal way to wrap-up Chelsea’s preternaturally-involved comic collection.
Fair warning: Everybody Gets It Wrong! will not be for everyone. It’s no great shakes when it comes to art or linear plot construction; it feels rushed yet languid yet furtive, and in terms of a collection with a solid narrative structure, it is almost completely unsatisfying. However, if you want to see the 24-Hour Comic exercise in action, and witness the backend of comic book creation come to the fore, without the pretense you might expect from such an exercise, then there is no better place to gain a very unique comic book perspective than right here.
Writer and Artist: David Chelsea
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: 6/5/13