Hourly Comics Day 2021: Obligation and Opportunity

A line drawing by Lucy Knisley of her husband, a tall, thin man with short hair and glasses, coming down the stairs to be greeted by their cat. The cat "speaks" to Knisley's husband like Dick van Dyke in Merry Poppins, requesting to be let outside. Knisley's husband deposits him in the snow unceremoniously.

It’s hourly comics day! As I write this, day-of on February 1, 2021, there’s an absolute blizzard on in Brooklyn and I’m watching a superintendent across the street blast a parked car with snow from a snowblower (it’s probably fine). Hourly comics day falls on a Monday this year, during our, uh, 11th month of pandemic semi-lockdown, and lonely melancholy is a theme in this year’s comics—but so is a certain sense of thankfulness for the community we do have, and a determination to build what we can.

After a year in which most people—even those who have worked from home for years—have had their routines upended, I found myself particularly interested in how hourlies fit into peoples’ daily lives. Lucy Knisley looks forward to hourlies every year, and shared how she prepares a few days before 2021’s big event. Knisley uses hourlies as an opportunity to reflect on her cartooning practice, and the day’s comics are full of clean lines and negative space—much like the autobio strips she posts intermittently through the rest of the year.

Steenz is a freelance editor with a syndicated daily comic strip and some gnarly repetitive stress injuries, so her drawing time is at a premium. Her hourlies are quick, snuck into breaks between meetings, Heart of the City work, and reminding me that I also have to do my taxes (rude).

Marnie Galloway, a cartoonist and mother with three young kids, fit her hourlies into her hectic life a different way: she worked on some in advance because “every day is the same.” Galloway’s hourly comics take a distinctly reflective tone, chronicling a day with her children while also ruminating on the effect a year of lockdown will have on them. As long as 2020 felt to all of us, it’s an even larger percentage of a five year old’s life… and a yet again larger percentage of the life they can remember. Galloway’s comics are mostly black linework, but some panels are shaded in deep grays—a contrast that feels like flicking a light switch on and off.

Philippa Rice is another mother of three, but her comics are electrically colorful where Galloway’s are structured and rhythmic. When I clicked into one of Rice’s pages as I bounced from retweet to retweet, I gasped. I love the look of bright paper tacked onto white sketchbook, lined in black with colorful marker highlights, and the rough shapes and post-it colors serve to emphasize the energy needed to manage a house full of toddler and baby. Rice also built panels for multiple timestamps within each hour, which is a level of temporal awareness I can only aspire to.

As I read this year’s comics, I thought about cartoonists’ experiences of Hourly Comics Day as obligation vs. opportunity. For creators like Galloway, the event offers a chance to externalize introspection—to engage with the catharsis of autobiographical storytelling in a comparatively low-stakes, community driven event that won’t permanently make it part of your brand. That said, as with all widespread creative challenges, there can be a pressure to contribute: the hashtag presents a chance to get eyes on your work, to engage with parasocial marketing, to win “internet points” (as H-P Lehkonen says below), even though nobody’s getting paid for these.

Like Lehkonen’s, Aatmaja Pandya’s hourlies follow her through emotional highs and lows, from finding joy in watching the howling blizzard to the crushing feelings of distance that come with living through a global pandemic. I’m lucky enough to be close with some of my coworkers, who I talk to every day, and to live with my best friend, but like Pandya I can’t help but think about fledgling relationships that have stalled due to distance and time. Pandya’s illustrations are peaceful, and her ink washes and limited palette feel like a deep breath between difficult thoughts.

Emily Hammersley-Ambrose’s autobio work consistently captures me with how she balances irreverence and frankness in portraying mental health, grief, and the general joys and trials of being a young adult in the twenty-twenties (is that what we’re calling these?). Her panels frequently cascade into each other, building up energy and delivering a point or punchline like a sudden stop. Also, mood.

Finally, Olivia Fields’ comics are incredibly visually arresting—2-by-2 chunks of square panels that cover varying amounts of time, filled with strong spot blacks. As I stay up past my bedtime to finish this roundup, the first set of panels sticks with me. It feels good to put something together that exists outside of the daily grind, and that celebrates something personal—be it fandom, or community, or even just the exhilaration of exercising a skill you’re good at.

There are a ton of incredible cartoonists whose hourlies I didn’t manage to fit above, and even more who I didn’t even see—if you have a set you loved (or did your self!) please send them along in the comments! We’re all humans with busy lives, and it’s hard to fit an extra hour or five of visual chronicling in an already packed day. I’m thankful for all the cartoonists shared their work and their lives this year, and I’m grateful that we have events like Hourly Comics Day to remind me of how big and vibrant the comics community is… even if we haven’t seen each other for going on 11 months.

Zora Gilbert

Zora Gilbert

Zora Gilbert cares a whole lot about words, kids, and comics. Find them at @zhgilbert on twitter, and find the comics they edit at datesanthology.com.