As SPX ’10 thoughts still swirl in the indie community, Frank Santoro looks back and swirls about why mini-comics no longer feel fresh to him:
Driving down to DC I was composing my rant for a panel with Tim. I felt like I wanted to rail against mini-comics and small press cuz I feel like, at this point, I’ve read every mini-comic. They all start to look alike to me after twenty-some years of collecting. It’s like a twenty-year black and white explosion. Lots of great shit, but man, you really gotta sift through the junk pile to find said shit. And I love doing just that, sifting through the bins, tables, whatever and maintaining a collection of great mini-comics. The thing is, that less and less cartoonists are investing in this form and really developing it the way, say, Kevin Huizenga did/does. Kevin perfected the mini-comic and carried that into his “mainstream” work. And it’s that level of craft is something I don’t see much of and, hey, that’s okay but it doesn’t make me excited about looking for new stuff – and it makes me wonder about the “concerns” of the small press in this world of web comics.
The response in the comments is equally rambling and covers many topics, some economic some artistic. Jesus, there is not one person who didn’t think this year’s SPX was the most awesome comics show they’d been to in years, but it has sure inspired a lot of soul searching! I’m not going to delve into the comments because it’s too all over the place for me to really get a read on, but a few thoughts. This one guy Jason, who no one seems to think much of, writes:
It’s amazing to see so little craft involved and to be around tons of folks who feel like they’re special and deserve (or demand (barf) in lots of cases) attention but who don’t have much talent or ambition. Maybe this has always been the case – for every Kevin H, Dan Zettwoch, John Hankiewicz, Gabrielle Bell, Vanessa Davis there has been loads of crap.
“Maybe”? How old are you, 11? I was cleaning up recently and I find these time capsule shoe boxes where I put all the minis from this year or that, including probably the first SPX I went to in ’97 or so. Trust me, there are always also-rans and flashes in the pan. Anytime I even look something up on this blog from four years ago I’m like, “Say, whatever DID happen to that guy?”
That said, as in most things, each generation gets the mini-comics school it deserves. Minis were once known as mail art because you could literally mail them to people. Now they are pretty much made to sell at shows like SPX.
Rob Clough has a more pragmatic view of the kids these days:
There’s less hacked-out, scribbled-out, cheapie xeroxed stuff that I see and get nowadays. That said, I agree that I also see fewer “holy shit!” moments of stunningly good and cleverly-crafted minis ala Kevin H. (The best minis I’ve seen in recent years have come from Will Dinski [king of interesting design], Leslie Stein [insane detail in her drawing] and Annie Murphy [impressive content]). I attribute both trends to the large number of cartoonists at SPX who are now going to comix art school and the webcomix people who do obligatory minicomics for shows so they have something to sell. (Obviously, sometimes those two groups overlap.)
Exactly. People go to art school just to make mini-comics these days. I’m wondering, though, if Frank’s comments aren’t somehow tied to the whole economic fretting going on here and elsewhere — what is the career path for these artists? Where do they plan to create a body of work? Do they plan to create a “body of work”? Does a Facebook page constitute a body of work?
Anyone pondering all this would do well to check out this book, btw. It was a whole different scene, but it was a scene. And comics had no academic cred or literary awards or websites. People did it because they had to.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.