ShortBox ComicsThe beloved, groundbreaking small press publisher ShortBox closes its physical shop at the end of February. Zainab Akhtar, the force behind ShortBox, began her path to publishing as a critic, and the editor and founder of Comics and Cola. Akhtar became a crowdfunding pioneer, putting together the first ShortBox campaigns (seasonal comic bundles and candy, bespoke and delivered) long before anyone associated Kickstarter with prestigious comics success.

While running ShortBox boxes and shop, and serving as an editor at Peow Studio, Akhtar responded to the 2020 haitus on cons by developing what she would eventually leave print behind for, the ShortBox Comics Fair. SBCF is a month-long self-released digital comic book fest. Proceeds go straight to the cartoonists. It’s a terrifically exciting, must-acquire-everything annual affair (that isn’t going anywhere).

What is going, if you would be willing to lend a hand, is the last of the stock available from the ShortBox shop. It closes February 29th. There are just over twenty titles left as this goes to pub. So here are ten, five saddle stitched and five perfect bound. International shipping, a factor in Akhtar moving to digital, is rough right now, so keep in mind the order might cost like an extra book. All the more reason to justify acquiring a stack.

Short Works

Mending a RiftMending a RiftMending A Rift by Jean Wei
Wei’s was my favorite comic published in 2023! ShortBox excels in this pocket of sci fi that shows technology’s ripple effect on society through a very human, very neorealismo approach to storytelling. Finding ways to critique how industrialized society operates without focusing on soldiers, cops, violence (attention Patlabor people).

Pass the Baton Pass the BatonPass the Baton by Hana Chatani
Indie manga in the mix. Chatani’s longer work for manga small press publisher Glacier Bay Books, Give Her Back to Me, is a horror story. Kind of. Quiet like ShortBox books are, and tipping into a Gene Wolfe opacity as some of their titles tend to do. An understanding of the power intentional indeterminacy has over the imagination.

Vintage ShortBox Beneath the Dead Oak Tree Vintage ShortBox Beneath the Dead Oak TreeBeneath the Dead Oak Tree by Emily Carroll
An earlier book still available. Carroll’s longer works at Koyama Press and recently from First Second are fine examples of what she’s known for: visceral, atmospheric horror stories that- through a curtain of blood- explore desire as much as disgust.

Vintage Shortbox Sobek Vintage ShortBox SobekSobek by James Stokoe
Another early title. Stokoe’s work also speaks to an older tradition in mainstream comics: magic and monsters and having a good time while you’re reading it. This combined with a love for big lizards, he’s done a lot of Godzilla books. ShortBox offers a chance to read works of speculative fiction that are born purely from curiosity in the storyteller.

I See a Knight I See a KnightI See a Knight by Xulia Vincente
Vincente’s comic is a great example of all ShortBox offers at work in one place. Fantasy, a phantom, and friendship, bound by old rules. Literary tradition is repositioned into everyday experience. Our expectations for genre fiction can skew to the concrete and severe, but ShortBox artists are unguarded in their sensitivity, their books largely understated in detail while robust in atmosphere.


Don't Go Without Me Don't Go Without MeDon’t Go Without Me by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Baroque hyperballads. Valero-O’Connell crafts marvelous conjunctions of all genres in speculative fiction, where the ghost of science fiction is exiled to a fantasy setting, somehow still impossibly relatable, conceivable, desirable. The vivid poetry of this cartoonist does not miss.

Homunculus HomunculusHomunculus by Joe Sparrow
Sparrow moves from the eve of destruction thought the apocalypse and into deep time from a set point in space. Resilience and fragility. Up there with Robo Sapiens. The fixed perspective of the protagonist echoes the reader’s inability to effect the story’s outcome. Simple. But not.

Cuckoo CuckooCuckoo by Joe Sparrow
Another, newer Sparrow title. Further visual experimentation, this time in the form of pausing the plot so the characters can explore reality’s transformation; the moment is telling the story. Their transformation is joyous, where potential becomes practice, but the cost of change is the former self must go. Tim Powers, Alfred Bester matter-of-fact sci fi.

Vintage ShortBox Conan Turtlepack's Day Out Vintage ShortBox Conan Turtlepack's Day OutConan Turtlepack’s Day Out by Valentine Gallardo
A rough, uncomfortable, anxiety on the beach jam. Gallardo’s problem play is tender, rooted in everyday insecurities, meaningless triumphs that somehow tip the scales back from ennui to bliss. A Cathy G Johnson understanding of people. The “imperfect” execution just advances the intimacy.

Pipette and Dudley Pipette and DudleyPipette and Dudley: Charming Dog Adventure Comics by Charlotte Mei
The picture book text placement is just more evidence of the multidisciplinary nature of sequential art. We have by now long abandoned the idea that comics need panels. The interplay of words and pictures recalling books left behind with childhood is amplified by Mei’s art style.

You can get all of these comics- and more- until February 29th.

Putting it down professionally often gives artists the time to pick it up for passion again down the road. The phoenix quality to the work Akhtar touches is undeniable. None of this is should be seen as an ending. Many ShortBox Comics Fair digital books have already seen print from other small press publishers. Silver Sprocket has done several. There’s an upcoming Conundrum Press book I’m extra geeked about.

There are always going to be amazing, unique, avant-garde staple-bound short works available at zine fests and via distros and stocked at discerning, singular shops around the globe. Yet ShortBox had truly mastered the art of the graphic novella. A whole book’s worth of oomph told in two dozen pages. A comic that looked and felt like a real book, not for trying, but because that’s what it was. Where others struggled, ShortBox succeeded.