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When mini-comics were maxi


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.

  1. Honestly, I kinda got sick of mini comics for many reasons. First, as a consumer, I feel they are over-priced (seriously, we complains about $4 36 page Marvel comics, but a lot of 16 page minis run $5. I know it’s apples and oranges, but it still stings and influences my decisions). Then, the really good ones, the ones worth truly reading, owning, and sharing, will probably eventually be collected in a nicer, shelf ready, bound collection. So, I’ll probably end up buying it again. And then there’s the whole storing issue. With scattered sizes, and I just don’t know what to do with them. I right now have a few boxes and it’s a mess. I have no idea whats in them. At least mainstream comics have a uniform size, making storing slightly easier, especially in the larger size.

    So, when I go to small press shows nowadays, I still pick up a few minis, but I lean toward larger collections nowadays.

  2. Well, I didn’t think that this year’s SPX was the Best. Show. Evar. I did see some great stuff, talked to lots of people, but I expect that from SPX.

    I don’t know where my money went (sorry, MK) but much of what I purchased were books (including a copy of Greenberg the Vampire). It’s not the price or size, but more the content… I don’t know what’s inside, and if the idea, art, or person doesn’t sell me, then I won’t take a chance. I am a sucker for craft comics… movable type, multi-screens, nice paper… because I’m familiar with those techniques, and can use that as an icebreaker.

    Looking at the PDF preview of that book, I wonder what from 2010 will compare.

    (And Heidi, the first SPX was in…1994. You had a table next to the future Holly Golightly, back when she drew for Carnal Comics. Dave Sim was also there, about as far away from the Friends of Lulu table as possible. David Mazuchelli was selling Rubber Blanket. Some guy named David Lapham was selling Stray Bullets. A small show, but so full of talent!)

  3. Mini comics don’t need to cost $5 each. There are some good deals on line for copies color even. I can usually do a 16 page color mini and sell it for $1.00. I also do a few linolem cut books where there are no printing costs other then the linolem, ink and paper. They seem to sell well anywhere even “pop culture” cons.

  4. I’m usually in agreement with Frank, but here my youth leads me to disagree with him. I realize he’s been collecting this stuff since the 80’s and I only started in on self published stuff in recent years but I still think theres lots of fantastic minicomics being made by the new generation. I could see getting tired of wading through the crap, which there is undeniably a lot of. Still though, Leslie Stein’s work, Morgan Pierelli’s Indestructible Universe Quarterly, Joe Lambert’s stuff… those are some of my most cherished comics and I think that anybody who would pass them over for just about any reason is pieing their self in the face. There’s also the argument that books like Cold Heat, 1-800-Mice (isn’t Thurber self publishing it now?), and books like Argh or Theo Ellsworth’s stuff have much more in common with minicomics than they do with more mainstream alt collections like Fantagraphics or D&Q. I just think this line of criticism (which I was hearing more and more of from critics panels at the cons this past year) runs the risk of killing off any kind of enthusiasm to keep new comics alive. I mean, we already know that minicomics don’t make you any kind of coin anymore. Now we have to take away the sense of community and encouragement that was built around them too?

  5. No Matt Feazell comics in NEWAVE? Very disappointing – he’s the first artist I think of when I think “Mini-comics.”

  6. Let’s try to keep a little perspective about mini-comics. Believe it or not, there are many people who create mini-comics not because they’re trying to impress anybody or break into “the business” but because they like creating comics and that’s one of the options for getting them to an audience.

    I love, love, love really great mini-comics but I’m also in love with the idea of self-publishing in general as well as the community that exists around it.

    Any given year there are tons of people making mini-comics most comics readers will never even hear of. Many of them also don’t do the convention circuit. Some of those minis are great and some of them are not so great but they’re being *made* and, if you ask me, that’s the important thing.

  7. It seems like about once a year, I hear someone bemoan the death of mini comics / comix / small press. I’ll keep my comments only towards the mini comics end of this.

    I am in a somewhat unique position in that I was very active in mini comix from 1979 up until around 1990. From that point until 2004, I had almost no contact with what was going on or who was publishing mini comix. So, basically, when I started checking things out again and buying a few mini comix in the new century, I was looking at it with the same eyes and expectations as 1990. I was amazed at the diversity and breadth of the medium. You have to remember that in the 80’s and 90’s we relied on the mails and a few newsletters and review zines to find others and promote our own work. So, in essence, many cliques existed all at the same time with very little knowledge that others were even printed. Then, with the internet, all of these cliques suddenly were able to find each other and cross over. It was amazing! I started getting in touch with my old mini comix friends. Many of whom had gone on to become respected professionals in comics and other areas. Upon contacting them, it seems the one thing we still have in common is the love of the mini comic format.

    With the aid of the internet and what few print review zines I’ve been able to find, I discovered that the mini comics community is larger than ever! Not smaller or dwindling like I keep hearing. I still see tons of the xerox zines and inkjet superhero 8pagers and pocket sized porn comix and everything in between. From rank raw publications that are barely legible to polished projects with complex printing techniques. (For my money, by the way, I’d rather support that xerox zine rather than the slick project.) It shows me that still, people are guided by the need to create. Not for an audience, necessarily, but for themselves. Most minis are printed with a print run of less than 100, so to think that one person has seen the majority of mini comics being produced is a bit naive. I think most of us have very different points of view because we each have seen very different cross sections of the medium.

    To cut short this ramble, I think every time I hear someone bemoan the current state of mini comix, just makes me question how possibly it’s not the lack of quality mini comics, but instead, perhaps they have just become lazy in the way they search them out. And in the end, I would just like to second Rick’s comment above about the important thing is that they are still being made.

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