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Welcome to Size Matters, a new weekly column devoted to an over-looked corner of the comic universe -- mini-comics.
If you’re reading Comic Book Galaxy, you’re already sold on the idea that comics are a unique way to communicate ideas and stories through art. But it will be my job every other week to convince you that mini-comics can be the absolute cutting edge in the comics medium. There are things you’ll see in mini-comics that you won’t see anywhere else. Rarely in comics do you find the joy of someone putting pencil to paper that you would in a mini-comic. There are no editors, no colorists or letterers, no rules, no limits or restrictions, in short there’s nothing holding back the mini-comic creator from communicating his or her unique vision to the reader. When a mini-comic clicks with you, there’s a connection between the reader and the artist that is hard to find in the slick mass-produced comics that crowd the stands of your local shop. In minis, there’s a personal feeling you get from a comic that is produced on someone’s kitchen table or living room floor. When you gaze at a screen-printed cover, you can tell how much love and care the artist put into their comic.
Assigning a definition or rule to mini-comics is difficult. If ever there were a no-rules segment of the comics medium, mini-comics would be it. They are not always “mini,” for instance. Ironclad by Dan Zettwoch is much larger than a standard-sized modern comic, and if you unfold Faye Ryu’s Hello, it’s more than 30 feet long. Minis can typically range in size from as small as a postage stamp (micro minis) to a fold-out comic bigger than a wall poster. The only thing limiting the dimensions of a mini-comic is the need and intent of the artist.
The same “no rules” philiosophy that applies to size is true for shape. Traditional mini-comics began with a sheet of regular typing paper folded into quarters and then segmented to form an 8-page booklet. There are still plenty of standard 8-pagers out there, but you’ve also got people like James McShane (Carmine Darnell and the Sleepy Creatures and 02-18-04) making a miniature book that is as thick as it is wide. There are mini-comics shaped like a pyramid (Bazaar Love Triangle by Alixopulos, Andy Hartzell and Josh Frankel), a pack of cigarettes or a Rubik’s Cube (Peter Conrad’s Attempted Not Known), and minis that are placed in a plastic bubble and available from a gumball machine. You can also find accordion-like minis made of a seemingly never-ending scrap of paper or minis with massive fold-out pages.
One common denominator in the world of mini-comics, however, is the small size of the print run, which is really where the title “Size Matters” comes from. Minis are printed in small batches, batches that make Fantagraphics look like Marvel Comics. It’s not uncommon to find a mini-comic where there were less than 100 copies made. In fact it’s uncommon for a mini-comic to be printed in runs of more than 1000. Last I heard, John Porcellino, who has been making and printing minis for over 15 years and has a large readership, prints up about 800 copies per issue of his King Cat Comics.
These small print runs allow the artist to experiment with different formats and techniques. Let’s say someone wants to do interior spot colors with crayon or a magic marker; nothing stops them from doing so with a print run of 200 copies. Or if someone wants to make certain pages unfold to a much larger size, they can. They’re made in small enough batches to allow creators to add personal touches and take risks that could be prohibitively expensive in a larger print run.
Mini-comics are available from a wide variety of sources, but unless you have an exceptional full-service comic shop near you, you’ll probably not have much luck finding them at your local comic store. Fortunately, minis are easy to find online. Any search for quality mini-comics should start at USS Catastrophe. Rick Bradford’s Poopsheet Shop is another great source of mini-comics and he’s boosting his inventory almost daily. There are other online mini-comic sources, including Bueneventura Press and the Global Hobo website. Individual artists’ websites are also great places to pick up mini-comics if you know who and what you’re looking for.
Another great place to find mini-comics is at the growing number of small press festivals and shows. Most shows have already taken place at this point, the exception being the Small Press Expo or SPX this September 23 and 24th in Bethesda, Maryland, but if you're interested in finding good mini-comics take note of the following shows: Alternative Press Expo or APE (April in San Francisco, California), FLUKE (January in Athens, Georgia), this past weekend's MoCCA Art Festival, Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo or SPACE (April in Columbus, Ohio), and STAPLE (March in Austin, Texas). At each of these shows, you can enjoy a laid back and friendly atmosphere where mini-comics and small press publishers frolic in fields of freshly cut grass.
At the end of each Size Matters column, I’ll spotlight at least five sources for finding and buying mini-comics. If you’re a mini-comic artist, drop me an email at email@example.com and I’ll add you to the list of sources. If you want your work featured in future columns, send a copy of your mini to the address listed and I’ll be happy to spotlight your book. Send me two copies, and I’ll forward the second copy to a random reader. If you’re out there doing good mini-comics, I want to get your book into as many hands as possible. I want to help people discover what you’re doing. By the same token, if your career objective is to work for Marvel or Image Comics, please don’t send them in; you’ll just be wasting the postage.
Next week, we’ll explore the top ten most innovative mini-comics of the last few years.
-- Shawn Hoke
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