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Making Mini-Comics
posted October 10, 2004
 

Why Should I Make a Mini-Comic?

You can make mini-comics for all sorts of reasons -- you want to become a more effective cartoonist, you have something you want to say and you don't want to wait for a publisher, you want to show off your skills, you want an item to trade with other mini-comics makers, or maybe you want to make a tiny bit of cash (and I mean a very tiny bit of cash) at a forthcoming show.

But the reason you should make mini-comics is because of the unique opportunity it affords to participate in the art form. An underrated great thing about the comic art form is that there is an audience of people who are willing to accept those homemade forms of expression as legitimate and potentially satisfying art and entertainment. Your local music store probably does not have a section of homemade CDs from unsigned bands, your local bookstore likely does not carry leather-bound homemade journals from writers jotting down ideas between projects. You can find quite a few comic shops that carry locally and nationally produced mini-comics, yours among them if you choose. Outside of shops they are traded and collected at shows and on-line.

Making mini-comics means physically producing comics with whatever technology you have on hand: Xerox machines and silk screening set-ups, scissors and glue and staplers. You control the printing process. If that sounds like an appealing proposition, you're not alone. There are probably as many mini-comics made as there are regularly formatted comics being published. Several cartoonists got their start by making mini-comics, and a fair number continue to make them for a variety of reasons long after they've moved onto more commercial formats. A select few have stuck with mini-comics as the best publishing option for what they do. There is no wrong option, no rigid commercial standard, and no creative boundaries in mini-comics.

Mini-comics can be very simple or very elaborately produced. A folded piece of paper that is opened like a book can be a mini-comic, and so can a 132-page die-cut rounded-corner die-cut book with a hand stamp on every other page. Despite the name, size matters not at all. Even though many mini-comics are very small, others are quite large. Some feature covers made of the same paper as the drawings on the inside; others have elaborately produced or silk-screened covers. Anything you can do with pieces of paper to make them into a readable book, ten copies or five hundred: that's a mini-comic.

How Do I Make a Mini-Comic?

If it's not clear by now: any way you want.

When I edited a magazine about comics and had seen few mini-comics, I thought it would be fun to run a feature on how to physically make one. The columnist who covered mini-comics for the magazine thought this was a tremendously stupid idea. I can see why he thought this. Mini-comics aren't hard to make in their basic form, and the process is largely intuitive. Any way you can make paper hold together as a book makes for a viable mini-comic.

The only advice I've ever received before making my own mini-comics that I have since actually used is to always make this sort of dummy of a book before starting the copy process. If you are doing a mini-comic that takes up more than one piece of paper, you may have to divide the story onto various pieces of paper for Xeroxing. Knowing what the book looks like at the end of the process helps you make it to that end with the least amount of fuss.

For an example of this, look at any stapled magazine. Go to the middle section, where you can see the staples. If you pull that full sheet away from the staples, the centerfold you hold in your hand features four pages in a row: say 59, 60, 61, 62 with 59 and 62 on one side and 60 and 61 on another. Pull the sheet underneath that and it will have pages 57, 58, 63, 64 on it. Your Xeroxes have to be arranged in just such a manner, so that when the individual comics are assembled, they read in sequential order.

The good thing is that trial and error in mini-comics isn't cost-prohibitive. If you guess wrong while making your master copy, before you print several you can always paste together single pages onto sheets in the right order to make a new master copy. If you're working small enough, you may be able to fit two of everything onto one sheet, and so on. The main concern is you don't want to have a book that fails to make sense when it's put together.

Beyond what you use in making the art and writing in the comic itself, many cartoonists who do a lot of mini-comics get into specialized equipment, such as:

1. A Long Stapler, or a Stapling System
2. A Xerox Machine
3. Cutting Boards
4. Silk-Screen Set-Ups or Small Design Makers
5. Small Binders (for books of fifty-plus pages)

All of this stuff can be tremendously useful -- a stapler is a cheap, effective buy for even the most casual handmade comics maker -- but mini-comics can be made by anyone with paper, a ballpoint pen, and a few dollars for the copy store.

Here is a site and over here is another site both of which speak more explicitly to issues of mini-comics construction.

And here is a great free offer of a how-to mini-comic from mini-comics legend Matt Feazell. Send him a stamp to this address, and ask him nicely for the book.

Matt Feazell
PO Box 12038
Hamtramck MI 48212

Several artists whom I have contacted have also suggested a how-to article in 2002's Wizard Edge #1 by Jim Mahfood on the subject of making mini-comics.

How Do I Sell My Mini-Comic?

Most people sell their minis on a hand-to-hand basis, either directly through mail order or at conventions. The conventions it is easiest to find minis and therefore perhaps easiest to sell them are those that feature small press, independent and alternative publications. They are listed in the resources section below. As mentioned above, there exist on-line stores and actual physical comic book shops that carry and sell mini-comics, a lot of the time on commission. Most of them love to work with a creator who inquires as to the possibility of selling work through them. Comic shops are a great way to see your work distributed nationwide, although it is very rare to sell several copies that way.

There are a few specialty distributors who may be able to help you get work into stores, but most mini-comics makers work directly with shops and their own customers. Both shops and distribution networks are listed below.


Will Someone Review My Mini-Comic?

Maybe. I mean, I will. Other people... There are a few on-line web sites and at least one magazine that regularly reviews mini-comics submitted to them by cartoonists. They are listed in the resources section below.


What Can I Expect From Making a Mini-Comic?

The satisfaction of a job well done or at least a job, well, done. A mini-comic can be a great work of art all its own, and a satisfying experience for its creator. It can also be a way station to improve skills and gather attention before more saleable formats are pursued. However, there are very few flat-out breakthrough mini-comics. The only one that springs easily to mind is Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve, which sold thousands of copies in mini-comic form before Tomine took his work to a more standard format at the respected publisher Drawn & Quarterly.

Adrian Tomine's success in the mini-comics format was extraordinary even for someone with his obvious talent. And there are definitely mini-comics that sell as miserably as Tomine's sold well. The vast majority sells somewhere in-between. Dozens of mini-comics find a small but appreciative audience, primarily through the determination and grit of their creators to have their work be seen. Some mini-comics makers keep a mailing list of everyone who buys their work. Many attend conventions to meet and greet and maybe even set up in a booth to sell their wares. A few buy advertisements in comics-related publications. Some create their own web sites and publicize their work in on-line chat forums, and others have gone so far as to sell them in the street. Your ability to disseminate your work, like the work itself, is largely up to you.

Making a mini-comic and selling it often works best over time because of the contacts made with other like-minded souls, both fellow artists and an audience. The mini-comics community is a pleasant and supportive one, made up of people who love making comics and enjoy helping others maximize their talent.


RESOURCES

Comic Book Conventions Significantly Focused on Mini-Comics Where One Might Exhibit and Sell Work

Alternative Press Expo (APE)
San Francisco, California
Late Winter/Early Spring

Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE)
Columbus, Ohio
Spring

The MoCCA Art Festival (MoCCA Fest)
New York, New York
Early Summer

Small Press Expo (SPX)
Bethesda, MD
Late Summer/Early Fall

Places to Send Your Minis for Review

Bugpowder
On-Line Review Site
Mail copy to Jez Higgins, 47 Sandford Road, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 9DX.

"Dogsbody" on The Comics Journal Web Site
Irregular On-Line Column
Mail copies to "Dogsbody," The Comics Journal, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

"Minimalism" in The Comics Journal
Mostly Regular Column in Mostly Monthly Print Magazine
Mail two copies to "Minimalism," The Comics Journal, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

Optical Sloth
Premier Mini-Comics Review Site with Extensive Archive
E-Mail copies to whitey@opticalsloth.com, or send physical copies to Kevin Bramer, 3847 Plane Tree Dr W, Columbus, OH 43228.

Poopsheet Reviews
Mini-Comics Friendly General Review Site
Mail copies to Rick Bradford, PO Box 2235, Fredericksburg, TX 78624.

Small Zone
On-Line Review Site
Mail copies to Smallzone, 10 Cleveland Ave, High Ercall, Telford, Shopshire, TF6 6AH, United Kingdom.

Zum Comics
On-Line Review Site
Send copis to Zum! HQ, 17 Lime St, Todmorden, Lancs, OL14, 5JN, United Kingdom.


On-Line Stores That Sell Mini-Comics

Bowizzer
Highwater Books
Little Cakes
Optical Sloth
USS Catastrophe


Brick and Mortar Stores That Make a Point of Selling Mini-Comics, At Least According to What at Least One Cartoonist Told Me

Strange Adventures - Halifax
5262 Sackville St
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Canada B3J 1K8
902-425-2140

Strange Adventures - Fredericton
366 Queen St
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Canada E3B 1B2
506-450-3759

The Beguiling
601 Markham St
Toronto, Ontario
Canada, M6G 2L7
416-533-9168

Million Year Picnic
99 Mt Auburn St
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-492-6763

Comicopia
464 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215
617-266-4266

Jim Hanley's Universe
4 West 33rd St.
New York, NY 10001-3302
718-351-6299

Jigsaw
526 E 11th St
New York, NY 10009
212-777-7845

Queen City Books
3184 Main St
Buffalo, NY 14214
716-833-6220

Copacetic Comics Company
1505 Ashbury
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
412-422-1334

Atomic City Comics
640 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
215-625-9613

Big Planet Georgetown
3145 Dumbarton St NW
Washington, DC 20007
202-342-1961

Big Planet Bethesda
4908 Fairmont Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814
301-654-6856

Atomic Books
1100 W 36th St
Baltimore, MD 21211
410-662-4444

Big Planet Vienna
426 Maple Ave E.
Vienna, VA 22180
703-242-9412

Richmond Comix
14249 Midlothian Turnpike
Midlothian, VA 23113
804-594-2845

Velocity Comics
818 W. Grace Street
Richmond, VA 23220
804-254-5883

Second Foundation Bookstore
136 E. Rosemary St.
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
919-967-4439

Bizarro Wuxtry
197 E. Clayton Street
Athens, GA 30601
706-369-9428

Laughing Ogre
4258 N High St
Columbus, OH 43214
614-267-6473

Comic Carnival
7225 N Keystone Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46240
317-253-8882

Big Brain Comics
81 Tenth Street S.
Minneapolis, MN 55403
612-338-4390

Comix Revolution
606 Davis Street
Evanston, IL 60201
847-866-8659

Quimby's Queer Store
1854 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
773-342-0910

Chicago Comics
3244 N Clark
Chicago, IL 60657
773-528-1983

Star Clipper
379 North Big Bend Blvd
St. Louis, MO 63130
314-725-9110

Atomik Pop!
918 W. Main
Norman OK 73069
405-329-9695

Funny Papers
2025 Guadalupe #132
Austin, TX 78705
512-478-9718

Austin Books
5002 N Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78751
512-454-4197

Samurai Comics
5024 N 7th St
Phoenix AZ 85014
602-265-8886

Skylight Books
1818 N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
323-660-1175

Meltdown
7522 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90046
323-851-7283

Needles and Pens
483 14th Street
San Francisco, CA., 94103
415-255-1534

Super 7
1630 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
415-409-4700

Isotope
1653 Noriega St
San Francisco, CA 94122
415-753-3037

Comic Relief
2138 University Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704-1026
510-843-5002

Hijinx Comix
2050 Lincoln Ave
San Jose, CA 95125
408-266-1103

Space Cat Bascom
536 S Bascom Ave
San Jose, CA 95128
408-280-7257

Reading Frenzy
921 Southwest Oak Street
Portland, OR 97205
503-274-1449

Confounded Books
315 E Pine St
Seattle, WA 98101

Zanadu Downtown
1923 Third Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
206-443-1316

Zanadu University
1307 NE 45th
Seattle, WA 98105
206-632-0989

Comics Dungeon
250 Northeast 45th Street
Seattle, WA 98105
206-545-8373


Other Distributors and Catalogs

Global Hobo
tindog@hotmail.com
jesse_reklaw@yahoo.com

Shenton Sales
shenton4sales@aol.com
1-888-923-1149

Cold Cut Distribution
Attn: Submissions Director
220 N. Main St.
Salinas, CA 93901
831-751-7300

*Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc.
1966 Greenspring Drive, Suite 300
Timonium, MD 21093
410-560-7100

* Diamond has in their corporate lifetime almost never carried mini-comics - maybe three out of 14 million titles they've listed - but if yours is really, really, really fancy and accomplished, I guess it couldn't hurt to try.

Any suggested changes, concerns, or objections to the information presented on this page? Please e-mail.