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Reading Mini-Comics
posted October 11, 2004
 

What are Mini-Comics?

It used to be that mini-comics referred to a specific size of small-press comic book. Now, the word mini-comics is most frequently used to describe handmade comic books and those comic books that resemble them.

This usually means comics printed on a Xerox machine or using a similar hand-operated printing process, but it can also include those rare comics that are published in more formal fashion that adopt the superficial properties of handmade comic books. They are booklets of varying size and shape that exist largely outside the established markets for comic book, graphic novels and newspaper strips.


Why Are They Called "Mini-Comics?"

The reason these comics are called a "mini-comic" or a "mini" is because the category's easiest to understand incarnation is smaller than the average spinner-rack comic. Take a piece of typing paper, lay it on its side in "landscape" position, fold it over once, and treat the result as a four-page, smaller-than-average book with the crease as a spine. You are looking at a mini-comic, albeit a very sparsely drawn and written one.

While the name comes from that kind of simple formatting, mini-comics can be crudely fashioned or as elaborately produced as any major publisher's graphic novel, depending on the inclination, skill and resources of their creators. They can be any size. There have been mini-comics as small as a teenager's thumb and mini-comics as large as pieces of poster board stapled together. Some feature silk-screen covers; others penciled drawings; still others no cover at all. The most important rule of mini-comics is that creatively there are no rules.


Where Did They Come From?

Handmade comic books have been an important part of the creative community surrounding comics since the beginning of the art form. Fans of early comic strips and comic books made and even sold their own efforts to their friends; it is a childhood story common among professional artists.

In the 1960s and 1970s, several factors made handmade comic books an increasingly viable artistic outlet. Mimeograph and Xerox technology allowed burgeoning comics creators to produce copies of their work with greater ease. A growing fan network of comic book letter writers and fan clubs gave mini-comics creators a natural audience for trade and sale, and the rise of comic book stores gave them an occasional consignment outlet. Underground comics shook up perceptions as to what styles and modes constituted a viable approach to the art form. Finally, the change in the mainstream American market from a variety of genres to a heavy concentration on superheroes forced many writers and artists to seek alternative outlets for offbeat work and others to look for a training ground through which to enter the super-industry.


Why Should I Read Mini-Comics?

You should read mini-comics because many of them are quite good. Today, cartoonists use mini-comics in a variety of ways, all of which might interest some readers on certain levels beyond their outright quality.

1. Mini-comics are a viable training ground for many up and coming artists. This is particularly true for those in the alternative/arts comic side of the market, a market for comics that features creator-owned and originated stories rather than corporate owned characters. When you are working with your own characters and stories, producing a mini-comic and creating a regular-sized comic or graphic novel is roughly the same process on a different scale. Name-above-the-title comic book artists such as Adrian Tomine, Jessica Abel, Brian Ralph, Craig Thompson and Kevin Huizenga all came to the attention of their current publishers through mini-comics they themselves made and distributed. If you like learning about exciting new talent at the beginning of their comics careers, you need to read mini-comics.

2. Mini-comics are a great way for established cartoonists to disseminate works between major projects, preview upcoming projects at conventions or via mailings, attempt new techniques, or to simply have something to trade with fellow artists and fans. If you are a fan interested in the complete output of artists like Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Jason, Lewis Trondheim and Seth, you will want to track down some rare mini-comics.

3. Mini-comics have become a fantastic avenue for some specifically talented cartoonists to fulfill all of their ambitions concerning comic book production. As the technology developed to produce mini-comics on a slightly larger scale, so did an entire ethos of Do-It-Yourself creativity. Some mini-comics makers have used this control to go beyond comic books for inspiration and draw on ideas and concepts from artists collectives, printmaking groups, and poetry chapbook makers. If you want to experience the full range of what comics has to offer in terms of presentation, you need to be open to reading some mini-comics.

4. Finally, mini-comics are the home of some artists may not publish anywhere else, and great works that are never reprinted. In the last fifteen years John Porcellino has developed a small but loyal worldwide audience for his King-Cat Comics, over sixty issues of a mini-comic about his life published from his home. Other interesting artists probably best known for their mini-comics include Joel Orff, Steve Willis and Warren Craghead.



How Do I Buy Mini-Comics?

Mini-Comics are sold on-line, through certain comic book shops, and in person at comic book conventions -- particularly the small press friendly cons geared towards the non-superhero publishers. Buying a handmade comic straight from a cartoonist at a show is a fun experience that very few art forms offer. These shops, on-line stores and small-press conventions are listed at this article's end.

Most mini-comics are sold for cash, and prices vary widely. Some artists may be open to trading their mini-comics for other mini-comics. It never hurts to ask, and always hurts to assume.


What Mini-Comics Do You Recommend?

A fun thing about mini-comics is finding new voices doing the kinds of comics you like. So one person's recommendations will never be as helpful as investigating and sorting through a lot of comics over a long period of time. Mini-comics artists also often recommend each other; so pay attention to suggestions in any mini-comics you like. Mini-comics are reviewed on-line and in the trade magazine The Comics Journal, and paying attention to those columns may introduce you to new talent or new offerings from stand-by regulars. A list of reviewers appears below. Many of the on-line sellers carry mini-comics that are somewhat alike in terms of intent and execution. If a person likes one of the mini-comics offerings from say, Highwater Books or USS Catastrophe, chances are good they will like another.

Here are a few of my all-time personal favorites:

1. King-Cat Comics and Stories by John Porcellino. John Porcellino has been describing his life in a series of simply made mini-comics since the late 1980s. An absolute favorite of many comic book artists and writers, he distributes King-Cat out of his home to various shops, catalogs, and directly to longtime fans. Porcellino's comics are very simply but elegantly drawn, and feature an appealing emotional directness. His stories are about the beauty of car errands, quiet moments before breakfast, and nights spent out with one's friends. They are some of the best comics around in any form, and the mini-comic format makes them feel like a personal letter from a friend with whom you went to summer camp and played kickball on Saturday afternoons.

2. The Angry Criminal by Tom Hart. Tom Hart is a multi-talented threat in today's alternative comics scene. As smart and engaging a person as works with comic art, Hart makes graphic novels, produces web comics, and teaches cartooning classes in New York City. In the early to mid 1990s, Tom Hart was one of the most dedicated mini-comics makers around. His minis are very simply designed, and Hart uses a vibrant art style that borders on crudity. But the stories are offbeat and funny, and anyone who reads them will be reminded of the first time you saw an independent film or heard a non-major-label rock and roll record. Hart's unique voice is in all of his mini-comics, and although my favorite is the out of print Love Looks Left, the pages of The Angry Criminal should open any doubting eyes.

3. Jessica Abel, Girl Reporter and Trina De Tazo by Jessica Abel. Jessica Abel is a well-established cartoonist and illustrator with a legion of fans. Best known for the comics Artbabe, and La Perdida, Abel came up through mini-comics she started doing while a student at the University of Chicago. She has continued to do minis throughout her career. Her mini-comics are as straightforward and easy to understand as her comics work for various alternative publishers, and can certainly be enjoyed as individual work. As a bonus, Girl Reporter and Trina De Tazo feature different artistic approaches and interests than the majority of Abel's work. One can't help but have a fuller appreciation of her talents after reading these works.

4. The "Pattes Des Mouche" Mini-Comics by L'Association. Every so often an established publisher will make work that utilizes the format of mini-comics. The Pattes Des Mouches are silent comics from the cutting edge French Publisher L'Association. They serve as wonderful primers into each artist featured, and a fine introduction into newer European comics in general. Most of all, they are simply great little books. Of particular interest are those from the humor cartoonist Lewis Trondheim, whose graceful little drawings make his mini-comics like Diablotus and Non, Non, Non an absolute pleasure to read.

5. Supermonster by Kevin Huizenga. Kevin Huizenga is a St. Louis cartoonist who recently began working through Drawn and Quarterly and Fantagraphics, publishers who became aware of him based on the strength of the work in his mini-comic Supermonster. Huizenga's work is part observed naturalism and part meditative trip into fantasy, theology and science. He uses a stripped-down approach to character design and isn't afraid to be formally daring. The last two issues of Supermonster in particular are appealing glimpses into the thoughtful, solicitous character of their creator; they are as good as any standard art comic published in the last five years.



Conclusion

I do a mini-comic myself, and will be happy to mail one to any person over 18 years of age who sends me their address. There is nothing naughty in them; I just don't want to get into the habit of sending mail to teenagers. Sorry, teenagers.

Mini-comics are the best places to find new and exciting talent making their debuts, established talent stretching their wings, and exciting experiments in production design and formatting. They will enrich and enhance anyone's comics reading experience.


RESOURCES

Comic Book Conventions That Prominently Feature Mini-Comics and Mini-Comics Creators

RESOURCES

Comic Book Conventions Where It Is Particularly Easy to Find Mini-Comics

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 Read About and Learn About Mini-Comics

Bugpowder
On-Line Review Site

"Dogsbody" on The Comics Journal Web Site
Irregular On-Line Column

"Minimalism" in The Comics Journal
Mostly Regular Column in Mostly Monthly Print Magazine

Optical Sloth
Premier Mini-Comics Review Site with Extensive Archive

Poopsheet Reviews
Mini-Comics Friendly General Review Site

Zum Comics
On-Line Review Site


On-Line Stores That Sell Mini-Comics

Bowizzer
Highwater Books
Little Cakes
Optical Sloth
Small Zone
USS Catastrophe


Brick and Mortar Stores That Make a Point of Selling Mini-Comics, Or At Least I've Been Told

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
1027 Washington Avenue, South
Minneapolis, MN 55415
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

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