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A Roundtable Interview With Prominent Cartoonists About Mini-Comics
posted December 31, 2004
 

It's a notion worth repeating: mini-comics don't have to be sold to have merit. This is sound theory that gets a practical workout at every comics show. Some of the best mini-comics exist solely for trading, or as gifts, or for handing out like a business card. Pursuing a strategy devoid of commercial concerns can help a cartoonist place his or her work in the hands of those who would truly appreciate what they are doing. Without placing the burden of working off a portion of a hotel room in Bethesda on its stapled, tiny, shoulders, a mini-comic may even better reveal the true artistic strengths of its creator. And lest we forget, mini-comics can serve functions beyond purchasable narratives or collectible art objects. If comics is a medium, it would follow that mini-comics be completed as personal correspondence, as documentation, or as a way to present a report -- some of them disposable, some not, but as far removed as possible from the questions of what sells and why.

While some cartoonists seem to expect too much of their work as a potential profit centers, others have ascribed a rigid morality to different ways of selling it. Many people in the small press world treat comic book retailers as actors in opposition to purer, more traditional ways of disseminating handmade comics. This seems wrongheaded in two ways. Once the decision is made to sell, there should be nothing wrong with utilizing whatever opportunities exist to make the pitifully few dollars available from one's mini-comic investment. More importantly, providing your work to comic book stores that sell mini-comics can simply reflect the desire to have one's work seen, whether or not it's in a traditional form. Now more than ever, comics shops make up an important part of the general distribution network for mini-comics, and everyone can take advantage. Stores friendly to mini-comics may be the best way of getting a physical product into the hands of total strangers equipped to experience a comic on its own merits, a desirable audience no matter your attitude towards any money involved.

This column talked to several of the nation's most prominent mini-comics retailers and buyers in order to snap a picture of this particular outlet in a way that might be helpful to a cartoonist thinking of letting other people sell his or her work. Hopefully, it will encourage aspiring cartoonists to at least consider the retail option. There are people out there running stores as dedicated as any artist to the art form at the particular cutting edge represented by minis. While many of the attitudes on specific issues may differ -- even between managers who work for the same owner, as is the case with Liz Mason of Quimby's and Eric Thornton of Chicago Comics -- it should be useful for everyone to get to know these shops and shops like them in your region. Their ultimate message? Stay professional, stay creative and stay at it, and we will be there to support you as best we can.

The same questions were asked of every participant, and specific follow-ups were asked when necessary and folded in. The answers are placed side by side for easier comparison.

PARTICIPANTS

Jim Crocker -- Manager and Buyer for Modern Myths, LLC in Northampton, Massachusetts
Jim Hanley -- Owner, Jim Hanley's Universe, New York City
Felicity Jones -- Inventory Manager for Small Press and European Books at Meltdown Comics, Los Angeles, California
Liz Mason -- Manager, Quimby's Bookstore, Chicago, Illinois
Daniel Shahin -- Owner of a Hijinx Comics Store in San Jose, California; co-owner of a second
Jared Smith -- Manager, Big Planet Comics, Washington, DC
Eric Thornton -- Manager and Buyer at Chicago Comics, Chicago, Illinois
A.J. Trujillo -- Co-Owner, Star Clipper Comics, St. Louis, Missouri
Rachel Whang -- Co-Owner with Benn Ray of Atomic Books in Baltimore, Maryland

TOM SPURGEON: Can you describe the physical set-up of mini-comics in your store?

JIM CROCKER, MODERN MYTHS: We rack mini-comics in the appropriate genre sections alongside more traditional comics on our waterfall comics racks. All are considered "periodicals" and racked face out, since most of them have no spines to speak of. We have special "local creator" tags that we use to highlight them where appropriate.

JIM HANLEY, JIM HANLEY'S UNIVERSE: We are currently using a four-foot wide, six-shelf rack, at the beginning of our comics alphabet. We have found that interspersing minis with larger-sized comics gets them lost. As we have increased our selection of minis, we have had to overlap them to an increasing extent. We are looking into other options, including increasing the size of the section..

FELICITY JONES, MELTDOWN: Surrounding the register in the middle of the store at eye-level on top of the display cases in plexi, three-tiered shelf display fixtures -- covers out wherever possible.

LIZ MASON, QUIMBY'S: Mini-comics are on the comics wall, immersed between the alternative comics, which are organized by publisher (Fantagraphics, D&Q, etc.) and the Diamond/DC-ish stuff. So the mini-comics have their own section but it's on the comics wall, as we feel it should be, since they may not necessarily be as glossy as some of the other stuff but that doesn't make them any less enticing of an art form. They are cover out so customers can see them in their full glory.

DANIEL SHAHIN, HIJINX: My mini section is directly across from my new comics rack, one of the prime spots in the store. They are mostly face out when possible, as most minis are spineless. I also keep some small boxes with older minis on the same rack.

JARED SMITH, BIG PLANET: We have a spinner rack that was originally designed for postcards, so there are wide slots in the middle of each side (for horizontal postcards) and narrow slots (for vertical postcards) on either side of each set of wide slots. The spinner rack works really well for mini-comic sized comics, with smaller ones (like L'Association's and Robot's mini-comics) fitting in the small slots. The spinner rack is against a wall halfway through the store. We rack them there just because that's where the spinner rack fit best. All comics are face out.

ERIC THORNTON, CHICAGO COMICS: Our minis have their own section that they share with other indy zines, which is right next to the mainstream magazines, so it creates kind of a bleed. They all go cover out; because I think if they were spined they'd get totally lost and looked over. Extremely high production minis I'll put with the small press comics like D&Q and Fanta books.

A.J. TRUJILLO, STAR CLIPPER: Mini-comics have their own section at Star Clipper between the New Releases wall and the start of the Graphic Novels section. The minis share their space with other worthy back issue comics that we keep in stock (Black Hole, Dirty Plotte, Louis Riel, etc.). They're all faced out but since real estate is precious they do overlap a bit.

Our manager gets credit for starting to give new mini-comics acquisitions star billing right along with the New Releases.

RACHEL WHANG, ATOMIC BOOKS: New mini-comics are face out, along with new comics on our comic rack, which is right when you walk into the store. After they get a little stale they go on a spinner rack next to the new comics, which is where they stay in stock if they're steady sellers (and the creators keep them in print).

Mini-comics are just like single-issue comics to us.

SPURGEON: How many mini-comics does each of you sell in a month? Do you do a decent business with mini-comics, and if not, what is your reason for offering them?

JIM FROM MODERN MYTHS: We only sell a few, maybe half a dozen a month. We generally only offer locally created mini-comics. The hassle of tracking down other mini-comics to sell them n small numbers is, unfortunately, not cost effective for us. We do appreciate being able to help local artists get a "foot in the door," though, both because we sell on consignment (which is relatively risk-free) and because you never know who the next Terry Moore or Adrian Tomine is.

JIM HANLEY: We don't track mini-comics sales separately, so I have no data on gross sales easily at hand, but we regularly restock many titles, especially the ones that Tony Shenton represents. We have a harder time tracking down information for reordering titles that are brought in by individual cartoonists, meaning that we sometimes sell out of a title and only get it back a year or two later, when the cartoonist comes to town again. Even with people we deal with regularly, the flake factor can be an issue, with order going unfilled for extended periods of time. The number of times we have had people calling us for payment, where they either didn't send us an invoice or left their name and address of it is surprisingly large. (Of course, this being comics, we also find ourselves having a hard time keeping up with masses of small invoices. There's nothing more embarrassing than having a $28 invoice take six month to get paid,)

FELICITY AT MELTDOWN: Minis are not a million dollar business for us but they do complement our sales quite nicely; they are pretty hard to track as most don't have barcodes. Meltdown's reason for offering them is to support and encourage the comic artists and creators who are on their way. And to supply our more discerning customers with plenty of fresh blood and variety in what they view and read.

LIZ FROM QUIMBY'S: Each month is different and it depends what type of stuff the consigners send us. I'd say that we probably sell a couple hundred dollars worth of mini-comics a month, but that's just a general estimate. Obviously mini-comics are not what keeps us in business, but we sell them because part of our store philosophy is about selling independently published periodicals and the cool and the strange and the far out, and mini-comics (and zines, books and curiosities we sell) tend to fall into those categories.

DAN AT HI-JINX: Minis don't sell extremely well in my first shop, which is in a suburban neighborhood, but I feel prominently displaying them helps differentiate my shop from many other shops in the South Bay Area that don't carry them at all. I have gained several new customers who were impressed with some of the hard-to-find minis I put in from my personal collection.

JARED FROM BIG PLANET: Sales vary widely. A lot of people ignore them, then some people will come in and buy one of nearly every new mini-comic we have. So some sell well enough, but it's also nice to have them because few stores carry them and it's a good way to support smaller publishers and self-publishers.

ERIC, CHICAGO COMICS: On average, we'll sell a copy of a good selling mini at about a rate of one per week. That's a good selling one, mind you. So, obviously, minis are by no means our bread and butter. I'd be shocked if they even added up to 1% of our sales. Honestly, the minis and zine section is probably the least profitable section in the store, and the most trouble.

So why the hell do we sell them? Because we think it's important. It lets people know that there's an outlet, and it puts you above the average comic shop. Also, it lets you get in on books at the ground floor. We were carrying Artbabe and Optic Nerve minis before the official comics ever came out, so by the time we did, we had already sold hundreds of each, so we didn't have to wonder whether or not the books would be able to find an audience, we were able to hit the ground running.

Plus, on a moral level, it's just kind of the right thing to do. If you say you're an indy bookstore, but you don't carry minis and zines, then you're a sucky poseur.

TRUJILLO, STAR CLIPPER: We probably sell about 15-20 mini-comics a month. Obviously as a percentage of other sales that may not be much, but Star Clipper supports minis for two reasons: first, because there is some genuinely impressive work happening in minis; and second, because we expect those sales figures to keep increasing at the steady rate they have been.

RACHEL FROM ATOMIC BOOKS: It really depends on the comic, but generally speaking we have an audience for them. A certain demographic is attracted to them, and they're usually the same people who buy zines.

Neither zines nor mini-comics make us any real money. It's a labor of love -- the whole point of being the kind of store we are, which is about independent publications and giving people who aren't a part of the mainstream a venue.

SPURGEON: What deal do you have with cartoonists who provide you with mini-comics? Do you buy the comics outright or do you keep them on consignment? How do the percentages break down? Why have you adopted the strategy your store has?

JIM FROM MODERN MYTHS: We keep them on consignment and sell them for a keystone markup, which means we want to double our money on whatever we pay for them. Several of the creators are regular customers who simply take store credit towards other comics when their books sell. This arrangement minimizes risk for us in exchange for prominent placement for the artists. Most seem very happy with the deal.

JIM HANLEY: We try to avoid consignment, because we are not good at keeping track of it. We generally purchase outright the comics we think we can sell and pass on ones that we don't expect to be able to sell.

FELICITY AT MELTDOWN: Consignment -- typically 50/50 split. They are also required to list us on their web site. We have adopted these policies because they (some minis) don't always sell for one reason or another and it just seems to work best.

LIZ FROM QUIMBY'S: Most of this stuff is sold on consignment, which means that we don't pay for it until after we sell it. The consigner gets 60% of the profit and we get 40%. We can't be sure that everything we have in the store will sell so we do consignment; it's a win-win situation because we don't have to pay for it until we've actually made money from it, and the consigner can take their items back at any time if they need them back for whatever reason.

DAN AT HIJINX: This is the hard part. I plan to go on a mini-buying spree at the next A.P.E. to beef up my contact list.

Luckily there is a small community of mini producers in San Jose who are very on the ball when it comes to promoting their books. They provided me with a counter dump for their anthology (Garish Zow) and various minis. Sometimes I buy on consignment for folks who live in the area, but usually I just buy five or 10 and try to negotiate a reasonable discount. Some creators won't discount their minis and I usually have to take a pass unless the content is so compelling I can't do without it. The self-published work of Jason Shiga is a good example. He has some books that are so labor-intensive that he only sells them for full price. I took a chance on them and they sold well even at an increased price point.

JARED FROM BIG PLANET: We usually do consignment for mini-comics. We try to get a 50% off cover price arrangement, and we keep a record in the store for each cartoonist. Every month we update the records and pay them for any comics that have sold. However, we only do this for local cartoonists, or at least people who can come in and pick up payment every so often. This way we support local cartoonists especially, but avoid having to worry about sending checks out all over the country every month.

ERIC, CHICAGO COMICS: Basically, when starting off, we put the books on consignment, at which point the author can leave however many books he/she wants. We split that 60/40 -- 60 for the artist, 40 for us, but only upon sale of the books. If the books are selling solid, or if it's a book we can just kind of "no-brainer" that it's going to sell, then we give the author a choice of us buying the books straight out at 50/50, or staying at 60/40 but keeping the "as sold". Most will take the 50/50, because with most artists, $10 in your pocket today is more exciting than $12 in your pocket in two months.

TRUJILLO, STAR CLIPPER: Star Clipper has historically had a policy of buying mini-comics from creators up front at 50% of the cover price. We didn't make consignment arrangements in the past because they tended to be difficult to implement, with all tracking done on paper or by gentlemen's agreement.

However, since we recently developed a fairly sophisticated point-of-sale and inventory control program, we'd like to take advantage of it to create an automated consignment process for mini-comics. Speaking in general terms about the comics industry, making comics non-returnable has always tied retailers' hands and only encourages them to order right on the margin. And whereas traditional consignment programs have always been skewed in favor of the retailer, Star Clipper is developing a way to mitigate that.

RACHEL FROM ATOMIC BOOKS: We accept most mini-comics on a consignment basis, with a 60/40 split, the larger part going to the artist. We do this so that we can experiment with a wide variety of publications and don't have to worry about whether or not we can quickly move them.

SPURGEON: Can mini-comics cartoonists contact you about selling their work? If so, what is specifically the best way to do so and what do you need to hear?

JIM FROM MODERN MYTHS: They may, but we generally don't buy direct from anyone. If their books are available through Cold Cut, we may buy them to sell outright if they're interesting enough to us.

JIM HANLEY: It's easiest to send us a sample copy along with a list of available issues with pricing and terms.

FELICITY AT MELTDOWN: Certainly we welcome mini-comic submissions; we love to see new stuff. They can either drop by or mail in a copy with their contact information attached. We then review it and contact them to let them know if it's something that works in well with the current mini inventory.

LIZ FROM QUIMBY'S: Mini-comics artists (or zinesters) can contact us through e-mail at info@quimbys.com or call us 773-342-0910 or stop in the store in Wicker Park on North Avenue between Damen and Ashland. What we need from them is to fill out a consignment form, which they can do here at the store. Or they can print one out off our website to fill out at www.quimbys.com, which they can then send to us with their comics. We usually start with five copies of their most recent issue. I always remind people about a few of the guidelines printed on the consignment form: they need to not let more than a year go by before checking in or else we will assume ownership, they are responsible for checking in with us to get payment, and if their contact info changes they need to let us know.

DAN AT HIJINX: I wish more would contact me! I welcome samples and that's really the best way to get your foot in my shop's door. Besides a sample, include a small catalog sheet with your work and the prices. Every cartoonist who has sent me anything like this has been met with enthusiastic results. Unless they totally suck, and even then I might buy a couple and offer some advice from a retail point of view. You know, things like "practice drawing more," or "learn to spell."

JARED FROM BIG PLANET: I'm always interested in good new comics, but they should understand that as it is currently set up they have to come in to get payment, so it's not really easily set up for cartoonists who aren't local. For information, I'd like to see a copy of whatever they want to sell, and have their address and phone number as contact information.

ERIC, CHICAGO COMICS: Really, we'll take anything. Honestly anything. If you want to send/bring it in, we'll take it. There's been way too many books that I thought would just suck the life off the shelf that sold like mad, so, honestly, just send it in, and we'll try to sell it. If it hasn't sold a copy in six months, we pull it and put it to rest in the basement.

TRUJILLO, STAR CLIPPER: Mini-comics cartoonists are always welcome to contact Star Clipper about selling us their work by e-mailing us at sales@starclipper.com. Please be sure to include all necessary contact and purchasing information. Yes, we do read everything, although we simply don't have the shelf space to accept every solicitation -- sorry. We will contact you if we would like to carry your books. Anyone wishing to mail samples may send them to Star Clipper.

RACHEL FROM ATOMIC BOOKS: We generally ask for a sample copy and an introductory letter sent to the store's address.

SPURGEON: What percentage of your mini-comics is from local cartoonists? Is spotlighting local artists an interest of yours, and if so, how do you support this work in your mini-comics section?

JIM FROM MODERN MYTHS: Pretty much all of our mini-comics are local. There is also a free publication of the local University Cartoon Art Society that we rack next to the "Lit/Humor" section that would probably be considered mini-comics in content that we are one of the primary off campus giveaway locations for.

JIM HANLEY: We have no particular concern about geography. We like to sell comics that our customers want to buy, even if they are produced in strange places like Oregon or Georgia.

FELICITY AT MELTDOWN: I would say approximately 50%. We like to spotlight all artists we think show promise, local or otherwise. We are happy to display posters of their work and give out merchandise that they use for promotion be it postcards buttons or whatever. We sometimes do group gallery shows with a handful of artists in the genre that of course, is much easier for locals to organize.

LIZ FROM QUIMBY'S: We do enjoy having local artists here, but it's sort of up to them to bring in their comics. We do have friendly relationships with plenty of local comics artists, and they know they are always welcome to bring new issues in, replenish sold copies, and stock us with accompanying merch related to their comics, like buttons.

DAN AT HIJINX: As I wrote above, Hidden Agenda Press is a local comics concern that I spotlight with a special counter dump that they provided. A couple of nearby high school and college students have been producing better and better minis lately and I always tend to spotlight local artists. Our new store is adjacent to San Jose State University, and I plan on approaching the art department there to find new budding artists and readers.

JARED FROM BIG PLANET: Our mini-comics break down into two categories: comics we have sought out and purchased ourselves, and then local cartoonists' work. So local comics are probably around 50% of the inventory, depending on how much we have in stock at any one time. We don't specifically have any signs or anything saying that some of these comics are from locals.

ERIC, CHICAGO COMICS: I'd say about half and half. We don't really have a "local artist section" per se, but honestly, I think when most people see the zines and minis section, they assume it's local.

TRUJILLO, STAR CLIPPER: Star Clipper is lucky to have the Usscatastrophe crew in St. Louis, so quite a bit of what we feature in our mini-comics section is from the local scene. And as far as promoting them goes, we don't have to work very hard; these days you can't spit in this town without hitting an article about them. We also do shelf talkers for the mini-comics section. In addition, Star Clipper recently sponsored the St. Louis Comic Art Show with Ted May and Comic Art magazine, an event devoted to the small-press and mini-comics medium.

RACHEL FROM ATOMIC BOOKS: We love our local artists! And in fact, many of them do minis, as well as zines. It's not a large percentage… maybe 15%, but that's only because it's not a huge scene, not because of not wanting to stock it on our part.

We don't mark them as separate; they're just stocked with everyone else. If anyone asks for local artists we can lead them to all of them.

SPURGEON: Is there anything mini-comics artists can do in the way the present themselves or through their work to better place or even sell their work with you?

JIM FROM MODERN MYTHS: Not much besides the usual advice to make your product as professional as possible, and to be realistic (but persistent) in your attempts to produce good, timely product.

JIM HANLEY: Simple things like clear purchasing terms offered with samples, printing titles & prices of the front of their comics, and readable invoices are all big helps. Sometimes, realizing that a mini is not just a work of art, but also a product escapes people.

FELICITY AT MELTDOWN: Professionalism is key -- a great web site, business cards, custom invoicing. Packaging is also very important; also quality and originality are of utmost importance. We are a business, and we hope that anyone wanting to do business with us conducts themselves accordingly.

LIZ FROM QUIMBY'S: They can be understanding in the fact that we are a small business with very few employees, so it's helpful if they can be patient with us. Things like being politeness, calling ahead of time to alert us they want to get paid, etc. -- these things can really make our day and create a healthy working relationship with us.

DAN AT HIJINX: Use a distributor! Cold Cut Distribution carries some minis but far too few. Last Gasp has a selection, but they could use more, and their terms are not quite as retail friendly as Cold Cut. Many artists are wary to give up margin to a retailer, let alone two (or more) middlemen, but they are ultimately limiting themselves. If the point of your art is to communicate a message to people, a distributor can get that message into many more hands.

JARED FROM BIG PLANET: Include current contact information on every comic, and please put a price on the cover! This helps us and customers who might pick up a comic to consider buying it.

ERIC, CHICAGO COMICS: Three words. Production, production, production. If it's on nice paper, good sense of design, then everybody's a winner.

TRUJILLO, STAR CLIPPER: Many of them are already doing it: that is, putting a great deal of care into the packaging. They're taking mini-comics into the right direction, I think, which is into the realm of art object rather than the cheap, disposable comic book. For crappy and unmemorable they've already got plenty to choose from. People will pay a little more for the feel of a cardstock cover or the visual punch of hand silk-screening.

Or think like a retailer, who has consented to pick up your book but is probably short of time and display space. Offer to make them a "header card" or a shelf talker or maybe even some quarter-page bag stuffers promoting your book. Anything they can simply set out or stick in a bag and let do the PR work for them.

RACHEL FROM ATOMIC BOOKS: Just send us good work! We especially like hand silk screened covers or any other extra little touch in that vein. But please, no glitter. It just gets everywhere.

SPURGEON: Do you do any other activities in your store to support this kind of work? Do you allow artists to make comics at your store? Do you give them a pro discount?

JIM FROM MODERN MYTHS: We are hosting a meeting of a local "Comic Artists Guild" that is getting started here in Western Massachusetts this weekend, which hopefully should get some budding creators interested in doing comics locally. We also carry as wide a range as we can find or 'How To' type books on comics creation we can find. Pros who make purchases are called "customers," and receive the same excellent service we offer all customers, but no special discounts.

JIM HANLEY: We have had group signings for small press cartoonists. We've never tried events that involved making comics. We offer discounts only to people who have done signings with us in the last year.

FELICITY AT MELTDOWN: We have gallery shows with independent artists where they can show and sell their work to raise awareness for their material, book premieres and signings. We also have an area in the far back of the store where Jordan Crane has set up a silkscreen studio, where he and Sammy Harkham work with younger artist assistants very much in the vein of maestro and apprentice.

They are able to use the space whenever they want and come and go as they please.

LIZ FROM QUIMBY'S: We do quite a few things to support independent publishers like mini-comics artists. For one thing, when they want to buy something we give them a consigners' 10% discount. We do events at the store with lots of local artists, performers, etc. People who want to do events here just go to our web site and look at the event guidelines, filling out an event application, making sure to give us at least a month advance notice.

I'm not sure what you mean about making comics in the store, but two things do come to mind. One is that we do let local artists and comics artists hang work in the store that they can sell and they get the entirety of those profits. Both mini-comics artists Jeff Brown and Matt Fagan have hung work in the store and sold it to customers. The other thing that comes to mind is that on a few different occasions we have had events here where people can draw comics, like a local comics jam, and recently the Flaming Fire Illustrated Bible Project was in the store encouraging people to do comic interpretations of Bible verses.

DAN AT HIJINX: All comic artists we carry get a 20% discount at both Hijinx Locations. Nobody has wanted to sit around and draw comics here yet (besides employees) and I suspect that a retail shop is not the ideal environment for serious work. I'd suspect those that want to draw in public are not doing so to create the best comics, but more for exposure, but I may be totally wrong.

JARED FROM BIG PLANET: No, we don't really have any other kind of activity.

ERIC, CHICAGO COMICS: We don't really do as many in store events as our sister store, Quimby's. They kind of take care of all of the PR on that level. We do give any mini artist the same discount as we give pros.

TRUJILLO, STAR CLIPPER: Star Clipper offers comics creators a 10% discount. We hosted Shawn Granton's DIY Comics Workshop here earlier in the year and carry several books on creating comics. Star Clipper also hosted an 18-hour comic jam in 1998 to benefit UNICEF.

RACHEL FROM ATOMIC BOOKS: We are always open to signings and having parties -- comic artists aren't really big drinkers, though. Why is that? We're helping the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Creative Alliance with an art exhibit of local comic artists as well as national ones that will happen in the coming year.

SPURGEON: What do you think the state of mini-comics in North America is today? Are you encouraged or discouraged by the comics you see? Why? Is there anything you'd like to see more of?

JIM FROM MODERN MYTHS: With the plethora of formats and styles increasingly being seen in the mainstream, I don't know that "mini-comics" is even really a meaningful distinction any more. Mainly, I'd like to see folks making more of an effort to get their stuff into distribution, through smaller distributors willing to try them out, like Cold Cut. That, and color covers.

JIM HANLEY: It's always a mixed bag. The encouraging things are always accompanied by disappointing ones. Good work tends to rise to the surface. The same applies to good business practices.

FELICITY AT MELTDOWN: Getting better all the time. It's very encouraging; this year's SPX was definitely evidence of that. We saw some really top quality new stuff come from it.

LIZ FROM QUIMBY'S: It seems like the state of mini-comics is alive and kicking, since we get new stuff all the time. I am quite encouraged. It's inspiring to see all the fun things going on.

DAN AT HIJINX: Minis are much like a funhouse mirror held up to mainstream comics. Like the mainstream -- and "art" comics -- there are far more bad ones than good, but the good ones really stand out and sell. For simple format Xerox minis I'd like to see artists offer PDFs on the web that I can download and assemble myself.

For more complex works, promote your work! Send samples to sympathetic shops and include a price list.

JARED FROM BIG PLANET: Good and bad. It seems much less popular than it was a few years ago, so I don't hear about as many minis as before, but the production and appearance of comics and general quality seems to be improving across the board. Although it seems counter to a lot of the mini-comics idea, collections of mini-comics, whether a professionally printed trade paperback or simply a larger version of some issues printed together, would be good. It's less trouble to keep track of, and it's also a chance to put work on shelves and increase the amount of money for both our store and the cartoonist from sales.

ERIC, CHICAGO COMICS: I see it more as a training ground for comics, honestly. Kind of like Minor League Comics -- which, if you're a baseball fan, you know this isn't an insult, but more of an issue of purity. Somebody who goes to the huge amount of trouble to get this stuff out when there's no name or publishing house to back you has a lot of heart, and it definitely shows in the work. I'd rather read a horrible mini-comic then a mediocre super hero title any day of the week, because at least on the mini, somebody sweated blood and tears to get it out there, whereas the other is simply a hack job.

TRUJILLO, STAR CLIPPER: Frankly, most mini-comics aren't very good, and there's no easy way to tell someone that their work is poor. But those that are good are a pleasure to read, see, and even touch. They are successes of storytelling or concept and design. I'm lucky because I get to see a lot of the good stuff, but it's heartening.

RACHEL FROM ATOMIC BOOKS: It seems like mini-comics get more and more polished. I guess people are putting their desktop skills to good use, or have printer friends. The aesthetics of self-publishing seems to have become more refined, possibly due to the fact that a lot of artists are less self-taught and come from an art school or book arts background. But still, really compelling stories are few and far between. That could be said of any art form, though. 80% crap, 20% good or better.

SPURGEON: Anything you'd like to say to cartoonists or consumers out there about mini-comics?

JIM FROM MODERN MYTHS: While format is of secondary importance to story, always remember that the easier you make your comics to sell, the more you'll sell. This seems self-evident, but it bears repeating.

JIM HANLEY: Mini-comics are just like other comics, only smaller. We like to sell comics we like personally, but ones that our customers like are just as helpful when it comes to paying our bills.

FELICITY AT MELTDOWN: Cartoonists -- if at first you don't succeed try and try again and each time raise the bar a little higher. Even with the best, most successful artists there's always room to better what you produce. Originality, something with universal appeal sells better than not. Packaging and quality are things to always keep in mind.

Consumers -- don't overlook the little people, a lot of them go on to achieve greatness. If you see something that catches your eye, pick it up! Give it a chance, keep an open mind and for a couple of bucks you can be entertained on another level.

LIZ FROM QUIMBY'S: Just from a retail standpoint to cartoonists (and consigners in general) keep up the good work! Also, it's helpful if you've made the title, issue number and price very clear on the cover so that we don't have any problems with ringing it up and documenting it in our records. How nitpicky is that? But that's my job, what can I say?

DAN AT HIJINX: Buy and make more! Minis can be ugly and lame, or wonderful and almost magical if done right. High-end printing and production values aren't even a factor when compared to a moving story and careful artistic and design considerations. I'd rather have a lot more care put into the actual comics content as opposed to the production of limited edition collectors' items. Not that I mind higher end production values, but use them in service of truly deserving comics and make the end product widely available.

I'd also like to see more all-ages mini-comics that really appeal to kids with something fun and affordable that encourages them to make their own comics. I'm experimenting with that here and would love to help finance the production and design of such a beast. Sort of like "Highlights" but cheaper and focused on encouraging kids to write and draw their own comics. This could be distributed for free over the Internet to be Xeroxed, folded and given to kids by teachers, or assembled and sold for well under 50 cents.

Actually, the only reason I separate minis from "maxi-comics" boils down to the format. To me, comics is comics. The problem is that the two formats don't work well together in the types of retail fixtures many stores use. I have one great fixture that is the right size to display lots of minis and I try to maximize that space, as well as using counter dumps when provided.

ERIC, CHICAGO COMICS: Keep on keepin' on.

RACHEL FROM ATOMIC BOOKS: Mini-comics are a great way to start as a comic artist and get your art and stories out in the world. They're precious and addictive and it's hard to pass them up when they're so accessibly priced for something that's usually at least semi-handmade. (

RESOURCES

Atomic Books (Rachel Whang)
1100 W 36th Street
Baltimore, MD 21211
410-662-4444
410-467-5686 (fax)
www.atomicbooks.com

Chicago Comics (Eric Thornton)
3244 N Clark St
Chicago IL 60657
773-528-1983
www.chicagocomics.com

Hijinx Comics (Daniel Shahin)
2050 Lincoln Ave
San Jose, CA 95125
www.hijinxcomics.com

Jim Hanley's Universe (Jim Hanley)
4 W 33rd St
New York, New York 10001
212-268-7088
www.jhuniverse.com
jhuniverse@email.msn.com

Meltdown Comics & Collectibles (Felicity Jones)
7522 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
323-851-7223
www.meltcomics.com
staff@meltcomics.com

Modern Myths (Jim Crocker)
34 Bridge St #4
Northampton, MA 01060
www.modern-myths.com

Quimby's (Liz Mason)
1854 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
773-342-0910
www.quimbys.com

Star Clipper Comics & Games (AJ TRUJILLO, STAR CLIPPER: )
379 North Big Bend Blvd
St. Louis, MO 63130
314-725-9110
www.starclipper.com

Originally Published as a Minimalism column on The Comics Journal web site.