Is the Minicomic Dying?

In an APE writeup, Slave Labor’s (sorry, SLG’s) Jennifer ponders what she calls the decline of the minicomic.

While there were a few people self-publishing their comics, there were fewer of them than in the past, and there seemed to be an even marked decrease in the charming photocopied, hand-stapled mini-comic. Last year, I either bought or was generously given several mini-comics or self-published comics (you can read about that here). This year — I bought two (one by Johnny Siu and another called “Fremont Girl”) and was given none. (Boohoo!) The assumption is that the do-it-yourselfers have moved to the web.

I bring this up because, having just completed judging the only national minicomic award, there was chatter among the judges about the same topic. Some expected more submissions.

Is there still a reason to make minicomics? The web reaches a lot more people with a lot less effort and cost. Not a lot of people sample minicomics, especially when they are priced at $2 and $3 (which starts competing with “real” printed comics). Is the minicomic going the way of the APA?

I was trying to do more focus on minis here with Minicomic Mondays writeups, but they didn’t get much response (understandable, since most readers won’t have seen the covered material) and I got out of the habit.

If any readers make minicomics, I’d love to know their motivations and what helped them make that choice. Others, do you buy minicomics? Do you want to read about minicomics?

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16 Responses to “Is the Minicomic Dying?”

  1. Lyle Masaki Says:

    There’s one other factor working against minicomics, IMO — the increased availability of comics in book formats means greater competition for readers’ dollars.

    I used to go to APE and spend $15-30 at Oni or SLG’s booth to get caught up on what I’ve missed and have money left over for plenty of minicomics. Now, however, the typical price point at one of the bigger publishers has jumped from $3-5 to $10-20. I can’t afford to get caught up on everything I like but missed, anymore, much less spend a lot on minicomics.

    Book format comics are also more available at self-publishers’ tables, so that’s even more competition. There are a number of APE regulars who’ve I’ve noticed stop selling the minicomics they used to offer every year, putting out a collected edition instead. Some sell both, which brings up a different value question — I could buy your mini-comic for $2 or a book the length of 10 minicomics for $15. On one hand, it’s nice to have the sampler price, but the collection looks like such a good value. Those self-publishers also add to the tightened budget, since those are tables where I used to spend $2 and now spend $10. Since my budget isn’t increasing, that means I’m buying fewer comics and spending money at fewer tables. I’m sure I’m not the APE regular who’s seen a similar trend.

    OTOH, i think there should be some value in minicomics for someone who attends an APE or SPX. If you primarily create a webcomic, printing a few pages out as a minicomic gives you something physical to sell to attendees, which makes for a better reminder to visit your website than a flier. (I’ve seen webcomickers who exhibit at APE only to promote their website for years. It still feels odd to like someone’s work and just walk away from the table without purchasing anything, even if that’s because they have nothing to sell.)

    As for Minicomic Mondays, I liked the feature but never commented because all the titles and creators you looked at were unfamiliar to me. I never realized how challenging it must be to get the format wide distribution until I saw that there was so little overlap between the minicomics you reviewed and the list of ones I’ve read.

  2. Johanna Says:

    That’s a great economic analysis, Lyle, and a reminder to look at the bigger picture.

    I also noticed that Tom Spurgeon had comments that I will summarize as “I don’t think it’s a problem”.

  3. Matthew Craig Says:

    Why print minicomics?

    1. Because some people won’t ever want to read comics online. Plus, of course, the Web is a massive massive place, and it’s easy to get lost in the mess.

    1a. Corollary: selling print comics from a table at a show allows you to interact with potential (and current) readers in a way that the Internet does not allow. Case in point: I sold one hundred comics at the Birmingham Comics Show (well, eighty, with twenty swaps). How? By collaring every damn person who walked within three feet of the table.

    That’s more comics shifted in two days than in the preceeding three years of my site (to be fair, I don’t have a proper online store).

    Plus, complete strangers who had, somehow, found my comics at festivals such as Caption, or in the one (1) comic shop that actually sells my work – but who had never got around to emailing me – came over and said hello. I didn’t even know they existed! I’m not just shouting into the dark!

    2. Because, all notions of artistic skill aside, the image quality is better in print than online (at least for me).

    3. Because, all notions of karma aside, some people are never going to be given – or accept – a piublishing contract.

    Sure, it can be a bit of a waste of money to have lots of comics sitting around for years. But all the arseache is worth it for those moments when, for example, a foxy vampire tells you that you made her cry.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is, it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. Also, foxy vampires have great taste.

    From the reader side of the equation, all I’ve ever wanted is more good comics to read. I don’t much care where – or who – they come from. People across the US are now enjoying the work of Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, but I’ve been lucky enough to be able to pick up his minicomics over the last couple of years. It’s a great way to support new creative voices, which is what I tell myself while indulging my wretched comic habit.

    And once again, I’ve bought minicomics (always have to remember to add the “mini”) from people who are probably never going to put out books destined for the local comic shop. Not to mention the stuff that I wouldn’t have read online, because I can’t be everyweb at once, or because the creators just plain don’t have a web presence.

    And I wouldn’t have missed those books for anything.

    That may be a bit rambly. Sorry.

    //\Oo/\\

  4. david Says:

    > If any readers make minicomics, I’d love
    > to know their motivations and what
    > helped them make that choice.

    Even though I do most of my work with small press publishers, I still like printing mini-comics from time to time. I like the level of control over the final product, the do-it-yourself approach. For me, the occasional mini-comic is an opportunity to try out a new idea or story that maybe wasn’t meant for a four issue/graphic novel format.

    > do you buy minicomics?

    Yep. I can pick up Oni and SLG books at my local shop. I go to conventions to buy mini-comics.

    > Do you want to read about minicomics?

    Yeah, I’d be interested in reading more about mini-comics. Particularly, if it was on a set day, there’d be more motivation to check in on Monday.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Matthew, no need to apologize. That’s just the kind of expression I was hoping to elicit.

    David, thank you as well for sharing.

  6. J. Kevin Carrier Says:

    Besides the web, there’s also a lot more indy publishers around these days, and I suspect they’re picking up a lot of the material that would otherwise have ended up as minicomics. There’s still a lot of minis around, though. At the S.P.A.C.E. show last weekend, I picked up around 40 different titles (a complete list here: http://jkcarrier.livejournal.com/118398.html ), and over 30 of those were minicomics. Most of the rest were trade paperbacks; only a couple were standard-format comics.

    I started publishing minicomics around 1991, because I saw other artists at conventions doing them, and it looked like fun. It was, and still is. I’m starting to put stuff up on the web as well, but there’s still something very appealing about a paper zine. The web is very ephemeral — which is ok for “gag a day” type strips, but for a sustained narrative, it’s nice to have the whole thing in your hands. Plus, I just enjoy assembling a magazine — designing the cover, laying out the letters pages, etc. And while I wouldn’t qualify my own work this way, I have seen minis that were beautiful art objects in their own right — fancy papers, silkscreen printing, and other artistic touches. That’s something that the web can’t really duplicate.

    Even if you can’t justify making it a regular feature, any minicomics reviews you see fit to run would definitely be appreciated. As Lyle points out above, even those of us who are heavily into minicomics have trouble keeping up with everything that’s out there.

  7. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Apr. 26, 2007: Mr. Mind’s last hurrah Says:

    [...] “While there were a few people self-publishing their comics, there were fewer of them than in the past, and there seemed to be an even marked decrease in the charming photocopied, hand-stapled mini-comic. Last year, I either bought or was generously given several mini-comics or self-published comics (you can read about that here). This year — I bought two (one by Johnny Siu and another called “Fremont Girl”) and was given none. (Boohoo!) The assumption is that the do-it-yourselfers have moved to the web.” – Jennifer De Guzman (Link via Johanna Draper Carlson) [...]

  8. Steph Dumais Says:

    I put up an article online about my self-publishing experience. Check it out!
    http://www.raisinlove.com/blog/2007/04/26/self-publishing-comics/

  9. Michael Bowen Says:

    Hi, i found this via The Beat. i love minis. i buy them from the web and cons. i’ve made a few, too. the cheap kind, i mean; photocopied at office depot, folded and stapled by hand. i enjoy it–maybe not the folding bit. but i like being able to see a finished comic. i like being able to hand them out to folks. it’s the closest i can get to a professionally print book.

    however, making minis ain’t quite as cheap as putting strips on the web. or as immediate. since i give my minis away, i just lose money on them. on the other hand, my webcomics are free. i use flickr and livejournal, so i pay nothing (and still make nothing). also, i can quickly get a strip online. i can draw it, scan it, upload it on flickr and post it to livejournal in less than fifteen minutes.

    most importantly, i feel that i need to improve my artistic skills before spend the money and effort on a mini. i’ve grown in leaps and bounds since my early days, but i ‘m nowherre near the level of skill that i wish to be. doing a webcomic allows me to practice comics everyday.

    i’m curious if this doesn’t lead to a new way of making minis. as J. Kevin Carrier pointed out in an earlier post, long narratives don’t work as well as the gag a day strips because many readers are conditioned by newspaper strips where the narrative is almost obsolete. creators post a page a day of a long story, then they collect it in a mini after everything is done; similar to the growing trend of collecting the single, floppy, pamplets into trades. many will run a longform story of their website and then collect that in mini form.

    i don’t kow if this will shed light on the subject, but it’s just some of my thoughts.

  10. Dwight Williams Says:

    Something to keep in mind for my own future projects: Can web comics and mini-comics grow each other’s audiences? If I’m reading some of the other comments here correctly, then the correct answer ought to be “yes”.

  11. Dwight Williams Says:

    And as to the APA, I don’t think we’re quite done with that format yet either. Hopefully not for a very long time.

  12. Flaming Dork Says:

    I would give a minicomic a shot even though I wouldn’t want to make one. Someone obviously thought it was worth a try and I think there’s something magical about being able to get your book read, even if only once. Cost isn’t an issue for me personally. It’s quality I have issues with. I would pay $100 to read one more comic that had Superboy and not Super-boy.

    The reality, however, is that I am more likely to read a Webcomic becuase of convenience.

    What about both? “Megatokyo” comes to mind for me. Does anyone know some others?

  13. Kitty Says:

    I make minicomics (available here!). I’d like to transition to the web because it has a better potential for wide readership and notice, but there is also something so appealing about having a neat little paper packet of your work that can easily be pulled out and handed around at any time. And for artists, minicomics are a cheap way to create work that can be enjoyed all in one visible piece without any concerns for scrolling or browser window size.

    I attended MoCCA for my first time in 2006 and I was so pleasantly surprised by the number of mini creators who really took pride in the paper craft. So many tables sported comics printed by letterpress, bound in interesting ways, wrapped in beautiful paper, and so on. I felt like the comics field was enjoying its own little Arts and Crafts movement, and it was so inspiring. These minicomics were tiny works of art.

  14. Johanna Says:

    Oh, yeah, I’ve got some of yours waiting to be read! You raise a great point, one that came up in a different context recently — there’s a lot to be said for portable media that doesn’t require a mediating technology to access.

  15. Shane Chebsey Says:

    Mini Comics Rock! The Indy press is the future of the medium… no doubt!

  16. Dexter Cockburn Says:

    Mini-comics are tangible, and are always available for you to thumb through – especially if your internet is ‘down’! :)

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