Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hey there, True Believers! Welcome to Comics Comics Sunday edition. I need one more week to pull together a coherent continuation of my romance comics posts, so here’s some gossip from last week’s SPX. Well, not gossip, but some “thoughts” about the show one week later. I was going to skip posting a report cuz Dan’s pics and Tom’s pics basically tell the story. But I figured traditions exist for reasons, and it’s a tradition to do the SPX round-up. So here goes.

Really missed BC – Brian Chippendale – this year. An advance copy of If ‘n Oof was waiting for us at the hotel convention. It’s completely insane. Eight hundred pages of hammers dropping on my head. Brian just ripped it. Art comics – hardcore art comics – are alive and well. I think BC is gonna stun everyone with this new one. He was supposed to come down for the show but since the main shipment of books is still a couple weeks away it didn’t really make much sense to ask BC to come down and show off that one copy. Actually, that would have been fun to watch.

Anyways, for me the only way to talk about his show is my before and after feelings. Heading into the weekend before the show I realized that this is/was PictureBox’s sixth SPX in a row. Dan and I have it down to a fire drill. As do most, right? It’s a hassle free show for the most part. A bit of a grind with the drive but basically really simple. SPX runs a tight ship.

Driving down to DC I was composing my rant for a panel with Tim. I felt like I wanted to rail against mini-comics and small press cuz I feel like, at this point, I’ve read every mini-comic. They all start to look alike to me after twenty-some years of collecting. It’s like a twenty-year black and white explosion. Lots of great shit, but man, you really gotta sift through the junk pile to find said shit. And I love doing just that, sifting through the bins, tables, whatever and maintaining a collection of great mini-comics. The thing is, that less and less cartoonists are investing in this form and really developing it the way, say, Kevin Huizenga did/does. Kevin perfected the mini-comic and carried that into his “mainstream” work. And it’s that level of craft is something I don’t see much of and, hey, that’s okay but it doesn’t make me excited about looking for new stuff – and it makes me wonder about the “concerns” of the small press in this world of web comics.

Being at the show, however, I thought more about the small publishers like AdHouse or Secret Acres. (Missed Sparkplug this year). SPX is the show that’s done a lot of Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, D & Q, PictureBox – most of the younger artists on the above publishers’ rosters were mini-comics folks who came up out of the last decade of SPX shows – so it’s a particular vibe that has as much to do with the publishers’ “mood” as much as the solo DIY acts “participation.” We all need each other. Many fans become authors and stay fans. Some get “published,” some publish themselves. Fandom. Look, there’s Gary Groth over there. Ask him what fandom is and if this is like fandom. A bunch of people who like comics at a hotel? Probably fandom.

So, that’s what I was thinking about during the day while trying to sell my junk. I’m basically a junk dealer at this point. You like old comics? Well, I got ’em. I thought about selling old mini-comics but that freaks people out. Like last year, I had a Kevin H mini-comic for $20 and somebody bought it. I’ll corner the rare mini-comic market with Kevin’s help. He said he’s got a couple boxes left. Anyways, I remember thinking, is anyone dissecting all these mini-comics like we all seem to be dissecting the recent past in comics? Like are Rob Clough and Shawn Hoke and John Porcellino gonna have to archive this stuff for history? And then I decided I was glad I’m obsessed with black and white explosion comic books from the eighties. They all fit into the same size box.

Right. So, my planned rant was losing focus. Let’s see if I can tighten’ it up here: I think I just want to see new mini-comics that look like they are continuing the work of the folks that exhibited at this show five, ten years ago and instead I see lots of new folks who seem to have little interest in “playing ball.” Meaning comics has just more or less come to them “out of the air” and not through a specific influence or school – which is fine – but then what happens is that the craft is all over the place. To me, the conversation is in the craft. It’s like jazz. Call and response. Each new generation builds on the older generation’s phrasing styles. But the craft at this year’s SPX was all over the place. I’d say the craft is non-existent in the book making by and large. Hardcore art comics may be pricey but usually you get your money’s worth in silkscreen cover or something. Saw little of that this year. Saw a lot of plain square bound cheapo books and black and white minis. And hey! that’s fine. Just sayin’.

See, for me, I wish I could see some sort of momentum where there are new artists who fuse recent styles together in a fresh way. Gabrielle Bell but drawn sketchbook style like Vanessa Davis? I wish. Instead it feels like everyone is starting at zero. A lot of the minis look the same. Bare minimum effort drawing and presentation. And hey! that’s fine. But then I start wondering about this safe little space that we create for mini-comics – how it’s divorced from reality. How there is this perception that it’s a one, two, three easy lay-up to the hoop of being a professional cartoonist. At least at San Diego Con when you show your portfolio to an art director and he’ll tell you to get lost. Here the junkiest junk is protected in this safe little space. And hey! that’s okay. Everything’s okay.

When I kvetched to Dan about it he shrugged. “Whaddaya want? A different show? I dunno what you’re asking for…” I didn’t either. Still don’t a week later. I know it doesn’t sound like it but I had a great show. Probably the most fun I’ve had at SPX. They keep getting better. But where is the new Kevin H? I know, I know, tall order. How bout a Kevin H copycat? I’d take that at this point. I just don’t see the tree of influence in effect. I see a lot of basic cartooning. And hey! That’s great. But you’d think with comics being so popular these days there would be more diverse stuff. Just sayin’.

Please don’t kill me in the comments. I’m venting a little. I think I just realize that what excites me about comics is not necessarily what the younger generation of fans and creators are excited about. Dan said something at the end of the weekend about how this might be the last generation that is comics fandom. Comics are so mainstreamed now that the way new readers enter comics isn’t so difficult. And hey! that’s fine. But what binds us together changes. So, to me, shows like SPX become less about exposing the public to small press (internet brand new when SPX started) and more about providing a showcase for small publishers who weathered the storm. It’s still about mini-comics but not so much. You really gotta show me something at this point.


77 Responses to “SPX2010part2”
  1. zik says:

    Did you like anything you saw this year? You make it sound like it was a giant pile of trash.

    • I liked everything I posted about the other day but nothing knocked me out of the box. New Vanessa Davis book is awesome – and new Gabrielle Bell zine from Uncivilized Books look great. Besides that there was Monster – but in terms of mini-comics – nothing really “moved” me. Adam Hines book is awesome but that ain’t a mini-comic. So what I’m saying is that it’s a show for small publishers – not so much DIY solo acts anymore.

  2. Evan Dorkin says:

    And, hey! That’s fine.

    Sounds like you got your Catskills comedian catchphrase there, Frank. I like it.

  3. J.T. Dockery says:

    “Saw a lot of plain square bound cheapo books and black and white minis.” Maybe instead of standing around and looking at yer eighties funny books with Nate Powell I shoulda introduced myself and my book. I can’t help but toot my own horn in this paricular instance, even if you were to hate my content….

  4. blaise says:

    ‘safe spaces’ is a good term

    in art people expect to be violated

    in comics people want to chill

  5. Ian Harker says:

    I really like the comments about the end of fandom. I guess that’s been something that’s been rattling around in my head too, but that certainly the perfect way of putting it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the social implications of fandom and how fringe and cranky it is. I guess I never wanted Iron Man to become popular after all. Most of my friends are still mainstream comics fans and really don’t understand what I see in the hardcore art comics. To me the sentiment I recognize is alive and well there. Brian Chippendale is my Todd MacFarlane now, that sounds retarded but I’m a simple person.

    Some people follow comics over the hump and some people look for a bigger hump I guess.

  6. DerikB says:

    I understand what you’re saying (or at least have some similar reservations) about the sameness of minicomics and the feeling that they are all coming from… I don’t know if it’s a zero point, but as if they all read the same comics and are trying to make their own version of it without building from a point. Fanfiction instead of experimentation.

    I’ve been reading a lot less minicomics lately, too many seem so banal, tossed off works that don’t seem to have a ton of thought behind them. Instead I’ve just been expanding out to other types of comics or art: more manga, more bande dessinee, more painting. What can I get out of reading/looking at Inoue, Jacobs, Hernandez, Drake, and the photography of Deborah Turbeville, all in the same week…

  7. zack soto says:

    Nice, Frank. You gonna post that recording of yr panel? It got nice and firey!

  8. Kevin Czap says:

    I’ve been thinking about this all morning. A pretty nice kick in the ass, I think.

    It seems that, yeah, there’s a bubble or safe haven that’s been built up, one that’s probably not as challenging of itself. I prefer enthusiasm for what you and your contemporaries are doing over a deep-seated shame from being interested in comics, however we’re not doing ourselves any favors if we’re not pushing each other to stretch beyond our comfort zones. One-upmanship, self-reflexivity, things like that.

    People are absolutely doing this, but a quick scan of the horizon might not reveal them. I’m willing to hazard a guess that the golden age of comics artists is slightly misleading. Maybe there’s still the same number of really great challenging new stuff (not too much) – the influx of new cartoonists doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an influx of earth shattering work. It might be as difficult to find as it may have been pre-internet (I’m just guessing on a lot of this stuff – limited to my own experiences and what I’ve learned about what went on before my time. This is the only scene I’ve known/experienced, so feel free to inform me if I’m off base on some of this).

    I’m definitely down for playing ball, and I’m not about to think that just because I’ve put out a comic or two that I’ve reached my goal.

    Ditto on what Zack says, would love to hear that panel.

  9. Dan Nadel says:

    I guess what I meant was something like — The idea of these shows: a gathering of “independent/alternative” comic book publishers and artists facing the public and each other — is something that is very much a carry over from early fandom. When SPX started it was also bolstered by the Spirit of Independence tour and Dave Sim, et al — itself a comic store / fan culture dependent moment. It’s a very strange thing, as I think Spurgeon has pointed many times — this thing where we sell direct to the public, artists included, but it goes back a ways. And thank heavens it exists. Comics, like little else, has inspired a few generations of people to want to seek out direct access to artists and publishers, and to gather and buy. Yes, it has its limitations and frustrations, but in my dotage I’m grateful for these direct experiences. But yeah, I’m not sure how much longer it’ll last, if only because as time goes on the entry level into comics is not “fandom” and comic book stores, but a larger culture of books/web/etc. And Frank’s right: There was some fine work there, but not the level of ambition there once was. That’s changed and concentrated with publishers.

  10. Frank it cracks me up when you don your “old man on the mountain” guise for these posts. Relax you butthole, we’re still young.

  11. pat aulisio says:

    i agree with dustin in that a lot of the newer faces are still young. speaking for myself i know each comic and project i do i try to do something different then the last. for spx i made a 3 color comic/one panel per page/based after 90s beat em up video games, it might not be mindblowing or original that i did that but its new to me and another growth step for me as a cartoonist. me being under 25 and only doing cons for 3 years now i have a different outlook, i only see potential for bigger and better stuff down the line, and more ambitious projects. im still young and i know my better books are ahead of me, i revile the stuff i did 2 years ago already but thats what artist growth is, hating your old stuff and getting excited about the new.
    things like free tabloids poppin up in every city and more local cons filling up the calender i only get more excited about small press stuff. but maybe im just to young and naive, i might get surly at the age of 30 when im still making mini’s no one buys.

  12. Matt Seneca says:

    Tough economic times maybe? Speaking personally, I can’t afford to even make a plain ole run of the mill minicomic, let alone a nice sparkly job with a silkscreen cover. It seems like one solution to the problems you’re talking about is more, better-paying publisher-sponsored work for entry level cartoonists. That injects a little money into the underground to up the quality of the bookmaking — plus competing to get published forces a greater level of craft into the art. As opposed to minicomics, where you can draw it as good or bad as you want to, nobody’s there pushing you to be better.

    If one of the bigger publishers like Fanta wanted to really invest in a top-quality next generation of cartoonists they could start creating some of that paid work. A new anthology, like “Minor League Mome” or something, a book that only published artists who’d never been published before. Wouldn’t have to be expensive, just a b/w manga-type thing, soft covers and cheap paper. Of course I doubt any publisher has the money to do that, I’d imagine they’re as hard up as the artists…

    • ” It seems like one solution to the problems you’re talking about is more, better-paying publisher-sponsored work for entry level cartoonists.”

      You must be new around here. What dream world are you living in? Dash gave Bottomless to Fanta ON SPEC. There’s no entry level better paying work just cuz you wish it to happen. Show me the money.

  13. MK Reed says:

    Half of it is probably the thought that goes into the comics themselves. If your diary comic has no substance, most likely you won’t be putting a lot of thought into the packaging, but then you also have cheap, fast options available now that weren’t as prevalent back then.

    Or maybe it’s just harder to scam/steal copies these days? There was definitely a decline in my desire to make minis once I had to pay for them.

  14. Matt I disagree with your idea, although I think maybe I’m combining two statements into one perceived idea. If so, please pardon! But if you can’t afford to make minis, from a pure marketplace standpoint, I don’t think Fanta gambling on paying you to make comics is the answer. I see minis as the first egalitarian step into production and creating little objects and learning how to manage a project through to completion.

    I’m having the same kind of market reaction thing going on in my head now after SPX. My book did really–shockingly–well, but the fancy print I made hardly sold at all, and now I’m wondering whether I can afford to do another one before APE (where I hear prints are most of what sells). It’s not so much that I can’t spare enough money for a print run (though honestly, I can’t)–it’s more that I worry the market for those prints doesn’t exist.

    All this is dollars and sense though, and not really ART-talk, which I think Frank’s post was more about. Speaking of which, Sean Collins keeps kicking me in the nuts over on Twitter for grousing about Frank’s post. Frank has eyes everywhere.

    • MK Reed says:

      Dustin, from talking to other people at the show, some shockingly talented people do not make money at SPX, and many of them go in not even expecting to. There’s too much talent in the room (and the show is slightly too expensive) for the audience there to support it all. Please do not confuse monetary success with artistic achievement.

      • Yes, for sure, the two are different. But when I go to a show and I am 100% looking to make money. I went into SPX thinking, “what multiple of a month’s rent can I come home with??” The answer: about .6

    • Matt Seneca says:

      Ha, yeah, not asking them to pay ME to make comics. Just suggesting that a lil hardcore capitalist competition for funds might inspire people to bring more craft to the work and might make it look better on the other end. I guess I’m saying we could use more Xeric grants, that type of thing.

  15. Oh, and as far as the “tables are too expensive” argument – I remember thinking that there could/should be an “artists alley” at spx where sharing tables would be easier – gang solo acts up and provide a cheaper in for kids.
    And then there is the old “go to the show but don’t get a table” approach. You can sell comics out of your backpacks, you guys, no one cares. So don’t complain too bad about table costs – there are ways of showing without paying through the nose

  16. Lastworthy says:

    I kind of get what you’re saying, and I kind of don’t.
    On one hand, I think it’s kind of silly to expect any real quality from what’s basically an entry-level hobbyist format. Minicomics can be cool, but its usually just working out stuff low-impact before the “real” work. usually. I mean, its really just a degree or two removed from student work.
    On the other hand, if you’re not going to play with the format, screenprint, or really try to make an object out of it, you might as well just have it be a webcomic and save some cash.

    • You haven’t lived until you’ve read a handmade mini from Kevin H or John Pham. Maybe I’m just nostalgic. Isn’t that fandom tho?

      • Lastworthy says:

        Oh, Definitely, some people totally knock it out of the park and the fan in me loves having those secret/personal/handmade objects. It’s probably just my own reading habits and I hate using “its-like-this-other-medium”-type analogies, but I cant help but think Minis:Singles::Graphic Novels:albums. Singles are demonstrably inferior to albums as a way to appreciate a musicians work, but non-radio bands still make them and they’re still a definitive object of fandom.

        (Playlists of digital comics, Album-specific record adapters, RRJr’s Cartoon Utopia)

        I found it really interesting to read Sublife 2 and see Pham work more of those little flourishes into it. It feels like three unrelated minicomics bound together, but I think I liked them more than if I had three seperate, unrelated minicomics.

        as i typed this it occured to me that a lot of the new guys who would have been making considered minicomics ten years ago are now likely to be putting that focus toward a graphic novel. (?)

  17. darrylayo says:

    I definitely see what Frank is saying in the post. Even though I am of this generation.

    I feel like it’s gotten a bit stale and “it’s not about the COMICS anymore, MAAAAAN,” and all of this. I get a sense that people put out minicomics out of obligation rather than out of any sense of love for the minicomic format. I say “obligation,” because…people who see themselves as a part of the independent scene understand implicitly that minicomics are expected of them; even if that’s not where their their hearts lie. AND THAT’S OKAY! I understand that more and more cartoonists have gotten into comics through other channels such as graphic novels, manga, the NYTimes Bestseller List, McSweeney’s, art school–and may have no personal connection to minicomics. At best, they may try their hand at minicomics just to get their comic feet wet and then move onto book-books as they previously desired. In their minds, a big hardcover book is the desired result. At worst, they might hack something out “just because” there’s a relevant indie comics show and basically waste paper.

    This relates tangentially to the stuff I’ve been telling everybody who’ll listen for over a week now.

    Why don’t indie comics people collaborate more than we do? Obviously, the main reason is that they’re “INDIE,” ie, “independent,” but when it comes to matching and maximizing skillsets and just riffing and sharing ideas with your comic pals (and we all have comic pals), I don’t see why more cartoonists don’t hook up and put some crazy one-off project out. I can deeply relate to the desire to work on one’s ideas alone. Personally, I came to creating comics out of the frustration with /other/ people’s comics, so it can be difficult to let go. However: I feel that I, like most of my direct peers, would benefit by drawing from a different well than my/their own. If nothing else, something to shake some of us out of complacency.

    I’m going to be writing on the subject of comic collaboration, specifically, the fabled “Marvel Method.” Dudes can check the overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marvel_Method

    I’ve been doing a little bit of incidental personal research on the old school Marvel Method. What I mean is that whenever I come across something that relates to the subject, I’ll read it. I really like how crazy the old Marvel comics sounded. While DC and other companies were making comics the way that one would expect them to be made–one sensible person thinks of a story and another sensible gentleman draws the pictures–these half-insane Marvel loonies were all…writer coming up with loose plots, artist contributes; artist draws everything the way he FEELS like, and the writer looks at the pages like “what do I do with this?” and start writing a script AFTER the fact. Those comics were totally insane for a reason. Two people bouncing off of each other–but with a degree of autonomy. I was just talking to my buddy about this, I told him the Marvel Method is “like jazz.” I’m not a real jazz man, but as far as my understanding of that art form goes…yeah.

    Yes or no. Just to take this conversation a bit off the rails.

  18. Shannon OLeary says:

    It gives me a boner just to think about one of John Pham’s minis.

  19. Brian Nicholson says:

    I think the thing I most hoped to see at SPX was new work coming from a solidly intellectual vein. Think about Mark Newgarden, Peter Blegvad, Huizenga, Tim Hensley- Just some real BRAINS. Tom K comes the closest, sort of. To be fair, the reason I was looking for it is because it seems like it’s really hard to invent.

    I don’t know. Were you being given stuff, Frank? I know folks went down for just one day with some comics in their backpacks, that didn’t want to exhibit.

    What’s funny is that Kevin went back to minicomics. Sammy sort of did, as well. Who is putting out the next issue of I Want You, now that Buenaventura is closed? Lisa Hanawalt is the girl whose work is on the badges of SPX! The playing field seems leveled, but some people don’t want to play on it. Here is gossip- the CCC dudes were saying they think SPX is boring because there’s such a high level of crap to sift through.

    I bought some bookshelf-ready work that I can buy at Atomic Books direct from the publishers at SPX and they were kind of bullshit. (Or, to put it more kindly, “not for me.”) Cutesy times. To name a name, one of them was that Capacity book Secret Acres put out- Too twee for my liking, but it seems totally possible if I had come across it from the artist himself selling me a minicomic in Portland (or at SPX) I would be really excited about that kid being the future. Especially since he wouldn’t be behind a table paid for by some comics college.

  20. J. Overby says:

    Agree with some of this stuff. It depresses me to go to comics shows (most recently Stumptown Comics Fest and Portland Zine Symposium) partly because of what you’re talking about, Frank: It’s amazing to see so little craft involved and to be around tons of folks who feel like they’re special and deserve (or demand (barf)in lots of cases) attention but who don’t have much talent or ambition. Maybe this has always been the case – for every Kevin H, Dan Zettwoch, John Hankiewicz, Gabrielle Bell, Vanessa Davis there has been loads of crap. Maybe you’re aggregating the cream of the crop of the last ten years or so and/or romanticizing a time when you were younger and has less critical standards, but I think there’s mostly always been the same ratio of shit to champagne. It’s hard as dudes in our mid-thirties to get excited about what the kids are doing these days and be able to predict which of them is going to be considered good and which bad. I remember feeling really depressed about how few folks were making good work (other than the usual suspects like Clowes, Gilbert, Panter, Crumb, et. al.) in the late nineties and then suddenly finding Kevin and Ft. Thunder and being reinvigorated. Maybe we’re in a lull.

    I’m not convinced craft as a goal isn’t a dead end, though. It’s such a broad topic. Craft of drawing (Panter), storytelling (Clowes), ideas (Huizenga), life experience (Porcellino)? All of these paranthetical folks have some degree of all different kinds of craft. It’s hard for me to get into the eighties boom stuff because it’s craft in the way Kinkade is – skillful and full of wisdom but hollow, ultimately.

  21. patrick ford says:

    Personally I find it amazing how much really good stuff Picture Box is publishing.
    In particular the Brian Chippendale book looks sensational.
    Has someone told these artists there’s no money in it?
    Number one rule of art…You have to really care.
    So there are a whole bunch of lazy mini-comics.
    I guess “art comics” are a scene and there are pretenders around, but the problem for me is if you just look at the great stuff there is far more of it than I can afford.
    Frank you have it made getting all this stuff for free.

  22. Rob Clough says:

    As a guy who gets a ton of minicomics in the mail and has been going to SPX since 1997, my perspective is that the overall quality of minicomics and their creators has gotten signficantly better in that span of time.

    There’s less hacked-out, scribbled-out, cheapie xeroxed stuff that I see and get nowadays. That said, I agree that I also see fewer “holy shit!” moments of stunningly good and cleverly-crafted minis ala Kevin H. (The best minis I’ve seen in recent years have come from Will Dinski [king of interesting design], Leslie Stein [insane detail in her drawing] and Annie Murphy [impressive content]). I attribute both trends to the large number of cartoonists at SPX who are now going to comix art school and the webcomix people who do obligatory minicomics for shows so they have something to sell. (Obviously, sometimes those two groups overlap.)

    Those students are obligated to create minicomics, and it’s pretty clear which ones love doing it and which ones would rather be working on their graphic novel. Overall, however, the kids from CCS seem to genuinely care about making nice-looking minis. They put thought into them and try to make them attractive. That hasn’t been true of much of the material I see at SVA tables (with Brendan Leach being the GIANT exception of the moment–have you seen Pterodactyl Hunters?). When I’m reviewing these comics, I make a point of calling out technical problems, sloppiness, etc. I also always point out that I know when a comic has been gray-scaled for printing after being printed in color online, and it shows very clearly (and it doesn’t look good).

    A lot of the best minis are gag/humor stuff, which I think isn’t up your alley quite as much as it is mine, Frank. Consider the Partyka crew (Matt Wiegel, Shawn Cheng, Sara Edward-Corbett). Their production values are **sick**, their lines are clever and clear and their work is always funny. It’s just not Kevin H-level brilliance.

    One other thing–some folks who are brilliant minicomics guys are getting snapped up into book form much more quickly than the likes of Kevin H, Vanessa, Gabrielle, etc used to. Consider Eamon Espey [brilliant!] or Ken Dahl; these are guys who would be ‘just” minicomics guys who got snapped up by a smart publisher.

    Lastly, I see a lot of minicomics as attempts to get better in public. I’ve seen several artists get better over the course of a few years, and I think one way they do so is to get feedback and get a real sense of what they’re doing from a wide variety of aesthetic sources. As such, I’d love to see you do a more detailed breakdown of say, the five minis from artists you liked best from SPX this year that WEREN’T already big-time favorites.

    • Brian Nicholson says:

      I didn’t see a Partyka table at SPX this year. I might’ve seen someone walking around with an issue of Paping but I don’t know who was selling them.

      Leslie Stein’s Eye Of The Majestic Creature is getting collected by Fantagraphics next year. She first came to my attention with Yeah It Is back in 2003, after winning a Xeric grant (and maybe getting Diamond distribution?).

    • darrylayo says:

      Good morning Rob,

      Interesting points. I sometimes think that cartoonists get published too soon. Like right after they “get good,” they get stolen away by a publisher. And good for them, truly! But for the pure, uncut artform, it’s partially a shame that some of them don’t get a solid “run” on the underground/indie scene before being drafted.

      On a similar note, I recently obtained the new Kevin Huizenga minicomic (the real one, not one of the doodle books) and I found it completely stunning. I love the guy, but it seems that the lower his production values, the higher my enjoyment. But of course I wish him the best finiancial success.

      Growing up in public: that’s a perfect way to think of it, I think. Having blackmail minicomics also keeps cartoonists humble.

      • Rob Clough says:


        “On a similar note, I recently obtained the new Kevin Huizenga minicomic (the real one, not one of the doodle books) and I found it completely stunning. I love the guy, but it seems that the lower his production values, the higher my enjoyment. But of course I wish him the best finiancial success.”

        That’s an interesting idea. One of my future reviews will be of the new version of The WIld Kingdom, comparing it to the issue of Or Else in which it appeared and then comparing it again to the issue of Supermonster where much of it originally appeared.

        As far as growing up in public goes, one thing that’s changed since the end of what I call the Xeric Generation (alt-cartoonists from about 1992-2001) is that the advent of webcomics has enabled some to grow up in public even faster and with greater ease–which has been for both good and ill. The sheer effort and determination it takes to put out a good-looking mini is a reflection of commitment on the part of the young artist (though certainly not necessarily a measure of talent), and some of that can get lost since it’s so easy to put up a webcomic. I’ve seen MANY more lazy webcomics than I have lazy minicomics. I’m not sure doing webcomics, out of necessity, teaches you how to be a better cartoonist. That’s especially true if the emphasis is putting out a new strip (or worse, sell merch) as opposed to trying to get better. That’s obviously not true of everyone, and it may well be that those folks putting up webcomics would have become discouraged and stopped cartooning without a regular, public outlet.

  23. Ian Harker says:

    I’ve been thinking about the career life-cycle of the alternative cartoonist lately and it seems to me that in order to achieve success both artistically and commercially you need to cultivate 2 generations of audience. In essence you just need to survive your youth with some shred of artistic relevance in tact so that you are in position to be appreciated by the next generation as well. At that point your audience is big enough to support commercially viable publications (hardcovers.)

    It’s neat to see this transition take place. I mean, we live in a world with King Cat hardcovers now, pretty neat-o. The Fort Thunder/Kramers generation might still be 5 years off from the generational turnover, it will be interesting to watch that process play out.

  24. Anatole Wilson says:

    I didn’t buy as many mini-comics as I have in some past years, but I attribute this to the increased availability of publishing through the internet (comixpress.com, etc.) which lets creators put out more “professional”-looking comics. I did find myself buying more trade-formatted books this year, largely collections of webcomics. I did like the mini-comics at the Center for Cartoon Studies table, and think there’s definitely some promising talent there.

    I also think the innovation, like in most art forms, comes in waves. 3 or 4 years ago I was amazed at the quality and innovation of the mini-comics and indie publications. The next year was full of the same creators and people inspired by them doing pretty much the same thing. The next year seemed flat. Last year, slightly more innovation, also more comics about zombies. This year, a lot of cartoonist-style work that focused on storytelling rather than innovation. And, as I said, more creators (Kate Beaton, etc.) who have practiced on their websites, and therefore are more polished in presentation. It’s all good, but I do think we’ll see another wave in a couple of years.

  25. J.T. Dockery says:

    After the egocentricity of plugging my own book, which is an absurdly big honking finely printed thing, I’m just enjoying reading everyone’s points of view (and I always enjoy Frank’s point of view), so rock on with yer bad selves. Maybe because this past one is only my third one, SPX still represents a way for me to get out of the studio and meet folks I admire face to face and meet new folks/get introduced to new work, which the internet can only partly cover, and it totally works on that level (yet I can see myself getting weary of that–it not being enough–at a certain point, maybe in a couple or three more years). I can understand the road-weariness of some of you “old timers,” and I have spent a lot of time meditating on the death, or at least the mutation, of fandom. But I don’t know what I would replace SPX with, other than a possible evolving need to not go, and I’m willing to bet, speaking of mutation, it will change (and has changed) with the times?

  26. J. Overby says:

    “‘I’m not convinced craft as a goal isn’t a dead end, though.’ spoken as someone who puts out black and white zines mostly, only. I’ve stopped listening to you Jason.”

    Ha! What’s the craft? Making objects or comics? Sorry about the knee-jerk Kinkade reference, but I seriously wonder what the purpose of craft qua craft is. And you’re right that my minis look crummy. I’m no good at presenting the information I’ve created, but I like the idea of a shitty mini that unexpectedly has potentially cool content much better than something with little actual substance that has a gold foil cover, beautiful binding, or is silkscreened. That’s why, in my opinion, Porcellino has endured and is so important to lots of people.

  27. Rob Clough says:


    I think it’s a mistake to conflate “craft” with “soulless, flowery technique” (ala Kincaide). For example, I would argue that John Porcellino’s comics represent a highly-polished, if minimally-rendered, form of craft. I make that argument on the basis of comparison; if you look at his earlier comics, his line is not as confident or smooth. He over-renders at times. Look at the most recent issue of King-Cat in comparison: the difference is in knowing what to leave out, as opposed to putting too much in. To me, that is craft at its finest.

    Obviously, I sympathize with you in regard to minis that have shiny packaging but no content of note. I’ve been burned by such minis myself. And sure, I agree there can be a certain rough charm to a primitive mini. But to me, that’s only true if it’s clearly an early effort by a young artist who’s trying to Get Better In Public, and it’s exciting if you can see talent or a unique point of view or a different kind of storytelling from such a comic. As a critic, I look for those qualities. At the same time, shitty production values aren’t something to celebrate in and of themselves.

    Where I part ways slightly from Frank is that I don’t necessarily need to see a level of rendering or style (not to put words into his mouth, but Frank isn’t looking for Kincaide-style “realism” as much as he is a coherent and technically advanced rendering style; witness his admiration for Tim Hensley) as highly developed as he prefers. To me, looking at Porcellino’s art is as “beautiful” as looking as Jaime Hernandez’s. It’s just a different kind of beautiful.

  28. J. Overby says:

    Totally agreed. I was clumsily trying to make that same point – that craft is in the eye of the beholder, that it’s not only indicated by good production values or great facility at rendering. Over time I’ve come to appreciate work like John’s more than work like Jaime’s, but that’s my deal. In comics, of course, content can be story or idea or drawings or structure or any of those things. I don’t want to celebrate junkily made objects, but I’m more often surprised by things that aren’t so slick, that have other concerns than appearing fancy or “beautiful.”. The latest mini I’ve done is just a re-presentation of drawings and strips people can look at for free online, structured in a kind of loose chronological narrative about my cartooning of late. The drawings themselves in many cases look much better online, and the mini is a question, in a way, about the necessity of print at this juncture in history.

  29. Sam Gas Can says:

    We need to find good secluded areas to get stoned before any given convention.

    • And find the showers too, please. Lots of stinky ass mofos at SPX. Brush yer teeth too.

      • noel says:

        yeah, that’s why ccc can’t exhibit anymore, you’d have to pay us to take money from those stink breath geeks.

        O yeah, also comb your hair you nerds! i can’t stand all the greasy mop tops with gritty facial hair, shave that crust off your face before you poke your head in this 4 star hotel, you come in here looking like you’ve been scraped from the city streets, this isn’t the Brooklyn Graphics fest! This is fucking BETHESDA MD, that means hospitality and class, SPX is meant to be a professional environment where businessmen of like minds can congregate and express their love for the medium in a sterile environment. the hotel sells drinks but should not be mistaken for a dive bar, this is beautiful and pure rural Maryland, a place to take your family, make memories, and spend time with nature, so leave your smell at the door and get a fucking hair cut!


        Fuck that shit!
        Pabst Blue Ribbon!

  30. brynocki C says:

    I have been buying delicious bread from the grocery store but the other day I baked some at home and it tasted like shit, but that is ok cause I didn’t bake it because I wanted to eat fresh homemade bread, but to pose a question…

  31. Frank said: “I’m not convinced craft as a goal isn’t a dead end, though.” spoken as someone who puts out black and white zines mostly, only. I’ve stopped listening to you Jason.”

    Jason has a forthcoming book from a major art comics publisher and there will most likely be color in it. But why should that matter at all?

    As to this discussion in general: there is always good work being done. Much harder to find it—or to understand the new work being done, as it changes from what you liked about art comics when you started out—-than it is to make a casual disregard of it.

  32. J. Overby says:

    aargh. Brynocki – that analogy is wack. Bread is something that is easily definable in terms of quality and what the craft of breadmaking is and how that craft results in something good & tasty. Mindflayer fucking rules but also sounds like shit. I don’t know anything about recording but my assumption is that “It’s Always 1999” is super lo-fi. But it’s an awesome record. More awesome even, in fact, than Céline Dion’s 2007 album “Taking Chances,” which had a slew of professional producers at the top of their “craft.” Art isn’t just about following the rules laid out for you that someone has decided will make good art. Experimentation, being lame sometimes, looking like crap results in BJ and da Dogs or Cola Madnes.

    • brynocki C says:

      It wasn’t an analogy, it was a story.

      Jabber away about lo-fi versus hi-fi but your line…

      “The drawings themselves in many cases look much better online, and the mini is a question, in a way, about the necessity of print at this juncture in history.”

      …sounds like a joke to me. Experiment away but one failed experiment poses no question at all, unless I completely don’t get science.

      I have looked at some of your drawings online and they look totally rad. I am not commenting on your zine or it’s craft, just your statement about it.

  33. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Please someone make a t-shirt for next year’s show that has

    This is fucking BETHESDA MD
    [some picture or design element]
    that means hospitality and class

    on it. Thank you.

    Not that I’ll attend.

    PS — I have a halfway decent track record for recognizing talent in handmade comics, and I haven’t seen anything that’s set to buzzing the same part of my brain as Fireball or My Friend Joey’s Legs or The Angry Criminal or Non Non Non or Supermonster did. Racking my brain for recent minis in that weight class, I think Jesse Reklaw’s diary comics would hold their own with anything that’s been done since I’ve been reading minis, but he’s an older cartoonist in that world. I don’t see all the mini-comics, though.

    My guess is that a few things have changed in a major way: 1) the ubiquity of on-line media has fundamentally altered the mini-comic’s role as a kind of entrance point into the world of comics. You can stay home in your pajamas now, no need to dress up. 2) Seneca’s actually onto something, I think, in that mini-comics may suffer because they no longer seem like a natural step towards something else, because that next step has been mostly gutted by a variety of market forces. Not everyone’s a Hard Art Man like you are, Frank. I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question that someone re-establish that kind of step, either. 3) we live in a world where making unambitious art seems like a better idea than it used to, in the same way we live in a world where 750,000 unambitious writers talk to the people that read their blogs by proclaiming “dear readers.” It’s a culture that kind of lowers the bar all around.

    Also, I’ve had Shelton #5 ready to hit the Xerox machine for like three years and haven’t bothered. That has to say something about something. But when I do — watch out! Minds = blown.

  34. Robert Boyd says:

    When I worked for Fantagraphics, I was in charge of the slush pile. We’re talking early 90s here. Many of the cartoonists submitting stuff did so in the form of minis. We got millions of those things. Occasionally one would be really good. I started setting those aside, and that’s how I started the column “Minimalism.” But it was always a tiny percentage of the total number of minis sent us. Twas ever thus.

  35. cbren says:

    Print comics are not obsolescent. The internet is obsolescent, unless they bring back geocities.

  36. Ian Harker says:

    Had a good talk with lost master of the medium Art Baxter recently about art brut and the razor thin line between good art brut and bad art brut. It’s a hard puzzle to solve. The final product is more a record of the act of drawing itself than an objective image, sorta like zen calligraphy. There is a lot to love about “shitty drawing”. BJ’s Paper Rodeo strips are some of my favorite stuff of his. Some people like shitty lo-fi looking stuff but most people don’t. I’d rather look at Noel’s drawings all day long than look at James Jean’s. Does that make me crazy?

  37. patrick ford says:

    Frank has hit on something. A lack of an acceptable level craft is not so much different from a lack of an acceptable level of personal hygiene. In either case something stinks.
    The piles of junk are the result of a lack of craft.
    Really any person putting in an honest effort to develop some kind of chops they have control over, and understand, is going to be able to produce something that is at least interesting.
    This is as true of Mark Beyer, as it is of Noel Sickles. Naturally the guys who are brilliant, like Schulz are going to produce the best work.
    A polished level of craft can be seen in “King Cat” as mentioned. Gary Larson works in a fairly simple big foot style, but was praised as a draftsman by Jack Davis. Most people who know anything about drawing will tell you Peanuts was beautifully drawn.
    The artist has to put in enough time so that no matter what sort of approach he’s taken he’s mastered the elements of his form.
    It isn’t necessary that the drawing be naturalistic, only that the drawings are consistent to the artist’s intent. Charlie Brown’s arms aren’t long enough to comb his hair, and thus he never will, because Schulz would never have his arm violate the convention of the form he uses.
    You can find all kinds of artists who have developed a style, have a grip on the graphic language they have worked out, and use it to solve problems.
    Bad craft is the B.O. of art.

  38. J. Overby says:

    Ok – sorry, B – that was a dumb, pretentious statement, but, for real, it’s hard to match the ease of putting shit out there on the internet, essentially for free, for everybody to see. I like the immediacy of it, but it feels hard to match it in DIY print form. Frank is a printmaker, I’m a drawer/collager. In the past I’ve done extra things like rubber stamp the name of the mini on each individual cover or made drawings and collages on the covers, but it can be tedious, and I don’t know if it really makes it into a cooler object or not. Also, it’s nice to be able to make things on the super cheap. I get copies for .05 a side, but I still have to charge $3 for a 32 page mini if I’m gonna spend a buck plus to send it to somebody.

  39. brynocki C says:

    I totally agree J. I started a “web” comic cause I wanted people to see it now, today. I just helped a friend move and we carried Boxes and Boxes of zines, comics, tapes, cd’s down three flights of stairs and it sucked. It was stupid. I hope 90 percent of it goes digital so half of it can be erased by a giant magnet or a dropped hard drive or an mysterious executive decision.

    But when I open those old boxes or look on my shelves I know I will never ever treasure certain webpages like I treasure certain books or things. Is this a generational thing? Really? Webpages are information. Books, paper, objects can be talismans if they are done well(or so badly as to be profound).

  40. related:
    Scroll down to Evan’s comment. I promise to have a similar tone in the future. Until then I’ll play the “angry guy”.

  41. J. Overby says:

    Hopefully, books will be around for a long time to come, but the next generation may feel differently.

  42. Steven H says:

    Why does this line of thought remind me of the complaints some people have about ‘indie’ film festivals?

  43. Most folks just lack the ambition and drive to make great work. Most folks probably don’t even realize they lack the ambition and drive necessary to make great work. I’ve always argued that if you have the proper level of ambition and drive, craft isn’t even necessary. A ham-fisted idiot could make a work of mind-bending genius if their ambition and drive is great enough. But even if you’re really into “craft” it’s the ambition and drive that’s the important thing. You probably can’t become a really excellent craftsman without an ungodly level of ambition and drive, either.

    • patrick ford says:

      Craft is the by product of ambition and drive. A person puts in an effort, and the craft will take care of itself. You do 20 push-ups every day, and pretty soon you can do 50, then 100.
      How many people might look at the work James K.does, and think it looks easy?
      Fred Astaire made it look easy to.

  44. BVS says:

    wow lots of responses, here is one more.
    is it possible newish cartoonists just haven’t seen a lot of this stuff that your hoping they would build off of? especially ones who don’t live on the coasts? your talking mini comics at spx right, I somehow doubt that those old issues of monster or fireball had very large print runs or that they traveled that far, I’m 29 and I only just now even heard about the glow in the dark issue. think about the number of comic book stores even open since 2000, where is everyone supposed to encounter this small scale underground stuff? I think this is another of those comics and time things where the closer you are to something the longer ago it seems. but there are still people only just now discovering fort thunder and kramers Ergot, shit people are just now discovering Rory Hayes. can you be held to blame if comics just came to you “from out of the air”

    in college me and a bunch of my friends went to APE and it was our first convention outside of Minneapolis’ traditional long box style show, fall con. we were out of the mid west, we were pumped up and we filled every inch of our table with little xeroxed 8 and 16 page mini comics that we thought were pretty good or funny or something, and we felt like maybe we were being greedy asking 2 bucks a piece for some of it, since some of the comics were printed on chopped up grocery bags. we had no fucking idea what we were up against, no clue. we thought mini comics were like the zines kids make in high school. and it was all about being DIY just you, stolen xeroxes and a stapler, we thought we were being punk rock about it, we had not considered the accordion fold and we had no idea that this was also a screenprinted artist’s comic book market place. after a few laps around the show room even we wouldn’t have bought our comics.

    • DJM says:

      Don’ sell yourself too short. The comic I’m mostly known for is a DIY, quarter page, chopped up xerox zine in a torn grocery bag cover with the title written in sharpie. The overall design and content impressed a few people so much, the art was even recently in a show. I don’t want to come off like I’m bragging (OK, may just a little. It was my first exhibit.), but you can do a lot with just the generic zine tools. You don’t need hoighty toighty screen printing. It just takes some thinking.

  45. BVS says:

    and wen ended up feeling like choads who had a lot to learn, I think that’s just what happens at these shows.

  46. kevin czap says:

    What bvs said.

    I’ll add, though, that seeking out more and more of what has come before is part of the ambition and drive aspect. Yeah, for a long time you don’t realize how much of a bigger thing is happening out there, but it’s natural that the more into what you are doing, the more you want to see more of what other folks have done.

    It’s slow at first, but it quickly picks up speed. “Craft” is as much education as it is an end product, at least when paired with ambition and drive. Maybe this is all common knowledge.

  47. Mike Bertino says:

    Jesus, I just read all the posts on here and it took a while, but I think this is a really interesting conversation, and it really relates to a lot of the concerns and/or ideas I’ve been thinking about the last few years.

    It seems really obvious to me that the differences between mini-comics folk from the late 90’s and early 2000’s are stark in comparison to today’s mini-comics cartoonists, not in terms of aesthetics or craftsmanship, as much as interest in storytelling. I think that the biggest reason for this is actually pretty simple.

    The people making mini comics back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s were people who had read a wide range of comics, most of us reading things like Love and Rockets, Eightball, and King Cat in highschool, along with a huge variety of other great comics, and it seems like there was a real awareness of comic history, and artful storytelling.

    I went to art school in my mid 20’s and what I found there was a whole group of young kids who were into mini-comics, Chris Ware, and Kramer’s (no so much webcomics, so i can’t speak to that), but who didn’t know who Joe Sacco or Daniel Clowes was, and they could care less about guys like Chester Brown or Julie Doucet. These kids in large part just wanted to make cool looking little books, and storytelling was an afterthought.

    I don’t know if it’s fair to say this is exemplary of all of mini-comic cartoonists at these little comic cons, but it is a change in the culture of the comics readership, and I think this kinda relates back to the whole fandom issue in the sense that the younger generations aren’t going to comic shops for comics anymore. I think they’re going to APE and SPX, and little boutiques, galleries, bookshops, etsy and blogs more and more, and that in general more people are getting involved because they like the idea of making these little objects to sell that showcase their drawing talents and all that shit……I’m getting a little off topic, but it sort of relates, I guess.

    well, gotta rush off suddenly… hope my spelling is okay!

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