Here it is, the infamous two-column “Palmer’s Picks” report on the minicomics scene of the early ’90s. Why is it infamous? I really don’t know. It just sounds cool to say that.
It actually was a bit of a challenge to put these two columns together. In the pre-Internet days of the early ’90s, gathering up any decent pile of minicomics involved a lot of legwork. Actually, the legwork was more like writing a bunch of letters and licking a lot of envelopes and stamps. There was also no Small Press Expo or Comic Arts Brooklyn or any other major U.S.-based festival to meet these cartoonists face-to-face. Minicomics artists would sometimes have a table at a comic convention, and there were a handful of enterprising shops that would carry small press comics, but the majority of the distribution network at the time was through the mail.
There was one thing made the task of writing these columns a bit easier. I had mentioned in previous issues of Wizard that I was going to be writing a full-length column about minicomics. A number of creators took the initiative of sending in their work, and I think there was a notice or two printed in some of the small press newsletters.
The format of these two columns necessitated a small change to “Palmer’s Picks” that stuck around for the rest of the run. Since I was going to be spending two issues of Wizard talking about little xeroxed comic booklets that weren’t sold in most comic stores, I thought it would be a good idea to add a small plug for a more traditional comic book, so the “Pick of the Month” was born. The first two recipients of this illustrious designation were the anthology Negative Burn, and the first issue of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell to feature new material.
Any attempt to condense a thriving underground publishing scene into a mere four magazine pages is going to lead to some glaring omissions. Adrian Tomine is a big one. I did get around to profiling his Optic Nerve with a full-length “Picks” in Wizard #46 when he got picked up by Drawn & Quarterly, but he really should have been included here. I also gave a small plug for Jessica Abel‘s first full-size issue of Artbabe in Wizard #68 but she was another big oversight since the minicomic incarnation of her series debuted in 1992. Another one I missed: Jonh Porcellino. His long-running King Cat Comix is a landmark series, and his Spit and a Half was (and still is) a vital resource for zine and minicomic distribution.
I’m sure if I sat down and thought about it, I could come up with a few dozen more minicomics cartoonists that I should have covered in these two “Palmer’s Picks.” If you’re interested in learning some more about minicomics, there have been some decent anthologies published recently that offer a great overview. Go check out Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s and Treasury of Mini Comics Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, all edited by Starhead Comix founder Michael Dowers and published by Fantagraphics. And if you want to take a deep dive, head over to The Poopsheet Foundation, an exhaustive online archive of minicomics put together by Rick Bradford.
Minicomics, Maxireads: Part 1
By Tom Palmer Jr.
Self-publishing a full-size comic is a fairly costly venture that few artists are willing to jump into. Fortunately, there’s a thriving small press network that offers a chance for creators interested in self-publishing to get their work published and shown to an audience. These “minicomics” are an inexpensive alternative, since they are merely miniature comic books with very small print runs.
Minicomics are just about the purest form of comics possible. The material goes directly to the reader, so there are no publishers or distributors to hinder the creative process. With minicomics, simplicity is the name of the game. The small size of most minicomics forces the creator to pay close attention to substance and not rely on flashy art, since overly detailed drawings tend to confuse the reader. While there are always exceptions to the rule, long multi-issue storylines are generally bypassed in favor of self-contained stories. Since it’s almost impossible to get filthy rich with a small press, most minicomic creators have a genuine love for the comic art form.
Don’t think of minicomics as just a training ground for cartoonists. Some artists have used minicomics as a stepping stone to regular format comics, like Chester Brown, Julie Doucet, Mark Martin, Jim Woodring, and a host of others. However, established cartoonists occasionally try their hand at minicomics, like Peter Bagge with Testosterone City. Also, not all small press artists aspire to the “big time.” Some have characters and series that are perfect for the minicomic format, like John MacLeod‘s Dishman and Matt Feazell‘s Not Available Comics. Both artists have had several opportunities to try full-size comics, but their work is better suited to the intimate format of minicomics.
There are hundreds of small press comics being published right now, so it’s almost impossible to catalogue everything being done. What I hope to do here is mention some of the more recognizable names in minicomics, as well as look at a few newer faces. Hopefully, some of these artists will catch your eye and lead you into the world of minicomics.
Probably the most recognizable minicomic artist working today is Detroit resident Matt Feazell. Feazell’s work gained a fairly large audience when he drew “The Adventures of Zot! in Dimension 10 1/2,” a backup feature for Scott McCloud‘s Zot! title. Feazell interpreted McCloud’s cast as stick figures and combined them with his own creations for oftentimes hilarious results. Despite this brief foray into “mainstream” comics, Feazell continues to work in the small press. He breaks the language of comics down to its bare essentials, presenting simple stick figures against minimalist backgrounds and portraying simple humorous situations. Antisocialman and Cynicalman are two of Feazell’s more memorable creations; they’ve appeared in their own comics, Not Available Comics and The Death of Antisocialman.
Feazell’s minimalist style contrasts with the very loose yet detailed cartooning of fellow Detroit resident Sean Bieri. In comics with such colorful titles as Fix Funnies, Jape, Cool Jerk & Homo Gal, and In Defense of the Missionary Position, Bieri displays a slightly offbeat humor that will leave you rolling with laughter. Bieri’s art has just enough detail to keep each page interesting without looking too cluttered.
Both Feazell and Bieri recently became editors of 5 O’Clock Shadow, an anthology that features work from a diverse group of small press artists. 5 O’Clock Shadow originally started in 1989 as a collaboration between Feazell and Cud creator Terry LaBan. The comic, which until recently was edited by Matt Madden, soon grew into an anthology presenting work from other creators. Aside from its many editors, 5 O’Clock Shadow‘s contributors have included Dean Williams, Dennis Nahabetian, Diana Salles, Chad Woody, Tom Motley, Amy Frushour, Brad Foster, and Pam Bliss.
Tom Motley, another 5 O’Clock Shadow contributor, has produced some interesting and innovative work on his own. His Bookmarks series is a collection of sketches and doodles that can be cut out to form bookmarks. Some of his other comics, like Let Me Out of Here and Drawing Stick, are comic books that can also be used as postcards.
There are even minicomics originating in other countries. Serbian cartoonist Aleksander Zograf has published two issues of Alas! Comics in his home country of Bosnia. His comics offer an interesting view of the civil war in what was once Yugoslavia. Zograf alternately utilizes realistic and surrealistic styles to render his thoughts and dreams about the war in a very powerful manner.
Next Month: I’ll continue my survey of the small press scene, with looks at the work of David Lasky, Elizabeth Watasin, and others. I’m still interested in seeing more minicomics, so keep sending your letters and stuff to: Palmer’s Picks c/o Wizard Press,
151 Wells Ave., Congers, NY 10920. Before I go, I’d like to thank Andrew Ford and Michelle Moorhead for their help in assembling this month’s column.
Tom Palmer Jr. is a New Jersey-based writer who likes to drink hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows. Yum!
Pick Of The Month
Negative Burn: There’s always something worth looking at in this excellent anthology from Caliber. Issue #8 features a Starchild story by James Owen, as well as work by Philip Hester, Doug Wheeler, Brian Bolland, and P. Craig Russell.
Tom’s Recommended Reading
You will definitely not find any of the minicomics mentioned this month at your local comic shop, so the only way to get them is to order them through the mail. When ordering, it’s a good idea to include some stamps with your order to cover postage.
Matt Feazell (Cynicalman, Antisocialman, etc.): Matt has lots of minicomics, so just send a couple of bucks in return for an assortment of ’em. Write to Not Available Comics,
3867 Bristow, Detroit, MI 48212. Zot #14 1/2 and back issues of The Amazing Cynicalman can be obtained from your local comic book shop or from Eclipse Books, P.O. Box 1099, Forestville, CA 95436.
Sean Bieri (Fix Funnies, Cool Jerk & Homo Gal, Jape, Missionary Position): All of Sean’s minicomics are $0.50 (except Jape #2, which is $0.75). There are two issues of Fix Funnies and Jape, and three of Cool Jerk & Homo Gal. Send your orders to Sean Bieri,
1521 Hubbard #4, Detroit, MI 48209.
5 O’Clock Shadow: #10 is available from either one of the new editors, Bieri and Feazell, for $0.75. Back issues are available for $0.75 each from Matt Madden, the previous editor, at
P.O. Box 49267, Austin, TX 78705.
Tom Motley (various): Motley has produced a bunch of minis under different company names. There are several issues of Bookmarks available for $0.75 each. Write Tom Motley,
1421 Pennsylvania #21, Denver, CO 80203.
Aleksander Zograf (Alas! Comics): There are two issues of Alas! Comics, each available for $2, which just about covers postage. Send cash only to Sasa Rakezic,
c/o Gordana Basta, Milovana Glisica 11, 2600 Pancevo, Yugoslavia. Life Under Sanction is available for $3 from Fantagraphics Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.
Fandom House: If you don’t feel like writing to the artists above, write to Fandom House. It’s a mail order company that stocks hundreds of minicomics from a wide variety of small press publishers. For the latest catalog, send a couple of stamps to Fandom House,
P.O. Box 1348, Denver, CO 80201.
City Limits Gazette: This is a biweekly newsletter assembled by Steve Willis that offers up-to-date info on the small press, as well as “conversations” on many interesting topics. Sample issues cost $1, and a one-year subscription is $15. Write to Steve Willis,
P.O. Box 390, McCleary, WA 98557-0390.
Minicomics, Maxireads: Part 2
By Tom Palmer Jr.
Last month I started my look at the world of minicomics. In this installment, I hope to continue to demonstrate the wide variety of small press comics currently out there. Hopefully one of these artists will catch your eye.
David Lasky has received a phenomenal amount of exposure for what you might think is “just another small press cartoonist.” His Boom Boom comic and his Minit Classics adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses have both been mentioned in the Washington Post’s Book World. His cartoons have also been seen in Pulse! magazine (a giveaway at Tower Records) and The James Joyce Quarterly. Thanks in part to all this attention, Lasky won a grant from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator Peter Laird’s Xeric Foundation last year. Lasky has also completed a full-sized issue of Boom Boom, published by Aeon Comics.
Lasky’s self-published Boom Boom minicomics are an eclectic mix of autobiographical material, strips based on Joyce’s Ulysses, and the continuing adventures of the Iron Duke, an optometrist and secret agent. His strips are well-written and illustrated with various techniques which suit the demands of the story. For the second issue of Boom Boom, which served as a birthday gift for his father, Lasky drew each strip in the style of cartoonists like Robert Crumb, Charles Schultz, George Herriman, and Matt Groening. Lasky doesn’t mimic the technique of other artists but instead deftly adapts the spirit of each cartoonist while still retaining his own style.
Elizabeth Watasin has her own unique style, which she puts to perfect use in The Adventures of A-Girl. The “A” in the title character’s name stands for “asexual” girl; Watasin uses her to examine and take apart traditional gender roles. The comical situations into which A-Girl is thrown explore and criticize the way society handles gender differences without hitting the reader over the head or preaching to her or him. Watasin has an expressive shorthand style that gets her point across perfectly. She depicts a wide range of expression and humor with a loose line that bounces along from panel to panel.
Bruce Chrislip is a cartoonist who also edits Outside In, a minicomic anthology. He is the fourth editor of the comic, which collects self-portraits by a host of cartoonists. Over the years, about 400 people have contributed, including Dan Clowes, Mary Fleener, Julie Doucet, and Roberta Gregory.
Canadian cartoonist Colin Upton has drawn tons of minicomics. His comics range from slice-of-life stories of himself or his acquaintances, like Famous Bus Rides and Real Rubbie, to grab bag anthologies like Self Indulgent. Upton has also done some full-size comics, like Big Thing, which appeared in the small press. He’s a talented cartoonist, and the people he meets are interesting enough to keep his stories from reading too much like typical autobiographical fare.
Jeff Zenick takes a different approach to autobiography in Modern Historicality, a collection of illustrated letters that recount his travel experiences during a span of eight months. He spent that time wandering around Florida, talking with people, and drawing various sites. Zenick’s travel sketches are highly accurate depictions of everyday people and quintessential, unadorned American buildings. Each letter begins “Dear Folks,” which adds a personal touch to the book when combined with the images of typical America.
The intimate nature of minicomics allows artists to tackle some very difficult subjects. The anonymously penned Raised By Wolves and True Tales Too Terrible to Tell deal with the serious and disturbing matter of the sexual abuse of children. The author himself was abused as a child, although he has a spotty recollection of exactly what happened. His books, which are comprised of poems, stories, drawings, and comics, are interpretations of and reactions to the details he remembers. These comics are powerful and sobering first-hand accounts of a serious matter.
Tim Ereneta‘s Oatmeal is a personal work, but its tone is much lighter than that of Raised By Wolves. Ereneta presents the reader with a mix of comics and text on just about anything which affects him, including his job and his opinions about society.
Andrew Ford’s Rib uses simply drawn worm characters to deal with serious subjects like racism and politics. Ford is a member of the Small Press Syndicate, a group of minicomic artists who’ve joined together to help promote and distribute their comics and those of other small press creators.
The artists mentioned this and last month deal with different subjects in various ways, but they all have a true love of comics, and it shows in their passion to get their work published and seen by others.
If you think that I’ve omitted someone important this month or last month, or if you have a minicomic of your own, drop me a line and let me know. I might consider doing another column on minicomics at some point if I get enough feedback. Send your stuff to Palmer’s Picks c/o Wizard Press,
151 Wells Ave, Congers, NY 10920-2064.
Pick Of The Month
From Hell Vol. 4: This collection of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell‘s fictionalized account of the Jack the Ripper murders contains all-new material. The story picks up steam as Moore and Campbell get down to investigating the Whitechapel killings.
Tom Palmer Jr. is a freelance writer who has been described as “grumpy in the morning,” “quirky,” and “prickly.”
Tom’s Recommended Reading
There’s almost no way to find any of these minicomics at a comic shop, so you have to buy them through the mail if you want them. It’s a good idea to include some stamps with your order to cover postage.
David Lasky (Boom Boom): Issues of Boom Boom cost $2 each (there have been three so far, but #2 is sold out) and a copy of Ulysses costs $1. He also has some full-color Bloomsday postcards for 75 cents. Write to David Lasky,
Box 181, 4505 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105.
Elizabeth Watasin (The Adventures of A-Girl): There have been three issues of Adventures and one issue of A-Girl Etc., featuring reader-drawn cartoons of A-Girl. Send $1 per issue to Elizabeth Watasin,
137 S. San Fernando Blvd. #231, Burbank, CA 91502.
Outside In: A bunch of these have been published so far, so send $1 to Bruce Chrislip,
8057 13th NW, Seattle, WA 98117 for a sample issue. Five-issue subscriptions are $5. Bruce will also sell you a copy of Paper Tales for $3; it’s a full-size comic he self-published.
Colin Upton (various): If you send $25 to Colin, he’ll send you a complete set of the minicomics he’s done. If you don’t want to do that, just send a few dollars and ask nicely for an assortment of comics. Send your orders to: Colin Upton,
6424 Chester, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V5W 3C3.
Jeff Zenick (Modern Historicality): Send $3 to Jeff Zenick,
PO Box 877, Tallahassee, FL 32302 for a copy of Modern Historicality.
Raised By Wolves: There are four digest-sized Raised By Wolves comics for $1.50 each (except #4, which is $2.50) and nine True Tales Too Terrible to Tell minicomics for $1 each (except #6, which is $1.50). Order from No Joke Publications,
PO Box 50454, Austin, TX 78763-0454.
Tim Ereneta (Oatmeal): There should be five or six issues of Oatmeal available. Drop Tim a note and 50 cents (and some stamps) at
40 Moss Ave. Apt 204, Oakland, CA 94610-1301 and he’ll send you an issue. If you send more than 50 tents, he’ll send you more than one issue.
Andrew Ford (Rib): Seven issues of Rib should be available for 50 cents each. Drop a line to AmF Comics,
PO Box 168, Falconer, NY 14733-0168.