It seems that
everyone who dabbles in critical writing on comic books, is a
cartoonist of either the professional or amateur variety. At times
cartoonists will review books referred to them by people who have
reviewed their own books, the same books reviewed by the first
cartoonist, and so on. While this is not necessarily a good aspect
of comics due to the fact that it creates a very cliquish community,
I cannot deny that it applies to me. In January, I self published
the first issue of my mini-comic titled, "The Tenth frame".
When I say
self-published, I mean that I printed up an incredibly small print
run at Kinko's and proceeded to sell them through the mail. This
is standard practice when marketing and creating mini-comics.
My previous column "Mini-Comics and Personal Expression" included
an extensive definition of what a mini-comic is, but I'll provide
a brief summary here. The term mini-comic is misleading. Mini-comics
do not have to be of small proportions, but they usually are.
Mini-comics are usually the works of cartoonists starting out
in comics, or cartoonists who are fed up with trying to get their
work carried by major publishers. Because printing comics costs
a great amount of money, having small print runs is more economical.
Thus, the term mini-comics applies to most amateur, self-published
work. Usually mini-comics are created at home and photocopied
at the local copy store.
countless mini-comics being created in North America, perhaps
thousands, probably even hundreds of thousands. Notable creators
who got their start in mini-comics include Chester Brown (Yummy
Fur), and Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve). Many of the current up-and-comers
were mini-comic artists a short while ago: James Kochalka, Ron
Rege Jr., Brain Ralph, and Megan Kelso to name a few. There are
also those creators who love the aesthetics of the mini-comic,
and seem to have no intentions to move on, such as John Porcellino,
who has published 56 issues of his mini-comic King Cat (typically,
mini-comics rarely last past 15 issues. The artist either gives
up, or is picked up by a publisher). Perhaps to get a better idea
of what mini-comics are the readers of this column could compare
them to Zines. Zines are well-known, especially punk zines. An
analogy: Music Zines: Rolling Stone, then Mini-comics: Mainstream
So, I had
wanted to do a mini-comic for quite a while. I have great enthusiasm
for comics and have created my own comics for years. Of course,
at some point, you want others to be aware of your work, and to
me mini-comics seemed like the best way to do this. I'm presenting
how I went about doing this to *spark-online's readership so that
you can get a better understanding of how mini-comics work and,
if you want, make your own.
most important aspect is an obvious one: picking a subject. Most
amateur cartoonists pick autobiography as their starting off point
since the task of creating a fictional story is not a worry. Many
cartoonists do very well with this subject matter. I even used
it for the prototype of one of my mini-comics (it was my first
stab at this sort of thing and I printed up only 5 copies, which
I did not market it at all). However, to be honest, I believe
autobiography is better left to seasoned professionals. For the
artist themselves, it is a wonderful training ground, but if your
goal is to create something interesting for your readership (and
this should be your ultimate goal), autobiography can prove tricky.
Many cartoonists fall into the trap of taking mundane events and
having their sole appeal be that "This really happened!"
cartoonists like R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar work in autobiography
it is a fascinating genre (if you can call it that), which demonstrates
to me that autobiography is more complex than it seems, and perhaps
is not the best area for the amateur cartoonist. (As you read
this, keep in mind that I am the most amateurish of amateur cartoonists).
For my subject,
I chose to do a cartoon biography of Thelonious Monk, the famous
bebop pianist.I chose him as a subject because, first of all,
I love the music of Thelonious Monk, and it can be said that the
man himself is just as interesting, if not more so. Secondly,
doing a biography has the same advantages of autobiography: the
problem of writing fiction is eliminated. Lastly, writing about
Thelonious Monk provides the comic with appeal outside the world
of comics. Jazz fans might be interested in this, or music fans
piecing together of a mini-comic is what stops many people in
their tracks. It's important to accept early on that not everything
will be perfect. In fact (and maybe this only applies to me),
more things will go wrong than will go right. My biggest problem
is that I have no actual art training. Again, I rely on enthusiasm.
In my case, I'm using mini-comics in their traditional vein: as
a training ground. There are countless artists who use them for
complete artistic expression, John Porcellino being the best example.
Perhaps as I get better at this, I'll use it less as a training
ground, and more as art. I'd say it's about 50/50 now.
I worked in was very important. Since the comic was about jazz,
I played countless jazz records in the background as I worked,
specifically recordings by Monk himself. Giant's baseball, especially
on the radio, also proved to be good entertainment to listen to
while working. When I was most comfortable, hours could go by
and I wouldn't notice. When nothing was going right, time crawled
and its crawling was all I could think of.
a mini-comic results in a small format, does not mean that the
images have to be drawn small. It was impossible for me to draw
the detail I wanted to get across in the comic in tiny panels.
So, I drew the panels as large as I wanted (3 by 4), and when
the pages were completed, I brought them to the copy store and
reduced them. More on that later.
I drew the
images in pencil first, and then went over them in ink. I used
a rapidograph, an amazing tool, particularly good for cross-hatching
techniques (although one of the biggest criticisms I got was that
I cross hatched far too much). I felt ill at ease with the rapidograph
at first, but soon became more comfortable with it than regular
of the images and actual pasting up of the comic took a full Sunday.
I became so excited that the project was nearing completion, that
I pasted many panels crookedly, and paste flowed out from under
them. Twenty-four hours later, the staff of Kinkos would struggle
with the printing job, as pages stuck together. Readers of the
mini-comic will notice lines of dialogue on the final pages are
hard to read for that very reason.
The bus ride
to Kinko's after everything was pasted was filled with dreams
of glory, along with nightmares of ridicule. Every strength of
the comic was made monumental in my mind, while the faults received
when I picked up the copies I had ordered, it was hard to determine
what I thought. Seeing one's work produced in large numbers is
both nauseating and exhilarating. For me, it was more nauseating
than anything else. The fact that the printing job cost quite
a bit was also disheartening. I planned to charge $1.00 per copy,
but the actual printing cost $2.00. Obviously, I'm not in this
for the money (but what cartoonist is?).
It was at
this time that my "promotion" of the book began. I contacted various
local stores about carrying the book; one obliged. Otherwise,
I marketed the book on the Internet, on both comic themed sites
as well as jazz sites. In addition (and for those who plan to
make their own mini-comics, this next step is very important),
I sent free copies to various "review sites". There are many sites
on the Internet that review Zines and mini-comics, the only requirement
being that you send the writers a free copy. I myself have this
policy over at www.indyworld.com.
As of now, "The Tenth Frame" has received three generally positive
reviews (heavy on constructive criticism), all resulting in small
spurts of interest.
mailing of free copies, I began to wait. Fortunately, an order
came in the very first day, from Germany of all places. It was
a gigantic relief that at least one person wanted to buy the comic.
I honestly thought that might be the only order, but I was lucky
enough to sell the entire print run in about 5 months.
I received in response to the book were the most satisfying aspect
after the actual writing and drawing. Almost every order was by
a cartoonist (the cliquey aspect coming into play), and their
criticisms are basically shaping the look of the second issue.
When I sat
down to start the first issue of "The Tenth Frame", I had no idea
whether I would be able to complete it at all, much less have
any interest in doing a second issue. The fact that I got through
the process of completing the debut is only one hurdle in this
process, but I'd like to think it's a big one. Hopefully people
who read this, who have thought they couldn't pass that hurdle,
might not see it as so intimidating. It's actually kind of fun
getting over it.
© 2000 Austin English All Rights Reserved
was born in San Francisco where he continues to reside to this day.
His interviews with alternative cartoonists have appeared throughout
the Internet, most notably at www.indymagazine.com.
He also has a self-published mini-comic entitled The Tenth
Frame available for just $1.00. You can contact him at three1145@
aol.com, or P.O. Box 460584 San Francisco, CA 94146-0584.
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