Beneath the racks of Big Two superheroes and genre comics sits a thriving world of art and storytelling. Some call it independent comics, some call it small press, but in a interesting minicomic, Pat Barrett has some other words for it.
Created using the style and template of the fondly remembered 1978 classic How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema, Barrett delivers a comedic but seething look at the small-press industry. Debuting last month at the Small Press Expo, How to Make Comics the Whiner’s Way lampoons the plight of would-be comic artists in the realm of independent comics. Available for sale online at Birdcage Bottom Books, it’s a tongue-in-cheek “how to” that could also be read as a screed against a growing trend in comics.
“Do you like to gripe? Do you also like to draw? Then the world of small press comics is perfect for you!,” Barrett writes on the comic’s back cover. “The unheard-of Pat Barrett takes a stab at legitimacy by telling you how to accomplish what he hasn’t. Because those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, write a how-to book. Heed his words, learn some things, and most of all, Never Stop Whining!”
Here’s a sample of what’s inside the eight-page comic, which is available for $2.
RJ Casey is a comics writer who has plunged into small-press publishing with energy and ambition. He publishes his own comics, and those by several other creators, under the name Yeti Press, and knowing that he is a micropublisher, I was impressed to see him and his collaborators at both C2E2 and TCAF this year. He’s going to CAKE in a few weeks as well. Oh, and his comics were recently reviewed on a major comics blog.
Yeti Press is about to celebrate its second anniversary, and to celebrate, Casey is taking his work digital for the first time. Starting on Monday, he will make one comic at a time available as a downloadable PDF at a discount off the print price; after two weeks, he snatches that comic away and puts up another one. That one-at-a-time approach interested me, as did Casey’s life as a small-press creator, so I asked him to talk a bit about how he goes about his work, how it balances with his day job as a teacher, and why he chose this particular route for digital sales.
First of all, what is Yeti Press? Who runs it, why did you start it, and what do you do?
We like to consider ourselves a small publishing behemoth out of Chicago. We put out a variety of minicomics, graphic novels, and even distribute a few select books. On a day-to-day level, I generally run the operation with help from co-founder Eric Roesner. Eric and I created Yeti Press back in 2011 to have a unified name when we worked together on the first issue of our Pecos series. I’m fairly confident that neither of us knew all the steps in every which direction Yeti Press would take following that first comics. To make sure the comics keep rolling though, some of my responsibilities include editing, taking treks to the post office, working with printers, paying artists, and scheduling release dates, signings, and conventions. I also try to get some writing done in my free time.
Creators | Daniel Kalder looks at the state of French comics tradition following the death last month of Jean Giraud, the influential artist widely known as Moebius, and finds it’s in the capable hands of David B (“one of the most sophisticated cartoonists in the world”) and Nicolas de Crecy (“the ‘mad genius’ of French comics”). [The Guardian]
Creators | Tom Spurgeon talks to Michael Cho about what sounds like a really interesting project, his book Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes: “Because I don’t have an affinity for drawing a pastoral landscape. [laughs] You know what I mean? I’ve never lived in that environment, so I can’t draw that thing with confidence. When I close my eyes I don’t visualize that with any confidence. But a city is something I’m surrounded with constantly. With alleyways and lane ways and how light poles connect up to transformer towers which have extra leads leading down to the basement apartment. I can see that when I close my eyes, you know?” [The Comics Reporter]
As the end of 2011 approaches, websites and publications are unveiling various year-end lists and gift guides — so many that keeping up is a challenge. Here’s just some of what’s been released in the past few days:
• The Village Voice shares their list of the best comics and graphic novels of the year, a list that includes several collections of older material, Animal Man, Spaceman, Mister Wonderful and more.
• Comic creators Jim Woodring and Anders Nilsen, along with Thor star Chris Hemsworth, landed in the bottom quarter of Pop Candy’s annual 100 People of the Year list. The rest of the list will roll out all this week.
• The top ten comics list by Joe Gross of the Austin-American Statesman includes Criminal, Journey Into Mystery, Finder and Hark! A Vagrant, and is topped by Love & Rockets: New Stories #4.
• John Lucas at The Straight lists his favorite graphic novels of 2011, including The Cardboard Valise by Ben Katchor, Paying For It by Chester Brown and Habibi by Craig Thompson.
Founded by Marc Arsenault and altcomix lifers Tom Hart and Sam Henderson back in 1988, the publisher/record label/mail-order business/what-have-you known as Wow Cool was a mainstay of the 1990s zine scene and has operated on and off in the venn-diagram overlap of comics, zines, and indie music ever since. But now it’s back in a big way, thanks to a spiffy redesigned web store that Arsenault recently launched. The Wow Cool website boasts some of the best books in the alternative and underground comics world, and a lot more besides. From back issues of legendary anthologies like Zap, Weirdo, and Arcade to newer comics by Michael DeForge, Lisa Hanawalt, and Kevin Huizenga, from punk rags like Cometbus and Maximum RockNRoll to comics mags like The Comics Journal and Comic Book Artist, from books to records to beyond, it’s a well-curated collection of comics and cultural ephemera. Heck, even superhero readers scarred by the loss of precious continuity in DC’s New 52 ought to have fun with Arsenault’s “Oh No!!! Retconned Again!!!” t-shirt, available for the insane price of $6.99. The Wow Cool blog is a great read, too — witness this recent post on the artists of Adventure Time. Go ye and browse.
While the rest of the world is going digital, Box Brown is heading in the other direction: Last month he launched Retrofit Comics with plans to publish 17 print comics by new and independent creators in the next 17 months. He got the seed money for Retrofit with a Kickstarter drive, and the launch comic was James Kochalka’s Fungus. All the books are by different artists, and most are one-shots, although Brown said he is open to creators incorporating their Retrofit comics into their ongoing series. This month’s release is Drag Bandits, by Colleen Frakes and Betsy Swardlick, which Brown describes as “kind of like The Scarlet Pimpernel, a woman dressed as a man and a man dressed as a woman, and it’s really exciting.” Comics by Pat Aulisio and Josh Bayer round out this year’s offerings, and plans for the future include an anthology in the spirit of the Japanese underground-manga magazine Garo, a project that Brown says was the brainchild of Ian Harker, editor of the free alt-comic newspaper Secret Prison. The comics are sold both in selected retail stores and by subscription, and Brown estimates he has 150 subscribers to the four-month package and a handful with six-month or twelve-month subscriptions.
While he is handling all this, Brown, who recently won two Ignatz Awards, continues to self-publish his own work, and Blank Slate will publish his graphic novel The Survivalist in December. We talked to him this past weekend about the genesis of Retrofit Comics and what it’s like to run a really, really small press.
SPX, or the Small Press Expo, returns to the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Bethesda, Md. this weekend.
The show’s special guests include Roz Chast, Jim Woodring, Diane Noomin, Jim Rugg, Ann Telnaes, Chester Brown, Johnny Ryan, Craig Thompson and Matthew Thurber, and fans who attend will also have the opportunity to meet and/or hear from Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, Jessica Abel, Sarah Glidden, Alex Robinson, Brian Ralph, Mike Dawson, Meredith Gran, Roger Langridge and Julia Wertz, just to name a few. I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that our own Chris Mautner will be attending and conducting a Q&A with Johnny Ryan on Saturday, so be sure to tell him hi for us.
Russ Kazmierczak will head west from the Arizona desert to the much cooler San Diego area this weekend in support of his new comic, Amazing Arizona Comics #4, which feature stories about current events and politics in Arizona.
“Amazing Arizona Comics #4 is a flipbook, and in the lead story, a jealous Lou Ferrigno (recently deputized by Sheriff Joe Arpaio) tried to trump fellow celebrity law enforcer Steven Seagal by busting crooks on the Mexican border, and a local superhero, Dust Devil, tries to control the chaos,” Kazmierczak told Robot 6. The comics will recent featured by the local ABC and Fox news affiliates in Phoenix.
Find Amazing Arizona Comics at the small press K.O. Comix table.
The massive Comic-Con International runs July 21-24 in San Diego, but it’s never too early to start planning your shopping list. So we’ll be running a list of potential “wishlist” items you may want to check out at the show.
If you are a comics creator or publisher, and you’re planning to bring something new to the con — a sketchbook, a print, a graphic novel debut, etc. — then we want to hear from you. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know if you’ll have something cool on hand that attendees should know about. Feel free to send any artwork as well.
Aspen Comics sends word of two variant covers they’ll have at the show, for Executive Assistant Iris and Charismagic
I was exchanging e-mails with Sean O’Reilly, the founder and CEO of Arcana Studio, just before Borders filed for bankruptcy, so when the other shoe dropped, I asked him to talk a bit about how it affects his business. Arcana is a small publisher, and I assumed the bankruptcy would have a big effect on them. What interests me about his response is the importance of the middleman, Diamond Book Distributors, in this case.
As always, I also wanted to talk about the different ways the company gets its books out to readers, and the relative importance of the different channels. Having spent the weekend at C2E2 talking about these different factors, I was interested to hear how they directly affect a single publisher.
Brigid: How much of your revenue comes from each channel—comics shops, bookstores, online sales, digital?
Sean: While digital is an ever-growing market to keep an eye on, that part of the industry is still in its growth phase. The majority of Arcana’s current sales come from bookstores and online – still primarily through Diamond Comics and Diamond Books, Amazon, eBay and of course you can find our product in local comic shops as well. That said, we’ve made a significant turn away from the ‘floppy’ comic market and are concentrating on the graphic novel market. Digital is the next step and we’re working with Comixology, Wowio, Graphic.ly and others.
I vaguely remember reading about Armageddonquest back in the 1990s when it was published by Sirius Comics. The 900-page graphic novel by creator Ron Roach chronicles the life of the Anti-Christ from birth to Armageddon. “And in this story, the Anti-Christ is the good guy.” The book has received accolades from Scott McCloud and Warren Ellis, among others.
“AQ saw its first few chapters published by Starhead Comix in the 1980′s before the whole story was spotted, snatched up, and published in three 300-page volumes by Sirius Comics between 1996-1998,” Roach said in a press release. “Unfortunately, this was smack in the middle of the comic industry’s implosion during the mid-to-late 90′s. Armageddonquest was largely overlooked, and has since faded into obscurity. Tragic, I know. Now I’m hoping to achieve something I’ve always wanted to do: put the whole thing into a single giant-sized volume.”
Roach has teamed up with literary agency Killing the Grizzly and is using Kickstarter to bring the graphic novel back into print. If funding is successful, the new volume will feature a cover by Thomas Scioli and Bill Crabtree of Godland fame; design by Ronnie Casson, who did Viz’s Cat-Eye Boy volumes; and printing by Malloy, who did Bone: The One Volume Edition.
“If we can raise a minimum of $8500 we can reprint the first 1/3rd of AQ in this new edition, make it a ‘Volume 1 (of 3)’ kind of thing,” Roach said. “But if we can achieve the wild goal of raising $17,000 we can fit the whole 900-page monstrosity, plus bonus material, into a single ‘One Volume Edition’ a la BONE – the way it was always meant to be read. Either way, my hat’s off to anyone who helps us achieve even a stepping stone toward putting these comix back into readers’ hands, whatever the page count.”
Roach is offering various incentives to his Kickstarter supporters, from digital copies of the book all the way up to getting yourself drawn into a story. Head over there to see additional art and get more details on the project.
The Small Press Expo, or SPX, has announced programming for their show on Saturday, Sept. 11-12 at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center in Bethesda, Md.
You can find the complete schedule after the jump, but I wanted to point out two panels that feature our own Chris Mautner:
Spotlight: James Sturm
1:30 | White Flint Amphitheater
James Sturm is the author of several comics and graphic novels including The Golem’s Mighty Swing, Unstable Molecules, James Sturm’s America, and Market Day. He is also the founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, a unique two-year degree granting institution dedicated to cartooning. In this spotlight presentation, Sturm will discuss his work and answer questions from moderator Chris Mautner.
Critics’ Panel: How We Judge
3:00 | Brookside Conference Room
The accessibility of online publishing alongside traditional media has enabled a diversity of critical voices who are addressing the broad spectrum of comics being published today. A diverse group of critics will discuss the disparate bases for their own critical opinions, and the extent to which they regard different kinds of work in different ways. Join moderator Bill Kartalopoulos for a discussion with Johanna Draper Carlson (Comics Worth Reading), Gary Groth (The Comics Journal), Tim Hodler (Comics Comics), Chris Mautner (Robot 6), Joe McCulloch (Jog the Blog/Comics Comics), Ken Parille (Blog Flume), and Caroline Small (The Hooded Utilitarian).
“I can’t BELIEVE MoCCA’s table prices. They are drinking the same hubris Kool-Aid as SPX. Why are the charity shows always the cheekiest? I saw it and I was like *slaps head*. Although to be fair, I’ve never exhibited there, just been a crowded hot attendee. (I read some interviews with them after the super hot year, they were all like ‘hey listen, it’s summer, it gets hot.’) Not to mention how expensive NYC is in general! Just makes it easier to skip. Also today I got my acceptance letter (???) for APE, after applying 3 months ago. Due date for payment: 1 week from now. I had always heard about how well-run HeroesCon is from guests, but now I see why. Indie shows are organized like block parties. Except the kind of block parties where they charge you like $50 to come in, then charge you for beer too. ‘Dude it’s for charity!’ SPX is pretty fun, but TCAF is the best one easily–plus Toronto = my favorite city! Wait, please exclude TCAF from that mini-rant. TCAF is a dream, a dreammmm. Other shows take note! Okay back to lettering, sorry.”
—Cartoonist, Casanova letterer, and “nicest guy in comics” candidate Dustin Harbin has an uncharacteristically grumpy moment on Twitter over the prices that the MoCCA Art Festival is charging exhibitors, and the administration of indie/alt-comics shows generally (except TCAF, of course). It’s hard out there for a minicomics creator.
* Organized by Desert Island‘s Gabe Fowler and PictureBox‘s Dan Nadel, the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival made its debut on Saturday, and I’m awfully glad I was able to make it. (I didn’t think I’d be able to, but my wife and mother-in-law gave me a reprieve from going to see New Moon for the third time. Hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!) I live on Long Island, so having an artcomix convention on my very own land mass is a cause for celebration. And provided you’re willing to brave a dreadful mile or so on the BQE and the Kosciuszko Bridge, it’s not even that much of a hassle to get there — parking in Brooklyn is a snap.
* Less easy was dealing with the weather, which was awful. Freezing rain and, eventually, snow. I figured this would do a real number on attendance levels …
I probably spent more at the Alternative Press Expo this year than I have in previous years. It’s probably my favorite show of the ones I’ve been hitting regularly since moving to California a few years back, if only because at just about every single table in the place you have the opportunity to discover a comic you’ve never seen before. Although living in the Bay Area I have access to shops that not only carry independent stuff, but in some cases also have minicomics, it’s nice to have a venue like this where you can find such a wide range of books and talk to the creators directly.
So here’s what I came home with …