Thursday, February 14, 2019

In Defense Of the Mini Comic

Note:  This focuses on the use of the minicomic as a teaching exercise

If you want to read MY minis, you can purchase individual comics through Gumroad, or get access to all minis available by joining the Artnerd community over at Patreon.

The Problem: Art educators often assign an 8 page mini as an introduction to comic craft. Some artists, particularly webcomic artists, feel this is insulting, as it assumes the students are not capable of more.

Spread from my Lil Louisiana Cookbook pitch- which includes a 10 page minicomic


My Background:

Comics: 100+ page watercolor comic. Shorts in 10 anthologies. Began making comics at 13- stand alone single page, 4koma, strips, silent, minis, longform. Frequently table at 7-13 cons per year, from indie comics to anime. Always have minis for sale on the table.

Education:
My Education: MFA in Sequential Art from SCAD.
As an Educator: Have taught comics online for 10 years through this blog and Youtube. Have taught workshops on comics across the US, have taught classes at an elementary school (East Broad), a middle school (through Comics in the Curriculum), an arts magnet school (Esther F Garrison), a highschool (Hahnville High School), and at the university level (SCAD). Currently teaching Making Comics through Nashville Community Ed.

Why do I care? This attitude, without understanding the rational of the assignment, is toxic and can poison other, impressionable artists. Short comics are a great way for artists of all experiences to experiment with a new format, pitch to a publisher, play around with new characters, or begin their comic journey. The mini is an invaluable tool in the artists' toolkit, and to denigrate it as insulting completely misses its importance.

Spoiler Alert: A minicomic can be the first chapter of your longform comic, so long as it works as a self contained story.



Pages from Cicada Summer's Pickin' n Peeling minicomic. This was part of a pitch to Graphix.

I've always had a handful of long stories that I've worked on steadily thru the years. I began making comics at 13, with a gag a day comic that meandered around for two years (Naki and Akira). After that? Another gag a day that meandered for one year (The Truth About Gaming). And then? A daily 2 strip 4 koma that continued for three years . After that? A 200 page attempt at a shoujo manga, drawn in pencil and ballpoint pen (Let's Make a Deal). After that? 20 pages of what would've been a longform comic that collapsed under its own weight (Ready Set Go).

When that died, I felt a bit lost. Fortunately, I was in the middle of my MFA, and my professors had plenty of short assignments to keep me busy. Strips, silent comics, 8 page shorts inspired by a trip to Japan, 3 page anthology pitches- a wide variety of topics, art styles, and lengths. Planning and executing these short stories gave me license to experiment and learn new comic tricks. Comic improvement comes from experience-actually making comics, and short comics allow you to play with a variety of storytelling techniques and formats without a huge commitment.

Now I'm consistently working on 7" Kara, my longform watercolor comic. I've worked on Kara for about eight years now, and during that time, I've created about a dozen mini comics- many for anthologies, a few as pitches, and some as standalone projects that tied in with my students' work. These minis have provided an opportunity to stretch my wings, explore other stories, and pitch to editors- something that might not be feasible if I were tied to just one longform comic. Having the opportunity to work on other projects not only keeps my work on Kara fresh and interesting, but gives me a place to experiment without negatively affecting 7" Kara's style or pace.

How to Meet a Martian- A Single Page Minicomic created for a Nashville Public Library workshop


Over the years, I've pitched almost a dozen mini comics to anthologies. When I pitch to editors, it's generally with a 10 page sample, a standalone mini that hopefully showcases the idea. When I'm creating a comic along with my class, it's usually a mini comic. When I sell at cons, I have a spinner rack full of mini comics and zines that customers love to flip through. Even Hourly Comic Day is all about creating a mini. The mini comic is a pillar in my comic creation process. In this instance, the mini is a useful pitch tool that allows me to feel out interest without investing too much effort.

When I teach, most of my students are either children or adults who haven't drawn a comic since they were kids. My students are generally a bit nervous about the idea of tackling a comic- many even claim that they can't draw stick figures. It's my job to inspire my students, to show them that this is something that can be accomplished, so I encourage my students to start small. I don't care if it's a standalone story or a small snapshot from a longform epic- I just want those eight pages of comic art. And why eight pages? Because the smallest number of pages you can draw that will compile into a satisfying little printed book- it's approachable and feasible to artists who are finding their bearing. In this instance, the mini builds confidence for artists who are anxious.


Select pages from Pretty Paladin Critical Missy, a 4 page minicomic created for the Chainmail Bikini Anthology

An eight page mini is pretty ideal for new-to-comics artists. It's easier for them to accomplish, easier for them to plan, conceivable for fledgling artists to draw. Small bites, stepping into the baby pool. A long form is a 6' sandwich, a dive into the deep end. Depending on what you need, either can be great, but just as you wouldn't deny an infant baby food, or a newly minted swimmer their water wings, don't deny artists their minicomics.

Some people know what they want, have a clear visualization, strong art skills, uninterrupted time to work. Some people just want to make a coherent comic, 8 solid pages that work, and haven't made a sequential art story since they were 5. Some people are trudging through their epic comic, are completely burnt out, and just want to draw a fun 4koma to remind them of what they love about the comic format. Some people just want a low key hobby that isn't all consuming. Every artist has unique needs, and needs often change over time.

Comic spread from Knight School, a six page mini comic for 1001 Knights Volume 3- Wisdom

If that idea is insulting, that's just too bad. My goal isn't to insult established artists, my goal is to motivate those who are taking their first steps. You can always do your longform baby, no one is stopping you. Advice comes from a personal place based on real life experiences- if it's not suitable for your needs, just shrug it off.
I'll continue to tell students and those who seek my advice to start with 8 pages, because once you can prove to yourself that you can do 8 pages, you can imagine doing more. You can keep going, because now you have a tangible record of success.

2017 SCBWI Illustrator's Contest Entry- I opted to draw it as a self contained comic spread
Wanna take a chunk from your longform script and make an 8 page mini to get to know the characters? Awesome, beautiful, please do. Want to make goofy 4koma side comics? Yes, please! I just want you to make comics, and respect others who make comics.

So yeah, new to comics? Make some minis, eat that elephant bite by bite. Maybe those minis will snowball into a serial, maybe you'll realize that story isn't the one you wanna work on, maybe you'll realize that method of making art is too time consuming. Maybe you'll fall head over heels in love with it, maybe an editor will read it and fall in love with your work and hire you. Minis are great because they offer possibility without signing us up for six years of work.

Whether minis are a good fit for you, I want you to find the path that works for you, that YOU enjoy, and work with that. You know yourself best, and advice given through places like Twitter is general at best, but often given from experience and a desire to help, not disrespect.




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