What’s a Minicomic?
So, just what is a minicomic? That’s hard to say, but here’s the definition I use:
A minicomic is a handmade and self-published comic.
Hopefully, that’s enough to satisfy you. If not, read on.
Size (Alone) Doesn’t Matter, But Format Does
The minicomics movement began in the late ’70s and was spearheaded by a photo-journalist turned publisher named Clay Geerdes. The minicomics he published were small and uniform in size. With the use of a photocopy machine (a relatively new technology at the time) double-sided 8.5″ x 11″ photocopies were cut in half and folded to create quarter-size pages. Thus, “mini-comix” were born.
The 2005 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Minicomic went to Alec Longstreth for his Phase 7. In 2005 Phase 7 was a tabloid digest (with a page size of 8.5″ x 11″) making it larger than the standard comic.
I believe it’s not size that matters so much as the overall format of the book in question. In his book Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature, Charles Hatfield argues that underground comix are defined not only by the content of their pages, but the format of their books. Underground cartoonists subverted commercial newsstand comics (and in turn, authority in general) by mimicking them. Underground comix look like “real” comics in terms of size, page count and cover design because their authors were trying to parody an established format.
When mini-comix emerged (hot on the heels of underground comix), they weren’t trying to look like “real” comics. The looked like fanzines, and were more relevant to that culture. These distinctions matter, and it’s one of the reasons underground comix aren’t minicomics. On a similar note, I don’t consider Fuff by Jefrey Lewis to be a minicomic, even though it’s self-published. In terms of its design and the size of its print run, Fuff has more in common with a “real” comic book–though its closest cousin would probably be an indie comic of the black and white boom.
At a minimum, nearly any definition of minicomics requires that the work be self-published, but what exactly does that mean? The easiest answer is: something published by oneself. The publisher and creator are one. While most minicomics fit this description, I think a minicomic can be published by a third party. I think that it is most important that the publisher is “a self” (that is, an individual and not an institution) rather than “the self” (the creator of the comic). I publish (by myself) comics created by others, and I call them minicomics. And because I work in close partnership with my creators, I consider my minicomics to be collaborative works. So, in that way, I am a partner of “the self,” a partial creator of the comic.
I think we can agree that the work must be self-published, but there is less consensus that the work be handmade. I must admit, this term is a bit misleading–can something manufactured by machines truly be handmade? I use the term loosely here, but if an individual’s hands (especially those of the self-publisher) are somehow involved in the physical production, this meets my needs.
I believe a minicomics publisher must be somewhat involved in the production of their book. Perhaps they only fold and staple, perhaps they lovingingly screenprint each page. Perhaps it’s enough to send a PDF to a printshop with explicit instructions (in that case, it is handmade by proxy). But I personally feel that the handmade quality of minicomics is part of what makes them unique, and it’s a quality that attracts me to the form.
The Maisie Kukoc Award for Comics Inspiration agrees on this point. From their website:
“The Maisie Kukoc Award for Comics Inspiration rewards a self-publisher of small-press, hand-made comics (sometimes called “mini-comics”), on the basis of merit and financial need.”
I am willing to disagree to disagree on the “handmade” argument, and respect other people’s definitions on this point.