CCS Summer Workshops

I’ve been a busy bee (and a bad blogger!)  Last week I was up in Vermont teaching part of their Cartooning Studio Workshop. The summer workshops were always the highlight of my year at CCS. I structured most of the summer programming we use–it was my first really involved curriculum building assignment. It’s bitter-sweet to hand the torch to Jon Chad, and to watch him wield it so expertly. But I have no regrets. New York City is where I MUST be, without a doubt.

One of my favorite subjects to lecture on as the summer workshops is book design for comic self publisher. Jon Chad and I have a few philosophies about book design, and we’re trying to turn our students into true believers. I blogged the following mini lesson at Lerner and CCS, I hope you won’t mind me recycling it again.

Design is Content

Most cartoonists consider their comic pages to be the content of their book, while book design is just the wrapping paper they slap on at the end. I believe design is content. Book design affects how a reader experiences the story. Before your reader ever sets eyes on a panel, they interact with the book as an object. If cartoonists make thoughtful and appropriate design choices, they can use book design as a narrative device.

My go-to example of appropriate book design is Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth, a self published comic that was created by Jon Chad when he was a summer workshop intern. Our protagonist, Le Geo, burrows deep into the earth for educational adventures. Because the book is about digging down, Jon Chad made a clever design choice. His book reads vertically, top to bottom like a calendar, rather than left to right. It’s the perfect design for this book, and it significantly contributes to the reading experience.

These photos show the first printing of the comic, as a self-published booklet with a screen printed cover. Next March the book will emerge as a hard cover graphic novel from Roaring Brook Press, a “real” book! It’s a true self publishing success story. And a big part of that success is due to book design.

I find it helpful to break down book design into six categories. Consider each one, and make appropriate choices:

Paper (Cover and Interior Stock)

What color, texture, or weight should your paper be?

Book Size

Letter, legal, and tabloid are the standard paper sizes that can be photocopied. You can trim these to a non-standard size after printing.

Book Shape

Why have a rectangular book? Die cut or hand trimmed for a custom shape.


Most minicomics are photocopied or printed on a laser printer, usually in black and white. Consider using these other printing techniques: screen printing, Gocco, linoleum block, spray paint stencils, stickers, or stamps.


Saddle stitch (a staple down the center of the spine) is standard. Consider using needle and thread, a sewing machine, or a rubber band.


Slip cases, bags, and belly band are popular finishing touches.

Keep these in mind the next time you publish, and remember: design is content!

Announcement, Announcement, Announcements!

Last weekend I took a trip up to Providence, Rhode Island to do some secret work on a secret Paper Rocket project.  I started writing this post from the top level of a double-decker Megabus, heading back to New York (the bus had wifi, amazingly, and a broken restroom, unfortunately). I made it home safely and I’m ready to unveil my project.

As you know, Paper Rocket is a minicomics publishing house.  In addition to publishing new material, I plan to start a Classix line which would republish comic gems long out of print.  My main focus will be on the minicomics of the early to mid 90s, a period which I consider to be the golden age of zines.  There was a strong self-publishing movement, fostered and made visible by Fact Sheet 5.  A really remarkable community of self-publisher created, sold, and traded thousands of zines.

One of my favorite minicomics from this era is Deep Girl by Ariel Bordeaux.  Ariel’s stories are unflinchingly autobiographical and packed with energy and humor.  Deep Girl‘s approach to subjects like body image, self-esteem, and sex offered a form of feminism that I found genuine and relevant. Deep Girl was deep–Ariel wrote about her life, but she also wrote about her thoughts.  “Why Do You Put Yourself Down So Much” read like an essays on how Ariel’s brain processes feelings of competitiveness and inadequacy.

When it came time to pick a debut title for the Classix line, Deep Girl was my first choice.  Luckily, Ariel has obliged.  We are planning a single volume of about 80 pages, which will collect most of the work she created from 1993-1995.  It will be a thick minicomic, not a graphic novel (Paper Rocket doesn’t do graphic novels).  The book will include an interview, photographs, ephemera, and an essay by yours truly.  It is my goal to create an archive piece that presents the work and its historical relevance.

Last weekend I spent several hours at the Atlergot/Bordeaux household, scanning Ariel’s original art.  Ariel also dug up some of here mail correspondence, which turned out to be a huge pile of handwritten letters, drawings, and postcards.  This only represented a small portion of the mail Ariel received (after 15 years, she’s only kept the good stuff).

I also got a peek at some old photos.


Last weekend was the first step toward publishing the Deep Girl collection.  I want to give a big thanks to Ariel, Rick Altergot, Travis Doggett, Kelli Nelson, Chuck Forsman and Melissa Mendes.  My buddies fed me and put me up while I was visiting lovely Providence.

Keep an eye on this blog for more news on the Deep Girl project!







This Isn’t Working on Exhibtion

In my manifesto, I state “While monicomics may find their way to a gallery wall, this is not their first home.”

There’s nothing wrong with exhibiting minicomics.  I was very pleased to see some Paper Rad minis in the Cartoon Polymaths show this spring.

What we need to understand is that when minicomics are in galleries, they’re usually there by some fluke–a fluke that will probably soon be corrected.  So we should lap up the attention while we can.

So I’m lapping up some attention.  This Isn’t Working is in a juried gallery show at Chicago’s Woman Made.

The show is called Seriously Funny, and it opens today.

Seriously Funny includes a wide range of comics, from commercial 1-panel gags

to (what looks to be) outsider art.

This Isn’t Working is the first comic I’ve published with an all-women cast, and it kind of happened by accident.  I didn’t set out to create a women only project.  But I did want to collect stories about a shared theme: women and their ex-boyfriends.  I’m thinking of doing two more volumes, This Isn’t Working: Comics About Ex-Girlfriends and maybe This Isn’t Working: The Queer Issue.  What do you think?

Sniffin’ Glue at Forever 21

Minicomics are pretty much my favorite thing in the world.  I’m an aspiring, though somewhat lazy, historian on the subject.  And there isn’t a lot of history written on the subject.  Luckily, there are a couple dozen books about zines (I try to read all the good ones).  Minicomics and zines have a shared heritage.  I like to think of them as cousins, related but different.

That’s why I’m familiar with the zine Sniffin’ Glue, even though I’m not a punk rocker and I wasn’t alive in 1976.   And that’s why a mannequin wearing this shirt caught my eye while I walking  though one of New York’s busiest shopping district.

Why was Forever 21 selling a Sniffin’ Glue shirt?  Are zines cool again?  So cool you’d wear them like a band t-shirt?


For those who aren’t familiar with Sniffin’ Glue (and I’m guessing most shoppers at Forever 21 fit this category) it was influential but short-lived punk zine (published from 1976-1977). It was launched right on the heels of Punk, another definitive publication of the era. In 1976, punk rock was brand new. These publications helped define punk and gave it a wider audience. Zines were a very relevant form of communication during these years (you couldn’t find punk rock on TV, and there was no internet).I like to say there’s no such thing as a famous zine, but Sniffin’ Glue might be an exception. It’s publisher, Mark Perry, initially put out print run of 50, but that soon grew to 15,000.

Perhaps the most important thing Sniffin’ Glue did was help instill the DIY attitude in the punk culture. For some, that is punk’s one, true defining characteristic. Mark Perry encouraged his readers to rip up his zines, and also to make their own.

I’m curious to what type of audience would buy a Sniffin’ Glue shirt. I figure there are three categories:

Old punk rockers who read zines in the 70s.
Aspiring zine historians (that’s me!)
People who just think it looks cool.

I guess the real question is, should I buy the shirt?  I think I’ll buy this instead:

I love it when lost zines are reborn as books!  I wish the cover had kept the aesthetic of the zine, the way Aaron Cometbus’ books do.  Still, I’ll have to check this book out.