Monday, May 2, 2011

The Third Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Peruse Small Press

Some parts of a convention floor are as unexplored by con veterans as they are by newcomers, and that's really a shame. At large conventions, fans flock to meet their favorite creators, and the crowds around the A-list writers and artists in the major publishers' booths or in Artists' Alley can become huge. When you find yourself overwhelmed by the masses, there's one place you can seek solace and discover some great comics at the same time. Off to the side or in the back of the convention floor, tucked away in its own little world, you'll see the Small-Press Area.

While usually sparsely populated, the Small-Press Area offers the opportunity to discover creators, characters, and books that you likely won't find anywhere else (outside of a convention devoted solely to the small press, such as the MOCCA Festival, APE, or SPX). Here you'll see comics fueled by passion, with characters and concepts the creators have developed on their own time, and about which they care deeply. Best of all, for those who don't appreciate superheroes, the work you will find in the Small-Press Area of a convention will include stories in almost any genre or on any topic you can imagine. You name it, someone has probably done a comic about it, and many of those comics can only be found here.

In the Small Press Area, you also have the chance to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing. Several properties that started out as books from small press companies, if not in the Small Press Areas of conventions, have achieved significant mainstream success. Dave Stevens' Rocketeer, made into a film in 1991 and just now coming back into popularity with a new anthology series from IDW, was originally published by a small company named Pacific Comics. The Tick, which has gone on to star in dozens of comics, a Saturday morning cartoon series, and a live-action series, started as a mascot in the newsletter of a comic shop, New England Comics. Jeff Smith's Bone and Dave Sim's Cerebus, both hugely successful, were, for the most part, self-published. Perhaps the best known success story from small press would be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird self-published the first issue of TMNT, reportedly with money from a tax return and a loan from a relative. From these humble beginnings, small press creations can turn into some of the most beloved characters in entertainment, and you can say you knew them when…

As an added bonus, many of a convention's best bargains can be found in the Small-Press Area in the guise of mini-comics. Mini-comics, often made at the size of a standard piece of paper folded in half, and usually printed either at Kinko's or at the office on the sly (that's where I did mine…shhh!), offer the reader a chance to sample an artist's work, usually for a much lower price than a normal comic issue. Forget paying $3.99 for a comic! I'll take a mini-comic for $1 or $2 any day, and learn about an amazing new talent. Of course there are exceptions to this rule; some creators have to charge a little more to cover Kinko's or ink cartridge costs, some choose to deck out their mini-comics with more expensive cover stock or paper, giving them a unique look and feel. (The work of Ryan Claytor comes to mind in that regard.) Nevertheless, at any price, minis are a great way to see a new creator as they develop their skills and try their hands at storytelling.

In the interest of full disclosure, my blog about Small Press would be incomplete without mentioning the work of Steve Bryant (Athena Voltaire, Cipher), Jim Heffron (Territory 51, Anna Arky, The Further Adventures of D.B. Cooper, It Tolls for Thee), and Michael Heffron (Aunomati). In recent years I have worked on some of their books, and have spent time behind the table with them in the Small Press Area in San Diego. Seeing the effort that they--and everyone in the Small Press Area--put into making and selling their comics, all in the name of getting their stories told, makes me have an even greater respect for the creative process, and that's something in which you might want to share.

So when you're in line to meet Brian Michael Bendis, Grant Morrison, Stuart Immonen, or Jim Lee, remember that they and many other well-known comic creators got their start on small press books. Head on over to the Small Press Area, and discover tomorrow's A-list creators for yourself.

This is the third of The Ten Comic-Conmandments series. Check back here or follow me on Twitter to read future entries.

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