Treasury of Mini Comics volume 2

By many and various, edited by Michael Dowers (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-807-6

The act of stringing pictures and/or words together is something almost everybody has done at some stage of their lives. It’s a key step in the cognitive path of children and, for an increasing number of us, that compulsive, absorbing euphoria never goes away.

Whilst many millions acquiesce to the crushing weight of a world which stifles the liberation of creativity, turning a preponderance of makers into consumers, a privileged, determined few carry on: drawing, exploring, and in some cases, with technology’s help, producing and sharing.

Michael Dowers, the force behind not only this compilation but also Brownfieldpress and Starhead Comix, adores the concept of crafting and disseminating mini comics and his books Newave!- The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980 and volume one of this series described and reproduced hundreds of examples: spotlighting with enticing, encouraging exuberance those incurably driven artisans who came out of the “anything goes” 1960s and 1970s Underground Commix movement still craving a vehicle of expressly personal expression.

Such creators aren’t really in it for the money – although a few have moved on to find a modicum of mainstream comics fame, at least – and, in an era before computers, they found time to write, draw and compile artwork (small press people are notoriously generous, contributing to projects at the drop of a hat) before laboriously photocopying, cutting, folding, stapling and then distributing the miniscule marvellous results.

Just by way of definition: most mini comics were and still are home-produced pamphlets using borrowed – or when necessary paid for – print processes. The most popular format was an 8½ x 11inch sheet, folded twice, and printed at local copy-shops (or clandestinely churned out on school/work repro systems like early Xerox, Photostat, Mimeo or Spirit Banda machines) on any paper one could lay hands on.

Because they weren’t big, they were called “mini commix”. Inspired, no?

Thanks to a seemingly inexhaustible modern appetite for such uniquely individualistic endeavours here’s a superb sequel tome – one more massive paper brick of fun (848 monochrome and colour pages, 178 x 127mm) – compiling and sharing many of the very best mini masterpieces from the 1970s to right here, right now…

Many key figures in the proliferation of this uniquely eloquent people’s medium are included here, not only through examples of their groundbreaking work, but also through statements, interviews and fond reminiscences.

If human beings have access to any kind of reproductive technology they seemingly cannot resist making copies of their own private parts or creating their own comics, and here content comes from all over the North American continent – and even beyond – covering everything from superhero spoofs, monster-mashes, robot rampages, animal antics, autobiography, recreational drugs, religious, spiritual and philosophical diatribes and polemics, surreal experimental design and just plain fun stories, chatter and gags: all as sexually explicit, violent, strident or personally intimate as their creators wanted them to be…

As usual I’ll deliver here my standard warning for the easily offended: this book contains comic strips never intended for children. If you are liable to be offended by raucous adult, political and drug humour, or illustrated scenes of explicit sex or unbelievable comedy violence, don’t buy this book and stop reading this review. You won’t enjoy any of it and might be compelled to cause a fuss.

I’ll probably cover something far more wholesome tomorrow so please come back then.

It all starts with Michael Dowers’ introduction wherein he brings the history of the sub-medium up to date and posits a connection with the legendarily scandalous “Gentlemen’s under-the-counter” publications known as Tijuana Bibles which livened up life for our forebears in the early part of the 20th century with explicit and illegal cartoon cavortings featuring famous stars of screen and newspaper strips.

That proposition is upheld and further explored following ‘The Hundred Year Old New Waver in “Damn Punks Got it Easy Today”’: a hilarious graphic diatribe (dis)courtesy of Brad W. Foster from Time Warp #3 (2007) after which a genuine, authentic and anonymous Tijuana Bible inclusion offers erotic relief to ‘The Van Swaggers’.

Then follows a batch of modern tributes and reinterpretations beginning with masked wrestler/guitarist The Crippler by Fiona Smyth (2007) and the astoundingly disturbing, politically punishing ‘Obliging Lady’ from Ethan Persoff & Scott Marshall’s The Adventures of Fuller Bush Man & John McCain (2009)…

A splendid faux pastiche of the original pamphlets, Hairy Crotch & Rim Johnson in ‘The Interview’ is an anonymous entry from 1995, whilst Lilli Loge abandons the form but ramps up the spirit for the tale of a girl and her slave in ‘A Blessing in Disguise’ from Ben & Jenny from 2009.

That same year clean-cut Euro icon Lucky Luke got homo-erotically spoofed as ‘Hunky Luke in Calamity Jack’ by Anna Bas Backer after which Antoine Duthoit (2013) plunders Jim Woodring’s style and character cast for the outrageous Spank.

From 1972 Trina Robbins delivers classic pastiche ‘Sally Starr Hollywood Gal Sleuth’ solving a “Minit Mystery” whilst Bob Conway offers classic cartoon capers ‘Out to Lunch’ and ‘Chicken Shit’ in 1980’s Tales of Mr. Fly, and David Miller & Par Holman venerate the disaffected teen outsider experience in a blast of vignettes in Punkomix #1 from 1982.

Clark Dissmeyer laments the life of a Two-Fisted Cartoonist (#1 1983) after which Steve Willis’ 1983 Sasquatch Comix #3 details a strange encounter in the wild woods and R.K. Sloane & Jeff Gaither noxiously explore a life in hell with Fresh Meat from 1985.

A genuine small press big noise reveals all in the ‘Jeff Nicholson Interview’ after which the creator’s infamous cartoon polemic Jeff Nicholson’s Small Press Tirade (1989) still proves to be astoundingly powerful and the ‘Dan Taylor Interview’ segues neatly into some of his superbly eclectic Shortoonz from 1990 and the deliciously vulgarian Unleashed #1 from 2010.

John Trubee’s 1990 Vomit! #1 is a captivating manifesto of the politically baroque and philosophically bizarre whilst from 1992 Jason Atomic’s Wongo Batonga pt. 2 gloriously celebrates the magnificent freedom of superheroic imagination in a lengthy explosion of power-packed battles before Patrick Dowers explores human diversity in Marvels of the Sideshow Freaks.

Corn Comics #1 (Marc Bell, 1993) provides a hilarious laugh-ride of bitter twisted types after which the ‘Tom Hart Interview’ precedes his wittily poignant 1993 slice-of-life saga Love Looks Left and all-star line-up J.R. Williams, Pat Moriarity & R.L. Crabb collaborate on the 1994 cautionary tale ‘Devil Stay Away From Me’.

Impishly shocking Ellen Forney & Renée French then reveal how The Exquisite Corpse Bakes a Pie (1994), after which a ‘Molly Kiely Interview’ is stunningly supplemented by her rendition of a bevy of female music and movie icons who all possessed that indefinable sense of Sass! (1995).

Jeffrey Brown’s 1998 paean to hopelessness and confusion ‘To Wenatchee’ is followed by Pshaw’s whimsical story of a little robot in The One Eyed World (1999) after which ‘Colin Upton Presents A Short Guide To the Care and Production of Mini-Comics’ provides everything anyone needs to know about making story-art stories.

Contemporary cartoon wild child Johnny Ryan 2002 exposes guilty secrets from Shouldn’t You Be Working? #5, before the ‘Souther Salazar Interview’ leads to the artist’s wide-ranging ‘In Case of Emergency Only’ (2003) and Max Clotfelter’s eerily post-apocalyptic Snake Meat #1 from 2004.

Her smartly evocative 2004 Science Fiction Affliction is preceded by an ‘Alison Cole Interview’ after which Thought Cloud Shrines from 2007 perfectly displays Theo Ellsworth’s astounding graphic imagination and meticulous penmanship; gifts shared by Lisa Hanawalt and revealed in a stunning fashion parade of freaks in Stay Away From Other People from 2008, augmented by her hilarious ‘12 Things To Do When you Are Stuck in Traffic’.

Travis Millard’s ‘Sad Dad’ introduces a deucedly depressing modern pantheon in Who Let the Gods Out (2008) whilst Bobby Maddness explores a variety of baffling annoyances in Too Small Comics #2 (2010) and Esther Pearl Watson describes a ghastly future populated solely by pop stars and fashion models in Eric Parris World from 2009.

The marvellous Jim Rugg contributes a stunning and outrageous pop at America’s dumbest President and most moronic national symbol in the delirious ‘Rambo 3.5’ (2009) after which, from 2010, Donald & Daniel Zettwoch mesmerise with their incredible personal history of phone exchange technology in ‘Cut Lines and Intricate Minds’ as seen in Tel-Tales #1 and Tom Neely employs dozens of bootlegged Popeyes in a surreal spinach-fuelled Battle Royale for his Doppelgänger

The ‘Jason T. Miles Interview’ leads naturally enough into his 2010 tale of terror ‘Dump’ from Pines 3.

The irrepressible manga marvel DJ Cat Gosshie goes through a series of adorable “totally-street” trans-Pacific short story syncopations as delineated by Harukichi in 2011 before Pakito Bolino then relates the hyperkinetic end of everything with the ‘Male of the Future’ from D.O.C. (2012)

DemonDust #10 by Bernie McGovern (2012) lyrically explores the poetry of atomic theory and human interactiveness whilst from the same year Shuttlecakes reveals the stunning dexterity and artistic facility of Susan Belle before the ‘Caroline Paquita Interview’ leads to her seductively gender-political compilation Womanimalistic #3 from 2013 to close the monochrome section of this collection.

However, following the ever-so-useful ‘Artist website and contact info’ pages, there’s even more compelling cartoon self-expression all crafted to make use of carefully considered colour, commencing with Kristyna Baczynski’s travails of a pretty kitty in ‘Nine Lives’ from 2012, Leah Wishnia’s disturbing exploration of women’s lives from Spithouse #1 (2008) and an even more distressing tale of psychological brutality from Nick Bertozzi in ‘5/4’ from 2000 before Ethan Persoff concludes the challenging cartoon content with a stunning graphic potpourri from Plastic Tales and Stories #2.

This tremendous tome features some of the host of pioneering craftsmen who worked in the self-printing movement which became today’s thriving Alternative/Small Press publishing industry as well as the current internet comics phenomenon, and this book has incredible appeal on an historical basis.

However, that’s really not the point: the real draw of such collections is that creativity is addictive, good work never pales or grows stale and the great stories and art here will make you keen to have a go too.

I’ve done it myself, for fun – even once or twice for actual profit – and it’s an incredible buzz (I should note that I am still married to a wife not only tolerant but far more skilled and speedy in the actual “photocopy, cut, fold, staple” bit of the process and willing, if not keen, to join in just so she might occasionally be with the compulsive dingbat she married…)

The sheer boundless enthusiasm and feelgood rewards of intellectual freedom from making such comics celebrated in this astoundingly vast, incredibly heavy and yet still pocket-sized hardback is a pure galvanic joy that will enchant and impel every fan of the art-form: as long as they’re big enough to hold a pencil, old enough to vote, and strong enough to lift the book.
Treasury of Mini Comics volume 2 © 2015 Michael Dowers and Fantagraphics Books. All contents © 2013 their respective creators or authors. All rights reserved.