Going to the annual Museum of Comics and Cartoon Arts fest is nostalgic for me. I remember so many venues this con has used over the years, and recall so fondly the sense of excitement and discovery in finding quirky little photocopied mini comics, sold directly to me by their creators. Over a decade ago, a friend told her her personal MoCCA shopping policy: she never bought anything that cost more than a dollar.
This year, the exhibitors’ hall of MoCCA was in an event space so far on the west side of midtown Manhattan we were bumping up against the Intrepid museum. The fest took two floors, and boasted an eating area, a risograph machine, and an exhibit of political cartoons associated with the Cartoonists for Peace movement. As I wandered the tables, looking at the wide array of books, comics, pins, patches, and other items for sale, I thought my friend’s policy would no longer be tenable. Regular inflation has been joined by massive technological advances in accessible printing in the past several years, such that now the standard “affordable” item on creators’ tables is $3. A discussion with one creator made it clear that the prestige of MoCCA itself has also increased, such that for most, it feels more appropriate to price their items starting at $3.
With that in mind, I started getting curious about the few minis I’d noticed that were priced at one or two dollars. Creators clearly made the decision that these comics would be like calling cards, and the most accessible way to get their work into the hands of con attendees.
One creator thanked me for appreciating her $2 comic, saying sometimes patrons asked her why it wasn’t free. We agreed $2 is pretty close. Another creator changed the pricing of the mini from last year to this year: last year it had been $1, and this year, he decided to price it as either $2 or free with purchase. He was interested in increasing people’s engagement with his work, and said this seemed like a way to achieve that.
Overall, I bought thirteen $1 or $2 dollar comics, and read them eagerly when I got home. I was curious: Would these comics have anything in common with each other? Would they feel like little fetishes to be treasured, or chewing gum to be used and then discarded? Would they feel complete, or point to larger works?
I found they ended up falling into broad categories: playing with form, journal comics, student works, or fan works.
Playing with Form
In this category, I got a beautifully printed single fold comic printed on risograph by Zine Hug that employs the standard singlefold mini style to offer cartoony portraits on each flippable page and a larger portrait image on the opposite side. With no narrative or words, the emphasis is on the soft, dreamy quality of the way the colors blend in risograph.
Similarly, “Birds in Clothes II” by Sam Newkirch is also a singlefold on surprisingly good paper; this one is a coloring book with thick black lines on the art. My kid’s going to enjoy it.
I also got “put your finger in this hole” by Joy Velasco which has a literal hole punched through the middle of the book and invites the reader to interact with different scenarios depicted and described on each page.
Perhaps my favorite mini that played with form was a set of “validation cards” by Janelly Rodriguez of Flower Scouts. Two expertly printed business cards complete the set, one promising the bearer, “You are Valid!” “Present card to anybody who questions your validness. You are unique. You are great. You are VALID!” There’s a spot to put the date. The other card is “YOU ARE NOT VALID!” There’s no date on that one; invalidity perhaps is eternal.
Frankly, I expected many of the comics at this price point to be short journal comics, and they were. “12:45 am in the Wendy’s Parking Lot” by Brandon Pogrob has one panel per page, and tells the story of a single conversation.
Excitingly for me, in this category were two enjoyable list minis—both “8 Reasons I’ll Miss New York” by Laura Boren and “Everything I did as a child that I would NEVER let my children do” by Melinda Beck resonated with me a lot. The use of color inside Boren’s mini was surprising and engrossing, and I love New York and enjoy seeing it spoken well of. Beck’s comic was the physically smallest I got and her line drawings are adorable. The list itself made me laugh aloud, with its focus on sugar and television.
As a corollary to that one, I also bought a mini from one of Melinda Beck’s kids, “A Witch’s Guide to Rare Monsters” by Chloe Isip, which introduced me to some fantastic monsters such as Perils and Cloud Walkers.
Throughout the exhibitors hall, I was interested to see a variety of tables representing college or grad programs in cartooning. In many cases, the comics there were by students who had made them with their school’s resources, and who were not present at the con. The people overseeing the tables talked about “our students,” without them being there to interact with potential readers. Perhaps it was unsurprising that many minis with high quality production values were being sold at low price points.
I bought “Trailblazer,” a glossy, full color mini with thick covers that collected the work of several students who each invented and showcased a character who would be renowned for doing something “first,” presenting them and information about them on a page spread. According to their dedication page, this collection resulted from an assignment at Montclair State University Illustration and Animation.
Fan Works: Surprise!
Little did I suspect that when I got home, two of the minis I’d purchased would turn out to be … about Zelda! “you woke up naked and alone: a BoTW zine” by Aatmaja Pandya and “Majora’s Wrath” by Chris Russo have that in common, and yes, if I had even a tiny bit more knowledge, I would have known going in that they were each about Zelda. But: I did not. Regardless, they were both excellent minis and displayed the talents of their creators well.
For me, these minis all sparked a certain level of nostalgia, but beyond that they had little inherently in common. In any case, in answer to my questions about what these minis might all have in common, I think the deal is that these minis share an affordable, accessible price point because they have a function beyond earning back money for the table. Either they introduce readers to a small portion of their creators’ talents, pairing well with the creators’ larger works, or they invite readers to share in fandom or in speculations about the form.