The most exciting arts movement nowadays may be the tiniest one - in the actual size of the output, that is. Micro-publishers specializing in artful comics and illustrated story books have cropped up selling their publications online, maintaining a presence through outlets like Tumblr, and showing up on tables in books, art and comics shows around the world.
These aren’t comics as you’ve known them, and many stand as the nexus between graphic storytelling, the literary world and gallery art, grasping for something new and different from what you already know.
Berkshires micro publisher Oily Comics (oilycomics.com) has a vast array of titles and creators in the fold, far too many for me to talk about here, but there are some favorites of mine worth mentioning.
Melissa Mendes is one of the most exciting young comics talents out there, thanks to her deadpan, insightful stories about kids, and her charming illustration style, which matches the subject matter perfectly.
Her series “Lou,” which ran for 17 issues, focuses on the middle kid and her relationship with a new dog, as well as family turmoil. The full-color, oneshot “Joey” portrays one boy’s attempts to escape the constant arguing of his parents.
Oily chief Charles Forsman focuses on an older age group in his work, and “Teen Creeps,” his latest, is a great introduction to his work. Following the lives of smart-ass bad girls Hilary and Dawn, Forsman’s deadpan humor and tenderness for the dysfunctional is very well-realized.
Jessica Campbell has put out several titles with Oily, and she released two great ones in 2013. “Mrs. Connie Dutton” is an illustrated story about a lonely woman and a Nigerian scam. Her comic, “Rave” #1, is a bittersweet and humorously self-deprecating portrayal of weird girl Mary and the taunts of her school mates.
Daryl Seitchik’s “Missy” #1 is another winner about a kid’s life, this time, a girl named Daryl, who writes in her diary- each entry is addressed to Missy - about the heartaches of the day. Each entry includes Daryl’s creative spelling, grammatical errors, and vagueness, while the art spells out what she’s talking about. It’s a heart-breaking and hilarious work.
Also not to be missed from Oily is Nick Drnaso’s “The Grassy Knoll,” about the complicated interactions of a group of people cleaning trash off the side of the road, like “Lord of the Flies” taking place in a high school work program.
Hic and Hoc (hicandhoc.com) offers a great sampler of some of the best work in micro-publishing and minis with its two volume “Illustrated Journal of Humor.” The first covers American cartoonists, the second British, and they are great purchases if you are looking for strong work off the beaten path.
Hic and Hoc has also given a domestic release to Philippa Rice’s “Looking Out,” an adorable little space romance by the British cardboard collage artist, and handsome artist book treatment to “Spider, Man,” Amy Jean Porter’s charming illustrated meditation on nature and technology, spurred on by a spider web viewed during lunch.
Minneapolis-based 2D Cloud (2dcloud.com) puts out beautiful books like Meghan Hogan’s “Manny Plus Bigfoot,” a mystifying, amusing little art package, which opens like an envelope and features an encounter between the two title characters, and “Arthur Turnkey,” by Toby Jones and Alex Horab, a hilarious fantasy about a kid who goes to another world every time he sneezes.
Most impressive of all is “Year Books” by Nicholas Breutzman and Shaun Feltz, a disturbing, riveting portrayal of a kid’s encounter with his guarded high school art teacher, the revelations of the teacher’s own work and the secrets of what kind of person he’s become.
Retrofit Comics (retrofitcomics. com) put out one of my favorites, Sally Madden’s “Gray Is Not A Color,” a tender and hilarious comic memoir of her time working at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.
It’s particularly poignant for her memories of the late great museum director Gretchen Worden. Madden certainly had one of the most unusual museum jobs in existence, and this book is a loving, funny tribute to it.
Among artists self-publishing their work, Alabaster’s “Mimi and the Wolves Act 1: The Dream” stands out (illustriousalabaster. com) as a deceptive fantasy. It begins with the slightly twee girl Mimi as she devotes her time to creating garlands and doing chores on her friends’ farm. Mimi is stricken with a recurring, violent nightmare about a woman trying to speak to her. Mimi tries to solve the mystery of what it means and becomes involved with wolves in the forest and strange events. Alabaster takes you off guard- you expect one kind of story, a light meditation on Mimi’s pursuits, and end up with something much darker, emotional and thoroughly fascinating. Her previous book, “Wool and Gin,” features some of the same characters and is also exquisite cartooning.
Further way-high marks for self-published cartoonists goes to Vermont’s remarkably talented Laurel Lynn Leake (laurellynnleake.com). Her latest books, “Deep Forest” #1 and 2, is a cryptic and engaging science fiction series about growing up, going to school and interacting with the mysteries of the forest. A previous tiny picture book, “Wolf Girl,” offers more insight to one of the characters, and to the nature of the backdrop of the stories. Leake’s art is as evocative and fluid as the world she portrays, and what she sets up through her characters begs for more work from her.
Emi Gennis (emigennis.com) is a powerhouse among selfpublishing cartoonists. Her output includes five issues of “Spaz,” which is filled with autobiographical cartoons about working in a restaurant and hanging out with her own pretend zygote, as well as some strips about unusual deaths. This last topic has expanded into a couple of larger works - “The Unusual Death of Gregory Biggs” and “The Collyer Brothers” - as well as her fantastic 2013 disaster anthology, “Unfortunate Mishaps in Aviation History.”
There are several other wonderful autobiographies worth seeking out. Tessa Brunton’s nuanced, depthful “Passage” (tessabrunton.com), released by Sparkplug Comicbooks (sparkplugcomicbooks.com), recounts the comforts and oddities of her family through the events of one of her brother’s birthdays, and her own embrace of slumber parties at her friend’s house.
Marta Chudolinska’s “Home Ache” (martachudolinska.com) is a touching piece of cartoon poetry, an ode to her previous Toronto apartment and the life she lived there. “LOVF New York: Destination Crisis” by Jesse Reklaw, put out by Paper Rocket Minicomics (paperrocketcomics. com), is a sketch book diary with layer upon layer of dense color and imagery as Reklaw recounts wandering around New York City while struggling with mental illness - harrowing and personal, you don’t often see works this raw.
On the lighter side are books by Kelly Froh (kellyfroh. blogspot. com), like “The Greatest,” a book of portraits and descriptions of memorable people from her life, and “Tales From Amazon,” a three-issue cartoon memoir of working in the offices of the Internet monolith.
Josh Frankel’s “Water Column” (jfnexus.storenvy. com) is a few years old now - the last one was published in 2010 - but it stands out as rising to the potential of non-fiction nature adventure stories within a comic form.
Frankel’s three-issue meditation follows the cycle of aquatic nature starting with plankton and ending with the carcass of a basking shark, all with personality and charm, as well as a tad of enlightenment.
T. Edward Bak’s “Island of Memory” - volume one of his “Wild Man” series (antizerogravity. com) - tells the story of Bavarian naturalist Georg Wilhem Steller and an expedition he took part in that went through Siberia and onto Alaska. Bak mixes his understanding of the psychology of such an undertaking with a keen sense of nature drawing, at times capturing the environment with an almost scientific precision and then switching to the emotional turmoil of the men on the trek. It’s a remarkable work, insightful and well researched, all the more amazing for being from such small origins, and is guaranteed to wow anyone who encounters it, functioning as a potent gateway drug for anyone who might think the micro comic movement isn’t worth paying attention to.