First and foremost, let me assure you that I love the do-it-yourself ethos of small press and there are many, many excellent titles that I buy regularly, okay? This mini-rant is NOT about the content.
However, when I first started with Small Press, one of the things I found rather wonderful is that there were so many different hand-made formats, different shapes, sizes, materials. I recall seeing comics made of tracing paper, sand paper covers, cloth pages, 10 x 30cm comics (hand cut and true labours of love), corrugated cardboard covers, books with cut-outs in the middles of pages, hand cut with a scalpel and a steady hand. They were genuine works of art, beautifully crafted. Each table provided something different and exciting.
With the advent of cheaper printing and online printing, walking around Thought Bubble was a depressing sight with the vast majority of Small Press publications looking identical to one another. The argument is that they now look “more professional”.
And the others didn’t? They may have been “hand-made”, but “hand-made” does not mean that it lacks quality. Small Press is in the process of becoming homogenised and dull. There are those, of course, still flying the flag, who still produce quality, hand made product. More power to them! I would much rather see that than glossy, generic nonsense.
Andrew Cheverton’s “West” and “The Whale House”, for example, maintain stunning quality, Paul Rainey’s work never fails to please and there are many others others. The annual “Caption” festival in Oxford serves as pretty much the last outpost of the “individual” and “hand-made” comic.
But in the main, small press comics seems to have lost their heart in favour of the illusion of The Corporate. While I find the reasons for this understandable, I actually find this turn of events incredibly sad.
Coming from my ivory tower of Graphic Novel publishing, this may sound a little hypocritical, but we are trying hard to let the format of the book be dictated by the content, rather than have a “house style” that people must conform to.
Again, as I said, it’s not the content – some of the glossy stuff still contains content of amazing quality – rather the formatting. I miss the creativity and risk taking that Small Press once had. Someone, please, prove me wrong.