Tomorrow night, Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery is hosting an exhibition and publication party for Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s, edited by Michael Dowers, mini comic creator and former publisher of Starhead Comix.
For mini comix collectors and for comics fans in general, Newave is a historic publication. It's the first time this seminal group of underground artists and their hysterical, dirty, irreverent comix have been featured together in one book. For some, it's the the only way we'll ever see them in print, because the booklets are impossible to find or really really expensive to buy when you do find them.
Fantagraphics' gallerist Larry Reid let me hang out while he was preparing to hang the show.
"Mini comix came into being in that gap between underground comics and alternative comics," he said. "They were born out of economic necessity. There was no avenue of distribution."
The first piece he pulled out of the 12'x14" priority mail box (which contained, basically, the whole exhibition) was XNO's original painting on wood of the cover art for Newave.
Reid also showed me a Dennis Worden patch from 1990, and a couple of the mini comix Dowers published in the early '90s: one by Jim Blanchard (Teat Warp) and J.R. Williams (Die Laughing, featuring Barfo the Clown).
It's pretty exciting to hold these thin, 4x5" booklets in your hand, especially considering their original intent and distribution.
"Most of the mini comix were distributed for free, and that's kind of their appeal," said Reid. "They were meant to be disposable."
These artists—as well as Jamie Alder, Wayne Gibson, Wayno, and Steve Willis—are all underground mini comix pioneers whose work is also featured in the book.
Newave editor Michael Dowers, who will be on-hand Saturday making and distributing a new mini comic, graciously answered my questions by email:
ArtsNerd: Right up front in your introduction you clarify that this book is is specifically about the underground mini comix of the 1980s (Newave), as opposed to mini comix in general. How did the idea of this book, and particularly of focusing on this group of artists, first come together? How did you decide who to include in the book?
Michael Dowers: For a few years now I kept saying to myself that some of the mini comix created in the '80s would make a great book. The problem was trying to figure out a format to present these little printed gems. One day it hit me to reproduce the comix originally as they were printed. Reprint whole mini comix. Within a few hours after I had hit upon this idea, I had already communicated with Gary Groth at Fantagraphics and now there is a finished book. I was one of the mini comix creators in the book. Most of the artists in the book are people I traded with or even published over the years.
AN: How do you define mini comix? Are they basically zines (DIY, self-published, cheap to make and distribute) that are also comic books, or is there more to it than that? Is subversion a central element, or is that just the underground mini comix?
MD: I would define mini comix as self published do-it-yourself projects. They don't necessarily have to be small in size. Yes, they are zines that are also comic books. As far as subversion goes, the material in the book is a direct descendant of the underground comix art of the '60s and '70s. [But] it was the 80's, and the mini comix artists took the sex, drugs, and rock & roll theme even farther then the generation before them.
AN: In his Newave manifesto, Clay Geerdes said, "No style is promoted over any other style. The artist is encouraged to develop his own personal style." Did the Newave movement valued personal expression over craft, or am I misinterpreting what he's saying?
MD: Well in the first place, Geerdes Newave Manifesto kind of comes off as a rant. I would try to not take it too seriously. He was just trying to get across the fact that Newave meant a lot of freedom for the artist.
AN: In the book you say that, in the early 90s, Newave changed because mini comix became more socially acceptable and easier to find. Has that trend just accelerated with the popularity of comic books and online comics?
MD: Newave died when the underground became mainstream back in the early 90's. There really is no underground these days. I have seen a few things recently from Europe that would give some hope to a new underground but I don't expect that will last long either. As the internet and the media get more and more out of hand they will just steal that from us too.
AN: Of the mini comix artists you've know over the years, whether they've gone on to be commercial artists or successful comic book artists, or pursued careers outside of the art world, how many of them still make mini comix? Of those who do, why do you think they keep doing it?
MD: Well, there are still a handful of us who are completely driven. It is in the very cell walls of our mind, body, and soul. Some of these guys are about to hit 60 years old, me included, and we don't know how to stop. I have tried before in the past and it just begins to fester inside until it has to eventually work its way out. Publishing can be very addictive for some of us.
Newave publication party this Saturday, January 30 from 6:00 to 9:00 PM at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery.
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