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Interview

Mini-comics artist Joe Lambert gives some tips on creating comics.

Mini-comics artist Joe Lambert talks about producing mini-comics, and his studies at the Center for Cartoon Studies...

READERSVOICE.COM: What would be the best way to manufacture a mini-comic that balanced low expense with aesthetic appeal or production values, in your view?

JOE LAMBERT: I think photocopying is the cheapest way to produce a mini-comic. I can’t think of any other unless you have connections with an offset printer who’ll give you a super-cheap deal or something like that.

Depending on how small you want the pages to be you can get a few on a single sheet of paper. That helps cut costs.

I think you can produce a beautiful book no matter how much you spend on paper and printing. Part of the quality comes from the design, the illustrations on the covers and the comics on the inside; and part of it comes from the attention to clean production: clean folds and even margins can make a HUGE difference. That being said, you can really do anything with a book that is self-published with a low print run. I have seen lots of cool things done with screen-printing, which can be cheap if you already have a set-up or access to one, and it’s relatively cheap to start one up.

There are some cool folds you can do with covers and interior pages. You can cut shapes out of the pages, you can hand-color parts of the book. There are some crazy binding styles out there. All of these things can be pretty cheap, it’s really a matter of finding something that is appropriate for the content of the comic and giving yourself the time to do it.

I think time is probably the biggest expense with producing mini-comics.

RV: What were some of the subjects you studied at the Center for Cartoon Studies?

JL: My classes were Drawing Workshop; Reading & Writing Workshop; Cartooning Studio; Survey of the Drawn Story; Publication Workshop; Professional Practices; and Thesis Seminar (when I was a second-year student). And there was a Visiting Artist Seminar once a week.

Cartooning Studio was were we went over the basics of cartooning, read comics and discussed them, and critiqued our cartooning assignments. Survey of the Drawn Story was Steve Bissette’s super-dense and entertaining comics history course.

In Publication Workshop we went over computer programs like Photoshop and InDesign, the basics of page layouts, and other basic design and production elements. Professional Practices is where we talked about things like building a portfolio and resume, talking to publishers, self-publishing, work methods etc. And Thesis Seminar is where the second-year students focused on their thesis projects and addressed issues they were having as well as critiques of the works in progress.

RV: What were some of the main lessons you picked up from your time there?

JL: I picked up a pretty solid work ethic. With over forty cartoonists in town with their own projects and assignments and deadlines to deal with it’s pretty easy to feel like a slacker when you’re not working hard.

Along that same line I learned that a lot of little things add up to a big overall feeling. So a lot of little problems and mistakes and sloppy elements in a story add up to a big overall feeling of crap.

And on the flip side, taking the time to include a lot of little elements of quality and support to the art and story definitely add up to a feeling of wholeness and consistency.

I learned how to give up drawings, ideas, stories etc. that I found to be precious. For example, if a page was drawn particularly well, but didn’t fit the story or had too many mistakes I learned how to get rid of it no matter how painful it was, or how long it took me.

I learned how to redraw things over and over until I got it right. This was an important lesson.

RV: You mentioned some of the philosophy of mini-comics cartoonist John Porcellino you heard during one of his talks, like drawing about the in-between times, and not just the ups and downs. What philosophy do you approach your comics with?

JL: I like fiction, for the most part. I like autobiography, there is so much of it in alternative comics that it’s hard to avoid, but I like it best when attention is given to the overall story, and then it kind of becomes fiction doesn’t it?

Most of my stories are based around a specific emotion (usually frustration or confusion). The characters are responding to something and often as a result of that emotion they take their reaction to the extreme. This is a very basic idea, but it’s my way of building a world; my way of understanding fiction and storytelling in general.

When I write a story I like to let it come organically out of an idea or a drawing or series of these. I like to let it build on its own and let the characters develop. Then when I get stuck in the middle (and I always do) I strip it down as much as I can and let those characters that developed kind of direct the story.

All of that is easier said than done, but that’s how an ideal writing experience would be for me, even with autobio stories.

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