So far in this sub-series I’ve covered the comic strip, the comic book, and the graphic novel. There’s one more format to go over but it should be short since it covers the same strengths and weaknesses the comic book has. That’s because it is a comic book, just smaller. The mini-comic is a form of comic book often overlooked, except around here at the Spotlight. I enjoy mini-comics and have an article series devoted to them, Free Comic Inside. However, there are more to mini-comics than pack-in goodies.
What is a mini-comic (sometimes spelled “minicomic”)? It’s a very small comic book. (This is not a long history on the format.) Probably the best known use of this size was as a promotional item. Buy the toy, it comes with a free comic expanding on the lore of the sci-fi fantasy world the toys are set in because TV won’t let us make cartoons on our properties for a few years yet. Even after TV shows were allowed to be made on toys the mini-comic continued. Masters Of The Universe is easily the most well-known example. While the initial toyline came with one of four illustrated booklets Mattel would later partner with DC Comics to create a series of comics small enough to pack in behind the action figure on card backs. Later Mattel continued to make them on their own and when the sister toyline Princess Of Power came out (literally a sister toyline, as main hero She-Ra is He-Man’s twin sister) she got them too. And then it somehow evolved backwards and the line ended with illustrated booklets even when her brother’s line was still comic books. Go figure.
However, it wasn’t just used to promote the toy it came with. For example Marvel and DC have both made mini-comics to promote their regular comics that came with food items. Around here I’ve looked at the first and second series of mini-comics that came with Drakes snack cakes. Both series were a continuing storyline, four in the first series and five in the second, and you had to collect all five. The Aliens: Space Marines line did the same thing with their toy series, and Masters Of The Universe had planned a three-part story that was canceled when the toys were, but this is a rarity among the promo mini-comic, probably because the odds of kids tracking down all of them is countered by not wanting every figure in the line. With the Marvel/Drake’s stories we already bought those snack cakes. Most of the time these are stand-alone stories used to draw in customers to the product or show kids how cool the action figure they just bought is.
I sometimes see at conventions (when I get to go) mini-comics produced by the self-publishers there to promote their larger projects. They could be sample pages or an original story. However, there are comics created by these smaller publishers that were intended to be mini-comics and promote nothing. It’s cheaper for the creator and it takes advantage of the strengths of a mini-comic over a regular-sized comic. For one thing they fit in your pocket to a point. (The Atari Force mini-comics for example are the size of a video game manual for Atari 2600 games that they came packed with.) This means you have some reading material right there with you, though for people today the smartphone covers that. You can also pose them with your action figure, meaning you can have He-Man reading his own adventures. It even scales right, though the shape is admittedly off.
Remember in the comic books article how I was saying some people experiment with the shape of comics? Mini-comics are where that tends to happen most often. One guy made a set of mini-comics set-up to resemble a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Some mini-comics, like the infamous Jack Chick “Chick Tracks”, weren’t comic books but fold out comic strips. The small size makes them more versatile and gives you more options to play with.
However, there are limitations. The size of the comic limits the amount of available panel space. Some creators can work around this and make a decent short story but others cannot. As I’ve reviewed the promotional mini-comics I’ve noticed some really great stories (Gary Cohn did an amazing job during his short run on Masters Of The Universe and they’re some of my favorite He-Man stories) and some real duds (like the Iron Man comic I reviewed recently). Being mini-comic they are of course harder to lose. If you like to put your comics in special comic bags with backing boards, nobody makes them in any of the traditional mini-comic sizes, or if they do I’ve never found them. You have to design your own, and your own longboxes, or stick them in a big bag (I tend to put whole series in one bag, except in the case of Masters Of The Universe where I have each year of comics separated because they’re like different volumes) among your regular comics. One of the earliest articles I wrote for this site covered that problem and it hasn’t changed. I had them in a Ziploc bag all together but that doesn’t really protect them and as I want to get all the ones I’m missing (there’s one lone MASK mini-comic I don’t have, none of the Super Powers Collection, and my Masters Of The Universe collection is limited to ones that came with toys I own and a handful I bought at a convention some years ago) and a bag can only hold so much. Plus it’s a pain to rummage through the bag to find the ones I want. A lot of what I’ve reviewed came from online scans but I like physical comics in my hand.
You don’t really see mini-comics packed in with stuff anymore. The last tie-in promotion were unfinished DC comics that you had to go online to see the rest and I’m betting that site no longer exists. The last pack-in comic I know of was Marvel’s MegaMorphs, as nowadays they just design packaging so you can fit a reprinted full size comic in there. Some indie creators still make them for fun or promotion but that’s it. It’s a shame because this is a good way to get kids into comics, a fun little comic they can carry with them and have their toys read. Always a shame to see an art get lost.
And I think that about does it for my examination of comics for Art Of Storytelling. I could go over webcomics but they pretty much use the same rules as the others so they can be published in some kind of collection after and nobody really uses the advantages of a comic on the internet beyond getting them out there, establishing an archive, and on rare occasions format them for smart devices. Animated gif panels and other web-only features have kind of died off as they’re hard to do with not as much reward, but I might talk about them in the future if people really want me to go over them. There will still be reviews of comics of course but for the next installment I’m going to talk about a different format or maybe finally do a genre review. We’ll see.