The other day while riding the bus I struck up a conversation with a dude with a Picturebox tote bag. "Pretty cool publishing company," I said, and went on to recommend he check out Anya Davidson's School Spirits. The conversation turned to comics, whether I made them, I said that I wrote prose, and then I talked about self-publishing, or chapbooks- I feel like this comes up a lot, when I say that I write, but that I don't have any substantial work published. Self-publishing is presented as a viable option.
For comics, self-publishing is a viable option, a decent business model. Many of my favorite cartoonists have published minicomics or zines. Now that the serialized alternative comic book is pretty much dead, at least as far as distributors dealing with retailers are concerned, small presses (and the internet) are pretty much the way to access the newest shit, the things that feel like the future.
For prose, though, I am still only interested in books published by actual publishers. Maybe this is because the well of literature is so deep that it seems relatively unexplored- there are hundreds of years of books available, and the desire for the newest shit is drowned out by the feeling to only explore that which has stood the test of time.
The other thing is the question of slightness, immediacy. The peer-to-peer communication which characterizes the low print run makes sense for zines of drawings in a way that it doesn't for the storytelling impulse. Showing your sketchbook to a friend is a way to explain the visual ideas you've been having, while a story in pupa form can be conveyed verbally. The oral storytelling tradition is a rich one.
Contradicting this idea is the idea that the written word and the spoken word are two very different things- and again, the chapbook is more a form for poetry than for what I'm characterizing as "the storytelling impulse" for probably just that very reason. It's maybe related to the fact that a small limited-release cassette tape (of which I have dozens) is different from a live musical performance, which is maybe more analogous to the folk form of storytelling. But then, people prefer music to literature, and can ingest more of it, more casually, than they can consider the written word. All that said, while I love the cassette format, I find the small-scale nature of the seven-inch record a disgusting waste of resources.
When I think about books, or literature, I think of volumes, works of effort. I think of Italo Calvino's collection of Italian Folktales, say, a herculean effort that, were it a fraction of its size, only consisting of a handful of tales, would not need to exist: Those stories could just be told in their original form. Or I think about joke books, compendiums of tiny bits of thought that then act as a testament to a moment in time, the culture that conceived them. It's cool and interesting that Fantagraphics is collecting books of minicomics, and they're these bricks of four-hundred-plus pages: Not the work of a single author, but documents independent culture during specific time periods. That's what's interesting about small works: In time, they don't exist as themselves. They don't get to transcend their era. They are contextualized in shorts programs and anthologies. It's funny, I guess, the idea of things feeling like the future that end up being just documents of their era.
I don't know how to conclude this post. I wish I was just saying these ideas out loud, that this conversation could move on, to be about anything else, but maybe the idea of it would linger with you to be repeated, moving into the future, rather than just living on as link on this blog's sidebar with the heading October 2013.