A minicomic is a small, creator-published comic book, often photocopied and stapled or with a handmade binding. These are a common inexpensive way for those who want to make their own comics on a very small budget, with mostly informal means of distribution. A number of cartoonists have started this way and gone on to more traditional types of publishing, while other more established artists continue to produce minicomics on the side. Minicomics are even less mainstream than alternative comics.
The term was originally used in the United States and has a somewhat confusing history. Originally, it referred only to size: a digest comic measured 5.5 inches wide by 8.5 inches tall, while a minicomic was 5.5 inches by 4.25 inches. These sizes were convenient for artists using standard office supplies: a US letter page could be folded in half to make a digest, or in quarters for a minicomic. These comics were generally photocopied, although some that were produced in larger quantities used offset printing. An early and unusually popular example of this minicomic format was Matt Feazell's Cynicalman, which began in 1980 or Alfred Huete's award winning 'DADA' mini. (The earliest and most popular comics in mini- and digest sizes—predating not only the term minicomic, but even the standard comic-book format—were the anonymous and pornographic Tijuana bibles of the 1920s.)
Currently, the term is used in a more general sense which emphasizes the handmade, informal aspect rather than the format. By this loose definition, a single photocopied page folded in quarters would still be a minicomic, but so would a thicker digest-sized comic, or even a large, elaborate, and relatively expensive photocopied booklet with a silkscreened cover. Even some professionally printed and bound booklets are referred to as minicomics, as long as they are published by the artist and marketed in minicomic venues, but this usage is controversial.
In North America and the United Kingdom, minicomics are currently rare in traditional "direct market" comic-book stores; they are often sold directly by the artist at book fairs or through the mail, ordered from websites, or handled by small bookstores and distributors that carry zines. In terms of production and distribution issues and their audience, minicomics—of all of the sizes and types mentioned above—have much more in common with each other, and with zines, than with any traditionally published comics; this may be the reason why the meaning of the term has shifted.
Minicomics in the American sense are a less popular form in Europe and Asia. In Europe, many small publishers produce small-format comics with much higher production values than the typical minicomic.
Minicomics typically have no editorial oversight, and both their content and quality varies over a huge range. Many of the creators of minicomics do not expect to make a significant amount of money, or even cover their costs, with the price they charge for their comics. These creators may see minicomics as a way to hone their skills or as a way to get their work seen by a larger audience, or may be drawn to the format for aesthetic reasons. Some observers have anticipated that the rise of webcomics would be the end of minicomics, but as of 2005 this does not appear to be the case.