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Indie Comics Creators Show Their Stuff at Chicago’s CAKE

cakebanner One of my favorite things about being a comics fan in Chicago is the annual Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, abbreviated whimsically as CAKE. It’s only been going on since 2012 but feels like an institution already, a way for independent creators to gain recognition and for fans to celebrate their favorites and discover new artists. Several of the participants I talked to mentioned that it was difficult to make the cut as a an exhibitor this year, and many talented comics creators were turned down. As it was, each creator only had half a table in the Center on Halsted’s sizable convention room, and so many people attended that it was tough to maneuver. If CAKE wants to continue its mission of celebrating the diversity of emerging talent in the Chicago area and beyond, it might need to seek out a bigger space in the future.


A number of the artists I met at CAKE shared a retro-timeless vibe, with images recalling illustration styles of the past but adopting more modern themes. M. Dean has mastered this balance in her ongoing webcomic, The Girl Who Flew Away, and in luminous short stories. She incorporates both the cartoonish whimsy and the intricacy of mid-20th-century comics but shifts them toward a female perspective, often turning simple coming-of-age stories and family dramas into adventures. She’s especially excited about her latest project, Regents Walk, which follows the lives of 24 kids in a small town in the 1990s, with each chapter focusing on a different character. When I asked M. Dean about her influences, she talked more about music than comics, mentioning The Carpenters and Patti Smith as two favorites. If you can imagine an aesthetic that perfectly marries those two, you understand why M. Dean’s work is so magical and original.


Dean described Z Akhmetova as her “partner in crime.” They’ve been friends since high school, and they share the goal of telling stories about girls and women that aren’t often told in comics. Akhmetova’s art style is very different, though, drawing on the spookier side of mid-century children’s illustration to tell imaginative, grown-up stories. Akhmetova has focused on one-shot graphic stories in the past, but she’s now working on an ongoing webcomic, Gods Can’t Die, about a girl who becomes a god.


Marnie Galloway takes a different approach to exploring creation myths through comics. She told me that she started out as a more traditional artist, making relief prints, before realizing that she was really making sequential art that appealed to comics readers. Her intricate images, full of swirling animal and nature shapes, form a trilogy of fanciful creation myths in In the Sounds and Seas. Galloway says that she’s more influenced by literature than by comics, citing William Blake and “rad lady poets” as her jumping off points, as well as ancient epics like The Iliad and Icelandic Eddas. She’s turned inward for her latest work, “Particle/Wave,” soon to be released by So What? Press.


Landis Blair’s table caught my eye because it featured a book called The Trial: A Choose Your Own Kafka Adventure. Blair, whose work recalls early 20th century engraving and Edward Gorey, wrote Trial as part of an anthology of graphic adaptations of literature. He told me that he needed a gimmick because it’s impossible to distill Kafka’s meandering, unfinished novel into 15 pages, and because there’s something Kafka-esque about Choose Your Own Adventure stories. He advises fans of odd cat stories (and heartbreaking political allegories) begin with The Progressive Problem and its sequel. These and other short graphic stories are available at Landis Blair Illustration.


LGBTQ artists made up a smaller proportion of the exhibitors than I recall from previous years, but I did speak to three creators who focus on queer themes and representation. Megan Rose Gedris, who also tours as burlesque performer Florence of Alabia, Gedris’s comics are cheerfully dirty, depicting edgy sexual subject matter with a playful art style. She says she tries to balance out her “weird porn” with adventure and fantasy – and plenty of lesbian mermaids. When I asked Gedris where people should start when reading her work for the first time, she laughed, because it’s not every artist who thinks their vore porn is their best entry point. However, Gedris noted that Eat Me has a great plot to go with its queasy-sexy subject matter, and that it resonates with readers like nothing else she’s done. That, along with Gedris’s other finished comics and ongoing webcomic Meaty Yogurt, can be found on her website, Rosalarian.


Chad Sell has become an internet sensation as well as a unique fixture of Chicago’s drag community for his stylized portraits of the drag queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Sell’s drag images, which can be purchased in book form or as poster prints, are both fan art and documentary images of a subculture on the edge of the mainstream. Sell shared with me the unnerving experiences he’s had talking with drag queens whose performances he admires, only to find that they’re starstruck when he draws them and interviews them. He started out with edgier queens like Raja and says he still finds it easiest and most fun to portray stylized performers with avant garde looks. While his drag queen portraits sometimes overshadow his sequential art, Sell is a terrific storyteller as well, and is particularly proud of his new kid-friendly comic, Sorceress Next Door, about a little boy who wants to be a supervillain. His work, along with archive of interviews with Chicago drag queens, is at The Sellout.


Continuing a long tradition of LGBTQ slice-of-life comics is Tony Breed. After eight years developing a cult following for his webcomic, Finn and Charlie Are Hitched, Breed spun off his universe and characters into the ensemble-driven Muddlers Beat. Breed’s depiction of contemporary gay culture is both celebratory and critical, featuring body types and emotional bonds that we don’t see enough of in media representations of gay men. His comics are also bitingly funny. Breed said that his combination of wicked humor and positive representation do come from a desire for change: “People who are satisfied with their lives don’t make comics.” It’s both surprising and refreshing to hear that kind of statement from such a lighthearted creator.


Using comics to draw readers into underrepresented cultures and experiences was a common theme among many of the works at CAKE, and that goal drives two artists who approach that goal from the same angle: food. Sarah Becan’s webcomic, I Think You’re Sauceome, began as a food therapy diary but soon evolved into a celebration of diverse body types, delicious recipes, and Chicago food culture. She said the shift arrived with her realization that “loving food isn’t a fat girl trait.” Becan’s success at drawing food – and the emotions that surround it – has earned her the opportunity to illustrate menus and other commissions for local restaurants throughout Chicago. Her website features a portfolio of images that will be familiar to local foodies, as well as her travelogue, Stockholm Is Sauceome.


Robin Ha started creating her whimsical food comics when she learned to cook, in the hopes of recording the recipes she tried and sharing Korean cuisine with the world. What began on Tumblr is now a published collection, Ban-Chan in 2 Pages, and an acclaimed cookbook, Cook Korean! Ha also creates narrative comics and Tarot card designs, but she’s found real inspiration in melding cookbooks and sequential art. Recently, she’s gone beyond her family’s culture to learn about other cuisines. A trip to Nicaragua, in which she observed and illustrated locals as they cooked, has provided a wealth of material for an upcoming project on Latin American cuisine.


Chicago is lucky to have such a vibrant showcase for independent artists, and CAKE proves that a free, volunteer-run event can draw crowds. Much more than at the large conventions I’ve attended recently, most of the visitors to CAKE were there primarily for the exhibitors, and most were buying comics and prints, not just window shopping. It’s exciting to see such enthusiasm for independent comics and to see CAKE grow from year to year.

NYCC 11 – Prism Comics Makes a Big Splash at New York Comic-Con October 13-16!

Official Press Release

Prism Comics

Prism Comics Makes a Big Splash at New York Comic-Con October 13-16

Prism’s “Gay Agenda” includes a “Women in Queer Comics” panel, more than a dozen creator signings, new releases from Outlines Press, Ignite Entertainment, Northwest Press, and more!

New York, NY—Prism Comics, the premier nonprofit supporting LGBT comics, will be “queer central” for both creators and fans at New York Comic-Con from October 13-16. Prism’s double booth (#1058) will host signings with top LGBT comic book creators all weekend. Prism is also proudly hosting the panel “XX: The Women of Queer Comics”, moderated by JD Glass and featuring Paige Braddock, Jennifer Camper, Joan Hilty, Abby Denson, Kris Dresen and Erica Friedman.

“We’re excited to provide a home for the ‘barbarian’ hordes of LGBT fans in the New York area” says David Stanley, Prism’s PR Chair. “We’ll be the only booth to feature a full line of LGBT comics, from best sellers to impossible-to-find favorites.”

Prism will be hosting six featured guests throughout the show: Tony Breed (Finn and Charlie are Hitched), Dylan “NDR” Edwards (Politically InQueerect, Transposes), Jeff Krell (Jayson), Eisner nominee Kris Dresen (She’s In The Trees, gone) and Lambda Literary Award Finalist J.D. Glass (CORE) from Outlines Press, and Charles “Zan” Christensen (The Power Within, The Mark of Aeacus) from Northwest Press. The booth will also host Jennifer Camper, Topher MacDonald, Ivan Velez, Jr., Erica Friedman, Sean McGrath, Sabin Calvert, and more.

“XX: The Women in Queer Comics” takes place on Friday, October 14th, from 7:45-8:45pm. LGBT women and their straight allies are a force to be reckoned with in the comics world. JD Glass moderates a dynamic panel exploring the specific challenges they face in the traditional comics world and the changing digital landscape, as well as the unique perspectives, storytelling aesthetics, and sense of community they bring to the table. Explore the past, present, and future of women in queer comics with Paige Braddock (Jane’s World), Jennifer Camper (Rude Girls and Dangerous Women), Joan Hilty (Bitter Girl), Kris Dresen, Abby Denson (Tough Love: High School Confidential), and Erica Friedman (Yuricon & ALC Publishing).

Kris Dresen’s gone will be making its debut at New York Comic Con, and introduces the first book-length use of Dresen’s lush pencil work. “I am really excited about this,” says Glass. “We’re taking stories and worlds, bringing them to life in new ways.” Adds Dresen, “This work really pushes the boundaries in terms of storytelling and visuals.”
JD Glass will have her new title CORE, which premiered at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con, and is a bold marrying of prose and graphics. gone and CORE are are from the new publishing imprint, Outlines Press, which plans future releases by Golden Crown Finalist Susan Smith, Lambda Literary  Award winner Georgia Beers, Andi Marquette, and Susan X Meagher. The company will publish complete single books, serialized stories, and anthologies.
Jeff Krell will be bringing his new translation of Ralf König’s Down to the Bone, the sequel to the blockbuster Killer Condom. Dylan “NDR” Edwards will have preview copies of his forthcoming Transposes, and Tony Breed will have both volumes of his Finn and Charlie are Hitched collections.
Charles “Zan” Christensen will have copies of his anti-bullying comic, The Power Within, which was released this summer, and the latest full-length book from Northwest Press, Rick Worley’s A Waste of Time.

Drop by the Prism Booth for a copy of The Gay Agenda, which lists everything queer happening at New York Comic-Con, or download a copy ahead of time. For more information on Prism Comics, go to prismcomics.org.

New York Comic Con, the East Coast’s biggest popular culture convention, is held at the Javits Center at 655 West 34th Street at 11th Avenue. For more information, go to newyorkcomiccon.com.

Prism Comics is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that promotes LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) creators, characters, themes and readers in the comic book field. Along with convention appearances, Prism awards an annual Queer Press Grant, and maintains a website (prismcomics.org) with LGBT creator listings and features on all that’s queer in comics.


Web Links:
Prism Comics: http://prismcomics.org
New York Comic-Con: http://newyorkcomiccon.com
Outlines Press: http://www.outlinespress.com
Prism Comics’ “Gay Agenda” PDF: http://www.prismcomics.org/files/NYCC_The_Gay_Agenda_NYCC_2011.pdf


Prism Comics’ The Gay Agenda for New York Comic Con 2011

Kris Dresen’s gone from Outlines Press

J.D. Glass’ CORE from Outlines Press

Down to the Bone from Ignite Entertainment

The Power Within from Northwest Press

A Waste of Time from Northwest Press

Transposes by Dylan “NDR” Edwards

I Love You, You Big Weirdo by Tony Breed

Small Press Expo Announces the Ignatz Award Nominees for SPX 2011

Official Press Release

Small Press Expo Announces the Ignatz Award Nominees for SPX 2011

Bethesda, Maryland; August 18, 2011 – The Small Press Expo (SPX), the preeminent showcase for the exhibition of independent comics, graphic novels and alternative political cartoons, is pleased to announce nominees for the fifteenth annual presentation of the Ignatz Awards, a celebration of outstanding achievement in comics and cartooning.

The Ignatz, named after George Herriman’s brick-wielding mouse from his long running comic strip Krazy Kat, recognizes exceptional work that challenges popular notions of what comics can achieve, both as an art form and as a means of personal expression. The Ignatz Awards are a festival prize, the first of such in the United States comic book industry.

The nominees for the ballot were determined by a panel of five of the best of today’s comic artists, Rina Ayuyang, Mike Dawson, Kris Dresen, Theo Ellsworth, and John Porcellino, with the votes cast for the awards by the attendees during SPX. The Ignatz Awards will be presented at the gala Ignatz Awards ceremony held on Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 9:00 PM.

Additional information on the nominees and previews (as available) can be found at http://www.spxpo.com/ignatz-awards.

SPX will be held Saturday, September 10 from 11AM to 7PM and Sunday, September 11, noon-6PM at The North Bethesda Marriott Convention Center  in Bethesda, Maryland. Admission is $10 for a single day and $15 for both days.

For further information on the Ignatz Awards, the nominees or to request an interview, please contact Warren Bernard at warren@spxpo.com.

For more information on the Small Press Expo, please visit http://www.spxpo.com.

Outstanding Artist
Michael DeForge, Lose #3 (Koyama Press)
Edie Fake, Gaylord Phoenix (Secret Acres)
Renee French, H-Day (Picturebox)
Joseph Lambert, I Will Bite You (Secret Acres)
Carol Tyler, You’ll Never Know, Vol 2: Collateral Damage (Fantagraphics)

Outstanding Anthology or Collection
Black Eye, edited by Ryan Standfest (Rotland Press)
Gay Genius, edited by Annie Murphy (Sparkplug)
I Will Bite You, Joseph Lambert (Secret Acres)
Make Me a Woman, Vanessa Davis (Drawn & Quarterly)
Three #1, edited by Robert Kirby (Rob Kirby Comics)

Outstanding Graphic Novel
Gaylord Phoenix, Edie Fake (Secret Acres)
The Heavy Hand, Chris Cilla (Sparkplug)
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, Barry Deutsch (Amulet Books)
Special Exits, Joyce Farmer (Fantagraphics)
You’ll Never Know, Vol 2: Collateral Damage, Carol Tyler (Fantagraphics)

Outstanding Story
“Blood of the Virgin,” Crickets #3, Sammy Harkham (self-published)
“Browntown,” Love and Rockets: New Stories No. 3, Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
“LINT,” Acme Novelty Library #20, Chris Ware (Drawn & Quarterly)
“The most gripping mind-exploding triumphantly electric of our time,” Papercutter #15, Jonas Madden-Conner (Tugboat Press)
“Weekends Abroad,” Three #1, Eric Orner (Rob Kirby Comics)

Promising New Talent
Darryl Ayo Brathwaite, House of Twelve Monthly #3 (Comixology)
Tony Breed, Finn and Charlie are Hitched (www.hitchedcomic.com)
Jesse Jacobs, Even the Giants (AdHouse)
Jon McNaught, Birchfield Close (Nobrow)
Jesse Moynihan, Forming (Nobrow)

Outstanding Series
Crickets, Sammy Harkham
Dungeon Quest, Joe Daly (Fantagraphics)
Everything Dies, Box Brown (self-published)
Lose, Michael DeForge (Koyama Books)
Reich, Elijah Brubaker (Sparkplug Comic Books)

Outstanding Comic
Crickets #3, Sammy Harkham (self-published)
Danger Country #1, Levon Jihanian (self-published)
Habitat #2, Dunja Jankovic (Sparkplug Comic Books)
Lose #3, Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)
The Magic Hedge, Marian Runk (self-published)

Outstanding Mini-Comic
Ben Died of a Train, Box Brown (self-published)
Danger Country #1, Levon Jihanian (self-published)
Gaylord Phoenix #5, Edie Fake (self-published)
Morning Song, Laura Terry (self-published)
Trans-Utopia, Tom Kaczynski (Uncivilized Books)

Outstanding Online Comic
Alphabet Horror, Nate Marsh: www.alphabethorror.com
A Cartoonist’s Diary, Pascal Girard: www.tcj.com/author/pascal-girard/
Finn and Charlie are Hitched,Tony Breed: www.hitchedcomic.com
Hark! A Vagrant, Kate Beaton: www.harkavagrant.com
Lucky, Gabrielle Bell: www.gabriellebell.com