Thursday, June 15, 2017

CAKE And A Site Update

Due to travel and other factors, I haven't had a chance to update the site this week. Patrons should expect a make-up review from last week as well as a new review tomorrow. Regular programming will return next Monday.

Meanwhile, a few scattered thoughts from CAKE, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo.

** My expectations were right-on: it was the best show, table-to-table, I'd ever attended.

** As a mid-sized show, it was the best-run show I've ever been to. SPX is generally still the champ at this, but there was a level of execution at this show at all levels that was impressive.

** It's a juried show, but the jury process was very interesting as far as I could sense it at work. The range of special guests was interesting, as they brought in some younger artists (Jessi Zabarsky) and established art-comics stars like Gary Panter and Ron Rege'. What was more interesting was the concentrated effort to bring in a hugely diverse group of exhibitors who were under 30. I hadn't heard of nearly two dozen excellent cartoonists before I attended the show, and their work was impressive. I'm not even going to bother to specifically count the male-to-female cartoonist ratio, because the eye test said it was 50-50 or better.

** The venue itself was welcoming. While the front room wasn't a great place overall for sales (there are only a few tables and it's cut off from the rest of the floor), the fact that the main show was in a converted gym meant that there were some bleachers on one said that people could sit on to rest. The show was on the third floor, and the first floor of the Center On Halsted was occupied by a grocery store--perfect for popping down briefly for food or drink. Excellent synergy there.

** The show offered a genius idea when you walked on: pronoun stickers (he, she, they, etc.). It's another mark of the show trying to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome.

** CAKE had a slew of con-related events. There was a reading at legendary comics/zine/book store Quimby's on Friday night with several cartoonists. I managed to catch an astounding reading by Emil Ferris (more on her later) and Gabrielle Bell, who also killed. Then there was a post-reading reception. I got to meet cartoonists November Garcia and Chris Cilla for the first time, as well as talk to folks like Jordan Shiveley, Simon Hanselmann, Kevin Huizenga, Jacq Cohen and many more.

** Then there was an afterparty at a swanky bar hosted by Revival House (I noted to November that I wasn't nearly cool enough to be there) and I got to meet Eric Kostiuk Williams, Iona Fox, and Cooper Whittlesey. Spending time with so many cartoonists I've met from CCS made the weekend a great deal of fun.

** After the show on Saturday, another bar was hosting cartoonists. There was a wonderful get-together right after the show on the patio of the venue, then a concert featuring Panter & Rege' and another featuring Anya Davidson and Conor Stechschulte, then everyone convened to yet another bar.

** All of this points to how great Chicago is and how remarkably warm the community is there. One got a real sense of "let's all put on a show", even as CAKE had shifted into bringing in a number of new members on their steering committee. They genuinely cared about everyone at the show having a great experience, from exhibitor to spectator. There was some discussion as to why Chicago was such a great cartooning town, going back thirty years or more. One clue was the sense of continuity and tradition, and that was personified by the fact that Chris Ware and Ivan Brunetti attended both CAKE on Sunday and the concert later. Chris said he wondered the same thing and thought that the mix of urban living and culture with relatively cheap prices all around helped, as did the brutal winters that demanded that people stay inside to work. It was nice, as an outsider, to experience that culture first-hand.

** As predicted, Jenny Zervakis' Strange Growths did quite well. John Porcellino reported selling a case of them even as sales were down overall. The fact that the Cubs were in town didn't help, as they soaked up most of the local parking (the venue is a few blocks away from Wrigley field). It was also really hot.

** Strange Growths was definitely one of the books of the show. I'd say that Juliacks' debut with 2dcloud, Architecture Of An Atom, was another. One thing I've been following for years is when a small publisher starts to make the leap to become a far greater presence. 2dcloud's table had a critical mass of great works, indicating a confident and assured series of creative decisions by publisher Raighne Hogan and the many other people who make up 2dcloud. Silver Sprocket was another publisher that's clearly coming into their own, with several debuts and a strong sense of identity, as publisher Avi Ehrlich has transitioned from simply making music to becoming a comics publisher. Czap Books is yet another vanguard of comics' cutting edge. And of course, Uncivilized continues to move from strength-to-strength as a publisher, as does Koyama, but those are known quantities. That's not even taking into account the dizzying array of local publishers and collectives, like Bred Press or Perfectly Acceptable Press.

** RIP to Yeti Press, which published an array of deeply personal and eccentric books. The mere act of publishing Eric Nebel (whom I got to meet) earns them accolades forever. Their last book was by Leigh Luna, a young cartoonist whose work I greatly admire.

** Other personal highlights included meeting Kim Jooha (new associate publisher of 2dcloud) for the first time, spending late nights talking to Scott Roberts, and hanging out with the delightful November Garcia. The excitement for comics that those three possess is infectious.

** The other highlight of my weekend was moderating the Place As Character panel. This was going to be a tricky panel because I knew I'd have to talk more than I prefer in order to get some specific information from each panelist, which meant hoping that they were all willing to take my questions and run with them. Fortunately, run with them they did, no matter how abstract or philosophical they were. The panelists were Emil Ferris, Sophia Goldstein, Laura Knetzger and Mita Mahato. Each artist used place as a kind of character in very different ways, and each artist has a radically different style that informs their work. I first asked how their formal choices informed their use of place and went from there. I was lucky that each artist had carefully considered the subject beforehand and was well-prepared to discuss the topic.

Ferris has a commanding, compelling presence on stage yet is far from a showboat; she's generous and giving as a panelist, both in terms of articulating her own work as well as interacting with the other panelists as well as myself. She made some comments about liking a flawed line with some dirt in it because we as humans are dirty and come from dirt that I found fascinating. At the same time, Goldstein's analytical approach that welcomed the idea of perfect linework had its own appeal even as the source of her work is so much darker than Ferris'. Goldstein touched on the deep, threatening and primal mysteries of the forest and agreed that her environments were in direct opposition to her characters, even if her protagonists were never heroes. Knetzger's gentle, cartoony style saw her concentrating on trying to create a sense of texture in her environment of everything except the Bug Boys themselves; she wanted them to remain nebulous in the minds of her readers. Mahato's paper-constructed comics took a tack similar to Goldstein's in that she wanted to unroot the reader from a sense of specificity of place and character by exploring abstractions to their furthest limits. The whole panel should hopefully be online soon.

Special thanks to Jessica Campbell for being so organized and kind with regard to the panel, and everything else the rest of the weekend.

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