Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ten Artists To Seek Out At CAKE 2017

I will be attending the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE) this Saturday and Sunday, June 9th & 10th. I'm excited to meet a number of Chicago-area artists for the first time, and of course will be looking for comics for review. On Sunday at 3pm, I will be moderating a panel titled "Place As Character", featuring the artists Emil Ferris, Laura Knetzger, Sophie Goldstein and Mita Mahato. All panels will take place on the third floor of the Hoover-Leppen Theatre. CAKE has a tremendous amount of talent, perhaps the most per capita of any American art festival. This is a show with special guests like Gary Panter, the explosively popular Emil Ferris, Simon Hanselmann, Kevin Budnik and many more. Here are ten artists you might be less familiar with that you should consider visiting if you attend the show.

1. Haleigh Buck (Table 315). This autobiographical cartoonist from Baltimore is making some of the rawest, densest comics about dealing with mental illness as part of everyday life, including how she dealt with an enormous breakdown. Her naturalistic style has a surreal edge to it and she maintains a wicked sense of humor throughout.

2. Chris Cilla (Table 205). His book The Heavy Hand is one of my favorite comics of all time, fusing a variety of styles together seamlessly to create a psychedelic, hilarious journey that defies all of the genre conventions that the book explores. His minis are also excellent, creating his own brand of underground comics that acknowledge all of their forebears without being beholden to any one in particular.

3. Cathy Hannah (Table 410). Hannah is another autobio cartoonist who writes about the intersection of the personal and political in interesting ways. She spills a lot of ink in delving deep into her own mental illness issues, her feelings about relationships and documenting her own therapeutic breakthroughs in real time. She uses an inviting, cartoony style to tell her stories.

4. Sophie McMahan (Table 403). Ever since one of her comics appeared in my mailbox, I've been astounded by the sophistication of her critiques of beauty, image and the male gaze through the use of body horror and distorted versions of 1950s-style advertising illustrations. Every one of her comics is both aesthetically beautiful and thematically challenging.

5. Carolyn Nowak (Table 505). She's doing some fantastically funny comics about sex, gender identity, culture and intimacy, with her recent Diana's Electric Tongue especially notable. A winner of the Ignatz award last year, her comics have a sense of lived-in warmth that's part of her sharp critiques. Her work is questing, curious, warm, funny and extremely smart.

6. Ben Passmore (Table 307). He just earned an Eisner nomination for his breakthrough short comic Your Black Friend, a pointed meditation on racial alienation. However, his other comics, like his postapocalyptic-autobio series Daygloayhole, are every bit as provocative, dealing with issues like addiction, isolation and connection, told with a weary sense of humor and razor-sharp intellect.

7. Ethan Rilly (Table 405). Rilly's Pope Hats series is one of the best things going in comics. Its serialized storyline about a law clerk named Frances features characterizations that rarely found in comics, gorgeous character design and an unerring ability to use stillness and pauses as a key part of his storytelling. His comics are subtle, beautiful and immensely satisfying.

8. Yumi Sakugawa (Table 220). This is an artist whose sharply-observed observations about art and gender dovetail beautifully with her sense of composition that makes extensive use of negative space. There's also a slightly exaggerated sense of reality to be found in her comics, often mediated through her frequent use of a reserved or deadpan narrative voice. UPDATE: Yumi Sakugawa has cancelled.

9. Eric Kostiuk Williams (Table 510). Williams' gained a lot of notice with his Hungry Bottom Comics series, a comic that mixed autobiographical essays about being young and queer in Toronto with surreal dreamscapes. Williams' potent mix of incredibly fluid draftsmanship and a probing mind helped get an Eisner nomination with his recent Babybel Wax Bodysuit, and his recent Heartbreak Condo Disco from Koyama Press.

10. Jenny Zervakis (Table 105). It's a conflict of interest to suggest that her debut collection of Strange Growths could very well be the book of the show, given the fact that I interviewed her for a section at the end of it. However, I'm not the only one eagerly awaiting this book that collects the first 13 issues of her minicomic, mostly from the 90s when she was a publishing mainstay. That John Porcellino had been planning to do this kind of collection for years speaks to the respect he has for her work. Her thin, penciled line tells stories that are poetic, still, funny and sharply observed.

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