By Greg Baldino
Chris Ware’s “Building Stories” is a literal and figurative odd fit for the graphic novel section. Arriving not in the form of a bound volume, but instead in a matte-textured box containing “14 distinctively discrete books, booklets, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets”—all working in concert to tell stories of the tenants of a three-story apartment building in Chicago, it takes Ware’s approach to visual storytelling to a new level of game-changing.
The title is appropriate. In a way Ware’s works have always been “building” stories. The architectural precision, not only in his design of spaces but the layout of the very page, has always been the most recognizable aspect of his style. Here he makes the format fit the form, as these stories would play havoc with the constraints of a uniform, ordered volume. In the physically and chronologically smallest ephemeral narrative, one of the tenants storms out under-dressed into the snow, angry at her life. The episode itself takes place on a strip of paper a mere three inches wide and two feet long. The same character reappears in a newspaper-sized bundle later in her life: different times, different problems. In yet another form, this time a zine-like minicomic follows the tragicomic domestic exploits of a bee who can be found flying in, around, and out of the central building. One of Ware’s skills has always been playing with the spatial dimensions of images, playing out the fragments of tiny thumbnail-sized panels against broad panoramas of time and geography. Read the rest of this entry »
By Nikki Dolson
Tony Breed is the creator of “Finn and Charlie Are Hitched,” the story of a married couple living their lives, working, helping (or trying to help) their friends and—once a year—epically cooking the turkey for Thanksgiving. Breed draws the ordinary life of one gay couple, and the result is sweet—even when the couple are being snarky about who’s cooking dinner—and funny, particularly when the pair deals with getting older and major life issues like unemployment. But it is the heart that Breed infuses into his comic that makes “Finn and Charlie are Hitched” work.
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By Lara Levitan
While David David Katzman was finishing his second novel, “A Greater Monster,” he was also performing a one-man improv show. Taking a single cue from the audience, he hopped around the stage playing multiple characters, an experience he now describes as “nutty.”
“The audience, I think, was supportive because they were like, ‘Wow, this kid is working without a parachute here,’” says Katzman.
The author doesn’t do improv anymore, but in many ways he’s still a one-man show. Surpassing the standard protocol of self-publishing, Katzman established his own independent press, Bedhead Books, in order to print, promote and manually distribute both of his experimental novels, “Death by Zamboni” (1999) and “A Greater Monster” (2011). (The latter is also distributed by Last Gasp, which specializes in the subversive and underground.) He launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of “A Greater Monster,” offering personalized, stream-of-consciousness style letters as prizes—a collection of which will be published by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. Read the rest of this entry »
By Greg Baldino
On July 24, a party was held in the lobby of the Inland Steel Building to celebrate the launch of “Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury” on Chicago soil. The book, edited by Bradbury biographer Sam Weller and polymath Mort Castle, had officially debuted at the San Diego Comic Con with contributors Margaret Atwood and Joe Hill, but on that Tuesday the book’s Midwestern roots were trumpeted. On hand were the editors themselves, proud as parents, as well as a roster of Chicago and Midwest literary talent: Joe Meno, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Audrey Niffenegger, Jay Bonansinga and Bayo Ojikutu—all of whom had penned original stories for the volume.
Nursing one of several beers enjoyed that night (less for the alcoholic buzz than for something cold to wipe across my brow in the summer heat), I was surprised to see an artist friend in the audience. They’d walked in off the street, believing the party to be a reception for the collection of local club posters that decorated the space. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a community of retired people at Mather’s Cafe in Norwood Park. Some take exercise classes, some take computer classes, some bide their time in the cafeteria. Some, like Sam DiMatteo, write books.
DiMatteo worked for twenty-two years as a mechanic at Procter and Gamble. His mentor once told him, “You’ll never reach your full potential here. You’re creative, and they’ll never let you express it.”
When he retired he got an associate degree and took creative writing classes. He took photographs and took up painting. He’s also a laughing yoga instructor at Mather’s. Read the rest of this entry »
By Greg Baldino
As books and comics get adapted into movies and television shows that rake in enough bank to set up studio heads with actual Uncle Scrooge-style money bins, there’s a terrible trend in crafting stories as Hollywood pitches. On the flip side is the desperate clinging to the nineteenth-century form of the novel that risks alienating readers who are not the upper-class audience with copious leisure time that constituted the literary readership back in the day.
Into this troubled condition comes Joe Meno’s novel “Office Girl.”
Set in the final year of the twentieth century, the book follows Chicago twentysomethings Jack and Odile on a vendetta against boredom. By day they work in an office call center, hawking medical supplies over the phone. The rest of the time, they stage commando art gestures ranging from simple graffiti to dressing in bed-sheet ghost and riding the trains. It’s far from a quirky boy-meets-girl story, as both have their share of emotional baggage and damage, and the pair ends up on a path that takes them to unexpected futures. Read the rest of this entry »
By Rachel Helene Swift
In 2009, Chicago cartoonist Dan Carroll cracked open the first printer’s proof of his self-published graphic novel, “Stick Figure Hamlet.” The book, which began life as a web comic in 2005, stages Shakespeare’s uncut script in simple, evocative line drawings. With an eye for comedic timing, Carroll shifts between slapstick farce and tense drama; he combines a sensitive and humane approach to character with a sly knack for literary subversion—for example, his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern look suspiciously like Bert and Ernie from “Sesame Street.” I caught up with Carroll on the three-year anniversary of “SFH”’s publication to talk about Shakespeare, comics and how self-publishing has treated the cartoonist and his literary progeny.
What prompted you to write “Stick Figure Hamlet?” Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Faith Choi
Women are 5.3 times more likely to appear naked in a book than be paid to work on one, according to research by comics scholar and author Anne Elizabeth Moore.
Moore wants to improve the depiction of women in comics, and to create more opportunities for women in comics. For the two weeks leading up to the first Chicago Alternative Comics Convention (CAKE), she put on the second year of the Adventure School for Ladies comics intensive, a small collaborative program open to applicants of all genders that hosted eight individuals this year. Read the rest of this entry »
The shape of things to come in the burgeoning Chicago independent comics scene will come into focus when the first-ever Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, C.A.K.E., hits town this month. The organizing committee has planned a two-day festival to host discussions, foster community and, of course, showcase independent comics. Read the rest of this entry »
Martha Rosenberg’s scrutiny of Big Pharma and agribusiness is so bleak and unrelenting, it sometimes seems to go beyond muckraking into something more closely resembling war correspondence. On one side of the battlefield are the pharmaceutical companies, depicted here as blockbuster-fixated marketing organizations that, having run thin of obvious diseases to treat, seek to convert the fixed circumstances of life—being young, being old, being male, being female—into medicable ailments. Their comrades-in-arms are Monsanto and other gene-tinkering research companies, whose overarching mission is to overwhelm and supplant nature with profit-driven science. Allied with both of them are revolving-door regulatory agencies and interest-conflicted professional associations, and much of the authority and knowledge structure of society, from the military to the university to the media.
On the other side is just… us, reduced to guinea pigs and passive inhabitants of an increasingly chemicalized reality. Only in America are prescription drugs treated as advertisable commodities, creating the widespread impression, after sufficient battering by pharmaceutical TV commercials, that every variety of human suffering and inadequacy is a preventable symptom of pill deficiency, and producing an irresistible pressure on even the most conscientious of physicians to prescribe, prescribe, prescribe.
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