Clowes Encounter: Talking Comics and Chicago with Cartoonist Daniel Clowes

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By Ray Pride

An early spring afternoon a few days ago along Milwaukee Avenue, south of North, east of Damen, so far removed from the Wicker Park of the 1990s: I pause in front of Myopic Books, still standing, surrounded by storefronts peopled by yupscale saloons, Levis, American Apparel, and remember the days when it was Earwax Café, the front windows there? It had two-top tables in both the plate-glass windows where you could watch the passersby on the street, or turn your head, and watch the other customers, and on certain days and nights, catch sight of a clutch of furiously productive scribblers, which could include Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Archer Prewitt, Gary Leib, among others. They hadn’t “arrived,” but they were there.

I was, too. The food was cheap and heavy, tending to the vegan, and the ashtrays were as often filled with torn-up notes a writer had digested or an artist had rejected as with ashes. My clearest memory of sighting the young artistes was while awaiting a momentous date with a not-yet-girlfriend, sitting at the table in that window, the girl who looked into small tatters and saw her name, and looking away with mild mortification over her shoulder and catching sight of scribblers off to the side, taking in the smell of the food and the not-quite-burnt coffee in the air before looking back at her blushing face. The scraps, the girl, the general atmosphere: plus the furious nurture of a few of the founding foundlings of the still-spreading school of Chicago cartoonists hunched over a free meal.

Now, in the decades since, Clowes’ lovingly rendered Midwestern grotesques have colonized the consciousness of a couple generations of readers far beyond the Chicago comics scene in the waning of the twentieth century. I like talking to Dan. He laughs easily and scores points quietly. We were talking since the 1990s, but I’ve had agreeable structured, journo-subject interviews with Clowes since at least the 2001 release of the movie of “Ghost World.” We tried to remember if and when our respective pasts might have first crossed in those formative Chicago years. It could have been a gallery opening for Ware’s work, he suggests, but we figure it might also have been at some casual locale like the Rainbo Club, and we had probably bristled at each other at some point or another, with a fine mix of shyness, fear and hostility. “In the way we do—we Chicagoans do,” Clowes agreed, laughing. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit 50 2014: Who Really Books in Chicago

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Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux

When we began work on the 2012 version of Lit 50, there were some 200 published writers on our long list. This year, there were 437. As always, trimming the list to a mere fifty writers required a certain kind of agony (and a few sleepless nights), but we’re proud of the list we gathered here, and we feel it celebrates the wealth of talent and diversity of Chicago’s literary community.

Close followers of Lit 50 will know this year’s list celebrates writers across all forms: novelists, essayists, poets, graphic novelists, playwrights. Our call to local literary folk yielded a wealth of celebratory news: overseas teaching offers, sealed book deals, hard-earned fellowships and awards. It also introduced dozens of writers that were not already known to us. We’re proud that this year’s Lit 50 includes seventeen writers who are making their first appearance on this list, including Chris Abani, the Nigerian-born writer who escaped a death row sentence in 1991 and now teaches graduate students at Northwestern University. We’re thrilled to add Lindsay Hunter, Cristina Henriquez, and Kate Harding, women whose voices we’ve long admired and whose forthcoming books we’re impatient to read. We’re also eager to welcome a handful of poets, including Roger Reeves, Parneshia Jones, and Roger Bonair-Agard.  It’s our crazy hope that in 2016, the “short” list will have doubled once more. But someone’s going to have to bring us some whiskey. (Naomi Huffman)

Lit 50 was written by Liz Baudler, Brendan Buck, Brian Hieggelke, Alex Houston, Naomi Huffman, Megan Kirby, Micah McCrary and John Wilmes

All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Spertus Institute/Venue SIX10
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Machines for Reading: The Architecture of Chris Ware’s “Building Stories”

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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 »

Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2012

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Finishing the Lit 50 is always such a bittersweet ending for me. What starts out as such a pleasure of discovery—Chicago’s literary world now has more than 200 published writers!—ends in the sorrow of having to leave so many worthy names off the list. We do our best to reflect the sum of our knowledge and reporting, to add in diversity of style, medium and genre, and to constantly introduce new players to the mix. But we know that, in the end, many choices might appear capricious, that for every worthy individual honored, two have been overlooked. A day later, after the lingering effects of sleep, sunlight and exercise deprivation and an overdose of junk food and energy drinks abates, I know we’ll return to where we started: overjoyed at the growing literary abundance of our city.

Careful readers will remember that we alternate lists each year, between the behind-the-scenes influencers and the on-the-page creators; this year belongs to the latter. Which is why you won’t see represented the two most talked-about new endeavors in literary Chicago: J.C. Gabel’s magnificent revival of The Chicagoan, and Elizabeth Taylor’s noble undertaking, Printers Row. We are confidently hopeful, or perhaps hopefully confident, that they’ll still be around to have their day a year from now. (Brian Hieggelke)

Lit 50 was written by Greg Baldino, Ella Christoph, Brian Hieggelke, Naomi Huffman and Micah McCrary. See previous years here.
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411: The Word in Comics

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Chris Ware Self-Portrait

“There are two sides of comics that are always competing: the text and the image, ” says Ingrid Olson. If last year’s Comic Symposium of Chicago emphasized the image, this year’s successor event hones in on the word when School of the Art Institute hosts its second annual Small Press and Comics Symposium ( March 24.

Organized by Olson and other SAIC alumni, the event features two panel discussions with ten Chicago presses and comic artists aimed at exploring the connections between the small press, independent publishing and comics communities. Moderated by University of Chicago comics scholar Hillary Chute, the comics discussion will include Chris Ware, Onsmith, Corinne Mucha and Aaron Renier, and will tackle such questions as the “changing cultural status of comics.” The Chicago press discussion features panelists from Front Forty Press, Featherproof Books, Green Lantern Press and Poetry magazine, and is moderated by publisher Sally Alatalo. Both panel discussions are free and open to the public. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit 50: Who really books in Chicago 2010

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Illustration: Pamela Wishbow

A strange and unpleasant wind blows through the literary land. Our obsession with technocultural toys, whether iPhones, iPads or Kindles, makes the foundation of thought almost since thought was recorded, that is ink on paper, seem increasingly destined to be twittered into obsolescence. And it’s not just mere media frenzy, either. Massive upheaval among major publishers these last few years has left some of Chicago’s finest writers stranded in a strange land: that is, the work is finished, but no one is around to put it out. Who knows, maybe in two years when this version of Lit 50 returns, some, if not all, of our authors will be publishing mostly, if not entirely, in the digital realm. If that’s the case, let’s enjoy an old-fashioned book or two while we can. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Forward Literature: Granta’s Chicago Issue, Richard Powers and more

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Granta, the literary magazine founded by Cambridge University students in 1889, has a long and storied history of publishing political material as well as the work of several writers. It was relaunched in 1979 as a platform for new writers, and reworked again in 2007 with new editor Jason Cowley. Alex Clark, the magazine’s first female editor, took over for Cowley after he left, and when Smith stepped down, the magazine’s American editor, John Freeman, a frequent Newcity contributor, took her position.

Granta’s fall issue, number 108, is Chicago-themed, and the marvelous collection features entries from Aleksandar Hemon, Alex Kotlowitz, Neil Steinberg, Richard Powers, Sandra Cisneros, Stuart Dybek and more. Don DeLillo offers a brief introductory essay to a Nelson Algren piece, and Chris Ware did the issue’s cover. A photo essay by Camilo Jose Vergara is included and provides an intermission to the text. This collection serves as a packaged insight into what Chicago means—how it feels to live here, be from here, exist within a city sometimes difficult to love yet impossible to resist. I chatted with Freeman over email to get some of his thoughts on the upcoming issue. Read the rest of this entry »

Printers Row Lit Fest: Highlights

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Saturday, June 6vfa05_egge_1400095565_aup

Dave Eggers [pictured] will be one of the first authors of the day, discussing his book “What Is the What” at the Harold Washington Library Center at 10am…Thomas O’Gorman will moderate a discussion with authors Frank Delaney, Mike Houlihan and Mary Pat Kelly at 10:30am at the Hotel Blake Burnham Room…Kim Bob, author of “Wage Theft in America” and Jon Jeter will hold a discussion moderated by Thomas Geoghegan at the University Center Lake Room…in the same location at noon C. Todd White, author of “Pre-Gay LA” and Karen Graves, author of “And They Were Wonderful Teachers” will discuss their works with Brian Bouldrey…at 1pm Newcity’s Tom Lynch will hold a discussion with Gerald Gems and Steven Riess, co-editors of “The Chicago Sports Reader,” in the Hotel Blake Burnham Room…Elizabeth Taylor will speak with Aleksandar Hemon and Joseph O’Neill at 2:30pm at the Harold Washington Library Center Read the rest of this entry »

Printers Row Book Fair Highlights 2008

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The annual Printers Row Book Fair offers a its usual plethora of must-see readings, panel discussions and presentations, not to mention all those book for sale. Here’s a rundown of some highlights—for the full schedule visit
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Lit 50: Who Really Books in Chicago 2008

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Chicago’s book world can be a quiet place. In part due to the solitary nature of the work, and in part due to the void of publishing parties that keep New York’s assorted gawkers journaling away, it’s easy to think nothing new is happening. Jeffrey Eugenides moves to town, Jeffrey Eugenides moves away, and no one seems to notice. Then, bam!, Aleksandar Hemon publishes “The Lazarus Project,” the comparisons to Nabokov resume and suddenly we’re the center of the universe again, if only for a moment.
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