Let Them Eat C.A.K.E. Chicago Alternative Comics Expo puts the independents up front

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Laura Park

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 »

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 »

Reading Preview: Jay Ryan/Quimby’s

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There may be plenty of people in this world who ignore the everyday reality that burdens the rest of us, who see and describe things as they choose, often with the assistance of irresistably cute animals, but most are locked up, not making a living off it. Chicago artist and printmaker Jay Ryan, of The Bird Machine, not only makes a living off making up his own world, he makes the rest of us want to live in it. His rock posters and other commissions rarely make any literal connection to the band or subject matter at hand, but there’s a method to his madness. Well sometimes. Consider this description of one poster for a Stnnng/Dianogah double bill in Minneapolis, from his forthcoming book on the Akashic imprint, “Animals and Objects In and Out of Water: Posters by  Jay Ryan, 2006-2008”: “I was building a new bike while making this print, so I drew a bike. Then I drew a fat man being thrown from the bike, but replaced him with a dolphin, but soon felt the dolphin didn’t fill the space appropriately, and didn’t really make sense, anyway. I replaced the dolphin with an icthyosaurus, and added a toaster to tie the whole composition together.” Read the rest of this entry »

Danger Drawing: Paul Hornschemeier’s Life with Mr. Dangerous comes to an end

Chicago Authors, Comics/Graphic Novels/Cartoonists 3 Comments »

By Beatrice Smigasiewicz208120315

As part of a project to help readers rediscover their online archive, the Poetry Foundation’s Ed Park turned to Chicago cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier. What followed was a two-page comic rendition of Ted Kooser’s poem, “The Giant Slide,” which felt oddly at home in Hornschemeier’s rendition of the poem. “There was something about the aching Midwestern nostalgia in there… something I feel when I’m traveling home to southern Ohio, the graying asphalt cutting through rust-and-mustard-hued fields…I could see the whole cartoon as I was reading the poem,” says Hornschemeier.

It’s not the first time a comic-book artist invites such collaboration but Hornschemeier’s style seems particularly open to it. Both illustrious and emotional in content he manages to remain immensely conceptual and visually grounded. He avoids self-indulgent sentimentality by keeping his drawing style flat and stark, and with a few exceptions he uses only muted colors. There is a kind of language quality to his drawings that read like the subtle degrees of expressions and gestures you can only register on faces of people you know well.

His 2003 debut included a somber coming-of-age allegory that centered around an 8-year-old boy who loses grasp on reality after his mothers death in, “Mother, Come Home.” A subsequent book project, “The Three Paradoxes” outlines a nostalgic visit home that’s interrupted by intersecting narratives that dwell—similar to Kooser’s poem—on the paradox of the passing of time. Though Hornschemeier himself will say that he doesn’t set out to write dark or brooding books, “I just think there’s something about doing longer, sustained narratives that causes one to become introspective and draw on things deeper within themselves: bigger questions, darker elements in their own persona or thoughts,” adding that “people are routinely surprised to find that in person I joke around all the time and am obsessed with comedy: they think that I must walk around in a constant fog of philosophical conundrums and Weltschmerz.” Read the rest of this entry »

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

Chicago Authors, Comics/Graphic Novels/Cartoonists, Fiction, News Etc., Nonfiction 1 Comment »


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 »

Reading preview: Joe Meno

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Nothing like getting inventive. Local author Joe Meno continues to push the limits of traditional lit with each of his releases—his last novel, the charming “The Boy Detective Fails,” about a Hardy Boys-like crime-solver, included a decoder ring in the packaging for chrissakes. Meno’s newest effort, “Demons in the Spring,” his second short-story collection (after “Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir”), features twenty different entries, each accompanied by an illustration from a relatively famous artist or graphic novelist. Contributors include Charles Burns, Ivan Brunetti, Paul Hornschemeier, Jay Ryan and Archer Prewitt. Meno’s tales are funny, heartbreaking and insightful, most of the time all at once—he’s getting better with age. Presenting a slide show of the book’s illustrated material is local graphic artist Anders Nilsen, who is also a contributor, and whose mini-book from a couple years ago, “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow,” I will never, ever get over. What the hell else do you want to know? Just be there. (Tom Lynch)

Joe Meno discusses “Demons in the Spring” September 25 at Quimby’s, 1854 West North, (773)342-0910, at 7pm. Free.

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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Reading preview: Paul Hornschemeier

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Chicago’s bright and shining graphic novelist, the creator of “Forlorn Funnies,” offers his latest opus, the autobiographical “The Three Paradoxes,” a book that took him four years to complete. A story within a story—complete with jumps back and forth through time debating Zeno and pre-Socratic philosophy—Hornschemeier’s created a massive “plot” within a slim page-count, too warping to explain here. What’s most effective, as always in his work, is his ability to evoke extreme emotional reaction from such subtle images and dialogue, whether it’s deep melancholy or grand elation. (“Man, no offense, but are you guys retarded?” asked to a gaggle of philosophers is a moment to remember.) “Mother, Come Home” was utterly devastating, and “The Three Paradoxes” has its way with you as well. Visually staggering, it’s one of the best local books of the year. (Tom Lynch)

Paul Hornschemeier discusses his work October 25 at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 South State, (312)747-4300, at 6:30pm. Free.