By Max Morris
Well hey there, welcome back to another installment of Sunday Comics at Bad at Sports. This week I’m providing you with our top picks from last weekend’s Chicago Alternative Comics Expo! CAKE is always a potent Chicago event- local talent brings out their best, and out of town publishers and artist flock in with a stock of debuts and work that’s fresh to the eyes.
When it came to my own picks, I chose to angle toward the self-published and the stapled. While there was some great work brought out by publishers such as 2D Cloud (Sec by Margot Ferrick, Extended Play by Jake Terrell) and Fantagraphics (Songy of Paradise by Gary Panter) that I picked up, one of the special things about comics shows such as CAKE are the books that fully embrace the special nature of publication, taking advantage of effects and formats that can sometimes best work in a smaller edition. It was quite a challenge to pick through the mountain of books I purchased, was given, or traded to receive, but here is a smattering of what I felt stood out at the show.
Spine by Noel Freibert, published by Bred Press
Freibert, the RL Stein of the art comic, does it again with a satisfying narrative of suburban fright and folly. The novelty of production is tickling enough- the front of the spiral-bound book features an embroidered patch on the cover, but in order to remove one must permanently damage the book. I considered if this is a commentary on the state-of-affairs for the merchandise-obsessed art book/comic book fair market. However,when it comes down to it, I believe Noel also really likes patches and destruction
I also enjoyed the printing choice, initially seeming like a standard xerox copy on white paper, but on closer investigation shows 2-color print- black ink over dark grey. The choice is absurdly subtle, and an appropriate one from maverick Chicago publisher Brad Rohloff. Available for purchase at store.brohloff.me , for more of Freibert’s work head to cutcross.storenvy.com, and be on the lookout for his full length out from Koyama Books this fall.
Various Titles by SBTL CLNG/Carolina Hicks, self-published
An artist I was particularly excited to see in advance on the CAKE Exhibitor list this year was Carolia Hicks, who publishes under the name of SBTL CLNG (Subtle Ceiling). I first encountered Carolina’s work at Chicago Zine Fest 2016, who’s table stood out just by the sheer amount of content on the table. Their work has a Ray Johnson link approach to application, with expressive and seeming coded doodling. But rather than being cryptic, the books are no-holds-barred personal revelation- explorations of sex, love, despair, politics, and philosophy are laid out on the page raw.
The way the thoughts are presented on the page move the way thoughts move through the mind- flashes of memory interspersed with documentations of interior monologue, but with an element of depth and intensity outside the trappings of a regular PerZine. The books themselves are often a mish-mash of recycled material- images are taped directly to the page, fragments are copied onto lined notebook paper, and some sections appear to be hand-colored, making each book both reproduced but also one of a kind. For more of Hick’s work, head to cargocollective.com/subtleceiling.
Sicker Book by Haejin Park and Open Letter to Sleep by Alyssa Berg – both self-published
When Krystal and myself decided to do this list, we agreed to do a Top 3 list, but I decided to cheat/cop out due to these to pleasant discoveries I made at CAKE this year. An important part of the comics festival experience is that of discovery- traveling across hundreds of exhibitor spaces looking for the unexpected. Parks’ book I found at a table shared with Paige Mehrer, whose Ex Votos was very close to making into my hot picks for the weekend. Sicker Book is less of a comic, and more like a wonderfully illustrated ecstatic koan- the colors are bright, complementing the enigmatic text, outlining a traumatic-sounding hospital visit. The production is insane, a 20 page booklet, with each insert page smaller as the book progresses, and held together delicately with a single staple in the center.
Berg’s book shares a similar approach to content, perhaps both indebted to contemporary schools of comic poetics. Berg’s book quotes Sappho and Leonard Cohen, its contents a testimonial of lonesome insomnia, a slow-and-stormy downer jam. The key takeaway from this is the drawing and printing- thick with layers of riso-ink, this book is a fantastic accomplishment in bookmaking. The mark-making is loose, and matches well with the color- one particular full page splash of an oncoming thundercloud was worth the purchase alone.
These two books represent what is exciting in small press: where rather than being shackled to the restrictions of larger-press formats and printing, an individual artist can express something more original and refreshing. For more of Park’s work, head to www.haejinart.com. For Berg, go to alyssa-berg.tumblr.com.
I felt some special mentions were required- Apple ‘69, by Brian Blomerth, printed by Tan and Loose, a bad-vibes tech-trip; Inktoby by Andy Pratt, who never met a comics page that couldn’t be filled with overwhelming detail; Stereo Sniffer by Keith Herzik, always debuting something bright and ferocious at CAKE: Combed Clap of Thunder by Zach Vaupen and Retrofit, a new book for the first time a couple of years, a black-metal cyber-mangaka, work both high in quality and evil; Fool of Memory by Ben Marcus, an adventure into Shojo-Dystopia; Tintering by Conor Stechschulte, which we previewed last week on the blog, an exploration in joy and suffering for intuitive artists; Garbage Island #3 by Max Huffman, a laugh and a half; Pallor Pink, and excellent anthology edited by Yewon Kwon and a swell group of kiddies; In the Middle of the Night by Nicole Del Rio, a small wandering of bizarre doodles just trying to get by; Gabe Howell, who had a full spread of dark books, well paired with neighboring table Caroline Cash’s bounce; Needy by Chloe Perkis, which needs no further description; Idiot Phone by George Porteus, a rubber-legged misadventure; Sophie McMahon’s full color Dreaming of Johnny, reminding us all of the horror of the pastel color palette; Enrique “Henry” Guerra’s Casino Knights, a neon-lit shortie; Walker Tate’s newest ludicrous voyage; Hiromi Ueyoshi’s animist wrangle WWWF #3; and Lale Westvind, who did not have a new book at CAKE this year, but was thrilled to finally lay hands on Mary (which I still can’t tell is body-horror or body-worship).
All this is just the tip of the iceberg of the many books I received from friends, foes, and everything in-between. If I didn’t write about your book, that means I either hated it, have not read it yet, or I think Krystal will have it in her write-up. Also very special shout out to Alicia Obermeyer for Pubes and ‘tudes, and to my B@S Sunday’s partner-in-crime Krystal DiFronzo her CAKE debut of Tongue Breaks! Thanks to everything that was great at this year’s CAKE! Keep your peeper’s peeled for Krystal’s post next week on her own picks from CAKE 2017.
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