Chicago Comics Immersion: Three Exhibits to Visit Now

“Cartooning is a form of world-making,” reads the introductory text to the current comics exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Museum exhibits create immersive worlds, too, and I highly recommend three mini comics worlds contained in Chicago, listed below in order of how soon they’re going to disappear:

“Chicago Comics: 1960 to Now,” Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), $15, through October 3

“Marvel Universe of Super Heroes,” Museum of Science and Industry, $18, in addition to standard admission, through October 24 (some weekends are sold out)

“Chicago: Where Comics Came to Life (1880-1960),” Chicago Cultural Center, plus BONUS: MCA overflow exhibit in the Buddy space on the first floor,, free, limited hours, through January 9

If you’re not familiar with Chicago comics, your first question might be, why Chicago rather than the coasts? The Cultural Center exhibit delves into the industrial history that made Chicago a national center of paper production in the mid-1800s, saving publishers in the Midwest and west from having to import paper from east coast mills. This foundational shift in supply lines led not only to a fount of newspapers in Chicago, but also to the freedom to innovate, especially evident in the weird, edgy, and experimental comics produced by publications like the Tribune and the African-American Chicago Defender.

As acclaimed Chicago cartoonist and co-curator Chris Ware explains in a recent New Yorker article, technical innovations also fueled the development of groundbreaking comics in Chicago papers. A Chicago engraver in the late 1800s first developed the ability to insert images within columns of newspaper text, and color printing techniques developed and continued to improve, eventually leading to stunning visual explosions like this:

From “American Vernacular,” by Chris Ware, The New Yorker, 28 Aug 2021. Image courtesy of Peter Maresca.

Continue reading “Chicago Comics Immersion: Three Exhibits to Visit Now”

“Why Art?” by Eleanor Davis

“Why Art?” by Eleanor Davis. Fantagraphics Books. February 2018. 200 pp. Paper, $14.99. Adult.

Thanks to Better World Books, 215 S. Main St. in Goshen, for providing me with books to review. You can find or order all of the books I review at the store.

You could read this book in a flash. It’s short. It’s small. You could fold the almost life-sized hands on the cover into your own hands, then carry the book around with you, slipping it in and out of your bag as you enter and exit lines at the grocery store or the bank. I recommend that you read the book this way. Then I also recommend that you sit down with it and give it a second or third read, the time it deserves.

Illustrator and cartoonist Eleanor Davis is finally making a living on her art. Once you learn her style, you’ll see her all over the place. Check out her personal website, and you’ll see work that appeared in “The New York Times,” as well as “The New Yorker.” She’s designed Google doodles, and illustrations and posters for nonprofits like the Bronx Freedom Fund and musicians like Sylvan Esso and the Decemberists. She’s also well known for her work for kids and young adults: her 2008 TOON Book “Stinky” won her the first of many awards to come as her career progressed.

Perhaps to resist being pigeonholed, some of Davis’s recent work has been decidedly adult. “This is an 18 & over twitter! Rude jokes. Sex drawings,” she warns @squinkyelo. Yet some of her recent work for adults has also become gut-wrenchingly sweet. After she wrote “Love Story,” as she admitted to the “Women and Comics” blog, her husband and fellow artist Drew Weing had a hard time believing its sincerity: “He thought there was a catch, some secret bitterness or joke I’d hidden inside there. There wasn’t, though. It’s just a happy story about folks.” Continue reading ““Why Art?” by Eleanor Davis”

Comic or Graphic Novel? A Brief Primer on Terms

“It’s a marketing term. . . . The problem is that ‘graphic novel’ just came to mean ‘expensive comic book.’ Because ‘graphic novels’ were getting some attention, [publishers would] stick six issues of whatever worthless piece of crap they happened to be publishing lately under a glossy cover and call it The She-Hulk Graphic Novel, you know?”

–Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen and other acclaimed long-form comics, in a 2000 interview on

A lot of people ask me what the difference is between a comic and a graphic novel. In simple terms, a graphic novel is a comic with more “literary” goals than most serial comics. In the same interview cited above, Moore also lists “density, structure, size, scale, [and] seriousness of theme” as some of the qualities that might lead someone to classify a comic as a graphic novel instead. Continue reading “Comic or Graphic Novel? A Brief Primer on Terms”