Chicago Alternative Comics Expo 2016

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Zak Sally and John Porcellino tabling at CAKE, with Dan Stafford perusing their wares

CAKE just happened in downtown Chicago. It’s such a fun show, currently in a great venue – the Center on Halstead. There’s a Whole Foods on the ground floor and come CAKE time it’s full of hungry cartoonists picking up lunch. It means you can momentarily pretend you live in this alternative reality comics town where you can casually run into Laura Park buying a hummus wrap, and then see Kevin Huizenga picking up a Dr Pepper on the way to the check out. It feels sort of right somehow.

This year there seemed to be less of an East and West Coast showing, at least to my memory. It felt more like a regional show this time around – you know, quite Midwestern in its focus. It felt too, like a show that had really found it’s footing, being well organized with super friendly and helpful staff. Debuting work was highlighted this year as well as kid-friendly books. And it’s free to get in, like the best shows always are. CAKE for me is one of the best shows. There was a great list of exhibitors including, this year, Chester Brown, Trina Robbins (signing Fantagraphics’ The Complete Wimmens Comix), Sammy Harkham, Patrick Kyle, and Leslie Stein amongst tons more.

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I tabled with Revival House Press, alongside my husband, Ted May. It always feels like we’re running a mom and pop store together (I love it!) and it was a pretty good show for us. Sales were alright for us (most people found sales to be sort of so-so this year) and we followed ‘Frank Santoro’s Rules for Tabling‘ so we had a ‘Treasure Box’ or two of old minis for sale as well as our own books. That Treasure Box, filled with books from conventions passed, did very well for us and paid for parking a few times over (Chicago, your parking system is so territorial and extortionate. Living in St Louis is like being in an improbable movie scene, where you just drive up to a restaurant and park right outside it. For free at weekends and evening. Truth.)

Well yeah. More about that Treasure Box.  Some were duplicates. Some were loved books we’d enjoyed and were ready to set free in the world. And some were junk – AKA – other people’s treasure. You know, when I went to my first ever Comix shows, dressed up, nervous, in my twenties, I’d look at every table. I was genuinely curious to feel out the scene. Boy, could vendors see me coming. I got hit by every sales pitch and in my shyness would invariable buy the cheapest thing they were selling. I’d end up with lots of stuff, stuff not always not to my taste you know. Mostly I got fleeced!

These days I’m more seasoned, experienced, inured against hard-sell sales pitches, or so I like to think. I know what my tastes are and I creep closer to a table only when my curiosity’s piqued. I know I’m missing out on some great stuff, surely, but I’m still sort of shy and still have a horror of hard sell sales-pitches. Look, comics shows are hard work! And expensive…

WELP, I spent quite a bit at CAKE this year. But happy with my purchases am I. And it’s my birthday soon so what better gift to myself than a stack of summer reading, right? Just look at this booty.

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So, in the spirit of readership I worked up the confidence to flit around on Sunday afternoon and asked a few top notch cartoonists and exhibitors, just what books THEY were psyched to have picked up at the show.

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Dave Nuss (Revival house/Alternative books) and Hazel Newlevant

Starting with my table neighbor, the awesome Hazel Newlevant – Portland born, NYC based Hazel is the editor of Chain Mail Bikini and author of No Ivy League (which is so great!).

Hazel, what was your most exciting pick this weekend?

Hazel Newlevant – “Kevin Budnick’s Handbook and Kevin Huizenga’s Comic School USA zines.”

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Marta Chudolinska

Marta Chudolinska is an artist whose work was new to me. She specializes in beautiful hand-cut linocut comics. I’m so glad I discovered her work at this show.

What are your top picks from the show Marta?

Marta Chudolinska – “The Ley Lines Czap books.

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Linocut by Marta Chudolinska

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I asked Midwestern stalwart, Zak Sally, What’s your book of the show?

Zak Sally – “Well I want to buy John Pham’s book. And King Cat 76 of course.”

John Porcellino’s Spit and a Half Distro was tabled right next to Zak.

John P, how is your show going?

John P – “Thumbs up. Not as many sales as last year but last year was unusually good for some reason.”

What’s your pick of the show?

John P – “Zack Sally’s Folrath Part 1.”

(Aw, fellas!)

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Onsmith and Chris Cilla

I asked Chris Cilla and Onsmith what their CAKE book picks were.

Chris Cilla – “The new Zak Sally book and Tiger Baby by Nate Beaty.”

Onsmith – “The new Chester Brown book. When I bought it from him, Chester asked me about my religious background so the book came with a short discussion about Lutheranism!

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Jen Tong

Jen Tong was selling beautiful handmade prints and mini comics. I wanted them all!

What are your best sellers this weekend, Jen?

Jen Tong – “My new mushroom print. And the PlantLife mini. I wish I’d brought more of them to sell.”

Can I ask who your visual influences are? I’m so in love with your prints.

Tong – “Maybe…Miyazaki. And Henry Darger!”

What’s your top pick from the weekend?

Tong – “John Pham’s new book.”

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Anya Davidson was selling her new book Gloom Planet. I asked her about what she looks for aesthetically when shopping for books at shows.

Anya Davidson – “Definitely a handmade versus a digital feel. If it’s raw and handmade looking, I’m going to stop and look at it. Narrative’s important too, as much as I love art comics.”

What are you going to work on when you get home from the show?

Davidson – “A new book for Retrofit called Lovers in the Garden.”

And what’s been your hot purchase this weekend?

Davidson – “Enter to Exit by George Porteus.”

(Anya’s much anticipated book, Band For Life will be debuting at SPX this Fall!)

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Dan Stafford of Kilgore Books

Dan Stafford of Kilgore Books was present and experiencing a great weekend.

Really? Most people have found sales to be middling this weekend.

Dan Stafford – “No, sales have been great. But only maybe because I do so badly at other shows, ha ha.”

What have been your bestsellers, Dan?

Stafford – “Sam Spina’s Vulture City stories, Noah Van Sciver’s My Hot Date. And of course the Joe Matt Paid for It book.”

What are your top personal purchases from the show?

Stafford – Tess Eneli Reid’s A Estonian Story: Silver for Bread. A fold out origami book, totally unique.”

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Kevin Huizenga

Midwestern comics superstar Kevin Huizenga was selling his new Ganges 5 at CAKE.

Hey Kevin H, what are your top CAKE picks?

Kevin H – “Chester Brown’s new book. Ley Lines by Warren Craghead (Golden Smoke) and Aisha Franz’s Eyez.”

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Thanks to old friends and new acquaintances for taking to time to talk to me! And thanks to the CAKE organizers for putting such a great show together. Ted and I drove home under a beautiful Midwestern sunset, totally enthused to get back to our St Louis hub and make more comics. I love that inspiring energy and momentum a good comics show can boost you with. And CAKE 2016 was a really great show.

I’ve got some comics to make and reading to do.

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Sacha Mardou is a Brit making comics in St Louis, Missouri. Sky in Stereo is her most recent comic.

HeroesCon 2016
Lale Westvind: Sometimes an overgrown golf course will do

2 responses to “Chicago Alternative Comics Expo 2016”

  1. Great writeup! And I agree CAKE is really something special. For the record, when I got home and added up receipts, I did basically as well as I did last year, saleswise, and last year was record stomping. I hope more people from the coasts begin making the trip to CAKE. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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