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Monday, June 24

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Author Wed Jun 13 2012

A Slice of CAKE: Spotlight Jeffrey Brown

This week marks the first ever Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (for more fun, we'll refer to it as CAKE). This is the second installment of A Slice of CAKE, a two-part series spotlighting a local artist participating in the festival. For more insider perspectives attend the festival and enter the world of comics through panels, discussions and exhibiting artists including local, national and Canadian self publishers, professionals and educators.

In this interview, we welcome Jeffrey Brown, minicomics expert and Chicago mainstay. His works include autobiographical novels like Clumsy (2002) and Little Things (2008), published by Top Shelf Productions. Brown teaches once a semester at his alma matter, the School of the Art Institute. He lives in Chicago with his wife and son (a likely inspiration for his newest work, Darth Vader and Son).

As part of CAKE's programming on June 17, Brown will be leading a workshop in which he'll draw a mini comic in one hour. His new work Darth Vader and Son will be available at his expo table. I had a chance to talk with Brown about his impressions on the growth of the Chicago comics community, his thoughts on being part of festivals, and any advice he can impart on young artists.

Your presentation at CAKE, Jeffrey Brown Draws a Mini Comic, will reprise a workshop you did at Chicago Zine Fest in 2011. What do these workshops do to help build a relationship with your fans?

I had a lot of fun doing the workshop at Zine fest, it's a challenge. What's really great is being able to talk to the audience on a very casual level, show them part of my process firsthand, and let them become part of that process. I think because the situation is less formal and organized--I have everyone surround me and sit/stand wherever--people open up a little differently, ask questions they might not otherwise. It feels less like a "talk" and more like hanging out.

Your newest collection Darth Vander and Son is now available. How does CAKE fit in to its debut?

The original idea was to debut it for Father's Day, which is the second day of CAKE, but we realized in order for people to buy it as a gift for Father's Day, the book would have to be in stores well before then.


What do you look forward to by participating at events like CAKE or Zine Fest?

The thing I always look forward to most is discovering some obscure, unexpected or unusual minicomic that I wouldn't have found anywhere else. Of course, Quimby's has pretty much everything you could want for self-published comics and zines, but sometimes they're sold out. And after moving, I don't get to Quimby's as often.

I have seen you at traditional comic conventions, like the Windy City Comic Con in 2009. How do you see the success of commercial comics affecting independent self published comics?

It's tough to gauge how much of an effect there is, if any. I think the biggest effect has come from the success of comics that began as self-published, or artists who started out with minicomics and independent or small press publishers, and moved onto larger publishing houses as their audience grew. That includes the work of Chicago native Dan Clowes, and most recently perhaps, the work of Alison Bechdel.

You've been a part of Chicago's independent comics community for over a decade. In one of your earlier graphic novels, I remember a few panels where you drew yourself sitting at Earwax café working on comics. How have you seen it grow over the course your career?

There's definitely a sense of younger cartoonists in Chicago, something I especially see in teaching classes at The School of the Art Institute. It seems like the community here has an expanding presence, whether in the rise of shows like Zinefest and CAKE or events like the recent comics conference at the University of Chicago.

As someone who looked to others in the field, like Chris Ware, as a mentor, what would be one piece of advice you could impart to aspiring beginner comics artists?

The one piece of advice that I can't stress enough is to make work--work, work, work. Talent alone isn't enough, or even good ideas. You really need to put in the work, create as much as you can to hone your craft, build an audience, and have something to show.

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