Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Book Club

One-Shots Tue Feb 11 2014

Write Club Wants to Add Punch to Your Valentines This Year

il_570xN.561878396_hwre.jpgIf you conscript someone else to write a love letter to your beloved, does it still count? It's a question as old as Cyrano de Bergerac and as current as Spike Jonze's Her. (The Awl hosted an entertaining mini-debate on the subject in recent weeks, with Maria Bustillos arguing that the concept was insane and Bonnie Downing countering with the story of her gig ghostwriting letters as part of an art project.)

This year, Write Club founder Ian Belknap and Lindsay Muscato plan to weigh in by crafting writerly, typewritten love (or hate, up to you) letters after a quick phone or Skype conversation with the purchaser. You can commission one for $9.75 via Etsy, and they won't judge you for scrambling to put together a Valentine plan this late in the game. They launched the project just yesterday, after a wildly successful stint this past weekend producing letters on demand for guests at the Museum of Contemporary Art's most recent First Friday event.

Daphne Sidor

Events Wed Dec 04 2013

Face the Seven-Headed Birkensnake 6 at Uncharted Books

1460007_10202787023500876_1058427813_n.jpg"We hope for strong inhuman voices. We are weary of stories that present luminous dialogues between men and women. We hope for less luminous dialogue. More biology." So, in part, reads Birkensnake's submissions/mission statement. It's only natural, then, that the annual fiction journal's latest production seeks to defamiliarize the very forms of the lit mag and the public reading.

To break it down by numbers: this is Birkensnake's sixth issue. Of which there are seven versions entirely different in theme, design, and content. Each of which was co-curated by two guest editors, strangers at the time they were assigned to work together. Each variant has been hand-bound by a different artist, and they are lovely objects, packaged variously inside boxes or between bright covers resembling a child's board book.

They're also not for sale. To get one, you'll have to work a little. Chicagoans get their chance this Friday, December 6, at Uncharted Books, 2630 N. Milwaukee, at 7pm. Under the guidance of guest editor Megan Milks (who helped put together a volume of "Neverending Tales"), audience members choose the version they'd like to take home and then are assigned to read a piece from it. They--and you?--will also be joined by contributors James Tadd Adcox (The Map of the System of Human Knowledge) and Wyatt Sparks. Admission's free.

Photo by Megan Milks.

Daphne Sidor

One-Shots Mon Oct 10 2011

One-Shots: Tony Akins

Delving into Tony Akins' career in comics yields a rich, multi-layered history. To say the Afro-Carribean-Irish Chicago native continues to follow in an artistic tradition is true and yet in some ways a misnomer -- although he comes from a creative background, Akins' choices and work display his definitive and detailed style. This is reflected in his work on Fables, Jack of Fables, Hellblazer: Papa Midnite, Elementals, and more.

Sadly, the possibility that Tony will leave here for Seattle in the not-so-distant future is high. I was lucky enough to talk with DC/Vertigo artist about his history and process before he heads west.

Name: Tony Akins
Job: Comic book artist
Age: Really!?
Education: Incandescent Drop-out, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Location: Ravenswood Manor
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Favorite place in Chicago: Any place that presents an interesting aspect or view that seems to be just for me in that moment.


You're originally from Chicago?

Yes I am. I was born on the South Side, raised on the South Side. I think St. Luke's Presbyterian Hospital, and raised at 66th and Marquette for the first few years of my life. Then we bought a house out near Avalon Park, which is out by Chatham, South Shore. My mother still lives in the same house.

South Side, but I guess a naturalized Northsider.

Your dad was an artist too, right?

He was a jack of all trades, which I guess he needed to be for the day. In my life he did everything from design signs, hand-paint signs, process, cut-out, hang in stores. He made signs, he was a social editor at the Chicago Defender, he was a cartoonist, he was an old-school emcee.

I think some of the first cartoons of his I've been able to find online were from 1941, editorial stuff that he continued to do for as long as I can remember. And then also writing a social column for the The Defender, which involved him going to and hosting parties and commenting on who was there. It was kind of like an early version of People magazine. That particular column was essentially who was there and who was seen with who. That's what he enjoyed doing, and it left an impression on me...the writing, the cartooning.

Did he encourage you to be an artist?

No! He did not, he tried to steer me away from it, so to this day I'm kind of conflicted about what I do. I even tried to derail it at one point by joining the military, which did not work out, obviously.

That whole relationship was very strife-ridden, because I saw him doing it, I enjoyed drawing, I had a knack for it. It was very hard-pressed between us because of it. My dad being African-American in America in the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s -- his education was limited. He had's cliché, but it's true. He dropped out of school in the fourth grade to support his mom and siblings. He was a self-made man and proud of what he did, and he wanted me not to have to do that. Vocation was very important.

Jack of Fables #28

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Rose Lannin

One-Shots Mon Jun 20 2011

One-Shots: Shawn King

A cheerful, cozy comic book haven located in the Morse Arts District, Evil Squirrel Comics has weathered its share of bumps -- since its opening on Free Comic Book Day in 2006, owner Shawn King's dealt with leaking roofs, the move to its current location, and the economic recession that's hit businesses across the board. But the Detroit-born, now-Chicagoan has pulled through and continues to, thanks to community outreach, a diverse selection of comics, toys, and games, and an enduring love of the sequential art medium. We talked about how he got there, what's next, and what's going on right now at the Northside institution.

Name: Shawn 'Sparky Bobby' King
Job: Owner of Evil Squirrel Comics
Age: 34
Location: Chicago
Hometown: Detroit
Favorite place in Chicago: The Glenwood Bar


Did you always want to open a comic book store?
Truthfully it wasn't always my life's ambition to open a comic book shop.but when I moved back to Rogers Park in 2004 and realized that the nearest comic shop was in Evanston, I saw a void that needed to be filled.

Your store's gone through some economic and location shifts in the last few years. How did you, in the words on your website, get your shit together? What do you feel really pulled you out?

We only moved the shop once. After our first year we outgrew the incredibly small space that we started in, and moved to our current location nestled in the Rogers Park Art District. I think getting our shit together is still an ongoing process. We've recently upgraded our website and are currently getting ready to sell digital comics. Times are changing and I'm always willing to adapt, so I'm constantly getting my shit together. Unfortunately, I don't feel that we've been pulled out of our economic problems yet, but if we can keep up the pace we're going I am sure we will be by the end of summer.

Current storefront [via Comic Book Candy]

What do you feel the neighborhood contributes to the store? And vice versa: how do you feel you affect the community?

I have always thought that Evil Squirrel Comics fits in perfectly with the Rogers Park Art District strip. I'm lucky to have such an eclectic neighborhood embrace us and make us feel welcome. I feel hosting scheduled actives each night provides a safe and cheap alternative to going out to a bar and gives people the ability to experience the geekier side of life that they only see on shows like Big Bang Theory and Smallville.

I know a big obvious answer to this question is "buy comics", but is there anything specific people can do to help you get economically stable again -- even moreso?

I think a big thing that helps is the sharing in social media. I've had a fair amount of new people from Facebook sharing or someone seeing one of my videos.

I've had people suggest a community jar, which I might try at the next event. Having a dollar here and there could help fund more events and bring in a larger crowd.

What do you feel makes you unique as a comic shop?

I truly believe our approach to customer service helps us stand apart from other comic shops. We make a point at Evil Squirrel Comics to know each person who walks through the door. There's been too many times that I've walked into a comic shop and never once been talked to by whoever is working or looked down upon for the comics I was purchasing. There will be times we make fun of you for what you buy, but it's more in jest than comic book elitism.

Seasonal comic rack

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Rose Lannin

One-Shots Mon May 02 2011

One-Shots: Jeremy Sorese

Although a recent graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, Jeremy Sorese is already an accomplished illustrator and comicker, bringing his dense, detailed drawings to publications large (Oni Press) and local (Newcity). Rich with lines and color, his work brings to mind Walt Kelly's Pogo and Craig Thompson's Good-bye, Chunky Rice, with hints of Will Eisner in his writing and placement of text. These elements play into a unique style that we're lucky to have -- Sorese recently made the move from the East Coast to Logan Square. We talked about our chance meeting at C2E2's Webcomics Pavillion, how his work has changed since coming to Chicago, and what epic adventures he has planned next, both in comics and otherwise.

You can purchase Jeremy's comics at Quimby's, or online.

Name: Jeremy Sorese
Job: I work at Easel Art Studio on Milwaukee, a kids' art studio where we teach simple art history lessons and hands-on crafts. Our students start at around 10 months old, so if you have little ones it's definitely a wonderful place to be/work. I also teach a class on comics at Challengers Comic once a month.
Age: 22
Education: I have a BFA in Sequential Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design. I graduated last June.
Location: Logan Square
Hometown: Stafford, Virginia
Favorite place in Chicago: Hands down, it's the Cultural Center. The two stained glass domes are absolute marvels, I love those crazy horned wall sconces, and that huge sign in the lounge that says "SILENCE" is so silly, I couldn't help but fall in love. Close second, the University of Chicago campus.


What brought you to Chicago?
I didn't have a job after I graduated. I'd been in Chicago the summer before thinking maybe I'd come here, but I think the final moment was when I did a Newcity cover back in March. Trubble Club is based out of here (you know Aaron Renier and Laura Park) and they emailed me. They thought I was a resident of Chicago already. They were like you should come hang out with us, but I was still in school with four months left until I graduated. They said if you ever come to town, we'd love to hang out. And I was like, maybe I should give Chicago a shot.

Have you always liked comics?
Comics were always sort of in my world, but they were not the main focus that they are now. Now that I've gone whole hog with them, I don't think I could ever go back to being Comics Light again.

How did they become your focus?
I think school was a big influence...when I went into SCAD, I was into illustration, I read comics on the side. But I fell into a group of comics kids, very like-minded and very influential on what I liked and was interested in. I started taking more and more sequential classes and getting really into the Sequential department, hanging out with pretty much only sequential kids.

I think it boils down into comics being such an important thing for me right now, to be very focused in what I'm doing. Also, I used to do illustration work for Newcity, but my main goal in life was nowhere near, I have to draw the cover of Time magazine. It's not really up there on my list of what I want to do.

Was it ever on your list?
I think so. At one point I was thinking about doing New Yorker covers, and labeling for wine bottles for stuff seemed so awesome, so wonderful. But the way the market is now, I'm being more realistic about what I can achieve, what I can't achieve.

Are there any comics you've started since moving here?
When I first got there, I was working on a bigger project -- it's very American, a tale about the Midwest and relocating. I started it when I was in Savannah, and when I got here, it \ kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and I really...I'm still going to do it, but I hit a snag when I was writing it. I was just like, I'm not mature enough to write this yet, I don't know enough to do it properly.

What's the book you started here called?
It's called In the Parlor Room. It's an older story I came up with years ago, but I restructured it and drew it completely in Chicago.

Page 1 of In the Parlor Room

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Rose Lannin

One-Shots Thu Mar 24 2011

One-Shots: Jeffrey Brown

Coming from a childhood filled with religion and a high school career spent drawing on heavy metal and Moebius for sketch inspiration, Jeffrey Brown arrived in Chicago in 2005 to pursue an MFA at the School of the Art Institute Chicago, where the comic book influence that had been popping up in his art for years began to emerge in full force. Over the next few years, he went on to create Clumsy, Unlikely, and AEIOU or Any Easy Intimacy, which chronicled his relationships in minute emotional and stylistic detail, drawing them out in all their awkward, joyful, painful contexts. Although as close to Chicago as ever, these days Jeffrey's focus has shifted. We talked about the new directions his work is taking, how he got there, and how he views the work that placed him in the national consciousness.

Jeffrey Brown will be exhibiting at the Chicago Zine Fest this weekend.

Name: Jeffrey Brown
Job: Cartoonist, Illustrator, Comics Professor
Age: 35
Education: MFA SAIC 2002, BA Hope College 1997
Awards: Ignatz Award 'Outstanding Minicomic' 2003, Best American Comics 2007
Location: Lincoln Square
Hometown: Grand Rapids, MI
Favorite place in Chicago: The Field Museum

Self-portrait (with son on right)

When you started writing Clumsy, do you remember what spurred it?
There were a couple of things. I had a critique for the end of the year, where I had a particularly harsh group of faculty. It wasn't just me, I talked to other people that had that group there and they were...I was the only one in tears.

Had you ever had your art critiqued like that before?
I'd had critiques before but not where it was just..overwhelming. It got really personal, it wasn't just about the work, it was about as an artist, you will not make it. Not that a lot of what they were saying wasn't valid, that point, the reason I went to grad school was that I knew I wanted my art to go somewhere. It was really stuck, and I didn't really know how to push any more. I certainly couldn't do it by myself in this bubble of Grand Rapids, and by going to grad school I was surrounding myself with other people making art, and trying to push myself that way. So that critique was one aspect.

Another aspect was seeing everyone else's work in grad school, it was like...a lot of it was so interesting, but at the same time so removed from real life in a way. It was just like art about art about art, and it just becomes this thing that's just really removed from any kind of real experience. It just seemed not personal anymore.

With Clumsy, I'd drawn some of those autobiographical things in the sketchbooks, people would look through those things and laugh and respond to them in a different way. So part of it was in the back of my mind, I thought I'd sit down and draw these autobiographical comics that would be as personal as I could make them. In reaction to seeing all this work that was so conceptual, I just went the opposite way, making it super explicit and personal and honest and direct as I could. Going back to the comics form, the most fun I ever had making art was when I was a kid drawing my own comics. And so that combined with the people responding to the sketchbooks, it was like I'll tell these really personal stories, and I'll tell them in comics form. And then as soon as I started, it just came out really easily. It was all a very conscious decision at the beginning that this was going to be a comic.

At that point, it was still coming from I guess a fine art perspective too, where I figured instead of a comic as this mass-produced publication I was going to draw this one comic, that would be the copy, it would be this art object. That was my initial thinking, like it would be kind of funny to have this single copy comic. All these kind of fine art things still in my mind when I started doing it. But I let people read it and look at it, was mostly friends that were seeing it. Their response was encouraging, so it was like...ok, Xeroxed copies so I could give those to friends, have a few to sell at Quimby's, have a few to sell here and there. Then it just kind of snowballed from there, that the response to those was good enough that I could self-publish. By the time I was self-publishing that book, drawing comics was coming less from a fine art direction, and more from a usual comics publishing direction.

Clumsy [via]

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Rose Lannin

One-Shots Mon Feb 21 2011

One-Shots: Patrick Brower

A long-time staple of Chicago's comic book stores, Patrick Brower never really planned to open one of his own. But a few years ago (April 2008, specifically), with prompting from friend, former colleague, and future co-owner W. Dal Bush, Challengers came onto the Chicago scene. We talked about life beyond slat walls, the freedom to buy comics in a clean, well-lighted space, and how, through Challengers and more recently The Rogues Gallery, Patrick works to bring to others the American art form he loves so well.

Name: Patrick Brower
Job: Co-owner of Challengers Comics + Conversation and The Rogues Gallery
Age: 42 (the meaning of life!)
Education: BA (Illustration and Art History) from Northern Illinois University
Awards: 2010 Will Eisner "Spirit of Comics" Finalist, "Best Comic
Shop" Chicago Reader, June 2010, "Best Comic Book Store" Chicago
, August 2009
Location: Bucktown
Hometown: Clifton, NJ
Favorite place in Chicago: Club Lago in River North

How did you decide you wanted to open a comic book store?

It's weird, but I never did. I've worked in comics retail since 1990, and I had plenty of opportunities to become a part-owner of where I used to work, but I never wanted that headache, that hassle. No way. But it wasn't until W. Dal Bush, co-owner of Challengers, who I worked with in the past, whom I was not working with currently (he had moved on from the industry), came to me and said there's got to be a better way, why don't we do this.

And you can't live your life in what ifs. You can't think like man, what if I did try that. If you can do it, if you have a shot at it, do it. I thought at that point, well now I have to do it.

Self-portrait (illustration by Chris Giarusso)

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Rose Lannin / Comments (1)

One-Shots Wed Nov 17 2010

One-Shots: Tim Seeley

Raised on a diet of comic books and slasher movies, Tim Seeley cut his sequential art industry teeth drawing G.I. Joe. One fateful Halloween evening in 2004, these influences would give birth to the ideas behind Hack/Slash, the ongoing tale of a young lady named Cassie Hack, her giant companion Vlad, and the slashers they hunt. From that night, and through its move from Seeley's gray matter to Devil's Due Publishing to Image Comics, the story has grown in popularity and scope, spawning a stage play and a potential feature film. Since writing Hack/Slash, he has gone on to create other original titles (Loaded Bible, the webcomic Colt Noble), but Hack/Slash remains his main focus. We talked about what goes into his love-child of comics and horror movies -- the history, psychology, and motivations that guide Cassie, Vlad, and their world of boobs, blood, and stories.

Name: Tim Seeley
Job: Comic Book artist/writer
Age: 33
Education: BFA, Illustration, UW Eau Claire, 1999
Location: Lincoln Square
Hometown: Ringle, Wisconsin
Favorite place in Chicago: Lincoln Square!

Portrait by Kyle Bice

I'm sure everyone jumps to this, but I'm going to jump to it too: did you grow up watching horror movies?

Yeah, I mean my dad's always been a big movie fan, he was always more into horror movies, like low-budget stuff. Like indie -- not indie in the sense that they had any artistic integrity, just that they were shitty, shlocky stuff. He collected that stuff.

So when I was a kid, I was terrified of it. You go say good night to dad, you see something screwed up and terrifying, and then it would stick in my mind. It was actually scarier that I'd only seen a little clip of it. Then when I got a little ballsier and less likely to not be able to sleep, I'd just watch all that stuff, it kind of just...I always liked horror movies more for the ones that were more fun, like really, really serious horror stuff didn't work for me.

Hack/Slash Trailers Part 2 ("Wallow in Death", Sean Dove)

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Rose Lannin

Feature Fri Aug 20 2010

One-Shots: Grant Reynolds

Grant Reynolds' often weird, often wonderful illustrations have graced minicomics, zines, and album covers for the last decade. Recently, he has begun moving into longer works -- last year he released of Comic Diorama, praised by The Comics Journal as "a haunting and beautifully designed little book that dwelled on sacrifice, dead ends and abjection." We talked how he got here, where he's maybe going, and how life experiences have played into the people, monsters, and machines that populate his panels.

Name: Grant Reynolds
Job: Sign maker at Whole Foods, drawing chalkboards and stuff. Probably the first job I really, really like.
Age: Well, I'll be 31 in September, so I'll just go with that.
Education: BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Awards: I won a Nerdlinger at last year's SPX. It's basically a beer bottle with a fancy awards label scotch taped over it: Best Depiction of Space / Sea Creature Genitalia. I'm rather proud of that one.
Location : Logan Square, although I think I'm gonna move soon. It's becoming kind of a party hub, and I'm mellowing out as I enter gracefully into old age.
Hometown: Peoria, IL
Favorite place in Chicago: Last summer there was this vacant lot with overgrown grass and these two big exposed pieces of pipe that were probably four or five feet thick and about ten feet long. They were lying right next to each other on their sides, so I could sit on one and put my feet up on the other, and read or draw for a couple of hours. I found it by chance walking around my neighborhood and it kind of became my clubhouse. It was quiet and nobody ever bothered me. That's rare in the city. Then I went by there the other day and now it's like, condos.

Self-portrait (Grant on left, with Nate Beaty)

Whole Foods Event Calendar

The question I have to ask: how did you get into reading and drawing comics?
My dad would read the daily newspaper cover to cover every day. Since I grew up with just him for most of my childhood, I think this was really the earliest, and for a long time, the only introduction I had to comics. But I was completely obsessed. I would clip out The Far Side every day and tape it into a lined notebook. And -- I actually just remembered this, I haven't thought about it in probably twenty years -- when I was in a third grade or so my dad bought me this series of comics based on classic literature called Pocket Classics. There were about 60 of them and they were just beautiful. I was definitely making comics around that time, too, but mostly using preexisting characters like Garfield or Ren and Stimpy -- which was another huge influence that sort of blew my mind wide open.

After Ren and Stimpy it was like anything goes, the grosser and weirder the better. In high school I got really into H.R. Giger. He didn't do comics, of course, but his work was very dark and very sexual, and suddenly my sketchbooks started filling up with these erotic drawings of human-machine hybrids. It wasn't until a little later though, maybe in college, that I started really paying attention to indie comics. That was about the time that I was really into the different groups of artists clustered under The Chicago Imagist umbrella, and Fort Thunder, and people like Louis Wain.

Shitbeams on the Loose anthology #2

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Rose Lannin

Feature Thu Aug 05 2010

One-Shots: Gene Ha

Korean by birth, Midwest by association, Chicagoan by choice, Gene Ha is a master of lines and detail, expressed through regular work for both DC and Marvel, and various side projects. Best- known for his work on the Eisner-winning Top 10 and Top 10: The Forty-Niners, his path into comics been a long, beautifully illustrated, and meticulous road.

Name: Gene Ha
Job: Freelance comic book artist. Pencils, inks, and colors.
Age: Turning 41 in mid-August.
Education: BFA, specialty Illustration, from the College for Creative Studies, Detroit, 1992.
Awards: Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award, 3 Eisners
Location: Berwyn, IL
Hometown: Born in Chicago, but raised in South Bend, IN
Website:, but I'm more active on Facebook.
Favorite place in Chicago: Uncommon Ground vs The Music Box. Depends on how hungry I am.


How old were you when you started drawing?
My older brother and my younger both drew, so we've been drawing ever since we were little kids, so as long as I can remember. Every time I got a ditto sheet that wasn't double-sided in school, I'd draw on the back of it.

Were your parents artistic?
My dad's actually decent at drawing, but he never actually pushed it or studied it, so not really. My mom's really crafty, she'll pick up a craft and then get bored with it when she masters it.

Are you like that with drawing? Is it possible to master it?
The reason I became the guy who does the detailed drawings in my family was because I wasn't as good at sports as my other brothers, and I was the only one who lacked enough of a life, so I'd just sit at the same drawing for eight hours.

Page from The 49ers

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Rose Lannin

Feature Wed Jul 21 2010

One-Shots: Aaron Renier

A recent resident of Chicago, Aaron Renier returns to the Midwest with The Unsinkable Walker Bean, available in late August from Quimby's and better bookstores everywhere. A seafaring adventure tale full of pirate ships and boy and girl heroes, drawn in a rich and beautiful palette, it's a slight departure from the mystery-solving animals of Spiral-Bound. Aaron talked about drawing people, drawing animals, and how his own migratory patterns continue to affect his comics career.

Name: Aaron Renier
Job: Cartoonist/Illustrator/Teacher
Age: 32
Education: BFA in Illustration, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD)
Awards: Eisner Comic Industry Award for Talent Deserving Wider Recognition (Spiral-Bound), and a nomination for best Children's Album in 2005
Location: Humboldt Park
Hometown: Green Bay, WI
Favorite place in Chicago: The amazing non-profit writing and tutoring center 826chi. I've been volunteering there as much as I could since I moved to Chicago in 2008. The staff is beyond awesome and inspirational, the students know this, and it comes out in their work. This place is hands down the highlight of my time here.


You mostly create children's comics, right?

Yeah -- once in awhile I'll do anthology pieces, and those will be whatever the anthology is about, but that's my interest, is doing work for children.

Why do you focus on that?

It would be more of an effort for me to do something that was not for children...there's not much of me that goes through a process that's like this part of me is going to be for children. As I start writing and I start making stuff up, it just tends to have that meaning. When I started being into certain comics was in middle school, and there's something about what I was interested in then that has always been embedded in me. Whatever fascination I tried to feed, that's what I find interesting about comics and want to do.


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Rose Lannin

Feature Tue Jul 06 2010

One-Shots: Dan Carroll

Dan Carroll writes (well, adapts) and illustrates the webcomic Stick Figure Hamlet, also available in book form. He was able to take a break from circles and lines, and talk about why his vision of "the greatest work of literature in human history... with pictures" helps teach Shakespeare's works, and potentially classic literature as a whole.

Name: Dan Carroll
Job: Managing Editor
Age: 32
Education: An unsurprising BA in English from Skidmore College
Location: Avondale
Hometown: Providence, RI
Favorite place in Chicago: Kuma's, when you can get in.


Most importantly, what's your favorite burger at Kuma's?

Metallica, medium.

Okay, now we can move on. Did you grow up wanting to make your own comic?

Depends on what age you're talking about, I really didn't start reading comics until I was about 12.

How come?

I would occasionally pick one up at friend's house, but wasn't passionate about them until I got the flu or something when I was 12. On the way back from work, my mom stopped off and picked me up a comic book for a treat. It was an issue of Fantastic Four that I found out, years later, was by Walt Simonson. I didn't know who drew it at the time but knew that it was amazing. And so I started a lifelong love right there. By 13, I wanted to draw them.


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Rose Lannin

Feature Wed Jun 16 2010

One-Shots: Mike Norton

Characterized by his clean lines and dynamic style, Mike Norton has an admirable sense of discipline, a surprising love of pugs, and is really, really tall. Currently the artist behind Billy Batson & the Magic Of Shazam!, he has has worked with Marvel and DC Comics for the past 17 years and recently put out a sketchbook of his work, Ruled!. In the last year, he has begun exploring the world of self-publishing.

Name: Mike Norton
Job: Comic Book Artist
Age: 37
Education: Can't remember...I think maybe an Addy somewhere? Bowling trophy once.
Location: Logan Square
Hometown: Jackson, TN
Favorite place in Chicago: My apartment. Or Challengers Comics.

How did you get into drawing comics? Professionally, and I guess pre-professionally?

Non-professionally, which obviously came was how I learned to relate to the outside world. I learned to read from comic books.


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Rose Lannin / Comments (2)

Feature Wed Jun 02 2010

One-Shots: Eric Thornton

Longtime manager of Chicago Comics Eric Thornton has seen his share of sequential art trends, changing demographics, and many, many comics. Talking through issues of publishing and demographics revealed something of the institution's lasting appeal: carry a wide selection, carry a lot of it, and have something for everyone.

Name: Eric Thornton
Job: Chief Executive Operating Officer of Chicago Comics, coming up on 14 years.
Age: 37
Education: Southwest Missouri State, which no longer exists.
Location: Humboldt Park
Hometown: Jefferson City, MO
Favorite place in Chicago: The lakefront.

Did you grow up wanting to run a comic book store?


What was your first comic book store?

Horrible store. It was called Prince Mark's Comics, in Jefferson City, Missouri. Most of the year it was flooded, so parts of it were usually underwater. The guy who ran it, total Android's Dungeon dude. But if I organized comics for him, he'd let me take whatever I want. I'm 12 or 13, and I'd be like "I'm taking all this porn home." and he'd be like "Gooooo ahead."

Eric in his earliest comic reading days

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Rose Lannin / Comments (1)

Feature Wed May 19 2010

One-Shots: Sarah Becan

Sarah Becan's comics are small and intimate, but manage to convey worlds of feeling and meaning within their loosely drawn figures and sometimes shifting panel borders. The author and illustrator behind the Shuteye series and the The Complete Ouija Interviews, she is also a founder of Shortpants Press, a small, independent press dedicated to comics, zines, and prints. Recently, she has begun chronicling her journey towards healthier living with the online comic Sauceome: in addition to being touching and funny, it makes me want to drink good beer and drink it in moderation. That's pretty impressive.

Name: Sarah Becan
Job: Creative Director/Designer/Illustrator by day, Comics Artist and Accordionist by night
Age: 34
Education: Beloit College (BA in Studio Art and Modern Languages)
Awards: Xeric Foundation Grant, Stumptown Trophy Award -- Outstanding Debut
Location: Logan Square/Avondale
Hometown: Er, none? I was born in Beaumont, Texas, but we moved around so much that I don't really have any hometown connection anywhere. I've lived in Orange, TX; Wilmington, DE; Plano, TX; St. Louis, MO; and Beloit, WI. My parents are in San Antonio, but I never lived there. Of all of these places, Chicago is my favorite. Can it be my hometown?
Favorite place in Chicago: Hm. That is tough. As it's just starting to warm up, I will go with the patio at the Logan Square Small Bar on a Sunday afternoon, as long as everyone reading this doesn't head over there right now, that patio is small and gets crowded pretty fast.


Did you start writing and making comics in Chicago, or was that kind of a long-term thing?

I was always doing it just for myself -- my mother pointed out one time that my first published piece was when I was nine years old, in Cricket magazine. It was very Calvin and Hobbes inspired.

Even in high school and college, when I knew I wanted to do cartooning, I didn't do much beyond political cartoons for the newspaper and stuff for art classes. It wasn't until I moved here -- it was the first Ouija Interview comic...that was what made me want to do it in earnest, to go to comic book conventions and comic book stores and distribute the book.

The Ouija Interviews

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Rose Lannin / Comments (4)

Feature Tue May 04 2010

One-Shots: Michael Moreci

Editor by day, epic zombie storyteller by night, Chicago native Michael Moreci is set to release his debut graphic novel Quarantined through Insomnia Publications (also available through Amazon and some comic book stores) in Fall 2010. Using the zombie medium, Quarantined is a distinctly American tale of paranoia and political allegory, told through mindless creatures gone awry.

Name: Michael Moreci
Job: Writer/Editor
Age: 29
Education: UIC (BA in Creative Writing), Northwestern University (MA in Creative Writing)
Awards: Nominated for 2010 Spinetingler (Best Short Story on the Web)
Location: Lincoln Square
Hometown: Clearing, Chicago
Favorite place in Chicago: The Green Mill. No other location captures the character of Chicago's criminal and freewheeling history quite the way Green Mill does, in addition to having great music and fantastic architecture/design.

Self-portrait (art by Andrew Scordellis)

How did you get into making comics?

I always liked comics growing up, and through grade school and high school I was writing and illustrating my own stuff. I had a strip that I did that my friend and I sold at school. I don't remember what it was called, but it was about a boy and his pet dinosaur. They were just like two panel shorts: the boy would throw a stick, and the dinosaur would come back with a tree.

You started to get into comics again after college?

Yeah. What really brought me back into it was Y: The Last Man, Preacher, 100 Bullets. Lots of Vertigo, moving off the path of superhero stuff.

But all throughout this I had the idea for Quarantined, and wanted to do it, but kept putting it off. But as soon as I finished my thesis, I was like I want to do this now. I started publishing in UK presses doing shorts, I kind wanted to cut my teeth before I put a full book out, learn the industry a little bit.

Let's talk about your graphic novel, Quarantined. It's got zombies, but what's it about?

It's been described as a zombie book, but it's more of a political book with zombies in it. Basically, there's a town in the Upper Peninsula area of Michigan, and there's an outbreak -- a biological outbreak in the water -- and it turns people who drink it into zombies, essentially 28 Days Later types. The military shuts down the borders and there are people still trapped inside who are survivors, who hadn't drank the water for whatever reason. It's more political and less zombie, even though I love the zombie genre -- I don't mean to pay any disrespect to that. I'd say it's more like DMZ than Walking Dead.

Part of the thinking behind it was the idea of political dichotomy -- we're trapped in this whole red state blue state country, the separation of people and the problems we're facing. I think if something really horrible were to happen, this unexpected catastrophe, would people be able to band together to overcome? I thought about that and I really don't know. Even issues of culture, race, gender, sexual orientation -- there's so much strife and animosity between people. It's kind of like what Quarantined's getting at with the characters. If they can band together and go above their own paranoia, their distress, and come together in a sense of community and deal with these things. It's also about survivalism, the basis of most zombie genre stories. But I try not to be too heavy-handed with that.

Quarantined cover (art by Keith Burns)

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Rose Lannin / Comments (1)

Feature Tue Apr 20 2010

One-Shots: Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley published her first book in 2008 -- French Milk, an illustrated journal detailing a trip to Paris with her mother. Lucky for Chicago, the School of the Art Institute graduate's interests and inkings also lean local. She continues to chronicle her experiences in autobiographical, often food-centric comics, and is currently working on Relish, a graphic novel about growing up in a family of foodies.

Name: Lucy Knisley
Job: Cartoonist, Teacher
Age: 25
Education: Art Institute of Chicago (BFA), Center for Cartoon Studies (MFA)
Awards: ICPA award for Excellence in Illinois College Newspapers (for exceptional cartoon or comic strip), finalist in the Scripps Howard Foundation's Charles M. Schulz College Cartoonist Award
Location: Logan Square
Hometown: Originally from Manhattan, but my parents split up when I was 7. My mom moved about two hours north to a little town called Rhinebeck, which is where I spent most of my childhood.
Favorite place in Chicago: Wicker Park, five years ago. Maybe Fox and Obel.


You grew up reading comics?

Yeah, I did. I sort of got really into them when my parents split up. My dad is a writer and literary professor guy, and my mom is more of an artist and visual person. I think comics became this sort of melding of my mother and father's influence on me -- which was interesting, because they both hated comics, they thought that they were really stu- well, they didn't hate them, they bought them for me and let me read them and stuff. My mom thought Archie comics, which were my favorite, were really sexist and demeaning. My dad thought they weren't literary and scholarly enough, so I had to kind of read them and defend them and look at them critically, so I could convince my parents to buy them for me. So it was like Archie comics, and Calvin & Hobbes, and TinTin, and Astrix and Obelix. But yeah, I would read anything -- I was one of those kids who would pick up the New Yorker and read it if it was there. I babysat for a lot of New Yorker cartoonists that moved upstate.

Brain Waves on Paper

Nice. When did you decide you wanted to make comics for a living?

I sort of toyed with the idea when I was a kid, but I always thought that I'd have to choose between being an artist and being a writer. I really wanted to do both...I ended up at this high school where I had a really, really awesome art teacher, who took me under his wing, and got me into art school and stuff like that. At that point, the decision was kind of made for me, that I would be an artist.

But when I got to art school...I started making comics as a way to communicate with these people I felt unable to breach that border with, and I started publishing them.That's when they were seen by a fellow student at the school, Hope Larson, who's a professional comic book artist now. She contacted me via e-mail and was kind of like hey, I really like your work. She introduced it to me as something you could make a living doing. That was, I think, the point where I really seriously considered it.

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Rose Lannin

Feature Tue Apr 06 2010

One-Shots: Lance Fensterman and C2E2

In a little over a week, Chicago's going to explode in a burst of comics, toys, and all manner of pop culture excitement. The source of this KAPOW is C2E2, the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, a new convention packed with panels, merchandise, celebrities (Alex Ross! Colleen Doran! Anya from Buffy!) and more. I had the chance to talk to Lance Fensterman, the man behind the booths and exhibitions. Lance has had an interesting career in his own right, and shared his perspective on conventions, fans, and the details and methodology that make up planning a big event.

Name: Lance Fensterman
Job: Vice President of Pop Culture for Reed Exhibitions
Age: 32
Education: Just enough.
Location: Norwalk, CT, 35 miles outside of NYC
Hometown: Fargo, ND
Favorite place in Chicago: The Blue Frog? Or maybe Gino's East Pizza.

Portrait by Andrea Topalian

How did you get into running comic book conventions? Did it stem out of a love of comics, or something else?

I was a ward of the state and Reed adopted me and put me to work...actually, I was an independent bookseller for many years and hired by Reed to run the publishing industry's annual gathering. From there I took over New York Comic Con and the New York Anime Fest. As our group of events grew, so did my role, and I now oversee ReedPop our group of pop culture shows, including Penny Arcade Expo (PAX,) PAX East, UFC Fan Expo, New York Comic Con, Star Wars Celebration, and of course C2E2.

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Rose Lannin

Feature Tue Mar 23 2010

One-Shots: Josh Elder and Reading With Pictures

Name: Josh Elder
Job: Founder and Executive Director, Reading With Pictures, a nonprofit organization that advocates the use of comics in the classroom.
Age: 29
Education: Northwestern University, BS in Radio/Television/Film
Location: Irving Park
Hometown: Carmi, IL
Website:, Kickstarter
Favorite place in Chicago: The Art Institute

Portrait by Jen Brazas

How are you involved in the comic book industry?

I started as a college intern in the Publicity and Editorial departments at DC Comics. Upon graduation, I had a brief stint as an Associate Editor at Wizard: The Comic Magazine. In 2005, I won the Grand Prize in TOKYOPOP's Rising Stars of Manga contest (think American Idol for cartoonists) with Mail Order Ninja, which was swiftly picked up as a book series and then a nationally syndicated comic strip.

That led to writing The Batman Strikes at DC Comics and StarCraft for Blizzard Entertainment. I'm currently working on a number of different projects of my own, as well as other licensed properties that I can't really talk about yet.

How did you get into reading comics? What about drawing them?

My mother -- a school librarian -- was reading to me as she did every night before putting me to bed. Usually that meant a chapter book or some classic kid lit, but that night, for reasons lost to antiquity, I got to choose the reading material. And like any red-blooded American male my age, I chose a comic. Issue number four of The Transformers to be precise.

Everything was going great. right up until mom's laryngitis caught up with her, causing her to lose her voice barely halfway through the issue. This was completely unacceptable. Optimus Prime was in a lot of danger, and I had to make sure he was going to be okay.

So I used the comic to teach myself how to read so I could finish the comic. And right from the beginning, I wanted to create my own comics.

What is Reading With Pictures all about?

Reading With Pictures is a nonprofit organization that advocates the use of comics in the classroom to promote literacy and improve educational outcomes for all students. We work with academics to cultivate groundbreaking research into the proper role of comics in education. We collaborate with cartoonists to produce exceptional graphic novel content for scholastic use. Most importantly, we partner with educators to develop a system of best practices for integrating comics into their curriculum.

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Rose Lannin

Feature Mon Feb 22 2010

One-Shots: Ezra Claytan Daniels

One-shots is a new bi-weekly column interviewing Chicago comic book artists and writers, as well as colorists, store owners, and others that make up the local sequential art scene. Through dialogue and pictures, One-shots explores the people and ideas behind all kinds of comics, highlighting the city's diverse range of talent.

Ezra Claytan Daniels

Born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, comic book artist, writer, and designer Ezra Claytan Daniels has divided his adult life between Portland and Chicago. The contrast between these cities, as well as those in his life, reflect themselves in his words and pictures. Black and white, temperate and tumultuous, past and future: themes of race, location, and time itself play out in linework that is abundant yet precise, pictures that are not always pretty but sometimes beautiful. Author of the graphic novel The Changers, he has contributed to a Dark Horse anthology, created an interactive, illustrated iPhone app, produced a series of fill-in-the-blanks greeting cards, and continues to orchestrate the occasional Comic Art Battle. Most recently, he has teamed up with local chamber group Fifth House Ensemble to create Black Violet, a multimedia performance combining instrumentals and cartoon images to tell the story of a lost cat's journey through Black Plague-era London.

Not long ago, I was given the opportunity to talk with Ezra about his work history both in and out of comics, the differences between Portland and Chicago, his early days making zines. We also drank coffee and complained about the CTA.

Name: Ezra Claytan Daniels
Job: Freelance Illustrator and Designer
Age: 31
Location: West Town
Hometown: Sioux City, IA
Favorite place in Chicago: Logan Theater, because I love cheap movies, sometimes I'll walk up there, it's a nice walk. I like the Davis Theatre a lot too though.



Where are you from originally?

I was born in Sioux City, IA. Grew up there, moved to Portland, Oregon when I was 19 to go to art school. I didn't do any art stuff in Iowa. In high school, I got a job at a graphic design agency, did that for three years. I got a pretty good education in Iowa even though I didn't go to school there. That's probably why I dropped out of art school in Portland, because I had all the real world skills I would need.

When did you leave Portland for Chicago?

I left Portland 6 years ago.

Why did you move here?

I wanted to be closer to my family, wanted to live in a real city and get my ass kicked for awhile. I definitely got my ass kicked for 2-3 years.

I came to Chicago on a book tour promoting The Changers, I really fell in love. All of the great things about New York without any of the pretension. Blue-collar, all these people doing great things.

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Rose Lannin / Comments (1)

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