Courtesy of Lyra Hill

Two Years at Sea art by Lyra Hill 

Chicago is full of weird, wonderful comic book art.  While Daniel Clowes, who has a forthcoming retrospective at the MCA (opening June 29), is the genre's venerable elder statesman, there are many younger artists who are rising up too. On the cusp of the second annual Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (dubbed CAKE by superfans) this weekend, I caught up with three emerging cartoonists to find out how they pump lifeblood into the genre.


Marnie Galloway
The magical realist

People vomit bunnies in Marnie Galloway’s epic comic, In the Sounds and Seas (Salsedo Press, 2012), and that’s okay; the graphic novel is about a place where surrealism is the norm. It is also a silent comic, which is a curious detail since there is so much singing in her book. Galloway accomplishes this effect using evocative imagery and lushly textured black drawings. “Living in Chicago makes it easy to stay engaged in a community of artists who, like me, made questionable life choices and decided to dedicate themselves to making comics,” says Galloway. By day, she designs a science magazine for kids and a literary magazine for teens.


Lyra Hill
The Performance Comic 

“The comics scene in Chicago is going through a breathtaking renaissance,” says Lyra Hill, who is, by many counts, a major player in her scene’s revitalization. In 2011 she founded Brain Frame, a live-action comix reading series (the next is July 28). She’s also a member of the comics group Trubble Club. Hill often translates her comics into performance art. She likes to combine the silly and the frightening—“my favorite dichotomy,” she says. Violence, nightmares, and the supernatural hold a special place in the history of comic art and in Hill’s performances. She’ll enact Go Down, her comic about a woman who ingests a magic crystal, hallucinates, and dies of an orgasm, at the June 27 opening reception of the comics art show The Ladydrawers (of Chicago, Ill.) at A+D Gallery, Columbia College Chicago (619 S Wabash).


Jimenez Lai
The Paper Architect

Architects spend a lot of time sketching concepts, so it was a natural progression for architect Jimenez Lai to theorize about the built environment through the format of comics and graphic novels. Operating as Bureau Spectacular, Lai released his “first manifesto” last year as a collection of visually narrated short stories, titled Citizens of No Place: An Architectural Graphic Novel (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Lai’s comics express both playful and thoughtful ideas about what it means to live in a contemporary urban context. Lai is also an assistant professor at the school of architecture at University of Illinois at Chicago, and his built structures, often created for a solo user, are like fantasy drawings come to life.


Update: Intern Paige Pritchard, a pretty big fan of comics, had a few recommendations to add to the list. (Paige's bona fides: "I mostly follow smaller labels such as Image and Vertigo as well as specific artists I like," she says. "I'm a fan of stand-alone story arcs rather than the super hero universes, but if a good writer or illustrator is working with DC and Marvel I pay attention."

Here are her five picks for CAKE:


Lisa Hanawalt:
The Absurdist

Open any page of Lisa Hanawalt's new book and you might find yourself staring at a desert hare wearing a Lazy Susan for a hat, or reading about a horse who can't stop sculpting ceramic fingers. This Brooklyn-based illustrator delivers such bold images and absurd narratives in My Dirty Dumb Eyes, her first book with Drawn and Quarterly. She will be signing copies at Quimby’s Bookstore (1854 W. North Ave., 773-342-0910) on Friday at 9 p.m.


Chris Ware:
The Game Changer

As a contributor to The New Yorker, McSweeney’s and The Chicago Reader, Ware’s illustrations analyze the complexity of the human condition with clean detail. He recently premiered the unconventional Building Stories, a graphic novel that tells its story through newspapers, flip-books, and large prints that are all contained within a boxed set. Kicking off the weekend’s panels, he will speak about his connection to Chicago on Saturday from 12 to 1 p.m.


Michael Deforge:
The Illustrator from Outer Space

Fans of Adventure Time will easily recognize Deforge’s macabre yet playful style. He has been a character designer for the show since it’s third season. He’s a master at creating grotesque landscapes that are so complete in their detail it’s hard to look away. He’s a master at creating grotesque landscapes that are so complete in their detail it’s hard to look away. Meet him at Quimby’s at 9 p.m., Friday to grab a signed copy of his graphic novel Very Casual. He will also speak at the panel Mega-Solutions to Micro-Publishing: Oily Comics on Sunday from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.


Kim Deitch:
The Forefather

Something of a godfather to the alternative comic movement, Deitch has been contributing his trippy drawings to underground publications since the 1960’s. He will be signing at Chicago Comics at 6 p.m., Friday as part of CAKE’s first official event. Catch his animation work at Saturday’s Eyeworks: Parallel Lines screening from 3 to 4:30 p.m.


The Illustrated Press:
The Graphic Journalists

Reporter Darryl Holliday and illustrator Erik Rodriguez are Chicago’s pioneers of the comics journalism medium. Their book The Illustrated Press: Chicago is a collection of true stories gleaned from the city’s residents; it is currently being exhibited at the Harold Washington Library. Stop by their table at Saturday and Sunday’s exhibition to meet the team behind this innovative new form.