Chicago Celebrates Its Classic Comics Culture

Who would have guessed that Chicago was the birthplace of comics?

The exhibition focuses on the origins of the comics in popular publishing, the immeasurable importance of African-American cartoonists and publishing, the first woman cartoonists and editors, the first daily comic strip, and finally the art and comics of undeservedly forgotten Frank King, who with “Gasoline Alley” captured not only the rhythms and tone of everyday existence in his characters that aged not only at the same daily rate as its newspaper readers, but were also fictionalized versions of real people.

The City of Chicago and The Chicago Cultural Center make claims
and back them up with an exhibit.

Through its countless newspapers and its publishing industry, Chicago led the transformation of comics from daily fantasy and joke features into ongoing stories grounded in the textures and details of real life, its first real step towards legitimacy as an expressive language and semi-literary art form.

At WGN it is expressed thusly:

A new exhibit titled “Chicago: Where Comics Came to Life (1880-1960)” at the Chicago Cultural Center is diving deep into the long history of comic strips in the Windy City and how Chicago became the spiritual heart of the art form [emphasis added].

Windy City Times has more details.

The exhibition runs June 19—October 3, 2021, at Chicago Cultural Center (77 E. Randolph St.), Sidney R. Yates Gallery, 4th Floor North and is open daily 11 a.m.—4 p.m.

Where they also note that,

The exhibition is designed and planned as an intentional historical companion to the concurrently appearing survey of contemporary Chicago comics at the Museum of Contemporary Art, in which Ware’s work also appears.

Yes, two comics exhibits are taking place in Chicago.

Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now

From the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago:

The exhibition traces the evolution of comics in Chicago, as cartoonists ventured beyond the pages of newspapers and into experimental territory including long-form storytelling, countercultural critique, and political activism. Chicago Comics examines styles, schools of thought, and modes of publication across six decades of cartooning, including works from artists who are changing the medium today.


From Klassik Magazine:

Over 40 cartoonists, among them Lynda Barry, Lilli Carré, Daniel Clowes, Nick Drnaso, Edie Fake, Emil Ferris, Nicole Hollander, Charles Johnson, Kerry James Marshall, and Chris Ware, among many others are represented by comics, graphic novels, zines, original drawings, dioramas, commissioned films, installations, rare ephemera, and books. On view from June 19 to October 3, 2021, Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now is organized by comic historian and curator-at-large for Dan Nadel from an idea by former MCA Chief Curator Michael Darling

… By the mid-1960s, a new generation of journalists and cartoonists founded and ran underground newspapers such as the Chicago Seed and Bijou Funnies with Chicagoans Skip Williamson and Jay Lynch, who became a key publisher of a national underground comics movement. Nicole Hollander’s wildly popular comic strip Sylvia grew out of the 1970s feminist newspaper the Spokeswoman …

Daniel Clowes, Gary Leib, Ivan Brunetti, Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, and Archer Prewitt published throughout the 1980s and 90s in local alternative weeklies such as the Chicago Reader and Newcity

… Women artists working today, such as Bianca Xunise, Molly Colleen O’Connell, Gina Wynbrandt, and Anya Davidson are highlighted throughout the exhibition and explore ideas ranging from comics history to gender inequality and intersectional feminism, meanwhile entertaining readers with their wide-ranging approaches to comic style and technical skill.

Chicago Magazine covers both exhibits.

The exhibitions themselves will showcase exclusive and rare material. At the Cultural Center, you’ll be able to see copies of the first color strips in America, taken from Chicago’s Daily Inter Ocean in 1893, and the Tribune’s first color comics section. The MCA will display cartooning from such famous Chicagoans as Kerry James Marshall and Daniel Clowes and have rooms dedicated to single artists. That includes one for Ware, who is designing it himself using, he says, “essentially the same approach as I have for the Cultural Center.”


2 thoughts on “Chicago Celebrates Its Classic Comics Culture

  1. There may have been Pulitzers and Hearsts and Scripps
    that would have objected to those designations.

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