Unless you're psychic or (cross my fingers) stalking me, you probably have no idea that I used to draw and write my own thrice-weekly webcomic. It was so long ago—four years to be exact—that I can hardly remember a single thing about it (except that it was consistently fantastic). Thus, when I say "I love comics
," I say it not only as an avid peruser across a wide range of genres—from superhero to independent, from underground to mainstream, from hilarious to drop-dead dramatic—but also as an active participant in the all-too-underrated medium.
That said, color me surprised to the point of painful arousal when I learned that there's actually a rather robust Chicago comic scene for me (and you and your brother and his science teacher, Jethro) to explore and experience, with more than its fair share of awesome comic creators to pad the potent ranks. The following are just a few of my favorites, soon to be a few of your favorites as well. So go out and buy their comics at Chicago Comics.
Do you know who Daniel Clowes is? I really doubt it. Though he's not a household name among the "normals" of the world, he's downright famous when it comes to underground comic book nerds. Even if you haven't read his long-running Eightball comic (1989-present, which is practically my entire life), you've probably heard of either Ghost World or Art School Confidential, both of which were adapted from his Eightball comic into critically acclaimed, Terry Zwigoff-helmed feature films. (Clowes was even nominated for an Academy Award for Ghost World's screenplay).
Ghost World is a sad, sad book, and if I had a human heart—one that regularly pumped blood and wasn't black and shriveled—I'd probably be heartbroken by the oppressively depressing (if somewhat comedic) nature of the story. I've heard that some people call this the Catcher in the Rye of comic books, and sure, I can see that—if I squint really hard. Catcher in the Rye, for all the sadness it embodies, is entertaining as hell. It's hard not to love Holden Caulfield, and it's even harder to like Enid Coleslaw, the nasty, self-loathing and mean-spirited main character in Ghost World. That's probably why I like her so much.
Alex Ross is, without a shred of doubt, the most famous comic book artist working today. His beautiful, picturesque paintings are at once life-like and dream-like and lurid and lucid, as if the images themselves transcend the page and come to life in front of your very eyes. Typically, it's hard to see a full-grown man with muscles bigger than your head, underwear over a pair of blue tights and laser beams for eyes and not think, "There's something unrealistic about all of this," but somehow Ross pulls it off. He became famous in the comics community for his work on Marvels, a comic miniseries that retells the major Marvel characters' origin stories—Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the like—from the everyman's perspective.
His most famous work, however, is Kingdom Come (co-written by Mark Waid in 1996), a dark and twisted, but ultimately very entertaining, glimpse into a "potential" future of the DC Comics universe. Have you ever wanted to see old-man Batman belittle old-man Superman, or Joker get shot through the chest and killed? Or what about Superman and Wonder Woman making a super, wonder, half-clay, half-alien baby? Probably not, but here's your chance anyway.
Ahh, more sadness in the form of comic books; indeed, if there's a reoccurring theme in the world of Chicago comic books (except Alex Ross), it's the overwhelming and pervasive sense of melancholy to the point of nihilism. Take Chris Ware's award-winning Acme Novelty Library, for example. First, you read that title and then you see the art—drawn like old cartoons from the early 20th century, only far more bizarre—and the last thing you're thinking about is how pointless and painful everything in life is. Then you read the words and...my God, it's the only thing you'll think of ever again.
That doesn't mean the Acme Novelty Library series isn't beautifully crafted in the most incredibly minute and impeccable detail possible. After all, there's a reason it has, since 1993, won numerous Harvey Awards, Eisner Awards, Ignatz Awards and Good Taste Awards, and it probably has nothing to do with everyone feeling so sorry for Chris Ware and how sad he is—probably.
If you didn't know who Daniel Clowes was, there's no chance in hell you've heard of Jeffrey Brown. Hands down my favorite book of his is Clumsy, a badly drawn graphic novel (it looks like a monkey—that was terrible at drawing—drew it really quickly) about how powerful and perplexing and sometimes paralyzing "new love" can be for the lovers. The emotions are intense, heightened tenfold or higher, and all you ever want to do is touch her (or him), see her (or him), think about her (or him) and most of all be with her (or him). This book captures all of that (and the aftermath) effortlessly, and it barely looks better than stick figures whilst doing it. Bravo, Brown, you terrible artist you. Bravo.