MCA Exhibition Celebrates Chicago’s Role as a Center for Comics and Cartoon
When most people think of comics, their minds invariably turn to Superman or the Avengers. Not many people have heard of comic book publishers beyond Marvel and DC, let alone independently published comics.
However, an entirely different opportunity to learn more about the often overlooked history of cartoonists is presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in its new exhibition, “Chicago Comics: from the 1960s to the present day”, which opens on Saturday and ends on October 3.
The show chronologically travels the history of Chicago comics from 1960 to the present day, approaching well-known cartoonists like Chris Ware and contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall (the exhibit features several of his comic book panels) as well than many lesser-known comic book creators. . As one moves through the galleries, they can see comic book panels exploding to fill the walls and full original comic book pages.
“We really tried to reduce the scale of that and make it more intimate,” said exhibition co-curator Michael Darling. “You can’t just look at these things, you really have to read them.”
The exhibition also includes works in many other mediums, showcasing such items as much of a comic book artist’s trinket collections or a distorted life-size sculpture of an old newsstand in mismatched colors and a crocodile behind the counter.
“I am so excited to see the other dispersive practices of designers in other mediums,” said designer Jessica Campbell. Campbell works in several mediums and his rug-based artwork is featured in the exhibition.
MCA Chicago worked with many active artists to design their own rooms and create unique works for the exhibition, said guest curator Dan Nadel. About 30% of the works are original from the exhibition, including a one-minute hand-drawn animation by Lilli Carré, Nadel said.
When you look at them all together, you can see the complete, untold story of the comics that shaped Chicago, Nadel said.
“If there’s a thread, it’s a very Chicagoan thread, nose-to-stone persistence,” Nadel said. “All of these cartoonists are focused on expressing their point of view however they can, in the comics.”
For designer Turtel Onli, the exhibition is important because it recognizes artists of color as part of the canon of designers. Historically, the works of black cartoonists have been largely ignored and their contributions have been left outside the history books, he said. Working in the 1970s, Onli said his works were “ripped off by big publishers” and denied jobs because of his race.
“To me it looked like a Lifetime Achievement Award,” cartoonist Seitu Hayden said of his 1960s work being recognized through this exhibition after it was also systematically overlooked.
Even though the exhibit recognizes these artists, Nadel knows there is still work to be done to uncover other independent cartoonists who have been lost in history, he said.
“Part of the show’s hope is to generate more interest and research. There is a lot more to find and to excavate, ”said Nadel.
NOTE: Designer Chris Ware curated a companion exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center illustrating the history of Chicago comics up to 1960.