Have Your CAKE and Read It, Too: Quimby’s Neil Brideau on the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo

BY: Courtney Ryan | Jun 4, 2013
Have Your CAKE and Read It, Too: Quimby’s Neil Brideau on the Chicago Alternative Comics ExpoA few things inevitably come to mind when thinking of Chicago: hot dogs, skyscrapers, comedy, and cursed baseball teams. A small but growing segment of the city’s population also associates Chicago’s character—and its many characters—with alternative comics. After all, quite a few have been published here over the years. Enter the second annual Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE), an event that promises to celebrate the city’s small-press culture while welcoming new visitors into its fold. It doesn’t matter if you’re an avid self-publisher or if you’ve never read a comic book in your life—CAKE, like so many zines, is exactly what you make of it. “Chicago comics have a very experimental and playful feel,” says Neil Brideau, one of four self-published comics responsible for organizing the two-day event. This playfulness is likely due to a number of factors, though Brideau speculates that Chicago’s affordability makes it easier to experiment here than, say, New York City. Of course, the weather might also have something to do with it. “Long winters make it easier to stay indoors and work on comics.” This year’s CAKE is a step up in every way from the previous incarnation. It features a whopping 108 tables to go with six panel discussions and a litany of workshops and readings in the week leading up to the main event. Expanding its focus considerably, CAKE 2013 will host an even mix of Chicago-based publishers and visiting artists who might not have the luxury of our long winters. “Last year’s [event] was very Chicago-heavy, so this year is more balanced,” Brideau explains. This is largely thanks to the advisory committee that curated the event. This 50-person team was assembled to ensure that CAKE would ultimately help local enthusiasts “interact with people within the community and from all over.” From the looks of things, local artists are well-represented among the expo’s headliners. Chris Ware, whose Building Stories was voted a Top 10 Book of the Year by the New York Times, will engage with readers during a panel discussion on Saturday, June 15. Mere hours after that wraps up, local artists Alexander Stewart (Library Books, Sideral) and Lilli Carré (Heads or Tails, The Lagoon) will curate an abstract film festival. While all of this is happening, local comic collective Trubble Club will be displaying its members’ work at one of the numerous expo tables. Brideau is also excited to meet with out-of-state artist Jason Shiga, whom he admires for his ability to tell compelling, emotional stories that play with established comic forms. Shiga’s choose-your-own-adventure comics “don’t read in a linear manner,” Brideau explains, yet “this really great emotional story builds out of it, which is really great because he can’t predict how you’ll read it.” If your experience with comics doesn’t extend beyond Marvel and DC, all of this can seem a little overwhelming. To whet your palate for alternative forms, Brideau recommends local science-fiction comic Ezra Claytan Daniels, whose “kind of creepy, existential” style is on full display in his latest work, Upgrade Soul. Daniels publishes much of his work on the iPad, exploiting its functions in “such a way that it reacts to how you hold it,” Brideau explains. If you’re still a little nervous about digging into CAKE, don’t be. In fact, Brideau says the event is specially designed to pique the interest of newcomers. “The people making the comics are standing behind the tables, so there’s a lot of enthusiasm,” he says. He also suggests asking the artists questions to get to know more about what they do. “A lot of the comics are handmade, and the artists are there to rep what they love to do.” Want More? Brideau recommends the following bookstores for their impressive collections of alternative comics, zines, and books. Quimby’s Bookstore | Wicker Park Chicago Comics | Lakeview Third Coast Comics | Edgewater G-Mart | Logan Square Challengers Comics + Conversation | Bucktown Women & Children First | Andersonville The Boring Store | Wicker Park