Being a rather introverted person, I’ve never been a particularly social beast. I thought I’d fit in perfect with all the other cartoonists, all of us sitting at a drawing table by our lonesome, listening to pre-war banjo recordings. I later learned that, in fact, the social scene of the artist is more alive and active than my shy and reserved nature might embrace. It also became apparent that the social aspect of being any kind of artist is an important one; one that I took lightly in college, high on the notion of the auteur, and his independent, strident, genius. Of course, it helps to actually have these qualities if one expects the glorious acclaim.
So, a few years ago when I was approached by a comic-making friend about creating a comics festival in Chicago, I decided to get off the sidelines and jump into the fray. A couple of years later, CAKE, was born. My fellow organizers, Neil Brideau, Edie Fake, Max Morris, and Grace Tran, debuted our festival, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, last year.
As we approach our second show in mid-June, I recall some of the trepidation that I and the other organizers felt in putting together our scrappy affair. While we all felt strongly that Chicago was a perfect location for a festival due to its vibrant and active comic community and its history for alternative comics specifically, I wondered about the event's necessity. Was it even needed at all?
Although there was not a proper show to highlight our small but tremendously talented pool of artists, (The Chicago Zine Fest comes close) there was a growing number of shows popping up all over the country. Shows like ours that were highlighting the local talent of their respective cities like, the Brooklyn comics and graphics festival, MIX, MICE, PIX, MeCAF, etc. and there was already the monoliths of the alternative comics expos, SPX, APE, MOCCA, SPACE. So, was it necessary to have yet another show in Chicago? After all, anyone who makes these comics, (which all of the CAKE organizers do) knows that the audience for our art is limited. However, at the same time, SPX and many other shows continually sell out exhibitor space every year.
Amidst the crazy tasks of putting together one of these shows, it’s easy to forget what the ultimate goal is. Speaking for myself, I see our show as a celebration of the medium and for its creators. But every comic show can say that. Aside from celebration, it’s been my hope for the show to reach further. To reach out to people unfamiliar with these comics, and to have our festival bring new people to the form. To have a party once a year that displays so much passion and quality, that new people are drawn to it.
Jeff Zwirek is the author of Ignatz Nominated, Burning Building Comix. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons. He helps to organize CAKE, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo.