This summer, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is pleased to announce the highly anticipated summer exhibition “Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now,” a celebration of Chicago’s pivotal role as a national and innovative center for comics and cartooning. With a focus on rediscovering the work of women and BIPOC comic artists, this major exhibition presents the last 60 years of the city’s artful cartooning history, showing how comic art is a democratic medium that allows artists to speak directly to people in relatable ways.
Afro-futurist cartoonist Dr. Yaoun- dé Olu, who has been the editorial cartoonist for the Crusader for more than 40 years, joins more than 40 cartoonists, including 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, who 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 Dan Nadel from an idea by former MCA Chief Curator Michael Darling and explores the ways that artists use comics not only to entertain readers, but to engage them in the relevant social and political issues of their time. For over a century, Chicago has nurtured the art of comics and has been home to some of the most important cartoonists in the world. This incredible community of cartoonists pushed the medium forward and taught it to new generations, evolving Chicago into a hub for innovation in comics. Over the last decade, cartooning has become a popular subject at Chicago’s renowned colleges and universities, turning the city into not just a center of talent and publishing, but an educational destination. The exhibition is divided into four key sections spanning Chicago comic history, including 1960-70s: The Underground; 1980-1990s: Alternative Weeklies, Comic Books, and Zines; 1990-2000s: Graphic Novels and Community; and 2010-Now: Chicago Rising. The roots of this exhibition are in the publishing history of Chicago, from the legendary newspaper comic strips of the Chicago Tribune to Johnson Publishing’s comics by and for the local and national Black population.
Among other things, “Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now” also weaves together Black artists across a range of generations, from Richard ‘Grass’ Green and Robert ‘Buck’ Brown to Turtel Onli and Yaoundé Olu, revealing the multiplicity of voices responsible for shaping comic’s history as a site of expression of Black culture as well as resistance to inequity.
The exhibition includes works from radical newspapers to literary graphic novels, encompassing autobiography, satire, absurdism, science fiction, horror, and fiction. It also pays homage to women pioneers in the field, Dale Messick and Jackie Ormes, who is credited as the first Black woman cartoonist in history.
A companion book, titled “It’s Life as I See It: Black Cartoonists in Chicago, 1940-1980,” is a first-of-its-kind anthology of Black comic artists in Chicago that includes many of the works featured in “Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now.” The book, edited by Nadel and published earlier this month, can be read as an alternative history of cartoons and comics: all of the comics and cartoons will be reprinted for the first time ever. Nadel says, “The work expands our understanding of science fiction, fashion, autobiography, and identity in comics. It is another example of the richness of twen- tieth-century Black Chicago culture, and perhaps most importantly a signpost pointing to the need for a larger recovery of the Black contribution to comics history in the Windy City and in America at large.” Visit [https://tinyurl.com/re9ataww] for more information about the exhibit, including live drawing sessions to be held by various artists.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader. She is a National Newspaper Publishers Association ‘Entertainment Writing’ award winner, contributor to “Rust Belt Chicago” and the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood: South Side of Chicago.” For info, Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago (lulu.com) or email: [email protected].