The 2014 CAKE show (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) managed to do something that none of the larger shows have been able to do in a long time; a show about comics actually made me excited about comics. After the behemoth that was C2E2 this year, I felt like that show has just become a giant bazaar where I spend all of my time looking for the best bargains. It's better than Wizard World Chicago was but then that's not saying too much. I’m not a big sketch or original art guy so while artist alley is cool and all, I can always take it or leave it. I picked up some great deals at C2E2 but nothing that it felt like I couldn’t have found online if I had just spent a bit of time hanging around Amazon, Instock Trades or any other bargain bookstore.
Since the days of the sadly defunct Windy City Con, I’ve loved The Center on Halsted for these shows. Located in a great and interesting neighborhood of Chicago, The Center’s big gymnasium and third floor is the perfect combination of spacious and intimate for a comic show that’s focused on creators. The expanded space that CAKE had this year was big enough for a variety of cartoonists and smaller publishers but had everything spaced out so that at least on Saturday (the only day I was there,) there wasn’t the crushing crowds or the claustrophobia caused by too many people in the aisles. By moving some of the exhibitors into a smaller area before the main hall (really just The Center’s gymnasium,) the show its ability to grow and adapt from last year to this year.
Out of its three years in existence, this is only the second time I’ve gone to CAKE (last year's con report is here). Last year, I felt like the show maybe wasn’t my scene. Admittedly my tastes have ran more mainstream over the years but thanks to my fellow contributors to this site and various other podcasts, websites and Tumblrs (CAKE's own Tumblr blog was exceptionally good,) I felt more at home this year as I walked the tables, talked briefly to some of the cartoonists and bought their stuff (more on that below.) If nothing else, I knew I wanted to pick up fellow Panel Patterer’s Whit Taylor’s debut book The Anthropologist from Sparkplug Books. There were so many comics to see, almost too many. Following other people’s Twitter feeds all weekend, I got jealous when I saw people buying comics and mini comics that I passed by or that I never even saw.
The biggest thrill of the weekend was meeting Tony Millionaire and seeing his panel. Now before noon on Saturday, I don’t think I’ve ever read one of Millionaire’s books but after enjoying last year’s Chris Ware panel, I just figured I’d give this one a shot. Millionaire is a gregarious man, raising his arms as if waiting for the applause due him at the beginning of the panel. Caitlan McGurk (curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum) interviewed Millionaire while sharing a beer with him. She put together a mesmerizing slideshow of Millionaire’s artwork and influences and I just immediately fell in love with his comics. Beautiful drawings combined with a profound longing in the images from this Sock Monkey, Maakies and Billy Hazelnut comics mesmerized me while Millionaire and McGurk talked about his comics, his life and his influences.
Afterwards, I got to talk a little bit with Millionaire and almost felt like I needed to apologize for not paying attention to his 20+ year comic career. I picked up his Sock Monkey Treasury from him and had to confess that I had never read any of this stuff but that the panel had instantly sold me on his cartoons and him as a performer. Since Saturday, I’ve been staring at the book and am waiting for the chance to really dig into it. McGurk was equally impressive, holding her own against a man who was playing equal parts cartoonist and performer up there with her. Listening to her talk and seeing the presentation she put together, I would loved to have had the opportunity to hear her just talk about cartoons and comics.
I only got to spend a couple of hours at Cake this year but what a couple of hours it was. I felt refreshed, energized and enamored with comics in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. There is so much that’s happening in comics that I just don’t think we see because of the Wednesday Comic Shop culture mentality that exists (and that I do like being a part of) and a show like CAKE is just a great way to see that comics are more than just the direct market.
Now, onto what was bought at the show. Admittedly, the listing of who did what and their websites are as much for me to go back and look through as it is for you. All I've got to say is that this is the year that I got some stuff from cartoonists I like and some stuff from people I've never heard of before. But even as I'm putting this together, it's hard not just to stop and start flipping through these lovely, lovely comics.
Barrio Mothers by various (published by Sparkplug Books)
TCAF Roadtrip by Jack Gross
Hollow by Sam Alden
Gang Bang Bong Volume 2 by Various
I Swallowed the Key to My Heart by Liz Prince
Basewood by Alec Longstreth
Sock by Box Brown
Cat Fight by Sally Cantirino
The Granville Syndrome by Dawson Walker
The Great Moments in Western Civilizatino: Chicago by Caitlin Cass
King-Cat Comix and Stories #73 & #74 by John Porcellino
First Kiss by Jack Gross