CAKE Report: Indie comics go to Chicago

by Benjamin Rogers

Once again the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo was a huge success.  CAKE 2014 featured over 120 exhibitors and drew 2,200 attendees over the course of the weekend, a ten percent increase from last year’s show.  Conference organizer Neil Brideau said that CAKE was excited to continue increasing its scope, noting that “this was the first year we’ve had a large international presence.”  He highlighted some artists who travelled a long way to attend the show such as Inés Estrada of Mexico, and Philippa Rice and Luke Pearson of the UK.

Brideau also emphasized that a major part of CAKE’s mission is to support the local comics scene in Chicago.  “We’re working to become a non-profit right now, and we’ve funded some scholarships.  John Porcellino is doing a week-long workshop immediately following CAKE at the Chicago Publishing Resource Center.  We did two half tuition scholarships for that workshop.  Today, we’ve announced the Cupcake Award, which is a grant and a guaranteed half table at next year’s CAKE for someone’s who is working in minicomics and has not been published by a major publisher.  Annie Koyama from Koyama Press is our special guest juror for that award this year.”

CAKE, now in its third year, has made its home at the Center on Halsted.  After an especially crowded show last year, CAKE expanded from a single exhibition hall to a include a second space while simultaneously reducing the number of tables.  The show was much easier to get around than in previous years, but still packed the house later in the afternoon on both days.

The goal of the CAKE organizers is to create a “balanced show, that brings a lot of different styles and experience levels together.”  To achieve this, the CAKE organizers crowdsource feedback on CAKE applicants from the Chicago comics community but also retain curatorial oversight over the final list of exhibitors.  It’s a hybrid approach that attempts to sidestep the gatekeeper problem of a fully curated show while also avoiding the free-for-all of a lottery show.

I asked many of the exhibitors what makes CAKE such a special show, and Chicago’s comics community such a strong one.  Isabella Rotman and Amara Leipzig suggested that the city’s art colleges such as Columbia and School of the Art Institute are incubators for a lot of comics talent.  Lucy Knisley noted that Chicago’s climate was ideal for cartoonists — having 7-8 months of cold weather forces folks inside and encourages the hermit-like conditions that are ideal for comics making, while the welcome arrival of summer allows time for self-promotion and energizing interaction with other artists during the convention season.  Michael DeForge said that it is one of his favorite shows because there is a heavier emphasis on zines and minicomics than there is at other comparable shows.  Many, many exhibitors mentioned the importance of Chicago book, zine, and comic superstore Quimby’s in promoting the work of emerging artist and providing a focal point for the local comics scene.
Now let’s hit the show floor!
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