Alongside TCAF and SPX, CAKE has aptly been described as one of the best indie comic events around today. This year’s expo swept by just this past weekend and was inarguable amassed with an outpouring of talented artists and creators, brilliant comics, and all around good vibes. The programming this year round was notably shorter than 2012’s, yet the entirety of the panelling channeled the idea and celebration of the multimodal and innovatory potentials of the comics form. From a new rehashing of Raw’s Narrative Corpse to Phoebe Gloeckner’s venture to new forms of visual narrative, here’s a look at some of panels from CAKE 2013.


Innovative Forms 

The second panel of Saturday focused on examining four artists (Nate Beaty and Aaron Reiner, Jason Shiga, and Deb Sokolow) and their projects that explored new forms of non-linear graphic narrative through a variety of formats. Deb Sokolow, a Chicago based artist, spoke of the development of her form from 2003 onward, wherein she began exploring narrative in terms of a panoramic structure. Recounting her 12 x 12 exhibit at MCA, Deb explained the significance of using cinematic size in order to surround and occupy the space of the body as well as creating an anonymous, unreliable protagonist to weave the audience in and out of the narrative. In some her works, Deb installed instructions as a means to meld the narrator with the viewer, creating a discourse that plays with the viewer’s assumptions of linear narrative and instilling a false sense of wandering. Further complicating the notion of linearity of visual narrative is her inclusion of erasure marks. By acknowledging the active and continuing process of her art, Deb includes whiting-out and erasing as a physical remnant and record, highlighting the layers of truth and error underneath the final piece.


About a year ago, Nate Beaty and Aaron Renier (of the Trubble Club) created THE INFINITE CORPSE, a jam comic paying homage both to the Art Spiegelman’s Narrative Corpse project as well as Scott McCloud’s idea of the infinite canvas (a design strategy wherein the digital comics page is theoretically infinite and thus online comics do not have at adhere to conventional page sizes). The two spoke about the collaborative and social nature behind THE INFINITE CORPSE, also recognizing the influence of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. The project has already proven to be quite a success, with  200 artists having already contributed and growing. The chain comic is truly interactive because of  its never-ending quality, as each 3 panel contribution branches off into a myriad of possibilities.

Jason Shiga has been making unconventional narrative work for quite some time, with FLEEP, EMPIRE SLATE, and MEANWHILE already distinguishing Shiga’s mastery of redefining the template of sequential art as he blends comics, mazes, and pop-up blocks to reveal an unexpectedly fresh reading experience. From utilizing everything from using a chopstick  as a tool for narrative advancement to even the invention of new mathematical shapes as book format, Shiga demonstrates an infinite number of ways to showcase graphic narrative as a physical, manipulative form that continues to evolve and transcend genre restraints. Shiga, along with the rest of the panelists, expressed their awareness of the relationship of the  reader to their work, and just how essential the reader is in the success of such interactive pieces.


Eyeworks: Parallel Lines

Concluding Saturday’s panelling was the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation, a film festival focusing on abstract and unconventional animation. Going on its third year, Eyeworks 2013 celebrated the blending of alternative comics and experimental animation with classic pieces such as Winsor McCay’s THE PET (1921) and Kathy Rose’s THE DOODLERS (1975), along with more contemporary works from Leif Goldberg’s WEE WEE ATTRACTORS (2013) and Stefan Gruber’s THE EDIBLE ROCKS (2012) to name a few.


Kicking off the screening was Richard McGuire’s animation, MICRO LOUP (2003), a short using bold, minimal styles paired with a number of clever graphic gags. George Griffin’s HEAD (1975) was a beyond doubt experimental undertaking of animation, a self-portrait utilizing the techniques of flipbooks, stop-motion, and altered documentary footage to construct what could be described as an “anti-cartoon.” With its discontinuous and non-narrative framework, the piece re-examines the origins of animation while pioneering new methods of cartooning.


At the end of the screening, Kim Deitch, Kevin Eskew, and Leif Goldberg took the stage to share their own animating experience and comment upon their individual processes. Kim Deitch paired with animator John Kuramoto to produce THE SHIP THAT NEVER CAME IN (2003), and shared his opinion on the ups and downs of making animation. To Deitch, one of the major draws of animation is the ability to pair illustration with music, something the comics form is limited in. His work with Kuramoto is, however, a one-time shot as his true passion lays with comics and doesn’t wish to pursue a future in animation.



Intimate Anxiety


Concluding CAKE programming was Intimate Anxiety, a discussion with Heather Benjamin, Julia Gfrörer, and Phoebe Gloeckner about the subject of taboo and “inappropriate” material so present in their work. All three cartoonists exhibit depictions of sex and death in such a visually shocking style that has earned them reputations so absorbed in eroticism that many times it becomes all they are known for. Heather Benjamin’s SAD SEX is notoriously ripe in graphic rendering , so much so that it has garnered the label of blatant pornography, yet once the inital shock sets in, her art becomes a interesting fusing of the grotesque and beautiful, something that sticks in your mind that can’t be unshook. Julia Gfrörer’s work is rich in the supernatural, often depicting a haunting yet beautiful story alongside ominous portrayals of sexuality. She seamlessly addresses the nature of fetish and desire rampant in everyone, and commented that she tries to portray sexuality as truth; that sex can be negative and unpleasant whether or not people want to acknowledge it. A cartoonist who pioneered depicting the difficult subject of brutal reality, Phoebe Gloeckner, pushed the boundaries of autobiographical graphic narrative through her unflinching, honest, and troubling work as seen in DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL. She continues this pursuit in creating dioramas that showcase the horrifying reality of murder and abuse in Juarez, Mexico. Her newest work is just as shocking as her past comics, and shared the difficult process of constructing these dioramas by mutilating dolls and setting up scenes that forced her to assume the role of perpetrator. Ultimately, Phoebe expressed the necessity of showing sex in such a disturbing manner, explaining that its absence would cement sex as an abstract, simplified idea, rather than the reality of it as a complex, physical act of human nature.

The discussion eventually landed on the topic of Benjamin, Gfrörer, and Gloeckner’s opinion about their own position as “female” creator and thus the pigeonholing of their work because of the graphic nature they illustrate and write about. Often their work is labeled as having some kind of political agency about the female body, positioning them in a feminist cartoonist category that assumes their goal is to explicitly comment about sex. While Gfrörer and Benjamin agreed that female positive response is always appreciated, Gloeckner made the point in expressing the need to get below gender, that before the simplified label of male/female, we are all human first, and thus work should address everyone universally, and to limit their audience is a detriment to their art. All three cartoonists unabashedly deliver sex without fluff, rejecting the act of running and hiding in their art, and instead diving headfirst to unveil every aspect of sexuality in all its forms.