The CAKE Is Not A Lie At Chicago’s Alternative Comics Expo


Although many comics fans are gearing up for Comic-Con International in San Diego, a smaller, but no less significant show occurred this past weekend in Chicago at the Center on Halsted: the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, affenctionately known as CAKE. Unlike San Diego’s event, which has broaden to include all forms of pop culture and media entertainment, CAKE is exclusively about comics. Their web site states, “CAKE is dedicated to fostering community and dialogue amongst independent artists, small presses, publishers and readers.” The writers and artists that appear at CAKE don’t tell stories about superheroes or funny animals; they tell stories that matter to them. Sometimes exteremely short vinettes sold as a 50¢ minicomic, sometimes extended 400-page graphic novels.

Like any good convention, there were a number of name creators on hand. Chris Ware and Kim Deitch were argueably the biggest, and each got their own panel to discuss their work. But the likes of Phoebe Gloeckner, Jason Shiga, Aaron Renier and Micahel DeForge were also on panel discussions and brought more insights to their own work as well as the medium as a whole. And let’s not forget the other folks who had booths! Folks like Box Brown, Sarah Glidden, Spike Trotman and Noah Van Sciver. Plenty of talented creators, telling stories that they wanted to tell.

Everyone I talked to was having a good show, and many noted that the new layout seemed to be very helpful in that regard. In previous years, the show was held throughout several different rooms, but this year it was moved into a single auditorium for the booths and one theater set aside for the panels. This gave everyone a good opportunity to easily look at all the creators who were present.

It’s a fairly quiet show compared to some of the more media extravanganzas that many fans have come to expect in other comics conventions. The creators don’t have large, over-powering booths and don’t act as carnival barkers to get your attention. They’re happy to chat with you about their work if you stop to take a look, but there really wasn’t the sense of pressure to buy or sell that more commercial shows have. The creators were there to talk about comics as much as they were to sell them.

Although the show was formally about any independent comics work, there was something of a theme around the possibilities of the art form itself. This was most clearly expressed in the “Innovative Forms” panel where they discussed comics as room-sized art installations, crowd-sourced infinite webcomics and interactive paper constructions. But at the booths, I found interesting experiments as well. An anthology of comics as poetry. A single-panel, 26-foot long, accordian folded miniature mural. A mini-comic where each page had a double-gatefold spread. A comic based on the lyrics of a song, which had been recorded and included as a flexidisc. And, naturally, Ware’s Building Stories which I have yet to find an adequate way to describe succinctly. There was almost a tacit discussion of the very form of comics — what they could do and what one could do with them beyond  a straight-forward narrative.

Further, it wasn’t limited to the printed page. The show was filled with creators who were doing a lot of work digitally. Some were webcomickers who’ve been bringing their work to print, others worked more traditionally first and began serializing other works online in order to broaden their reach. And some were equally happy doing different works in different venues just because they thought it would work better one way over another. There didn’t seem to be any concern or issue regarding what kind of comics anyone produced, or what their aims were, or what they used to produce their comics; the only concern was whether or not they achieved what they set out to accomplish.

What CAKE sets out to do, and certainly seemed to achieve this year at least, was to celebrate comics in all their forms. Not the characters that appear in comics, but the very idea of comics. The initial showers that may have slowed the earliest hours of Saturday soon parted, and it quickly turned into a very beautiful couple of days. Whether that had anything to do with the celebrations going on in the Center on Halsted is up to you to decide.