Alternative Sexualities Found at Alternative Comics Fairs

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Chicago Zine Fest floor, April 30, 2016

Two weeks ago, I attended two complementary events in Chicago: Token 3 (at the Emporium Arcade) and Chicago Zine Fest (CZF, at the Plumbers Union Local). Both had a diverse spectrum of exciting creators and a particularly strong representation of creators who identify with alternative sexualities. Through my experience with these events, what emerged was an understanding that rather than a conversation about the the gay / straight binary, the alternative comics scene in Chicago supports an interest in sexual identity and gender fluidity. Nowhere was the outright gay representation you find at CAKE in the form of a Chad Sell or Sasha Steinberg, for example, but instead creators who are inviting readers of all identities to consider the nuance inherent in their work and in themselves.

At Token 3, I found one table (which was actually three picnic tables pushed together) that had a few books relatable to the queer audience of the convention. First up was the work of publisher Ed Blair’s press Holy Demon Army. Blair talked to me about his personally-edited zine "Pro Wrestling Feelings (PWF)", which has a thoughtful piece by bisexual writer credited as D. O’Brien concerning the discovery of sexual desire through female wrestling as well as another writing by queer cartoonist Jon Drawdoer. Drawdoer is new to me, but also on the table was his work titled "Mindfulness Comics 2". It’s a meditative comic that is filled with contemplative loose lines and Buddhist visual motifs. I wish I could have met Drawdoer at CZF, where I heard he was helping on the sidelines.

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Pro Wrestling Feelings (PWF), Token 3 April 27, 2016

Moving along the table, past the delightful Jacob Halton of "Boke Expressway" and new pal Blair, I came upon creator Jess Cadwell. We talked about alternative sexualities and queer identities, which led to her sharing her comic SIN with me. It involves the subtlety of sexual interaction, where sexual congress with a leafy plant is legit and pink clashes with yellow. It is elegant in its simplicity. Later, I met her boyfriend Griffin Miller who produces two luscious comics in the style I define as “queer new wave comics” similar in spirit to the work of the trailblazing trans creator Edie Fake. We both worship at the altar of Fake, so this is good. Moving along the table, I was delighted to find Sage Coffey. Coffey has a relationship with the queer community through their comics, but what drew me in the most is that they are working on an anthology of comics exploring issues of anxiety, perfectly titled "Sweaty Palms". This sounds like a must-pick-up especially since pal Kevin Budnik informed me he is a contributor.

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A chill moment with Jess Cadwell at the end of Token 3, April 27, 2016

Speaking of Budnik, it was a joy meeting up with him at Token 3 and CZF. He finds inspiration through his personal perspectives on body dysmorphia and his fluid sexuality which lies somewhere between heterosexuality and asexuality. We discussed the overlap between queer concerns, body image, and challenging gender identity. Though men, neither of us identifies as strictly masculine and have evolved into embracing our non-binary gender status. I picked up his self-published comic "Epilogue November 2015", which gives insight to his daily thought process and has a one-page panel of him Skyping with a friend discussing identifying with being, as he says in the comic, “aromantic” and “a-sex”. Budnik is but one creator I have conversed with over this past week who discussed their fluidity, whether it be in gender, sexuality, or relationship practices.

Token 3 had a joyous nightlife intimacy whereas Chicago Zine Fest was a buoyant and raucous daytime milieu. From handmade ceramic pipes, the recent wave of patches and enamel pins, to alternative comics and zines it had much to offer. In the brightly lit auditorium I found many lovely items with my pal, the incredibly talented artist Davey Krofta. At CZF, my immediate priority was picking up the aforementioned Miller’s "KISS ME!" (which I would, BTW) with its glorious risograph metallic infused cover. It is a delightfully messy surreal jaunt and well worth a gander for those who enjoy pop surrealism in their comics.

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Hazel Newlevant holding her Prince comic and Poly Glot Cunning Linguist at Chicago Zine Fest, April 29, 2016

One surprise discovery of CZF is Hazel Newlevant, a proud polyamorous bisexual creator. I purchased her "Poly Glot Cunning Linguist", a highly personal insight into her adventures in being a polyamorous lover and the vulnerabilities and excitement that come with it. Superficially, I love the peachy colored glitter paper for the cover. More in depth, being polyamorous has a lot of emotional baggage. She is beautiful, intense, and well worth checking out. Plus, the hair. One of her ambitions is to someday create the ultimate long-form polyamorous romantic comedy, which I hope to someday read.

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Rivven’s table at Chicago Zine Fest, April 29, 2016

Moving along the fest floor I was thrilled to encounter (re-encounter? we discussed it) the trans comic creator Rivven. I snapped up the two volumes of "The Hammer Is My Penis". The two crude self-published zines illustrate with great humor many metaphors for the male organ. Examples: Leather lollipop, firm worm, and baloney pony, each accompanied by crassly humorous illustrations. I am a fan. I like the rude.

Now, Isabella Rotman. Do you know this gal? I met her at Token 3 (at the Radiator Comics table) and CZF and I am impressed by the the quality of her work. Her illustration is eye-popping and beautifully produced. Impressively, she is making a serious effort to raise awareness of everyone’s sexual health through comics, not just in the prism of alternative sexual health. We are all just people dealing with common health issues after all. Please check out her comics "Not on My Watch" and "Dr. Rad’s Queer Health Show", which you can buy in print at her convention appearances but also get for free at zines.radremedy.org. Also, consider supporting a group she works with, Rad Remedy, which she describes is “the Yelp for trans doctors.”

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Elliott Junkyard’s table at Chicago Zine Fest, April 29, 2016

Finally, special CZF shouts out to pals Ashly Powley, J.B. Roe, Max Bare (Hi Melissa!), and Elliott Junkyard who each had tables. I didn’t see Bare, but his presence was felt in his continuously developed and whimsically visionary self-published books he had out on his table. Junkyard was not at his table when I walked by but I was impressed with the amount and the quality of output he has produced since I last saw his selection. Thank you to Lizzi Tiritilli (Powley’s collaborator) for the free mini comic "Staying Sane". And, have you seen that pizza heart enamel pin? It’s an amazing little object from Powley and Tiritilli.

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“Pizza My Heart” enamel pin at Chicago Zine Fest, April 29, 2016

I would be remiss not to include this commendable gesture from the organizers of CZF. I like how this encourages inclusiveness and acknowledges the fest’s audience members of the LGBT community and its allies, who will continue to support cultural events such as Token 3, CZF, and the forthcoming CAKE. See you there, this June!

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Gender Inclusive Bathroom at Chicago Zine Fest, April 29, 2016


Gavin Rehfeldt's picture
on May 12, 2016

Native Chicagoan. Former comics slinger. Current comics reader. Bespectacled.