University of Chicago's "Comics: Philosophy & Practice" was an Academic-omicon

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a very different kind of comicon.

Organized by University of Chicago associate professor Hillary Chute (Graphic Women, 2006), "Comics: Philosophy & Practice" brought together 17 heavy hitters in comics (aka cartooning, aka graphic novels, aka illustrated manuscripts, aka well, thankfully not much time was spent debating semantics).

The "Chicago 17," as Carol Tyler has dubbed the group, included Tyler, R. Crumb, Chris Ware, Joe Sacco, Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel, Art Spiegelman, Phoebe Gloeckner and nine other equally accomplished cartoonists for a weekend of panels and serious (but never dry) discussions about comics.

This was a heady group--three of the 17, including Sacco, Gloeckner and Bechdel, are Guggenheim fellowship recipients and Ben Katchor (long-running strip, " Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer"), also a former Guggenheim fellow, was the first cartoonist to win a MacArthur "genius" award.

While north of the U of C campus, the NATO summit and its attendant protests and road closures made news, for me, the real action was on the stage of the spanking-new Gray Center for the Arts. I knew a little, or in some cases, a little more than a little, about all the presenters for the weekend. To be truthful, I hadn't read every single one of them.

A guy like Gary Panter can be off-putting. Panter not only does really, really good comics, but is an Emmy-award winning set designer (PeeWee's Playhouse), painter, musician, etc., etc., ad nauseum. I'd only glanced at his "Jimbo" books. But after hearing him speak (my favorite Panter quote of the weekend:

"Being a producer rather than a user is a good thing."), I figure I've got something to learn from his work. So grows the stack of graphic novels on my "must read" list.

I'm sure I didn't catch every amusing, provocative or mind-blowing thing that was said at this conference. Sometimes I was probably too busy thinking about the thing that had just been said to catch the next great thing that was said. But here are my five favorite quotes of the weekend -- in no particular order.

- "The more you expose, the less personal it becomes" -- Phoebe Gloeckner, (A Child's Life and Other Stories; Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures )

- "OCD is one of the few behavioral disorders that makes the world a better place." -- Justin Green (Justin Green's Sign Game; Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary)

- "Technology changed the way I look at the sky. I saw some crows in Indiana and wanted to 'free transform' them to the lower left corner." -- Again, Justin Green (seems like an interesting artist, "Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary" is now on "must read" list).

- "Don Rickles and Frida Kahlo." -- Aline Komisky-Crumb (Love That Bunch; Need More Love: A Graphic Memoir; Drawn Together, with husband R. Crumb) on influences on her work.

- "Shut the f**k up." -- Lynda Barry (Blabber Blabber Blabber-Volume 1 of Everything; One Hundred Demons; What It Is; Cruddy; The Good Times Are Killing Me). As you would guess from reading any of Lynda Barry's work, she is a warm, generous person. Watch the video of the Day 3 panel, "Lines on Paper," to find out what made her say this. Twice. At volume.

As of the publishing of this post, there's no information about "next year," but other upcoming cons include: - CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo), where Ivan Brunetti (whose book title, Cartooning: Philosophy & Practice, Chute adapted for her event) will be again be a panelist and features dozens of independent comics artists. - Comics and Medicine: Navigating the Margins in Toronto in July, where Joyce Farmer (Special Exits, check out our February 2011 interview with her here) is a keynote speaker. and - SPX, the Small Press Expo , see who wins Ignatz Awards and relish the 350+ independent comic artists and small presses that will be exhibiting in September.

Multimedia highlights from "Comics: Philosophy & Practice" can be accessed here Comics : Philosophy & Practice .

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