CAKE: The Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, 2013

Cara and Kenan

[ Cara Bean and I decided on simultaneous whims to show off the benefits of our unusually prominent eyeballs by hypnotizing one another first thing Saturday morning. Consequently, we both spent the weekend shuffling about and half-smiling into middle distance while awaiting the other’s instruction. ]

“How was the show,” we’ll be asked. We’ll abbreviate our answers to varying degrees; significantly for friends who ask politely, substantially for the coworkers who covered our shifts, but our unlucky spouses and lovers will probably have to sit through the ambivalence and pontification the others are spared. It’s a simple question, yes, but with a variety of complicated questions embedded in it.

How should we evaluate our festival weekends? How do we decide if the substantial time and money they require was well-spent? How do we come to conclude that a show was or wasn’t good? There are a lot of potential criteria:

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Grand Comics Festival 2013, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

[ photo: Blaise Larmee, me, and Colleen Frakes man our GCF tables, by Pat Dorian. ]

The inaugural Grand Comics Festival was, in many regards, my favorite kind of fest.

  • It was small. Small enough that you could see the entire show at a liesurely pace, talk to pretty much everyone, and become at least passingly familiar with all the work on display. If you go to festivals for their social (rather than commercial) component, small shows are where it’s at.
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I Don’t Belong Here.

“Two weeks ago I came here to see Harvey Kurtzman,” my buddy Mike Hunchback told me upon entering the lobby, “and now I’m here to see you.”


This was more or less the theme of Wednesday evening, when the exhibition of work by the 2013 MoCCA Award of Excellence honorees opened in the glossy red second floor gallery at Manhattan’s Society of Illustrators. I had 16″ x 20″ 12-color inkjet prints made up on cold-press watercolor paper of six pages from Last Train to Old Town, Chapter One (for which I won one of those awards at this year’s MoCCA festival). Because Old Town is made by a mixed media process with no physical originals (my pencils are basically unintelligible to anyone other than and including me), and the books are by necessity smaller and printed with a less precise four-color process, getting these prints made felt like I was finally seeing my own work completed. (I hope to be able to print up the other 14 pages this way eventually, just to see and have them.)

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A Page in the Life

Page 16, start to finsih

This is me (below right), about three-quarters of the way through drawing Old Town, Chapter One:

Kenan with completion chart

I’m holding a chart. Along the x-axis, the issue’s 20 pages are listed. Down the y-axis each is divided into ten stages of partial completion.

I did this to reassure myself that progress was being made, and to try to estimate, realistically, how much work was left to do. Because the going was a lot slower than I’d anticipated. I wasn’t used to working with color and its attendant challenges, nor had I ever given much thought before to tailoring my comics to be palatable to a specific audience. I was trying to draw in an unfamiliar style by adhering to an unfamiliar set of restrictions. I really just didn’t know what I was doing (although that, at least, was a comfortably familiar circumstance).

Through a lot of trial and error (but predominantly the latter), I eventually settled into a routine. It goes something like this:

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Book Party revisited

Kenan Rubenstein signing Last Train to Old Town, Chapter One

[ photos by Lauren Heanes. ]

By all accounts and any metric, the book party went well. The wine got drunk. The jokes got laughs. The books got bought, and signed. I can’t thank you all enough for coming to play comics with us, and WORD, for giving us a basement to overrun.

For those that missed it, or those eager to relive that historic evening, I am happy to be able to offer you the following iPhone videos of our readings/presentations/fireside chats (courtesy of Andrea and Alexander, who I imagine are still resting their arms after the strain of this undertaking).

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