Lit Fest round-up highlights Chris Ware, Lynda Barry and Anders Nilsen

Five books: Graphic novelists at Lit Fest

The Chicago Tribune    |    Jennifer Day    |    May 25, 2013

Art Spiegelman, author of “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir that essentially legitimized cartooning as a literary form, will kick off this year's Printers Row Lit Fest on Saturday, June 8, as winner of the Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Literary Award. With that in mind — along with the fact that some of the most interesting cartoonists working today live in Chicago — we dedicated this issue of Printers Row Journal to graphic novels. Let's kick it off with a roundup of books by some of the cartoonists who will be at Lit Fest.

Building Stories by Chris Ware

Chris Ware reimagined the very notion of what a book could be in "Building Stories," a gameboard-sized box filled with illustrated works about the inhabitants of a Chicago three-flat. It was published to critical acclaim in October and showed up on just about every list of best books from 2012. The beauty and inventive nature of Ware's work is obvious; but what makes it compelling is its careful observation of the characters who inhabit it.

The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry

Five years ago, Lynda Barry stopped writing "Ernie Pook's Comeek," a strip that first appeared in the Chicago Reader nearly 30 years before. "The Freddie Stories" is an expanded reissue of a collection of strips about the youngest of the Mullen family. Freddie is introduced by his sister Marlys as "a gentle person" in "a juvenile delinquency world." No one gets at cringe-inducing moments of truth quite like Barry — with empathy and playfulness.

The End by Anders Nilsen

In 2006, Anders Nilsen published "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow," a heartbreaking 96-page graphic memoir about his relationship with his fiancée, Cheryl Weaver, who died of cancer in 2005. "The End" is the story of what came next: a bracing depiction of mourning and acceptance. Nilsen, who is perhaps best known for "Big Questions," uses spare drawings and empty space to make his loss palpable — and to leave room for hope.

Sammy the Mouse: Book 1 by Zak Sally

Sammy the Mouse just wants to stay home alone, but a voice from above commands him to open the door when a drunken duck comes knocking. He finds himself thrust out into a confusing and grim world. "Sammy the Mouse: Book 1" collects the first three issues of the comic book (originally published by Fantagraphics) in a lovely two-color edition hand printed by Sally.

CAKE 2012 Book

Lit Fest participant Laura Park is one of dozens of artists who will appear at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, June 15-16. CAKE will be on hand at Lit Fest, too, to offer a taste of this year's event. In the meantime, check out the anthology from last year's expo, "CAKE 2012 Book," which features work by Dane Martin, Anna Haifisch, Paul Nudd and many more.

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