Kish College exhibit shows creative process of cartooning

MALTA – Art isn’t created perfect and it usually has to go through several drafts.

A new exhibit, “Chicago Area Cartoonists and Comics,” at the Kishwaukee College Art Gallery gives visitors a chance to see that process in cartooning, as well as see that there’s more to cartoons and comics than Beetle Bailey and Garfield.

Miles Halpern, curator of the exhibit and a professor of art at Kishwaukee College, said creating comics uses a wide variety of artistic skill sets.

The exhibit focuses specifically on Chicago comics.

“Chicago has a really amazing culture of supporting cartoonists,” Halpern said. Not just places to publish, but it also offers schools, events and conventions. “We thought it would be interesting to focus on that community.”

At the exhibit, cartoonists from the region, including a couple of alumni from Kishwaukee College, have allowed their work to be hung in the gallery for others to see, something Halpern said few of them expected.

“Some people in the cartooning community didn’t see what they were doing as art,” he said. And while artists like Roy Lichtenstein have used the cartoon aesthetic to make statements about society or mass media, Halpern said the cartoonists on display at the exhibit were making that mass media.

“They aren’t making work for the gallery,” he said. “They were making it for the people.”

That became a challenge for the show as well. 

“One of the challenges of presenting the work in the gallery is that comics are typically meant to be read in one’s hands, printed on paper, in a newspaper, book, or more recently on a digital screen,” Halpern wrote in the exhibit’s curator’s statement. “In a gallery setting, a comic may appear out of context and incomplete presented on a gallery wall.”

To counter that, the exhibit isn’t a walk through four-panel jokes framed on the wall. The comics tell complicated, personal stories. Displays will include personal sketchbooks or journals from the artists, including a pitch cartoonist Jeffrey Brown made to Nickelodeon for a television show surrounding two Neanderthals. Though the show was never picked up, Brown has turned the story into a comic, on display at the exhibit.

There also is the opportunity to see the creative process as it unfolds. Many of the artists allowed rough drafts and sketches to be included in the exhibit, letting visitors see the changes from the first brainstorming vision to the final, published version. Halpern said those first drafts are mostly rough sketches because, at the outset, the artists are just trying to get the ideas down on paper. More precise and refined art comes later.

The exhibit for Mike Freiheit includes a comic called “The Amazing Comic Process,” about the artist making the comic. The work starts with little more than sketches made with circles, denoting the character and his location and posture on the page. The bones of a story are there, but it’s not until the viewer moves on to a copy of the final published piece that it’s fleshed out to tell a story and the circles become a man who is struggling to tell the story of how he creates.

There is a lot to take in, and a lot of different styles. From cartoons that look like they would be at home in the comics section of a newspaper to those that could be a fine arts thesis, the show covers the gamut.

“Hopefully visitors will come back for multiple trips to take the time to sit down and read some of the books that are available in the gallery, or to learn more about comics by perusing Kishwaukee College’s extensive catalog of graphic novels,” Halpern said in his statement. “After seeing this exhibit, visitors may better understand comics as a diverse and powerful visual narrative media that is accessible and engaging to people of all ages, backgrounds and interests.”

The exhibit runs through March 1. The Kishwaukee College Art Gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. For information, visit

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