BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on local authors and their works—ideal reads for this scorching summer and beyond.
Graphic novels and memoirs have developed right here in Chicago, with some of the most prominent writers doing their work here today. —Elizabeth Taylor, editor and founder, The National Book Review
With Ladies’ Night Anthology, Editor-in-Chief Megan Byrd shows how a traditional comic book grows up through community. A group of artistic friends, who began gathering once a month in 2012 for fun and sharing, soon become full-fledged authors and artists, together publishing stories born out of their conversations.
Their latest compilation, SISTERS, combines humor, drama, romance, and even horror in a graphic novel format. Sometimes fantasy, sometimes the authors own experiences, Sisters gives a great introduction to the art form.
Clever and imaginative, Megan balances her day job as program and communications coordinator at The Village Chicago, which includes editing newsletters and using her photography skills, with her passion for editing comics. She gave us some background:
“There’s no one type of comic or graphic novel—think of the funny papers to web comics to long form, stand alone books, all with visual impact. They can be funny, serious, superheroes or sci-fi, but they are an art form. People are definitely still reading about Betty and Veronica in the Archie comics, but there are now new stories for the same characters.”
Independent graphic novels give artists opportunities. While it’s hard to break into the DC/Marvel world, the field is bursting with new talent. There are now web strips as well as traditional comic strips, attracting loyal fans.
The Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2), held in March, was one of the largest pop cultural and costume experiences in the country, and graphic novels played a large part at the McCormick Place event.
Megan recently returned from the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, organized to show the breadth and diversity of comics, where thousands of graphic novels were on display.
“This was our second time in five years attending an international festival as Ladies’ Night Anthology, and the experience was eye-opening. The amount of variety among content on the international scene is an inspiration.”
Along with Megan as EIC, the leadership of Ladies’ Night Anthology is comprised of creatives from a variety of backgrounds, including writer Lauren Burke; comic critic Caitlin Rosberg; writer and artist Kris Mackenzie; and writer and community organizer Summer Sparacin. Megan explained how the Ladies’ Night Anthology team works together:
“The goal of our group is to give not only a platform to women and non-binary creators making comics but to create collaborators. We select a theme for each book. You need a team of writers, artists, colorists, and letterers working together with an editor. One person can’t usually do it alone.
“It’s incredibly rare to be an exceptional storyteller who is also an equally talented visual artist, though there are exceptions. The vast majority of individuals working in comics do not do it alone, and we want to give emerging creators the opportunity to learn together. We organize many workshops throughout the creative process, ones that just concentrate on lettering for example.”
Elizabeth Taylor shared some of the history of graphic novels:
“My sense is that there’s always been keen interest in graphic novels but that it was submerged in the underground as not particularly literary. But in 1992, when the Pulitzer Prizes granted Art Spiegelman a Special Award for his stunning achievement Maus, it was if the art form had gone mainstream.
“Then in 2006, when American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, author of the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, published her graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which received rave reviews and literary awards, and was made into a musical on Broadway, it was clear that the form had found an audience.
“Chris Ware’s monumental Building Stories was hailed as one of the great literary achievements of 2012. New Yorker readers will find Ware’s work gracing the magazine’s cover, and he is joined by an array of other stars in the field, including Jessica Abel and Ivan Brunetti.”
Megan reports that the group is coming together shortly to choose their next theme: “We challenge our creators to work outside their comfort zones and ourselves as leaders. We are also focusing on widening our audience.”
We asked Megan to tell us about the graphic novel audience:
“Most creators today will quickly acknowledge that the audience for comics, from graphic novels to superhero comics, continues to grow, expanding an enthusiastic group passionate about the art form. More children are also reading comics, which makes for an exciting future.”
We liked the introduction to SISTERS:
“Out of necessity or desire, we seek sisters. They help us to break through the biases we are born into. We begin to know ourselves, and sometimes sisters can even outnumber the demons. No matter where you go, sisters await, ones you are born with and ones you choose.”