The West Wind

Jenna Caravello is an animator, filmmaker, illustrator, cartoonist, distributor, supporter of the underground, and giggler-about-town. I love Jenna! We recently finished working together on the Archive Project at Kartemquin Films. I miss sitting around, decrypting bad handwriting on archaic video copy. Or posing in cardboard boxes, finding giant lightbulbs, and going home by way of the frozen custard shop, taping sundaes to our bike helmets to ride in the cold.

Anyway, the point of this post is the music video Jenna directed for neo-folk artist Ryley Walker. The shoot came directly after production wrapped for Uzi's Party. Jenna enlisted me as director of photography, in roles similar to those we adopted for her Mines music video, months before.

Jenna set up three different backdrops: white, gold/animal print, and black. The black void shots were especially fun, building off our experiences emphasizing the void in Uzi's Party. We filmed over two days, on 16mm color negative. Kartemquin fellow, friend, and grip Ryan Gleeson took a few choice photos.

Working under a close friend can be a challenging activity. I value the opportunity to exercise those skills, especially in service to a project as beguiling as this. Jenna gets excited about video and digital effects the same way I do with film and analog effects. When we work together we each encounter our pride and bias; we each require the other's expertise. Jenna's video is stunning. I am proud to be her collaborator, and prouder to be her friend.



Updates on art projects have been slim here, I know. In lieu of process posts, here's an aggregate of interviews in my life of late.

The alt-weekly newspaper that I read every week talked back to me! Peter Margasak interviewed me last fall for the Chicago Reader's People Issue. I look forward to this issue every year. It was an honor and delight to be interviewed by Peter, that magnificent critic, and to be photographed and videotaped by such talented fellows. You can see the full, fancy web-spread here.

I especially enjoy these videos, wherein I describe my collaboration for Brain Frame 13, and show off the Llama Man costume. Apparently the video editor, after working on these clips into the wee hours, suffered a rash of nightmares. Success!

This defacement by Kevin Budnik also delights. Thanks Kevin!

Around the same time, I sat down with Sara Drake for a comic-style interview for contemporary art criticism hub Bad At Sports. We sat in my house for a long time, eating bagels and drinking tea, passing our drawings back and forth. You can see the full interview here.

My friends Grant Reynolds and Clayton Shaul recently co-conceived the Twin Freaks podcast. Each episode offers a hearty dose of affable banter regarding a horror film director or subgenre.

In January, Clayton and Grant invited me as a special guest to talk about possession cinema, spurred by my projects Possession Scenes and Uzi's Party. We covered five films in an epic two part episode (sorry).

On the horizon: I'm organizing five Brain Frame-related events in the next two months, one of which is out of town. I'm participating in the second season of Believed Behavior, a comics-subscription online and print experiment. I'm preparing a new comic and a huge show for the last Brain Frame, our third anniversary in August. And, I just started working as the new co-Lead Artist of the Teen Creative Agency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Most pertinent to the subject of this post is the upcoming show BRAIN FRAME: EXPLAINED, a part of the Chicago Zine Fest's Exhibition Day. BF:E will include a 'humorous lecture about the origins and evolution of the show,' delivered by myself; three performances; and an open Q&A which may be led, in part, by my new super-teenager wards at the MCA. Details:

Saturday, March 15th. 3:30-5:00pm in the Auditorium at Columbia College's Conway Center, 1104 S Wabash. FREE and ALL AGES.

There are so many different things I could talk about in this 'humorous lecture.' If you have thoughts as to what you would want to hear, please share them in the comments!


On Toothlessness

An important period in my life has recently come to an end. Eighteen years ago, at age eight, I skidded down a hill on my face, knocking out both of my front teeth and shredding my nose, lips and hand. I was on my way home from buying candy. Both incisors were inserted back into my mouth. The left one took, the right one died slowly, over three years. In 1998 this long, grey front tooth was pulled, leaving me with a flipper (a tooth attached to a retainer). In 2005, a year out of high school, I was assigned braces. They strung my falsie up with the others, sans anchor. I would flip it in circles for fun. In 2006, just before moving to Chicago, my braces were removed. My dentist glued the fake into a semi-permanent 'Maryland bridge,' cemented to its neighbors in the rear. Slowly, for seven years, it wore down into a shorter stump, straining and elongating the teeth it held on to. Finally, last summer, my new dentist and I initiated the surgical process of a permanent implant.

At CAKE 2013. Photo by Marnie Galloway

In June, one week before the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE), my dentist and his friend the oral surgeon removed my Maryland bridge, cut open and peeled back the gums across half the roof of my mouth, scraped my upper jaw bone and then drilled into it with a titanium screw about 2mm thick and 2cm long. Over the next four months, my bone would grow through the tiny hole in the tip of the screw, securing it permanently into my upper jaw. This surgery was difficult. Local anesthetic doesn't help with immense skull pressure, or horrifying sounds. I like going to the dentist, and I ask a lot of questions. For once, I wished I hadn't know the details.

At Brain Frame 14. Photo by Gillian Fry

After stitching up my gums to cover the end of the screw, I received a temporary fake. This one, instead of a retainer, was a full upper Invisalign-style clear case, with a thin white veneer where my gap tooth sat. I left the office wearing it but it had filled with blood by the time I was home. It looked like shit and it hurt so I left it out for a few days. (Then I broke it - more on that later.) When I returned to get my stitches out, I received a new temporary - another flipper. I wore it sparingly.

I made a cake for Jenna's and Krystal's birthday party. Photo by Eric Rivera

Just before Halloween, four months later, I returned to my surgeon with music and headphones. I didn't want to hear the jaw scraping gum ripping again. (Sounds like velcro.) He seemed skeptical, and I felt foolish when he completed the follow up procedure in twenty minutes with no gross sounds. I guess it's much less invasive to fold back gums and screw a 'healing cap' on to the tip of a protruding screw. This silver button stuck out just past my gum line for the next month, a touch of cyborg, molding a nice seat for the eventual implant.

A week before Thanksgiving I returned to prepare the adjacent teeth for crowning (they were damaged from the bridge) and to take impressions for the tooth sculptor who would be manufacturing my implant. My dentist shaved down my pre-crown teeth into little monster stubs. The left one started throbbing and turning red. I reminisced about the accident and how that tooth had hung by a thread before effective reinsertion. "Ah," said my dentist, "I wish you had told me this before. Once a nerve cavity is damaged like that, it will never be right again. You probably need a root canal."

Bathroom 'selfies' at the dentist's office

He left me with a temporary plastic bridge in the traditional form. The bridge was loose and my cyborg cap visible above it. Whenever I breathed in too quickly, searing pain struck through my front stub. I went in a week later for my root canal.

"I don't usually do this," he said, in the middle of the procedure, "but I think you'd get a kick out of it. Open your eyes." He was holding my swollen, half-dead nerve in front of my face. It was awesome. So tiny and gelatinous. We have a good relationship. When I asked him to use my phone to take some pictures of the hardware he was screwing into my face, he acquiesced.

I was in and out of the office about twice a week all December. Finally, on the 26th, I received my permanent teeth. I had to return the next day because the cement in my implant came loose. But it's in there for good now! I have my front teeth, for Christmas, like I've always wanted.

This is the only art in this blog post

A lot of people get dental implants. You probably know at least two people who have dental implants. I heard, during this process, about many sympathetic experiences. A bartender, returning with my change, covertly slipped her flipper to show the same missing tooth. I wanted to write this post because it's a big deal for me - eighteen years is a long time to worry over something - and because of what I learned from choosing to be toothless for two seasons.

When I had the option, between sixth and twelfth grade, of bearing my true grin, I didn't. I only took out my fake to play tricks on people. Once, as a sophomore in high school, our spirit week theme was 'pirates.' I dressed elaborately and left my tooth at home, but in class I was too shy to open my mouth, uncharacteristic for a know-it-all.

After the surgery this summer, I thought it would be the same. I couldn't wear my temporary at first, for the blood and stitches. Tyson took me to get ice cream. Ordering my sundae, I felt sheepish, infantilized. I was terrified above all that Tyson, my partner, would find me gruesome. Getting over this (unfounded) fear was the hardest part.

CAKE changed everything. I joked with Lale that cartoonists from Providence would take me more seriously if I was missing a tooth. I quickly realized that all cartoonists take me more seriously without a tooth. The first day, I played with my temporary so much - showing off for people - that I broke it.

It's not hard for me to approach people, especially at alternative comics conventions. Toothless, it was even easier. People let their guard down as soon as we started talking. An interesting topic was always at hand. Funny faces were ten times as effective. Facing off with Patrick Kyle during the Comic Art Battle, I removed my tooth to psych him out (we were drawing cruel portraits of each other) and won.

I became comfortable socially as well as physically, leaving my gap agape. Interactions with cashiers, postal workers, servers, bankers, and other anonymous members of society remained unchanged. Friends and coworkers, people already at ease with me, were the only ones with probing questions and astonished looks.

At CAKE 2013. Photo by Jacq Cohen

In fact, the only insulting conversations I had regarding my willful toothlessness were with my dentist and his employees. They did not get it. "I would be humiliated..." "you're so beautiful with teeth..." "we have got to get that fixed!" I felt as though, taking pride in my non-conformity, I hurt their feelings.

Photo by Tyson Torstensen

I did wear my flipper for special occasions, like emceeing Brain Frame Lit and Brain Frame 13. The day I got my replacement temporary was the day I shot my Kickstarter video. In these situations, I wanted to remain focused, and I wanted my audience to focus on my presentation, not my mouth. And, I had to wear it occasionally to keep my teeth from shifting.

It was never truly easy. Every day I made a decision. At Brain Frame 14, I emceed without my tooth. I doubt anyone noticed, but that took a lot of guts. (The gap was noticeable, not my guts.) I enjoyed dressing up toothless, for a gay cruise, for my birthday dinner. I was acutely aware that the power of my toothlessness, the element of surprise, relied on my existence as a young, white, put-together woman.

At Brain Frame 14. Photo by Gillian Fry

And it was from this incongruity that I drew strength. Preparing MOCAD for Detroit Brain Frame, in a space I'd never been directing people - mostly men - I'd never met, I went toothless. Because I wanted to be an unknown quantity. As a woman in charge, who works extensively with audio visual equipment and freely exerts physical strength, I am hyper aware of bias against feminine competence. When I am presenting for the first time to a new crowd, or to a new individual, I have something to prove. Without a tooth, the proof is immediate, it goes unsaid: She is different. She doesn't care. I can't dismiss her.

As the completion of my surgery neared, I grieved. A full, cosmetic smile for the first time in my life - how insincere! And what a relief. I don't miss the health concerns, exorbitant cost, and physical discomfort. My toothlessness came at an important juncture, during months of unparalleled ambition and increased visibility. I am grateful for the security it provided. Ultimately, it was like Dumbo's feather: a 'magic' talisman. When Dumbo looses his feather he thinks he can no longer fly, but he can! He could all along! I was always weird! I still am! A toothy grin also disarms.


Strained Piss

This two-part drawing is called Strained Piss and I made it for issue 5 of Corpus Corpus, Paul Nudd's periodic collaborative gross-out zine publication. This issue of Corpus Corpus will be released at the opening of Little Man Pee Pool Party: The Whiz Paddler's Lament, a gallery show curated by Nudd featuring statues from a variety of Chicago artists, all fully functioning fountains inspired by Brussels' Manneken Pis landmark artwork.

The opening is on Friday, the 11th, 6-10pm, at Antena gallery in Pilsen, 1765 S Laflin St. Here's a Facebook event page. You should come, it's a sight.

Here are the original drawn pages for Strained Piss. I'm unsatisfied with the second page. I wish I had eased, lengthened and softened the shape of the implied bowl with thinner piss streams and more outlying splashes. I like my first page, and I bet the compiled book will be a real delight.


Detroit Brain Frame

In just under two weeks, I'll take the bus to Detroit to conduct the first ever Detroit Brain Frame. It's been an interesting challenge, seeking and recruiting a set of performers with whom I have no in-person familiarity. Detroit has some comics artists (obviously) but they're few and far between, or focused primarily on another medium, with comics a secondary interest. One of my contacts, in a larger discussion about Detroit, stated "people aren't big on narrative here." My research supports his theory. I look forward to navigating a virgin audience.

All the readers are Michiganders with the exception of myself and the luminous Emma Rand, former intern (remember this?):

Suzanne Baumann
Tom Carey
Davin Brainard
Lyra Hill
Steve Hughes
Emma Rand

Friday, October 18, 7PM at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 4454 Woodward Ave.
FREE :: with suggested $5 museum admission.

Poster by the awesome Andy Gabrysiak, a member of Cabaret BLACK EYE, alumni of Brooklyn Brain Frame and all-around positive presence with cute glasses.


Tribune and Other News

Last week, the Chicago Tribune published an article on the front page of the Arts & Entertainment section about Brain Frame. It's glowing, a bit dishy, and generously captures the experimental spirit and unique results of the show. Read it here.

Shooting for Uzi's Party has wrapped; we finished recording at 10pm the night before Jojo's return flight to California, for which we arose at 5am. About two thirds of the footage has returned from the laboratory, and it's stunning. Once I have my complete work print, I'll make a digital transfer and begin editing. Look forward to some stills and maybe a teaser edit soon.

A few months ago, I assisted Jenna Caravello by directing the photography of her music video for Mines, a Chicago band fronted by Bill Satek. It was a lot of fun lighting and shooting the jello molds Jenna created. We shot on Tri-X B&W reversal and 200T color negative 16mm film. This weekend, Jenna and I will shoot another music video on film, for Ryley Walker. Here's the Mines video:


Brain Frame Lit

photo by Lori Felker

Last weekend, a lot happened. On Sunday, Brain Frame celebrated its second anniversary, Brain Frame 13, in a performance spectacular and social event. More on that later.

On Saturday, I organized the first ever Brain Frame Lit as part of Saturday Strip: Comic Day at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

photo by Ian McDuffie

Brain Frame Lit is a new invention, arising from a unique obstruction. The MCA wanted me to organize something as part of Comic Day, but they wanted me to do it during the day, in an area full of windows. Brain Frame proper is at night, in the dark, and almost every performance utilizes digital or analog projection. Daylight would render such tools unusable.

So, I selected cartoonists with strong literary or narrative voices, and issued them the challenge of communicating their imagery through means other than projection. Everyone stepped up to the plate. I received the name Brain Frame Lit in an instant of clarity (it also looks like Brain Frame Lite, which is appropriate) and proceeded to make this stupid flier:

The performances were great. We decided to do it outside to maximize our new muse, the sun, and we maintained a full, attentive audience for the duration of the show. Halle Butler read a short story and had audience members follow along with an illustrated booklet. Eric Rivera distributed a package of drawings from Second Chances #1, and performed three vignettes from the story, in costume with a narrator. Ian Endsley ended the show with another incredible, disposable comic where each panel is drawn on the next page in a giant pad of paper. Ian rips off and casts away each page as he reads, demure, charismatic, affecting, through the comic. At the end everybody scrambles to grab the pages they'd like to take home.

For my reading (a redressing of They Glistened) I created a bunch of jello diagrams of the liquid aliens who star in that story, the Squishsacks. I drew the Jellyship, their symbiotic, organic spaceship, on the whiteboard behind me. I smashed the Squishsacks in time with the narrative, and drew corresponding, shitty diagrams on the board behind me. I had no eraser, but erased with my hands, so by the end of the performance I had black-pigmented green jello all over. I slept an hour and a half on Thursday night, and three hours (in two segments) on Friday night, and this was Saturday, and that night I slept four hours before Sunday and the execution of Brain Frame 13. Everything went really well, and I've been exceedingly happy all week.

photos by John Fecile


Uzi's Party (pre-production)

Welcome to the 21st century, where art funding comes from tireless self-promotion and constant solicitation of your friends and loved ones. When Kickstarter came on the scene I had misgivings, and even now, I would much rather win some big grant than crowd source a film budget. But my views have changed, a lot. I've seen plenty of friends start their own campaigns, and most of them succeed. Incredible things like my friend Sara teaching girls in Cambodia how to make comics, my friend Lale putting together the Chromazoid anthology, places like The Comfort Station earning air conditioning; these are all projects I was overjoyed to be able to support, and I've gotten some really great stuff out of it, in addition to my virtue rewards. I think a well run Kickstarter campaign is a blessing to everyone involved, and I'm very proud to be at a point where I feel I've earned my own.

I worked very hard on this campaign, but not nearly as hard as I will work on Uzi's Party once filming starts. Big gratitude to Jeff Perlman, Ryan Gleeson, and Aren Zolninger for helping me shoot my fundraiser video (it's all one take!); Tyson for mixing sound; mondo thanks to Christly LeMaster and everyone at the Nightingale for generous use of their space.

I'll write more about the film soon. It's an incredibly ambitious 16mm experimental teen drama with a supernatural twist. Right now all of my energy is devoted to promotion and solicitation. Luckily, I was born to live in the 21st century. I may not be able to pull a plough but I can lift 200 personal emails and three simultaneous event organizations on my back every day.

Help me out! Donate, and above all, spread the word! Please and thank you.


Possession Scenes Issues 1&2

Say hello to the first two issues of Possession Scenes, my new series of mini-comics drawn from films and television programs featuring the titular subject. Each issue is folded from a single page, and contains an informative title plate [issue #, source, year, director, cinematographer, actor possessed] followed by seven pencil renderings of sequential stills from the scene.

I chose to start with The Exorcist, because duh. Issue #2 covers the moment in Twin Peaks when Laura Palmer's murderer is revealed - during a subsequent killing.

Issue #3, in the works, features "the abortion scene" from Andrzej Zulawski's 1981 film Possession. I was tempted to make Possession the subject of Issue #1, but that would be too confusing.

The impetus for Possession Scenes was part desire to have something new for CAKE, part research for an upcoming film project involving possession (more details soon), and mostly curiosity about the visual strategies, trends and variations employed to show a character losing themselves to something supernatural. Possession is something in which I am personally and spiritually interested. Scenes of possession always ride the line between silly and frightening, whether fictional or actual.

Last night I watched The Mask, in preparation for Issue #4, and while I had to skip past much of the film to avoid the insufferable, hideous antics of Jim Carrey's creation, observing the cheesy CGI of the initial transformation and the way the mask glimmers and hypnotizes Stanley Ipkiss was a delight.

One of the most interesting challenges in this project is translating a scene into seven silent stills. That's not a lot to work with. The pacing is delicate: three pairs of images, then one final punch. I need to make the action and intention of the scene clear without using any text.

You can pick up issues #1 and #2 from me this weekend at CAKE. I'll be at table 6 with Lale Westvind, a few paces through the entryway, to your right.

Here's a nice article in Chicago Magazine about emergine cartoonists, featuring yours truly ("who is, by many counts, a major player in her scene's revitalization") written by Jason Foumberg.

Remember how I starred in a movie? It premiers next month on Saturday, July 13th at the Gene Siskel Film Center, with two more shows later in the week.



I learned something new. I learned how to run an auction. I watched how-to auctioneer videos, I watched Herzog's documentary on auctioneering, I practiced tongue-twisters and counting rhythms, and then, with the help of the CAKE crew and my glorious intern Emma Rand, I raised over $2,500 for the 2013 Chicago Alternative Comics Expo.

The occasion was CAKE FRAME, a comics reading/comics drawing/comics art auction/Brain Frame Special Event organized by myself and Max Morris, CAKE fundraising master. The show was really, really great. I was nervous about auctioneering right up until I started. Then it felt awesome. Musical accompaniment from Alex Inglizian and Stephen Ptacek helped a lot. It also helped to be raising money for my friends. Sometimes after a regular Brain Frame I get lost in spirals of self-doubt related to self-promotion and the fear of self-aggrandizement, but doing all of this for CAKE neutralized those pesky emotions. Need more fun proof? Here's some documentation of the live-drawing portion of the evening, featuring Jeremy Pettis and the Mega Clit:


What other fulfilling pursuits have I recently co-created with talented friends? Funny you should ask! The sophisticated and thoughtful duo Bonnie & Maude, AKA Kseniya Yarosh and Eleanor Kagan, were kind enough to invite me onto their femme-centric film podcast while I was visiting Brooklyn last month. We spent about an hour talking about the 1972 Bob Fosse film Cabaret. Cabaret is my favorite movie. If you want to hear me nerd out haaaard on this dark, queer musical, check out the episode. Lots of spoilers; but if you haven't seen it, maybe you should listen anyway so you can forget what you anticipate the film to be based on the fact that it's a musical (you're wrong).

Look, I even kind of had the hair. 'Hilarious' photo courtesy of my freshman year at SAIC and the 2006 Chicago Jazz Fest. There is wine in those cups that I bought for my friends with my fake ID! Good old Lyra, always collaborating with talented friends.