Llama Man Memories

Here's another new comic, about my first performance of Night City at Brain Frame 2, my first time bringing Llama Man to the stage. This page will be published in the Brain Frame Yearbook.

At the Yearbook party last week, I observed how popular it was to page through the print proof. People would grab a copy and sit in the corner for 20 minutes, myriad expressions flickering over their faces. Someone told me "I could read this for days." Another, a close friend and repeat Brain Frame performer, admitted that he hadn't been planning on buying the book. "$25 is a chunk of change," he said, "even for something I knew would be so nice." Extending his hands, he continued, "but then I saw it and you know, I really got that same feeling that I did in high school. This isn't just some thing I've participated in off and on. This is my community. These are my friends. This is the last three years of my life, and it's beautiful, and I realized that I need it, so I just bought one."

In three days, on Monday, July 7th, we need to buy all the books we can to have them ready at the last show. This means that if you want a book, you need to buy it now. I can't afford much overhead for purchasing extras - a shame, since I know seeing the book in person is the most effective advertisement.

This effort is 150% selfless. Each book costs $5 more to make than the price of sale (ever wonder why your high school book cost $60?). I still need to raise $2,223 by Monday. Anything that doesn't come from pre-sales will come out of my pocket. Please, put faith in your future (and your past) and buy a book this weekend.

Click here to pre-order a Brain Frame Yearbook or
Click here to buy an ad in the back of the book or
DONATE to help us make this happen. Thank you!


Recent Days (Closure)

Right out of school, a month before starting Brain Frame, in the cosmic summer of 2011, I began this autobiographic comic called Recent Days. I performed some of it at the first Brain Frame, and some more at the first anniversary (BF7). I got to around seventy pages before abandoning the book. Here, finally, the story finds closure. This 2-page spread will be printed in the Brain Frame Yearbook, released this August at our third anniversary (BF19) and final show.

Please pre-order a Brain Frame Yearbook or
Buy an ad in the back of the book or
DONATE to help us make this happen. We need to raise $7750 by July 1st. Pressure's on and coffers are slim.


The Brain Frame Yearbook

Let me tell you about the Brain Frame Yearbook.

First of all, it's really a yearbook. We've made much ado, rightfully, about the fact that it will be a hardbound, leatherette, foil embossed ledger. There are portraits and autograph pages and photos and superlatives.

Second of all, it's way, way more than a yearbook. The portrait pages include everyone who's ever performed at, accompanied, documented, and staffed Brain Frame - just shy of 200 individuals. They're all self-portraits, ranging from actual repurposed yearbook photos to photoshopped snapshots to drawn images.

The bulk of the book revisits every Brain Frame event from the past three years (29 in all) chronologically. Every pre-show promo blurb I wrote for Facebook; every detailed performance summary for Tumblr (each one a single sentence, a secret challenge to myself instituted around the time of BF3); every poster lies in these pages. Also photographs, captioned of course, as well as personal content from a vast and varied cross section of Brain Frame community members.

Some people have remembered Brain Frame in original comics. Some have written essays, poems, or "letters to the editor." All of these writings include illustration by yet another set of generous, talented, diverse artists.

Nate Beaty's comic about Brain Frame 3

There's more. A few humorous 'op-ed' pieces (also illustrated); a three part special feature on poster process (A Toast To Posters: with your host, the Poster Ghost); a spread of my costumes (not my idea); the winners of the Brain Frame Superlatives illustrated by Kevin Budnik; a Brain Frame Phrenology page by Jamie Davida Lee; a maze; some quizzes; "Oofo Fakts" scattered throughout; and lots and lots of little drawings in the margins.

Clay Hickson's illustration for Brain Frame 12

Let's pause for a minute. Can you believe it? We started collecting material for this book a month ago. I insist you recognize the unwavering and exhaustive support of my intern Lillie West. She is martyring herself in an email prison for the cause.

Lillie and I and the rest of the Yearbook Club: Ben Bertin, Gillian Fry, Christine Lai, Carter Lodwick, Emma Rand, Brad Rohloff, and Nicki Yowell, have been meeting 2-5 times every week to get this done, and slaving away in between. We have to finish by the first of July - this weekend I'm not going to sleep. None of us are making money. We're all buying our own books.

In order to print to our standards, each 160-page, half color, half B&W book will cost $25.93 to make. We're selling them for $25. Pre-sales are live now, and essential to our success. CLICK HERE to reserve your yearbook.

Why? Because it's worth it. Because the whole point is celebrating and embracing the community that has flourished around Brain Frame, and I recognize that this community is not made up of wealthy people. We're hoping to make up the costs through DONATIONS (please donate if you can please please) and ad sales. You can buy an ad NOW for your business, or to commemorate the accomplishments of your loved ones (or enemies). We need ad copy by July 1st! CLICK HERE to buy an ad.

Why else? Because let's face it, Brain Frame is important. Over the past three years, I've changed a lot. The show has changed more, and the comics scene - the very definition of comics - with it. This has been an unprecedented outpouring of multidisciplinary experimentation and engagement with the sequential medium, rooted in communal respect and ecstatic ritual. People are moved. I can say this now - I could never say this before - because it has been told to me, over and over, in the artwork that makes up this as-yet-hypothetical Yearbook. Help me. Solidify this. Partake.
One of many Yearbook Drawing Parties



This drawing was commissioned by Halle Butler, intended to become the cover for her first novel, Jillian. The finished copy was to be printed in B&W with gold overlay, filling in the monster spots and pupils, in homage to this cover illustration for Grendel. Here's a digital mockup of the complete design. Imagine the book's spine meeting the right elbow of the crouching monster.

Halle and I met over a year ago to discuss themes and generate ideas. Halle is a good friend; she performed one of the funniest Brain Frame readings ever and we've worked on several films together. She co-wrote Crimes Against Humanity, the feature in which I recently starred. Her work is deceptively mundane, cruel, and hilarious. Jillian is about two miserable female coworkers. As described online:
Halle Butler's debut explores how two people use self-deception and hostility to deal with their lives. Megan, a bitter young medical secretary, takes a break from her overwhelming feelings of social rejection by keeping track of the disgusting habits of her co-worker, Jillian. Meanwhile, Jillian's misguided "go for it!" attitude leads her towards a series of unadvisable decisions.
We settled on two monsters, one lactating and wailing in pain, the other defensive and furious. I sketched several options, carefully considering what should be most visible on the book's spine.

After settling on a composition, I invited Robin Hustle over to model with me. We had a good time contorting our faces and bodies for the camera. Hilarious nude photo shoots are a favorite pastime.

Defining musculature through imagined fur is difficult! It took a long time just to get the poses right. (That crouching pose? Actually impossible.) Once I had the bodies plotted and spots blocked in I began shaping their sub-structures, including genitalia.

I used five different pencils. A 2B mechanical and four wooden pencils, 3-6B. These are the same pencils I use to draw Possession Scenes. When I showed the drawing in progress to Jeremy he said, "Is that your face?"

The completed cover, while treasured by Halle and myself, has proven problematic. The original distributor, Love Symbol Press, dissolved while plans for the book were in progress. Halle pushed her successive distributer, Cubside Splendor, hard to publish this cover, but they declined. Maybe someday, my monsters will see the light. If you saw this book on the shelf, would you scream, or buy it, or both?


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.