Chicago Comics: MCA & Chicago Culture Center exhibits take a serious look at the funnies

Chicago Comics: MCA & Chicago Culture Center exhibits take a serious look at the funnies
Dale Messick Brenda-Starr 2-21-1954

Chicago’s major contributions to the comic industry are unparalleled.  The art form which through the ages has not always gotten the respect it deserves is finally being recognized the way it should be with two major exhibitions running concurrently in Chicago.

The Exhibitions

  • Chicago: Where Comics Came to Life (1880–1960) at the Chicago Cultural Center (CCC)
  • Chicago Comics:1960s to Now,” now through October 3, 2021 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)


For over a century, Chicago has nurtured the art of comics and has been home to some of the most important cartoonists in the world.

Together the two, not to be missed exhibitions, explore the art and heart of this period that covers 140 years of comics.

The exhibitions can be covered in any order, To view them chronologically, one will want to start on the 4th floor of the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington) for the free admission exhibit, “Chicago: Where Comics Came to Life from 1880 to 1960” before viewing the MCA exhibition which spans 1960 to now.

Even though the exhibits vary in style, scope and emphasis, they were designed as companion exhibits to run concurrently to provide an introspective historical exploration of comic art.

The CCC exhibition curated by artist and author Chris Ware and the City of Chicago’s Cultural Historian Emeritus, Tim Samuelson, deals with Chicago’s role in the development of the early comic strip. The exhibit showcases popular strips of the day along with the importance of African-American cartoonists and women cartoonists with small scale graphics and commentary.

The MCA exhibit, organized by comic historian and curator-at-large Dan Nadel and MCA Chief Curator Michael Darling, focuses on rediscovering the work of African-American, women and BIPOC comic artists, showing comic art as a democratic medium.

The show redefines what many may think when they think comics.

In other words, there’s a lot more here than reproductions of your favorite Sunday funnies pages.

1880 to 1960

McCutcheon 1905

A significant but often overlooked contribution to American art and culture is highlighted in the CCC exhibition.

The exhibition focuses on the origins of the comics in popular publishing, the importance of African-American cartoonists and publishing, the first woman cartoonists and editors and the first daily comic strip.

Visitors will be treated to many forgotten comics of the past including the work of Frank King’s “Gasoline Alley” (launched in 1918 & pictured above). King’s popular strip captured the rhythms and tone of everyday existence in his characters that aged not only at the same daily rate as its newspaper readers, but were also fictionalized versions of real people.

WHEN: June 19–October 3, 2021, open daily 11am–4pm*

WHERE: Chicago Cultural Center (77 E. Randolph St.), Sidney R. Yates Gallery, 4th Floor North

1960s to Now

Chicago’s pivotal role as a national and innovative center for comics and cartooning is the focus of the MCA exhibition. This major exhibition presents the last 60 years of the city’s artful cartooning history, showing how comic art is a democratic medium that allows artists to speak directly to people in relatable ways.

Over 40 cartoonists, from the tradition of Dick Tracy to Lynda Barry, Lilli Carré, Daniel Clowes, Nick Drnaso, Edie Fake, Emil Ferris, Nicole Hollander, Charles Johnson, Kerry James Marshall and Chris Ware, among many others are represented by comics, graphic novels, zines, original drawings, dioramas, commissioned films, installations, rare ephemera, and books.

Lynda Barry, 100 Demons: Dancing, 2000-02. Courtesy Adam Baumgold Fine Art

The exhibition focuses on rediscovering the work of African-American, women and BIPOC comic artists.

It is divided into four key sections spanning Chicago comic history, including:

  • 1960-70s: The Underground
  • 1980-1990s: Alternative Weeklies, Comic Books, and Zines
  • 1990-2000s: Graphic Novels and Community
  • 2010-Now: Chicago Rising

WHEN: June 19–October 3, 2021

WHERE: Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave.

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