Chicago Comics: MCA and Chicago Culture Center Exhibits Take a Serious Look at Funny

Dale Messick Brenda-Starr 2-21-1954

Chicago’s major contributions to the comic book industry are unprecedented. The art form that through the ages hasn’t always gotten the respect it deserves is finally being recognized as it should be with two major simultaneous exhibitions in Chicago.


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


For more than a century, Chicago has nurtured the art of comics and has been home to some of the world’s most important cartoonists.

Together, the two must-see exhibitions explore the art and heart of this period that spans 140 years of comics.

Exhibits can be covered in any order. to 1960 “before seeing the MCA exhibition which runs from 1960 to the present day.

Although the exhibits vary in style, scope, and emphasis, they were designed as complementary exhibits to be performed simultaneously to provide an introspective historical exploration of comic art.

The CCC exhibition organized by the artist and author Chris Ware and the City of Chicago Cultural Historian Emerituss, Tim Samuelson, discusses Chicago’s role in the development of the first comic book. The exhibit showcases popular comics of the day as well as the importance of African-American cartoonists and female cartoonists with small-scale graphics and commentary.

The MCA exhibit, curated by comic book historian and general curator Dan Nadel and MCA chief curator Michael Darling, focuses on rediscovering the work of African-American artists, women and BIPOC, showing comics as a democratic medium.

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

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

1880 to 1960

McCutcheon 1905

An important but often overlooked contribution to American art and culture is highlighted in the CCC exhibit.

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

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

WHEN: from June 19 to October 3, 2021, open every day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. *

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

from the 1960s to today

Chicago’s central role as a national and innovative center for comics and cartoons is at the center of the MCA Exhibition. This major exhibition showcases the last 60 years of the city’s artistic comic book history, showing how comics are a democratic medium that allows artists to speak directly to people in meaningful 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 others are represented by bands comics, graphic novels, zines, original drawings, dioramas, commissioned films, installations, rare ephemera and books.

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

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

It is divided into four key sections covering the history of Chicago comics, including:

  • 1960-70: the metro
  • 1980-1990: alternative weeklies, comics and zines
  • 1990-2000: graphic novels and community
  • 2010-Now: Chicago Rising

WHEN: June 19-October 3, 2021

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

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