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Culture Vultures: Writer Austin Gilkeson recommends Roxane Gay's Ayiti

Plus: Artist Alexandra Ensign on comics confab Brain Frame and Gonzo Chicago founder John Yingling on T-shirts from Skim Milk

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Austin Gilkeson, writer of "middle-grade witch fiction," almost cried on the bus because of:

Ayiti Add this to your list of literary feats: Roxane Gay's book Ayiti will break your heart with a single ledger listing for a $13.95 purchase at CVS. That's a recommendation and a warning—this slim book of fiction and nonfiction about Haiti and the Haitian diaspora will get to you. I started reading it on the bus during my commute and the first story, "Motherfuckers," made me laugh out loud, drawing dirty looks from my fellow passengers. A few blocks later, that ledger listing had me doubled over, my heart ragged, trying not to cry on public transportation. Gay impressively genre-hops from humor to horror, realism to erotica, showing a mastery of each with her sharp, evocative prose. Taken as a whole, Ayiti is as vivid and haunting as the country its characters can never seem to fully escape or embrace.

Iggy Pop & Debbie Harry - COURTESY OF SKIM MILK
  • Courtesy of Skim Milk
  • Iggy Pop & Debbie Harry

John Yingling, founder of Gonzo Chicago, has his closet stocked with tees from:

Skim Milk For a few years now, I've watched Josh Scholl turn out excellently evil T-shirts in an uncompromising, do-it-yourself fashion. In an age where Threadless rules Chicago, and for good reason, I can only welcome this. Back then, he called it Designer Drugs. When Josh decided to change the entire brand to the curiously titled Skim Milk, I wondered where it would all go. I'm happy to say that he seems to be going at it harder than ever. From twisted to hilarious, what may seem basic at first might have you blinking after a few minutes has gone by. The shirts demand your attention without outright yelling for your approval. Yet the only two retail locations in Chicago carrying them are Belmont Army and Akira. Can somebody get on that?

A slide from Kevin Budnik's autobiographic comic reading, debuting at Brain Frame 12. - COURTESY OF BRAIN FRAME
  • Courtesy of Brain Frame
  • A slide from Kevin Budnik's autobiographic comic reading, debuting at Brain Frame 12.

Alexandra Ensign, comic artist and graphic designer, lets it all hang out at:

Brain Frame is a magical event that happens bimonthly in Chicago. Founded and curated by Lyra Hill, a local comix artist, Brain Frame combines comix and performance, and you can expect anything: karaoke, slideshows, costumes, soundtracks, and even primal screams. Brain Frame is strange. You will find yourself unexpectedly aroused, moved, disgusted, amused, and intrigued by all manner of creative things happening on stage. Comix artists are not typically the most confident, socially adaptive people, and that adds a comedic element to their performances in the best way—it draws you in, it feels raw, and it makes it easier to go up to the artists between sets and tell them how much you love their work. At a recent event, my favorite performance was by Jim Trainor, a professor at the Art Institute, who narrated a tragic story from his sketchbook with an overhead projector, atmospheric sound effects, and even a warbly song or two. For more information about Brain Frame, and to see when and where upcoming performances are happening, you can check them out on facebook.com/brainframe or brainframe.tumblr.com.

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