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Architecture and comics unite at the Biennial with 'Imaginary Worlds'

Edie Fake and Keiler Roberts discuss how they use space and design in their work.

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More than 100 years ago, a Life magazine cartoon satirizing New York City real estate ads didn't mock overpriced apartment leases. Instead, artist A.B. Walker's Manhattan skyscraper was roofless and without exterior walls and soared into the stratosphere amid clouds and Wright Flyer-style airplanes. It proposed a unique open-air "country house" experience on every floor, each fitted with grandiose cottages, trees, and fountains.

Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas addressed the 1909 cartoon's implicit narrative in Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan (1978). Walker's work described "the ideal performance of a skyscraper," Koolhaas wrote. "The building becomes a stack of individual privacies" where "each . . . artificial level . . . is treated as if the others did not exist."

"Koolhaas describes a blueprint as a kind of map of a utopian space/design," says Brian Cremins, programming coordinator for the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE). "When I read this in his book, I thought of a page of comics."

In some comics, Cremins sees a fixation on the past and an authorial pursuit he calls "utopian": "an attempt to bring narrative logic, order, and sense to what otherwise might be senseless or forgotten altogether." At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, he'll moderate a panel called "Imaginary Worlds" about the long interdisciplinary history between comics and architecture with architects Ania Jaworska and Sam Jacob and comics creators Edie Fake and Keiler Roberts.

After unearthing a history of taverns, clubs, and more that were once home to Chicago's LGBT community, Fake set out to visually re-create those spaces in Memory Palaces, an elaborate, almost LP-size art book of psychedelic-quillike graphic design.

"I think of what I get to do as more like making a perfume than designing an actual building," Fake says of his florid facades. "I get to take the different auras of various architectural details and draw something together based on how space makes me feel."

If Memory Palaces is a study of exteriors, Keiler Roberts's Miseryland concentrates on interiors: it compiles seven volumes of her warm and funny autobiographical comic Powdered Milk. Shaped in her wire-thin linework—the harshest pen strokes are reserved for filling out the Evanston artist's ponytail—Miseryland mostly shows entertaining conversations between Roberts and her precocious toddler within Roberts's carefully rendered living space. Their chats yield all the elastic sentence permutations you'd expect from a child who is learning language.

"Of all the formal elements, I think the most about my use of space, composition, dialogue, and gesture," Roberts says. "I use all of these toward the goal of creating a sense of life, both as I experience it, and how I want it to be. I feel cozy when I look at the comics of myself inside my home."  v

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