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Drawn to an old passion

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Growing up in Washington Park and West Chatham in the 60s, Eugene Mitchell watched The Flintstones and read Mad magazine and comic strips like Johnny Hart's B.C. Those influences reemerged in 1981 when he created his comic strip Stakeout. The title character, a hapless black postal worker, is something of an alter ego. "Stakeout is always getting into something," says Mitchell, who's 51 and lives in south suburban Riverdale with his wife and two daughters. "It just seems like trouble always follows him."

Mitchell reached back to his own childhood to create the character. When he wasn't falling out of a tree, nearly drowning in a pond, starting a fire in a tree house, or getting lost in a park, he was drawing, starting at age 12, when he would trace Disney characters he found in an encyclopedia. While attending Simeon High School, he took correspondence classes and drew political cartoons for a community newspaper. He started working as a mail handler for the post office just before graduation, and in the early 70s he briefly studied at the School of the Art Institute and Malcolm X College.

Alcoholism kept Mitchell from drawing during the late 80s and early 90s, but he picked up his pen again ten years ago, after drying out with help from Lutheran Social Services. Since then he's put out five zines of Stakeout strips. "After I sobered up, the drawing came back," he says. "I thought I had lost it completely."

Mitchell's first solo exhibit, "Stakeout and Other Illustrations," runs through October 31 at the University of Illinois at Chicago's African-American Cultural Center in Addams Hall, 830 S. Halsted. He'll give a free talk about his drawings there Friday, October 4, from 1 to 2; it'll be followed by a reception. For more information call 312-996-9549.

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