Architecture & Design
Weaving architecture, history and social justice together, Chicago is imagined anew in “No Small Plans”
Lots of comics are socially mindful, from the feminist sci-fi of “Bitch Planet” to the frightening dystopia of “Lazarus.” Numerous other comics skip through time. Perhaps the very best recent example is Jason Aaron’s “Thor” run, which has included hot-headed and dopey young Thor, familiar and grounded Avengers Thor, and bitter and defeated old Thor. But a new graphic unique takes time-hopping and socially mindful comics in a new direction.
“ No Little Plans”isn’t the current offering from Marvel, DC or Image, however it suggests how comics are a populist medium that can emerge anywhere. This graphic book– written by Gabrielle Lyon and shown by the Eye of the Cat Illustration group of Devin Mawdsley, Kayce Bayer, Chris Lin and Deon Reed– will be published this August by the Chicago Architecture Foundation as a conclusion of their”Meet Your City”effort. As part of the initiative, 30,000 copies of the graphic novel will be provided to Chicago students in grades 6-10 over the next 3 years. The product is a stunning and thought-provoking call to action. Other cities searching for ways to engage teens in building a much better city (and world) need to take this job as a design.
“No Small Strategies” follows 3 groups of teens through three periods of Chicago history set in 1928, 2017 and 2211. To name a few young protagonists, the 1928 story features Reginald Williams, a paperboy (and budding journalist) for the Chicago Protector, a prominent African-American newspaper founded in 1905. The 2017 story consists of Natalie, a Hispanic girl whose household is being forced out of the Pilsen community by apartment designers. The comic goes futuristic for the chapter embeded in 2211, showing a world experienced mostly through virtual truth, where another group of varied teenagers discovers the significance of seeing other areas with their old-fashioned eyeballs.
All 3 stories focus on a declaration composed in the notebook of Williams: “… a city is both its architecture and its individuals.” Bigotry, gentrification, lethargy and lack of knowledge are barriers the teens in each era fight as they ask a question with no basic response: “How might we integrate in ways that unify us?”
The seriousness of that concern is heightened in the interludes between chapters, featuring Daniel Burnham, who developed “The Prepare for Chicago” in 1909. Burnham’s strategy resulted in the 1911 book that “No Small Plans” replicates: “Wacker’s Manual,” which Chicago Public School eighth graders read for nearly thirty years. In that spirit, the last Burnham interlude provides a direct invitation to readers to prepare their own city. For anybody exhausted by the endless nightmare of nationwide politics, this concentrate on the regional ought to be refreshing and inspiring.Chicagoans– or anyone who’s been
to Chicago– will turn for this book. As author Gabrielle Lyon keeps in mind,”Chicagoans will recognize a number of the locations and structures in the novel– everything from the Wrigley building and Chicago Defender to renowned locations like Ida B. Wells’house in Bronzeville to Daniel Burnham’s gravesite in the Graceland Cemetery. I believe what may be most satisfying and charming is the vernacular architecture, the regular things that recognize to many of us– bungalows, three-flats, alleys, bridges and looks of the lake.”Those details likewise have a universality. No matter where you’re from– city, residential area, village or town– you know the pains and possibilities of that place.Main artist Devin Mawdsley– whose work is highly detailed and need to appeal to fans of artists such as Geof Darrow, Frank Quitely and Chris Burnham– said the greatest challenge in producing the graphic book was time.”Being a part-time instructor, work on the book was squeezed into the morning and late night hours. It was challenging and interesting co-constructing the story with Gabe, Chris, Kayce and Deon. The collective nature of the job was both promoting and requiring.”Indeed, this was an unusual cooperation involving more hands on deck than a lot of comics. Lyon explains the prolonged process:”CAF developed a detailed’style brief ‘over the course of nine months by asking organizers, designers, educators,
teenagers and neighborhood companies’What’s most worth understanding and experiencing when it pertains to metropolitan preparation and civic engagement?’We utilized this brief to reveal a call for Midwest artists to send ideas for a brand-new graphic book that would address Chicago’s past, present and future, Chicago’s architecture as a character, youth as having agency, and grit and shine.”The teens then assisted pick the artists. Among those teens, Fate Brady, said she examined the artists with an eye for”their connection to youth in the city.”Brady was pleased with the outcome, stating,”The kids that this team highlighted actually possessed the nature of our
beloved city.”For Mawdsley, bringing “No Little Strategies” to life was also part of a re-evaluation of his own work as an artist, shifting from art to the more populist type of a comic.”The production of great art has ended up being less relevant and essential for me. Our culture, nevertheless, is an extremely visual one, and the
graphic novel/comics is a powerful cultural force. It is story-telling for the masses, it is a medium that is abundant, lively, creative and inexpensive. Kids like comics and grownups enjoy comics.” The most important– and sobering– lesson might have been found out when Cristina, one of the 2017 teens, discovers her moms and dads had actually been part of an effective fight to keep coal plants from Pilsen in the 1970s. The battle was a win, but it took 10 years and the combined efforts of 17 various organizations. That kind of major citizenship is far from attractive and offersno immediate satisfaction. It’s a job we must all be taking on, and this inspiring book provides much-needed motivation and fuel.”No Small Strategies “will please any fan of the medium, but if you have a teen– or even much better, a class– this is something you have to purchase, ideally in bulk. Legendary creator Harvey Pekar notoriously said, “Comics are words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures”
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