#178: The Comic Book Beat

June 17th, 2013

“They have weddings annually at the jail, the county jail,” Darryl Holliday said as he sipped a canned craft beer handed him by a tattooed pixie at a Logan Square bar. “The inmates get married to their signif- to their SOs at the jail, at the courthouse.”

“They’re basically waiting in line to do this and it’s like people trying to get their license at the DMV,” Erik Rodriguez said.

Holliday and Rodriguez are journalists.

“They lead them in from their jail, in their jail uniforms to the judge’s chambers where the wife is in her full wedding dress,” Holliday said. “Or not. Some of them were not wearing wedding dresses at all, sort of a haphazard baaaagh!”

“It was a very new thing to see,” Rodriguez said. “You weren’t really expecting people to get married to criminals that were going to jail for the rest of their lives.”

Holliday and Rodriguez are cartoonists.

As The Illustrated Press, they cartoon the odd and unusual of Chicago, like jail weddings and overnight vigils at the Broadview Detention Center.

“We talked to these two nuns. They must have been, what? In their 70s at the least. A while ago they had laid down in front of buses as protest. That one was kind of weird, just being there in the dead of night and watching the buses roll in full of these immigrants who were going to be deported within days,” Holliday said. “They were in these chains where they were chained by the hands, chain goes to their waist and that chain goes to their feet.”

“Like Hannibal Lecter-style,” Rodriguez laughed darkly.

“And these are non-violent offenders,” said Holliday, 27.

Comics journalism is not their original idea and they don’t claim it is. They’re part of a burgeoning field that’s covered life in Haitian shantytowns, the war in Afghanistan, Occupy protests and daily life in cities around the world.

“In the beginning, before I knew how big the scene was already, I had these delusions of grandeur I wanted to start my own print publication and all this,” said Rodriguez, 25.

The Illustrated Press has paired with WBEZ’s Curious City and with Chicago-based tablet magazine Symbolia. They’ve put out a book, had an exhibition at Harold Washington Library and have even started a group project called the Open Key where other illustrators draw panels based on overheard snippets from the Chicago Police Department scanner.

Rodriguez, a Ravenswood native whose family moved to northwest Indiana when he was in high school, returned to the city to study advertising, later graphic design, at Columbia College Chicago. He ended up at the Columbia Chronicle student newspaper.

“I just needed a job,” Rodriguez said. “I was working security at Macy’s and that sucked, so I looked around the Columbia campus for jobs and they hooked me up there with a graphic design position. The rest is history.”

“You were a security guard?” Holliday said. “They gave you a gun? Like a taser?”

“No, like one of those ‘Matrix’ earpieces,” he said, laughing.

At the paper, Rodriguez met Holliday.

“I did a couple of graphics for a story he was doing on the Fisk power plant in Pilsen,” Rodriguez said. ” That’s kind of when we first started talking about combining our skills, I guess. After that, he posted something on Facebook. It was like, ‘I kind of want to start a new project with comics and journalism’ and I responded immediately because that sounds awesome to me. I love comics and I love journalism.”

Holliday, a military kid born in New York but raised around the country, dropped out of college to bum around Asheville, N.C., making music and art, art he now makes air quotes with his fingers when describing.

“I worked at a brewery and delivered pizzas,” he said. “I didn’t do much else.”

He moved to Chicago four years ago at 23 to complete his education and continue a relationship. The relationship dissolved, but at Columbia, Holliday found journalism.

“I was an English and sociology major before I dropped and it wasn’t practical,” he said. “What I was always missing from it was there was no application. I can read on my own time, you know, or I can talk to you on my own time. There was no action. When I realized journalism was sort of just a combination of those two things plus actual utility value, I was kind of sold from then.”

The plan for now is to keep working on whatever appeals to them, maybe get that biannual or quarterly print publication Rodriguez was talking about off the ground. The young men dream of print.

“It could still happen,” Rodriguez said, smiling. “I mean, we could work toward that.”

Art by Dmitry Samarov - Click to enlarge

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