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Chicago: A Comix Memoir


by Glenn Head

Reviewed by Chris Auman

Chicago: A Comix Memoir Glenn Head

Chicago is the true story—a comix memoir, if you will—of a young comix artist (gonna spell it 'comics' going forward) struggling to survive in, you guessed it, Chicago. My kinda comic. The story is set in the late 70s and chronicles the artist/author's freaking the F out, dropping out of art school in Cleveland, and hitchhiking to Chicago to live a life of artistic purity. The would-be uncompromising young artist embarked on this mission without a plan. Or money. Or an extra change of clothes. Or even so much as the telephone number of an acquaintance in the city. The ramifications of that decision fill up most of the 160 black and white pages of the book.

The story of 19-year-old Glenn Head reveals a young man who’s romantic perception of artistic life leads to a constant struggle to survive. Earning a decent living is certainly a back burner project. It’s shocking to witness Head's confidence, naivete and sheer chutzpah. It was a hard lesson for Glenn. It seems, from his more contemporaneous update at the end of the book that he learned many hard lessons throughout his life.

Head portrays this brief unhinged period of his late teens in a thickly-lined, black and white, heavily contrasted style, not unlike the 60s-era comics pioneers he admired so much. That he survived at all required no small bit of good fortune. He was lucky to have been befriended by a good samaritan early on, who gave him a place to stay in a South Side flophouse.

Glenn badgers, then befriends fellow comics artist and Playboy Magazine art director, Skip Williamson, who he managed to coax a small illustration job from. He also, at Williamson's invitation, attends a dinner party with R. Crumb who questions the intelligence of anyone who would entertain a career in comics.

Page from Glenn Head Chicago comic

After leaving Chicago and returning to his family’s home in New Jersey, Head realizes that his experiences in the city weren't about freedom. He hardly felt free and money, however evil it may be, is an absolute necessity.

Back home, Head also realizes the profound alienation that exists between himself and his family, as they embark on an RV trip without him. They don’t invite him. He would have said no anyway, he admits. While he is alone in the family house he has an emotional breakdown which results in an impromptu game of Russian roulette in the attic with his father's pistol.

Flash forward to the present day, Head reconnects with an old high school crush, Sarah, who was introduced at the beginning of the book. Sarah is now divorced, a mom and ex-addict, living in Colorado. She flies to NYC to visit Glenn. They’ve both seen many miles of bad road between then and now. Fulfilling Head's lustful teenage desires, they hook up.

Head captures the look and feel of the city as the 70s gave way to the 80s; the clothes, the cars, the billboards and advertising. It's an open and honest autobiography. Head may have gone a little nuts, and this certainly wasn't a story that was easy to tell, but he gave everything to his art, without much thought and he almost made it work.

Is Glenn a likeable character? He comes off as smug, arrogant, maybe a bit pretentious in his quest to live the life of an authentic artist, but it definitely takes courage and self-awareness to write about one's own failure so honestly. Glenn did become the artist his wanted to be. His long career in comics, and this book, is proof of that.

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