Graphic Novels and Comics with Chicagoland Connections

Chicago and the surrounding suburbs have a rich history in the comics scene with its roots spanning decades. Cartoonists and creative minds have been crafting a whole Chicagoland vibe showcasing both fiction and non-fiction works. From comic strips, single issues, trades, graphic novels, zines and everything in-between you can find illustrated works everywhere in our city.

Moving through the decades could churn up quite the list of titles and creators with a wide range of Chicagoland connections. Here are just a few more recent titles at the library with connections to Chicago and its suburbs.

Nick Drnaso's newest graphic novel Acting Class follows a group of strangers as they attend a series of free acting classes for adults. Each character starts out with their own distinct story, but over time storylines begin to blend and even fictional moments from the acting classes bleed into reality. Drnaso has a distinct writing and illustration style and both his previous graphic novels Beverly and Sabrina have a similar tone to Acting Class with multiple points of view. Both Beverly and Sabrina are set in Chicagoland and though it isn’t explicitly stated, it's hard to imagine otherwise for Acting Class. Drnaso was born in Palos Heights and is currently based in Chicago drawing comics with major Midwest vibes like he has been doing for quite some time.

The Complete Eightball collects issues 1-18 of award-winning cartoonist Daniel Clowes’ long running alternative comics series Eightball. Though several of the storylines found in Eightball issues were later collected and published as graphic novels, like Ghost World (which was also adapted to film), this anthology includes vignettes like one titled Chicago found in issue 7 that are unique to Eightball. Chicago portrays the city through '80s tropes and well-known accolades with Clowes as the snappy tour-guide-like narrator. Even though Clowes has the obvious connection to Chicago of being born and raised here, you can definitely see reflections of Chicago city life in his works even beyond the Chicago short. On a fun end note, the mail correspondence addresses for the earlier Eightball issues were Chicago-based, look for them as you read.

In the self-reflective graphic memoir Dear Sophie, Love Sophie, cartoonist Sophie Lucido Johnson answers diary entries, letters and other musings from her younger self with responses and reflections from her current, older self through soft illustrations and handwritten-styled lettering. Young Sophie works through so many weighty topics and though the reflections are often very personal, young Sophie’s experiences and the tender insights from grown-up Sophie are highly relatable and timely. Grown-up Sophie lives in Chicago and touches on this over the course of the book (check out her grown-up self-portrait page) and discusses her life in Chicago further in the epilogue which she wrote on a snow-covered, but bright January morning.

Eve L. Ewing’s Ironheart is just amazing and truly embodies Chicago in so many ways. Though Volume 1 (issues 1-6) starts in Riri’s (Ironheart) research lab at M.I.T, the story quickly moves to her home city of Chicago by the second issue once she discovers her former classmate and friend has mysteriously gone missing. Riri’s personal story feels very real and does not shy away from the heavy parts of her life growing up in Chicago. Chicago is all encompassing in the scenery too, from the smallest of details like a picture of Riri and her BFF in front of the Bean, to Chicago neighborhoods like South Shore and too many landmarks to keep count (I tried keeping count) including our very own Harold Washington Library Center.

Keiler Roberts is somewhat of a mainstay in the autobiographical comics sub-genre, portraying everyday life through a lens of deadpan humor with a unique illustration and dialogue style. Similar in tone to her first collection My Begging Chart, her newest book The Joy of Quitting bounces through slice-of-life moments in various settings over the course of several years. The stories are short and are not necessarily always interconnected, making this a great read to enjoy in short bursts. If you look closely enough you can find plenty of low-key scenes of Chicagoland throughout (you know, things like a chiropractor table at a summer street fest). Roberts has numerous ties to Chicago both personally and in her career as a cartoonist and professor.

Even though writer James Tynion IV doesn’t have any obvious personal connections to Chicago like the previous creators in this list, Chicago is the hub of a secretive monster-killing society and an especially important location in the storyline of Something Is Killing the Children Volume 4 (issues 16-20). Volume 4 is the origin story of one of the main characters, Erica, and is somewhat of a prequel to the main storyline, so you could in theory read it out of order. Werther Dell'Edera’s illustration style really suits Chicago location shots that include a full skyline panel and portions of downtown. If you are not into horror, you might want to skip this title as the visuals can be quite intense. Otherwise, it's an interesting and unexpected addition to wrap up this list.

Looking to dig deeper through the decades? Check out our booklist Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now inspired by the 2021 Chicago Comics exhibition at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.  

What are some of your favorite comics and graphic novels with Chicagoland connections? Let us know in the comments below.