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Whimsy and warped fairy tales bubble to the surface of the zines, comics and prints in “Underground,” which aligns with Woman Made Gallery’s feminist mission by highlighting 50-plus female, transgender and gender-nonconforming artists from around the U.S. Rather than seeming escapist, their recurring imaginary worlds and fantastic creatures recall real-world inequities and issues of identity, as in Liz Born’s series “Dimorphisms,” which explores gender-based mutations in the animal world. Born, a printmaker and member of Chicago’s Spudnik Press, renders her characters in reduction woodcuts. Their grainy backgrounds give her prints an appealing vintage feel.
Excerpts from Edie Fake’s Foie Gras mini comics, which pair spare snippets of text from Joy of Cooking with provocative drawings of food prep, are also among my favorites. The Gaylord Phoenix author’s self-described “radical queer wit” and clever juxtapositions of word and image make these works stand out. If Fake has received a ton of exposure recently, it’s because his approach to zines and comics is fresher and more compelling than most other artists’. Robin Hustle’s Curdled Milk also excerpts and reinterprets an existing text—in this case, Émile Zola’s novel Nana—adding stripped-down illustrations. But Hustle’s interweaving of sex work, commerce and dairy comes off as muddled and slightly pretentious.
A pop-up zine library, which curator Ruby Thorkelson organized with the Chicago Underground Library, is a highlight of this show. Its impressive array of self-published work—ranging from historic texts like Gwendolyn Brooks’s 1980 booklet, Primer for Blacks, to poetry chapbooks, to the latest issue of Chicago-based zine Mildred Pierce—provides a hands-on way to dig around in the underground.