Local artists at Comic Con draw outside superhero realm

When it comes to comic books, superheroes still rule the day at the Chicago Comic-Con. But there will be a few creators in attendance who don't tell stories involving capes or utility belts.

Nate Powell, a rising star in the world of alternative/indie comics, will be on hand with copies of his latest graphic novel, “Any Empire.” And Chicago cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, author of dark and excruciatingly funny comic strips, will be meeting fans and leading an art demonstration.

“I go to about one convention a month,” Powell, a resident of Bloomington, Ind., said during a phone interview. “I like that personal interaction, the one-on-one you get with fans. Nothing beats it.”

Powell, 33, has been making comics since he was a teenager in the early 1990s. His big breakthrough came in 2009 with “Swallow Me Whole,” a moving and occasionally surreal novel about a brother and sister dealing with mental illness in a small Southern town. The book, published by Top Shelf, won the coveted Eisner Award for Best New Graphic Novel.

In his new book, “Any Empire,” Powell looks at how violence and war affect a group of children growing up in Middle America. Powell again illustrates the story with lush black-and-white drawings that make dramatic use of black ink and often blur the line between reality and fantasy.

Top Shelf debuted “Any Empire” at the recent Comic Con International in San Diego. The reaction was “incredible,” Powell said.

“We brought twice as many copies as we did my previous book, and we almost sold out,” he said. “I had some great dialogue with fans about it.”

Powell said he hopes to get a similar response this weekend in Rosemont.

“I'm going to be a dad soon, so my life will not permit as much travel to conventions,” he said. “I really want to make the most of it.”

Brunetti is returning to the Chicago Comic-Con after an absence of about five years. He stopped attending right around the time he took a break from his regular comics work to focus on teaching and other artistic pursuits, including illustration work at The New Yorker.

At 5 p.m. Friday, Bruntetti will lead a discussion of cartooning basics in one of the convention center's panel rooms. In an email interview, Brunetti said appearing at the convention this year coincides with a desire to return to his cartooning.

“I guess I'm feeling like I want to step back into the playing field,” he said.

Brunetti is known for his deceptively simple, stripped-down drawing style and a relentlessly caustic sense of humor, especially when the subject is himself. In his comic-book series “Schizo,” Brunetti paired the design and pacing of classic newspaper strips with brutally funny explorations of his own flaws and insecurities. The work earned him a devoted audience.

Recently, though, Brunetti has been focusing on his other job — art professor at Columbia College Chicago. He said teaching has made him a harsher self-critic, but it has also spurred him to go in new directions.

“I have some really great students, and I have found that spending time with them has been inspiring to me,” he said. “It's rekindled my own feelings of ‘just starting out' — a sputtering influx of nervous energy, fear and trepidation punctuated by creative recklessness ... and a certain willingness to plunge into the void.”

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Chicago cartoonist and teacher Ivan Brunetti will lead a discussion of cartooning basics. Photo courtesy of Kurt Lauer Photography
“Any Empire” had a successful debut at Comic-Con International in San Diego a few weeks ago. Photo courtesy of Nate Powell

<b>Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con</b>

<b>Who will be there:</b> Dozens of comic-book creators like Streamwood's Art Baltazar, who cowrites and draws the award-winning “Tiny Titans” book for DC Comics; movie and television stars like Bruce Campbell from the “Evil Dead” films; comic-book dealers from all over the Midwest.

<b>What's happening:</b> Panel discussions, autograph signings, question-and-answer sessions with celebrities

<b>When:</b> 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11; Noon to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14.

<b>Where:</b> Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Road, Rosemont

<b>Tickets:</b> $30 per day, autographs and some special events extra. For a full schedule, go to <a href=""></a>