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An artist book fair provides access to a burst of creativity

EditiMK 'The Nature Clouds' by Ryan Gerald Nelson. EditiMK is small-scale independent publishing platform/concept thhas been development since 2010.

Edition MK "The Nature of Clouds" by Ryan Gerald Nelson. Edition MK is a small-scale, independent publishing platform/concept that has been in development since 2010.

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Medium Cool Art Book Fair

When: Noon-
8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Prairie Production, 1314 W.

Cost: Free

Info: medium-

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Updated: September 11, 2013 6:05AM

As blue-chip art galleries set soaring prices and the Internet makes publishing easier than ever, many Chicago makers have found a middle ground in the artist book.

“I know a lot of really great book designers, artists, writers and publishers,” said West Loop native Ria Roberts. Yet a proliferation of zines, books and things that share a smaller spirit hasn’t necessarily yielded commercial availability. “They’re making great work and don’t have a venue in which to show it in Chicago.”

Roberts, who attends Yale for graphic design, decided to do something about it. For the last year, she busied herself organizing an art book fair, dubbed Medium Cool. On Sunday, from noon to 8 p.m, tables of books from more than 75 galleries and publishers will line the roomy West Loop event space Prairie Production.

The fair’s printed matter fetches $1 to $20, with more precious and limited edition works running a few hundred dollars. Vendors range from out-of-towners like Peradam, a New York publishing group specializing in small-run artist books, to Western Exhibitions, a Chicago gallery that integrates printed material in its contemporary art program.

While international in its reach, the artist book convergence has a few distinct lineages in Chicago, according to Lynne Warren, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s curator who helped coordinate the museum’s current exhibit, “Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes.” In the 1970s and ’80s, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago led book-making classes using offset lithography press and the Xerox format. Later, well-known cartoonists such as Chris Ware and Chicago-born Clowes developed independent comics practices. Predating this, Chicago’s Imagist artists used a bright color palette and limned distorted figures that seemed influenced by comics. “There is a tradition here in Chicago, and that makes fertile ground for subsequent generations of artists to feel more comfortable with the figurative form and drawing and sketching by hand, as opposed to [publishing on] computers,” Warren said.

Chicago artist Edie Fake, a staffer at Wicker Park’s Quimby’s Bookstore, has seen the minicomic blow up. Like Warren, Fake partly credits key Chicago figures and professors — such as Columbia College’s Ivan Brunetti, a New Yorker cover designer — for spurring the print deluge. “I was seeing all this stuff coming in from Chicago students, a ton of material I would love to make a wider audience for.”

Fake partnered with four comic producers to start CAKE, Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, which took place in June for the second year. “I really believe in the importance of a multiple,” Fake said. “And it’s a really efficient way, cheap to produce, easy to share.”

Madeline Nusser is a local free-lance writer.

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