Recognizing comics as art

By Luke Wilusz

While comic books certainly feature a heavy emphasis on artwork, they haven’t traditionally been viewed as fine art. Their pages are rarely seen displayed in museums or art galleries for the enjoyment of art connoisseurs. Two local comic shop owners have started a crusade to change that, and the support they’ve received is overwhelming.

Patrick Brower and W. Dal Bush, co-owners of Challengers Comics & Conversation, 1845 N. Western Ave., are working to open the Rogues Gallery, an art exhibit in the unoccupied space next to their store dedicated to displaying comic book artwork. The store started a fundraising campaign for the gallery on on Oct. 18, and its initial goal of $2,400 was met and surpassed in 12 hours. The gallery space will also be used to house many of the events Challengers regularly holds, including book discussions and art classes.

Bush said the idea for the Rogues Gallery stems from his and Brower’s love of comic book artwork and their desire to share that passion with Chicago’s comic book community.

“Original comic art is something we’re pretty passionate about,” Bush said. “We like seeing the work that goes into it and how handmade it is. It’s one of the many things about comics that separates them from other storytelling art forms. You can own a piece of the comic, a one-of-a-kind original. Seeing that sort of stuff up close is amazing, and we know some artists and we’re able to see that stuff somewhat regularly, but a lot of people don’t have that chance.”

In order to encourage fan contributions to the Kickstarter campaign, Brower and Bush offered incentives for various levels of pledged donations, ranging from Challengers gift cards, signed books and original comic artwork to a chance to spend the day with local comic book illustrator Mike Norton.

Norton, a longtime Challengers supporter and friend of Brower who has worked on titles such as “Green Arrow/Black Canary” and “Runaways,” has offered to spend a day doing sketches for a birthday party at Challengers if somebody donates $299 or more toward the Rogues Gallery campaign on

“It’ll be a permanent display of comics as art,” Norton said. “Whenever you see stuff like that, it’s usually an exhibit temporarily coming through and people either see it or they don’t. But when it’s there every day and you can just walk by on your way home from the train or something like that, that’s kind of a cool thing.”

Brower said though comics are seen as a legitimate art form in other countries, they aren’t taken as seriously in the U.S. He hopes the Rogues Gallery will help

change that.

“If you look at the history of art and culture in the world America has a tremendous track record of following, but we don’t create a whole lot,” Brower said. “We can do it with the best of them, but we always follow somebody else’s lead. Comic books themselves are one of the true, original American art forms, but comic books are celebrated world-round more as works of art than they are in America. It’s almost as if Americans are embarrassed by them, even though they’re our creation.”

While the Kickstarter campaign has received a tremendous response so far, Brower said it still needs all the support it can get.

“If you don’t hit your goal [on Kickstarter], you don’t get any funding at all,” Brower said. “So we figured out the amount we wanted to do everything for the gallery, and then we cut it in half and made that our goal. We made the actual goal in 12 hours, which is simply astounding, but the more money we get the more we can do.

We have a list of things we need to pay for, things like painting and carpeting and window resealing, and gallery lights and the furniture for it, and as more money comes in we can check something else off that list. Right now we can paint it, carpet it and afford a couple of shelves.”

While a specific opening date for the gallery has not been set, Bush said a few events are planned for this winter with artists such as Jeremy Bastian (“Cursed Pirate Girl”) and Amy Reeder (“Madame Xanadu,” “Batwoman”).

“We’d love to have it done by the end of the year, but [the latest will be] mid-January next year,” Bush said. “We’ll have more details on our website once we can specifically nail down an opening date.”

For more information on Challengers Comics or the Rogues Gallery, visit