I’m Max Morris, a Chicago based artist. Most of my work is comics and
drawing based. Last year I self-published a short book called On Transit, and also had a 12-page comic piece, “The Pornographer’s Assistant” published by Sam Nigrosh in his “Trash City” anthology. I also read this comic with a live band as part of Sarah Squirm’s Helltrap Nightmare series at The Hideout.
When did you get involved with art?
My family was always pretty involved with art- my Grandfather produced
a book-talk TV show in the 60’s in Chicago, my father is a music journalist, my sister was a photographer and did some zine-type stuff in the 90’s, and is married to a guitarist in a punk band, my younger brother is an experimental guitar musician, my ex-stepfather was a painter, and basically everyone in my family had some sort of weird media lying about. My mom isn’t an artist, but she obsessively collected all sorts religious artifacts, which were up everywhere when I was a kid. I always was drawing when I was younger, and when I got out of high school, heading to art school seemed like the obvious
Let’s also go back to the beginning, what was the first comic you made?-
The first comic you make is always terrible, its fine. You have to draw 10 thousand bad drawings before you get a good one. I think the first “real” comic I made was a little bad zine called “Side-Kick Damn-Edge”, which was done in bad head-space when I was terrified about the future in my mid-twenties. It was the first time I gave myself permission to draw as weird and bad as I wanted, and it was the first time it felt like drawing comic was “fun”.
This past year you put out On Transit. Talk to us about the concept behind this comic
On Transit was made specifically for the live comic reading series Zine Not Dead, hosted by the handsome duo of Matt Davis and Brad Rohloff. I had done a reading before with a live band for Lyra Hill’s Brain Frame series which seemed well-received, and I had wanted to do it again for a while. When the election happened, I felt this intense wave of unmovable rage within me, and I wanted to make a piece about trying to sustain in a public space that now felt toxic and dangerous. Most of the time I can find safe places with friends and community to exist in, but moving outside my bubble post-Trump felt as though something menacing was always around the corner.
On Transit is basically about one of those spaces- It’s basically reportage from my morning commute to my office job on the 8 Halsted bus. Halsted is a pretty long route, connecting a lot of different parts of town that are not train-accessible. The bus carries all sorts of people- UIC and Art School Students, white-collar office drones, blue-collar laborers, the homeless, and the mentally ill. The bus is one of those few places where all these different kinds of people in the city mix, for better or for worse, a true ship of fools. Everything that happens in the comic is based on something real that I experienced while taking that same bus to work every day for 2 years. I collapsed them into a single experience, wanting to express to madness and strain of living in my new political reality. I don’t think a lot of people caught the context of all that in the reading, but it felt good for me to get it out of my system, and I think I got the feeling across.
How does it feel when you are listed as a Chicago comix legend?
Someone once said that if you do something long enough, people assume
you know what you’re doing. I don’t think its quite fair for me to get that label- Chicago is such an amazing city of great comics artists and so many have such a greater output than me, that I sometimes think those other folks deserve that title more. Anya Davidson, Krystal DiFronzo, Ben Marcus, so so many others- I’m just pleased that I get to chat with them about dorky comics gossip every once in while.
For five years you were an Organizer for CAKE. How did that come about?
For a few years before CAKE, I accidentally ended up co-running a DIY space and getting involved with the Chicago music scene. I’m not a musician, but the community here is so amazing, and I sort of lucked into organizing a space called The Bakery in Pilsen, when a lot was going on around. I was very grateful to attend events at spaces like Mortville and Roxaboxen, which were run by some incredible people. I lived in that space for about a year, but afterward would still be somewhat tangentially involved, doing flyers, booking an occasional show. Around that time Edie Fake moved back to Chicago, we were introduced by a mutual friend, and he was horrified to witness the extent of my comics obsession. One night we were at a show, and he asked me to come to an organizer meeting while they were trying to get the first year together, and so began 5 years of almost constant stress. It was a very rewarding experience.
Last summer, you put out a list of your favorite comics. Leading that list, you had Love And Rockets. Why is that your favorite?
I don’t really draw like Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, but I’ve always had a very special attachment to Love and Rockets. One of the key points in my life was discovering the first 2 volumes while my family was moving from Arizona to California. A friend of my stepfather had given them to him, but he wasn’t that interested. So when I discovered them, he said I could just keep them. Before that, I had read comics, but only superhero comics and all the drawings I would make were my own adolescent power fantasy. When those books fell off the shelf, and I picked them up, it opened up an entire world to me. I was probably around 13 when I first found those volumes, and I’ve been reading Love and Rockets for 20 years after that. I could go at length about what about their work means to me- but that would make this answer pretty long!
In 2015, you also had Los Bros as special guests for CAKE. How was it meeting them?
One of my tasks as an organizer was coordinating special events, and the Hernandez Brothers were to do a kickoff signing at a sponsor comic shop the day before CAKE. However, Gilbert had missed his flight from the west coast, so I was immediately put in the position on figuring out how to get him to the signing in time, as the comic shop had donated money to CAKE specifically to sponsor the Hernandez Brother’s appearance that year. So I had to call Gilbert up and figure out how he was going to get there in time. The process of figuring this out, and hearing his voice on the phone, it was so strange. Here I was, talking to my artistic heroes, about how CAKE would reimburse his travel costs if he had to purchase his own ticket. Not exactly the conversation I was hoping for!
I met Jaime for the first time at the shop, attempted to chat with him on comics and CAKE, but he seemed pretty pooped from his flight, so it felt best not to slobber my fandom all over him. This might sound disappointing, but at the same time, I look back and think that at least we were abler to get them there, and it made many other comic kindred spirits very happy to get a chance to meet them. It’s a special thing to be able to gift something like that to someone, stranger or no.
Favorite comic book character?
Astro Boy has always been a favorite of mine. Osamu Tezuka is another one of those artists I am in awe of for the sheer amount of quality output, and Astro Boy is an ideal comic book character- fully fleshed out, an expression of his creators’ hopes and desires, tragic in history, but still fun to read.
Favorite comic book artist?
This one is pretty hard to answer, but I’d have to say I admire Jack Kirby the most.
Favorite comic book store in Chicago?
Favorite guest, you had at CAKE?
In terms of artistic awe, Karl Wirsum as a featured speaker the first year of CAKE. In terms of general delight to be around, Phoebe Gloeckner.
Favorite era of comics?
Right now, and what comes tomorrow.