PORTAGE PARK — For nearly two decades, Matthew Allison ached to publish his personal work, be a full-time artist and connect with his readers.
The illustrator, who grew up making art and reading comic books, began working at a print shop when he was 20 years old after his mother saw an ad in the paper. A visual artist herself, she thought it could be an in for her son to publish his work, Allison said.
“It took me 18 years to print a comic book because I got fully immersed in printing,” said Allison, now 49.
That first comic book, published 11 years ago, was a compilation of drawings of invented superheroes Allison had posted to his blog, mixed with personal facets of his life. It was soon posted to a comic art website focusing on parody comic book covers.
Allison was also invited to show it at a museum exhibit in Arizona, where he got a taste of what being an artist was like — and the potential of his work, he said.
After 25 years working at various print shops, the Albany Park resident moved to Chicago from Denver in 2020, became a full-time artist and decided to try his luck at crowdfunding money to self-publish his work spanning from 2011 to 2021.
It worked. Allison’s campaign raised more than $62,000 from more than 1,000 backers — more than double his original goal of $25,000. In July, he published the complete collection of his first comic book, “Cankor.”
Allison’s sold about 1,500 copies, he said.
“I’ve built up a small audience in the last 10 years that will follow me and pretty much buy anything I do,” he said. “It’s a relatively low number compared to other what other comic books sell, but it’s enough to sustain me and not drive me crazy” in fulfilling orders.
What started as a simple parody of superheroes like Batman and Spider-Man turned into a more autobiographical take with a focus on addiction, emotional disorders and letting go of the past — things that were based on real struggles, Allison said.
In 2011, Allison stopped drinking and attended Alcoholics Anonymous, going to therapy and rebuilding himself after a tough few years of addiction, he said.
“It came pretty naturally that the story was a parody of superhero comics. … Like a group of superheroes getting together for a meeting, but they’re all getting incredibly drunk,” he said. “Because that was my mindset at the time, was trying to work through like, ‘OK, how do I live without alcohol?'”
The series unravels that question and looks at how a person can rebuild a better version of themself with the help of others — a parallel theme to crowdsourcing for its publication, the artist said.
Allison was further motivated to self-publish after a company he’d worked with closed after nearly 20 years. He had made a deal in 2019 with Virginia-based AdHouse Books, which published some of “Cankor” that year before ceasing operations.
As Allison prepares to get his book in more stores and reaps the benefits of his creativity, the “Cankor” story is not done yet. He is working on multiple projects that involve the “Cankor” world, including cover art for songs based on the comic book by a local musician.
“I try to look back and think, like, when I was 20 years old and I got that job at the print shop. Like, this is what I wanted. This is all,” he said. “So to finally be able to do it and have it be as relatively successful … it’s pretty amazing.”
And much of Allison’s success is owed to Chicago and the comic scene, which has been supportive of his work, he said.
“There are so many cartoonists who live here, C2E2, [Chicago Alternative Comic Expo]. … There were all these conventions where it felt like Chicago was a real town that embraced comic artists and great museum exhibits since we’ve moved here,” he said. “Moving to Chicago was definitely a great step into just saying, ‘This is all I’m going to do from here on out.'”
“Cankor” is sold online and at Portage Park comic bookstore Howling Pages, 4354 N. Milwaukee Ave., and will soon be available at Quimby’s in Wicker Park, 1854 W. North Ave.
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