Zines and stickers are piled atop one another in a messy display.
Oscar Arriola is an active member of the local zine scene; he produces his own zines and co-presents ZINEmercado. Credit: Oscar Arriola

As the saying goes, Chicago is a big small town. We’re always bumping into each other. Artist, photographer, zine maker and promoter, curator, event organizer, and lifetime Chicagoan Oscar Arriola, 51, is one of those welcoming, familiar faces often present at the coolest, most underground happenings. As an appreciator, connector, and maker, Arriola is a constant in the street art and independent publishing scenes. At the upcoming Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE), taking place at the Broadway Armory on the first weekend of June, he will be hosting an installment of The Stick Up! Chicago, a sticker club he’s been organizing since 2012. 

“People come to hang out and socialize with other artists as they draw on stickers,” Arriola says. “We usually play music and bring snacks and drinks to share. Participants bring their own art supplies, but I also try to bring all kinds of unusual blank stickers to share. Some people trade with others, others are street artists who put them up outdoors.” Arriola mentions the portability of the medium: “[They are] small artworks. I don’t draw well but do enjoy doodling, and the small canvas space of a sticker is not as intimidating for people to approach. We have a wide range of people come and draw—from beginners to fine artists doing intricate work. There aren’t any rules.”

Arriola is seen in a black and white photo from the waist up. He wears clear glasses, a hoodie and a baseball cap.
Oscar Arriola is a constant in the street art and independent publishing scenes.
Courtesy of Grime Time magazine

Meetings happen every other month at various places. Arriola avoids bars so that the events can be all ages. “I purposely hold The Stick Up! Chicago at different locations to both introduce people to great art spaces as well as to have it equitable so that people don’t have to travel far each time,” he says. “I went from holding them in friends’ art studios and galleries like Casualiving, Howard Street Gallery, and Chicago Truborn, to larger institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Art, Intuit, and the Chicago Cultural Center as the events became more popular.” 

  Learn more about The Stick Up! Chicago at Instagram.com/OscarArriola

After a long hiatus extended by the pandemic, Arriola resumed his sticker club this year with the support of his artist friend Rae Bees, who offered the South Side Hackerspace in Bridgeport as a location. The upcoming edition at CAKE will be held in conjunction with Busy Beaver Button Co., who will provide button-making machines for attendees to make their own pins. The program will be from 11 AM to 12:30 PM on Saturday, June 3, in the workshop space by the entrance to the Broadway Armory.

A grid of four "Hola me llama" stickers are drawn over with Sentrock's signature bird image. To the right of the bird, Fotoflow is written four times.
Sticker drawn by local artist Sentrock
Credit: Oscar Arriola

Arriola is eager to see a lot of great artists who will be tabling at CAKE this year—such as David Alvarado, JB Roe, Caroline Cash, Audrey Niffenegger, Mike Centeno, and Jasjyot Singh Hans. “One person I’m especially excited about is Korean American artist Eunsoo Jeong, who publishes hilarious photo comics under the name Koreangry, featuring a doll character in front of handmade sets talking about racism, relationships, and other topics. I also like randomly encountering the work of artists that I’m not familiar with,” he says. CAKE co-organizer Tyrell Cannon, 42, agrees that the event “is the perfect place for lifelong comics fans to discover new work, or for not-yet-comics-fans to dip their toes into this amazing medium.” 

“Attendees can learn all about the bookmaking process, or make buttons and stickers, or hear artists talk in detail about the creation of their work. The main event is our exhibition, featuring 150+ artists from all over the country exhibiting fresh and unique comics. This wide variety means there is something for comics fans of all types,” Cannon says. A comics artist himself—he’s currently doing art for The Schlub, to be published by Image Comics this summer—Cannon recommends the works of featured artists Derf Backderf (My Friend Dahmer), MariNaomi (I Thought You Loved Me), and MAD magazine’s Johnny Sampson, among others. 

Julia is seated near a table displaying zines, botanical candles, stickers, and other items. Julia is smiling and holding a fan and looking at the car. She wears a fanny pack and a pin that reads "I love old people." Behind them are other zine tables.
Julia Arredondo tabling for Curandera Press at a ZINEmercado at Comfort Station
Credit: Oscar Arriola

It is a busy season for independent publishing enthusiasts; CAKE is happening shortly after Chicago Zine Fest held its 12th edition in May. Arriola participated in the Zine Fest with his photo-and-art-focused zine imprint, Fotoflow Press. He also distributed zines by other authors, such as a Brazilian pichação (street art) zine by Studio Treze. Arriola is an active member of the local zine scene; he produces his own zines (Ghost and 25 Chicagoans), and with artist CHema Skandal! he presents ZINEmercado, which happens annually outdoors at Comfort Station (the next one will be on Sunday, August 27). This fall he is planning on reviving Foto Mercado as well, a photography-based book and zine fest. “I enjoy spreading the good word on zines and encourage people to make their own. I’ve been lucky enough to get invited to speak to classes around the city about zines. I bring many different kinds to teach students about various techniques in making them.”

For those wanting to learn more about the craft, Arriola recommends online tutorials and the monthly Chicago Zine Club organized by Cynthia E. Hanifin. “I always encourage beginners to make a mini zine because all it takes is one sheet of paper, a few folds, and one cut down the middle to produce an eight-page mini zine with a foldout centerfold on the other side. There are also some books like Stolen Sharpie Revolution, Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?, and Make a Zine!: Start Your Own Underground Publishing Revolution, available from places like Microcosm Publishing online and Quimby’s in Wicker Park. Arriola considers Quimby’s bookstore “by far the best zine store in the country” as well as a great place to get stickers.

Besides his aforementioned passion projects and all the other art-related events he curates and organizes, Arriola is a head clerk for the Chicago Public Library. His day job gave him insight into the importance of properly archiving artworks. Instead of putting up his stickers in the street, Arriola says he is the “art nerd” who scans and saves them. “Working at the library I’ve enjoyed seeing what archives do,” he says. “The Chicago Public Library has the Chicago Artist Files in the art department at Harold Washington Library Center. They’ve got about 11,000 files on Chicago artists from over the years. Any artist can create a file about themselves and add ephemera like exhibition postcards, drawings, photos, zines, stickers, and show price lists. I’m always encouraging artists to start a file there.” Encouraging artists does seem to be one of Arriola’s gifts. 

Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE)
Sat, 6/3, 11 AM-6 PM and Sun, 6/4, 11 AM-5 PM at the Broadway Armory, 5917 N. Broadway, cakechicago.com, free

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