The art of city life in comic book form
If you haven’t been to Denver a lot lately, you might very well be shocked at what there is – and perhaps more markedly, what isn’t.
Even by the standards of this ever-changing city, the past few months have been particularly bleak when it comes to the fate of some of the city’s most iconic and enduring places.
Just in 2020, the city lost such standbys as the 87-year-old El Chapultepec jazz club, the 74-year-old 20th Street CafÃ© and the 42-year-old Larimer Square market. It’s 203 years of history in just one year.
And the pace shows no sign of slowing down. Already this year, the Denver Diner, 30, and sports bar LoDo’s Bar & Grill, 26, closed their doors. Heck, even the iconic Casa Bonita faces an uncertain future after its owners filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.
But Denverites who can’t sit inside these iconic locations can now revisit a lot on the pages of “Queen City,” a new comic from Denver artist Karl Christian Krumpholz that serves both love letter and permanent memorial to many of Denver’s most treasured. Locations.
Krumpholz, who moved to Denver from the East Coast with his wife 10 years ago, said he initially envisioned the book as a “thing of time and place” that would show what Denver looked like today. . But when he shared some of his early illustrations online, he discovered there was a desire for a book that would also include illustrations from places that have already been lost.
âA lot of people then started coming up to me and saying ‘well what about this place’ or ‘you have to illustrate this place,’ he said.
This is how the book started and grew to its current 160 colorful pages and came to include many Denver departure spots, including long-gone bars like The Terminal Bar and Muddy’s Cafe, both of which have closed long before Krumpholz arrived in town.
âI don’t know anything about some of these places that were long gone when I arrived,â Krumpholz said. âBut he has such a place in the hearts of the people of the city that, of course, I had to include them.
These bars from the past (as well as other places that were closed long ago such as the old Aladdin Theater on Colfax) have returned alongside leftover classics such as The Satire Lounge, The Brown Palace Hotel and yes, even Casa Bonita, in the distinctive Krumpholz cartoon style. – which even he finds it hard to describe. However, one of the main things is that it only uses five colors: black, white, cyan, yellow, and gray.
âI like to use these colors because it looks like black melancholy,â he said. âAnd I love that feeling of trying to let the ink reflect. But I don’t know if he has a name.
A comic book from the COVID era
While “Queen City” is Krumpholz’s most intensive look at Denver, it’s far from the first time he’s turned his pen on the city. He’s been drawing The Denver Bootleg, a comic strip chronicling local Denver bands, for the alternative weekly Westword since 2015 (the tape has been on hiatus since the pandemic began).
He is also the author of â30 Miles of Crazy,â a free comic that chronicles life along Colfax Avenue in Denver. In January 2020, Krumpholz launched a new one called âThe City Lighthouseâ.
The timing of this launch turned out to be fortuitous as the comic is autobiographical in nature, which Krumpholz says provided him with a perfect outlet to explore his life experiences during the pandemic.
âIt was supposed to be a good exercise doing a daily comic as well as a way to document a surgery my wife was having and her recovery, which I thought would be an interesting story,â he said. he declares. “But by the third month, it was basically how we were doing and this day to day living in this new reality and it really became kind of a slice of life in that time.”
Since that launch, Krumpholz has posted at least one page per day on its website and social media pages. He has also published books that combine all the pages from each three month period (local publisher Kilgore Books is currently raising funds to publish the fifth volume, which covers January through March).
The indie way
But don’t go look for “Queen City” or the latest volume of “The Lighthouse in the City” on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble. Krumpholz prefers to sell the books at independent stores, such as Kilgore Books and Comics on Capitol Hill and Mutiny Information CafÃ© on South Broadway (the first two stores to sell the book).
But even with this relatively limited distribution strategy (the book can also be ordered online at tintopress.com), the publisher of the book, Ted Intorcio of independent publisher Tinto Books, said he was struggling to keep the book on the shelves.
This is good news for Mutiny and Kilgore Books and Comics, who have just gone through what Intorcio calls a bad year for bookstores as sales shifted even further online due to the pandemic.
âBut that has changed,â Intorcio said. “For example, Mutiny just had one of the best months of her life and I think it’s because people are starting to go out again.”
Still, Intorcio said the model he used to publish “Queen City,” which was to use the online fundraising platform Kickstarter to fund the cost of its publication and several other comic book titles, donors of funds getting the first copies, is emblematic of the kind of approach independent publishers have had to hire to get books to press during the pandemic – and possibly even after it ended.
âThe Kickstarter has been a great source for me because it kind of helps me promote the book to people who want to read it,â he said. “And then once the Kickstarter run is over, the buzz is created and stores are more interested in picking it up.”
Intorcio said that is exactly what happened with “Queen City,” as he recently received requests from people like the Denver Art Museum and the Molly Brown House to sell the book in their stores. gifts. The curator of the Western History Collection at the Denver Public Library has also requested a copy to be added to the collection while the Jeffco Public Library has also ordered multiple copies.
âIt’s distributed in a few places that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise and it’s a real feather in Karl and I’s caps,â he said.
But while “Queen City” will likely be especially cherished by those who miss the ancient places described in the book and feel they are losing the city they know, Krumpholz said he didn’t necessarily feel the same way.
âWhen I talk to people I always hear ‘Denver is gone and old Denver is gone and we don’t like this new thing happening,’â he said. âAnd I fully understand where these people are coming from – it hurts when a beloved neighborhood institution closes. But the point is, when something disappears and is replaced, then that new thing will become the new institution of the neighborhood within 10 years.