I am a Chicago based artist and filmmaker. My comic art appears in public spaces, literary publications, gallery exhibits and private collections. You can see my broad range of work at gretchenhasse.com.
Freaks' Progress is an epic story; it is a serialized twenty-first century morality play, presented as an electronic graphic novel. Funds raised through this campaign will allow me one month of time to focus on refining the storyline and beginning to build the website that will host the online episodes.
I am playing off of an old narrative form. Popular in the 15th and 16th centuries, morality plays presented melodramatic lessons about good conduct and character. A Rake's Progress, by William Hogarth, chronicled the moral decline of an English heir. Freaks’ Progress follows an entire community in their pursuit of success, with all the pitfalls and moral contradictions included.
The moral part of the struggle is key. As disembodied concepts, “Good” and “Evil” can seem fairly clear. But when those concepts land on earth and become enmeshed in politics and interpersonal relations, they can get pretty murky. This is the nature of the narrative in Freaks’ Progress. The meaning of and the combatants involved in any moral struggle can depend very much on who you are and where you stand.
The characters in Freaks’ Progress have grown with me through twenty years in Chicago. Some of them are fantastical in form, and some of them have lived experiences that place them in fantastical circumstances. In the story, I attempt to explore the deep heterogeneity we live with, and how that heterogeneity can create both deep understanding and radical confusion.
A trial version of the webcomic was online for a year in 2005. I learned a good deal about how to construct a site to host a long form serialized story. Since then, the characters and story have become much richer – and I am ready to relaunch.
The story will grow in installments, Charles Dickens style.
Some of the Freaks' Progress Characters
As a visual artist, I regularly include these characters as iconic images in my work.
Lupita's family came to the States from Oaxaca when she was nine years old. Her father, a talented amatuer musician, owns a bar in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood; he tries to move with the times by featuring local hipster bands. Smart and technically adept, Lupita sets up a pirate radio station with her friend Hazel when they are twelve years old. They form the band Las Piratas in their teens, for which Lupita plays bass and serves as technical wizard.
Max worked in the circus and served as an assassin. Now he's a stripper. His friend and boss Guido says, "The thing about Max is, he's evil; but he's not a bad person." Max once tried, successfully, to leave the planet for a while so he could get his thoughts together and make a career change. More than anything, he wants to reconnect with Luis, the love of his life.
Andrea / Allison
Although many people can say that they struggle with conflicting emotions, the Twins live with two distinct personalities every day of their lives. Known affectionately to their friends as "War and Peace," their long history includes cult fame in underground music and film circles. Now they are just trying to make a living and rehab their house.
Hazel is the daughter of two revolutionaries, neither of whom she has ever met. She lives with her grandmother Gladys and Gladys' twin sister Griselda, who for mysterious reasons lives currently as a disembodied head. This never bothers Hazel, as she is congenitally blind. She takes Griselda in a wagon on walks through the neighborhood. We first meet Hazel as a twelve year old girl starting up a pirate radio station with her friend Lupita. Later, the Twins give Hazel a guitar and she embarks on her life's mission, which is to become famous.
Guido is a survivor of politically motivated torture. He finds solace through a love of gardening. A passionate and relentless entrepreneur, he owns the club that employs most of the adult characters in the story. A community leader in spite of himself, he will regularly share his favorite recipes.
Clarence is a modern day interpretation of Diogenes, the contrarian Greek cynic who chose a life of public poverty to critique a corrupt society. Clarence leads a tribe of “Nakeds,” intellectuals who disdain all private property, including clothes. But they live quite publicly; and in the process, as businessman Guido puts it, “they make naked look bad.”
More About Gretchen Hasse
My art practice spans several different mediums.
Recently I illustrated the front and back covers for Broken Records, Snezana Zabic's personal account of her teenage years during the Yugoslav Wars (available soon through Punctum Books). In July, I had two mini-comics – one independent work, and one collaboration with writer Yasmin Nair – in a pop-up store during Comic Book Day at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. This work was the result of a month-long residency at the Lady Drawers' exhibit Sex.Money.Race.Gender. at Columbia College Chicago's A+D Gallery.
My video work includes narrative shorts, music videos, and documents of protest actions, grassroots community development, and long term struggles for social justice. The story of Freaks’ Progress is influenced by my experiences as an artist, educator, social justice advocate, and resident of urban neighborhoods in transition.