The art of city life in comic form

Denver comic artist turns pen on local haunts with ‘Queen City’

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/11/21

If you haven’t been out and about much in Denver recently, you could very well be shocked by what’s there — and perhaps more noticeably, what isn’t. Even by the standards of this constantly …

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The art of city life in comic form

Denver comic artist turns pen on local haunts with ‘Queen City’

Posted

If you haven’t been out and about much in Denver recently, you could very well be shocked by what’s there — and perhaps more noticeably, what isn’t.

Even by the standards of this constantly changing city, the last few months have been especially bleak when it comes to the fates of some of the city’s most iconic and enduring places.

Just in 2020, the city lost such standbys as the 87-year-old jazz club El Chapultepec, the 74-year-old 20th Street Café and the 42-year-old Market at Larimer Square. That’s 203 years of history gone in just a single year.

And the pace doesn’t show any sign of slowing. Already this year, the 30-year-old Denver Diner and 26-year-old sports bar LoDo’s Bar & Grill have closed their doors. Heck, even the landmark Casa Bonita is facing an uncertain future after its owners filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

But Denverites who cannot sit inside these iconic places can now revisit many of them on the pages of “Queen City,” a new comic book by Denver artist Karl Christian Krumpholz that serves as both a love letter and permanent memorial to several of Denver’s most treasured locations.

Krumpholz, who moved to Denver from the East Coast with his wife 10 years ago, said he originally envisioned the book as being a “time and a place thing” that would show what Denver was currently like. But when he shared some of his early illustrations online, he found there was a desire for a book that would also include illustrations of locations that have already been lost.

“A lot of people started then approaching me and going ‘well, what about this place’ or ‘you need to illustrate that place,” he said.

That’s how the book began and grew to its current 160 colorful pages and came to include many departed Denver spots, including long-gone bars like The Terminal Bar and Muddy’s Cafe, which both closed long before Krumpholz even arrived in the city.

“I know nothing about some of these places that were long gone when I showed up,” said Krumpholz. “But it has such a place in people’s hearts in the city that of course I had to include them.”

Those bars of the past (plus other long-ago closed spots such as the old Aladdin Theater on Colfax) are rendered alongside remaining classics such as The Satire Lounge, The Brown Palace Hotel and yes, even Casa Bonita, in Krumpholz’s distinctive comic book style — which even he has trouble describing. However, one of the primary elements is that it uses only five colors: black, white, cyan, yellow and gray.

“I like using those colors because it feels like a noir melancholy,” he said. “And I like that feeling that I try to allow the ink to reflect. But I don’t know if it has a name.”

A COVID era comic

While “Queen City” is Krumpholz’s most intensive look at Denver, it is far from the first time he has turned his pen on the city. He has been drawing The Denver Bootleg, a comic strip chronicling local Denver bands, for the alternative weekly newspaper Westword since 2015 (the strip has been on hiatus since the start of the pandemic).

He’s also the writer of “30 Miles of Crazy,” a free web comic which chronicles life along Colfax Avenue in Denver. In January 2020, Krumpholz launched a new called “The Lighthouse in the City.”

The timing of that launch turned out to be fortuitous as the comic is autobiographical in nature, which Krumpholz said provided a perfect outlet for him to explore his experiences with life during the pandemic.

“It was supposed to be a good exercise to do a daily comic as well as a way to document a surgery that my wife was getting and her recovery, which I figured would be an interesting story,” he said. “But by the third month, it was basically how we were coping and this day-to-day life in this new reality and it’s really become kind of a slice of life in this period.”

Since that launch, Krumpholz has been publishing at least one page a day on his website and social media pages. He’s also been releasing books that combine all of 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 looking 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 shops, such as Kilgore Books and Comics in Capitol Hill and Mutiny Information Café on South Broadway (the first two stores to sell the book).

But even with that relatively limited distribution strategy (the book can also be ordered online at tintopress.com), the book’s publisher, Ted Intorcio of indie publisher Tinto Books, said he has trouble keeping the book on the shelves.

That’s welcome news for both Mutiny and Kilgore Books and Comics, which have just had to weather what Intorcio calls a bad year for bookstores as sales moved even more online as a result of the pandemic.

“But it’s turned around,” said Intorcio. “For instance, Mutiny just had one of the best months they’ve ever had and I think that is because people are starting to get out again.”

Still, Intorcio said the model he used for publishing “Queen City,” which involved using the Kickstarter online fundraising platform to fund the cost of publishing it and several other comics titles, with backers getting the first copies, is emblematic of the kind of approach indie publishers had to employ to get books to press during the pandemic — and likely even after it is over.

“The Kickstarter has been a great source for me because it sort of helps with promoting the book to the people who want to read it,” he said. “And then after the Kickstarter fulfillment is done the buzz is created and stores are more interested in picking it up.”

Intorcio said that’s exactly what’s happened with “Queen City” as he’s recently received requests from the likes of the Denver Art Museum and the Molly Brown House to sell the book at their gift shops. The curator of the Western History Collection at the Denver Public Library has also requested a copy to add to the collection while the Jeffco Public Library has also ordered several copies.

“It’s being distributed in a few places that I otherwise wouldn’t have had access to and that’s a real feather in both Karl and I’s caps,” he said.

But even as “Queen City” will likely be especially treasured by those who miss the old places depicted in the book and feel they are losing the city they know, Krumpholz said he doesn’t necessarily feel the same way.

“When I talk to people I always hear ‘Denver is disappearing and old Denver is gone and we don’t like this new thing that is coming,’” he said. “And I totally understand where these people are coming from — it hurts when a beloved neighborhood institution closes. But the thing is, when something disappears and is replaced then that new thing will become the new neighborhood institution within 10 years.”

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