Ahead of Denver’s birthday, city’s most prolific cartoonist reflects on its evolution
On November 22, 1858, a group of brutal gold diggers founded the Denver City Town Company. Since then, the Mile High City has changed a lot. And for 10 years, designer and illustrator Karl Christian Krumholz captured his changing face in comics like the city of the queen, which was released in April. For Denver’s big day, we caught up with Harvey Pekar (of American splendor glory) to revisit illustrations that best capture its streets and explore the city that has become its muse.
âIllustrating was a way for me to get to know Denver because I was an outsider,â says Krumholz, who moved from Boston to Denver in 2006. In particular, the big signs, neon lights and the old-fashioned atmosphere. Western of Colfax architecture fascinated him. âI spent a lot of time in the bars on Colfax Avenue. He had his own character. I wanted to capture what it’s like to live in the city right now.
In 2013, Krumholz started a comic book series titled 30 miles crazy! to document the characters wandering on Colfax Avenue, aka “the longest and meanest avenue in America”.
âIt wasn’t until I started doing the 30 miles crazy!– a series of true stories from people in Denver – that I was like, ‘Oh, okay, that’s where my voice is,’ âhe says. In 2019, Birdcage Bottom Books distributed the seventh issue of the Multi-Series Comic Book Short Collection. The issue has been self-published.
In the four years leading up to the pandemic, Krumholz had illustrated Westwordthe weekly comic strip, The Denver Bootleg, on the city’s music scene. When this was suspended in March 2020, the artist traveled to Colfax, taking photos, searching for boarded up buildings and sketching, capturing Denver at that time. âSo many places I saw were disappearing,â he says. âThese buildings would have all this history attached to it, in some cases hundreds of years of history. The idea was to document what Denver looked like in the 21st century.
For more than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced hundreds of businesses to close. Record unemployment and in progress, suffocating housing crisis affected Denver residents for over 18 months. Much of this landed in the pages of Krumholz. âI illustrated Shelby’s, which only a few years ago was among the America’s best bars. And now it’s a parking lot, âhe says.
Earlier this year he published the fifth volume of The lighthouse in the city, a collection of illustrations from his diary (which he regularly posts on his Instagram, @karlchristiankrumholz). Readers get a sense of how attitudes changed during the pandemic from the people he met. âI’ve had a lot of stories about attacks,â he says. Explosions of violence in the streets, he said, were more frequent. Roaming, more pressing. And a sense of hopelessness among the people he met began to color his illustrations.
One of his most memorable comics in the ongoing series was inspired by the day he and his wife Kelly saw a brick fly through the front window of St. Paul’s Tavern on Colfax Avenue. During the summer, a man entered the bar to aggressively ask for water. After the bartender refused to respond to his hostile request, the man smashed a window with a brick. Krumholz dodged the flying object and pulled himself together when police arrived at the scene.
âThe man kept saying ‘I never wanted to be homeless,’â says Krumholz. âThe guy was screaming that he just wanted a little bit of human dignity. That’s the idea behind the comic. Maybe we should treat some of these cases with some kind of compassion. “
In the meantime, Krumholz plans to return to his comic book series on the music scene in Westword and will continue to humanize the city’s unique structures and the unpredictable characters that populate its streets for years to come. âIf I had to send a birthday comic to Denver, it would be like a punch,â says Krumholz. “I’d like to say, ‘That’s why I love Denver, but these are some of the hardest truths about this city.’ I think we need to keep an eye on this. “
Prints of works by Krumholz by the city of the queen are at the moment available for purchase at the Colorado History Center.