Self-publishing is at the heart of the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo festival and community, and supporting emerging artists and helping them grow is central to our mission. The third annual Cupcake Award is a juried prize that supports the publication of a new minicomic by an emerging artist whose work is primarily self-published. The winner of the award will receive $250 to print a new minicomic, a free half table at next year’s CAKE (where their minicomic will debut), and the mentor support of our special guest judge Caitlin McGurk, the Associate Curator for Outreach & Assistant Professor at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. In addition, CAKE will promote the winning artist and their minicomic leading up to next year’s show.Applications will open after CAKE 2016 concludes on June 12th and will close on July 31st. The CAKE organizers will narrow the application pool to the top 20, and our special guest judge will select the winner. The recipient of the Cupcake Award will be announced when CAKE 2017 applications open in mid-October.


Applicants must meet the following eligibility requirements:✴ Be at least 18 years of age at the time you apply✴ Be available to attend CAKE 2017 to promote the minicomic supported by the Cupcake Award✴ Be an artist who has not had a solo work published by a publisher.Our intention is to support early career comic artists. This is an honor-code application: we will not hunt through your CV to try to disprove your eligibility, so please use your best discretion. If you have work in comics anthologies, have had small freelance comics published in larger publications/platforms or if you have had success with a widely distributed self-published comic, you are eligible; if you have had a book published as a single author by a publisher but you still regularly publish mini-comics, you are not eligible.

While applicants may re-apply every year, they are only eligible to receive the award once.

If you have questions about meeting eligibility, please email us at

Application Guidelines

Please send the following to by July 31:One-page artist statement and work plan: Please narrate the content and direction of the comics work you have made to date, and describe in detail the minicomic you plan to make with the support of the Cupcake Award.One-page artist CV: Please include your most recent creative work and accomplishments to date. Be sure to include your name, address, preferred contact information (email, phone, twitter, etc), and website. (Don’t worry if your artist CV is light–this award is meant for emerging artists!)Work samples: Please submit up to 8 examples of your art representing work done within the last 2-3 years. Be sure to highlight your sequential art, as this is an award specifically for comics. Send us clickable URLs. If you are unable to send us URLs, please get in touch with us.


How much detail do you want included in the work plan?

The artist statement and work plan is the most important aspect of the application: this is your space to really sell us on your project! Save your purple prose for other grants and try to be as specific, clear and succinct as you can. Tell us about what your comics practice has been up to now, and describe the project you want to make if you were to win the Cupcake Award. Tell us the general plot and any themes that connect to your other work: we would like to see how the new project fits into your larger practice. It is helpful to describe production details such as a rough estimate of how many pages it might be, how you plan to print and bind the book, how big an edition you’d like to produce, etc. This helps us get a more holistic vision of your final project, which helps us understand how realistic it would be to finish the book by CAKE 2017. We really want to see your 300-page, 5-color hand-silkscreened, hand-bound opus, but we would worry about how realistic it would be to finish it by the next CAKE.

Can I write up a proposal for a project I have already printed and sold in small quantities somewhere else? The mentorship and free table are sweet deals!

Alas, no--we want to support the creation of something new in the world. However, if you have already started outlining or drawing a comic that isn’t complete, feel free to write up a pitch for that project for the Cupcake.

What qualifies as a minicomic?

We don’t want to limit your project by creating too strict a definition. Go big, go small! Be as ambitious or experimental or weird as you want! There are no limitations on size, page limits or production value when reviewing applications, but please keep in mind that the financial support for the project would only be $250 which would not go far to cover editioning a large project. Also, by accepting the award the winner agrees to finish the full book in time to debut at CAKE 2017 next June. Structurally the award is designed to fully fund a smaller project, but we would never disqualify a proposal just because it takes a different form than a photocopied, saddle-stitched mini. We love it all!

A friend of mine published a small run of a comic of mine under their micropress imprint, so I don’t qualify, right?

This is a sticky wicket! CAKE loves and supports micropresses and up-and-coming small presses, and the last thing we want to do is try to create a preferential boundary between big publishing houses and small/micropresses. The “no single-author publication” is our effort to try to disqualify people who already have had their first big, nationally distributed and widely reviewed book from the Cupcake pool of applicants. (Chris Ware, we love you, but don’t send in your application for your next photocopied mini!) If you self-identify as an “early career” comic artist and you think your creative practice would benefit from the boost of publicity and support that the Cupcake Award would provide, we would love to read your application.

Still have questions about the Cupcake Award? We're happy to answer them!

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