Street gangs in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other urban centers have various ways of identifying (or shall we say, branding?) themselves—think bandanas, hoodies, jackets, etc. As the book Compliments of Chicagohoodz: Chicago Street Gang Art & Culture (Feral House) shows, there are uniquely Chicago ways of marking turf and being unified with a group.
In his foreword to the book, Anthony Haden-Guest reveals a particular form of Windy City street literature: compliment cards. “These began as a parodic borrowing from the business cards which are routinely handed out at any get-together of Chicago’s business culture. They were sometimes handwritten buy usually printed,” which afforded them a standard look and size. “In the hands of the gangbangers the cards crackle with inventive wordplay, including the names of the club handing out the card, and listing the gang members.”
There is a common visual language that includes skulls, daggers, top hats and hearts, alongside Playboy bunnies, dice, poker hands, crowns, hooded men, broken stars and devil’s pitchforks. The cards were a kind of weapon: Gangs would bundle them up with a rubber band and go to a rival’s neighborhood and toss the card-grenade onto their corner.
The generous collection of faded photographs of gang members in varsity gear, graffiti—which Haden-Guest claims came to Chicago before New York—and patches, comes from the archive of Jinx O’Connor, “a Chicagoan who has been looking at the gangs up close since late adolescence.”
Haden-Guest notes that “like so much else the use of compliment cards has been more or less wiped out by the internet, and they have ascended into the afterlife of collectibles.” Here are some that Jinx has collected in this decidedly haunting book about subculture and alt-culture.
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