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Chicago Playing Card Deck Crowns Obama, Daley, Ditka and Jordan City Kings

By Kyla Gardner | October 29, 2014 5:35am
 Chicago playing cards from Joe Mills.
Chicago Playing Cards
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CHICAGO — As local mapmaker and artist Joe Mills designed his latest project, he wrestled with the question: Who makes up the city's royalty?

The Kings of Chicago, he decided, are former Mayor Richard J. Daley, Michael Jordan, Mike Ditka and President Barack Obama — and their likenesses grace four of the 12 face cards in Mills' Chicago-themed playing card deck.

"I tried to pick people that I thought were not necessarily the most famous but maybe the most important in some ways," said Mills, a suburban teacher and Hyde Park resident.

That meant pulling from sports, politics, music and the social history of the city.

Kyla Gardner discusses Chicago royalty snubs:

For the city's queens, Mills crowned Oprah Winfrey, Jane Addams, former mayor Jane Byrne and singer-songwriter Chaka Khan.

 Joe Mills' latest Chicago neighborhood map is a Lincoln Square-Ravenswood mashup.
Putting Neighborhoods on the Map
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Gangster Al Capone, blues musician Muddy Waters, former Mayor Harold Washington and Harry Caray make up the jacks.

Mills said he passed up Michelle Obama because Barack was included, and left off former Mayor Richard M. Daley because of his father's inclusion. He overlooked his fondness for Kanye West to celebrate Muddy Waters' wider influence on music.

"You could have even made a case for [Bears founder] George Halas. ... I wish I could have included a famous White Sox player," Mills wrote on his website. "Harry Caray became  the great compromise because he did call games for the White Sox, even though he is more famously known on the North Side."

Mills said the cards — which are sold for $15 apiece here — were easier and faster to design than his intricate, screen-printed neighborhood maps, for which he's so far cataloged Ravenswood, Lincoln Park, and Wicker Park/Bucktown.

The artist modeled the card backs on the look of a Bicycle deck, with the city's skyline, flag stars, interstate signs, Picasso statue and "L" cars woven together in red.

"I wanted to make it in some ways unique and still have a classic look," Mills said.

He didn't want to create a novelty deck, but cards of "casino quality" that could be actually used. He also designed the box, which is the element of the deck he's most proud of.

"It probably seems odd, since it’s the thing you're most likely to not pay attention to," he said. "It makes it look very professional and kind of brings the whole thing together for me."

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