The fragmentation of Seattle’s comix community has always been typical of the fragmentation of all the arts in Seattle, with the occasional exception of music. As early as 1992, I was complaining about this in my own zine, Free Forum and have continued to complain about it in every zine I have published, all the way through the past two decades. In spite of Seattle’s legendary status as a haven for alternative comix and cartoonists, the city has lacked a book fair or arts event to pull together all its talented people.
Then along came the Short Run Small Press Fest last year.
Finally, Seattle had a real small press show for the first time last November. It was a marvelous weekend and no one seemed to realize how necessary Short Run was until it came along. Co-founder Martine Workman stated the aim of the festival elegantly in an interview with Fantagraphics:
I always wanted to attend an event that welcomed all sorts of makers and small publishers of comics, writing, poetry, zines, and artist books.
I have shared that desire myself. I still do. Seattle Star readers are already aware how much I dislike the typical comic book “conventions” where comix are an afterthought (if a thought at all) in the corporate quest to shill the idea of a saleable “pop culture” to a gaggle of Americans far more interested in their own adolescence than they are in comix. Comix does not need more flea markets or more spectacle; it needs more artists and stronger ties between artists and their readers. Pimping the notion of comics as nothing more than pop culture artifacts is diametrically opposed to belief in a strong, visible, active, creative community.
This is precisely the function Short Run fulfills. Short Run is everything that the glossy and overhyped Emerald City Comic-Con, for instance, is not. Short Run concentrates not on irrelevant ancillary merchandising gimmicks and costume contests but upon the art and craft of comix, and the forging of bonds between artists and between readers.
For awhile earlier this year I wondered whether or not it could possibly last. Back in March I asked around and no one seemed to be certain whether there would be a second festival. Fortunately for Seattleites, founders Kelly Froh and Eroyn Franklin pulled it all together with tremendous support from Seattle’s local cartoonists and galleries and a helpful Group Arts grant from 4Culture–not to mention constant inquiries from supportive fans and local businesses.
The list of artists and exhibitors for this year’s fest is exceptional:
Amanda Laughtland Teeny Tiny Press
Amber Nelson The Alice Blue Review
APRIL (Authors, Publishers, & Readers of Independent Literature)
Aron Nels Steinke Big Plans
Bobby Mono’s Crappy Comics
Brenda Kaslow Lucky Rabbit Press
Charlie Daugherty Love Life Distro and Faulty Press
Chelsea Baker Chelsea the Baker
Chris Cilla Hambrgr House
Colleen Borst Mend My Dress Press
Colleen Frakes Tragic Relief
Corey Lewis Hermit Club
Darin Shuler Castle and Wood and Dee Shu Comix
David Drury & Judah Drury
Dawn Cerny & DW Burnam Dangerous Deadness
Erin Tanner Love Life Distro and Faulty Press
Fiona Avocado Bad Boy Image
Healthy Bunch Art Collective
Heather Jacobs Big Fiction
Ian Sundahl & Fran Victor
Jacob Ferguson Hermit Club
James the Stanton Gnartoons
Jane Applesauce Love Life Distro and Faulty Press
Jason Fischer Studio JFISH
Jason T. Miles Profanity Hill
Jean Gaudin Snail Spit Press
Karissa Sakumoto Snakebomb Comix
Lucy Morehouse Bell Sound
Lynda Sherman Bremelo Press
Mandolin Brassaw Paper Boat Studios
Marc Palm Hole Show Comix
Maré Odomo Hermit Club
Margaret Ashford-Trotter Little Chemistry
Max Clotfelter Hole Show Comix
Michael Dowers Brownfield Press and Starhead Comix
Mjae Light Strider Books
Neely Bat Chestnut Mend My Dress Press
Noah Van Sciver
Nicole Georges Invincible Summer
Patrick Keck Sinus Problem Comics
Revival House Press
Robin Wouterra-Bogert Studio JFISH
Suzette Smith Team Suzette
Tim Basaraba TBASA
Tim Goodyear Teenage Dinosaur
Tim Root Hambrgr House
Tom Van Deusen
ZAPP (Zine Archive & Publishing Project)
Notably absent is a table for the folks at Fantagraphics Books, which is, I think, a great pity. Fantagraphics casts an immense shadow over the entire world of alternative comix but an even greater shadow over Seattle’s comix artists. Not having the largest publisher of alternative comix in town represented at a small press festival would seem to send the wrong message, and can only be a great loss–especially to fairly new fans of comix who might otherwise discover how strong the links are between all the small press and the somewhat larger press of Fantagraphics. I should like to see the folks at Fantagraphics represent at the next Short Run and, perhaps, set a friendly example for the upcoming artists.
Nevertheless, there is still much else to see. Starting on November 1st, in fact, is a Short Run-associated art opening at Soil Gallery. Handbound features Short Run exhibiting artists Dawn Cerny, DW Burnam, Blair Wilson, Aidan Fitzgerald, Tim Root, Darin Shuler, Theo Ellsworth, Chris Cilla, Sam Alden, Max Clotfelter, Julia Gfrorer, Tory Franklin, and more in a combination of original art, sketches, ephemera and books. This exhibit runs through December 1st, so one can explore it even more after acquainting oneself with all the artists themselves at the festival.
November 2nd features two events. The first is the Seattle release of Noah Van Sciver’s new graphic novel about young Abraham Lincoln, The Hypo as well as David Lasky’s long-promised comix biography of The Carter Family, Don’t Forget This Song at the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery. Both artists will be there to sign books and display pages of their artwork in the gallery.
The second event of the day is a release party and art show for the fourth and latest issue of The Intruder comix tabloid at the One Night Stand Gallery next door to Fantagraphics. The Intruder artists are a fabulous bunch and their last release party for the third issue was a complete blast. I highly recommend this.
Then Saturday the 3rd brings the Short Run Small Press Fest itself to the Vera Project at the Seattle Center. Not just a book fair with over one hundred artists, Short Run also features other bits of programming for entertainment, from experimental local animation from SEAT, Reel Grrls, David Nixon (whom Jose Amador interviewed earlier this year for The Star), Andy Arkley, Julie Alpert, and other independent animators, to a “Circumtext” event in which people are invited to read texts that they themselves did not write, especially pieces that are not already recognized for their literary quality–dictionaries, instruction manuals, to-do lists, internet commentary, latrinalia, random generators, transcripts of court proceedings, newscasts, fine print, spam, et cetera–and even to an ongoing bake sale to help fund the festival with goods by Macrina, Mighty O Donuts and many others. There is much more programming throughout the day, so be sure to check their programming schedule.
While it is certainly true that Seattleites are literate, intelligent and diverse in their interests, the fact remains that they often do not remember to act like it. These things are taken for granted, and the wonderful artists, too, who contribute so much of this literacy, intelligence and diversity to the city are also taken for granted. Events like Short Run serve to remind Seattleites of the city’s cultural richness. They serve also to remind us never to take such things for granted because creativity and culture are only valuable when they are something other than a mere backdrop; they are fragile things and they must be a vital part of the way Seattleites live if they are to survive. I wish the best for Short Run’s survival well into the next decade and beyond.