Seattle's Short Run Comix and Arts Festival Highlights the Handmade

A celebration of handmade, self-published art books, comics, zines and literary works from around the world
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Short Run festival founders Eroyn Franklin (left) and Kelly Froh at Fantagraphics: a $15,000 NEA grant and rising prestige

In our digital era, when electronic communication often takes the place of putting pen to paper, there’s an event that celebrates the latter. At the annual Short Run Comix & Art Festival, organized by founders and codirectors Eroyn Franklin and Kelly Froh, artists and authors from around the world meet to share their handmade, self-published art books, comics, zines and literary works.

“I believe our audience wants that special handmade thing that no one else is going to have,” says Froh. “We see a lot of joy from audience members who’ve come here with a friend or by word of mouth and say, ‘I had no idea people were still making books.’ There’s a wonder about books that we’ve really tapped into.”

Both important comic artists in their own right, the poised and bespectacled Franklin and Froh are enthusiastic champions of the art form of short-run literary works. The two came up with the idea for their event on the day they first met, in 2011 at the Olympia Comics Festival. “We had been tabling at these small festivals, and we asked ourselves, ‘Why doesn’t Seattle have something like this?’” Franklin says of that meeting. “Then, all of a sudden, it really clicked. If we want this thing to exist, we have to make it.”

Surprised by the success of their inaugural event in 2011, Froh and Franklin have continued to expand. This year’s fest attracted more than 270 exhibitors from all over the country and nine special international guests, whose work demonstrates the variety possible with this art form. For example, Ilan Manouach (Greece/Belgium) will bring excerpts of his book of laser-engraved plates for the visually impaired. The book is read via Manouach’s tactile vocabulary (think Braille) called Shapereader. Another guest, Hatem Imam (Lebanon), is a distinctive comic artist best known for being one of the founders and editors of Samandal, a trilingual comics magazine that came under attack by Lebanese government security officials after publishing work that officials found objectionable on religious grounds.

In conjunction with the festival, Short Run will publish Relay, its fourth annual anthology. This year, several poets and writers have been paired with artists and illustrators to create work each individual wouldn’t likely create on her or his own. Writer Willie Fitzgerald will collaborate with Argentine-Seattleite comic artist Fran López, while Bread Loaf and Jack Straw-honored poet Michelle Peñaloza will work with subversively childlike illustrator Andrew Lamb Schultz.

The work of some artists at the festival resists easy categorization. Straddling conventional literary and visual art genres, a book may have a compelling narrative or poetry, include beautiful illustrations and exist as a remarkable object of art in itself.

“There is a real focus on handmade books,” says Franklin. “While there will be some graphic novels you can buy in stores, most are books that people have made 10 of, so if you’re not there that day, you don’t get them ever.” She adds, “The attendee wants to connect directly with another human, and this affects the exhibiting artist quite a bit. The artist will be able to make a new book because that person gave them some bills. There is a real direct connection between the audience member and the artist here, and I think that’s crucial.”

As Short Run has grown in size, it has also grown in stature. Last December, the organization was awarded a $15,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to fund the annual festival and further expand its visiting artists and educational programming. Then, unexpectedly, Franklin and Froh were invited to put on a “Zine & Print Fair” at the June 7 opening of the Seattle Art Museum’s Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb exhibit. It was an exciting evening for museum patrons, who could experience work by contemporary artists—many from their own community—working in the same vein as these masters of the print.

In addition to November’s festival, Franklin and Froh put on a Short Run Summer School in August, hosting a series of classes for artists interested in making their own comics and zines. And last April, Short Run held its second annual, five-day Trailer Blaze Ladies Comics & Books Residency at The Sou’Wester Vintage Trailer & Lodge in windswept Seaview, an event that results in the humorous, poignant and feminist Trailer Blaze Zine.

They also have a fan in Larry Reid, manager of Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery. “I’ve known Eroyn and Kelly from Fantagraphics Bookstore even before they knew each other,” he says. “They were at the forefront of the handcrafted comics and zine revival in Seattle. It’s been rewarding to watch them emerge as a dynamic force.” Each year, Fantagraphics hosts an evening of art, performance and music with the featured guests of the festival, called Short Run Marathon.

 

“The name attempts to convey the tireless effort involved in producing the event as well as the dedication required to fashion a career in comics,” Reid says. “[It’s] nice to see Eroyn and Kelly have succeeded at both.” 

Now in its sixth year, the annual Short Run Comix & Art Festival takes place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, November 5 at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion. Admission is free. For more information, visit shortrun.org.

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