Comics Live: Short Run Small Press Festival

If there was any question whether or not small press publishing is alive and well in the Emerald City, Saturday’s Short Run small press festival cleared that up once and for all. The fest was a whirlwind education on what self-publishing can do, what comics are capable of and how many people in Seattle go totally bananas for this not-so-underground world of illustration, print-making and bookbinding badassery.

The festival took place over 6 ½ hours at the Vera Project at the west side of Seattle Center. Over a thousand people wormed their way through the labyrinthine corridors of vendors’ tables. Nearly every sightline lead to something worth examining—a handmade poster, a painstakingly detailed comic book, an accordion style mini-zine, a pile of free stickers. 100 vendors presented and sold their work on minutely detailed tabletop storefronts. Throughout the day they sat behind their displays socializing with visitors, answering questions about their work and bartering book for book and zine for zine with other artists.

The low budget/high traffic festival started last year when the festival’s organizers Kelly Froh and Eroyn Franklin dreamed up the idea to put on an inclusive alternative to the expensive, larger and more corporate comics conventions. Drawing both lauded artists as well as those who rely solely on black and white Kinko’s copiers to print their zines; Short Run presents a broad scope of what’s happening in comics and small presses in Seattle and around the country.

Seasoned illustrators such as Peter Bagge, author of the Hate series, and Theo Ellsworth, artist of all beasts mythical, rounded out some of the better-known exhibitors. Young Seattle artist Jess Rees’ Field Guide to North American Feathers, a book with 27 drawings of real bird feathers was shown beside her 7-foot-long scientific mini-zine Distance From Earth. Small press Alice Blue presented a number of limited edition chapbooks and anthologies including Laked, Fielded, Blanked by poet Brooklyn Copeland. A piece of art on its own, the book’s cover was hand embroidered and the internal pages printed on 100 percent linen.

Near the main entrance of the Vera Project 10-year-old comics artist Judah Drury sold his zines Angry Nerds and In the House of Our Lord, a series of drawings done in church by Drury, his family and a few friends.

While the vendors’ cargo was the main attraction, the festival also included free haircuts, a stage covered in butcher paper for the public to wreak havoc on with pens and pencils, workshops, a live silk screening studio, screenings of local animation and a fully stocked bake sale to up the spirits of participants overwhelmed by the mass of visual stimulation.

In conjunction with the festival Ms. Franklin and Ms. Froh also curated Handbound, an exhibition running this month at SOIL gallery in Pioneer Square. The exhibition shows work from 20 Short Run artists, presented in individual shrines including items integral to each artist’s process—in Jess Rees’ shrine, a feather sculpture, in Ms. Froh’s a pile of vintage wrestling magazines.

The SOIL show also sheds light on the grueling process that each artist endures to make a single page—whole notebooks of sketches, individual pages covered in variable ink strokes. While Short Run overwhelmed with color, shapes and sounds of interaction, the SOIL show allows you to sink into the work, and slowly appreciate every meticulous line. 

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