When Short Run executive director Kelly Froh handed me a copy of Decade: 10 Years of Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, I was delighted at the heft of the locally conceived, locally designed, and locally made book. Clocking in at just over 130 pages, Decade captures the last ten years of Seattle's beloved independent comics festival in what feels like a million little illustrations, photos, and poignant vignettes.
"I thought, well, what is really at the heart of what we celebrate at Short Run?" said Froh over a cup of coffee, reflecting on her decision to make a book commemorating the festival. "Yes, it's community and bringing, like, shy nerds out from all corners of the earth. But, two, it's books, it's paper, it's drawing and sitting down at your work table, making something, writing something."
This Saturday, Short Run will host a book release party at Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery from 5 to 8 pm. There, viewers can snatch up a copy of Decade and some prints. There will also be an art show (up until October 7) as well as a glass case full of old Short Run festival posters, buttons, zines, set lists, custom-made chocolate bar wrappers, and other ephemera from over the years. The event will present an ample opportunity to immerse yourself in the work of some of Seattle's best comic artists.
Founded in 2011, Short Run Comix & Art Festival is an annual comic con that defies comic con stereotypes. There are no costumes (though you could dress up if you really want to), no superheroes, and no dingy, windowless convention center with a bunch of dudes giving you the death stare.
Rather, Short Run emphasizes the handmade and the local. They aim for diversity in artists and in genres, and for the past five years they've held the event in the bright and airy Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center. And it's not just a festival. Before the pandemic, Short Run hosted a yearly residency for women and non-binary comic artists called Trailer Blaze, organized comic workshops for kids and adults, ran a micropress, and threw tons of weird parties.
2020 was meant to be the far-reaching fest's 10th anniversary, but COVID-19 exploded any possibility of the crowded and chaotic kind of gathering Short Run is known for. Froh resisted the idea of taking the fest online or modifying the event to fit within the ever-changing COVID-safe guidelines. After all, part of the thrill of the fest is running into people or coming across vendors you might not have known about.
"We are an indoor festival that is really only truly successful when it's completely packed," said Froh. "That's part of the experience of it is this overwhelming, really fast seven hours of a small circus. And I feel like if it can't be that circus, if it's just going to be spread out tents and 50 people—that's just not us."
Originally conceived by Froh as a small zine, Decade quickly grew into a much bigger endeavor. Froh had organized thousands of photos that she wanted included in the book from previous fests and events into Short Run's still active Flickr account.
Working with Paper Press Punch co-director and Short Run advisory board member Jessica Hoffman, the pair meticulously culled photos for the book and organized them by year and event. In a phone interview, Hoffman told me that, as Decade's designer, she found it crucial to highlight how expansive Short Run has become.
“Short Run has built this really wonderful community, not just around comics but all different kinds of books: poetry books, zines, art books,” said Hoffman. “There's this really big love of book culture community that exists in Seattle.”
Decade is most accurately described as a sort of yearbook of the Seattle comics scene over the past several years as documented at the Short Run festival and at satellite events. The book plays with yearbook photo idea on the first and last pages, which are stacked with photo portraits of many artists over the years. When I first opened Decade I found myself searching for familiar faces, remembering what is was like to see these unmasked faces all together IRL.
What elevates the book is the care with which art, photo, and text are curated together. The background illustrations aren't stock images but rather commissioned pieces from artists who have worked with Short Run in the past, such as Lauren Armstrong, Elaine Lin, and Thomas Van Deusen. Throughout, you can spot other tiny commissioned illustrations from local artists depicting the experience of tabling at Short Run. My favorites are glimpses of Julia K.'s weird little PP Boy, who pops up a couple of times in the book.
All these images and drawings surround heartfelt text from artists about what made Short Run special to them, as well as short essays by Froh, board chair Mita Mahato, board member Megan Kelso, and Fantagraphics curator Larry Reid. The guts of the book are then sandwiched between front and back covers designed by Seattle-based artists Eroyn Franklin and Darin Shuler, which both depict the joy and chaos of attending an in-person fest. It's like a little festival you can hold in your hands.
While the people who get the most out of Decade might be more involved or familiar with Seattle's talented comic scene, one of the most important aspects of the book is how it serves as a physical archive of an era of that scene.
Froh and Hoffman included almost every poster Short Run has ever made as well as the artists who made them, extensively documented the residents from their Trailer Blaze residency, and included photographs from nearly every event they've hosted. The back of the book lists every single contributing artist and author from their various art shows, anthologies, and programming. If you've ever been curious about the Seattle comic scene, Decade has enough to keep you occupied.
Looking to the future, the next in-person Short Run festival is still uncertain. Froh canceled the 2021 edition of the festival as the Delta surge and mask mandates hampered any desire to be in a huge crowded space. Though Short Run's official IRL 10th edition is apparently grandfathered into the Fisher Pavilion's calendar, actually snagging a date with all of the past year-and-half's worth of rescheduled events might prove difficult.
Froh said the organization is "holding out for something bigger when comic artists across the city and globe can come together and share all the goofy and profound work they made during quarantine." Waiting, at this juncture, is still better than resorting to yet another screen.
In the meantime, after the release of Decade, Froh said she will turn her focus to a catalog featuring all the comic artists who published books during the pandemic but had no way to market themselves. Using newsprint paper—"like the Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer," said Froh—the Short Run artist catalog will have a picture of the released book, a blurb about the book, and a way to order it directly from the artist. Froh hopes to send these freebies to comic stores, DIY spaces, and indie bookstores across the country as a way to support struggling comic artists.
Still, the pressure is on to get back to the thrill of the in-person version of Short Run's annual get-together that draws out local, national, and international artists to meet and hang out in the same space for one brief, glorious day.
"It's a quest for me at this point," joked Froh. "How am I going to make the 10th annual festival happen?" Fingers crossed she'll find a way.
Decade: 10 Years of Short Run Comix & Arts Festival's book release party at Fantagraphics goes does this Saturday, from 5-8 PM. Can't make it? Snag the book here.