I picked up some fine comics at Seattle’s Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. Short Run is one in a growing number of comic arts festivals in recent years in the spirit of the Small Press Expo (SPX) which was created in 1994 to promote artists and publishers who produce independent comics. The prime objective of SPX, and other comic arts festivals, is its main annual event, a place to showcase artists, writers and publishers primarily of comic art in its various forms to the general public. We are dealing here with a decidedly small demographic but a very important one. Short Run organizers Eroyn Franklin and Kelly Froh have done an admirable job of putting together a comic arts festival that resonates with this niche audience. They have found the big in the small.
Short Run Comix Fest 2016
This year’s Short Run at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center saw a steady flow of attendees. You could clearly see an impassioned interest for the hand-made. In spite of our jittery digital world, it seems that a lot of people are attracted to something more basic, something stapled or stitched together that’s printed on paper. And for the actual participants, the various writers, artists, and cartoonists at their tables, the sense of community alone is quite gratifying.
Here are a few nibbles of observations in no particular order. It was nice to stop by and chat with cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. He tells me that he’s thinking about having a new book out in the next year or so. Pat Moriarity has some similar plans. He sees a new book in the future as well as an animated treat down the line. I’ll see about letting folks know about it when it comes out. Pat, by the way, has created some of the most gorgeous prints through the Vera Project press. Noel Franklin has had quite a good year as she has the distinction of having won all three major grants in Seattle. Always good to see Vanessa Davis and Trevor Alixopulos. I had to pick up the new edition of Spaniel Rage, which won’t officially be out until February, from Drawn & Quarterly! Megan Kelso recently created a special collaboration with her 10-year-old daughter, Virginia, which is a lot of fun. While Short Run fell right on Halloween last year, this year it fell within the specter of the most crazed presidential election ever. I asked cartoonist and humorist extraordinaire Greg Stump for his thoughts. He said it felt like a perpetual loop where we never reach the actual day of the election as in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Betty Turbo’s Portrait Machine!
And, by the way, if you did go to Short Run, did you get your face drawn at Betty Turbo’s Portrait Machine? Looks like a hoot. Visit Betty Turbo right here.
Short Run promo by Vanessa Davis
We’ll take a closer look at some of the comics I picked up this Saturday in the next few days. Some have a direct connection to Short Run and some don’t. In the end, it’s all about comics with that special touch. Call them comix, or call them alt-comics. They may appear at this or that comic arts fest or only online or even in an actual comic book shop. Whatever route you need to take, seek them out. And, if you’re in Seattle, be sure to visit Short Run right here.
Image Comics presents DIY for a new generations of makers in HOWTOONS: TOOLS OF MASS CONSTRUCTION. Kids build a world of fun, comic-book-style, with this 360-page book of discovery. Celine and Tucker, the brother-and-sister heroes of HOWTOONS, are kids who see the potential for play everywhere. When their mother challenges them to make something other than trouble, their adventure begins in an adventure-DIY graphic novel from Image Comics. It arrives in comic book stores on July 23 and bookstores on August 5.
HOWTOONS will be getting a moment in the spotlight at the first-ever White House Maker Faire on June 18, hosted by President Obama, where co-creator Saul Griffith will be a guest. Griffith will be presenting HOWTOONS at the event, which “will feature Makers, innovators, and entrepreneurs of all ages who are using cutting-edge tools to bring their ideas to life.”
J.T. Yost is a very talented cartoonist who recently put together a unique comics anthology about food and eating, “Digestate.” He is a down-to-earth guy concerned with just making good work. Yost is a fine example of the patient artist exploring the process of making art. In his series, “Losers Weepers,” he takes found bits of notes and letters and combines them into a comics narrative. In our interview, J.T. confides that it’s just not as easy now to find written bits of things. However, his series continues at least for one more chapter. You can read a review here. “Digestate” grew out of a similar natural process. J.T. says that the idea for the anthology began with the fact that he’s vegan and he began to realize there are a lot of other vegan cartoonists, “a subculture within a subculture.”
Something Big by Victor Kerlow
Blammo #7 by Noah Van Sciver
J.T. runs his own micro-publishing house and distributor, Birdcage Bottom Books, which you can visit here. You can find, “Digestate,” other works by J.T. Yost, as well as other exciting comics talent like Victor Kerlow, a regular contributor to “The New Yorker,” and Noah Van Sciver, the author of the highly acclaimed debut graphic novel, “The Hypo.” And you can check out J.T. Yost’s professional site here.
In this interview, we talk about the comics anthology, “Digestate,” which you can read a review of here. And we talk a bit about Alex Robinson’s contribution dealing with his eating disorder. You can read the recent Comics Grinder interview with Alex here. J.T. talks about the Kickstarter campaign for “Digestate,” his feelings about living in NYC, and comics in general.
CI VEDIAMO by Hazel Newlevant
Towards the end of our interview, we talked about the future of comics which inevitably led to the great print verus digital debate. J.T. spoke to his love of hand-made mini-comics that make their unique case for print. He then mentioned a favorite cartoonist, Hazel Newlevant, who can be found at Birdcage Bottom Books. Her work incorporates overlays and die cuts which can only be achieved through print. Her mini-comic, "Ci Vediamo," is printed on vellum which allows for images to be created when one page is layed over another. Viva print!
You can listen to the Comics Grinder podcast interview with J.T. Yost here:
“Losers Weepers #3” is a continuation of a ongoing narrative that is fueled by the detritus that floats in and out of our lives. Even with social media dominating communication and life in general, people still make notes, print flyers, and even write letters. J.T. Yost is there to snag them from a quick death and immortalize their contents in his comics.
“Learn Spanish! It’s to easy and funy.” The flyer’s announcement is followed by a name and phone number. Apparently, someone hopes to get paid for teaching Spanish but is off the mark. From an artist’s viewpoint, the message is tragic, hilarious, and fascinating. “It’s to easy and funy.” How did so much get lost in translation? Yost found that notice posted on the communal bulletin board at Utrecht Art Supply in the East Village, NYC. He conjured up art from it: a tongue-in-cheek, yet sympathetic, work of fiction. Our story begins with Álvaro, who after being harassed at the print shop, goes about posting his flyers.
Álvaro learns from the local grocer that his mother needs to be bailed out of jail. When he gets home, he receives a letter, the next found art in this story, that alerts him to his wife’s old flame in prison. It’s all downhill from there. Yost is in tune with his characters. He has a way of depicting the chilling mix of fright and despair from down-and-out city dwellers.
The comic ends with one last beauty of found art that neatly shoves the knife deeper into the wound. It would be interesting to add even more found items and have them interact even deeper with his comics narrative. That said, Yost has brought to life a very authentic world that he can keep building upon.
“Loser Weepers #3″ is a 36-page 7″ x 7.25” mini-comic, priced at $5, and available at Birdcage Bottom Books.