Putting together a showcase dedicated to small presses is not unlike operating a small press itself: Everything you can think of that needs to be done, you have to do yourself.
Artists Eroyn Franklin and Kelly Froh discovered that in 2011 when they launched the first Short Run Small Press Fest.
“It was sort of naive,” Froh recalls now. “We didn’t have any money. Every expense that came up, we would just split or come up with a way to make money at a bake sale to pay ourselves back. It was kind of off the cuff…. We really didn’t know if anybody was going to come.”
But like the hard work they’d already done independently as self-published creators, the results proved artistically satisfying. More than 800 people visited that first six-hour Short Run, held at Seattle’s Vera Project music enclave.
“We can really thank Seattle’s art community and literary community for taking a chance on us in 2011,” Froh says, “because we came out of nowhere, and nobody knew what our name meant or what we were doing.”
YOU CAN GO
For purposes of the festival “small press” often means really, really small … like one person, creating and selling books one after another. “Short run” is a publishing term for a limited print edition, in which only a relatively small number of a certain book are produced, and many of the participants in Short Run — writers, poets, comics artists, and designers — have created works with print runs as small as 50. These are not artists and writers who make a book and shop it around to publishers. They conceptualize it, put it together, and market and sell it themselves. The book itself might be a work of art, using collage or unorthodox printing methods.
Froh and Franklin have been in this world for years. Franklin got her start in 2007, eventually producing the graphic novels Detained and Another Glorious Day at the Nothing Factory. Froh’s ‘zines and semi-autobiographical mini-comics include The Cheapest S.O.B.s, Puke Stories and Beating Up Little Brother. Each piece was a solo labor of love.
“In my case, I make really short-run books, like maybe 50 copies of a book that I’m photocopying four blocks away from my house, and I’ll bring them home and collate them and staple them and all that,” Froh says. “You need to make decisions on how best to spend your time and how much money to spend on that project.”
Who: Short Run Small Press Fest
Mission: ”To strengthen and celebrate Seattle’s lauded small press community by curating events throughout the year that spotlight artists and self-publishers who lack exposure and provide them with helpful resources.”
On the Web: shortrun.org/
That budget-rate do-it-yourselfism is visible when visitors peruse the tables at Short Run, Froh says. “I think you’re going to see people that have black-and-white ‘zines that are maybe just folded. Maybe the staples (would have) put them over the budget.”
A move this year from the Vera Project to Washington Hall in Seattle’s Central District opens up the space for those tables — and there are more of them than in the debut year. Roughly 90 exhibitors displayed their wares in 2011; this year there are about 120. The reach has extended beyond Seattle and the Northwest too, pulling in local talents like comics artists Peter Bagge and Colleen Frakes as well as Alex Longstreth from the Center For Cartoon Studies in Vermont and British creator Sam Bell.
Janice Headley, an events promoter with Seattle’s venerable Fantagraphics Books who’s co-organizing this year’s Short Run with Franklin and Froh, said the festival seeks out exhibitors who’ve been little-seen in Seattle. For instance, at the Olympia Comics Festival last year the group recruited China Faith Star, a multimedia artist whose books layer images atop each other to new effect.
“I think that’s kind of what fuels Short Run — that experience of discovering new artists every year,” Headley said.
This year, with a grant from Humanities Washington, Short Run undertakes an evolution of sorts from page to stage. The grant helps fund Read/Write, a Nov. 29 interactive reading event at the Vera Project that precedes the Nov. 30 festival. Led in part by artists David Lasky and Greg Stump, the venture is designed to grant the event more engagement between authors and audience.
That performance dimension has become a necessary part of DIY creation, as Froh learned when she started doing her own public readings of her comics earlier this year.
“I realized that I was engaging with the audience on a more intimate level,” she says. ” … They were more apt to come and talk to me about it and maybe buy a book. Sitting behind a table with your books out, people who come by are looking at a lot of things. You really only get two seconds to engage with people when they’re just passing by, so I think performance is a great way for them to get to know you.”