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CR Newsmakers Interview: Kelly Froh, Eroyn Franklin
posted November 2, 2012

imageEroyn Franklin and Kelly Froh are the co-organizers of Short Run, Seattle's entry into the mini-explosion of small-press, arts-comics friendly festivals sprouting up in all of the cities in North America with that kind of scene. They were nice enough to take some time out of their super-busy schedule right before Saturday's show to answer a few questions. I'm grateful to Jacq Cohen for arranging access, and wish Froh and Franklin the best of luck with the second edition of their well-liked show. -- Tom Spurgeon


TOM SPURGEON: Is there a story about how you guys started the show? It's not exactly an easy thing to start a show like yours from scratch. Has it been about what you've expected?

KELLY FROH: Short Run was conceived by Martine Workman, Jenny Gialenes, Eroyn Franklin, and myself last year -- we all had experience as exhibitors at alternative press events in other cities and decided that Seattle needed one of its own. It seemed like the right time, too, with so much happening in comics and small press in general. We took what we thought to be the best parts of our combined experiences and came up with a one-day, curated festival at a very accessible venue, and pledged to always be free to the public.

We were very happy and very relieved that we pulled it off last year, and we are excited to do it again. Because of large life changes, it's just me and Eroyn this year, so it's been pretty intense putting this festival together, and even expanding it, with less people behind the scenes.

SPURGEON: It seems odd to me that there hasn't been a show of this type in Seattle for years and years given the number of cartoonists there and the tradition of handmade and small press art. Do you have any insight as to why there was a void that you've been able to fill?

EROYN FRANKLIN: After having put Short Run together, we see how much work, dedication, outreach, and organization must go into a project like this and it makes a little more sense. Seattle has large comic-cons which have money to support the festival and indy literature festivals which operate, like us, on volunteered hours and passion but not necessarily marketing skills or cohesive vision. It's not always intuitive for us, but what we lack in business know how we compensate for in hard work.

SPURGEON: I hate to say this, because I'm afraid you might take it the wrong way, but I think of all the shows I cover at Comics Reporter, yours is the most prominent where I probably couldn't have named the organizers if asked during the year. I might think of Jason T. Miles, for instance, before you two, or Martine or Jenny. Is that part of your organizational style, to kind of stay in the background? Are you comfortable doing press like this and similar things?

FROH: Well, we're nobodies! [Spurgeon laughs] We're artists, we've self-published books, received grants, been in art shows, but we are not well-known. That's fine with us, because we are the type of people that Short Run is for -- artists without much visibility. Self-publishing your own work is great because you are in complete control, but it's nearly impossible to get the exposure that you would if you had a publisher/distributor mailing your books all over the world.

We very recently starting teaching workshops, doing public lectures and readings, interviews in print and on camera. We are nervous, always nervous, but are trying to overcome these fears, because we never regret it when we accept these opportunities. Also, even if I personally want to shy away, I am made stronger thinking, "I have to do it for Short Run!"

SPURGEON: How do you think the show is perceived locally? Is it on its way to becoming a well-known thing, have artists and fans of art there been quick to embrace it, do you think?

FRANKLIN: Paul Constant from The Stranger declared us a new Seattle institution. It would have been hard to say no after that. We have gotten amazing feedback from people -- that people couldn't stop smiling the whole day, that it was very lucrative for artists, and the audience was so excited to see stuff that they couldn't find in any store. The only complaint we've heard was that they were too crowded last year. We've worked hard this year to accommodate the audience.

SPURGEON: Is there any one thing that you wanted to see happen this year based on the show's past performance? Is there a way you'd like to see the show develop? Do you have goals year to year?

FRANKLIN: This year we definitely wanted to add more programming-performances, live silkscreening, and an intensely curated art show. We have a lot of big ideas that we are constantly trying to reign in. We tend to go for a lot of them despite how much time and energy they take.

We applied for and were awarded a Storefront Seattle space this year and decided to postpone it to early next year so we could really focus on it and make it great. It will be a combination of a blanket fort, a treehouse and a bookstore that creates a fun way to explore the world of small press.

SPURGEON: Do you have idea of what you'd like the show to be five years from now? Is that even something you think about?

FRANKLIN: Yes, we think about it a lot!! We are setting aside some time after the fest to start solidifying some of our plans, so check back with us in December. We are mostly trying to figure out ways to be sustainable and grow in ways that promote small press. Some ideas we've tossed around are becoming a legitimate non-profit (not just a no-profit model!), producing anthologies, and becoming the lo-fi scrappy version of Printed Matter in New York which has an art book fair, educational programs, distribution and a variety of ways to get books in hands.

SPURGEON: There was a much ballyhooed small-press comics show in Portland a couple of weeks ago… do you pay attention to other shows, are there shows that are a particular inspiration? Can you point to something you were inspired to do or to add because another show had it or did well with it?

FROH: We are inspired by every show we go to, and we try to go to as many as possible. When creating Short Run, we decided that it needed to be one-day-only like the Olympia Comics Fest, and that it needed to be curated like The Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival, and we knew we didn't want programming that included, "How to Make a Zine" because that's boring and anyone can fold a piece of paper in half. The Projects in Portland inspired us to take our original idea for an interactive drawing game into an even larger arena -- we are papering an entire area so attendees can draw on every surface around them.

SPURGEON: I know people that are flying in for the event, which seems part of this whole focused attention on shows by and for the handmade comics and small press communities. You mentioned this earlier in terms of timing... do you feel like you're part of a wider trend, a wider acceptance of the importance and utility of putting on shows like this? Is there any downside to being part of a trend like that?

FROH: When we developed this festival, it was for Seattle, and for the artists here, but we quickly realized that we wanted artists from Portland, and Vancouver, and Bellingham, and that we'd really love it if a certain comic artist from South Beloit, Illinois would come.

FRANKLIN: We have the freedom to have the festival appear exactly as we want it. We don’t have to cater to anyone's idea of what we should be, so the feeling of the show is different than large festivals/cons. There are a lot of small festivals cropping up and exciting audiences because there is such a need to break away from stale systems and really focus on independent book makers. Adding an "indy" section to a con is no longer good enough when you can have an entire festival dedicated to truly alternative press. I guess the downside is there's no money for all the hard work and we can't fly in artists from around the world to participate.

SPURGEON: Is there any sort of a generational divide in the scene that's represented at Short Run? I notice that people like Dave Lasky and Pat Moriarty are supportive, but reading your exhibitor list it also seems like a lot of younger folks are in attendance. How does your audience skew?

FRANKLIN: We definitely want to support emerging artists and because of that a lot of them are younger. We also want to showcase work by the legends of the underground and hopefully create a place where mentoring and friendships grow. If the work is good, we want to show it off, regardless of if you are a well-known artist or a ten-year-old kid. People in their 20s-30s make up the bulk of our audience, but we also have kids and octogenarians.

SPURGEON: Can you name one or two people that are supposed to be in attendance that each of you wants to visit yourself?

FROH: I’m not being PC when I say that I want to see everyone, because we curated this show, every table is tight with awesome artists. Someone who we don't personally know, and who checks his email about once every six months and who we are not sure will even show up is an artist from Sidney, BC named Jean Gaudin. I can't wait to meet the mysterious Jean Gaudin!

FRANKLIN: I am incredibly excited to meet Judah Drury, a ten-year-old kid who will be tabling with some of my favorite Seattle artists Dawn Cerny and DW Burnam. Also Big Fiction, Fiona Avocado, Hermit Club, Jim Blanchard, Ong Ong, Reid Psaltis, Traci Eggleston, Fictilis... is that two yet?