Life on the festival circuit has its pros and cons but getting to visit new cities is definitely one of the perks. I got into Seattle (from Minneapolis) about 7:30pm on Friday. Short Run was the very next day. Factoring in travel time to the city from the airport (about an hour via light rail and a short cab ride), attending the 6-9 pm pre-party at Fantagraphics wasn’t going to work out. I stayed at the Silver Cloud Hotel on Broadway, which is really nice: it has less of that corporate/chain feel of most hotels, and my room was big and comfortable. The place seemed pretty quiet, unlike the controlled bedlam of the Marriott Bethesda at SPX-time. I wondered how many people exhibiting at Short Run were actually staying here other than me.
After settling in I felt like exploring just a little, and was peckish to boot, so off I went, up Broadway to Pike Street, past all the hipsters and stoners and various groovy younger people, past gay bars, restaurants and teeming nightlife in general, in search of food. One of the show’s organizers, Kelly Froh, had recommended Big Mario’s. Like a homing pigeon I zeroed in on it with no trouble, and proceeded to snarf down a big ol’ slice, right there on the street outside.
It was a very chilly night and I was a bit tired, so properly sated, I circled slowly back to the hotel, trying to take in all the Seattle-ness. A nightcap seemed entirely apropos so I sat in the hotel bar – Jimmy’s on Broadway. For some reason “Jimmy’s on Broadway!” (you should say it like that, with an exclamation point) is hilarious to me. It sounds like an old-school gay bar/piano sing-along joint, the kind that barely exists anymore. Anyway, I sat there for a little while, contentedly nursing a glass of red wine, wondering what tomorrow might be like.
I love hotel bars: you can listen in on the conversations of others, or just sit and daydream and luxuriate in the fact that you get to sit and have a drink in another city, a total stranger. Hotel bars kind of take you out of yourself. They’re romantic. I took a picture of my glass of wine and sent it to my husband– you know, a digital toast – and then to my pal and tabling partner tomorrow, MariNaomi, who was understandably pooped after her reading at the Fantagraphics event, and could not join me. She texted back a photo of her cocktail in progress, which kind of reminds me why we two make good tabling partners.
It’s a Short Walk to Short Run
Saturday was a beautiful, sunny autumn day, with nary a trace of the cold rain Seattle is so famous for. I was not blessed with a good sense of direction, but I got to the splendidly aged, slightly-dessicated-in-a-good-way Washington Hall without too much trouble, via a stroll through the picturesque University of Seattle Campus. The first person I ran into inside the hall was Kelly Froh. Big hugs and warm greetings all around: “Kelly Froh!” “Rob Kirby!” It’s always nice to finally meet your comics pals. She directed me up the stairs to my table and I started the arduous process of setting up.
I hate setting up. It makes me nervous. There are so many options, so many different ways to go! I’d make a terrible window dresser. But what makes me feel better is that everyone I talk to about this feels the same way. I’ve learned to set up a practice display at home and take a photo of it for reference. A unique aspect of Short Run is that the tables are big – really wide and roomy. I’m used to having minimal space so I’d brought minimal stock and I actually had a little trouble filling in my half of the table! But better too much space than too little. I Tim-Gunned it and Made it Work.
If there’s one drawback to the layout for Short Run with those big tables it’s that there isn’t a lot of room behind the tables for exhibitors to stand/sit. It was very cramped and often hard to even get out to go pee, get coffee, snacks, etc. (Mari and I mostly just crawled under the table to exit). More than one person suggested that perhaps they could separate some of the tables, creating little passageways between them. I think that could work: it would make things more comfortable without eliminating any exhibitor spots. This was a one-day expo and the hall was packed with attendees from beginning to end.
Short People I mean Short Run People
Tabling for me is above all a social event – I don’t make a living through my comics so I can be a little more relaxed and less mercenary about the money thing than others (though perhaps I could stand to be a little more mercenary, but let’s not talk about that now). MariNaomi and I have been friends for several years now, having met at APE back in 2008. She’s great to table with. She brought an extra tablecloth (I hadn’t thought to bring one) and shared snacks with me. She helped me through a couple of Square mishaps: I kept swiping the card wrong before finally getting the hang of it. I hadn’t tabled since SPX last year and was a little rusty. She didn’t mind if took off to take photos and hobnob a little (like John Porcellino, Zan Christensen and other cartooning people I know, Mari doesn’t like to leave her table too much). What more can I say, she’s the best. Her new book, Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories (2D Cloud & Uncivilized Books), did brisk business all day long and yay, because it’s one of the finest books of the year and you should totally get it. And just because I’m biased doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to me on this.
Situated to our right was Nicole J. Georges, who seemed to be doing bang-up business all day long, and to our left was the very smart and very hilarious Rina Ayuyang, repping for her Yam Books outfit. Behind me was Jonathan Bell Wolfe, one of the sweetest cartoonists I know. Down the aisle a ways was Megan Kelso, a cartoonist whose work has always held a special place in my heart. She’s always been ahead of her time: back in the early-to-mid nineties her work regularly utilized fantasy tropes to explore personal and social issues, in an era when autobio largely ruled the day. I believe she’s a forerunner to younger artists like Colleen Frakes and Sophie Goldstein. I hadn’t seen Megan in many years and was glad we got to spend some time together to talk.
Occasionally, I crawled out from behind table F29 to see how others were faring, to catch up with old friends, and actually meet for the first time some long-distance pals. First Stop was Tables C11-C13, where the mighty triad of Virginia Paine (of Sparkplug Books), Gabrielle (“Gabby”) Gamboa, and Janelle Hessig were situated. It was great to see Virginia and Gabby again and finally meet Janelle. She launched her publishing outfit Gimme Action this year and was promoting her first book, a collaboration between her and writer Brontz Purnell called The Cruising Diaries, which is filthy and hilarious. From what I hear, it’s been a real success. Janelle and Gabby told me they were roomies back in the 90’s, which makes total sense. One of my favorite comic books from that era is the all-girl anthology On Our Butts, which Gabby edited and Janelle contributed to. Meanwhile, Virginia was featuring Sparkplug’s latest book, Vortex by William Cardini (can’t wait to get my Kickstarter copy!) along with the rest of the Sparkplug oeuvre.
I also stopped by the table of Jason Martin and Leo Puppytime, who were hanging right next to John Porcellino. I hadn’t met Jason or Leo yet and what else can I say, they’re a great couple of guys. However, in my excitement I spilled a drop of coffee on the cover of Jason’s (excellent) new zine about musicians called Covers, which was embarrassing. But Leo came up with the bright idea of me signing the coffee spot. I was honored to hear that later on someone actually bought it. So that all worked out. But Cautionary Note: finish your coffee BEFORE browsing. Or be prepared to improvise.
John P. was doing well. He and I laughed ruefully about all the people who had warned us earlier that Seattle was like, you know, cold. He had driven up from Illinois through a big snowstorm, while I had been enduring a really early, bitterly cold winter in Minneapolis (about which I’m appropriately bitter). We Midwesterners know more than we want to about bad weather.
It’s interesting to me how few East coast people were in attendance. The reverse is true at SPX, which features a largely east coast crowd and far less Westerners. The cost of traveling from one end of the country to the other creates a weird separation between shows. It’s too bad it has to be that way but I suppose it’s inevitable.
Later on I went downstairs to visit the vivacious Jacq Cohen at the Fantagraphics table. She graciously gave me a review copy of Massive for an upcoming piece I’m doing on the queer comics of 2014. In the corner of the packed room was my buddy Annie Murphy, who I am always happy to see – hadn’t talked to her in-person since CAKE 2012. We exchanged warm hugs and exclaimed over today’s big turnout. She was having a great day, and that made me feel great too.
Unlike the crowd at TCAF, who lean heavily toward books over minicomics and floppies, the attendees today seemed to be equally interested in both “real” books and more handmade items. Every exhibitor I talked to had pretty good or very good sales, and everyone told me they were having a fine time. Even though it was at times overwhelmingly busy and crowded there was a friendly relaxed vibe in the air, a feeling of camaraderie. I also felt I did fairly well. I’d come in with low expectations: never having been to Seattle before, I didn’t have any real local audience. But I’d brought just two smallish boxes of stock and at the end of the day I left with just one half-filled box. My best customer was a long-time reader who sought me out to buy all my latest stuff; I seem to get at least one of these (cherished) fans at every show these days. This guy used to read my “Curbside” strip in a long-since defunct mid-90’s Seattle gay paper called Twist. It surprises me still that that decades-old stuff sticks with some people. A decent, if not huge, number of attendees bought stuff throughout the day. I sold all of the copies of QU33R I’d brought, as well as several copies each of my zines Tablegeddon, Pratfall, THREE, Snack Pak, and Ginger the Wonder Dog. I’ve never branched out into prints and other merch the way Nicole and Mari have, but it seems like a good avenue to explore for people who are committed to maximizing their tabling returns. There seems to be a lot of people out there looking for little prints, tee shirts, original art, tote bags, etc.
Lots of cool cartooning folks visited me at my table, among them Kevin Budnik, who gave me my copy of his successfully Kickstarted book Old Gum Wrappers and Grocery Lists; his tabling partner and publisher RJ Casey of Yeti Press; Mark Campos, Rob McMonigal (my “boss” at Panel Patter), Richard Krauss of the long-running website Midnight Fiction, and that saucy Becky Hawkins. I also talked a bit with Mr. Greg Means, the mastermind behind Tugboat Press. Happily, my dear friend Cathy Camper and her boyfriend Matty Monaghan drove all the way up from Portland for the day to check out the scene. Y’all should definitely get Cathy’s fantastic new book for younger readers Low Riders in Space (Chronicle Books). Yes, that is my second all-out plug for a good friend in this piece, but I am so very sincere in my enthusiasm for the book that it has to be contagious, right?
Out of everyone who came up to us, however, it was this little guy, named Mingus, who was the unquestionable star of the show. Mari, Yumi Sakugawa, and I were absolutely beside ourselves, bowled-over by this incredibly cute, soft & cuddly visitor. I wanted to steal him away and take him home to be my dog Ginger’s new BBF. I mean, just look at him:
At the end of the day, a contingent of We the Exhausted was loosed upon the streets. This was your classic, slightly chaotic post-con scenario, starring nine very tired, very hungry cartoonists in search of a place to eat. After some improvising we finally lighted on a Korean place that could accommodate all nine of us: me and Mari, Rina Ayuyang, William Cardini, Megan Kelso, Jason Martin, Virginia Paine, Leo Puppytime, & Yumi Sakugawa. At one point, Mari and Megan and I talked about (what else) cartooning, touching specifically on topics like anthologies of women cartoonists, the younger generation, the recent controversy over the 12-Step themed James Sturm comic on The Nib, future projects, and more. I kind of wish I could have transcribed it but too much of it remains Privileged Information (i.e. ranting).
After dinner we all went back to the hall for the beach-themed after party. Leo and Jason and I parked our stuff off to the side to watch, listen, and drink beer. Leo and I were into the classic disco DJ Domenica was spinning (Jason probably not so much), and later we all grooved to the rockin’ sounds of the first of two bands, The Shivas. I have to admit, I hadn’t expected much but they were really excellent. I have it on authority that there may have been some goofy on-camera shenanigans, featuring our contingent dancing about in leis and other beach-y accoutrements like happy fools, but I cannot confirm this until the damaging evidence surfaces online. Should that happen.
Near the end of our partying, we got a chance to say ‘Hey’ to Kelly again. She was all aglow with the great success of the day. Look at the smile on her face!
I also managed to collar her fabulously talented partner, Max Clotfelter, just to say hi and to confirm our pending email interview (stay tuned for that sometime hopefully soon on Panel Patter, folks). Say Hi to Max, everybody:
After The Shivas wrapped, we called it a night (and unfortunately missed La Luz’s set). Jason, Leo and I shared a car service back to our respective quarters. It had been a fun, fun day, but I was absolutely fried and needed to be in my quiet hotel room and not talk anymore. And sleeeeeep.
Sunday Short Run, in Short
Leo, Jason, and his lovely fiancé Michelle met me at “Jimmy’s on Broadway!” for breakfast around 8:30. We talked about Michelle and Jason’s upcoming nuptials, Leo’s brand-new relationship, the zodiac, California, and other things – only a little about comics. Jason told me this great anecdote about a pair of his old college roommates that he’s going to write up for me to illustrate. Yes, at least one little collaboration was born of this weekend! I was still a little hoarse after last night so it was nice to spend some quiet social time. Afterwards, I checked out of the hotel and my pal David Kelly (aka DK), picked me up. We went to the special free screening of Dan Stafford’s documentary about John Porcellino, Root Hog or Die, at the beautiful old Central Cinema.
Among the crowd of cartoonists attending the screening were all three of the amazing Short Run co-organizers, Janice Headley, Eroyn Franklin, and Kelly. I had contributed to the Kickstarter for Root Hog and own the DVD, but I hadn’t watched it yet. I’m glad I waited, as there couldn’t have been a better crowd to see it with. I was moved and inspired by the film. Afterward John P. briefly answered a few questions from the audience and it struck me what a great raconteur he is. He had us laughing out loud with the mordant tale of his best-ever job, which involved brutally destroying a bunch of collector dolls (no kidding). John P., if you’re reading this you really might want to draw that up into a comic.
Before DK and I left we got a chance to talk a bit more with Mark Campos, Josh Simmons generously gave me some of his groovy, seriously disturbing comics, and I said my final goodbyes to Kelly and Max. Just a block away I managed to snap a shot of the awesome outdoor mural that South African artist Jean de Wet and Seattle-based James Stanton had collaborated on for Short Run:
There was a good chunk of time before my flight to Portland (for a family visit), and DK graciously offered to tour me around the city. DK and I go waaaay back. He was co-editor and publisher of our queer boy comics anthology Boy Trouble from the mid-90’s into the mid-aughts. Since then, we’ve seen both the alt-comics world and its queer comics microcosm evolve and grow and change for the better. We’re old soldiers. DK is currently ready to wrap up the second, final year of his MFA in Comics at CCA, and he gave me the lowdown on what it’s like to go to school there, with many classmates half his age. He told me about his thesis, a 100-page graphic novel, which melds 70’s & 80’s pop culture and autobiography. I’m really looking forward to reading that!
It seemed fitting to wrap up my Short Run experience with DK. It left me thinking less about the past than looking forward to future possibilities. A good comics show will do that for you. The two days I spent at this event reminded me why I’ve stuck with this cartooning thing, despite all the frustrations and insecurities and financial concerns that come with the territory.
Events like Short Run can go a long way in rejuvenating the spirit, inviting participants to remember and celebrate being part of something – an Art Movement, if you will – bigger than ourselves. And on top of all that, I got to visit Seattle at last. I’d call that a win-win.