Seattle’s Short Run Comix & Arts Festival 2023

All photos by Kristy Valenti unless otherwise noted.

The 11th Short Run Comix & Arts Festival took place on Saturday, November 4, 2023, from 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM at the Fisher Pavilion in the Seattle Center. (More on that later.) Executive Director and Co-Founder Kelly Froh reported via email that they had 4,200 attendees over seven hours, with 250 artists tabling. This year, artist talks occurred outside the venue in open-air tents. (During special guest Arantza Peña Popo’s spotlight, she joked to interviewer Handa that she was planning to taste the Space Needle, which was looming in the background; both agreed that it would taste like tech bro hands.) Satellite events ran from November 2–5, with art exhibits through December 6.

Handa, left, and Arantza Peña Popo, right. Photo by Chris Hong.

At the Friday night Marathon Art Show and Pre-Fest Reception at the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery (full disclosure: Fantagraphics is my employer and owns this website), local cartoonists such as Roberta Gregory, Donna Barr and D.J. Bryant milled around, checking out the art on exhibit by special guests Simon Hanselmann, Ron Regé, Jr., Tim Root, Amanda Vähämäki and festival grant recipient Molly Colleen O’Connell, among others tabling. Brian Baynes of the zine Bubbles interviewed special guest Anand Shenoy; Baynes had just published Shenoy’s short comic collection, Stories from Zoo. When Baynes asked Shenoy what he liked best to draw, Shenoy lit up and responded, “Faces!”

TOP ROW: Short Run's Kelly Froh, left, and the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery's Larry Reid, right. BOTTOM ROW: Anand Shenoy, left, and publisher Brian Baynes, right.
From Anand Shenoy's minicomic This Loud World.

During setup on November 4, a thunderstorm brought rain so torrential that water shot out of manhole covers. As Cameron Hatheway, editor-in-chief of Clusterfux Comix, explained: “It was a little uneasy at first when the fire alarms went off 10 minutes before the venue opened.” Froh: “The alarm was set off because of nearby flooding, and it cut the power to the elevators and the microphone!” Cameron: “I was worried we would all have to evacuate out the building and leave all our comics/items behind, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case. We exhibitors remained dry and happy.” The weather cleared up, but the crowds made the show floor muggy as the day wore on. Luckily, it's easy enough to step outside for fresh air.

Jasjyot Singh Hans. Photo by Chris Hong.

Once inside, the minicomics, zines (and even coffee) were uniformly of high quality, and foot traffic was fairly steady, although consensus was the show emptied out after 5:00 PM (which, in the future, sounds like the best time to be there). But throughout most of the day, it wasn’t possible to stop at every table, talk to everyone, or buy everything that looked tempting. Spirits seemed high among attendees and exhibitors I spoke to. Chris Cajero Cilla was overheard praising cartoonist Eileen Chavez’s work while Megan Kelso asked him about his new comic, Drawstring Tied in a Bow (improvised one panel a day). A fan excitedly bought the 6th and latest issue of Tongues from Anders Nilsen, while Jasjyot Singh Hans posed for pictures while debuting his new zine, Sikh Femmes in Sick Fashion. Special guests such as Colorama publisher Johanna Maierski were in constant conversation, and Léonie Bischoff, signing at the Fantagraphics table, always seemed to have a crowd.

From Drawstring Tied in a Bow by Chris Cajero Cilla.

Purely as art objects, Zak Sally’s Recidivist IV, reprinted in offset from Secret Acres by Minneapolis’ Studio on Fire, Alex Graham’s The Professor’s Day Off, Riso-printed by Perfectly Acceptable, and Caroline Cash’s series Pee-Pee Poo-Poo, published by Silver Sprocket and printed in China, jumped off the table. Unlike 2022’s show, in which much of the artists’ wares were directly or indirectly about COVID, there was no clear thematic throughline other than perhaps a slight shift back to the short comic and anthology form by younger cartoonists. Although a handful of cartoonists emerged as must-sees and various titles sold well, the “buzz book” of the show appeared to be Shenoy’s Stories from Zoo.

According to Froh, this is the last time Short Run will be at the Fisher Pavilion. Situated in a tourism hub, it’s a great location with easy access to public transportation (even the monorail), food, hotels and more. (Of course, the downside is an increase in travel expenses, as several exhibitors mentioned.) The venue is booked solid for the next five years.

Program designed by Thad Higa.

Exhibitors are fond of the Fisher Pavilion. Nick Bunch of Reptile House Comix wrote: “The venue ruled. It was perfect for jamming a ton of people in, and it was super busy all day, which is totally unheard of!” Cameron Hatheway observed, “The venue was massive, and from what I heard from veteran exhibitors, this year was packed more than in 2022 when the show started up again after the pandemic. It felt like a lot of people, but it never felt overcrowded on my end of the hall. I understand they’re moving to another venue next year, so that will be interesting to see if that increases turnout.” emuh ruh of Glacier Bay Books said: “The Fisher Pavilion is pretty iconic to me as the spot Short Run has been at for as long as I’ve been going. The building is pretty great — spacious (even behind the table!) and well-lit, with good air filtration and good access and location benefits. I know Short Run has to move on to a new facility, and this year is supposedly the last edition at Fisher, so I’m really curious what they end up finding because it feels like the current venue is pretty fantastic.”

Poster artist: Ron Regé, Jr.

Since the collapse of Twitter, it’s harder to get a communal debrief regarding a comics festival. So, TCJ contacted exhibitors via email and messages with some post-show questions. Here are the respondents and their feedback.

Nick Bunch (he/him)
Reptile House Comix

Ivana Filipovich (she/her)
The new graphic novel What’s Fear Got To Do With It? (Conundrum Press), and a 2022 collection of short comics, Where have you been? (Toxic Ink)

(After this post went live, Filipovich wrote to TCJ that she wanted to clarify her responses. As a courtesy, we allowed her to elaborate. Asterisks * indicate answers altered as of November 22, 2023.)

Cameron Hatheway (he/him)
FUGU COMIX #3 and FUNGI & FRIENDS. The latter debuted exclusively at the show.

emuh ruh
Glacier Bay Books
Newest releases: Mothers by Kusahara Umi, Give Her Back to Me by Hana Chatani, Glaeolia 1 reprint

From Glacier Bay Books' Give Her Back to Me by Hana Chatani.

How were sales?

Nick Bunch: Sales were really good! Our books are extremely cheap so we didn’t make a million dollars but we definitely made enough for the trip to be worth it.

emuh ruh: Sales seemed solid, about as good as last year. And it was so well attended that up until the last hour there was a near constant flow of people stopping by the table and checking out books even if they weren’t buying. It’s a little hard to evaluate the show in purely financial terms because it’s expensive to travel internationally to Seattle, but for me there’s a lot of benefits besides sales in going. It’s wonderful to be able to show our books in person and see people get so excited about them and discover new stuff. That energy is a lot of the reason (in my mind) for doing these shows. That said, sales were solid enough at the show that I believe we at least broke even on our travel expenses this time.

Cameron Hatheway: Sales were decent for me at this show! I brought a little of everything, and there were definitely a few titles that sold better than the others. I should have had the foresight to print more copies of my Eat the Rich recipe zine due to the attending audience, because the remaining copies I brought with me sold out fast! People stopped by my table all day to hear my pitches for each comic, and some recent art school graduates asked me a lot about publishing, editing, distribution and expectations. I love having these conversations with people, because I was asking those same questions at one point and everyone’s answers are always different yet informative.

Ivana Filipovich.

Ivana Filipovich: It was fine for just one day. I sold about the same number of books I sell in two days at the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival (VanCAF). People don’t know about me, so I appreciate every opportunity to present my work.

Is this your first time at this show? If so, why did you decide to attend?

emuh ruh: This was our second time at the show. But I also attended (not as an exhibitor) prior to COVID a couple of times as well. Improvements for this year — I was able to use the exhibitor drop off / pick up point this year (did not know about this last year) which made receiving my books at the show and getting the leftovers back to the hotel much easier. It’s mundane, but it really beats trying to carry several heavy book boxes out of the show manually.

Ivana Filipovich: *Yes, first time. My publisher [Conundrum] offered me 1/2 of his table to promote my first graphic novel, and since I live in Vancouver BC, it was pretty close.

Hotel rates have been shockingly high since COVID, so $220/night for an Airbnb that was a 10-minute drive away from the venue was actually a good deal as there was room for four people. So, some accommodation deals are still possible.

I can only compare it with VanCAF and TCAF. They allow banners, and I think those displays help with identification and marketing. Front displays are not very noticeable when it’s very crowded.

Usually, I go around in the morning to see other people’s work or purchase their books and zines while it's still quiet. In Seattle, there was a long lineup at the door in the rain before the festival was even opened! I've never seen that before, and it's a great testament to the festival’s popularity. It was busy from the get-go and stayed like that until the last 1/2 hour. By that time, the artists had to start packing up. My advice to the folx who will participate next year is to organize themselves better than I did this year if they want to visit other tables.

Nick Bunch: This was [Reptile House’s] first time tabling Short Run. I decided to apply because I’d only ever heard great things about Short Run and I’m trying harder to get our books on the West Coast.

Cameron Hatheway: This was my first time at the show, and the first out-of-state show for me as well (I flew in from Los Angeles). After chatting with Max Clotfelter at San Diego Comic-Con over the summer, he encouraged me to apply and so I did. To my surprise I was accepted, and once I saw the lineup of talented creators I was overwhelmed and starstruck. I’m such a fan of so many of the creators who were attending, and to have everyone under one roof was very exciting for me. Short Run has been a bucket list item for years to attend as a fan, so it was even better to attend as an exhibitor!

JT Wilkins, left, and Max Clotfelter, right. Photo by Bree Mangold.

Was this show’s vibe different from other years? If so, how?

emuh ruh: Honestly, it didn’t seem particularly different. Maybe a little more energy / excitement? But I feel like Short Run has pretty much always been a pretty exciting show.

Social media has been particularly in flux this year. Did that affect the show for you?

emuh ruh: Honestly not sure — our Twitter account got shut down so we just posted about it on Instagram, which has a significantly smaller audience. I know a few people came with “lists” and stopped by our table to check stuff off their list, which made me think they must have seen some of our posts, but those got such small engagement I think a lot of the traffic at the show was people just coming for the show and making a pass by every table. I did notice that no one tagged us in post-show “Short Run Haul” posts, which is a bit of a change from previous years, and even previous shows.

Cameron Hatheway: I’m only very active on Instagram and promoted my appearance at Short Run in the weeks and days leading up to the show. I feel like half my followers aren’t on the West Coast, and the other half are in California, so I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of local followers seeing my posts and deciding to attend. However, any time I posted about Short Run, the show’s account would always share, so major props to their social media team for really helping boost our promotional posts to more eyes.

Ivana Filipovich: *I don't have an audience in Seattle. I would've considered location-specific ads on Facebook/Instagram, but I didn't want to give them any money, as they block news in Canada now. The situation in Canada is pretty severe. Not only is it affecting artists, as some of the most valuable mentions can't be displayed, but it's negatively affecting emergencies, like it did with wildfire evacuations this summer. I was tagging the festival accounts, and the festival team quickly responded, liked and shared the posts, which is very much appreciated. I don't know how much hashtags help anymore, but a general tag and a year-specific tag for the festival could help display festival-related content in a stream.

Were there any advantages/disadvantages to the venue?

Ivana Filipovich: *The Fisher Pavilion is a great space, nice, airy, and well-connected to public transportation. I didn't have any issues with the venue itself, and it's scary to think the festival has to look for another location. I wish the organizers the best of luck. With a festival as popular as Short Run, local and state governments could step up and offer more support, taking clues from European festivals. I recently went to a small festival in Serbia, and all the cultural institutions in the city provided space, so there were multiple comic art exhibitions and three days of events. This festival is creator-focused, so the participation is invitation-only, but the exhibitions were open to the general public, and the displays stayed on for a few weeks.

The Short Run Marathon Show was great and a lot of fun. I like sticking my nose into other people's work to study their techniques, and I LOVE comic art exhibitions. I would welcome expansions of art shows.
Art by Tim Root, from the Marathon Art Show.

I haven't talked to the festival organizers, but it would be interesting to hear more about the number of applications to the festival over the years. With the popularity of the festival and the quality of art production growing, there may be an opportunity for a two-day festival in the future. I heard from other Vancouver creators that they were disappointed they couldn't get into the festival. It would be great to post on the website about how the selection is made. Curated, based on past participation, presenting new work, prioritizing Washington artists, themes, etc. All of these are totally valid ways of selection. The festival organizers do a lot of heavy lifting in the background that the exhibitions are not even aware of, and having organized a small exhibition recently, I appreciate the level of complexity that goes into each element of the festival.

Oh, and in the morning rush and with a fast influx of visitors, I needed help locating volunteers. It was pointed out to me that all was clear in the pre-festival communication, so that's on me. The VanCAF also has a good system; they all wear festival T-shirts and are available to watch tables, bring water and help the exhibitors.

Is there another exhibitor’s work you’d like to shout out?

Ivana Filipovich: *I love Caitlin Cass’ work; I hope she can be a guest next year when Fantagraphics publishes her next book. I wanted to visit the Johanna Maierski table, but with a constant flow of visitors to our table, I missed a chance to have a better look. I know her work is excellent as I saw a Zoom talk during the pandemic, and I recommend you check it out, if you haven't had a chance during the festival.

Caitlin Cass. Photo by Bree Mangold.

Nick Bunch: I have to shout out Grayson Bear for being my across-the-aisle tablemate and putting up with me manically laughing and making faces at them all day. Next time we’ll bring walkie talkies so I’m not shouting across a river of people. Also Syd Madia for being my new best drinking/ferry/bus buddy. Syd lives in Toronto and I wasn’t gonna go to TCAF, but now I might go to TCAF just to chill.

Reptile House Comix's display.

Cameron Hatheway: I want to shout out M.S. Harkness and Caroline Cash. Half the reason I attended Short Run was to meet them both. They don’t travel to my neck of the woods, so Seattle was the perfect place to meet them halfway. Getting to talk to them both at the pre-show party at Fantagraphics Bookstore Friday night was definitely a highlight for me. M.S. has been on tour for several weeks now promoting her book Time Under Tension, so I made sure to bring all her comics up with me to get her to sign them all and stamp them with this cool custom stamp she made for her book tour. Same deal with Caroline and their magnificent (and Ignatz award-winning) Pee-Pee Poo-Poo comics. The two of them are producing some incredible stuff right now in comics, so it was an honor to meet them both. To top it all off, they are both in this brilliant comic anthology Poison Pill with four other contributors, and one of them, Sam Szabo, was also tabling at Short Run! I got all their signatures for my copy, so just three more signatures to nab!

From Caroline Cash's Pee-Pee Poo-Poo #420.

Closing thoughts?

Cameron Hatheway: I would love to attend Short Run again in the future. It was well-organized (thanks Kelly!), and everyone just seemed so happy to be there and helping support indie comics.

Ivana Filipovich: *Now that I reread this, it sounds too negative and like I am meddling in other themes that were not even in the questionnaire. There was nothing negative about the experience! I absolutely loved it. Best of luck with finding the new space and sustainably growing the festival, which is one of the cultural highlights in Seattle’s event calendar!

Nick Bunch: I’m back in Philly drinking a beer by the river trying not to tear up thinking about the most magical comix trip I ever had at Seattle Short Run 2023. So much love and chaos and killer comic artists! And I’m a recluse! I hate people! But I loved every single second of Short Run.