Megan Kelso is helping Short Run find the ground between "institution" and "crazy young upstart"

Anyone who has spent any amount of time reading Seattle comics knows the name Megan Kelso. Kelso has long been a passionate advocate of the Seattle comics scene, but this year is her first as a full-time member of the board of the Short Run Comix and Arts Festival. We talked about the board's work this year of institutionalizing Short Run without losing any of the special sauce that makes it so great. (Read our interview with Short Run chair Mita Mahato here.)

How did you get involved with the Short Run board of directors?

I met Kelly right after I moved back to Seattle after being away in New York for years. I moved back in 2007 and I met Kelly soon after that at comics events, and then Short Run started up soon after that. I remember her contacting me before the first Short Run and saying something like, "please support us by getting a table — we want as many longtime Seattle cartoonists to participate as possible."

And I was just so thrilled that like a thing like Short Run was starting in Seattle, because for all the comics we have going on here, there had never been much of a show. So I was really enthusiastic from the very beginning. I didn't have a table every single year, but I tried to be involved in some way every year.

To be honest, I wasn't like a super-involved volunteer. I would, you know, put up posters, or sometimes I would host artists who were visiting from out of town. But I always tried to keep my hand in.

And then I also have this other relationship with Kelly, because she looks after elderly people — she's a companion to them, and keeps them company. And she worked for my mom for years. So we, we grew kind of close through that, which had nothing to do with Short Run, but I think we developed this whole working relationship because of that. And in a way I feel like that's partly why she invited me on the board — she got to know me in this other way that showed I was a reliable person in a non-comics context. Then I had more time after my mom died, and Kelly knew that, so that's when she swooped in and asked me to become a more involved Short Run helper.

I was thrilled because I had been keeping my distance a little bit. I just didn't have the time for a few years, because things were really heavy going with my mom. But then my time freed up.

I think I'm the oldest person on the board. And I think that's partly why I'm there too, is I'm a sort of connection to like the comic scene of years past.

So what has it been like, putting the show together from your perspective?

We started meeting in January or February, I think. And, you know, Kelly was really frank with us from the very beginning that she was going to need more help from the board than years past because she didn't have her partner, Eroyn. They kind of invented Short Run out of whole cloth, and they had a lot of it in their heads. So a lot of what Kelly had to do was put more down on paper and put more out for us to do, because she knew she couldn't do it alone.

So I think a lot of this year has been us helping Kelly download everything about Short Run that's been in her brain. I'm getting it more documented so that we can take a lot of it on.

It's an interesting process at the beginning of the year. It's super pie-in-the-sky — we're talking about our hopes and dreams for the next year for the show. And then as time marches on, things just get much more practical: "who's going to pick up this artist at the airport, and who's going to follow up with that person to see if we can get some publicity?"

So, yeah. I have a much better picture now about the yearly cycle of Short Run.

There's been this thread running through the year that we want to make the show more appealing to families with children. We also want to include more people of color both as artists but also as people who help with the festival and, ultimately, work on the board. We've been talking a lot about opening up Short Run to be more than just the traditional comics community that we've had in Seattle over the years — a community which is awesome and who we love. But we also want to open up Short Run to a wider world of people, especially since Seattle's growing so much right now.

Is there anything in particular that you're especially looking forward to this year that you want our readers to know about?

I'm really excited about the artist Anna Haifisch, who drew our poster. I wasn't familiar with her work until Kelly introduced us to it. I think it's one of the coolest posters we've ever had — we've all talked about how it feels timely, like we do feel like the world is on fire right now, and that's kind of been a sort of running theme as we've been planning. So I'm really looking forward to meeting her and seeing more of her work.

And then the other one that I'm, excited about is Rina Ayuyang. I'm actually going to be interviewing her onstage, and I'm excited about it because we've been cartoonist friends-slash-colleagues for years and we've always had a lot to talk about. So I think it'll be kind of really fun for us to do that in this public way. She has this awesome new book from Drawn and Quarterly called Blame This On the Boogie which is all about her obsession with dance movies and dance reality shows. It's just this crazy kind of all-over-the-map book, and I really love it.

Is there anything else that you think that our readers should know before before Short Run really gets underway?

One of the things that I've been thinking about and talking to Kelly about is that this is Short Run's eighth year, and I was imagining a teenager who loves Short Run, who kind of grew up going to Short Run. For that person, Short Run is this institution. Even though we still think of ourselves as this kind of crazy upstart project, I think we're starting to be viewed from the outside as more of an institution. That's an interesting place to be — you have to reconcile your inner feelings of "oh, we're just putting on this crazy show" with the expectations that people have because it's been around for a while now.