Smash Pages Q&A: Eroyn Franklin

The co-founder of Seattle’s Short Run Festival discusses this year’s show, her comics and more.

Eroyn Franklin won a Xeric grant in 2008 for her comic Another Glorious Day at the Nothing Factory. Since then she’s gone on to make a number of comics like A New Home and Detained and Just Noise. Her work has appeared on The Nib and her work has made the Notables list in two volumes of Best American Comics. Franklin is interested in playing with style and form, in experimenting with the physicality of the object in really interesting ways and the final product is often defined as much by the shape and design as it is by the subject matter.

Franklin is also one of the co-founders and organizers of the Short Run Festival in Seattle. The seventh annual festival will take place Nov. 4 and this year has teamed up with ICAF, the International Comic Art Forum, to provide programming for the event. We spoke with her over e-mail about her work and the show.

I always like to ask people, how did you come to comics?

My sister is an artist who was never bound to one medium, so I adopted that as a way of life before I even had a chance to consider otherwise. I studied photography but was doing a lot of cut paper installation work. I was at an artist residency shortly after my divorce and while the paper cutting was cathartic, I I felt like I needed to tell a story. I began writing prose about my recent loss and making cut paper drawings, and it all came together in a book.

You were awarded a Xeric Grant in 2008 for Another Glorious Day at the Nothing Factory. Where you were in your career when you got that and what did the grant mean?

I got the Xeric for the first comic I ever started, which was a 200-page graphic novel. I made one minicomic before it was published, but this was really my first comics project.  It sounds absolutely crazy now that I even took it on. The grant validated my work at a time when I didn’t even feel right calling myself a comics artist. I know it made me more committed to working in the medium of comics. I also believe that it was the stepping stone that led to other grants I’ve received.

You make a lot of memoir comics, but you also seem very interested in nonfiction comics and how did you first start getting interested in that?

I tend to tell my own stories or speak about subjects through a personal lens because it feels more engaging and honest. The storytellers around me tend to work in journalism and autobio, and I see that work and get inspired by it. I  write about what’s interesting to me at the time, and that’s often real life. I have written fictional stories, and I plan to again. I like to make stuff up too; I’m just in a nonfictional phase.

In a lot of your comics, you like playing with the physicality of the object in different ways in A New Home and Detained and Just Noise and doing so in a way that a lot of artists aren’t. What got you thinking about working like this?

I love formats that serve the story, and I’ve never been deterred by limited editions. I like adding interesting folds, cuts, methods of printing, etc. but I don’t do it just to make a cool thing. With Detained, I was talking about the endless wait of detainees in immigration detention centers. I wanted to make an unwieldy 26-foot long panorama to stretch out time, make the reader a bit uncomfortable, and show the entire cross-section of a facility that the reader can travel through. The cut-out word bubbles in Just Noise speak more eloquently about how communication breaks down than my writing could. Vantage is a tiny book that documents a 4-day walk organized by the artist Susan Robb. I wanted the reader to feel like they are looking down at the trail when they first hold the book. When are prompted to unfurl the pages, an intimate little landscape is revealed. The format helps to mimic the moment that takes place on every hike where you switch your focus from the ground to your surroundings, and you have a jolt of excitement and a sense of discovery.

You mentioned before that you’ve started working on a new project. Do you want to say a little about what it is?

The project is still in its infancy, and it’s changing a bit right now, but I’m looking forward to spending the whole winter delving more deeply into it. The book is an autobio piece that I’m working on with Tim Miller. It looks at the relationship between two people with different types of bipolar disorder and the ways it impacted our lives. It focuses on an acute period of trauma that led to Tim’s hospitalization and the slow years of recovery that followed. I want to show bipolar disorder as a spectrum and to validate the role of both patient and caregiver and talk about how that role can shift at different phases in a relationship.

The pages from it are in a slightly different style, and the way you use color stands out. With each project are you consciously thinking, I need to conceive of a new way to work and a way to tell this story?

I am using a much more vibrant palette for this to draw out the manic nature of the story. There will be periods of more somber colors to draw out the depressive side as well. As with the innovative formatting, I approach the aesthetic in the way I think it best serves the story. I do a lot of tests and planning, but on some level, it’s just intuitive. Plus I like to experiment. After working on projects for years, inevitably I want to do something different.

You’re also one of the co-founders of the Short Run Festival, and you’re one of the organizers. For people who have never been, do you want to say a little about the show?

Short Run is a little different than other festivals because we are a women-run nonprofit with many programs including our own micropress, a residency, a grant, educational opportunities, and we host guests throughout the year. We are a hub for the local scene while also engaging with artists from around the world to produce books and bring artists to Seattle. We call ourselves a Comix & Art Festival because we showcase all the ways artists work including performances, installations, interactive art, music, etc. We focus on self-published, small press, and handmade books so the audience can leaf through quick-and-dirty zines, graphic novel tomes, letterpressed lit, or breathtakingly art books.

How has the show changed from your perspective over the years and what is happening with this year’s show?

Working with my partner Kelly Froh on Short Run has made me understand that making art isn’t the only way to be creative, that collaboration takes many forms and that the roles of curator, editor, and organizer are just as important. We took over two venues at the Seattle Center on November 4 to make room for all the programming we have including a performance by Gridlords, that utilizes video, light, sound, and belligerent dance to explore multiple dimensions within a single space. From France, we have Flora Kam and Xavier De Kepper of Plus Zero who will instigate art happenings in a gallery filled with print and book collaborations from around the world. We turned one of Anders Nilsen’s coloring book images into a mural that the audience can color and Julia Wertz will be giving a slideshow of her urban exploring adventures. We also have workshops by Gemma Correll and Tom Hart and conversations spurred between Emil Ferris and Leela Corman, and between Jesus Cossio, Joe Sacco, and Sarah Glidden.

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