Oscars 2014 Best Picture Nominee 'Nebraska'

Local funnyman Bob Nelson hits the big time with Alexander Payne’s 'Nebraska'

!--paging_filter--pAs “Psychic Bob” on Seattle’s long-running sketch comedy show emAlmost Live/em (which ran 1984–1999), cast member Bob Nelson played an ersatz prognosticator who could make only the most obvious predictions (“In 1998, Hooters will continue to attract a mostly male clientele”). As an announcer in a sketch about the Low-key Baseball Network (“For people who like to watch baseball, but perhaps they don’t care for all that noise”), he became catatonic when describing home runs. “I always played low-key people or dumb guys,” Nelson says. brbrBut now, in what is perhaps the apotheosis of against-type triumphs, the humble, unassuming, super-nice Whidbey Island resident has become a successful writer in the shark tank of Hollywood. Nelson, 57, a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvW_DmfKfSk" target="_blank"wrote the script for the much-anticipated movie /aema href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvW_DmfKfSk" target="_blank"Nebraska/a /em(opening November 22), directed by Alexander Payne (emSideways /emand emThe Descendants/em). Chosen as the opening film for the Vancouver Film Festival in September, Nebraska has been gathering buzz since its premiere at Cannes, where it garnered a 10-minute standing ovation, as well as a Best Actor award for its star, Bruce Dern. brbrNelson was born in South Dakota, but his parents both grew up Nebraska, so it seems only fitting that he would choose that state as the setting of his story about a son’s desire to get to know his father. The movie tells the story of Woody Grant (Dern), a former mechanic who is suffering possibly from dementia and most certainly from the effects of alcoholism, as he sets out from his home in Billings, Montana, to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska, convinced by a piece of junk mail that he is “already a winner” in a million-dollar sweepstakes. He doesn’t get far before he’s picked up by the police, after which his son David (Will Forte ofem Saturday Night Live/em) agrees to drive him to Lincoln. With a dead-end job and nothing better to do, David hopes to show his dad the folly of his enterprise.brbrNelson says he didn’t want to make a typical father-son buddy movie. “I tried to figure out how to elevate the idea,” he says. While the movie doesn’t recapitulate his exact relationship with his father,nbsp; who was a functional alcoholic, art does imitate life to some degree. “Nebraska is more of a poem to my father, a way to honor him and others who have gone through war (and by extension, other tribulations) and come back wounded in ways we can’t see,” he says. “People have to figure out how to deal with loved ones who have addictions every day, I’m making a plea in the movie for as much compassion and understanding as possible.”brbrTen years ago, Nelson showed his script for Nebraska to Julie Thompson, a Los Angeles producer who was in town to work on The Eyes of Nye (the Bill Nye show for which Nelson was a performer and writer). She showed it to her colleague, Ron Yerxa, who had coproduced Alexander Payne’s Election. Yerxa showed the script to Payne, who is from Omaha, and asked if he knew any young directors from the Midwest who might be willing to cut their teeth on a really good low-budget movie, which typically costs about $2 million to make. According to Nelson, Payne said, “How about if I direct it, and how about if we do it for a little more than $2 million?” (Final price tag: about $13 million.)brbr“Alexander Payne likes bittersweet stories that reflect both the joys and sorrows of real life and real people,” Nelson says. “And he loves Nebraska. The producers liked the characters, and they liked that Woody has a clear-cut goal that propels the story, and in a more subtle way, so does David. It is character-driven, but there is a real purpose to their journey.”brbrNot every script that is optioned makes it to the big screen, and 10 years is a long time to wait. During that time, Nelson was a writer for Comedy Central and Fox television, and continued writing screenplays, rewriting over and over until they are as terse and poignant as the script for Nebraska. “When I tell film students I go through my scripts at least 50 times after the first draft, I see many sad faces,” he says. One of his scripts, an adaption of the French film emIntimate Strangers/em, is in development at Paramount, and he’s working with Chris Rock on an adaptation of the French film La première étoile.brbrNelson says his years spent writing short sketch pieces proved beneficial to his screenwriting. “I’d been trained by the brevity of sketch to be lean and economical in the writing,” he says. “Working in sketch also gave me some clue as to whether the humor would work.” brbrWhen he was first getting the hang of it, Nelson learned by reading other people’s scripts—one of which happened to be Payne’s Election. Back then, he never dreamed that one day he’d be working with the director. “For me to think that Alexander Payne would be the one to direct Nebraska would have been pretty delusional.”/p

Seattle's Short Run Comix and Arts Festival Highlights the Handmade

Seattle's Short Run Comix and Arts Festival Highlights the Handmade

A celebration of handmade, self-published art books, comics, zines and literary works from around the world
Short Run festival founders Eroyn Franklin (left) and Kelly Froh at Fantagraphics: a $15,000 NEA grant and rising prestige

In our digital era, when electronic communication often takes the place of putting pen to paper, there’s an event that celebrates the latter. At the annual Short Run Comix & Art Festival, organized by founders and codirectors Eroyn Franklin and Kelly Froh, artists and authors from around the world meet to share their handmade, self-published art books, comics, zines and literary works.

“I believe our audience wants that special handmade thing that no one else is going to have,” says Froh. “We see a lot of joy from audience members who’ve come here with a friend or by word of mouth and say, ‘I had no idea people were still making books.’ There’s a wonder about books that we’ve really tapped into.”

Both important comic artists in their own right, the poised and bespectacled Franklin and Froh are enthusiastic champions of the art form of short-run literary works. The two came up with the idea for their event on the day they first met, in 2011 at the Olympia Comics Festival. “We had been tabling at these small festivals, and we asked ourselves, ‘Why doesn’t Seattle have something like this?’” Franklin says of that meeting. “Then, all of a sudden, it really clicked. If we want this thing to exist, we have to make it.”

Surprised by the success of their inaugural event in 2011, Froh and Franklin have continued to expand. This year’s fest attracted more than 270 exhibitors from all over the country and nine special international guests, whose work demonstrates the variety possible with this art form. For example, Ilan Manouach (Greece/Belgium) will bring excerpts of his book of laser-engraved plates for the visually impaired. The book is read via Manouach’s tactile vocabulary (think Braille) called Shapereader. Another guest, Hatem Imam (Lebanon), is a distinctive comic artist best known for being one of the founders and editors of Samandal, a trilingual comics magazine that came under attack by Lebanese government security officials after publishing work that officials found objectionable on religious grounds.

In conjunction with the festival, Short Run will publish Relay, its fourth annual anthology. This year, several poets and writers have been paired with artists and illustrators to create work each individual wouldn’t likely create on her or his own. Writer Willie Fitzgerald will collaborate with Argentine-Seattleite comic artist Fran López, while Bread Loaf and Jack Straw-honored poet Michelle Peñaloza will work with subversively childlike illustrator Andrew Lamb Schultz.

The work of some artists at the festival resists easy categorization. Straddling conventional literary and visual art genres, a book may have a compelling narrative or poetry, include beautiful illustrations and exist as a remarkable object of art in itself.

“There is a real focus on handmade books,” says Franklin. “While there will be some graphic novels you can buy in stores, most are books that people have made 10 of, so if you’re not there that day, you don’t get them ever.” She adds, “The attendee wants to connect directly with another human, and this affects the exhibiting artist quite a bit. The artist will be able to make a new book because that person gave them some bills. There is a real direct connection between the audience member and the artist here, and I think that’s crucial.”

As Short Run has grown in size, it has also grown in stature. Last December, the organization was awarded a $15,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to fund the annual festival and further expand its visiting artists and educational programming. Then, unexpectedly, Franklin and Froh were invited to put on a “Zine & Print Fair” at the June 7 opening of the Seattle Art Museum’s Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb exhibit. It was an exciting evening for museum patrons, who could experience work by contemporary artists—many from their own community—working in the same vein as these masters of the print.

In addition to November’s festival, Franklin and Froh put on a Short Run Summer School in August, hosting a series of classes for artists interested in making their own comics and zines. And last April, Short Run held its second annual, five-day Trailer Blaze Ladies Comics & Books Residency at The Sou’Wester Vintage Trailer & Lodge in windswept Seaview, an event that results in the humorous, poignant and feminist Trailer Blaze Zine.

They also have a fan in Larry Reid, manager of Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery. “I’ve known Eroyn and Kelly from Fantagraphics Bookstore even before they knew each other,” he says. “They were at the forefront of the handcrafted comics and zine revival in Seattle. It’s been rewarding to watch them emerge as a dynamic force.” Each year, Fantagraphics hosts an evening of art, performance and music with the featured guests of the festival, called Short Run Marathon.


“The name attempts to convey the tireless effort involved in producing the event as well as the dedication required to fashion a career in comics,” Reid says. “[It’s] nice to see Eroyn and Kelly have succeeded at both.” 

Now in its sixth year, the annual Short Run Comix & Art Festival takes place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, November 5 at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion. Admission is free. For more information, visit shortrun.org.