Public Art acquired a decidedly different look last year when “Crow Commute,” graphic artist Megan Kelso’s 85-foot-long comic art, was installed at Climate Pledge Arena. The steel-etched panels tell a series of Seattle stories beginning with Jimi Hendrix’s 1969 concert at the Center and concluding in 2021 at Fort Dent, Tukwila. The artwork is both a timeline and map. One of the first panels shows a young Megan attending that Hendrix concert.
Kelso says installation at Seattle Center is special to her because the Center has always been “my muse, magic around the edges.” She grew up attending Folklife and Bumbershoot. She still can refer to Climate Pledge Arena as “the Paul Thiry Arena [for the architect who designed it], the Coliseum, and then the Key Arena.”
This has been a banner year for Kelso. Her latest novel, published by Seattle-based Fantagraphics, has just arrived at local bookstores. Kelso titled her graphic novel Who Will Make the Pancakes? In its pages, Kelso tells five stories filled with humor, warmth, wonder, and poignancy.
Kelso reports that she began drawing seriously in the late 1960s when she was studying history and political science at The Evergreen State College. Grunge and Riot Grrl moments were exploding; Japanese Manga Art had appeared. The movement inspired Kelso to self-publish her own comic book, Girl Hero. She went to Kinko’s and photocopied 50 copies. That effort led to winning a Xeric Foundation Grant in 1993. Since then she’s authored one graphic novel, two short story collections, and an anthology showcasing 23 female comic artists: Scheherazade: Stories of Love, Treachery, Mothers and Monsters.
In 2007, Kelso achieved a signal breakthrough, becoming the first woman to author a comic strip for the New York Times Magazine. The strip, “Watergate Sue,” is a serialized story that follows a Seattle family during the Watergate scandal. Kelso uses that Times comic strip to introduce four other stories in Who Will Make the Pancakes?
Asked about her book’s intriguing title, Kelso explained that the phrase is her own code language, a metaphor for “caring deeply about other people.” She talks about her craft and some of the sacrifices, during times when she made “a little bit of money, barely enough.” But she continued drawing, always wanting to tell stories, “to be a kid forever.”
Saturday (Nov. 5) Kelso was one of the 12 featured artists at the Short Run Comix and Arts Festival held at the Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion. The free festival celebrated its tenth anniversary, returning in public for the first time since the Covid pandemic. Kelso was there to sign copies of Who Will Make the Pancakes? But she also took time for a scheduled walk-and-talk viewing of “Crow Commute,” that 85-long comic story, Seattle etched in steel.
Following the festival, Kelso realized a life-long dream on Sunday afternoon when she was featured speaker during an interview in the Seattle Public Library auditorium. It was the first of half-a-dozen appearances in Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland. Her sudden celebrity isn’t apt to keep Kelso from picking up her pens to teach perspective to aspiring artists. Nor to keep her from making the pancakes at home in Seattle with her husband and daughter.