Monday, November 07, 2016 // Share on Facebook


by Robert Rhee

Café Racer, Seattle, during a Dune drawing night, 2014. Photo Sarah Romano Diehl.

Dune is a category-defying mix of small-press production, limited-run distribution and participatory performance.
Dune creates a feedback loop of artists and audiences—a concentrated essence of Seattle’s community-oriented comics scene.

Alternative comics and zines are thriving again in Seattle as they did in the city’s heyday of the 1990s, though the situation is better described as a prospering scene than a prospering market: the consumers are the producers, the readers are the writers, the biggest names are the biggest fans. Dune, a collective drawing night that culminates in a monthly members-only publication, has acted in recent years as the taproot of this growth. An event open to all by word of mouth that results in an object that non-participants can’t buy, Dune is a category-defying mix of small-press production, limited-run distribution and participatory performance. Both a visual survey of the comics zeitgeist and an active part of it, Dune regularly brings together independent cartoonists and comic artists to draw, talk shop and disregard the value elsewhere attributed to audiences as they contribute their individual pages to the patchwork zine.

To experience Dune you have to draw, and you have to do it at Café Racer on the third Tuesday of the month. At the edge of Seattle’s University District, Café Racer features three rooms, joined railroad-style, resembling a neighborhood bar, a late-night diner and a clubhouse. On Dune nights, table seating in all three rooms goes quickly. Pencils and papers descend onto every flat surface, including the floor, and the place becomes remarkably silent.

There is never a set theme or prompt, just a time and a place, and anyone willing to spend a few hours sprawled on the floor or seated elbow to elbow while drawing a page is welcome. Drawings can be made in any medium, though the final pieces are all photocopied and printed in black and white. The publication’s cover, also printed in black and white but on colored paper, goes to the first person who volunteers to draw it. For the most part, participants sketch in pencil and then ink over their drawings in marker or pen. On average, 50 to 60 people show up to draw. Most contribute one page; the maximum is two. (In the three-year history of Dune only one submission has been rejected, because it was directly hostile toward other members of the group.) At the end of the night, Max Clotfelter, Dune’s founder and organizer, collects the finished pages along with $3 from each contributor for printing costs. Later, he resizes the contributions and lays them out in a flurry of 8½-by-5½-inch pages. The final haul is printed on an old Xerox machine and assembled in a staple-bound, half-letter (or “digest”) sized zine. The printed zines are distributed at the beginning of the following month’s get-together. One copy is printed for each participant and no more. To quote Clotfelter, “You’ve got to contribute to get a copy.”

The decision not to create additional copies was for the sake of simplicity. In the beginning, Clotfelter explains, participants were interested in producing extra copies to sell at comics stores. But there were questions about what would be done with the profits. Since Dune’s membership shifts from month to month, returning money to the group was not a straightforward option. The surplus, he decided, would have brought more responsibility than freedom.

At a time when a runaway art market has created a vast chasm between winners and losers, it’s interesting to consider cooperatives like Dune, which respond to market pressures by formalizing communal respites from competition. Dune’s output escalates slowly, according to internal participation rather than external demand. On the other hand, Dune is not a wholesale repudiation of professionalization. Unlike hobbyist groups, such as knitting circles or model train clubs, Dune brings children, amateurs and outsiders together with working creators of nationally distributed books and comics, for a momentary leveling of the professional landscape. As Eroyn Franklin, co-founder of the indie comics festival Short Run, put it, “You could sit next to someone who just published a book through Fantagraphics or Last Gasp, or you could sit next to a kid who is drawing their first comic ever.”

The contingency created by its ever-shifting makeup makes Dune hard to define even for dedicated participants. Ostensibly related to the drink-and-draw nights well-known in comics circles, where groups of artists meet at a bar on a regular schedule to help each other make progress on individual projects, Dune is different in that each night culminates in a shared product that doesn’t leave the community. The communal zine organizes participants around an objective, unlike the freewheeling social structure of the usual drink-and-draw night. Dune is thus more of a public event than the cliquish drink-and-draws are.

Dune has been compared to collective speed drawing events like 24-Hour Comics Day, when participants gather in stores, libraries or homes and attempt to create their own 24-page comics in 24 hours. Though participants share time and space, they work individually on their own projects. While aspects of this structure make the event similar to Dune the final outcomes are very different. Each participant aims to produce a narratively and artistically coherent product that is differentiated in the external marketplace.

The Hairy Who was a group of six artists active in Chicago in the 1960s and ’70s, whose work deployed the visual language of underground comics. In playing with traditions of fine art and vernacular cultures, the artists reveled in the ribald and the grotesque—much as participants of Dune often do. While the Hairy Who’s membership remained largely consistent as its audience grew, Dune’s membership is fluid and welcoming to outsiders, as long as they take their place as participants and not as disinterested spectators. This codified leveling of hierarchies within the confines of an event links Dune to questions being posed in the field of performance rather than in the visual arts or the comics industry.

Perhaps the most interesting characterization comes from Billis Helg, a veteran of Seattle’s zine and minicomics scene, who describes Dune as “more like a Happening than like an institution.” It’s an apt comparison, since Happenings, like many movements in performance in the ’60s, played with removing physical and conceptual boundaries between audience and performers, from raised stages to narrative plots.

A particularly relevant point of comparison is Richard Schechner’s New York-based Performance Group of the late ’60s and early ’70s, which explored the performative characteristics of community. The Group was especially interested in creating temporary communities by collectively acting out rituals, which were modified and embedded in plays as participatory events. They initiated a series of role reversals where audience members could become performers at key moments of the staged narrative. For example, in Dionysus in 69, a 1968 adaptation of Euripides’s Bacchae, audience members were invited to participate in birth and death rites bookending the performance, derived from an adoption ritual specific to the Asmat tribe of New Guinea. At the end, performers and audience members formed a procession that funneled out the front door of the theater and into the street.1

There are, of course, obvious differences between an all-ages group of cartoonists collectively contributing to a zine, and a group of actors and audience members participating in a psychologically charged ceremony—not to mention the intense collaborative spirit and personal intimacy of the Group, which is quite different from the silent independence of Dune’s monthly mix of participants. But both break down barriers that separate actors and spectators. Both create a space for acting out a process of initiation or inclusion into a community.

A passerby might not recognize Dune as a performance—after all, it looks like a group of people scribbling, each attending to the page in front of them. It’s even harder to see the shared platform that connects them over time. Drawing and reading occur in a loop of influence that is as socially contained as any performance, only this one happens to take place silently, over a much longer interval of time. Dune creates a feedback loop of artists and audiences—a concentrated essence of Seattle’s community-oriented comics scene.

via Art in America, Comics: Drawn Together, Robert Rhee, January 2016 issue.

Cafe Racer celebrates five years of far-out jazz | Concert preview | Soundposts | Seattle Times

Wednesday, January 07, 2015 // Share on Facebook

Cafe Racer celebrates five years of far-out jazz | Concert preview

Posted by Paul de Barros

The late baritone saxophonist Andrew Carrico, who died tragically young in 2012, used to describe his sound as “somewhere between a cry and a roar.” The musicians who gathered with him at the University District hangout Cafe Racer appropriately adopted those words as the title of their festival, which celebrates the kind of unpredictable, elbows-out jazz (and beyond) played at the cafe’s Racer Sessions. The fifth edition of the festival is this weekend.

The Friday roster features Albert Ayler-influenced saxophonist Neil Welch (pictured); the intriguingly mysterious Lawson ensemble; electronic experimentalists Young Nudist (with keyboardist Michael Coleman), and the delightfully wonky electro-pop quintet Heatwarmer (Luke Bergman, vocals, bass, keyboards; Kristian Garrard, guitar, conga; Aaron Otheim, keyboards, vocals; Andrew JS, EWI, keyboards, vocals; Evan Woodle, drums, vocals).

Saturday, it’s electronic and “found sound” composer Shannon Kerrigan; Dio Jean-Baptiste & Geoff Traeger (drums and processed vocals); WA (Simon Henneman, bass, guitar; Gregg Kepplinger, drums); drummer Evan Woodle; keyboardist Otheim; trombonist Christian Pincock; and cellist Lori Goldston.

Sunday’s program is curated by bassist Bergman’s King Tears Bat Trip and also features Welch.

Cry & Roar

8 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Jan. 23-25, at Cafe Racer, 5828 Roosevelt Way N.E., Seattle; $5-$15 per night (

via Cafe Racer celebrates five years of far-out jazz | Concert preview | Soundposts | Seattle Times.

Talking Beer and Community at Cafe Racer – Eater Seattle

Sunday, December 14, 2014 // Share on Facebook

Welcome back to Pints of Interest, a column from Jake Uitti that features bartenders and brewers pouring some of the best beer in Seattle.

Since the tragedy that befell Cafe Racer about two years ago, the community surrounding the watering hole has rallied to an almost unimaginable degree to support to rebuild and frequent the quirky cafe. The University District spot is one of the city’s most eclectic watering holes. Staff feels like family, and you can relax free and easy in the OBAMA room, or the Official Bad Art Museum of Art room. The place also hosts regular shows and open mic nights with local and touring musicians. But now Eater wants to highlight the bar, which serves espresso, spirits, and (happily) beer.

On tap on a recent visit is Fremont Brewing’s Bonfire Ale, a smoky amber beer with a touch of malt, as well as Georgetown Brewing’s smooth, dark porter that’s perfect for winter. In total, Racer has seven handles to go with their full bar. Bartender David Hedin (who plays in the band The Pure Ups) was on duty the Monday morning we decided to walk in and sit right down.

How does Racer go about choosing what’s on tap?

It’s a community effort. Nick, our bar manager does all the ordering, but normally beer reps come in and let us taste new things. Kilt Lifter, Manny’s, Supergoose, and PBR are our standards, we don’t often deviate from them. Kilt Lifter has been on there since we opened. So that leaves us two or three slots to experiment with. We try to keep a darker beer on tap—sometimes an Anchor Steam—something toasty and hearty. Then we have one seasonal—like a Fremont Summer Ale. So, I think we are always trying to rotate while also keeping the familiars.

What’s your favorite beer to drink here with food? And what do you normally order off the menu?

My favorite beer to drink with food would probably be something light. I don’t like to mix heavy beers with food—so, right now I would get Hale’s Kolsch. By in large I’m vegetarian, so what I order off the menu is the “Caprisi Sandwich” with fresh mozzarella, basil puree with balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, and fresh-cut tomato.

What’s the most unique thing about working at Cafe Racer?

I’ve worked at several fancy Italian restaurants in Seattle and they were more lucrative, but that came with a cost in terms of micromanagement. There was a lot more inspection—less space for you to put your own spin on service. You want to give a good level of service, but there are many ways to do that. So here, the most unique thing about working at Racer is the space to make the face of the place, when you’re working at the bar, your own. For your shift, you are Racer. And the dress code is awesome. You can wear whatever you want, within reason.

Which do you think is the most popular beer ordered here during live shows?

I work Thursday nights and often there are folk bands in, and, to me, it seems the Bonfire Ale has been the most popular. We sell about 30 to 40 of those on a night.

What’s your favorite thing about hanging here when not working?

I’ve been coming here for six years before I even worked here. I had a [solid] relationship with the place before I was even employed. Just being able to shoot the shit with your coworkers and friends and not feel like there is a great amount of distance, that’s special. I’ve worked at restaurants where when you get off the clock you’re not allowed to stay. You’d have to go down the street to another place since employees weren’t allowed to be seen off the clock.

But in order to have a solid community bar, we want to show friendship between workers, patrons, and all that’s in between.

via Talking Beer and Community at Cafe Racer – Eater Seattle.

Top 10 live music venues in Seattle | Travel | The Guardian

Friday, November 07, 2014 // Share on Facebook

A cosy neighbourhood coffee shop and a colourful hole-in-the-wall bar, Cafe Racer is home to the Obama (Official Bad Art Museum of Art) and The Racer Sessions. Curated by a different musician every Sunday, the sessions are dedicated to exploring innovative original compositions and improvisation. The community of avant-garde musicians who jam here every Sunday have been hailed by the New York Times as the future of Seattle’s jazz tradition. If improvisational music isn’t to your taste, stop by the bar at night from Thursday to Saturday, when local punk and rock bands play live and loud.

via Top 10 live music venues in Seattle | Travel | The Guardian.

The Future of Seattle’s Jazz Tradition: The Racer Sessions :: Sosh :: Seattle

Thursday, October 30, 2014 // Share on Facebook

For years, Racer Cafe has brought together various artists, musicians, and performers in a welcoming and accepting atmosphere. Their longstanding Sunday sessions have fostered a community of like-minded artists from every walk of life.

The record label Table & Chairs started the Racer Sessions at the cafe over three years ago to work on musical composition and allow for free improvisation. The event has since prided itself on being the nucleus of a vast, intricate network of artists, and has always been synonymous with inclusivity and compassion.

The Racer Sessions cover a much larger scope than just jazz, welcoming and encouraging all types of improvisors to join the sessions. Open-mindedness of both the staff and patrons has made the Racer Sessions such a success.

via The Future of Seattle’s Jazz Tradition: The Racer Sessions :: Sosh :: Seattle.

Cafe Racer, Seattle – University District – Menu, Prices & Restaurant Reviews – TripAdvisor

Tuesday, October 07, 2014 // Share on Facebook

“You Would Never Know Just Looking At The Outside”

Reviewed October 10, 2014

OMG!!!! What a fabulous place. Warm, inviting, lots of comradery! I had The Incredible Wonder Weiner. This is absolutely NO JOKE . . The employees were awesome and the food was delicious. My only regret was that I did not discover this place sooner. The Cafe was 710 feet from the apartment I was staying at. Very convenient. Will definitely come back!!

Visited October 2014

via Cafe Racer, Seattle – University District – Menu, Prices & Restaurant Reviews – TripAdvisor.

Cafe Racer – Seattle, WA – The Stranger

Tuesday, October 07, 2014 // Share on Facebook

Cafe Racer


Cafe Racer is a hodgepodge of mismatched furniture, weird stuff on shelves, and, of course, the OBAMA (Official Bad Art Museum of Art). Here are some clean-cut college types drinking beer, here is a lady with poppy-red lipstick and a big fur hat claiming your drink is her own in a friendly but insistent manner, here is the fiddle player from the band sneaking potato chips off an abandoned plate. The menu is simple, with Racer Dogs being the clear favorite. Of note in menu verbiage: “We take pride in the fact that we are a friendly place… If you want your food in 30 seconds, go to McDonald’s. If you don’t want anyone to talk to you, go to Starbucks.” It’s true: The food takes a while, and people will talk to you. Also: strange and generally wonderful live music several nights a week. Cafe Racer is an embodiment of the triumph of the human spirit. Cafe Racer equals love.

via Cafe Racer – Seattle, WA – The Stranger.

The Racer Sessions

Monday, April 07, 2014 // Share on Facebook

Seattle record label Table & Chairs organizes weekly sessions that explore composition and improvisation. The Racer Sessions takes place promptly at 8:00 and lasts until 10:00 every Sunday evening.

Our mission is to give musicians of all backgrounds and ages the opportunity to interact with and inspire one another, while establishing a community-accessible home for this music, which might otherwise only exist in classrooms, basements, outer space, etc.

What Happens

Every Sunday at Cafe Racer, we feature a different artist or group who perform original music and provide a short explanation of their creative process. Afterwards, a jam session takes place, often based on the concepts and approaches outlined in the opening presentation.

The Racer Sessions’ musical focus is primarily centered on improvisation—particularly free or collective improv—and frequently incorporates the aesthetic and techniques of avant-gard jazz and classical music. However, we firmly believe that, as the name suggests, free improvisation should not be limited to any particular style, creed or approach, and we warmly welcome musicians of any persuasion to share their voice.

How to Participate

During the jam session, groups spontaneously form in the room to the side of the stage. There is no sign-up process, though on occasion, the featured artist may take a more active role in organizing groups. If you’d like to play, please make yourself known to a group or to the featured artist (or anyone who looks like they know what’s going on).

To prepare for each session, we recommend that everyone reads our weekly blog, which features a post from the upcoming session’s featured artist on the process of creating his or her piece, as well as recommended listening, approaches or meditations to prepare you for the jam session.

Every featured artist’s presentation and jam session is recorded and documented on the Racer Sessions website. To listen back to previous sessions, visit the Artists page.

If you are interested in being a featured artist at the Racer Sessions, please contact

Come on By!

We recommend arriving at least fifteen minutes in advance to get a good seat, grab a drink or some food, and to say “howdy!” to folks. Also, be sure to check out the Table & Chairs’ merch table, which contains physical copies of albums by our growing roster of artists.

See you there!

via The Racer Sessions.

Dune Zine and the Drawing Jam at Cafe Racer | City Arts

Saturday, December 07, 2013 // Share on Facebook

The monthly comix zine Dune is the most egalitarian publication in Seattle. It’s also the one with the narrowest possible distribution. “The other day some guy asked me how to get a copy of Dune,” says Max Clotfelter, the zine’s organizer, “And I told him, you’ve just gotta show up and draw. You’ve gotta contribute to get a copy.”

On the third Tuesday of each month, artists converge on Café Racer for an all-call drawing jam. Each of them will pitch in a completed page of art and two dollars for printing expenses, and at the end of the night Clotfelter gathers the work and photocopies it into the next issue of Dune, to be distributed at the following month’s jam. There is no editorial direction or control, and the only rule is that the work must be created that night.

Café Racer is the perfect backdrop for an indie comix event, a homey neighborhood bar decorated with a crowded hodgepodge of vividly-colored paintings, knick knacks and other obsessively-worked decorative elements. The café itself looks like an indie comix backdrop—you can almost see R. Crumb-esque crosshatching creeping up from the dimly-lit corners.

On the evening I visited, the cafe was packed. About fifty artists had shown up to contribute, cluttering every available surface with their sketchpads, pens, erasers, and pints of beer. A long table in the center of the café was crowded with artists hunched earnestly over their work, giving off an almost monastic vibe. One huddled scribe asked “Does anyone have an eraser?” and someone responded, “Yes,” tossing one over without looking up from their work.

Artists of all skill levels attend the jam and contribute to Dune. At a table in the upstairs room, I spoke to Abigail Swanson, a first timer and Café Racer employee who came here on her night off to participate. “I’m just drawing this weird penis guy,” she said, almost apologetically, “I accidentally sat down at the ‘pro table’ and I’m a Newb Deluxe.”

“There’s actually no hierarchy here, you can sit anywhere,” jam regular Marc Palm corrected. But this table was loaded with some serious talent. John Ohannesian, a working pro, labored over a full-page drawing, pausing intermittently to chat with his colleagues. Beside him, Brian Beardsley made steady progress on a four-panel piece. “It’s my ode to Spy vs. Spy,” he said. Across from them, Mark Allender sat penciling his page and occasionally glancing at an open copy of a well-worn graphic novel. He was reproducing a grim sequence from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, but replacing Batman with the San Francisco Batkid. Next to Allender, Marc Palm worked on a multi-panel dialogue between hideous monsters that was as violent and profane as Palm is friendly and unassuming.

Clotfelter greeted a pair of women who just arrived, “You gonna draw tonight?”

“Yeah. We’re jam virgins!” . . . .

via Dune Zine and the Drawing Jam at Cafe Racer | City Arts.

A year later: Cafe Racer lives on | The Seattle Times

Thursday, May 30, 2013 // Share on Facebook

A year later: Cafe Racer lives on | The Seattle Times.

The wooden bar had seen better days. The brass rail behind it tended to wobble. The place itself could seem haphazard, as if its interior decorator was entropy.

That’s just the way things were at Cafe Racer, and nobody seemed to mind.

Owner Kurt Geissel
has always been a creative type at heart, a guy with a crazy mop of white hair who’s done sculpture and video art on the side. Part of the counterculture, if you can still call it that.

There was no grand plan. His marketing scheme seemed to be simply that oddballs attract. Geissel’s artsy friends drew musicians who overlapped with university profs who crisscrossed with scooter freaks and on and on until the place became a salad bowl of subcultures — a sort of Island of Misfit Toys, where all were welcome and eccentricities were embraced. . . .