Comic Shops Killed the Convenience Store

As mentioned during my time at Heroes Con, artist Don Rosa recalled his encounter with a group of children who struggled to understand the concept of Charlie Brown purchasing a comic from a newsstand. Said scenario was not too foreign for my age group, as the closest my generation has come to that experience was buying a comic from a grocery store or the 7-Eleven. Of course, those were not my only options for most of my life, but I recently began to realize how much of these experiences would join newsstands of Mr Rosa’s anecdote in generational dissonance.

The late 1980s was the time that direct-to-sell comic book stores began to spread nationwide, giving access to independent comic publishers. At the time, I was only 8 years old and pretty much removed from current events of the world, but even back then, I knew the idea was pretty novel. Previously, I had only seen comics at the 7-eleven or the grocery store and by that point it was those places with which I associated comics. As soon as I saw an ad for the comic book store on TV, I just had to get my mother to take me there.

Geppi’s Comic Book Store was the place in my area. It had a name that caught a child’s ear, and just the mere concept was a dream come true: a store with nothing but comics. That had to be the best thing to happen to a kid since…….an all cartoon channel!

Hey, this was five years away.

I remember as I entered the store it was wall to wall of shelves with nothing but colorfully illustrated works. Of course, There were so many titles I had never seen, so I wandered around to find whatever struck familiar. Were there adults in the store rummaging through the merchandise? I don’t remember. They weren’t my focus. All II remembered was that the first thing to catch my eye were the back issues of Disney Adventures Magazine.

DA_earlyissues

Yes kids, the “Nice Judge” from American Idol was once “Totally Cool”.

I first saw advertisements for this magazine on The Disney Channel (back when it was a pay channel), but didn’t obtain access until I spotted copies sitting next to the TV Guides at the grocery rack. By that point I had only received the third issue so far in the publication (the Bronson Pinchot issue pictured above), so my disappointment in missing the first three issues unthawed.

I’m surprised it made it to the Hanna Montana Era.

To be honest, I’m surprised DA survived into the Hanna Montana Era.

Somewhere off to the side, I spotted a a comic book adaptation of a sitcom airing at the time— Married with Children, published by NOW comics. I asked my mother to buy one for me. She was bit hesitant to do so, having seen the show, but added it to the pile of more-kid friendly fare already gathered in my arms.

If there were any dirty jokes, they went over my head.

Although I would make subsequent visits to new comic shops, the grocery store and 7-Eleven still remained primary sources for titles. My interest in Disney Adventures eventually dropped by early high school, only keeping my subscription when the magazine began running Jeff Smith’s Bone series before ending it to purchase the series separately in a new store. Had I not gone in search for Bone, though, I never would have been able to reconnect with Frank Cho’s series Liberty Meadows after it syndication in The Washington Post for Image Comics. I owe a lot to the Comic book store.

LM_collection

I never thought I would look back on that time the same way the generations before me look back on their visits to the newsstands. Today, every major city has at least two comic book stores. There are two within a 5 mile radius of where I live. I would go to one first before anywhere else for a comic. I don’t see a lot of true comics in the grocery store’s magazine section anymore. Most 7-Elevens I’ve been to recently don’t have an arcade cabinet let alone a comic rack.

Of course, I still attend my current local comic store, which now hosts the annual Free Comic Book Day. Whenever I wait in line for those complementary comic samples, I cant help but notice children who attend with their parents. I could imagine half of them look at their selected titles and wonder why some of the characters buying a comic from the convenience store.

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Con Week Part 2: HeroesCon 2013

After a three day at ConCarolinas [June 1-3, 2013], my body reminded me it was 15 years older and needed to slow down, so I took some time to rest between work shifts. By friday [6/5/2013] I was finally ready for round two at the comic convention known as HeroesCon. Although they followed ConCarolinas by a week, I had HeroesCon on my calendar for a good year. ConCarolinas was a last minute invitation. Looking back, ConCarolinas helped me ease into the environment of HeroesCon a lot better than I probably would have without so. Talk about your blessings in disguise.

For those unfamiliar with Charlotte, HeroesCon is the signature comic convention of local franchise Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, has been the standard comic convention in Charlotte for a good 30 years.  For three days Lynx riders garnered a little entertainment sharing a ride uptown with people in costumes. When I made it to the Charlotte Convention Center, The showroom was so big I think a good hour passed before I completed the outer circle. It took at least another hour to complete the inner rings. 

I ran into familiar faces from ConCarolinas, such as the Carolina Ghostbusters and Comic Illustrator Tom Fleming. They must’ve been as tired as I was.

Panels

Con or College class?

Well, there were panels, of course, but they didn’t define define the overall experience. Alumni and staff from the Savannah College of Art and Design hosted this year’s educational workshops and drawing contest attended by writers, illustrators, as well as any young student who wanted to learn either. For anybody who is not sure where to take their career path, I surely recommend attending for the workshops.

The first workshop I attended covered the growing world of self-publishing. Indie comics and zines are a subcategory of comics that is still unknown by the greater population and may not be known to newbie artists only familiar with superheroes and newspaper syndicates. SCAD alumnus David Allen Duncan held a workshop on mini comics, showing attendees the variety of handmade comics and binding styles one can create. It’s very fascinating to see how professional one can make a handmade comic look with only 11 x 17 photocopied construction paper and access to a basic photocopier.

Later on, I joined several illustrators in one of their ongoing drawing contests. We drew whatever came to our minds for 20 minutes and submitted the work with our name and contact info.  I sat there with with children as young as three to people old enough to be their great grandparents (I’m not kidding, there were people who had to be in their 70s in that room). I didn’t win, of course, but I was glad to get my talent out there to be seen while getting to see the talent of those around me. If the parents keep up the good work, will be a lot of future published illustrators coming out of that room.

Eyevis

I did give myself a break and stopped for a little entertainment panel for Eyevis– an animated short by Dave Johnson about the one-eyed son of a Cthulhu creature and a human mom living in what Johnson calls a “leave-it-to-beaver neighborhood” As sick and twisted as it was, I was pretty amused. Eyevis‘s humor and atmosphere reminded me of MTV in the ’90s and could easily fit on Adult Swim’s line-up. 
I assume there’s an online lockdown by Viacom, so you may not find too much in Google images results or Dave Johnson’s social media profiles. I refused to photograph the guy’s stuff, so you’re gonna have to wait until it’s released.

Meeting Artists

It’s overwhelming to meet some of the artists responsible for redirecting your comics career path. One of them included, Frank Cho of Liberty Meadows and Savage Wolverine fame, whom I had not expected to see at all until I came across his table. All my issues of  Liberty Meadows and University^2 resided an hour away in Greensboro, so he signed my schedule book. 

Out of nowhere, my 17 year old personality took over from some dormant region in my brain, unleashing a giggling frenzy that made a situation more awkward than it already was. Thankfully I was able to redeem myself later when I sat in a panel he co-hosted discussing humor in comics.

See Frank, I wasn’t lying!

Comics Beat has a much better article on said panel so just read their’s:

http://comicsbeat.com/on-the-scene-going-too-far-humor-in-comics-with-cho-dorkin-bagge-rickard-at-heroes-con-2013/

Ducks, Detectives and Demographics

At a earlier panel, Don Rosa, Joe Stanton, the respective current artists for The life and Times of Scrooge McDuck and Dick Tracy respectively, and their moderator, Tom Hetjies, editor of the magazine Hogan’s Alley, provided a discussion on their respective comics and the diverged preference of genres between the US and International comic markets.

One detail that has contributed to this perception was the ever changing nature of comic availability. I remember going into a 7-Eleven and being able to grab an X-men or Sonic comic off the rack near the newspaper stand. Mr. Rosa sadly reminded us of  Peanuts cartoon in which Charlie Brown tried to grab a comic off the highest rack of a newsstand shelf. Rosa commented on how the joke was lost on young readers because they could not understand the concept of buying a comic at a newsstand.

   As disappointing as it sounded, I was given a warning just before the panel began. I was outside the panel room brandishing my cell phone trying to get a signal on my phone when I heard someone behind me. It was Don Rosa.
    “This is why I don’t do American Panels” he muttered to Hetjies as he entered the room. 

   With a space prepared for 100 people, only 12 arrived, including myself.  Though Rosa and Stanton inherited their comic sources, the sources themselves are classics and long runners. I could not blame the public response too much, but there were too many factors influencing their decisions. The panel was scheduled on a Sunday at 10:00am, suggesting where the gentlemen stood in the hierarchy of public demand and event scheduling. Sad, considering a gentleman and his son traveled all the way from Norway to see Don Rosa just avoid the convention crowds in his home country. Yeah, that says a lot about the our respective cultures.  During the panel, I had to ask him what brought about this divergence in preference. Rosa explained that during WW2 the populace only had access to donald duck Comics via the allied troops. In later years, the increasing limitations by the comics code, cultural differences, and access walls by corporations like Disney further added to the schism.

   It’s bad enough that Hollywood movies are becoming increasing inbred, featuring the same plots starring the same actors, but comics need the variety that helped it survive the comics code, and if that is whittled down to few options, then American pop culture is doomed.

I have a lot to say about this but I’ll continue in a later post.

   As an artist myself, the still surviving popularity of comics like Uncle Scrooge and Dick Tracy remind me that my options are open when I explore my own career and the United States is not the end-all to a flourishing career. I don’t have to pigeonhole myself into narrow genres or interests to fit what these some hollow-minded corporation defines as “comics”. If the US ignores me and some other country loves my stuff, well, I’m getting on a plane and greeting my foreign fans. There is a saying that you’re never a hero in your own home town. Their loss. 

….. And Diversity

Since I brought up genre diversity in comics, diversity of the more obvious kind was on my mind as I explored the con. As expected, black artists and attendees would be in the numerical minority, with black female artists an even bigger minority. However I did encounter one with a table —
Afua Richardson. The roster changes every year, so definitely check with the website every year.
A cosplayer as X-Men’s Storm

With Afua Richardson

Drink N Draw

Before the first day could officially end, those who didn’t want to return home (but couldn’t stay at the convention center) hopped a block over to the Hilton Center City for a little Drink N Draw. Original works by renowned comic artists were being auctioned off with proceeds going to Parkinson’s research.

Original work from “zits” creator Jerry Scott

“Mutts” work signed by Patrick McDonnell

Attendees also contributed their own pieces of artwork onto HeroesCon brand coasters, memo paper or their own sketchbook paper to donate as they enjoyed alcoholic drinks of their choice. My contribution to the auction received the attention of Terry Maltos (representing the work of late brazilian artist Al Rio) who invited me to a bigger auction the next night,  and local Charlotte area Artist John Hairston Jr, who thought I had a table! A sign that I really need to get my “S” together and get back to work.

The following Saturday, Maltos invited me to a bigger auction were I got to see the results of artists who spent most of the previous convention days buried in their canvases, whipping up original pieces for purposes no one knew until we arrived to see the finished products all over to the Westin ballroom.

Artists working on their auction pieces.

One of the first items on the block was the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes signed by Bill Watterson. As the haggler announced, this was the equivalent of getting “Catcher in the Rye” signed by J.D. salinger. It took some time, and $1,000 but someone did buy the collection. Smart man.

John Hairston Jr’s work was purchased for $250.

Check more about the auction at this link from Comic Art Community:
http://comicartcommunity.com/2013/06/heroes-con-2013-art-auction-walk-through/

Final Thoughts

I moved to Charlotte just when HeroesCon 2012 was in full effect and promised myself to attend the following year. It was worth the wait.  I met people I had not expected to, made connections I had not expected to.  For the whole experience, the only thing I had to pay for was registration — $40. That pretty much beats tuition and two years of school work if you need to update your skills or simply want to explore uncharted territory. Any other expenses –food, paraphernalia, souvenirs –were up to me.

As of now, I’v been trying to fix what’s broken, and been working on whatever’s in development hell. By the time Heroes Con 2014 rolls by, I hope to at least join the ranks of the table set. Well see.

More Links

Terry Maltos —http://thecharmedcomics.wikia.com/wiki/Terry_Maltos
                       http://mycolorist.com/

John Hairston Jr.—http://allcitystudios.com/home.html

Afua Richardson– http://www.afuarichardson.info/