Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 120

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 42
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 13


My son, Adam, went to a top-notch college preparatory high school in Lexington, Massachusetts. The school claimed that almost 100 percent of all of their students went on to college after graduation. A clearly defined schedule was implemented to put each student on a college-bound path beginning with his or her freshman year in high school. I like this approach because it prompts the students to plan in advance to achieve their goal of attending college. It teaches them to establish a goal and diligently work towards that goal. In many ways, we run our comic book and collectible stores that same way.

When Adam reached his senior year of high school he began the application process for college. Since he was interested in pursuing Musical Theatre, the process was much more complex. He needed to be accepted at a college academically but he also needed to audition to demonstrate his ability to act, dance and sing. This required him to actually go in person to each college he had interest in attending. Since we still had to get our daughter, Cassy, to school each day, and this process began while Mal was still operating her store (The Vineyard Stamp Company), it was decided that I’d go with Adam to these auditions and Mal would stay home to take care of normal obligations. I was grateful that I had a staff of dedicated employees to take care of my comic book and collectible stores while I was away.

Adam decided to apply to “The Julliard School” in New York City for his first choice of college, knowing full well that he probably wouldn’t be accepted. He figured that the audition process would be tougher there than at almost any other college and he hoped to learn from the experience.

We drove the five hours to New York City and while Adam waited for his time to audition I was surprised to see how nervous he actually was. This was unusual. Adam was normally very confident when it came to acting and singing. I tried to get him to relax by joking around about the school’s “judges.” We both thought it would be amusing to have Rip Taylor, the silly confetti-throwing comedian, as one of the judges. Our bizarre sense of humor was very similar in those days and although it probably would not have amused any one else, we didn’t care. It was funny to Adam and me. When Adam was finished with his song, dance, and short monologue, the judges politely said, “Thank you.” What they really meant was, “No thanks. Next!” Adam appreciated that they were blunt so he wouldn’t be “strung-along” thinking that he might get accepted to this prestigious school.

Adam applied to several other colleges that were among the leading schools for Musical Theatre and although he was offered a large academic scholarship to “The University of Cincinnati,” he chose to attend “The Boston Conservatory” where he was offered no financial aid at all. He may have been influenced by the fact that his girlfriend, Meridith, was also attending “The Boston Conservatory.”

While Adam’s college search was going on, we were also trying to decide where Cassy would go for high school. “The Imago School,” (where both of my children went for grades one through eight) didn’t have a high school program and we assumed that Cassy would attend the same private high school that Adam had attended. Cassy took the admission test and did quite well, so we were surprised when we were told that she would be put on a waiting list for possible admission. It seems that the school was attempting to improve the “racial diversity” and since Cassy was a “middle class white girl” she wouldn’t be helping to achieve that goal. Since there were no other private Christian high schools in the area that we thought would be a good “fit” and Mal and I didn’t want to send Cassy to the local public high school, it seemed as if we had no convenient option. Drastic measures had to be considered.

Next chapter: My father is hospitalized.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 119

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 42
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 13


By the fall of 1997, my son was now a senior in high school and my daughter was in eighth grade. My wife was a “stay at home mom.” I wasn’t really needed at either of my comic book and collectible stores but would occasionally go in to the Worcester store to work on adding our huge inventory to our website. It was our hope that our business would increase by selling comic books all over the world via the Internet. Every employee we had seemed to be already overloaded with work to do each day so the task of listing the comic books fell to me. I spent dozens of hours listing comic books onto the website and I only finished the titles that began with the letters A-G. It was my intention to keep adding comic books as the months went on.

Most of us were either novices or almost useless when it came to computers so we assigned the task of dealing with any email that our website generated to one of our young, computer skilled employees. He seemed to enjoy being our “Internet guy.”

We began to advertise our website in a couple of comic book-related publications and eventually we started to get some orders. It certainly wasn’t the “flood” of orders we were expecting though. Very few orders came from the United States but we did get quite a few from countries like Japan, Brazil, and Finland. The foreign collectors were mostly buying inexpensive and common back issues of “Groo The Wanderer” so our sales still didn’t justify the expense of running our website. I decided to stop listing the run-of-the-mill inexpensive comics and start listing our expensive “display” comics. It would take the same amount of time to list a fifty cent comic as it did to list a $300 comic book and I hoped the website visitors would jump at the opportunity to buy some nice, expensive vintage “Spider-Man” or “Batman” comics. Then our website would have a chance to be profitable. But even after almost all of our most expensive comics were listed, the orders still didn’t come in. Discouraged, I slowed down my efforts to get every comic book we had onto the website.

One day when I happened to go into the store, I checked the store’s incoming email file and noticed that we had an order from a foreign collector for a few old “Warren Magazines” that I had listed. The order had come in almost two weeks ago and, for some reason, our “Internet guy” had not taken the time to process the order. This gave me a chance to explain to this employee what I perceived to be the common thinking of most Internet users. When they send an email they are expecting an almost immediate reply! Internet customers tend to get upset if you take more than twenty-four hours to respond to their email. My employee understood and contacted this potential new customer, apologized for the delay, and let him know that the magazines he wanted were available if he still wanted them. The customer responded and also emailed us a large “want list” of other magazines he was looking to buy. The total sale ended up being over $600. We could have lost this sale if I hadn’t noticed this unanswered email.

Our “Internet guy” pledged to do a better job at keeping up with the email, but with all of his other responsibilities he was stretched to the limit. We soon realized that we didn’t have any other employee as computer-skilled to assign to the task of managing the website. After several more months we determined that we just weren’t doing a decent job of handling our Internet operation. We decided that we’d rather not spend the time necessary to manage the website if we couldn’t be great at it. It would be unfair to our new customers if we weren’t able to provide a fast, reliable service. We eventually removed our product from the website but continued to use the site for advertising and as a source of current information about the events at our stores. We’ve been able to keep up with this because of the effort of several dedicated employees over the years.

My wife, Mal, had been successfully selling rubber stamps and supplies at craft fairs with her friend Dianne. One day in October of 1997, while they were sitting at our kitchen table writing up an order for stamps and supplies, I urged them to consider opening a full-time store. It didn’t take much convincing because they both knew that they had the skills and knowledge to make a full-time store work. Their main concern was that they didn’t want to sign a long-term lease on a store location just in case the store wasn’t profitable. I suggested that they could open their store inside my Fitchburg store. This store had a large “backroom” that we used for storage of extra product and with a little bit of work we could free up some space for Mal and Dianne to set up their new business. This way, they could try having a full-time store without paying any rent.

Dianne’s husband, Ken, had carpentry skills and he did all of the construction work of moving walls and creating an attractive space for the women to arrange their product. Mal and Dianne ordered lots of new product and had it shipped quickly so that they could be open for business soon. They got all of the required permits, business licenses, separate telephone line, and had a sign painted and installed outside to advertise the new “Vineyard Stamp Company.” I supplied an extra cash register I wasn’t using at the store and a few odds and ends that they’d need to get started. Since their store was actually inside of my store, they wouldn’t need to pay for heat or air conditioning. I was already paying for that. There was a separate heater for my “backroom” that wasn’t working so they paid to get it repaired. “The Vineyard Stamp Company” opened for business on November 1st, 1997.

I’m sure some people thought it was strange to have this “store-within-a-store” but it was as close to a risk-free experiment for Mal and Dianne as was possible and I also believed that both of us would benefit from the arrangement. Their business would attract more women to our location and the women would tell their male friends and relatives about our unusual inventory of sports memorabilia, comic books, toys and collectibles. This could eventually increase our store sales. I also believed that many of our customers would be interested, or know someone who’d be interested, in all of the craft products that Mal and Dianne were selling.

With some well-placed and inexpensive advertising they quickly began to build up a steady customer base. They decided to teach classes and charged a nominal fee to cover the cost of the materials that would be used in the class. Sales increased each week and were especially good on the days that Mal or Dianne taught classes on how to create the beautiful hand-made greeting cards. They realized that most of the “students” in the classes would want to purchase the items used during the class so they could duplicate the same cards when they got home. “The Vineyard Stamp Company” became a successful and profitable business very quickly. But what was originally conceived as a fun opportunity for Mal and Dianne to work together and share their passion for “rubber-stamping” with others, now became a real job. They both were now committed to running a real business. One, or both of them, needed to be at the store to be open for business six days a week.

After many years of not working outside of the home, Mal didn’t enjoy this new commitment. She especially hated making the thirty-minute drive in the snow throughout the winter while I stayed, warm and comfortable, at home. Mal also realized that when summer came, she’d have to be at the store alone each day because Dianne spent each summer on Martha’s Vineyard and was going to be unable to help Mal cover the store. So, after seven months of business, Mal and Dianne agreed to close their store.

I made Mal and Dianne an offer to purchase the balance of the leftover inventory because I hoped that we could keep their customers coming in to our store to spend money. Unfortunately, without skilled salespeople willing to demonstrate the craft of card-making, sales on these products plummeted. The male employees of our Fitchburg store just were not interested in these products. We ran a big, half-price sale and sold off quite a bit of the inventory. After a few more months, the employees just packed up what was left into boxes and stored them in our backroom. This inventory would become useful again soon, but not for us.

Next chapter: Big decisions to make about Adam’s college and Cassy’s high school.

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 118

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 42
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 13


The summer of 1997 was a busy time for my family. Both of our children decided to participate in local community theatre programs. Adam went to Groton, Massachusetts for a second year of acting lessons while Cassy began a summer program in Hudson, Massachusetts. These summer programs consisted of dance, vocal, and acting lessons that would culminate in a series of performances. Adam would be in “Grease,” while Cassy would be in “Annie.”

After a series of auditions, Adam got the part of “Kenickie,” the second lead in the play. He was disappointed because he really wanted the main male role of “Danny” but he trusted that the director knew what he was doing. Cassy auditioned and got the lead role as “Annie.”

Both of these theater programs were for kids aged 12-19 and they required quite a commitment from both the kids and parents. The kids had to be there each weekday from 9 am to noon for the first month and as the big performance dates neared, the schedule of rehearsals got much more intense. Adam had his own car so he drove himself to his rehearsals in Groton, but most of the other kids needed their parents to drive them in the morning and pick them up after noon each day. For Mal and I, since we drove our kids to and from private schools each day during the school year, this meant that we’d have no break from this obligation of being a “parental taxi service.” We willingly did it though, because both of our kids had a passion and a talent for drama.

Cassy and Adam learned their lines and songs very quickly and made friends in the classes. This was a difficult time for Adam though, because his girlfriend, Meridith, was not able to join this theater group for this particular summer. She was enrolled in a summer theater, pre-college program at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to get the teaching she felt she’d need to eventually be accepted into The Boston Conservatory. Meridith was no longer going to the Lexington Christian Academy with Adam and they wouldn’t see each other for the whole summer. This was a difficult decision for Meridith to make. She could spend the summer having fun performing with Adam, or she could sacrifice a few months of fun in order to get the education she knew she needed to further her dream of a career as a performer. Adam hated being separated from her.

During the long weeks of rehearsals, the girl playing “Rizzo” opposite Adam seemed to develop a “crush” on him. She frequently called our house in an attempt to talk with Adam. Sometimes he’d talk with her but he sensed that she was “after” him. Adam tried to maintain a good friendship with her but he just wasn’t interested in being anything more than friends. He knew he had to maintain a good working relationship with her so he couldn’t be rude and tell her that he loved Meridith.

After months of preparation, it was time for the actual performances. We invited several friends and relatives to both plays and we were glad that many planned to attend. It was a crazy schedule because the plays were both performed on the same nights in different towns. Since this was Cassy’s first lead role in a play, we decided to see all three of her performances and we planned to see two of Adam’s performances.

Cassy was excellent as “Annie” and her performance was very natural. The other kids were basically the same age as Cassy, but because she was very petite, she looked perfect as “Little Orphan Annie.”

Adam did a great job of acting, singing, and dancing as “Kenickie” in “Grease.” In fact, after one performance, Adam was approached by a representative of a film company offering him a job acting in an industrial training film for a national chain store. The man gave Adam a business card and told him to call soon if he was interested in this kind of work. Even though we kept suggesting to Adam that he should follow up on this potentially lucrative offer, he just didn’t seem interested. It seemed as if he wasn’t interested in acting in movies or television anymore. His “passion” was the stage. As parents, we could only encourage him to try it. We couldn’t force him even though we thought it could be a great opportunity.

Mal and I were not involved in the running of these two summer theater programs but we watched how they were run and we would soon find a use for this new-found “education.”

Next chapter: We rethink our comic book store’s website.
Pictures: Adam performs in "Grease"
Cassy performs as Annie in "Annie."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 117

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 42
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12


I have a customer named Pete (not his real name) that I’ve known for many years. Pete used to set up at flea markets and toy conventions selling old collectibles, but he didn’t deal in comic books. One day, he came into my store and offered to sell me a lot of six 1950’s comic books including three sequential Batman comic books and three sequential Detective Comics, all in gorgeous condition. Since Pete had never dealt in vintage comic books before, I asked him where he got these.

He explained that his teenage son had regularly done yard work for a neighbor and that one day, in addition to the money he was paid, the neighbor invited the son into his basement to show him something. As they walked downstairs, the neighbor said he had recalled that the boy enjoyed comic books, so he wanted to give him something special. He opened up a steel closet unit and randomly pulled out the top three comics from two of the stacks. The neighbor had saved these comics since they were first published and he apparently had no idea how valuable they were. The boy expressed his gratitude and brought the comic books home to show his father. Pete knew that these were quite valuable and convinced the teen that he should sell these to my store because the money was needed more than the comic books. Because I had a good feeling that these issues would sell within a year, I was happy to buy them and made Pete a very generous offer.

I also told Pete that this collection of comic books could be worth a small fortune and that he should tell his neighbor that there is a strong market for them before he gave them all away to someone else. Pete agreed and said he’d do his best to convince his neighbor that he should allow me to make an offer on the collection. Over the next few months, when Pete would come into my store, he would explain hat the “time just didn’t seem right” to approach the neighbor about the comic book collection, so there was nothing I could do about it. For some reason, Pete seemed reluctant to move forward. I offered to pay Pete a generous commission for securing this collection for me and he seemed interested but several more months passed before I saw Pete again. I didn’t want to pressure him about the collection but the thought that this amazing group of rare comic books could end up disappearing really bothered me.

Pete told me that he had actually seen the comics and he estimated that there were about 1500 comic books, mostly published by DC Comics, and all from the 1950’s. He wasn’t able to look through any of the stacks to see what particular issues were there but he was able to notice that most of the books on the top of each pile was a superhero title like Batman, Superman, Action Comics, Adventure Comics, etc.

I told Pete that he needed to be honest with the owner of these comics and tell him that I was a serious buyer. Without seeing the books, I estimated that the comics would be valued at a minimum of $10,000. If certain “key” issues were included, the value could easily be $30,000 or more! I suggested that Pete should offer him $10,000 as a minimum price so that the owner would know that he had a very desirable collection. Unfortunately, Pete got greedy. He figured that if I were willing to pay $10,000 for the collection, he’d try to make a low offer to the neighbor and then resell the comics to me at a huge mark-up. Instead of being honest with his neighbor Pete thought he’d be “clever.” Pete offered his neighbor $600 for the whole collection and even though the neighbor had no idea of the true value of the comics, the offer wasn’t enough to interest him in selling them. Now there was no way that Pete could make the man a fair offer without revealing his previous scheme to take advantage of him. I suggested that Pete should give me the neighbor’s phone number so I could try to buy the collection from him and still offered to give Pete a “finders fee” if I got the comic books. Pete (still trying to be “clever”) said he’d continue to try to find a way to buy the comics directly from his neighbor. As it turned out, Pete ended up with nothing.

A local comic dealer needed some carpentry work done on his home and he hired a local carpenter. When the carpenter arrived to start the job he noticed the comic books lying around and he said, “Hey, I have an uncle that has a bunch of old comic books. Would you be interested in them?” Within a week, the carpenter arranged for the other comic book dealer to view the collection and make an offer on it. As the dealer walked down into the basement, he noticed that the first comic book on one of the piles was a gorgeous copy of Detective Comics #225 featuring the important key first appearance of The Martian Manhunter, a character long-considered to be the first new “silver-age” superhero. This book alone was worth almost $4000! The dealer was able to buy the whole collection for a reasonable price and he made quite a nice profit on it over the next year.

I certainly wished that Pete’s greed hadn’t prevented me from buying this collection.

Next chapter: Our involvement in theatre.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 116

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 42
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12


It had been several years since I had talked with my previous comic book business employers, Gary and Peggy Walker, owners of “The Great Escape” in Tennessee. We decided to take a family vacation to explore Nashville with our kids and to rekindle friendships with our old friends. I called the Walkers, confirmed that they’d be available for a visit, and booked our travel plans.

When we arrived in Nashville, we drove around the areas where we had once lived while we reminded our children of our lives there before they were born. We didn’t have much money back in those days but it was a very happy time for us. We loved Gary and Peggy and enjoyed working for them.

We had arranged to meet Gary at his huge comic book, record, and collectible store in downtown Nashville so our children could get an idea of the incredible inventory that put “The Great Escape” in a class of its own. Gary introduced us to many of his employees while explaining each of their “specialties.” I was interested in this idea of each employee being “experts” in separate kinds of collectibles. In my store, I had always hoped that each employee could be trained to deal with all of the different products that we bought and sold but as our own inventory expanded it became much too difficult for any one employee to be able to know all of the information needed to be considered an expert. Gary’s success at “departmentalizing” his employees prompted me to encourage specialization of my own employees.

Mal and I and our kids spent the next day at “Opryland,” the big music-themed amusement park. Adam and Cassy loved the rides but because of their interest in musical theater they enjoyed the music and dance shows even more.

The next day, Gary and Peggy treated us all to “The Grand Ol’ Opry” with special backstage passes. Gary had some important contacts because of his involvement in the music business and we were thrilled to be able to see “behind the scenes.”

We were also happy to get to spend some time with our old friends, Ray and Virginia Sawyer. They were good friends while we worked with Gary and Peggy back in the 1970’s but we had lost contact with them. Ray remembered how much I liked rock and roll music so he pulled a few strings when he heard that “The Eagles” were going to appear on the popular “Crook and Chase” television show. We all had “VIP” tickets and we sat in the best seats in the television studio. Ray was very embarrassed when he realized that it wasn’t going to be the rock-band “The Eagles,” but a demonstration of real American bald eagles! I still get a laugh out of this as I occasionally watch the videotape of the show as these birds flew back and forth over our heads.

We had a great time revisiting Nashville and Gary and I got a rare chance to share business ideas with each other. I always learn something valuable from Gary.

Next chapter: A tale of greed and a lost collection.

Picture: Adam eating the "world's largest snow-cone" at Opryland in Tennessee

Monday, June 21, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 115

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 42
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12
Ken Carson: a key employee


After our narrow “defeat” for the prestigious “Will Eisner Spirit of Comic Book Retailing Award” in 1996, we were all excited to be nominated again for 1997. Ken Carson, our employee with a talent for dealing with details, worked to refine our application for the judges to review. Not much had changed from the previous year but we placed a bit more emphasis on our successful retailing of “back issue” comic books in the information we sent to the judges.

Many comic book stores around the country had noticed declining sales of back issues and some had even made the decision to stop stocking them as part of their inventory mix. Our sales had actually increased because of efforts to keep as much inventory in stock as possible. We wanted to have at least two copies of every back issue comic book in each store at all times. Obviously, that isn’t always possible, but it was our goal. While many other comic book stores declined to buy most back issues, we’d pay a slight premium to buy any issues on which we were running low and we’d buy every comic book that was offered to us in a collection. We established a good reputation because of our “buying” policies. We didn’t just try to buy the very best of the comics; we wanted everything! As a result, we bought lots of comic books every week and became known for our great selection of back issues and that, in turn, increased our sales of back issues. We had the luxury of our huge retail space rent-free because we owned the building, so we weren’t too concerned about using the space to stock the slower selling titles.

Our successful marketing of vintage and modern comic books apparently impressed some of the panel of judges enough that they invited me to teach a seminar at the San Diego Comic Book Convention the week of the presentation of the “Will Eisner Award.” It was an honor to be invited and I wanted to share my ideas with other comic book retailers. I asked the judges if their invitation was a “hint” that I would be winning “The Eisner” but they refused to confirm it. I explained my reluctance to spend $1000 for airfare, hotel and food, and spend a week away from my family, and then be disappointed by losing the “Eisner” for the second year in a row. The judges wouldn’t give me a clue, so I declined the invitation.

As it turned out, I ended up winning the “Will Eisner Spirit of Retailing Award” that year and I wasn’t present to accept the award. I missed out on one of the highlights of my business career.

A few weeks later, after I received the beautiful statue and the award certification, I contacted the local newspaper in Worcester expecting they would like to run a story about this award but they just didn’t seem interested. I was surprised. The story could have been an interesting local-success-story. We had been a positive and dedicated local business that had now been recognized internationally for its achievements. This award was our industry’s equivalent to “The Academy Award” but the city editor just wasn’t convinced that this was “newsworthy.”

Next chapter: We go back to Nashville, Tennessee to visit our old friends, Gary and Peggy Walker, owners of “The Great Escape.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 114

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 42
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12


As a father, my relationship with my son is very different than my relationship with my daughter. As Adam got older I eagerly anticipated his maturing to adulthood and was excited about all of the possibilities that awaited him, as he would begin his independent life. Adam was very confident, a leader (rather than a follower) and was always comfortable with “who he was.” He had endless possibilities and was actually becoming an adult. I was not, however, eager for my daughter to grow up.

Cassy was fun to be with. She loved her Mom and Dad and still enjoyed being with us. We played card games, board games, and still wrestled together. Cassy was at an age when she still believed that her Mom and Dad actually knew what we were doing and that we were infallible. (Of course, we weren’t, but young kids frequently believe this.) There was no question; Cassy was my little “Princess.”

One day, as I was driving Cassy to school, I happened to be changing the channels on the car radio and ended up listening to the ultra-cheesy song titled “Butterfly Kisses” by Bob Carlisle. I had not heard this song before and I was surprised by how closely this song paralleled our life with Cassy. When I was a young child, my mother would tuck me into bed at night and would give me a “butterfly kiss.” (This is when you flutter your eyelashes on someone’s cheek…like a butterfly’s wings) I passed this tradition on to Cassy. As I listened to the lyrics about a father watching his daughter grow up and eventually get married and move on, I found myself getting “misty-eyed.” When the song neared the end, my eyes were pretty “wet” with tears. Cassy couldn’t believe it! She had never seen me cry before. I explained to her how sad I was going to be when it was her time to leave our home to begin her new adult life. I’m sure she didn’t understand how tough that would eventually be for me. My little Princess was growing up too quickly.

If you’ve heard this song you probably know how “cheesy” the song really is but it has now become a “standard” at many wedding receptions because it accurately reflects the emotions of many fathers as their own Princess leaves the nest.

Here are the lyrics:
There’s two things I know for sure, she was sent here from heaven, and she’s daddy’s little girl. As I drop to me knees by her bed at night, she talks to Jesus, and I close my eyes. And I thank God for all of the joy in my life, but most of all, for butterfly kisses after bedtime prayers, stickin’ little white flowers all up in her hair. “Walk beside the pony, Daddy, it’s my first ride. I know the cake looks funny Daddy, but I sure tried” Oh with all that I’ve done wrong, I must’ve done something right to deserve a hug every morning and butterfly kisses at night.

Sweet sixteen today, she’s looking like her momma a little more every day. One part woman, the other part girl. To perfume and makeup from ribbons and curls. Trying her wings out in a great big world. “You know how much I love you Daddy, but if you don’t mind, I’m only going to kiss you on the cheek this time.” With all that I’ve done wrong I must’ve done something right to deserve her love every morning and butterfly kisses at night.

All the precious time, like the wind, the years go by. Precious butterfly, spread your wings and fly.

She’ll change her name today. She’ll make a promise, and I’ll give her away. Standing in the bride room just staring at her, she asked me what I’m thinking and I said, “I’m not sure. I just feel like I’m losing my baby girl.” Then she leaned over and gave me butterfly kisses, with her momma there, sticking little white flowers in her hair. “Walk me down the aisle Daddy, it’s just about time. Does my wedding gown look pretty Daddy? Daddy don’t cry.”

I couldn’t ask God for more, this is what love is. I know I’ve got to let her go, but I’ll always remember every hug in the morning and butterfly kisses at night.

This song may be considered corny and manipulative, but it struck an emotion I hadn’t felt or expressed for many years. I might be human after all.

Next chapter: Our involvement in theatre.
Pictures: My daughter, Cassy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 113

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 42
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12


Although we all enjoyed our lives, my wife and I took our role as parents pretty seriously. We worked hard to try to teach our two kids lessons that would guide them through their lives in a positive way. Even though the income from my two comic book stores was substantial, we didn’t want to spoil them with lots of material things. They learned that they would need to plan and save to buy the things they wanted to have. Mal and I consistently tried to teach our children by example, so we would demonstrate and explain to them about avoiding unnecessary debt. Overall, both of our kids seemed to understand the concept of saving up to buy what they wanted but for some extraordinary large purchases that seemed as if they couldn’t possibly be obtained we offered to pay for half. So it was with Adam’s first car.

Our friend, Kevin, had decided to buy a newer car so he offered his 1986 Chevy Celebrity to Adam for only $600. Kevin usually took good mechanical care of his automobile and was meticulous about normal scheduled maintenance so we felt that this would be a very good first car for Adam even though the body of the car had quite a bit of rust on it.

Adam had gotten a part-time job as a cashier at a large grocery store in Hudson, Massachusetts and, up until this point, either Mal or I would drive him to work and then go back to pick him up when his shift was over. Several supervisors had told us that Adam was a good worker and this made me very proud of him. On a few occasions, as I shopped for groceries, I would watch Adam work for a few minutes and was surprised to see him acting like a “grown up.”

After Adam saved up his half of the cost of the car we drove to Worcester to pick up his first car. This is a big event in the lives of most teen-age boys because it really signals the beginning of their true independence. They’re now mobile. But along with the newfound freedom comes the responsibility of car-ownership. Insurance is mandatory in Massachusetts and it’s very expensive because of the “insurance-mafia” tactics of the liberal and inept (or possibly corrupt) government allowing no meaningful competition among insurance companies. Automobile maintenance and gasoline are also expensive, but as Americans it seems as if it is all an expense we’re willing to incur to have our own transportation. (In a related vein, I get a good feeling whenever I fill up my gas tank. I know I can drive at least another 200 miles without interference. Is it just me?)

Adam didn’t really enjoy working at a grocery store but he knew that he needed to have an income because he wasn’t going to handed money from his parents for the non-essential things he wanted. Since he was a junior in high school he also needed to start saving money for college. My daughter, Cassy, was quite different. She enjoyed working for the things she wanted. At age eleven she created brochures advertising the services she was willing to do including babysitting and light housekeeping and went door-to-door in our neighborhood until someone hired her. It amazes me that two children brought up by the same parents can be so different.

Next chapter: Something finally makes me cry.
Picture: Adam buys his first car

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 112

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 41
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12
Chris: my overall company manager


After our success with having Ty Law of the New England Patriots as a guest at one of our stores, Chris (the overall company manager) quickly made agreements with several other Patriots to appear. We were able to get these football players for a very reasonable price because the Patriots were not a winning team at that point. A month later, they won the AFC East Conference and if we tried to get them for an appearance we would have had to pay four or five times as much!

On January 6th, 1997, we were honored to have Ted Johnson and Adam Vinatieri as our guests. It had been our store “policy” that we didn’t want to charge our customers for the celebrity autographs but even though the fee we had agreed to pay these players wasn’t outrageously high, we needed to recoup some of our event costs by charging a nominal fee this time. We all decided to charge $3.00 for a single autograph or $5.00 for both athletes’ autographs. We hoped that almost everyone would want them both so that neither of the athletes would feel unpopular. Thankfully, that’s what happened. Fans seemed delighted to buy one of each guy’s signatures! We learned that our customers were not unwilling to pay a fee for the autograph as long as it was reasonable. This new knowledge would allow us to take bigger financial risks and get “bigger” celebrities. Over the next few months we hosted many more New England Patriots players including Vincent Brisby, Chris Canty, Jimmy Hitchcock, Dave Wohlabaugh, and others at our Fitchburg and Worcester stores.

In February of 1997, I was invited to attend another “Father-Daughter” breakfast at the church where my daughter, Cassy, attended a “girl scout-type” of program called “Pioneer Girls.” Cassy and I went to these for several years and it was an event that I looked forward to each year. The young girls helped prepare the food (with lots of help from a hard-working group of Moms) and they also provided the entertainment. Sometimes it was small “skits” and other times it was music and song.
One of the highlights each year was the “color contest.” Each father-daughter team was judged to determine who was wearing the most clothing of a chosen color and the winning couple would win a prize. Cassy really wanted to win each year, so I’d do the best I could (within reason) to help. One year, the chosen color was purple and I didn’t own anything that was colored purple. I decided that this called for drastic measures so I went to the business that was renting part of my commercial building in Worcester. “The Halloween Outlet” offered thousands of costumes and accessories for sale and they also had a decent costume rental section so I borrowed a full-size costume of “Barney the (very purple!) Dinosaur” from the hit PBS television show. Although we easily won the color contest, I hadn’t anticipated the excitement of the very young girls as I walked in as their favorite TV character, Barney. Some of these kids were only five or six years old and even though I was far too hot inside this heavy costume, I did my best to entertain them. I didn’t want to let them know that Barney wasn’t real.

In March of 1997, my wife, Mal, decided to go into business with her friend, Dianne Lowe. Both of them enjoyed making their own hand-made greeting cards with rubber stamps and they thought it could be fun and profitable to set up at local craft fairs and shows to sell the products needed to make these cards. They contacted manufacturers and product distributors, set up accounts with several of them, and began to order product wholesale.

Their first show was at a high school in Clinton, Massachusetts and Cassy and I went with Mal, Dianne and her husband, Ken, to help them carry the boxes of product they hoped to sell. Mal and Dianne worked for almost two hours to set up their large display booth so that it would look attractive and inviting to potential customers but when the doors opened to let the customers in, there were no customers. The show had not been effectively advertised and Cassy and I were worried that they wouldn’t sell anything. Eventually a dozen or so customers came in and Mal and Dianne demonstrated how easy it is to make cards using rubber stamps. By the end of the day, even though there weren’t lots of customers, Mal and Dianne were both satisfied with the sales they had and they were encouraged enough to try other craft shows. It didn’t take too long before they picked those shows that were better advertised and attended and were on the way to having a profitable business together.

Next chapter: Adam buys his first car.
Pictures: Paul dressed as "Barney The Dinosaur" and Mal and Diane begin to set up at local craft fairs to sell rubber stamps and cardmaking supplies.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 111

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 41
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12


For Thanksgiving of 1996, we decided to travel to New York City to watch the 70th Annual Macy’s Day Parade, in person. Cassy had never been to see the parade and although we had taken Adam there when he was a toddler, he didn’t really remember much about it. It was a tradition for our family to watch the parade on television each Thanksgiving but this would be so much more fun. Traveling became easier and more pleasant as our kids got older.

Elsa, our travel agent, booked us into a hotel that was very close to the parade route and it was an easy walk to Broadway and Times Square. As usual, the prices in New York City are outrageous and this was one of the most expensive hotel rooms I’d ever had but it would be worth the expense to enjoy some fun “family time.” Often, we would encourage our kids to each invite a friend to come with us on our trips but at this stage in his life, Adam was really only interested in bringing his “girlfriend” Meridith as his guest. Mal and I both liked Meridith but we knew that if Adam had his girlfriend with him he’d ignore the rest of us. Her presence would significantly change the dynamics of our family trip so we decided to just go as a family with no “extra” people.

We drove our mini-van the five hours to New York City and Cassy was surprised to see how run-down the city appeared. She was a bit frightened by big cities at that time while Adam loved the excitement and opportunities that big cities offered. Adam frequently ventured into Boston to explore the city with Meridith and his best “guy” friend from high school, Phil Doreau. The aggressive drivers or the poorly designed roads of Boston didn’t intimidate Adam even though he was an inexperienced driver.

After we checked into our hotel room we walked to the discount ticket center to see which plays were playing on Broadway. Adam wanted to see something new and “edgy” since he had become sort of a “Broadway Snob.” He looked down on almost any play that was commercially successful. Originally, Adam was willing to work as an actor in film and television if the opportunity came up but since he fell in love with Meridith he had pretty much given up on any type of acting other than live theater. I used to explain to Adam that I believed that there needed to be a combination of business and art in order for the artist to effectively reach an audience with his work. Adam would reluctantly agree with me. On this day however, he had no choice since I was paying for the tickets. We eventually chose the revival of “Show Boat.”

The play was great (even Adam liked it) but I was mostly impressed with the gorgeous scenery and the ease with which each scene change was accomplished.

We got up early the next day to get a “prime” spot to watch the Macy’s Day Parade. We were stunned to feel the bitter cold wind whipping through the streets of Manhattan. The temperature was a record 21 degrees and we were freezing cold for almost two hours while we were waiting for the parade to begin. By the time the parade actually started, the sidewalks and side streets were jammed with thousands of people. We watched colorful floats, marching bands, and the helium-filled giant balloon figures of Underdog, Bullwinkle, The Pink Panther, and many more. But the most memorable part for my kids was the float with people throwing packages of a new product by “Ocean Spray” called “Craisins,” which were sweetened dried cranberries. We must have eaten a few dozen packages of them! For many years, I intended to try giving away free comic books from a float in Worcester’s huge Saint Patrick’s Day Parade but it seems to slip my mind every year.

About an hour after the parade started, our feet, hands and faces became almost numb with cold, so we went back to our nice, warm hotel room to watch the rest of it on television.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 110

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 41
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12


I learned that “The Monkees” were going to be performing at the “Foxwoods Casino” in Connecticut in late 1996 so I got tickets for myself, Mal, Cassy, my sister Sharon, and her youngest child, Jacob. Sharon had been a big fan of Davy Jones during the initial years that “The Monkees” television show ran on American TV and she had even written a “love letter” to Davy and was disappointed that he didn’t reply. I knew she’d get a kick out of finally seeing them in concert.

As usual, The Monkees put on a really fun concert as they sang updated versions of “hit” song after “hit” song. Towards the middle of their show, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, and Davy Jones would each sing a few solo songs to showcase their individual non-Monkee musical interests. Peter played a couple of banjo songs and I can’t remember what Micky played but they were both entertaining. Davy Jones was far more memorable. He knew how to “work” the audience of mostly middle-aged women as they squealed with delight while he danced around the stage. He also sang “Girl,” which was the song he sang as a solo artist on “The Brady Bunch” TV show after The Monkees had been canceled. Davy came down from the stage while he was singing and moved up and down the aisles as many women desperately tried to touch or kiss him. He shook their hands but avoided kissing any of them until he got to my group. He saw my daughter, Cassy, and bent down to give her a kiss, then he continued running through the aisles, (kissing no one else) until he finished singing the song up on the stage.

The woman sitting next to Cassy said, “Oh, you must be so excited that Davy kissed only you!” Cassy replied, “Oh, that’s not so special. I sat on his lap and shared a tuna fish sandwich with him.” Cassy was referring to the time that Davy Jones was a guest at my comic book and collectibles store in 1993. The woman didn’t know what to make of Cassy. I was left wondering if Davy Jones actually remembered Cassy from three years ago! (I’d find out about five years later…but that’s a story for another time.)

Next chapter: The end of 1996.
Picture: The Monkees

Friday, June 11, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 109

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 41
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12
Chris: Our company manager


Since we had just recently moved one of our comic book and collectible stores from a deteriorating Main Street location to a much better shopping plaza, Chris, the manager, knew we needed to get some publicity to inform the community that we had moved. Chris had made a “contact” with a limousine driver who frequently drove football players from the New England Patriots. The driver was willing to act as an “agent” for us and he invited a few of the players to be guests at our new Fitchburg, Massachusetts store.

Since the football season was in full-gear, the only player who was available was Ty Law. He was unable to play because of an injury. Mr. Law agreed to spend four hours at the store to sign autographs and meet the fans for only $500 plus the cost of the limousine transportation. Surprised that he would be willing to make this appearance for such a small sum of money, we were thrilled to make this agreement. The low cost would allow us to give our customers the opportunity to get Ty Law’s autograph without charging any fee for it. We hoped we’d make our expenses back by selling our customers photographs, cards, football helmets, and footballs for Ty to sign.

My employees wanted this event to be a success but we didn’t have as much time to plan this as we usually did. Ty was only willing to come on November 18th and this only left us a few weeks to put this together. We contacted the mayor’s office and explained the situation to them and they offered to make an official proclamation honoring Ty Law and The New England Patriots football team. The Fleer Trading Card Company offered to get involved by sending us lots of free football and baseball trading cards to give away as prizes to the attendees so we decided to create an interactive event that we called a “Card Carnival.” During this “Card Carnival” there would be several types of games that the customers could play while they waited in line to get a free autograph. Fleer football cards had a “secret code” area on the backs of some of the cards for that year so my daughter, Cassy, would dress up as a gypsy at a special booth to “decode” these cards to see if they were prizewinners. My father agreed to dress in a type of military costume for a game we called “Pack Wars.” One of our employees would dress as a fortuneteller for a game we called “Cardnak The Magnificent.” We also planned games of “Card Flipping” and “Card Tossing.”

As this was all coming together to be a fun sounding event, we notified the local newspaper and they agreed to write a story about it, mostly because the involvement of the Mayor’s office seemed to give it some much needed credibility. This wasn’t just a store intent on making money; it was a fun, free event for the community.

When November 18th arrived, we were confident that we were prepared. The store looked great when we re-opened that night two hours after we had closed at our normal time. Almost all of our Fitchburg store employees were there and many of our Worcester employees also came to help out. My wife, Mal, was there to help with “crowd control” in case she was needed. My son, Adam, couldn’t be there because he had commitments at his high school. Cassy was there ready to play the part of the gypsy. My film making friends, Memo Salazar and Aaron Banyai, were there to videotape the festivities and they caught lots of the excitement on tape.

A half-hour before we got ready to open up the store again, we were told that there were a couple of hundred customers already lined up outside in the freezing cold, eleven degree night. I quickly called the local newspaper again and told them about the potentially huge turnout. They immediately dispatched a photographer and a reporter to get photographs of the waiting crowd and to cover the event because it would make a good local story. When we finally opened the doors, the huge crowd of eager customers streamed into the store. The noise level was very high with customers laughing and shouting as they played all of the games we had set up to help them pass the time while they waited in line to meet Ty Law.

Unlike our Worcester store, the Fitchburg store is a small store with only 2000 square feet so the store was really too crowded to allow the customers to shop for much merchandise other than the Ty Law photographs and other football items that we had displayed on the tables near him. We needed to keep the line moving because we had certainly exceeded the maximum number of people that the fire marshals would allow to be in the store at one time. Although many fans brought their own items for Ty Law to autograph, by the end of the four-hour period we had sold almost everything we had available.

Ty Law had such a good time that he “put in a good word” for us with other New England Patriots players and within a few weeks we had inexpensive contracts with several other players. Adam Vinatieri and Ted Johnson agreed to make an appearance together in January of 1997 for only $500 each. Shortly after the deal was made, The New England Patriots won the AFC East Conference and the price for these players went through the roof; however, all of the guys we had agreements with honored their commitments. These athletes were all nice guys and great guests.

Next chapter: My family meets The Monkees again!
Pictures: We have Ty Law of The New England Patriots football team as a guest at our Fitchburg store.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 108

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 41
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12


One day in late 1996, when I happened to be in my Worcester store, one of my favorite people, Zvi Szafran, came in to pick up the huge lot of new comic books that we reserve for him each month. As usual, we spent quite a lot of time trading bad jokes and talking philosophy. As I’ve mentioned before Zvi is the most intelligent man I know so I’m pretty sure I learned more from him than he learned from me. During our time together that day, Zvi mentioned an exciting new website he had discovered. He tried to explain to me the concept of this interesting new way to buy and sell collectibles through the Internet, but I didn’t understand how this whole “cyber-space” thing worked. We went up to the office area of the store and he typed in the website address of eBay, showed me the basic workings of this auction-based site and related a few of his buying experiences on eBay. I told him that I didn’t really have time to play with this right now so he “bookmarked” this website so I could easily get to the site sometime in the future.

Even though I didn’t yet grasp the importance of the Internet, I had just recently allowed my son, Adam, to establish a connection to the Internet at our home. Adam knew how to navigate his way around the Internet but I didn’t even know how to connect to it! After a while, Adam taught me some basic things and one day I remembered what Zvi had told me about eBay. I connected to the eBay site and somehow I figured out how to do a basic search for a collectible item I had been actively looking for over the past ten years. I typed in “The Man From Uncle Thrush Gun” and I was shocked to see that someone actually had one of these ultra-rare toy guns available in perfect, mint condition, still in its original box! The current bid price was only five hundred dollars. This was “The Holy Grail” of “Man From Uncle” collectible toys from the 1960’s. After many years of searching, I was beginning to think that these guns were originally sold without a box because none had ever been seen at any of the toy conventions or in any of the printed toy publications.

I asked my wife if she’d mind if I spent a bunch of money on this gun set and she encouraged me to go after it. I bid one thousand dollars for it and I was still the high bidder as of the final day of the seven-day auction. I made sure that I was sitting by my computer when there was only fifteen minutes left for this auction and I was excited that I was still the high bidder. If I got this “Thrush Gun” it would be the most rare “Man From Uncle” toy in my massive collection. I waited as the minutes went slowly by. With only five minutes to go I was quite secure that I was going to be the high bidder at the end of this auction. Certainly no one would think that this toy gun set was worth more than one thousand dollars!

I decided to spend a moment or two searching on eBay for another item I was looking for. By the time I went back to check on the “Thrush Gun” I found that I had been outbid and there was only one minute left before the auction ended. I quickly placed another bid of $1,100 but four other collectors outbid me within the final ten seconds and this rare toy ended up selling for $2,700! The “collectors world” has gone crazy! Within a year eBay would become an important part of our business.

Next chapter: Chris, our company manager, gets Ty Law of the New England Patriots to be a guest at our Fitchburg store.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 107

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 41
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12
Chris Ball: The overall company manager
Richard Ortwein: The Fitchburg store manager


Although I was retired from daily involvement in my comic book stores, my life seemed busier than ever. Driving my son, Adam, to his high school was a commitment of at least a few hours each day (although it was usually a nice opportunity to spend uninterrupted time together), but it was a relief when Adam got his drivers license in 1996 and he began to drive himself to school. We still had to drive our daughter, Cassy, to her school but we had wonderful car-pool partners to share the driving. Both of my kids were heavily involved in the performing arts including voice lessons and acting in school plays and community theater. We loved watching them perform and we usually went to every one of their performances. Sometimes this meant seeing the same play as many as seven or eight times! We learned a lot about the whole theater “business” that would be useful to us later on.

Chris, the manager of my two comic book stores, called to discuss his idea for expanding our business through the Internet. He believed that it was imperative that we get on board and embrace this relatively new technology so that we could begin to reach the potential worldwide audience. He did his best to convince me but I wasn’t very interested in the new technology. I didn’t understand all of the details but I gave my “permission” for him to move forward to gather some information about the costs and potential benefits. Chris shopped around and came up with the “best” deal available at that time. He found a local company who would act as our “server” for $120 per month. This would give us unlimited Internet access, email communications, and they would build us a database program that we could use to list the hundreds of thousands of comic books, trading cards and toys that we had in our inventory. We all had visions of brisk sales to eager buyers all over the world. We were excited by the possibilities. Internet providers spent lots of money trying to convince consumers and businesses that we MUST be on the Internet in order to survive. We thought that this could “protect” us if sales at our store locations were to decrease so we signed a contract and began the process of becoming part of the “net.”

Meanwhile, our second store (in Fitchburg, Massachusetts) was becoming a frustrating experience for us all. Sales were sluggish (not horrible, but we were getting concerned) and the downtown area location was deteriorating at a pretty rapid pace. Fitchburg was a factory town with mostly “blue-collar” workers and unemployment was high. The Main Street area that was once filled with interesting stores that had been around for many years was now becoming a ghost town. There were dozens of empty stores. Social service offices, dentists and lawyer’s offices now replaced once profitable retail stores. The area became a hangout for drug-dealers and bums. It was becoming a dangerous place to try to run a business and the local politicians didn’t seem to understand the problem and they certainly didn’t have a solution. They attempted to “fix” things by spending millions of dollars on consultants to analyze the situation but the only solution they came up with was to beautify the downtown by putting park benches and small grassy areas with plants along the street. All this accomplished was making the low-life loiterers more comfortable! This situation really affected Richard, our Fitchburg store manager. He knew that it was increasingly more difficult to get new customers to come to our store because of the rough, downtown location. He did the best that he could with the situation but he finally called me when he couldn’t stand it anymore. He had to clean vomit from our doorway twice in one week and there was nothing being done by the city officials to straighten out this deteriorating downtown. Richard asked me to find a better location for our store.

I spent an afternoon driving around in some of the better retail areas of Fitchburg and found an empty store in a fairly big plaza on the busy “John Fitch Highway.” This store was previously occupied by a video game arcade and pool-hall. The owner of the plaza was happy to get rid of them as tenants because they made a mess of the store and they weren’t very reliable when it came to paying their rent. I just happened to discover this location a few weeks after they had moved out and the landlord was eager to have a trustworthy, new, rent-paying tenant. The owner realized that we would make a great addition to his plaza. I negotiated an initially low rent and although the owner wanted me to agree to sign a long-term lease, I was reluctant to commit to it so I agreed to a one-year term. It’s nice to do business with a realistic landlord.

The store was in bad condition so we tore out almost everything including the walls, ceiling, carpet, and lighting fixtures, and replaced everything. We bought many new fixtures and display cases and within a few weeks were ready to get out of the downtown area. After we notified all of the customers on our mailing list about our exciting new location, we relocated our entire inventory in one long night of work and were ready to do business the following morning. This move was made with no interruption in our business.

Next chapter: Ebay.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 106

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 41
Mal Howley: my wife
My brother Rick and his wife Lori


My youngest brother, Rick, was only six years old when I got married so we weren’t very close when he was really young but there had been a period of time when we got to know each other pretty well. In the late 1970’s and very early 1980’s Rick worked with me at the many baseball card conventions where I set up booths of cards to sell. Even though he was only a teenager, he had a good head for math and knew more about sports and the players than I did. It required long hours and hard work at these card shows, but we had a fun time together. But after Mal and I had our son, Adam, we weren’t attending as many card shows anymore and as Rick got older he got more involved in school, sports, and girls.

Rick eventually married his high school “sweetheart,” Lori, and they had a son, Jordan. Rick was a hard-working man who frequently worked over sixty hours each week at a physically demanding job in order to provide a good lifestyle for his family. They bought a nice home in a quiet rural town because they wanted to have a pleasant and safe place to raise Jordan. Even though it required Rick to drive a long way to work each day, Rick was willing to sacrifice a lot for his family.

In April of 1996, Lori was pregnant again, this time with twins. As they were preparing for life with twins, they were stunned when Lori began to have complications during her 19th week of pregnancy. She was hospitalized in Boston from that time on. During the 28th week of her pregnancy, it was determined that an emergency surgery was needed and Lori gave birth to Ryan and Tyler Howley on October 23rd. The two tiny babies each weighed only two pounds, two ounces and had serious health concerns. While Lori was on another floor, recovering from the surgery, the doctors told Rick that Ryan wasn’t going to make it. Rick held Ryan in his arms as he died. Rick then had to bring Ryan to Lori so she could say her “goodbyes.”

I couldn’t possibly understand what Rick and Lori went through during those weeks. Lori had been hospitalized far away from their home for nine weeks. Rick had visited Lori in Boston as often as possible and he also had to deal with going to work and keeping as much of a normal life as possible for Jordan. Some of us helped out by taking care of Jordan when we could, but much of the time, Rick handled it all. Now they had lost Ryan and Tyler was in danger. They also had to arrange a funeral for Ryan.

Although I don’t remember all of the details of the funeral and burial, I’ll never forget the intense look of sadness on my brother’s face at the cemetery. As I watched him live through this tragedy I wished I could help to relieve his emotional pain but I had little to offer him.

A high school English teacher had convinced me that death was just “part of life.” I wasn’t an emotional human being and death rarely surprised me. I still felt very saddened by the death of those people who were close. I understood why people would cry but I was unable to let the emotion out. In his time of need, I wasn’t a “good” brother for Rick.

Rick and Lori’s new son, Tyler, continued to lose weight and soon weighed only one pound, eleven ounces. It was a scary time for them as they waited for Tyler to become healthy and strong enough to be released from the hospital. Thankfully, he survived and is a healthy young boy today.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 105

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 41
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 17
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 12
Ken Carson: a “key” employee


Ken Carson had an idea for an event to be held at our larger store in Worcester, Massachusetts. He thought it would be fun to invite some professional comic book artists to come to the store to interact with a group of amateur artists in order to share information with each other and the “general public.” Ken called this event “The Pro-Am Comic Jam.”

We all discussed the budget and the basic concept of this “Pro-Am Comic Jam.” Since this event was going to be rather low-key, Ken was encouraged to plan the whole thing by himself but he had access to any employees that he needed. I was confident that he was up to the task because I had witnessed his expertise when he helped us with other in-store event planning.

Although Ken knew that this event could be a fun experience for our loyal comic book customers he envisioned this as more of an “outreach” to the general public. He publicized it through the regular media outlets as we usually did. He also wrote a separate “press release” and mailed and faxed it directly to the art departments of the local schools inviting the teachers and students to come to interact with these artists. He hoped that teachers would encourage their more serious art enthusiasts to attend.

Ken had invited and received confirmations from “small press” and local artists Derek Ring, David Tata, Andy Fish, Ted VanLiew, and Memo Salazar. Andy, Memo and Ted had done work for “amateur” comic books (called Fanzines) while David Tata had done some commercial artwork for several interesting products including a series of X-Men illustrated boxes of “Nerds” candy. Derek was a regular customer of my store who created a comic book titled “Monster.” He had copies printed locally and we promoted them to our customers and tried to keep these in stock at all times. It wasn’t very hard to convince comic fans to try this comic book because it had a well-written story with great artwork. When we would sell our last copy, Derek would bring in a few more. Within a few months it actually outsold most mainstream comic book titles including “The Avengers,” “Daredevil,” and “The Hulk.”

To represent the “Pro” part of this event, Ken invited Paul Ryan, artist of “The Flash,” “The Fantastic Four,” and “Superman” and Randy Buccini who illustrated comic books for “Dark Horse Comics.” Paul lived in Massachusetts and he was respected in the comic book industry for his high quality artwork and his ability to meet his deadlines. We knew he was very busy so we were pleased when he agreed to be a “Guest of Honor.”

By the morning of the event, we had no idea if it would draw a crowd. Many of our regular comic customers told us that they either couldn’t attend or they just weren’t interested. (This kind of thinking always surprises me. This is a free event! If the customers came, they’d probably enjoy themselves!) As it turned out, we shouldn’t have worried about it. Hundreds of “general public” came and had a great time! There were lots of families; mothers and fathers with their teenagers who had some artistic ability that they wanted to share with the professional and amateur artists at our store. All of our guest artists were willing to evaluate and critique these enthusiastic young artists without hurting their feelings. Our guests were also willing to do free sketches for the attendees. It was funny to watch professional artist Paul Ryan get requests to do multiple sketches of Spider-Man even though that’s not one of the famous super-heroes that he had done in the comic book industry.

We had a few librarians come to the store to see what this event was all about and we had the opportunity to begin long-running relationships with them that continue to this day. Most librarians are eager to support programs that encourage reading of any type of literature, even comic books.

This event was a success in several ways. It was a low-cost way to encourage young artists, promote the comic book industry in a positive way to lots of families, and many of the attendees have been regular customers now for quite a few years contributing to our increased store sales. Ken had covered all of the bases.

Next chapter: Tragedy strikes my youngest brother.