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.

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