Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My Life With Comic Books: Part 197

A brief introduction:
My name is Paul Howley, owner of the Eisner Award winning pop culture collector’s store known as “That’s Entertainment” in Worcester, Massachusetts and a second store in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Some people have called me the “luckiest man in the comic book business.” (I’m not) My stores have been around for over thirty years and it’s been a long and interesting combination of events and people that have brought these stores to this current place. It is not my intent to boast or brag about my store or my life. I just want to tell you my story. In many instances, my wife remembers things a little differently, but this is the truth as I remember it.

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 48
Mal Howley: age 48
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 17
Ken: the manager of our comic book/collectibles stores
Dave: comic book expert


   In early 2002 we began to think about how we could make a fun event around the upcoming movie release of Spider-Man starring Tobey Maguire. The movie seemed like it could be a fun feature-film so we contacted the theater management of the Worcester Showcase Cinema to see if we could have the Massachusetts premiere in Worcester. We had such a memorable event way back in 1989 when we bought out an entire show for Tim Burton’s Batman movie and gave away 500 tickets to customers of our store and we hoped to do it again with Spider-Man.

   After several frustrating phone calls with the new management, it became clear they didn’t understand how big an event the premiere could be for the city of Worcester. It would be easier for them to let the premiere happen in Boston.

   Sony Pictures, the studio producing the movie, was clever to release the film on the same day as “Free Comic Book Day,” a brand-new national event celebrating comic books at comic book stores. We knew this could be a huge opportunity to educate consumers about how fun comic books can be. We negotiated with the Showcase Cinema people until we had the best deal we thought we could get. We ended up buying 500 tickets for a 9AM special screening at nearly 2 ½ times what we paid for the Batman tickets! This would NOT be a cheap event but we were excited to offer a “free” fun day as a “thank you” for our loyal customers.

   Ken and David worked out most of the details because I was still living in New Hampshire. They lined up several comic book artists who agreed to create free sketches for customers who attended the Free Comic Book Day store activities after the movie. Ken contacted our friend Hank, a local radio celebrity, and arranged for two of the local Worcester radio stations to get involved in promoting the event. In late April of 2002, Ken sent out the information to the local press and media outlets. This is what he wrote:

“That’s Entertainment of 244 Park Avenue in Worcester will give away 500 tickets to a special free screening of the new Spider-Man movie. Paul Howley, owner of That’s Entertainment sees the event as a way to show his appreciation to the people who have been his customers over the past twenty years. A long-time Spider-Man fan, Howley looks forward to seeing the movie with a whole theater full of Spider-Man enthusiasts.

   “The giveaway will begin at 10:00am on Saturday, April 27, at 244 Park Avenue, and tickets will be given away on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis, one per person aged 13 or older. No purchase is necessary.

   “A week later, on Saturday, May 4th, the lucky ticket-holders will gather for the screening at 9:00am at Showcase Cinemas Worcester North, 135 Brooks St.”

   “Spider-Man was created in 1962, and has always been one of the most recognizable pop-culture icons,” Howley explains. “Right from the start, he was unique among comic heroes, kind of a nerd or book-worm, who suddenly is given amazing powers. Now, on top of high school problems, girlfriend problems, job problems, etc, he has to take on these fantastic criminals! In his first story he learns that ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ That theme resonates as strongly today as forty years ago.”

   “Radio Stations WTAG and WSRS will be promoting the event beginning April 22. They will conduct on-air contests for some of the tickets and they’ll feature interviews with Howley and comic book creators.”

   “In 1989 Howley offered free tickets to a special screening of the Batman movie and was very happy with the response. “I think Spider-Man will be even more fun than the Batman movie.”

   “The day of the screening, May 4th, is also National Free Comic Book Day. That’s Entertainment will participate by offering special edition comic books free to customers, no purchase necessary, from 10:00am-8:00pm. One of these comics is The Ultimate Spider-Man #1.”

Next chapter: I can’t resist driving the 110 miles to be a part of the ticket giveaway!

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