Marvel at Comic History in the MakingJul 28, 2022 09:00AM ● By Gayle Morrow
Perhaps it was not quite a belle epoque, but there was a Golden Age of comic books, unofficially 1938-1956, during which comic legend Roy Thomas was born. Roy would grow up to champion classic comic book heroes, write such characters as Wolverine into life, and succeed Stan Lee as editor at Marvel Comics. You can ask him about the Golden Age, and all other things comic, when he comes to the inaugural Wellsboro Comic Con on August 13 and 14 with his wife, Dann, one of his comic collaborators.
This Golden Age, coinciding roughly with the start of World War II and continuing through the ensuing post-war Baby Boom, was, in hindsight (hindsight maybe enhanced by X-ray vision?), the perfect confluence of people, society, politics, and all the accompanying events of the time—life writ large and colorful, in frames, with speech bubbles.
Cartoons, funny or not, political or otherwise, have been around for, oh, 250 years or so—perhaps longer, as we don’t really know all the nuances of cave paintings, hieroglyphics, and the like, do we? We do know, though, that it was Benjamin Franklin, in 1754, who published the first editorial cartoon in his Pennsylvania Gazette. Rudolphe Töpffer, a Swiss artist, gets the credit for the first multi-panel comic—this in 1827. Richard F. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid comic strips ran in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, and then in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal from 1895 through 1898. In 1897 a compilation of Yellow Kid strips were published in the U.K. as a comic book—it’s considered the first use of the term.
A Comic Universe
Comic books are a type of illustrated, sequential storytelling. They’re different from their precursors, which were the stand-alone comic strips or cartoons in newspapers and magazines. Comic books and their characters are serialized—Superman, for instance, has a past, a back story, and his ongoing adventures depend on what’s already happened (although, being Superman, he can do something about that). Those of us of a certain age may identify with a certain Man of Steel, but before the late greats George Reeves and Christopher Reeve, there were Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and their 1938 creation—the original Superman, the archetype for the superheroes who followed. It was June of that year that National Comics Publications published Action Comics #1 (and if you’ve got one of those in your attic, you can probably quit your day job) and introduced the world to Superman and his universe.
Roy, Wellsboro Comic Con’s guest of honor, thinks continuity is important for the myriad comic universes.
“From the days when I was a kid, I was always bothered when Superman would fight one group of ‘Martians,’ and Batman (let alone Captain Marvel or the Human Torch or Black Terror) a different bunch of ‘Martians,’” he says. “I wanted a ‘universe’ long before there was a Marvel universe, so I responded enthusiastically first to the smaller universe Julius Schwartz was creating with his handful of titles at DC, and then even more so to the one conceived by Stan and the gang at Marvel.”
Well, he’ll soon be joining us in the Tioga County universe. We may be lacking superpowers. We may not have a cadre of superhero pals á la the Justice Society of America or the Avengers Team. But we can join the borough’s first Comic Con, brought to us by Pop’s Culture Shoppe, and featuring two days of vendors, workshops, panel discussions with some of comic’s biggest names, cosplay/costume contest, and even a super pet contest.
The first 2,000 tickets sold (twenty bucks each) will include a goodie bag with a T-shirt, pin, and the just-released X-Men Legends vol. 2, #1 comic, complete with Roy’s autograph. On Saturday morning Roy will do a Q&A outside the Deane Center, giving a peek into his universe, and sharing his stories and insights. This outdoor event is open to the public.
Later Saturday, for those with tickets, he’ll give introductory remarks at the Arcadia Theater showing of the 2017 film, Logan, featuring Wolverine, a character he co-created. He’ll also talk about his latest comic, to be released August 10, that includes the secret behind the character’s change in costume after he stopped being a lone wolverine and Professor X recruited him.
Creating a Retail Universe and a Comic Con
Pop’s Culture Shoppe, on the corner of Main Street and East Avenue, is celebrating its first decade as a retail store. Julian Stam, who owns and runs the place with his wife, Anja, explains that the store “had grown out of a comic book hobby” known as HeroClix. It’s a miniatures game with collectible pieces based on characters from the Marvel and DC Comics universes; Julian sold the pieces, then started running game nights, and the store took off from there, evolving, as universes do, along the way.
For with small, locally owned retail businesses in downtowns everywhere, success depends in large part on the community. Customers have commented on the “community vibe” here, Anja says, adding, “We wanted it to be a little more inter-generational. So that was our mission a little over ten years ago.” Ups and downs, of course, but so far, so good. Then along came covid. With community support, they were able to weather it.
“We sat down on New Year’s Day, and we were so thankful for getting through the pandemic,” Anja continues. “We wondered, ‘What shall we do as a thank-you to the community?’”
So, after some discussion—inspired in part by a connection with Roy Thomas’s agent, John Cimino, and by Julian’s purchase of 14,000 pounds of comic books, all from a store that had closed and all issues from the past quarter century—they came up with an idea. Wouldn’t it be cool to bring Roy Thomas here, and let’s also, while we’re at it, promote the town and the store, say “thanks” to the community, fill up the hotels (the second week of August is typically not a busy time), maybe generate some additional interest for the final day of the Tioga County Fair, and just generally bring all the positives and creativity of the comic book universe here for a fun weekend.
So planning for the Wellsboro Comic Con (“con” being short for conference, in case you wondered) began with booking the Deane Center, and is ongoing.
“One of the challenges is it grew so fast that we might be adding things up to the last minute,” Julian says. “It’s a work in progress. The response has been huge, but we want to get the proper balance between vendors and attendees.”
And, Anja adds, “We wanted to give it a Wellsboro flavor.” Thus the event’s tagline: “Classic comic creativity wrapped in retro rural charm.”
“It’s a throwback to the bombast and alliteration of the ’60s era (of comics),” Julian laughs.
Indeed. Holy Wellsboro Wonderful-ness, Batman!
What To Do and Who You’ll See
Roy Thomas was a high school English teacher in the early 1960s when he made the official move to the world of comic writing. He worked very briefly (eight days) for DC Comics, then went to Marvel Comics, where editor-in-chief Stan Lee was making his mark, and where, subsequently, Roy made his. The characters and story lines he has helped bring to life over the past five-plus decades are legendary: Conan the Barbarian, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Yellowjacket, Morbius, Killraven, and X-Men, to name just a few.
As for the creative process, Roy says he favors the way Stan Lee did things. That is, the writers and the artists got together, had a chat over the drawings, and words followed later.
“I much prefer the Marvel method pioneered by Stan out of sheer need, originally,” Roy says. “I think it had a great deal to do with shaping the stories and universe that enabled Marvel eventually to displace DC as the most successful comics publisher...both by unleashing the imagination and freedom of the artists (not just [Jack] Kirby and [Steve] Ditko but others as well) and by giving Stan a chance to react to already-penciled artwork and thus make the story even bigger and more exciting than it might otherwise have been.”
Plan on hearing more from Roy at Comic Con about the creative process.
Khoi Pham, an artist, an artist mentor, and a former attorney and venture capitalist, will be doing a thirty-minute presentation on “Making an impact as an artist.” His own art works includes DC’s Teen Titans, and Marvel’s X-Men, Legacy, and Spider-Man.
Khoi says what he loves about Comic Cons “is being [able] to directly interact with people who shared common interests.”
“My first comic convention was Wizard World Philadelphia in 2006,” he continues. “Since then, comic conventions have become commonplace, and I love it.” He adds that newcomers should “come and immerse yourself in the creative side of comic books. Join the cosplay [the act of dressing up as a character or concept]. Take a lot of pictures.”
Chris Ring, a commercial artist for over twenty-five years and author of the children’s book series Seamus (the Famous), started his comic career with the CarbonKnight mini-series. He’ll be giving a talk on creating characters, and says the best thing about Comic Cons “is the creator/fan experience.”
“Fans of the medium can talk to actual creators about the stories they write, the art they make and their opinions on the comics medium in general. Sometimes creators [share] insights into the next big releases, plus many are willing to look at the work of budding artists and possibly share some helpful hints. That one-on-one connection is not as prevalent in other entertainment media.”
He recalls that his first “con” was 1995 in Pittsburgh, following the release of CarbonKnight, his first book
“It was a very exciting time to be an indy comic creator,” Chris says. “Books like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Crow, and Hellboy showed that independent comics could grow into something really big.” Things changed with the emergence of computers, and, subsequently, “everything evolved in comics—the art, the stories, the diversity, and the fan base...Comics exploded onto the big screen like never before which grew a fan base for the con experience like never before. Cons began popping up nationwide and fans in both urban and rural areas were getting to meet their favorite comic creators.”
To make the most of this inaugural con, Chris suggests that attendees “never be shy” about talking with the artists.
“Creators are very giving of their time and they really do like to talk about the medium,” he says. “They are there to meet you and they enjoy that. Secondly, they usually have some cool, hard to find, or exclusive items at their table which you can purchase or just enjoy viewing. Many artists also do original sketches (prices vary) so you can request a one-of-a-kind sketch of your favorite character.
Chris continues, “Cosplay has also exploded onto the con scene, so many fans come to the con dressed as their favorite character. Costumes range from amateur fun to just-about-ready-to-walk-onto-a-movie-set. Last but not least, you can get some great deals at cons from all the different vendors, plus, you can get a lot of books, prints etc., signed or personalized when the creator is attending.” (The artwork used for this cover will also be available for purchase.)
Other guests and presenters include R.A. Conroy, assistant animator and storyboard artist for Disney, animal welfare advocate, author/illustrator of her novel Shelter; and illustrator/storyboard artist for this summer’s animated animal romp Paws of Fury: the Legend of Hank (it’s about a beagle who wants to be a samurai, and is a spoof of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, which was also a spoof). Kevin McCloskey, a former Kutztown University professor and creator of Giggle and Learn comic books for just-starting readers will be on the Green for worm races (don’t ask, just come). Bruce Wechtenhiser, who is the man when it comes to Spider-Man, will be here. Attendees can also meet Dean Kotz, professional comic artist for over a dozen years, former Pennsylvania resident (striking fear with Trailer Park of Terror), and creator of the official T-shirt art design for the event and the program art. Numerous other creators and presenters are scheduled and more are pending.
At 1 p.m. on Saturday, Heather Bohner will be leading a special effects makeup class at the Gmeiner Art & Cultural Center. In the first part of the class, she will demonstrate techniques to create a "breakthrough" makeup effect—unmasking to reveal the Marvel character underneath. In the second part, students will learn hands-on techniques for contouring and changing the shape of their face. The class is free and materials will be provided. It is open to students ages ten to 100. There is a limit of fifteen participants, and pre-registration is required. Call the Gmeiner at (570) 724-1917 for more information or to register.
“The Gmeiner Art & Cultural Center is pleased to be a small part of Wellsboro's first Comic Con,” says Carrie Heath, director. “This event showcases a popular form of art and encourages individuals in attendance to embrace their own creativity.”
Do you think your pet is special? Of course you do. But, does your pet have super powers? If so, can you take a picture, or, better yet, draw one, of your pet exhibiting those powers? Is there a costume involved? Then enter Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries’ Super Pet Contest and tell the world just how super your pet is. Message them on Facebook or email [email protected] for more information.
There will be events, vendors, and activities throughout the downtown on both days, so check the online schedule at wellsborocomiccon.com regularly, or stop in at Pop’s Culture Shoppe for an update. It is a “multiple venue show,” with a ticket required for most indoor events. Outdoor events and accessibility to vendors do not require a ticket. Attendees are encouraged and welcomed to come in costume.
“We do know we have a vendor who has a 3-D scanner who can scan you ant then make a miniature of you,” Julian says. Costume contest winners will receive one of those miniatures. If you’ve always wanted your own “mini-me” or avatar, now’s your opportunity, as the imaging service is also available to purchase.
Both Julian and Anja stress that while planning for Comic Con is ongoing, and it’s possible the schedule may change, they are excited to bring their love of the comic universe to the area. The Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce has already approved it as an annual event, so it’s officially part of the borough’s universe.
“We really want this to be another town festival, an annual event,” says Julian. “And we really want it to be an opportunity for the non-profits to showcase themselves, for the retail businesses and the hotels to benefit.”
“We are excited to bring this to Wellsboro,” Anja concurs.
Resident comic fans are excited about it, too. Jeff Ryan, a class of 2000 Wellsboro Area High School graduate, says he’s been to two other Comic Cons—one in Philadelphia when he was very young, and one in Elmira just a few years ago. He’s planning to attend this one.
“I have been an avid comic book (or graphic novel, if you will) fan since I was probably six or seven,” he says. “They are truly amazing works due to the combination of art and storytelling, and for just how versatile the writing can be. As far as favorite character, I have to go with Green Lantern. He was always my idol as a kid. Not that Batman and a lot of the Avengers aren’t. [They are a] Close second. Story line wise, DC Comics’ Kingdom Come mini-series and Marvel's first Secret War have always been pillars of comic book literature, in my opinion.”
He adds it’s kind of amazing that, at this point in time, “comic books and all things related are so incredibly popular.”
“As a child, they were frowned upon and you would be called names [if you read them]. Now you are the popular kid. Who knew?”
Maybe it’s a new Golden Age.