Bringing comics back to the people


Chris Yambar loves comic books.

That’s why he can’t abide the “suicidal” direction he says the industry has taken.

The pulp-paper pieces of Americana used to be everywhere. Spinner racks could be found in gas stations, supermarkets and drugstores. But even as the characters — think Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men — have blown up on the big screen, the humble pen-and-ink product has faced plummeting sales.

Yambar said the problem lies in an industry that is dominated by two major producers (Marvel and DC) and just one national distributor.

“It’s a monopoly,” said Yambar, who is a Youngstown resident and a comic-book artist and creator. Independent comic books are being squeezed out of the market, he said.

Sales shifted decades ago to the specialized comic-book store, which has to share space with baseball cards, board games and other collectibles, said Yambar, who has worked extensively on Bart Simpson comics as well as his own creations, most notably, Mr. Beat.

“I’m seeing an art form die, and it bothers me,” he said.

He’s fighting back, even if he just plans to take one little corner of the world.

Yambar will host Lawn-Con 2010 on the front yard of his home on Youngstown’s West Side this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The goal is to introduce comic-book fans to the people who make them.

“Lawn-Con is a response to the increasingly ridiculous separation of art form and general public,” said Yambar. “I’m personally sick and tired of watching this classic American art form segregate itself from its mainstream audience.”

The number of comic-book retail outlets is now about a third of what it was in the mid-90s, said Yambar. The explosion of movies based on comic characters has sold a lot of products — toys, clothing and anything that can be imprinted — but has done nothing to boost comic-book sales.

“Years ago, a title would sell in the hundreds of thousands, sometimes up to a million a month,” said Yambar. “Now, it’s more like 35- to 50,000. Those used to be numbers that got you canceled.”

A host of comic-book artists and writers have been assembled for Lawn-Con. Yambar called the miniconvention a grass-roots effort to “build a bridge between the general public who can’t find comic books in stores anymore, fans who love the hobby and those who are actually working in the industry.”

Limited-edition T-shirts, photo opportunities, free autographs, an art contest and portfolio reviews will be available. Attendees are encouraged to dress as comic characters, and awards will be given for the best costumes.

First Book of Mahoning Valley, a charity that distributes free books to children, will pass out children’s books from 2 to 5 p.m.

A long list of comic-industry insiders will be on hand, including:

Ron Frenz of Pittsburgh, who did extensive work on many Marvel and DC titles, including Spider-Man, Thor, Superman and Fantastic Four.

Jimmy Proctor of Erie, Pa., creator of the cult-classic “Zombie Bob Gets a Job.”

Levi Krause of Ypsilanti, Mich., co-creator of “Spells” and the brains behind “Insanity is a Virtue/Levi’s World.”

George Broderick Jr. of Pittsburgh, co-creator of “El Mucho Grande” and a host of other titles.

Shi Sho, a band from Kent, will perform.

if you go

What: Lawn-Con 2010

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Chris Yambar’s front yard, 23 S. Hartford Ave., Youngstown’s West Side

Admission: Free

Note: No public restrooms

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