Comic lovers join forces

By Bob Jackson


In comic-book speak, it might have been a “wham,” a “zowie,” or at the very least, a solid, colorful “pow!” with a lightning bolt behind it.

It was comic-book artists and writers fighting back against what they say is an industry that has become frustratingly expensive and in which it’s difficult for them to compete. Like the Super Friends, they joined forces to combat “The Man” and a shrinking market for their work.

The scene was Chris Yambar’s front yard on Youngstown’s West Side, where some 250 people showed up to participate in Lawn-Con 2010, something that the comic professionals said may well have been the first of its kind.

“It’s awesome. I can’t believe we actually pulled it off,” said Levi Krause, one of the comic-book artists who took part in the event. “It’s just really exciting.”

Krause, 33, of Ypsilanti, Mich., said most comic conventions, or “cons” as they are known in comic circles, involve forking out a good deal of money, whether it’s the artist being charged a fee to set up a table to display his wares, or the fan being charged an admission fee at the door to meet and greet the creators of their favorite works.

There was none of that at Lawn-Con 2010, where fans were free to simply walk up, meet the comic professionals, get autographs and buy their wares. It also was free for the comic artists to set up shop there for the day.

“I don’t think this has ever been done before,” said Krause, who is co-creator of “Spells” and the brains behind “Insanity Is A Virtue/Levi’s World.”

Yambar, a Youngstown resident and comic-book creator, said he was thrilled with the turnout on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

“The comic-book industry is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. The public can’t find comics any more,” he said. “It’s getting more and more expensive. It’s no longer an easy hobby, and somebody had to make a statement.”

The idea behind Lawn-Con 2010 was to strip away the hassles generally involved in a typical comic convention and give the public easy and open access to the people behind the comic creations.

“Comic conventions have become all about media these days,” said George Broderick Jr. of Pittsburgh, co-creator of “El Mucho Grande.” “People care less about who actually created these comic-book characters than they do about who played them in the latest movie.”

He said movies based on comic-book characters have become wildly popular, resulting in the sale of merchandising “products” like action figures and lunch boxes, but sales of the actual comic books behind those characters have not risen accordingly. In fact, comic-book sales overall have fallen off sharply over the years, and that’s what drove the Lawn-Con 2010 participants to act.

“This is a grassroots effort to get comic-book creators and fans of their work together in one place without having to jump through all the hoops and bells and whistles that are usually involved in a convention,” Broderick said.

And, according to him, it worked.

“I’ve done more sales sitting in Chris Yambar’s front yard on this one afternoon than I have in a whole weekend at ‘legitimate’ comic shows,” he said. “This has been amazing.”

For most of those who had tables set up Saturday, cartooning is still a hobby that they work in around their day jobs.

Krause, for instance, prints betting slips for the Michigan Lottery, and Scott Hall, 32, of Milford, Mich., is a graphic-designer. Hall was there Saturday to promote two of his titles and said he loved the idea behind Lawn-Con.

“This is great,” he said. “Even if I sold nothing today, it would have been worthwhile.”

For Mike and Penny Schladweiler, who live only a couple of blocks away from Yambar, Lawn-Con was a great opportunity to see the brains behind an art form they’ve loved since childhood.

“I was always a comic book fan when I was a kid, but as I got older, I kind of got away from them,” said Mike, 54. But when he was hurt in a work accident some five years ago, he started reading comics again while he was laid up and recuperating.

“Comics take your mind off of anything that was real and kind of let you into your own little world,” he said. “It takes you back to a simpler time.” His favorite comic book as a kid was “Sad Sack.”

The couple moved here 14 months ago from Louisiana because they said this area offers “cheaper housing and no hurricanes.”

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