Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ithacon 38, by Alec Frazier

Ithacon 38

Here are the questions, but before that, can you please introduce yourself?

Your full name, your title for this convention as well as for the club, and you said you are a student, if I am not mistaken?

My full name is Alexander Fuld Frazier, but please call me Alec. I am an Ithacon Cohost and Member of the Comic Book Club of Ithaca (CBCI). I have organized a great deal of this conventions attendance and guests through Facebook. I am also the moderator for the Comic Fans of Upstate New York Facebook group, the photographer for the Visions Comic Art Group, and the Founder and Commanding Officer of the USS Diversity NFC-97028, a chapter of the International Federation of Trekkers (IFT or the Federation).

I am a student at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where I chair their Diversity in Disability symposium. I am also a Student Advisory Council Member for the US Business Leadership Network.

Also, how did you get into comics? How did you get involved with the Comic Book Club of Ithaca?

When I was about four years old, my father took me to the drugstore where they had a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #12. That was my first exposure to comic books, although I had been a Garfield fan and a Calvin and Hobbes fan already. When I was in early high school, my parents got me the first trade paperback of Ultimate Spider-Man. Since then, I have collected many titles, including but not limited to: Amazing Spider-Man, The Authority, Midnighter, Ultimate X-Men, Daredevil, The Walking Dead, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, and Young Avengers.

When I moved to Ithaca in 2004, it was suggested I get involved with a social group here in town. So I thought, “What is a common interest that I have with others?” And I decided to join the Comic Book Club of Ithaca. I am so glad!

List of Questions:

1.                  Some basic history of the club.

This event’s history goes very much hand-in-hand with that of the Comic Book Club of Ithaca. In the early 1970s two young men, Aaron Pichel and Tim Gray, started a school comic book club. Also joining them at early meetings was a comic book dealer, Bill Turner. Out of a desire for the club to reach a broader audience and have nonstudents welcome, Bill Incorporated the group in 1975 as a not-for-profit, the Comic Book Club of Ithaca. As of this moment, the CBCI is the oldest continuously active comic book club in the United States. There are a few others that were started earlier, but stopped functioning for a while in between. In 1981, Tim Gray and Bill Turner founded Comics for Collectors, a comic book store that it still exists. Although Bill has moved on to other things, Tim can still be found almost every day of the week behind the counter. I could be mistaken, but if I am correct Comics for Collectors could be the oldest independent bookstore in Ithaca. I believe the Bookery is a few months younger, whereas Buffalo Street Books only dates to 2006. Nonetheless, I must stress that Comics for Collectors does not run the Comic Book Club of Ithaca or Ithacon, although it does have a dealers table at the convention. One year, Bill and Tim looked around and noticed that they were the only members of the CBCI. They realized that they had a choice: they could either disband, or go on a recruitment drive. They did the latter and we are very proud for it!

Once the club was started, the original club members realized that they were sitting on a gold mine of creative talent. They started planning their first convention, and it was a resounding success. We have the convention, unique creative talent, a place to put them, and the public willing to see them. We have now had all three for 38 years.

The Comic Book Club of Ithaca (CBCI) is the organization that hosts Ithacon. We are a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to appreciating great comics and creativity. Our meetings will often focus on comic book related themes such as heroes, plot developments, comic book themed music, gay characters in comics, or even specific characters such as the Joker. Just like our convention, discussion is not always limited to comic books. We have discussed others items such as science fiction novels, and television shows. Because of multiple adaptations of media, some of our topics span multiple formats, such as Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and The Walking Dead.

2.                  How is this convention being funded (if you don’t mind me asking)?

For this answer I shall go to an email from our secretary, Carmela Merlo:
Alec – 
Hey, sorry for the belated reply.  We did  a bunch of traveling earlier this year, and I’m still dealing with an email pile-up. 
Anyway, thanks again for doing the interviews about Ithacon 38, including this latest one for the Gay Geeks blog. 
Something to clarify, for future interviews, and maybe even for this one, in case you can make additions and/or corrections to the blog.  In the interview, you stated that the antiques store owners allowed the CBCI to use the empty half of their store for free, and that was why we did not charge admission.  However, the CBCI did indeed pay rent for that space.  The store proprietors put us in touch with the building owner, and the Club paid the rent directly to the landlord.  The antiques store owners were delightful to work with, just lovely people — we’re sorry that they’re moving away from the Ithaca Commons — but they didn’t have the authority to offer the space rent-free. 
And because we didn’t charge admission to the show, we did run Ithacon at a loss this year.  You are absolutely right that much of the CBCI’s budget goes to renting space for the shows.  Ordinarily, we fund the shows by charging a small admissions fee, and by charging the vendors for table space, but for Ithacon 38, the show’s only income was the vendors’ table fees.  (We never charge table fees to the guest artists and writers.) 
So … if we weren’t getting the space for free, why then did we forgo charging admission?  Two reasons:  the antiques store was open for business as usual that Saturday, and we didn’t want the hassle of having to charge people to enter “our” part of the space; plus, we had run a modest surplus at the previous couple of conventions, and could therefore plan to take a loss on this show.  As treasurer Bill Turner put it, we can’t afford to operate that way every time, but we could do it this year.  That’s the beauty of the Club being a non-profit, and of running the conventions to break even.  Any time we do make money on a convention, we get to plow it right into future shows.  It’s nice. 
Make sense? 
Thanks again, for doing the interviews! 
– Carmela

3.                  It states in an article that the convention is held twice a year, why?

Ithacon is an annual event meant to foster writers, artists, and other creative talent that fits in with the mission of the Comic Book Club of Ithaca. The convention has traditionally been held twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring or winter, because we knew that we can and that there is enough interest for it. This is a college town with many creatively minded people. We have the talent and we have the audience. The convention used to last all weekend instead of being just one day, but once it was no longer economical to have weekend long conventions, we focused on having the best and the brightest for one day twice a year. However, with our venue being demolished, we did not have a place to hold our fall convention this past year. Nonetheless, we are glad to continue our fine tradition, and hopeful to find a more permanent venue soon so that we may go back to holding two regular conventions a year.

4.                  How popular or well known is this convention in Ithaca?

I am surprised frequently by how many people are still discovering Ithaca’s many secrets. It seems that the Comic Book Club of Ithaca and the Ithacon are two of those secrets. Nonetheless, we always welcome new members and new convention attendees. We have a permanent staple of convention attendees who come every year, and many more who we know would come once being informed. We try to position the convention in a place with much foot traffic to guarantee that we reach as wide an audience as possible. We also put ads out in the media and flyers around town. We are not disappointed with the convention’s attendance in the slightest, just always happy to have new people find out about us!

5.                  What is different or new about this convention compared to previous ones in Ithaca? And also comparing to other conventions in other states?

For one thing, the venue is different. I started working on these conventions in 2005. For a few years prior to that up until our last convention, the venue was the old Women’s Community Building. Other venues have included the Holiday Inn back when it was a Ramada, the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC), Boynton Middle School, and even what was then the Pyramid Mall. In general, are venues must be affordable, large enough to hold the convention, have an entrance that is on ground level so that dealers may bring their items in, have significant foot traffic, and if necessary be conducive to charging admission. The Women’s Community Building fit our requirements to a T, something that very few, if any other spaces downtown can accomplish. We are currently seeking venues for our future conventions.

I may be wrong, but I do believe this is our first time without admission fees. The gracious folks at Funky Junk are not charging us to use their space. As a result, we do not have to charge admission this year. Nevertheless, the convention still cost us about $500.00.

All of this said, we are still offering great local and regional creators for the public to meet and greet. As always, we are offering autograph sheets for free for convention attendees to get signed and drawn on by the talent.

As for the second part of your question, although most of our talent has been artists and writers, we have also hosted editors, actors, music producers, graphics designers, and even doll makers! Ithacon was described by one of its guests as “per square foot, the most comics filled convention I can think of today.” So we may be small, but unlike bigger conventions, we have stayed true to hosting the comics medium. We are not totally exclusive of other genres though, and Star Trek actors, fantasy card artists, even T-shirt designers have been welcome. However, you will find that almost every other Comicon has strayed greatly from being comic book related. It is true that they include comic book themed events, but almost all of them are large multimedia conventions, with music, video games, movies, and TV shows often getting top billing.

6.                  Why are all these prominent people like J.G. Hertzler coming? Can you tell me some stories to how certain guests have come to the conventions in Ithaca?

J.G. Hertzler lives here in Ithaca. He believes that this town is most in tune with his sociopolitical viewpoints and teaches theater among other things at Cornell. A few years ago, I attended an unrelated event with him here in town, and friended him on Facebook. I naturally added him to the club’s Facebook page. When it was time for our show last year, I invited him as he had mentioned to me that he was considering attending one of these events. He went further to say that he wished to be a guest creator at the show! I put him in touch with Carmella Merlo, who made the necessary arrangements for him to get a table and space. We are glad to have him return this year.

Will Dennis comes to town every once in a while because he is from here, having gone to Ithaca High School and Ithaca College. We are honored to have him at these conventions when he can attend.

One occasional guest to Ithacon is Jim Shooter, former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. We know him through Roger Stern. He attended Roger’s wedding to Carmella Merlo and Bill Turner’s old backyard.

One year, there had been a few guests drop out, and Jim Shooter was coming. He said that he had a young gentleman coming with him who had never appeared at a convention before but his creative talent showed promise. We agreed to host him, and that is how Ithacon became Frank Miller’s first convention!

7.                  Who comes to the conventions most often?

There are a few names that stick out as constant convention guests:
  • Roger Stern, the Superman and Spiderman writer, although he is not coming this year as a guest creator but as a visitor instead.
  • Divine Authority Comics, a creative consortium based in northern Pennsylvania.
  • Wearing Greenwood, an animator on everything from The Tick to Tiny Tunes to Tailspin to He-Man and She-Ra.
  • Nick Biales, an independent artist.
  • Joe Orsak, a cartoonist from Syracuse who has designed the Syracuse Crush logo and done the artwork for two graphic novels, Virgin Vampires and Yellow Rose of Texas, as well as comic strips for the Syracuse Post-Standard.
  • Jon Haeffner, a member of the Comic Book Club of Ithaca who is now a professional artist.
  • Ken Weaton, a great fan and artist of many comics, including Popeye.
  • Rob Piecuch, an independent artist with his own production company, Late Morning Productions.
  • Storn Cook, a fantasy artist.

8.                  In the community, roughly how many comic artists are there? How are they supported in Ithaca?

Ithaca hosts a small but vibrant community of comic book artists and other creators. The Comic Book Club of Ithaca has always served as a wonderful place for them to hang out and share their ideas and talent.

9.                  How do you feel about the comic book community here in Ithaca? Why is Ithaca special?

Ithaca is very lucky to have a number of great creators here and in nearby towns. We are very proud to foster their talent and provide them with networking to industry greats! Ithaca has always been a town seemingly in the middle of nowhere where creativity has flourished. It is part of that whole “centrally isolated” mythos. Ithaca provides a place for many youth to get a fine education, or many otherwise talented people to settle down amidst beauty. It is this beauty and serenity, as well as variation in people and attitudes that provides an ideal place for creators.

10.              How has the community of comics changed?

I can answer how comics have changed, but in my opinion the community remains the same: pick up a comic book and immerse yourself in a world of dreams. Join a comic book club and change your life!

11.              Is there anything else you would like to add?

Not at this time.
Illustrator Storn Cook, who specializes in paintings for collectible card sets, including character cards for Legends of the Five Rings and Warlord CCG, and covers and interior art for Hero Games, including Ninja Heroes, Champions, and Fantasy Hero.
Artist Rusty Gilligan, the creator of Mac and Trouble, a funny-animal science fiction comic featuring two feline adventurers.
Local Ithaca artist Jon Haeffner, a long-time member of the CBCI.
Writer Mark McCracken, co-creator of the indie comics company Divine Authority Comics, with his friend Heather Brown.
Mike Raicht, the co-writer of Stuff of Legend, a comic book series from Th3rd World Studios. He has also written issues of G.I. Joe (IDW Publishing) and Army of Darkness (Dynamite Entertainment).
Syracuse-based cartoonist and fantasy artist Joe Orsak, the artist of Yellow Rose of Texas, a historical graphic novel about the young African-American woman who was the inspiration for the classic folk song. His second graphic novel, Virgin Vampires, a historical fantasy that co-stars a teen-age Bram Stoker, debuted in October of last year.
Web-comics creator Ethan Young.
Artist Aaron Kuder, a native of Trumansburg, has illustrated comic books written by the rock group Coheed and Cambria; Green Lantern comics for DC Comics and Spider-Man comics for Marvel; and will soon be drawing comics featuring Superman.
Cartoonist Jim Brenneman, whose motto is “Cartoons About Politics, Cultural Absurdities, Random Nonsense and the Coming Apocalypse.”
Cortland native Jim Coon, a cartoonist, caricature artist, and small-press comics creator of “Ice Cream Sandwich” and other cartoon confections.

Our most noteworthy guest was actor and writer John. G. Hertzler, seen here with the blogger’s travel mascot, Millard the Buffalo! He has portrayed 7 different characters within the Star Trek universe, and is best known for his portrayal of the Klingon officer General Martok on Star Trek: Deep Space 9. He has also had roles on programs as diverse as Everybody Loves Raymond, Quantum Leap, and General Hospital. Hertzler has also co-written two Star Trek novels featuring Martok: The Left Hand of Destiny, Books 1 and 2. He has recently voiced the role of Deathstroke in the series game Injustice: Gods Among Us.

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