Friday, April 17, 2015

Steampunk Granny Chats with Camden Comic Con's Bill Haas


I’m getting to do more fun stuff now that I’m retired than I ever did when I was younger. I had no idea what a comic con was until my granddaughters Allie and Annie began attending the one in Baltimore. I’ve always wanted to go to a Comic Con, but I didn’t get the opportunity until recently. I not only had a blast at the Camden Comic Con, but I met so many nice people. Bill Haas and I became friends because of this event and I wanted to know more about this enterprising young man.

Granny: How did you come up with the idea of the Camden Comic Con?

Bill Haas: Camden Comic Con, on a primordial level, was a dream I've had since my youth. My father was an avid collector of comic books and, for a time, an aspiring comic creator. His interests that developed from his youth informed my interests, as I surrounded myself with action figures, cartoons, and any media that featured super heroes. The books themselves were largely off limits to me, as my father felt I was too young to really appreciate them and that I might damage them.

This point of view also extended to his contemporaries. I remember countless times going to comic shows and shops and one of the first things being told was to not touch anything. I always felt that was unfair, as my father and these collectors, began their live as children picking up magazines and books off spinner racks. I was also far less interested in collecting the books and always wanted to meet the individuals behind the books, and to learn from the creators.

I was never particularly interested in the concept of a group of collectors selling books to each other. I always wanted it to be more of a celebration of comics and the artistic medium, rather than about the money changing hands and getting that rare book. Some interests fall away as we get older, and my focus moved from comics to filmmaking. I never stopped thinking about how I would run a comic book show, though. It has always sat in the back of my mind.

    Steampunk Granny with Penguin Friend, Brandon Somers
Fast forward to about three years ago, I was working at the Stedman Gallery & Rutgers Camden Center for the Arts, photographing their permanent collection of fine art. At the same time, my partner, Miranda Powell, was the Arts Education and Community Arts Program Assistant there. She was working with youth in the city of Camden, connecting them to the exhibitions the Stedman was displaying and teaching them about the appreciation of arts and visual mediums.

Many of the individuals she worked with had no access to cultural events, so for many people this was an extremely important program. In our personal time, Miranda began telling me about an upcoming exhibition, one that would feature underground comix and 'zines', created by avant garde and edgy creators. These were the books that ran counter to the superhero movement, pieces like R. Crumb's work and Julie Doucet, and many of their contemporaries. I felt that, while the medium would be interesting to the youth, I really don't think it would resonate in the same way.

I suggested that maybe Miranda pitch an idea to create a small comic book convention that would add a more mainstream or at least a more generalized view into the sequential narrative world. It started just as a goofy idea that we thought would have zero traction. Soon, Miranda, who is an extremely motivated and enterprising young woman, had contacts in the comic industry and had the support of several entities on campus, and Camden Comic Con was born. 

   The Gar Podcast Glenn Walker & Ray Cornwell                                                         

After that, we made an agreement that the goal of Camden Comic Con was to be a multi-faceted event: one that was culturally significant and educational, one that was fun and entertaining, and one that connected all walks of life to the sequential narrative/graphic novel medium. If at any point we didn't hit one of the three, we decided we would walk away. Sure, we have vendors, collectors, and stores selling wares, but we also have a massive symposium with doctors and professors, we have workshops featuring acclaimed comics professionals, and we have panels discussing how to break into comics. 

You will never see an actor or wrestler at our event, unless they come out as an attendee, but we will do everything in our power to bring out high quality artists and creators. Few comic conventions do what we are trying to do, with the exception of Hawthorne High School Comic Con (which is largely supported by The Kubert School). We would love to get a relationship with them. In the end, there is something for everyone at our event and as long as we meet those goals and we stay true to the celebration of the medium, we're successful.

Granny: Who are the people behind this amazing convention?

Bill Haas: As for who is behind the curtain: the first year it was largely Miranda Powell, Victoria Widener (Art Students League president at the time, since graduated), and myself who developed the event. We later enlisted the aid of Jacola Phillips, who is a student and member of Campus Activities Board on campus, to help us with the logistical operation of the day.

We also had financial and logistic support from various entities on campus, including Office of Campus Involvement, Campus Center, the Rutgers Camden Center for the Arts, and Events Office. We also had assistance from John Paul of NJ Comic Book Shows, who gave us some guidance and helped us with behind the scenes wheel greasing. He was incredibly generous and helped us get many of our comic dealers. 

     Allie Gilbert Designer for Loonilolidesigns
For the second year, we developed a committee that was comprised of Miranda, Patrick Wallace (Campus Center head), Jacola and myself. We each had distinct roles to play in the event: Patrick Wallace was our on campus contact and facilitated all of our on campus logistics, as well as providing financial support to the event. Jacola was in charge of organizing volunteers and reaching out to student organizations to sponsor the event. Miranda was our programming coordinator, developing panels, workshops, and activities with our creators and professionals.

She also reached out to the Paul Robeson Library and was able to bring their Buffy to Batgirl Symposium, as well as securing a showing of She Makes Comics from Sequart. She also secured some of our artists, when I was unable to make contact with them. I was responsible for filling the dealers’ room with vendors, artists, and guests, as well as organizing the space and doing all of the web presence and graphic design.

I always bite off way more than I can chew. We had great support from our campus as well, specifically from Patrick Wallace and Dr. Lindenmeyer, Dead of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Graduate School. From what I understand, she seems to be very supportive of our event, which is tremendous as it could mean the college will keep us going. Without all of these individuals, the event would never have seen the light of day.

Granny: What are your plans for year three of the Comic Con?

Bill Haas: Because of the delicate nature of our relationship with Rutgers, we have no firm idea if there will be a third year. We would all certainly like there to be, but I cannot say with full certainty there will be. We are truly grateful that Rutgers has provided us with the financial support to run an event like this, as it really is an event for their students first and foremost, and the secondly for the region at large. If they believe the event to not be in line with their mission statement or providing events for students, they might not fund another. From what I've heard, however, is that the campus is extremely supportive and interested in continuing this event.

Many of the students have said how great it is to have artists come out and show them techniques and just to be able to interact with these industry professionals on a more personal level. We have a great deal of supporters in the industry as well, who have asked us if there is any way to contact the college and convince them to keep it going. Hearing this makes me believe we'll be able to put on another show, but I'm a show me, not tell me guy, so I'll wait for the call.

                                Sarah Hawkins Miduski                                                    

With that said, we certainly have a game plan ready. We are pretty much at capacity for what we can do in the gym, but we will be filling the entire gym with tables, within fire code, and moving any entertainment to another venue.  Not to insult our current cadre of guests and artists, but we would like to have even higher profile artists coming out and to have more of them. We know that we are small, but after last year, there is no reason we cannot bring out similar level of guests, especially locals, that our friends at larger events can.

We would like to have more film screenings, some educational, some for fun. We would like to get the educational departments on campus even more active in supporting the event. There is no reason why we can't have a panel or talk featuring a criminal justice professor discussing vigilantism in comics, or a psych professor talking about psychiatric issues in comics.

          Mistress Rae aka Cinsearae Santiago Reiniger                                                       

Overall, we would love more collaboration with the departments. The more things there are to do, the higher profile our event becomes and the more traffic we see. We would also like to mirror our mothership school at New Brunswick and perhaps have a week of geek/nerdy culture events that lead to our big blowout event, Camden Comic Con. They could be lectures, talks, artist showcases, etc. that could help us generate excitement and anticipation, as well as providing even more opportunities to learn and be enriched.

South Jersey Writers' Group Author, Dawn Byrne                                                          

We know that we will be expanding our gaming next year, as Ed Evans of All Things Fun! was giving us a test run this year, but is committed to making it a massive event in the future. We just need to keep bringing the same level of quality guests, programming, and vendors. We believe the formula works well, but we might shake things up so it doesn't become stale. We won't really know until we get into the nitty gritty. Who knows, maybe we could convince the college to go for a 2 day event. 

I want to thank Bill Haas for taking the time for this interview and, I'm getting ready for next year's Camden Comic Con. See you all there.

Camden Comic Con



  1. Replies
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