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On The Road For Comics

On October 21, 2015, I woke up in my Atlantic Beach home around 7:00 AM. I got dressed, made sure my bags were packed, ate a light breakfast, and took off in my car. Today was my trip to Melbourne, Florida where I would be meeting my friend Jade, and we both would be going to Famous Faces & Funnies for a Skype Q&A with the one and only Brian K. Vaughan.

Brian K. Vaughan is the Eisner-award winning writer of The Runaways (with Adrian Alphona) for Marvel; Y: The Last Man (with Pia Guerra), Ex Machina (with Tony Harris), Pride of Baghdad (with Niko Henrichon) for DC/Vertigo; Saga (with Fiona Staples) and We Stand On Guard (with Steve Skorce) for Image. Vaughan’s creator-owned content is not only voluminous but high quality, as evidenced by critical praise and accolades. He mostly writes science fiction with healthy doses of drama and social/political commentary. Most recently, he has released Paper Girls with artist Cliff Chiang, the story of four girls on their paper route in 1988 Cleveland, Ohio, who fall upon a secret that will change their world forever.

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If you haven’t noticed by now with my tedious listing, I’m a huge fan of Vaughan. The chance to see him, even electronically, was a chance I could not pass up. I made plans, got a hotel, and set off the day of the event. The trip was not long, a mere two and a half hours. Traveling the highways of Florida isn’t exactly interesting. It’s mostly trees, trees, and tons of cars. All you need to know is that I got to my destination safely and on time. I met up with Jade and we went to Famous Faces & Funnies together.

To be honest, I almost missed the store. The entrance is small and tucked between a dentist’s IMG_0067office and shoe repair store. It’s as inconspicuous as you can get, but the inside is a different story. This place was huge. Shelves upon shelves of single issues, graphic novels, and manga trades; there were series that even I hadn’t heard of. Along with comics, the store had toys, posters, and even snacks on sale (collecting comics gives you a hankering for Cheetos, let me tell you). I’ve been to some big stores, including the infamous Midtown Comics in New York, but not even that could compare to FF&F.

Along with the main room, there were two separate rooms. There was the game room where rows upon rows of chairs and tables used for card and board games, plus a few

IMG_0074arcade machines for good measure. The other room was the discount section, a glorious area where comics, trades, toys, shirts, and other cool stuff were sold for half their original cost. I was completely enamored by this room. I wanted to live in it and read comics until doomsday. Fortunately, budget and a sensible Jade prevented me from doing so.

Jade introduced me to the proud owner of Famous Faces & Funnies, Rich Shea. Rick is a friendly, talkative man that has worked at the store for 21 years, ever since he was 14. Originally, the store sold both comics and autographs of celebrities (hence the famous faces). The original owner decided to move on and asked Rick if he wanted to take over the store. “I eagerly said yes,” he explained. “We stopped selling autographs and expanded on our comics.” Ten years later, the store has grown in size and moved to a new section of the plaza it’s located in. Rich Shea has made FF&F a customer-friendly store that offers great deals, refunds, a wide and diverse selection of comics, and recommendations to new readers. Rick is such a great salesman that he even gives issues away to people for free with the hope that they will return and start buying comics.

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“I want my store to be the kind of comic shop I wish I had in my childhood,” Rick said. “We got great deals, a friendly staff, and we love recommending comics to first-time readers. I’m fully committed to this store. I got nothing else to do (laughs).”

I asked Rick how he set up the Skype Q&A with Brian K. Vaughan. “I first discovered Brian during his run on Swamp Thing (DC/Vertigo)”, he said. “I was a huge fan and wrote letters to him constantly. We met several times at conventions and quickly became friends. When Brian announced that his run was ending, I was bummed, but it was the same time he announced Y: The Last Man. That comic floored me and I’ve been following all of his creator-owned work since then.

“When Paper Girls was first announced, I just knew I had to set up something special. I asked Brian if he wanted to do a Q&A (preferably Skype, given he lives in California), and he said ‘Yeah, totally!’ So, we selected a date, and, well, here we are now.”

I loved talking to Rick about comics. Aside from Brian Vaughan, Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon was also a big influence on him (same here) and the reason he sells comics today. After our talk, Jade and I purchased some comics, and we went out for lunch before the Q&A later on.

I first met Jade through the Saga Facebook fan group I administrated. She and I joined with a few other members to start a new group dedicated to indie comics called Out Of This World. We became good friends through the group, and when she told me about the Q&A at FF&F, I knew I had to come meet her and Vaughan. Jade is a new comics reader and found Famous Faces & Funnies welcoming and non-judgmental. At first, she bought only trades but found Rick and the staff so friendly she started coming weekly to pick up single issues. Jade is a joyful, lovable person and easy to talk to. We had a lot of fun hanging out and talking. It was an honor meeting her and I hope our friendship continues.

IMG_0079Melbourne is a quiet beach town located near NASA. Jade and I hung out in the “young” section of town with restaurants, cafes, and local businesses. We ate at The Mansion where I drank pumpkin beer and ate pretzel bread and beer cheese, quite possibly the best thing I ever ate. If this was a food article, I would dedicate an entire page describing just how delicious this dish was. If you’re ever in Melbourne, go eat at this fine establishment and find out for yourself.

Come around sundown, we went back to Famous Faces & Funnies where they began preparing for Brian Vaughan’s Skype chat. In the discount room, space was arranged to fit a large projector screen and chairs. People were gathered around, eagerly waiting. Most were male but also a few women. One woman in particular wore an awesome Lying Cat shirt (character from Saga). I couldn’t help but notice that despite being mostly male, the audience were ethically and culturally diverse. There were geeks, punks, and even a gent that looked like a trucker. One of the great things about Brian Vaughan is that his work is not restricted to a particular demographic but appeals to people of various backgrounds. Great artist are great communicators and, if the crowd was an indication, Vaughan speaks to a lot of people.

IMG_0088At about 8pm, the lights went off, the projector went on, and Rick Shea logged into Skype. Within seconds, we the audience were graced with the presence of Brian Vaughan’s beautifully bald cranium. He looked a giant upon the screen, yet he was polite and humble. Proper greetings were made and the Q&A began. I was giddy the entire time. Sure, Vaughan was not there in person, but hearing his voice, seeing his face on screen, made the fanboy in me leap with excitement and tremble with nervousness. I worked up the courage and lined up to ask him questions. I got to do this several times. Vaughan gave honest and straightforward answers to my questions, and I managed to keep from stuttering like a fool (mostly).

Writing what was said during the Q&A would take forever, so I’ll leave the video here instead for those interested in watching the discussion:

In summary, it was a great Q&A. The best advice I got from Mr. Vaughan was that you should write at least five pages a day, no matter what it is, without distraction, and even if you end up hating what you write. He was polite, honest, and humble, praising collaborators and friends alike. It was an absolute privilege to speak with him and I’m glad I got the chance to do so.

Afterwards, Rick Shea played a little game with us. He set up a row of miniature houses and gave us actual newspapers to throw at them. If anyone hit all three in a row without missing, they would win either a free, signed copy of Paper Girls or We Stand on Guard, graciously provided for by Mr. Vaughan. People eagerly lined up and took a shot. There was no limit on how many times you could try, and people tried until they either won or gave up. As hard as I tried, I could not hit all three houses in a row (although I could hit the open space next to the last one dead on). But by Fortune’s favor, Rick Shea had already decided to award me a signed copy of Paper Girls because of the long, hard journey I had traversed.

IMG_0094This puppy is now in my bedroom, leaning against an Avengers: Age of Ultron poster and several miniature terra cotta soldiers from my China trip. It is glorious. I love it and hope to keep it for a very long time to come. Hell, I’ll probably need it for a few bucks rent when my writing career eventually dies.

Even though it saddened us, Jade I eventually left Famous Faces & Funnies for the night. We made our goodbyes to Rick and the staff, and Jade drove me back to my hotel. We hugged, said our farewells, and promised to keep in touch. In my hotel room, I assessed my loot: Aside from Paper Girls, I also got My Faith in Frankie, The Chill, and Bitch Planet #3. I had also seen Rat Queens: Braga Special at the store but forgot to get a copy, a mistake I’m still kicking myself for, but it was still a good haul. Afterwards, I watched TV, wrote some notes, and went to bed. I got breakfast the next morning and headed home back to Jacksonville.

My trip to Melbourne was fantastic. It was the first time I traveled alone. I got to meet a friend, go to a great comic book store, talk to one of my favorite writers, and got great comics as an added bonus. I hope to have many more trips like this. I also hope to become a great writer one day like Brian K. Vaughan and do Skype chats with nervous fans, and, hopefully, inspire them to write. In general, I hope for more amazing life experiences, and if I get some comics along the way, then the better it will be.

Check out Famous Faces & Funnies: https://www.facebook.com/FFFComics/?fref=ts

More articles that I’ve done: http://www.popoptiq.com/author/ben-howard/

 

 

 


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