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Clear Vision: A Look at Buffalo’s Comic Book Culture

Author: LaGuan R Rodgers

For some, Monday mornings are reserved for debating who’s the greatest quarterback of all time. Others, point to why one president outranks another. However, on this manic day of the week, three guys from Visions Comic Art sit crammed into a booth at Lake Effect Diner – each making a case for his favorite superhero with in-depth explanations less dedicated comic book fans may gloss over.

Such knowledge of illustrated characters and the layered story lines in which the likes of Aquaman and the Amazing Spiderman evolved, comes from years of immersion in the ever growing culture that is Buffalo’s comic book scene.

Coming off the heels of last month’s annual event known as Buffalo Comicon– a spirited creative mass gathering of comic book enthusiasts at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center (the event used to be held at the Buffalo Marriott but outgrew the venue), the three graphic artists are at no loss for words when talking about the premise behind such a crazed emporium of art, pageantry and sheer fandom.

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“You get to see a lot of people coming together to celebrate comics and the genre,” says O’Brian. “People put in a lot of work.”

Comicon-Lego-Buffalo-NYComicons are said to have begun in the 70s in San Diego, CA and served as conventions whereby followers could migrate to buy issues, not to mention Hollywood producers making it a point to attend in order to purchase source material for future movies (a practice which still occurs to this day). Since then, like other cities around the country, Buffalo plays host to an event which not only showcases comic vendors and artists, but also video game contests and the highly competitive costume spectacles that are referred to as cosplays.

On a national level, much of the rise of comics can be attributed to the Marvel movies put out on the big screen, yet Jackson believes there is something unique about the local area.

“Buffalo is growing again, and there’s a renaissance of the arts,” Jackson, a huge proponent of art education and the beneficial role it plays in cognitive development, states. “Visions has brought a lot of great talent together, and we support each other.”

Dating back to 1981, Visions Comic Art can best be described as the de facto “unionizing” of local graphic artists and writers who assemble to share ideas, collaborate on projects and offer support in each one’s quest to create and promote sequential art.

“Visions allows us independent guys a platform,” says Rodriquez, the former Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts graduate who is expected to release his next work titled Supernal Event in 2016. “We don’t have the big budgets like Marvel or DC, so working with other people is key.”

Readers who enjoy timeless series and the superheroes within them, should know the creation of comics- “the poor man’s filmmaking”- is no one-person effort, as it involves various minds such as story writers, pencilers, inkers and colorists spewing forth time, energy and resources.

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“In many cases, you have to be your own lawyer, publicist, financial advisor and artists in order to do it right,” Rodriguez remarks.

For every movement there is a central figure at the forefront, a proven mover and shaker. For this cause, Emil Novak Sr.- the architect behind Visions Comic Art – and his Queen City Bookstore serve as the general and epicenter, respectively.

541150_10151442864720048_1003011062_nLocated in Buffalo’s University District, Queen City Bookstore is to the local comic collector what F.A.O. Schwarz once was to wide-eyed children window shopping along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

Once a biology student at Canisius College, Buffalo resident and avid collector Tom Olejniczak, who guestimates his collection spans 250-300 books across 20 titles, would travel to the store on a regular basis with full confidence in Novak’s ability to deliver weekly delights.

“Emil is a super nice dude and will talk comics with anyone, so it became my Wednesday ritual,” explains Olejniczak. “Marvel’s website would list the titles and their release dates a few weeks in advance, so I would email him the list of books I wanted. He would set them aside for me, and each Wednesday I’d go to QC, pick up my order for the week and read comics in between classes.”

Novak’s father originally opened the comic store in 1969 on Bailey Avenue with the current Main St. location opening in 1986.

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“When my dad first opened the store there were barely 25 shops in the country,” Novak says. “You were lucky if there were 100 in the world.”

Like Jackson, Novak believes the Queen City’s comic scene is unique and forward moving.

“Through it all, Buffalo has always remained an artsy place. It’s a lot smaller and easier to enjoy the comic scene compared to the bigger congested markets like New York City, Chicago and San Diego.”

When asked how it feels to see people’s collecting spanning decades and new readers emerging, Novak can’t hold back his pleasure.

“I get a kick out of it,” he says, as he points to a guy who used to ride his bike to the Bailey store as a kid. “It’s nice to see the guys as grown men still collecting. Some of them are now artists like the Visions guys. It’s pretty cool, you know.”

In some way, the trio from Visions Comic Art regard Hollywood’s role in making the comic book culture more “socially acceptable” as bittersweet. “Before it was a corny geek thing,” O’Brian says with laughter. “Nowadays, it’s cool and the in thing to be a geek whereas growing up in school you got beat up and thrown into a locker.”

afrqwfdqwdfqThe Incredible Hulk sits atop Rodriguez’s list of favorite superheroes not only for his monstrous look but also for the ebb and flow of Robert Bruce Banner’s rage.

“How many of us wish we could be that?” asks Rodriguez rhetorically.

As the diner clears itself only to bring in new patrons, the burning question is how many people can create and live out their own clear vision like these nerds of a new in crowd?

For more info on Visions Comic Art find them on Facebook.

Visit Queen City Bookstore at 3184 Main St. Buffalo, NY 14214 or call 716-833-6220.

Lead image: Will Rodriguez (left) and Aaron O’Brian (right) posing with the iconic one himself at the 2015 Buffalo Comicon

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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