Tagged: Rocketeer

Ed Catto: Culture & Commerce – Bob Chapman’s Graphitti Designs

trio of Graphitti Tshirts

Bob ChapmanOver the past 47 years the SDCC has grown to become a pop culture behemoth. More than just a grand celebration of fan passion, it’s a driver of serious commerce. SDCC’s impact now makes waves on a national and international economic scale, far beyond the initial fan-centric puddles of the early days.

Bob “Chappy” Chapman is a fan and business owner who was part of the early days and is still actively involved today. He’s an energetic entrepreneur who’s built his business Graphitti Designs, catering to Geek Culture. Graphitti Designs has been creates fan focused merchandise like T-shirts, statues, action figures, prints, books and more. And Bob has found a way to survive – and thrive – throughout the many iterations of SDCC over the years.

Bob is likeable, charming, infectiously enthusiastic, and effortlessly employs an extensive vocabulary. You just know he’s a big reader! He’s nostalgic, but always looking forward. As we prepare for the annual nerd prom that world calls SDCC, I was eager to learn how the convention got his business started and how it’s changed over the years.

Graphitti Bettie Page Wow StatueThe Secret Origin

All great superheroes have a great origin story, and Bob Chapman is no exception.

Bob and his brother were rabid Silver Age comic fans and had accumulated an impressive comic collection. By the late 70s they had become disillusioned with collecting and decided to sell their comics. They dutifully trotted their overflowing comic boxes to a myriad of dealers, but were shocked at how little money was offered.

In what would become a life changing decision, they decided that they could do better selling the comics directly to fans directly. They signed up for dealer’s table at SDCC.

Hard to believe it was once that easy to secure exhibition space at SDCC.

“We didn’t know what we were doing,” confessed Bob. But despite that, the brothers managed to walk away with several thousand dollars. And they made this profit by selling off only 10% of their collection.

More important, they loved the comic convention culture. And they were in the thick of it with all their peers and favorite creators. For example, their dealer’s table was situated right next to comics legend Wally Wood.

bobsculpThis would be the initial catalyst that led to the creation Graphitti Designs.

“In the early days, there was a lot of camaraderie,” said Bob. He explained that they were all on a learning curve and there were no official guidelines. “We all helped each other, learned from each other. It wasn’t contrived and was never articulated.”

When he started in 1982, there was no merchandise or specialty marketing. There wasn’t even a place for distributors. The direct sales market was evolving, but the marketplace was, at that time, still focused on the monthly sales cycle of periodicals. Evergreen products and licensed merchandised was rare and usually dismissed.

But in 1981, Bob developed a straightforward idea. He knew the screen-printing process and he knew comics. He approached SDCC’s management team with an idea that was radical at the time, although it has become startlingly commonplace now: to make and sell official comic convention T-Shirts!

Graphitti Team BettyOn the Frontier

In planning for this first T-shirt project, Bob told me how he was hopeful to work with one of his favorite artists, like Jack Kirby, or to use an iconic hero, like Batman or Spider-Man, in order to design a powerful shirt and logo.

Instead, he was disappointed when the convention management team asked him to work with an up-coming-artist he hadn’t heard of an old comics character that hadn’t been published in years.

Crestfallen, he was determined to make it work.

The character was Sheena, an iconic super heroine (pre-dating Wonder Woman) and the artist was Dave Stevens.

1984 Rocketeer SDCC SHIRT GraphittiBob soon met Dave and they hit it off. And Bob, like the rest of world, would soon find out that Dave Stevens was a phenomenal artist. Together, they would create many gorgeous items for Bob’s fledgling company.

In fact many of Graphitti’s “firsts” involved Dave Stevens. The first book Graphitti published was a Dave Stevens Book. The first cloisonné pin featured Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer character. The first statue Graphitti created was based on Dave Stevens’ artwork.

“He was our unofficial art director for all those years,” said Bob.

The Spirit of Entrepreneurship

As Bob talked about the business, he reiterated that he owes much of his success to all the kind people who wanted to see him succeed.

One particularly influential person was Will Eisner. The legendary storyteller and creator of The Spirit approached Graphitti to make Spirit T-shirts. “He allowed us to make Spirit T-shirts,” recalls Bob. “It had never been done before.”

Looking back, this was especially important, as Eisner was also known as a very focused businessman.

Batman Kelly Jones Book GraphittiBusiness Grows as Comic Cons Grow

Graphitti was, in many ways, the first specialty company to create statues and comics-focused hard cover books for the collector’s market. The entire collectible statue market can easily trace its parentage back to Bob Chapman’s efforts at Graphitti.

As a merchandising company, Graphitti blazed new trails and usually enjoyed first mover advantages.

“Now there’s a plethora of merchandise. I spawned some of that,” said Bob.

He’s practically a founding father of merchandising in the comic book industry.

“Not so sure how proud I am of that…it’s so saturated <now>,’ he muses.

Bob explains that they were “…a product of the times. On one hand… the timing was extremely fortunate. But at the same time, the timing was bad – as there was no guideline or framework. In hindsight, ignorance persevered.”

Graphitti was focused on being a champion for artists and comic artwork. “Being a facilitator to the vision is other is part of what gave us this look,” reasoned Bob.

“And now, we’re fortunate to be evolving back into creating books,” said Bob. He’s very pleased about that.

And Graphitti was purposefully small and was able to be malleable. They weren’t shackled to preconceived ideas.

Dream Girl Graphitti Bombshell T ShirtIn the beginning, Graphitti was the only game in the geek merchandise town. But things changed quickly. Bob had to learn how to juggle his money and still produce items.

“I had numerous opportunities to go out of business, and had to learn how to juggle air financially,” said Bob.

The Romantic Entrepreneur

Bob is a unique mix of the classic nuts-and-bolts businessman and the idealist romantic entrepreneur.

That’s evident in his love for the medium, and comics in general. But’s also evident in his staffing.

You see, Bob’s lovely wife Gina often works with him at the Graphitti Convention Booth. So much so, in fact, that she too has become a staple of the SDCC.

“I work more than I should,” lamented Bob. And to that end, he’s grateful that his wife often joins him on the convention circuit and at SDCC in particular.

Graphitti Booth“Sometimes it’s an asset to have such fresh eyes,” said Bob. “She’s not star struck and she’s a good sounding board. She makes the shows more enjoyable. It’s nice that she’s there with me.”

Standing Tall at San Diego Comic Con 2016

Bob makes it very clear about his relationship with SDCC. “I wouldn’t be here without it,” he said.

And he’s contemplative about the state of the industry. “We got what we wanted,” concludes Chappy. “The stink of comics from the fifties has dissipated.” But with the growth comes issues, and it’s a “double-edged sword.”

“I built Graphitti, but I didn’t do it property,” Bob admitted. “I don’t want to be the poster child for doing it properly.”

As an entrepreneur myself, I just scratch my head and think that Graphitti’s amazing success, innovation and longevity all seem pretty proper to me!

Ed Catto: The (Not Quite) Secret Origin of Pacific Comics!

1047384-vanity_1_0001Just a few decades ago, astronauts, presidents and cowboys and were some of our cultural role models. But today’s cultural heroes are the brave souls who pitch their ideas on Shark Tank. So it’s not a surprise to find an entrepreneurial high school (or middle school) student who has created a cutting edge product, service or app. That’s why the subject of this week’s column is all the more impressive. In the early 80’s, two teenage brothers launched a their comic publishing business, showcasing talents like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams and Dave Stevens. At that time, they didn’t have any role models. They didn’t have weekly comic conventions in various cities. They were on the frontier with no maps or guidebooks.

That’s why I’m so pleased to present my recent conversation with Bill Schanes. He’s a great guy who’s accomplished so very much in his career. Conversations with him could fill up several of these weekly columns. But for now, I will focus on the early days, and the origin of Pacific Comics.

Kirby PacificEd Catto: Pacific Comics, as a publisher, was preceded by your mail order business, several comic shops and even a distribution business. How did you decide to start publishing Pacific Comics?

Bill Schanes: Since my brother Steve and I had several different but related businesses going at the same time, we noticed that there wasn’t very many “new” releases when it came to new comic books from the New York publishing houses. (It’s important to remember, the only mainstream publishers at that time were Archie, Harvey, DC and Marvel.) There were a number of “underground” publishers putting out books, like Print Mint, Rip-Off Press, Last Gasp, Kitchen Sink and others, but there just wasn’t enough new periodical releases to drive consumers into our stores on a weekly basis, so we decided to give it a try.

We first published a black and white comic book called ONE, which was part photo/illustration, and part traditional comic book style of artwork. We did this to make sure we fully understood how the whole editorial production cycle worked, plus we felt ONE had enough potential on its own to reach a wide range of consumers.

Most people don’t know this next tidbit, but we intended on our first major release to be a project Gil Kane was working on at the time – Blackmark.

Steve and I had also been involved with the San Diego Comic-Con since its second year (only missed the very first show), and during those early years, we got to know a number of the writers and artists who were the big names at the times, plus a wide range of new and upcoming talent as well.

EC: When you launched Pacific, the comics industry was very different than it is today. What are some of the major differences between the industry, then and now, specifically as it relates to publishing a new line of comics?

alien_worlds1BS: As I mentioned previously, there were very few mainstream publishers releasing books at that time. The idea of a graphic novel or a trade paperback just wasn’t even being contemplated, except for a couple of exceptions.

Those early days were very innocent, as there really weren’t any rules or boundaries at that time. Competition was limited in the “superhero’ genre to DC and Marvel only, so we felt there was a fairly large gap into what we thought the market would respond to, which was to break out of the mold, and introduce new concepts that featured the creative teams as much, if not more than the character name, as any characters that Pacific Comics would be introducing would be brand new to both retailers and consumers.

While we had a general idea as to what we wanted to publish, we didn’t have a formal business plan at that time (silly looking back on it now).

It’s also important to remember that in the late 70s and early 80s, there weren’t thousands upon thousands of comic book specialty retailers. Pacific Comics was also the largest wholesaler/distributor of comic books on the west coast at the time, so we had a very good relationship with the vast majority of the comic book specialty retailers out west. We felt that they would treat us as one of their own, as DC and Marvel were those New York guys, who really hadn’t established any type of retailer programs yet.

Pacific Comics was the first “mainstream” comic book publisher who exclusively sold into comic book specialty market retailers (no newsstand), so the retailers really responded positively to this via very large initial order commitments. We combined key creators (Kirby, Ditko, Adams, Wrightson, Jones…), with what at the time was cutting edge color separations (blue line/grey line), upscale paper stock, which allowed for higher quality reproduction, and heat set printing. This basically means that once the ink was applied to the paper, the ink “set” on top of the paper. This is opposed to the traditional cold press printing method of the previous 40+ years, which the ink absorbed into the paper, and also transferred to the readers’ hands fairly easily.

Adams PacificEC: The roster of Pacific creators reads like a who’s who of comics – Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, Dave Stevens, Sergio Aragones…the list goes on and on. Which creators are your favorites and why?

BS: We were very fortunate, as at the time Pacific Comics was going into the publishing of comic books, DC and Marvel had just come off one of their worst periods in regards to creator/talent relationships. We were also very lucky to have a number of very bright people working for us at the time, including David Scroggy (now at Dark Horse running their merchandise program), Jon Hartz (former original Valiant EVP), Bill Lund (one of the original founders and 1st chairman of the San Diego Comic-Con), and many others.

I had played with the idea of “ranking” the talent/creators based on sales of the books they had worked on over the recent past few years (somewhat similar to sports stats). At that time (before excel), I put together a grid of sales stats (on a large oversized graph paper), broken down by writer, penciller, inker, letterer, colorist, editor and any other individuals involved in the creative process. Each month, I’d update the data to include the most recent sales. I also put a “point value” on each sales level for each category of creator, so when we wanted to put together an editorial team, we wanted to make sure that each new book or story within a book would have a “point value” which we felt would represent the best opportunity to achieve sales of previous books they had worked on. While it wasn’t 100% scientific, it proved to be pretty helpful.

Now to get back to your question, after weren’t able to come to terms with Gil Kane on his Blackmark project, we said we might as well go with the biggest names in the business at the time. That meant that the #1 on our list, and one of all of our personal favorites was Jack Kirby. Jack had left the business for a while to work at Hanna-Barbera; mainly because he was dissatisfied with the work-for-hire concept that was the standard in the comic book business at the time, as he felt he should retain ownership and be entitled to royalties versus just a flat page rate with no back end compensation.

We also wanted to work with Neal Adams – who wouldn’t want to? – as well as some newcomers, like Dave Stevens. When we first saw the Rocketeer concept and early pages, we were left speechless, and knew immediately that Dave was heading to be one of the brightest and biggest names in the business (Dave was lost far too early, so sad).

We were aware that both Jack and Neal had long fought for creator rights, and we wanted to work with both, to show the creative community that Pacific Comics was a new type of comic book publisher, one who wanted creators to work with us versus having creators work for us.

pacific-comics-edge-of-chaos-issue-1EC: Which projects or series were your favorites?

BS: Personally, I really enjoyed almost all of the books that April Campbell and Bruce Jones packaged for Pacific Comics. April and Bruce put together a series of fantastic titles, with all star talent involved. These included Twisted Tales, Alien Worlds, Pathways to Fantasy, Somerset Holmes to name a few. Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Berni Wrightson, Barry Winsor Smith, Tim Conrad, Art Adams, John Bolton, Joe Chiodo, Bo & Scott Hampton, Brent Anderson, and a host of others, plus April and Bruce wrote the majority of the stories, which lent to wonderful continuity along the whole line.

I also enjoyed the Elric series by P. Craig Russel (Mike Friedrich – from the then famous StarReach Productions) brokered this project with the creators.

Mike Grell was just in the middle of his fantastic run on Warlord, and we were really pleased to be able to publish his book Starslayer.

EC: And as a follow-up, which comics were you most proud of publishing?

BS: It’s hard to say anything other than KIRBY! The King had returned to comics and Pacific Comics engaged him on a creator ownership deal, whereby Pacific Comics licensed Jack’s titles from him, paid him a page rate, royalty from copy one, and at the end of the day, Jack owned 100% of his titles. (As it should be, as far as we were concerned).

Loved Dave Steven’s work on The Rocketeer.

April and Bruce were incredible to work with.

Steve Ditko did some back up features for us – I felt especially proud we were able to get Ditko back into the business (as we had done with Kirby).

SERGIO – need I say more! Sergio was, and is to this day, one of the nicest guys in the business. Sergio had done signings at our retail stores in the early 70’s, and was an absolute pleasure to work with (along with Mark Evanier).

pacific-comics-groo-the-wanderer-issue-4EC: I’m especially intrigued by the Somerset Holmes series by Bruce Jones and April Campbell, and their Hollywood struggle. What do you remember about that one?

BS: Somerset Holmes was a series put together and packaged by April Campbell and Bruce Jones (a really terrific team). April was the main “model” for the lead character, and my wife at the time (Cynthia Lee Vice) was also involved in the photo shoots for reference materials used later on.

EC: After Pacific Comics, you started working at Diamond Comics. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about, and what your responsibilities there were initially?

BS: After Pacific Comics wrapped up its various business entities in 1984, I took a few months off from returning to the workforce, just to recharge and see if I still had enough in me to give another run. I was 26 at the time, started Pacific Comics with my brother Steve when I was 13 and Steve was 17.


Sometime in the late summer of 1984, I had taken a few months off, and felt I could re-enter back into the industry that I loved so much. I reached out to Bud Plant (the largest wholesaler/distributor on the west coast), Russ Ernst (one of the largest mid-west distributors – Glenwood), Milton Griepp and John Davis (Capital City), and Steve Geppi (Diamond). These four interviews were all somewhat unique, as we both interviewed each other in regards to help to fully understand if we’d be a good fit together. They each had a long list of questions and talking points, and I also had put together a detailed list of questions and thoughts based on each of their individual strengths.

After these four interviews, I felt I could have the most impact by joining Diamond, which I did on November 11, 1985. I moved my family, dog and exotic African Macaw from San Diego to Baltimore via a semi-truck. I drove all 3,000 miles for the first time in that semi-truck.

When I got to Diamond, there were only a handful of employees at the “home office”. I originally handled customer service, sales, order forms (no Previews catalog yet) and “other duties as called upon.” Within my first week, I was attending a trade show in Chicago, with the instructions to meet with the largest accounts in the Chicagoland area (this included Moondog’s, Larry’s Comic Shop, Joe Sarno’s Comic Kingdom and Carl Bonasera’s Amazing Fantasy Comics.

EC: Looking back on your experiences with Pacific, is there any learning that you could offer to new publishers starting today?

BS: It seems to me in order to be a successful comic book publishers today, you need to do a number of things very well. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Personal vision
  • Business plan
  • Dedication to honoring your word with both creators, comic book specialty retailers, media, and other 3rd party partners
  • Relationship building
  • Publishing on time, every time (leave no doubts that your serious about your publishing plans, and do what you say)
  • Flexibility to change direction quickly
  • Define what niche you are good at, and stick to what you know
  • Financially ability to fund the start-up, building of, and continuing of your publishing business – over a 2-4 year time
  • Treating creators (writers, artists, colorists, editors) and creator rights (outside of licensed books from major intellectually property owners like Warner Brothers, Disney, Fox…) with ultimate respect.

EC: Bill, great insights, stories and advice. What a treat! Thanks so much.



James Horner: 1953-2015

The two-time Oscar winner, 61, worked on three James Cameron films, two ‘Star Trek’ movies and classics like ‘A Beautiful Mind,’ ‘Field of Dreams’ and ‘Apollo 13.’James Horner, the consummate film composer known for his heart-tugging scores for Field of Dreams, Braveheart and Titanic, for which he won two Academy Awards, died Monday in a plane crash near Santa Barbara. He was 61.

Source: James Horner Dead: ‘Titanic’ Composer Killed in Plane Crash – Hollywood Reporter – The Hollywood Reporter

At ComicMix, we’ve always been fond of his work on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but we absolutely loved his pure Americana score for one of the greatest comic book movie adaptations, The Rocketeer.

Our condolences to his family, friends, and fans.