When I first got back into comics I frequented a few online forums. I made some good friends from all over the world and getting to see them is what makes going to cons so great these days. But there are the other folks on forums that make things unpleasant hiding behind their inflated egos, careless derision, and safe anonymity. Those people, along with a very busy family life and a job that involves travel, have moved any kind of online forum activity completely off my priorities list. But POP!: The Comic Culture Club is a different animal.
Back in February, in the middle of the day, I saw a tweet from Marc Sumerak about a local comic club meeting taking place that evening in Parma Heights. Literally, the day of the first meeting, I heard about it and decided to take a chance. I had met Marc on a couple of occasions (and even wrote about the first time we met in my book Deus ex Comica – page 113 for those of you playing along at home) and knew him to be a good guy, so I figured I’d give it a go.
I love the openness of the group – even at that first meeting, it was obvious that most everyone else in the room knew each other previously, but I never felt like an outsider. And even though there are clear “Marvel” and “DC” lines drawn among the group, there is no animosity or mean-spiritedness about the discussion. The conversations are often more about curiosity (“Tell me what DC did with this” or “Hey, how did Marvel handle a similar situation” kind of talk) than anything even remotely resembling trash talk. I think that’s a credit to how Marc and fellow club organizer Jae Fitch established the meetings from the get-go. That I could say I’d never read the Death of Superman or fellow club member Dave could say he’d never read Miller’s Daredevil run and no one goes into over-the-top histrionics is a testament to the sincerity of the group.
I have no problem making time once every couple of weeks to drive 40 minutes each way to meet up with some likeminded people to talk about a culture we love for a couple of hours. POP! is like having the best of all worlds – the comic-centric discussions of forums without the snark and the great face-to-face interaction of hanging out at a comic shop or con.
Having said all that, life does sometimes get in the way of comics. I did pretty good making the first few months’ worth of meetings, but work travel and family obligations do still take priority when scheduling conflicts arise. While these are all very good reasons to miss POP! meetings, it doesn’t mean I don’t miss being a part of this great community when I have to skip a gathering.
Most meetings begin with an open forum on current events – a newly released comic-based movie or trailer, whatever comic-related news is the current hot topic, or maybe a follow-up thought from the previous meeting, or anything else on your mind. From there, the conversation moves to the chosen main topic of the night. Themes are just specific enough to generate conversation, but generally broad enough to never feel too confining. Past topics include Death in Comics, Cosmic Comics, Genre Comics, and Comic Worlds. Upcoming meetings will focus on Legendary Battles, Superheroes without Super Powers, Anti-Heroes, and more.
I want this club to see continued success, which is why I do what I can to promote the group on the web and in conversations and try to recruit new members wherever possible. As a direct result of the meetings, I’ve gotten to know Marc better. It’s also been great to reconnect with my other buddy Mark (who I hadn’t seen in over 20 years prior to getting him to show up to a POP! Club meeting!) and meeting Chuck from Star Joes podcast (who I’d never met in person, but had been corresponding with and trying to coordinate meeting for over a year). And there are people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet exclusively through the club, like Jason and the aforementioned Dave, who I have tremendous respect for and see as the DC yin to my Marvel yang.
Over the months I’ve watched our club grow from a handful of us at that first meeting to upwards of two-dozen attendees each meeting. Gatherings officially run from 7 to 8:30 on designated Wednesday evenings, but conversations invariably linger until the library closes at 9. It was obvious from almost the very beginning an “after-meeting” venue was necessary to keep the conversation going into the night, and the post-meeting gatherings around town are a good thing.
But with all this interpersonal contact, that’s all not to imply there isn’t an online presence for the club. There is an official Twitter feed and, although I’m not on Facebook, there is a Facebook group. I’m hopeful we can get a lot of the members on Google+ soon, too, because I think the circles and huddles concepts lend themselves beautifully to what this club is all about and would be another way to be an active part of the club between meetings. There has been talk of recording meetings for a podcast, but I think by virtue of our size that probably just isn’t a realistic option any more (a happy problem to have outgrown the idea already).
I recognize that among comic cities, New York, Chicago, and Portland, Oregon, seem to be the hotspots, but with POP! I like to think we’re carving out our own respectable, organized community of comic book fans and professionals here in Northeast Ohio. Everyone’s welcome!
POP! Summer 2011 Schedule
August 03: “Fight of the Century: Legendary Battles”
* Parma South Library (7335 Ridge Rd., Parma)
August 17: “Rise of the Everyman: Superheroes Without Superpowers”
* ParmaTown Denny’s (8111 Day Dr., Parma)
August 31: “I Walk The Line: Vigilantes and Anti-Heroes”
September 14: “Toys! Adventure in the Palm of Your Hand”
September TBA: “POP!Corn Movie Night”
October 19: “How to Make Comics (The Sumerak Way!)”
POP!: The Comic Culture Club meetings take place from 7-8:30pm at the Parma Heights Public Library (6206 Pearl Rd, Parma Heights) unless otherwise noted. All meeting dates are Wednesdays (new comic day!).