Comic books that bring history to life!
Welcome to Chester Comix! Inside this site you'll find fun samples of the way Bentley Boyd uses comix to spark interest in history for reluctant readers! Check what he's drawing now, go with him to weird historical sites across the country, or download a coloring page and put your own words into his drawings! This home page features my most recent news/blog entries. Learn more about my blog. Have fun! --Bentley Boyd
February 27th, 2013
In this 10th anniversary month for Chester Comix LLC, when I say I’m proud that my business survived the Great Recession, I have a specific measurement of that.
Nothing matches the thrill of getting the first shipment of your product. For Chester Comix, the first 10 titles (50,000+ books) came off the presses in April 2003. They went right to the Richmond ARC warehouse in Richmond, Virginia, for bagging and storage. A year later seven more titles and 35,000 more books came off the press, and the whole inventory moved to another Richmond warehouse that better met our shipping and storage needs.
At about 100 comix per box, that’s a lot of cardboard to move around.
When the Great Recession hit, school budgets got slashed. By the spring of 2009 it was clear the business revenue stream could no longer sustain the cost of warehousing in Richmond. I found a climate-controlled self-storage unit in Williamsburg only two miles from my house. I bought planks from Home Depot to set on cinder blocks for shelving. And then I started lifting boxes.
For three days. I jigsaw puzzle-packed them into an agency van loaned by a friend (and then the trunk of her car for the last load out of town, as the sun was setting one day). Back and forth, back and forth to Richmond. Was it five round trips or six? It’s a blur. The boxes quickly filled the self-storage unit. But I had more. So boxes went into my garage, of course. But boxes also went into the closet where I kept Cub Scout stuff and Halloween costumes and binders of old cartoons. Boxes went into the front closet where guests’ coats hang. Boxes went under the boys’ bunk bed. Boxes went into the Christmas closet in their room. I was living on top of my investment. To save my business, I turned my house into cardboard.
We’ve got the inventory under control now. In my house in 2013 the boxes live only in the garage and the guest bedroom (“The Chester Comix Fulfillment Center”). The aroma of cardboard no longer drifts through the house. But whenever a new set of boxes comes from the printer and a few of them land in the trunk of my car, my son can pick that fresh cardboard smell out immediately . . .
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February 3rd, 2013
The business license from the Commonwealth of Virginia came in the mail February 2003. I celebrate a decade of business this month with my 32nd title and a pile of thankfulness to the friends and family who have supported me every step of the way. Chester and I have survived some missteps, hundreds of miles of travel to conferences, and a Great Recession that hit our main target audience (public schools) particularly hard. Why did I keep going?
Most of the people who start their own business fail. A savvy friend who loaned Chester Comix LLC money at the very beginning noted that this was my “Defending Your Life” moment. Check out the movie sometime — it’s a funny look at how important it is to be brave in the face of the conventional wisdom to play it safe and keep your crayons within the lines. And her reference to that movie was a huge compliment that kept me going through some scary times.
They were scary times because I couldn’t see around the corner, not because I was unsure of my own footsteps and the direction I was walking. I believe to my core that I was put on this planet to do Chester Comix. I’ve been doing it the best I can — first as a newspaper cartoonist from 1995 to 2004 and then as my own publisher from 2003 until now. I often think what a weird set of skills it takes to do this work — and marvel at how my life has included training for those skills — how the pieces all brought me to this life I have now . . .
* CARTOONING. I didn’t study art as a major in college — I’ve studied it my whole life. I taught myself to draw by copying Peanuts out of the newspaper. My dad was an art professor, and my parents took me to a lot of art museums as I grew up. Art was not an oddball career choice. It was accepted and encouraged. You’d be amazed at how important that is. When I started to draw my own superhero comix in elementary school, my dad got them copied so I could sell them to my friends. Chester Comix LLC is just a more elaborate form of that work I was doing in 4th grade.
* WRITING. Schools make all of us practice writing all the time, of course. But I went further. I started keeping a journal in 5th grade and was on the school newspaper in elementary, middle and high school and then in college. That’s where I got encouragement to write for a public audience — a big barrier for many people. I picked newspapering because it allowed a broad range of creativity and seemed to have a lot of job security (every town has a newspaper, right?). The Internet crushed that — but not before newspapers taught me to brave enough to write publicly and write well on deadline.
* PUBLIC SPEAKING. I did debate in high school because my friend Amy did. But in the process I found a family of friends there and learned to face a big audience and think on my feet to speak extemporaneously. I think about that training every time I talk about my work in front of 350 kids in a school cafeteria. (And it’s fantastic when kids tell me that I’m much more interesting than other authors who get up and drone on; it’s all due to my debate training at Brookings High School with the incomparable Judy Kroll. Well, that and my love of Steve Martin.)
* RESEARCH. Majoring in History and Literature at Harvard University was a great excuse to buy the books I wanted to read anyway and take time to dig for details in the papers I wrote. My work-study job for four years was inside the school’s rare books library. That love of reading and research is the starting point for every story I tell at Chester Comix. Chances are, over my morning cereal I’m reading a historic academic journal I found in a used bookstore.
* MARKETING. This is an off-shoot of the newspaper work. When Chester ran in the Daily Press of Newport News, VA, I was just as involved in the marketing of the feature as I was in writing and drawing it. I’m comfortable in social media and thankful for all the tools I can wield myself to promote the business now (many of which didn’t exist in 2003!).
* STUBBORNNESS. The key. I spent the summer after my high school graduation working for my father’s weekly newspaper in Ohio. When the staff floundered a few months later, I took a leave of absence from my freshman year at college to keep the paper running until my father’s permanent return to Ohio in the summer of 1986. In that experience I learned hard and valuable lessons about being a small business owner. No one will ever care about your business as much as you do. No one will be addressing samples letters on a Friday night with you. But if it’s what you believe in, you do it gladly.
I believe in Chester Comix. Thank you for all your support over the past decade. I look forward to more storytelling and more success in the next one!
December 15th, 2012
Every day I make my pilgrimage to the post office to check the box for new orders for history comix or for checks that pay for previous orders. Some days I get something even better.
Today I got this. The letter and drawings from 10-year-old Donald made me so happy. There was no money in the mailbox today. There was no way to ship out new comix without waiting in line for 40 minutes amongst the holiday shippers. But Donald sent me a gold mind. He sent me a gift that came from his energy and passion and time. His love of Chester reminds me how important my work is. I love working for myself, and it’s nice to make enough money to buy iPhone apps whenever I want to, but a big part of the payment I receive for my work is the feeling that I am inspiring my young readers — inspiration to learn more, inspiration to love the nation and culture of America, inspiration to create their own stories.
Inspiration works both ways. Just yesterday I was back in the elementary school that taught my two sons over a 10-year period. I went into that building to volunteer in their art classes almost every week during those 10 years. I read my favorite childrens books to their classes at storytime. I played on the playground with them. The family of teachers at this school were so dear to my oldest that we had to drag him out of there after fifth grade as he protested that he wanted to graduate from high school there. Now that son is in college. Once a year I retrace my steps up to the front door in a kind of homecoming: the teacher who had my youngest in her gifted writing class asks me back every December to speak about my author work to her current class of gifted writers.
And they inspire me. Yesterday’s session was a great give-and-take with the authors of the future. At one point they were champing at the bit to draw so much that I stopped talking and let them draw, to see what they would create. They had ideas and knowledge and fearlessness. Grownups can get worn down by daily To Do lists and can give in to doubt. Connecting with creative kids is an electrical jolt that propels me forward in my own storytelling.
Thanks to all the young people who dare to be great. You are my heroes
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