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Archive for the ‘Author’s Purpose’ Category

Buckeye Blitz!

Written on Wednesday, December 13th, 2023 [permanent link]

I am closing the 20th anniversary year of Chester Comix LLC with a gift to myself.

In 20 years and 38 books, I’ve covered the big stuff that kids need to know in school. The Civil War! George Washington! World War II! The Civil Rights Movement! Harriet Tubman! I am now free to draw quirkier things and fill in the odd and the less well-known stories between the big stuff. It’s a delicious freedom to draw whatever history interests me the most.

Chester began as a Virginia history storyteller. As I grew the business, the blue crab expanded his range and told a local history in Massachusetts and published a North Carolina history comic. The smartest busines right now would be to work on a state history of California or New York—nice, big markets with lots of well-funded public schools full of teachers who could use a comic about their state history!

But at this anniversary moment, I found that my patriotism for my home state was too strong. It was time to tell the story of Ohio and weave my own story into it. Since I moved back in 2015, it’s been a joy to search out the local details of hundreds of years of Ohio history. I’ve enjoyed wandering through Ohio towns that I never set foot in before. History is always informed by what we see and feel today, and I have also been inspired to do this new book by observing new history unfold over these eight years back in the Buckeye land.

I felt this so strongly that I made myself serve as Chester’s companion this time! I’ve never done that before, but this project was too perfectly personal. One example of that: After I moved back, my hometown newspaper was kind enough to do a profile of me and my historical cartooning; the story ran on the same day that the paper’s front page announced that the second-to-last big factory in my hometown was closing.

Now OHIO: Crossroad of the Nation is published. Will this book sell? Over 20 years, I’ve gotten only one Ohio museum to carry Chester Comix. Will this be the book that cracks open this market?

Here’s the secret: I don’t care! Bad business, I know. But I am already happy that the book exists. I’m sending copies to friends and family. It’s a gift back to all the people who contributed to this wonderful life I’ve had. And it’s a gift to myself. Any sales of the book now will be as delicious as putting a chocolate covering over a ball of peanut butter.

— Hey! I just got an order from a museum in New Concord, Ohio! WOOOOOT!!!

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Chester Comix at 20

Written on Sunday, February 5th, 2023 [permanent link]

Proving just how hard his shell is, Chester Comix turns 20 years old this year.

My Chesapeake Bay buddy first showed up in 1995 in the Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia, but the business that sells his adventures to young readers across the country started in 2003.

The business has survived the Great Recession. And the COVID crash. And some personal crashes. It surviving moving the whole shebang from Virginia to Ohio the fall that my dad was in hospice. That was a lot of boxes of inventory in THREE truck trips.

There has been plenty of joy. I met Weird Al and Doris Kearns Goodwin and handed them signed copies as thanks for inspiring me.

In these 20 years, I’ve spoken in classrooms from Boston to San Antonio, from Ohio to South Carolina. I loved driving all around the MidAtlantic with my boxes of books and speaking props and a really bright felt crab hat. I even found myself hauling boxes of Chester Comix across rain-soaked sidewalks in NYC one day. The cardboard boxes are a constant.

When I began, there was only one other cartoonist in the United States regularly creating history comix. Now history comix are published regularly, by a slew of artists of all generations. Your local comix shop probably has a whole shelf of these titles. It’s not just Batman and Spider-Man anymore. I like to see what the kids are doing, and I buy what I can to support them. Some of the history comix, like “March,” are true milestones in our culture. It feels like the comix scene has grown way beyond me, that it has left me and Chester behind.

But then a new fifth grader finds Chester Comix, and he lights up. And his mom or his teacher thanks me. And I light up again. And I draw some more. I’ve published 38 books in 20 years.

I’m proud of my small contribution to the rich diversity of comix storytelling you can find in 2023. The core Chester Comix idea wasn’t that revolutionary—it is a nonfiction version of the Classics Illustrated comix made for reluctant readers in the 1950s—but along the way I did create something I’ve never seen anyone else do: Choice Comix! That still feels pretty special, and I plan to keep making more of those.

The first generation of Chester readers are now doctors and professors and soldiers and parents themselves. I’m on my third generation of young readers. What a tremendous blessing.

Thanks to everyone who has helped carry me across the waters when they got rough. The loans. The extra marketing pushes. The reassurances and the quiet patience. The travel to the conferences and speaking engagements. The recommendations to your child’s school. Thanks to Chuck Durfor for taking the fun photo you see here!

And, yes, thanks to you folks who hauled some of the boxes.

I love you all.

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How to Read the Full Set of Chester Comix

Written on Thursday, March 4th, 2021 [permanent link]

I just had another nice conversation with a customer who ordered the full set of Chester books. There are many ways to buy Chester the Crab’s history adventures, but buying one of each of the printed titles is a consistent favorite. It does provoke a question: what is the correct order for reading the 30 Chester Comix?

The business of selling Chester books is in its 18th year; the sales were slow in the first years when I had just 10 titles, but things took off once I had published enough books to sell them as a “set” — a large number of books that covered most of American history. The full set feels like a great birthday or holiday gift to a young reader. When the business began in 2003, the book format was set so that each book was affordable and easy to get into the hands of a reluctant reader — so even the full set of 30 books remains very affordable for all the reading time it provides. I haven’t raised my book prices in a decade.

The book format was also set to take advantage of the way I had already created these stories for the Daily Press newspaper in Virginia: as a 5-part story. The books I sell today usually have four chapters, each one a 5-part story. I’ve collected the four chapters around certain themes, but when I originally drew these stories, I was thinking only 5 pages at a time, not 24 pages at a time. So my series of Chester Comix books was never planned from a blank slate to march through each century at the same pace. You can get that in a textbook. Across all the Chester titles, you’ll see some events mentioned in two or three different books if the event is important enough!

So what does a family do with this overlap? If you really want a chronological march, please see my order form on this site. That PDF winds generally from oldest history to newest as you look at it from top to bottom. (And you can see the “gift set” highlighted with the black box and black arrow on the right of the order form.)

But I’d rather have parents and teachers ask the young readers how THEY would order the titles! Make it a puzzle. Lay all the books on a table and see if the young person can notice similarities just from the titles and cover images. . .

Can you group all the Civil War history together? (I’d say there are 5 such titles, and they’re also highlighted on the order form in a little vertical bar on the left side of the order grid: Slavery’s Storm, Honest Abe, Civil War vol. 1, Civil War vol. 2, Civil War Confederate Leaders)

What books are about transportation? (I see 2: Lewis and Clark and Moving and Grooving)

Which books are collections of biographies — the life story of a person? (I’d say 7: Washington Leads the Way, Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, Heroic Folk, Honest Abe, Wonder Women and Vital Virginians)

Which books take place before the American Revolution created a modern nation? (3: The First Americans, Exploring the Americas and Jamestown Journey)

Which books would be good to read during Black History Month? (I suggest 7: Heroic Folk, Slavery’s Storm, Honest Abe, Reconstruction Junction, Wonder Women, Civil Rights Freedom Train and Vital Virginians)

Maybe you can find other pairings with your young person! Pairing the World War I and World War II books should be easy, but there are many other possibilities. It’s a big set of books — and I’m working on another one right now about the Cold War. The good news for me is that I’ll never run out of stories to tell. We make new history every day!


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