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Archive for the ‘Author’s Purpose’ Category

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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Privacy Policy

Written on Sunday, April 12th, 2020 [permanent link]

In these days of remote learning, it’s more vital than ever to tell you that my apps do not collect personal information. Chester Comix does not share any customer information with any third party, there are no embedded links to outside websites, and there are no ads. We don’t even send notifications to previous customers. My app full of fun history stories is as clean as any app can be!

That’s the way I want it. I breeze past all the offers to add ads onto my app. My app isn’t a game. It’s not a hyperventilating circus. It’s actually a quiet space to read.

Quiet reading is more important than ever. I’ve enjoyed this year’s quiet time to create. Decades ago I wrote quickly, in busy and loud newsrooms, and after that I created Chester stories while my sons watched noisy Saturday morning cartoons in the next room over. But now, at 53, my best writing comes in a completely silent and private space. The silence helps me sort through years of personal experience and research. Sometimes there is even an afternoon 10-minute nap, and when I wake up, that little moment of quiet rest has produced a new clarity in the story I’m writing or a new visual joke for Chester to make.

Of course I feel the stress of this public health crisis like so many people do, and I miss visiting my sons and going out to socialize at fun spots in the city. But this a very quiet crisis, for me. Right now I don’t really live in Cleveland; I live in my apartment. (It helps when I imagine my apartment as a space station, and by those standards this silent space is quite comfortable and peaceful.)

Or maybe my apartment is a time machine? I am surrounded by history in the form of my beloved books, photos, and research documents. God put me on the planet to help modern people meet people of the past and thus draw inspiration and hope from them. I translate moments in time, from one era to another. I knew when I moved to take a job in Cleveland last summer that my new life would give me the most time and space to work on my history comix that I have ever had. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the work plan I have followed since August 2019. This time of isolation has given me more hours to do what I was already doing in the evenings and weekends after my day job at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

This spring’s private time has already produced two newly revised Chester stories. There will be more soon. I am thankful to all those who helped me over the past seven years to build a smartphone platform to publish these stories. It’s a perfect delivery system for a time of social distancing. And it’s a great deal. If you ever bought a printed Chester Comix at a museum store for $6.95, you got four stories of about 40 panels each. That’s 160 panels of colorful storytelling. If you spend that same amount of money in the Chester Comix smartphone app, you will get seven different stories of about 80 panels each, or 560 panels of storytelling! I keep giving more because that’s what I’m meant to do — MORE STORYTELLING. And these new comic panels go straight from my virus-free computer to the phone or tablet in your house.

This is a misty-eyed way for me to get to an official statement of the Chester Comix privacy policy, which some of my app store vendors say I need to have. The Chester Comix policy is simple: I am using the benefits of my private time in quarantine to help your family study history and government in yours. The Chester Comix app does not gather your personal information to report it to me or to any other company. The few pennies you spend on the stories in my library are all that I get out of this exchange. And once you buy a Chester story on the app, it’s yours. There are no ads, and there is no ticking clock that makes the content expire. Chester’s app is not a loud carnival game. It’s a library. You can feel safe when your children access this educational content.

I keep giving more in this exchange because I believe the saying: the best education is one that continues throughout life. We’re all experiencing the truth of that saying in a heightened way now. Families are learning new things together while in isolation. Learning doesn’t stop after you get your high school or college diploma. The world changes rapidly, and the challenges grow and mutate. Adults of 25 or 45 or 65 years have to stay on their toes and take in new information all the time. I hope that Chester’s historical content inspires people and gives a young person a solid foundation upon which to build that lifetime of learning.

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