Kendall Swafford is "Grand Poobah" of Cincy ComiCon, an exciting new outlet for local comic book enthusiasts to celebrate the industry's favorite creators and works. Also owner of Up Up & Away!—a mandatory Westwood-based shopping stop for nerds of all types—Swafford's endeavors are a huge contribution to Cincinnati's comic book scene.
As "Grand Poobah" of this endeavor, was Cincy ComiCon your idea from the start? What's the origin story?
The origin story is a pretty simple one. I'm the owner of Up Up & Away!,
the area's only award-winning comic book store. Myself, The Walking Dead
co-creator Tony Moore and three other partners decided that we really wanted to bring a world-class convention to Greater Cincinnati. Each of the five partners had a different area of expertise, but a similar mindset: to attempt a return to what some would call an "old-school" comic book convention. One where the focus is on comic books and comic art and the people that produce the work we all enjoy so much. Most modern-day conventions have less and less to do with comic books, and more to do with so-called celebrity autographs and the like. If you're a Hollywood autograph chaser, that's completely cool. Just don't call it a comic book convention! Within the group, the other partners elected me "Grand Poobah," and someday I'll get them for it. And their little dog, too!
Your team greatly exceeded its initial goal while fundraising online. How would you describe that phase?
Nerve-wracking! Our belief in what we were doing never wavered, but Kickstarter
can be a nail-biting experience. The groundswell of support from comic book fans from all over the country was truly amazing. At the end of the day, our funding campaign validated our mission to bring this kind of an event to Cincinnati.
Was Cincy ComiCon created in opposition or conjunction with the Cincinnati Comic Expo? Aren't they operating literally a week after you? Are they your archenemy?
We get these kinds of questions quite often, and I can only point to a difference in philosophy that led us down separate paths. I think it's an over-simplification to frame the question as "us vs. them". As the owner of Up Up & Away!, I was that convention's largest sponsor for three years. After the third year, it was clear to me that my vision of what the convention should be diverged from that of the organizer of that show. After several discussions about the future of that convention, not only involving myself, but several others involved separately of my company, I decided to withdraw my support, take another road and become a partner in what would become Cincy ComiCon. As to the question of the schedule, I can't really address that. We announced the date for Cincy ComiCon on Nov. 1, 2012, and were the first
Ohio convention to publicly announce our date for 2013. And as far as "archenemies" go, we have none! Our agenda is focused on creating a world-class comic book convention, and we harbor no ill will toward anyone or any organization.
What local resources have proved vital to this new convention's promising success?
Two in particular come to mind. The Northern Kentucky Convention Center
has been an absolute dream to work with. While this convention center doesn't have as large a footprint as the Duke Energy Center
, it's nearly 100,000 square feet of awesome! Pat Garvey and her team are helping us execute flawlessly to deliver an amazing convention experience. The Cincinnati Museum Center
has been an invaluable partner for us. Sarah Brancato has really championed our cause within the Museum Center walls, and we're currently working on our fundraising efforts to help raise money for the Union Terminal restoration. We're about to take that message to a global audience, seeking help from people who don't realize The Hall of Justice really exists!
Do you remember your first comic book? What prompted you to pursue this lifestyle and career?
If it weren't for daily reruns of Batman with Adam West
and The Adventures of Superman with George Reeves
, I might not be here today. If we journey back far enough, my first comic book was an issue of Richie Rich
, circa 1973. This is my 40th year as a comic book fan, and I feel like I'm that 7-year-old kid seven days a week! I've worked in and out and around the comic book industry for nearly 35 years, the last seven as the owner of Up Up & Away! I'd spent time in corporate America at The Coca-Cola Company and had been self-employed in the entertainment industry for over a decade prior to opening my comic book store. I owe my store's success to a little bit of luck, a lot
of hard work, and wonderful customers. Cincy ComiCon couldn't exist without the tireless efforts of my partners Tony Moore, Kara Fairfield, Bill Haders and Brian Livingston. They, along with a dedicated army of volunteers, are all laser-focused on making Cincy ComiCon an incredible convention for everyone!
Interview by Sean M. Peters
Tickets are available now for Cincy ComiCon, which will be held September 6-8 at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center.