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Comics Creators Find Superpowers in Business Alter Ego

ASBURY PARK, N.J. (TheStreet) -- To hear Cliff Galbraith tell it, he might just be the only guy ever to conceal a business text behind a comic book -- an act that turns a time-worn cliche on its ear, even as it reinforces the fact that the New Jersey-based comics creator keeps up with the latest titles by Gladwell and Ben Horowitz "like they were Game of Thrones."

With two self-published Crucial Comics titles in circulation, and lordship over a pair of buzz-generating commercial Web sites, Galbraith could already be said to have enough on his drawing board. But it's his newly minted status as co-founder of a growing empire of ComiCon events that's got the veteran cartoonist hitting the books over such topics as subcontracted security, guest accommodations and the sweet science of customer service.

Cliff and his partner in the Con game -- fellow Red Bank, NJ resident and "popculturist" authority Rob Bruce -- recently wrapped a successful fourth edition of their Asbury Park ComiCon, a "relatively small" two-day extravaganza that drew some sought-after star talent and thousands of fans to this salty Jersey Shore resort. Just weeks from now, they'll be doing it all again, during a first-ever New York Comic Fest that commandeers the Westchester County Center in White Plains, N.Y. for a single Saturday on June 14.

Sponsored by the pair's online outlets 13th Dimension and Monsters and Robots, the spring 2014 events represent a quantum leap forward from the "microscopic" bowling-alley origins of the first Asbury Park gatherings. At the same time, they remain manageably scaled affairs designed to "promote the people who create comics," in an age when the major conventions have been effectively hijacked by the entertainment conglomerates behind the top titles, publishers and properties.

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"The corporate shows are like multiplex blockbusters, and we're like the endearing indie film," says Galbraith. "If you're booking William Shatner, the cast of The Walking Dead or Twilight, that's fine . . . but when the creators don't have top billing, at what's supposed to be a comics convention, then it's something else entirely."


To be sure, there exists a certain degree of star quality attached to the event promoters. Bruce, the consummate collector and liaison to the shows' base of vendors and dealers, has become a nationwide cult celebrity courtesy of his connection to multi-media mogul Kevin Smith, and recurring appearances on the Smith-produced AMC Networks (AMCX) AMC TV series Comic Book Men. This fall, he spins off into his own, as yet untitled, cable series project. That fame could make him, quite possibly, the only TV star who can still be found on Sunday mornings, in any kind of weather, manning a table at New Jersey's near-legendary Collingwood Flea Market.

Galbraith, for his part, is well known as the creator of the book Rat Bastard and its genetically altered private-eye protagonist Rosco Rodent -- a property that was optioned as a prime-time animated series for the former UPN network in 2001, and which made it as far as a completed mini-pilot episode before executive-suite turnovers pulled the plug. Lesser known -- but perhaps even more significant from a business standpoint -- is the fact that back in the 1980s, young Cliff created the Saurus Gang, a collection of instantly familiar dino characters (Partyasaurus, Rockasaurus, Shopasaurus, et al.) that appeared on countless t-shirts and gift items; produced by a Galbraith-owned screen printing concern that at one time employed as many as 40 people.

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