First, thanks to a checkered literary career that includes work as a comic-book scriptwriter, I was a guest at the inaugural Pryor Creek Comic Convention, held at this time last year. I’ve also been asked back for the new one, set for Jan. 20.
Second, during the latter part of my newspaper career I was privileged to work several years with the convention’s chairman, Jimmie Tramel, in the Tulsa World newsroom, where I came to admire both his talent and his unflagging enthusiasm. We share a lot of the same passions, especially when it comes to escapist literature.
So I’m well acquainted with Jimmie Tramel, who runs the Pryor Creek Comic Con. And that’s where I met Jimmy Tramel, who runs the city of Pryor Creek.
Of course, he has plenty of help. But his is the desk where the buck stops, to paraphrase Harry Truman, because he’s Pryor’s mayor.
Mayor Jimmy Tramel can explain to you, as he did to me, that while Pryor is the name everyone calls the town, legally it’s Pryor Creek. And both he and Jimmie Tramel can also explain why there are two Jim Tramels associated with the Pryor Creek Comic Convention.
“The mayor is my first cousin,” Jimmie says. “My dad was part of a family with 11 children, raised around the Salina-Locust Grove area. Then they all started having kids, and the kids started having kids. I tell people we apparently ran out of first names for all the cousins. We both have our dads’ names for our middle names, so to distinguish between him and me, everybody in the family calls him Jimmy Joe, and I’m Jimmie Don.”
Jimmy adds: “Jimmie Don’s dad and my dad worked together at the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Pryor. When we were kids, they’d bring bales and bales of old comics out to the mill. Jimmie Don would hide in a corner, and then he’d go through those bales and find the ones he wanted. He might spend eight hours and come out with one or two of ’em. We all thought he was a little weird.”
The mayor laughs.
“He’d take ’em home and stack ’em in his room,” Jimmy says. “This is back in the ’70s, probably, the early ’70s. So he’s had this thing for comics as long as I can remember.”
Of course, young Jimmie’s burgeoning comic-book collection didn’t just depend on those bales of unsold, coverless books headed for the recycling heap.
“I grew up buying comics off spinner racks at Locust Grove and Pryor and all over Mayes County,” he says. “They were 20 cents each brand new. Then I’d go to the Locust Grove Sales Barn on Thursdays to see what back issues I could find. So if someone would’ve told me when I was young that I could get to hold a comic convention, and do it in the county where I grew up – well, that would’ve been beyond my wildest dreams.”
At that time, comic-book conventions – or comic cons, as they’re known to aficionados – were hardly ubiquitous. The era of geek chic, ushered in by the likes of TV’s Big Bang Theory and the plethora of comic-book-based big-studio movies, was decades away. In fact, if a guy (and it was almost always a guy) was still into comics after graduating from high school, he was considered – as Jimmy Joe said about Jimmie Don – “a little weird.”
But even as young Jimmie was busy hunting down comics in Mayes County, things were changing. In 1970, following a few similar Texas-based get-togethers, a group called the Oklahoma Alliance of Fans held its first Multicon in Oklahoma City, celebrating comic books, old movies, radio plays and related material. Other conventions began appearing, and there were at least a couple of big statewide cons a year by the time Jimmie Tramel made his first one.
“It was 1979, probably, and I was too young to drive,” he says. “Jimmy Joe’s sister, Shelly, drove me to the Camelot Inn in Tulsa, where the convention was. Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger, was there, and he autographed a picture for me. I had him autograph one for my dad, and he reacted just like the Lone Ranger: ‘It’s very noble that you’re getting an autograph for your dad.’ From that point, I was hooked on comic cons.”
Flash forward nearly four decades. That’s when Jimmie, who continued to collect comics and attend cons, had what he terms “a happy accident.”
“I was over at the building where we now have the con to do a story about a display of Willard Stone’s art,” he says. “He’s a Native American artist from my hometown of Locust Grove. As I was walking through, I just happened to meet Diana Reeves, who at that time was in charge of the Pryor Area Arts and Humanities Council. She said, ‘Hey, I hear these comic con things are kind of fun, and I’ve heard you like comics. Could we maybe do one here in Pryor?’
“I’d never thought about having one there. But one thing led to another, and all of a sudden she and I were planning a comic convention.”
He’d attended plenty of conventions over the years, but Jimmie readily admits that he didn’t know much about running one. Luckily, he had help.
“A young man named Eric Eaton has put on several Collector Con shows in Tulsa, so I went to him for advice,” Jimmie says. “Also, there’s a Facebook group called Northeast Oklahoma Comic Book Swap, and being in that group gave me automatic access to people who would be interested in being dealers.”
That was one demand he made at the Pryor Creek Comic Convention: comic books. Oddly enough, in today’s comic-convention climate, that’s not always a given.
“Many years ago, a comic con was nothing but comic vendors in a hotel ballroom selling comics to the people who came there,” Jimmie says. “Maybe you’d have a guest or two. But in this millennium, a comic con has become a pop-culture convention – especially the big ones, like San Diego. Comics may be a part of the convention, but you have all these celebrity guests, and vendors selling comic-related things like shirts and toys and action figures. And the costuming thing has exploded; maybe people who don’t even read comics love dressing up as the characters.
“So I know people go to cons for different reasons, but because comics are what keep people in the room, I placed a priority on comic dealers to come to this.”
Realizing also that potential attendees might come for other reasons, he made sure to include a costume contest, gaming and some guests, including artists and writers from the area. It worked, too. He estimates a crowd of more than 1,000 came through the doors for last year’s one-day event.
“It brought people downtown, some from other states, who shopped and ate here,” Mayor Jimmy Joe Tramel says. “It increased our sales tax. It put us on the map for promoting arts events. And without Jimmie Don, it wouldn’t have been a success.”
One that Jimmie Don Tramel hopes to duplicate this month.
“Some people might have viewed the town’s size as a negative, as far as holding a comic con there,” he says. “I think it was a positive because Pryor is just the right size for a con to be a big deal – and I mean that as a compliment.”
The Pryor Creek Comic Convention is set for the Graham Community Center, 6 N. Adair St. Admission is $5, with all proceeds benefiting the Pryor Area Arts and Humanities Council. For updates, visit the Pryor Creek Comic Convention Facebook page.