As a kid growing up in Locust Grove, Jimmie Tramel was obsessed by comic books. He can still recall individual issues – the way the covers jumped from the spinner racks, the new characters introduced inside, even the distinct smell of the pulp paper – that he bought at hometown locations, like Fleming Drug and the In-N-Out convenience store, and weekly flea markets held in a building once used for livestock auctions.
Tramel grew up to be an award-winning journalist and writes about pop culture – including comics – for the Tulsa World. And for the past few years, his unabated love for the medium is reflected in his chairmanship of the annual Pryor Creek Comic Convention. This year, it’s from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Mayes County Event Center at the fairgrounds, just east of Pryor. Admission is $5, with all proceeds benefiting the Pryor Arts Council.
If you go, you’ll likely see Tramel among the stacks and boxes of comics and streams of patrons dotted with colorful costumed characters. It’s even possible you’ll see him with a copy of Iron Man No. 1, a vintage 1968 Marvel Comics collectible, which is for sale at the right price.
Tramel is a longtime Marvel fan. So why in the world would this dedicated comic-book guy want to sell a key issue from his collection that’s worth at least a few hundred bucks?
Maybe it’s because he found out long ago that it was possible to love a comic book too much … or, at least, to be too careful with it.
Sometime after his fifth-grade year, following a move back to Mayes County from Wertheim, Germany, where his dad had been stationed for a year, “I splurged and bought a mail-order copy of Iron Man No. 1 for $10,” Tramel says. “It was like an oh-my-gosh, wow, comic for me. I was so proud of that Iron Man No. 1 that, during a tornado warning, I needed a safe place to put it, so I put it in the dryer because it was sort of built like a safe. I wanted to protect it, but I kind of outsmarted myself.”
It was, he adds, “a great plan until my mom ran the dryer (my fault, not hers). It was pretty much papier mache when it came out. I healed the wound by eventually buying it again – twice. So I have two Iron Man No.1’s right now, and I’m trying to unload one.”
Tramel probably couldn’t find a better place for that than this month’s event, where the emphasis from the beginning has been on comic books themselves. That might seem pretty obvious with something called a comic convention, but, Tramel says, that’s not always the case, especially with the huge, star-studded shindigs held regularly in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and other cities.
“Most of the big shows anymore are celebrity-driven,” he says. “That’s fine because there’s a big market to meet celebrities and take selfies and get autographs. But honestly, the autograph and photo prices have gotten way out of hand. Someone like a big star in a Marvel movie charges $100 for an autograph or a photo – and people line up to get ’em. More power to ’em, but if you’ve got a wife and kids and a mortgage, that’s tough.”
The Pryor Creek Comic Convention does feature guests, including comic book-related artists and writers (in the interest of full disclosure, I’m one of them) and at least one performer from movies or TV. Last year, the celebrity was Justin Nimmo, an Oklahoma-based actor who played the Silver Space Ranger in the TV series Power Rangers in Space. This time around, the scheduled guest is actress and comedienne Misty Rowe, known for the TV shows Hee-Haw, Happy Days and Mel Brooks’ When Things Were Rotten.
Also on the guest roster is Muriel Fahrion, designer of such cartoon characters as Strawberry Shortcake, the Care Bears and the Get-Along-Gang. In addition, Tramel says, the convention features two “mini-museums” that attendees can visit at no extra charge.
“We’re trying to add attractions that might appeal to people with other interests, so they will come to the show and be exposed to the chunky goodness of comic cons,” he says. “For instance, music impresario Jim Halsey, who at one point managed just about every big name in country music, brought items from his memorabilia collection for a Legends of Country Music exhibit at last year’s convention. He is coming back this year. And we’re adding another non-comics draw with a Legends of Baseball exhibit courtesy of Robert Taylor, who has one of the largest sports memorabilia and autograph collections in Oklahoma.
“We’ve got … a lot of costumed people running around, which makes for good people-watching, and some celebrity vehicles, which have been a good draw, too. We have a Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine van that normally comes, and I think we’ll have two Ghostbusters vehicles. This year, we’re also getting something we’ve not had before, the Supernatural Impala [based on the car in the current TV series]. These are replica vehicles that have been created, and people in Oklahoma own them and use them to help out children, to go to children’s hospitals, or for parties and things like that.
“People love to have their pictures taken with them – I mean, who doesn’t want a picture with the Scooby-Doo van?”
Even with all those ancillary attractions, Tramel is adamant about comic books always making up the heart of the Pryor Creek convention.
“If I was to venture a guess on why the show has gained momentum and created positive word of mouth, it’s because we have the core right,” he says. “The core of a comic convention should always be comics. You can go to major comic cons and they are comic cons in name only because you can’t find comics. We place a priority on populating the dealer room with comic dealers because everything comic-related in pop culture stems from the source material.
“Comics are the sun. Toys, games and art are the planets in the solar system. We value all those things, but we want our con to have a reputation as a show for comic hunters. And then, we flesh out the dealer room with other cool or nerdy merchandise from the pop-culture realm.
“We want people to actually be able to find comics at our show because that’s not always the case at a ‘comic con.’”
It’s an approach that’s working. This year, the convention expanded from its former home at downtown Pryor’s Graham Community Center to its larger location at the fairgrounds.
“We were having to turn down too many vendors every year,” he says. “Our wait list was so big that if you weren’t near the top, you wouldn’t even have a sniff. I’ll bet we turned down 15 or 20 vendors last year.
“We won’t know how big we could get until we go to this bigger venue. Maybe we’ll max out at a certain number of vendors and attendees, or maybe this will allow us to get way bigger than we ever thought we could be. Really, though, we just want to be big enough to be respected in the comic con community, for people to know that if they go, they’re going to be guaranteed a positive experience for a minimum amount of money.”
For information on this event, see the Pryor Creek Comic Convention Facebook page.