ASBURY PARK – Cliff Galbraith has found his calling at last.
Though he spent years in the T-shirt business and his Saurus logos – Shopasaurus, Surfasaurus, Partyasaurus – made him a fortune, his heart wasn’t in it.
There is no question Galbraith’s heart is in his job now. He plans comic book conventions for a living. His Asbury Park Comic Con, which will take place Saturday and Sunday, April 12 and 13, at the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, has expanded from one day to two this year.
“Running this convention is such a huge endeavor,” Galbraith said. “It’s taken over my life, but I love it.”
About 60 guests are scheduled for this year’s event, including Marvel Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. creator Jim Steranko, Ren & Stimpy cocreator Bob Camp, cartoonist Denis Kitchen and Chris Claremont, creator of the 1991 X-Men #1, the best-selling comic book of all time.
“It’s always a thrill when you get to see these people who inspire you,” Galbraith said. “Jim Steranko is my dream guest. He’s as big as it gets in living artists. He did things in the ‘60s visually with comics that people hadn’t done before. Certain guys are legendary for a reason.”
Galbraith, who grew up in North Edison and lives in Red Bank, is also a comic book artist. He is the creator of the Rat Bastard comic book series.
“It’s kind of like ‘Animal Farm’ meets ‘Blade Runner,’” he said. “The animals become intelligent and become part of the population. It’s analogous to the Civil Rights Movement where they want to be treated equally.”
Rat Bastard was so well-received that Galbraith had an offer to make a TV show, produced by Ron Howard. He moved out to Los Angeles and though the deal never materialized, he made a lot of connections in the industry.
Galbraith came back to New Jersey because he “wanted to come home and have a pork roll sandwich,” he said. In 2006, he married Judie Luszcz, a motion graphics artist, and went back to his T-shirt company, but a serious bout with Lyme disease threw him a devastating curve.
“I was in so much pain that I couldn’t work,” he said. “I couldn’t pay the bills, so I had to liquidate the company.”
It turned out to be a blessing for him, as he sees now. Galbraith and pop culture collector Robert Bruce came upon a record show at Asbury Lanes one day and had the idea to host a comic book show there. That first show in 2012 started small with just 32 tables; a second show grew to 48 tables.
“It’s a labor of love bringing comics to the masses and sharing the things we had growing up with a whole new generation,” Bruce said.
The duo moved the event to Convention Hall last year. They expected about 2,500 guests, but 4,200 showed up, many to see Mad Magazine’s Al Jaffe.
“He pretty much made my show,” Galbraith said.
Galbraith is able to get such guests because he made a lot of connections as a volunteer at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York City. He and Bruce are now planning a monsters and robots convention in White Plains, N.Y., in June, featuring vintage and rare toys. They hope to have other shows in the near future.
“Running conventions is such a huge endeavor,” Galbraith said. “It’s taken over my life, but I love it. I get to meet my heroes and have a lot of laughs. It’s a great gig.”
Unlike other Comic Con events, Galbraith and Bruce focus solely on comic books. They don’t book the movie or television celebrities or pro wrestlers who are often found at other conventions.
“We want to keep Asbury Park Comic Con about comics,” he said.
Many people get dressed up in character, making the event a lot more fun. Galbraith said he has seen Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, even a Hello Kitty Darth Vader.
“It’s like Mardi Gras,” he said. “People work all year on their costumes.”
This year’s event has expanded to two days and will take place at the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, with 5,000 people expected each day.
“It’s a fantastic place with multiple ballrooms all around the top floor,” Galbraith said.
Galbraith’s love of comics can be traced back to age 4 when his mother first taught him to draw.
“Superman, Batman, the Beatles, Speed Racer, they all inspired me,” he said. “It was an obsession. I was kind of a troublemaker, but when you gave me a paper and pencil, I shut up.”
He says his father would have preferred he pursued a job that required a suit and tie, but he always knew what his son was destined for. “When the time came, he packed me up and sent me to art school,” Galbraith said.
Now Galbraith is living his dream, sharing his passion with other fans and meeting the people he admires from the industry. Last year, the day before the convention, he had dinner with Ren & Stimpy cocreator Bob Camp and John Holmstrom, the illustrator of two Ramones albums.
“We had a great time talking about comics and art,” he said. “I laughed so hard I thought shrimp was going to shoot out my nose. They are some of the funniest human beings on earth. This is my dream job. I can’t see myself ever doing anything else.”
Asbury Park Comic Con will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 12-13. Tickets are for $18.50 for Saturday and $17 for Sunday, and children under 12 are free with a paying adult. For more information, visit www.asburyparkcomiccon.com.
Vibe writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org