Friday evening, more than 25 artists will converge on Behind the Glass Comic Art Gallery for the June installment of First Friday Con.
The monthly event takes its name from Comic-Con, the comic book conventions that take place in cities around the country, and it has the same aim — to expose comic book art and artists to fans of the art form and to provide some of that art for sale at very reasonable prices.
The June artists at First Friday Con will be from Lincoln, a few from Omaha and several from out of state. Previous First Friday Cons, however, have featured nationally recognized comic artists, friends of Behind the Glass founder/owner Nathanial Hamel invited to come and share their work.
Last month, the visitor was Mark A. Nelson, a Dallas artist who has worked for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Kitchen Sink Press.
He brought with him pages he drew from Dark Horse’s 1988 “Aliens” comic book series — including three of the 28 pages that feature an alien image — and a set of pages from “G.I. Joe Special No. 1,” a book with a unique history and a celebrated artist.
That artist is Todd McFarlane, who drew the pages in 1987, when he was an inexperienced fill-in artist. The pages were rejected by Marvel and forgotten. That is until McFarlane became the best-known contemporary comic book artist for his work on “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man” for Marvel, and after co-founding Image Comics.
In 1995, Marvel, not surprisingly, decided to cash in on McFarlane’s success, brought the pages out of mothballs and sent them to Nelson for coloring. McFarlane, Hamel said, didn’t want the pages back, so Nelson kept them — and they’re now on display at Behind the Glass.
The “G.I. Joe Special No. 1” pages share a wall in the gallery with Nelson’s work from “Aliens,” pages from “Shadowman” and “Batman D.O.A.” drawn by Lincoln’s Bob Hall and from “Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.”
The majority of those pages are black-and-white ink drawings — with no dialogue bubbles or color. That’s because they come from the initial stage in a comic’s production — the artist’s pen.
“It’s what is created before they make a file of it,” Hamel said. “The file is sent to the letterer and the colorists. Sometimes an editor comes in and wants some changes. But most of the time, they leave the writer and artist alone.”
Some of those pages will remain in Hamel's collection or those of the artists. Others are for sale in the $300 to $500 range — reasonable prices for work that usually go for $500 to $750 or more.
Hamel takes only a 10 percent commission on sales, a far lower percentage than most art galleries, which can take up to 50 or 60 percent of the sales price.
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“That way, the artist doesn’t have to mark things up to a price people aren’t comfortable paying,” Hamel said. “You’re able to get artwork for the price you’d pay at a comic convention.”
The inked pages aren’t the only art on display at Behind the Glass. There are prints of famous characters, like the Hulk, Batman and the Joker; drawings by Hamel, a comic book artist himself, and others; and framed color newspaper comics sections from the Sunday Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald from the 1940s featuring strips like “Tarzan,” "Steve Canyon," “Terry and the Pirates” and “Little Orphan Annie.”
Behind the Glass is also filled with comic books — in fact, it appears to be a comic book shop from the outside. The comics, all used books, are there for two purposes.
First, they’re where Hamel can make enough money to keep the gallery doors open. Second, they get people through those doors.
“The comic books are just to draw people in to look at the artwork,” Hamel said. “Comic book art is sequential storytelling. There’s more than 100 years of comic art, maybe more than that. I want people to see that.”
Hamel opened Behind the Glass in January, after moving back to his hometown from Denver, where he'd spent seven years working his way up in the comic industry.
Put together with the support of Toys from the Past, the Indian Village vintage toy shop which Hamel also manages, Behind the Glass has held First Friday Cons since it opened.
The first of those drew about 15 artists, who set up tables inside and outside the gallery. That number has increased to 25, and Hamel expects 40 by the end of the summer.
About 40 volunteers help with the operations of Behind the Glass, many of them on First Friday. Shivers Sweets N Treats, the ice cream shop next door, stays open late on First Fridays, as does Toys from the Past, making it an event for Indian Village as well as the gallery.
Hamel’s not getting rich from Behind the Glass. But that’s not the point of his gallery.
“It’s not about making a bunch of money,” Hamel said. “It’s about making a community that needs to be established in Nebraska. It provides things I didn’t get when I was a kid, as a young adult. With Behind the Glass, people have a place to go. As long as I have the ability to pay rent, this place isn’t going anywhere.”