Tuesday 20 September 2011

Co-CEO of Archie Comics drops into Montreal

Montreal’s Toon Boom Animation certainly made a splash during the highly successful ComicCon Weekend here, hosting legends of the business s Stan  Lee, Lynn Johnston and Archie Comics Co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit. Toon Boom also officially launched its new  Garfield the Cat application

Credit Director of Product Marketing Alissa Anzarut for a job well done. The mother of three from Côte Saint-Luc clearly loves what she does and here are some facts she sent over about ComicCon.

  • There were over 20,000 attendees during the weekend
    and a three hour wait to get in on Saturday after 2 pm.
  • There was more than two hour wait for Garfield to get his picture taken with Stan Lee.
    • Lynn Johnston, creator of 'For Better or For Worse' and   Silberkleit,  signed autographs at the Toon Boom booth.
    • Stan Lee  made a surprise four minute visit to athe Toon Boom booth and told the crowd “Toon Boom rocks!!”
    • A total of 330 photos were taken with Garfield at the Toon Boom booth.
    • Sixty five minutes spent by Francois Grossin in the Garfield mascot outfit in one shift.

     Alissa offered me a choice of interviewing Johnston or Silberkleit. I chose the latter, having always been a big fan of the Archie series as a youngster.

    The Archie Comics line of comic books is one of the most successful, longest running brands in the history of the comic industry. Archie Comics have sold 1.5 billion comics and are published in a dozen different foreign languages and distributed all over the world. Archie Comics has spawned characters whose popularity has spilled over into other media and who have become part of popular culture. SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH and JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS are just some of the many legendary franchises that are part of the Archie Comics Library.

    Silberklet is an interesting lady who assumed her post unexpectedly in 2009 after her husband Michael passed away. He was the company's co-chair and the son of one of the founders, Louis Silberkleit.   Nancy Silberkleit had no formal experience in business and was not a comic book reader herself. A former arts educator in New Jersey, she made it her mission immediately to use her educational background  to focus on student literacy and fundraising.  She regrets the fact there has been some internal problems since she took over, including what she calls outrageous allegations and an atmosphere of bullying. Throughout it all she carries on, travelling to different venues to promote events like Comic Book Fairs wherein schools can collect 40 percent of their sales. “One school of 800 just made a profit of $5,000,” she says.

    There is a website (www.comicbookfairs.com) which describes this  new way of generating funds and capturing student interest by tapping into the power of comics. Why comics? “Because they work!” says Silberkleit, noting how trends come and go, but for over 75 years comics have been a powerful way of reaching and inspiring young people.

    Silberkleit emphasizes that as schools look for healthier and more substantive alternatives to the traditional bake sale, comic books are becoming a more favored promotion because they stir a unique and communal excitement, stimulating a sense of sharing and adventure that's contagious!

    The idea is simple. A school agrees to host a Comic Book Fair on a school day,  an evening, or  a weekend afternoon. Whatever money is raised, the school collects 40 percent of the profits. There are no upfront costs and shipping is free! Family-friendly Archie Comics and Sonic the Hedgehog lines are included in the Comic Book Fair.  

    Silberkleit sees how comic books can educate students on issues relevant to them, such as bullying, cultural awareness, and health and wellness.  She completed a dual major at Boston College in art and education and then went on to work as an art teacher. She helped   launch the Hudson Valley Children’s Museum, located in Nyack, New York and collaborated with the East Hampton Library to establish a fundraiser that allowed readers to meet famous authors.  

    Born in Englewood, New Jersey, Silberkleit simply found a unique way to move  into a new job she was initially not prepared for nor particularly interested.

    "I had no business experience and had never, ever thought about running Archie Comics," Silberkleit says. "I don't know if my husband or his partner ever thought about who could do this if they weren't here. They may have thought about it, gotten headaches, and ended the conversation there."

     Silberkleit shares the co-CEO title  with Jon Goldwater, son of company co-founder John L. Goldwater who died around the  same time as Michael Silberkleit.

    Silberkleit spoke me by telephone as she rode a bus to the airport. She gave me her personal cell phone number and email address, something most CEOs would avoid. 

    There was no company PR person playing interference. What I heard from this astute individual was a passionate desire to see more young people  read. She would like to come back to Montreal and see some Comic Book Fairs occur. Wouldn’t it make sense for Riverdale High School in Pierrefonds, the same name as the secondary institution the ageless Archie, Jughead et al attend, to get the ball rolling and make a few dollars?
    Archie has come a long way from when we were kids. The comics can now be accessed digitally. There is word of a live action Archie movie in the works and the creation of a mobile app. Silberkleit is also excited about partnering with Toon Boom Animation. Their Garfield Comic Boom encourages creativity and storytelling with easy-to-use drawing and colouring tools, props, and library items prompting kids to produce comic panels, comic strips, and even comic books.  The software even allows users to record sound and voice-over, essentially turning the child into the director of their own unique production.  Adding yet another dimension, the final product can be instantly broadcast via e-mail, YouTube, Facebook  and mobile. She has been engaged in discussions with Toon Boom to possibly follow the same path for Archie.

    “Toon Boom is active in schools and so am I,” she said. “We have that in common. I think they would fit nicely in my program.”

    While she is not directly involved in the actual production of the comic books, Silberkreit says she has shared some of her ideas  related to furthering education via certain storylines with the editors

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