ST. MARYS — A passion for comic books and a team spirit brought St. Marys native Jon Engel to running one of the newest comic conventions in the region.
The Fourth Annual 3 Rivers Comicon, or 3RC, will be May 11 and 12 at the Waterfront in Homestead. The con is run through New Dimension Comics, where Engel is regional manager.
Engel started working at KB Toy Stores while attending Clarion University. He became a manager there and retained that position until the stores closed down. Then Engel went to New Dimension Comics at the Century 3 Mall location. He moved to run the store in the Pittsburgh Mills and is now the regional manager, overseeing all six New Dimensions locations.
“My job has many hats,” Engel said. “Some days, I help with sales and customer analysis to help drive more sales and get the stores the right products for their customer base. Some of the other things I do is representing the store at conventions all over the country. I have vended in Chicago, as well as various places in Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Virginia, and all over Pennsylvania.”
Part of vending at other comicons is making connections to the talent at those conventions. Engel gets to sit down and talk to comic book legends, seeing what it would take to bring some to 3 Rivers Comicon.
Engel works for Todd McDevitt, and the two of them talked about starting a comicon when Wizard World Pittsburgh ended.
“Mostly, we had to figure out what we really wanted the show to be, which we decided to focus more on comics,” Engel said.
Many shows now relegate the comics to the fringes while cashing in on the movie/television personalities associated with comic properties. McDevitt and Engel wanted to make sure that their con did not follow that track.
“I mean, it’s in the title: COMIC-con,” Engel said. “I have always been tied to the arts. In college, I studied music, so art and artists, to me, have always been family.”
For some, the initial planning might have been the only easy part, but vending at shows became an asset to Engel and his boss.
“After that, it was finding a place to hold it and working out the logistics of hotels, marketing, and booking guests,” Engel said. “Luckily, between me and Todd McDevitt, who owns New Dimension Comics and 3RC, we have met some really amazing and talented people. So, getting a guest list was probably easier due to that.”
Another aspect of 3RC that sets it apart is the connected craft beers. Both McDevitt and Engel are big craft beer fans, so they have artists design labels and release 3RC-related beers around the time of the show.
The con and the six comic stores in and around Pittsburgh do not keep Engel from coming home every so often. When he does, it’s a chance to see family, but also see how much comic culture has permeated the national mindset.
“When I come home for holidays, and all my cousins are there with their kids, and they start talking about the latest episodes of Walking Dead or the newest Marvel movie, it really validates my career choice,” Engel said. “When you tell people you work in comic books, they either are very confused, or they immediately want me to price all the comics they have in their house! It’s something that no one thinks about as a career. But I have a lot of fun and love talking about comics and games with friends and family.”
That unlikely career choice leads Engel to tell people growing up in the Tri-County Area to broaden their horizons. Jobs do not have to look like the limited choices they may see around them.
“Work hard and be a team player,” he said. “Find something you love and follow it. But be willing to work anywhere and do whatever you have to until you get there. Don’t be afraid to take chances and try something new. There is always a new exciting path out there for you. But you won’t see it if you are staring at your feet.”
In May, however, at a new location, 3RC is waiting for people to come and join Engel to bask in comic book culture.
“Every year, my goal for the show is that people come, have fun, buy something they don’t normally get to see locally, and get to meet some of their heroes,” Engel said. “I always wanted it to be about the comic book community and sharing that experience with others. This is just the biggest one I get to help throw each year. If people have a smile on their faces, I’m happy.”
More information can be found at 3riverscomicon.com.