South Beloit, IL Scene Report

Hey everybody – this week’s scene report is brought to you by the formidable John Porcellino. Johnny P could write scene reports for half the country cuz he’s probably been to your scene. And he probably made you feel like you aren’t doing enough – just by his example alone. And you know what? You probably aren’t. A real traveler if there ever was one – these days he calls South Beloit, Illinois home. Where? Yeah, I know. I had never heard of it either.


South Beloit Scene Report
By John Porcellino

In November of 2010, after a series of unfortunate life choices, I found myself living in a small, semi-rural town on the Illinois-Wisconsin border– South Beloit (Pop. 8401). Longtime readers of my comics may recall that I’ve occasionally fantasized about living in some small, cheap, out-of-the-way town, where I could afford to focus on my art with few distractions and financial worries. Well, one thing I’ve learned by living in South Beloit: Be careful what you wish for!

South Beloit is on the Illinois side, about 20 miles north of Rockford (once the state’s second largest city, now home to 12.1% unemployment), and about an hour south of Madison, Wisconsin. There are few cultural resources in South Beloit, aside from Miss Vikki’s Famous Ribs, and the Public Library, which features on its meager shelves six volumes of comic-related material (Complete Bone, and various how to draw Manga/Superheroes books). Luckily, the Rockford Library and the nearby Roscoe-Loves Park Library District both honor my hard-won South Beloit Library Card.

The Rockford Library features a pretty nice array of comics in book form, including most of the output of Fantagraphics and IDW, Abrams, and the other usual suspects. They even have a copy of Perfect Example, though it’s locked away in the “Teen Use” chamber, which is only open during “hours in which teens may be expected to make use” of it (meaning 3PM to closing, weekdays), and which forbids adults from using it unless the materials within cannot be found elsewhere in the library stacks.

Suffice it to say, I made much use of the Rockford Public Library during the endless winter of 2010-2011.

The Roscoe Library has a couple shelves of comics-related material, mostly along the lines of “How to Draw Animals Manga Style,” with only a few titles actually devoted to comics to read, including a handful of Calvin and Hobbes collections, and the Don Martin Anthology.

Loves Park (a Rockford suburb) fares better, with a decent selection of comics, as well as books on comics.

Across the border in Beloit, Wisconsin, their new library building houses an excellent selection of comics, though, as an Illinois resident, I’m unable to check out materials there.

There are no bookstores to speak of in the region, with the exception of the Beloit College Bookstore, which has a very small rack of the usual generic-looking manga. (The Borders in Rockford closed recently. There is a Barnes & Noble somewhere in a mall in Rockford, but I’ve yet to visit it.)

There are, however, a number of comics specialty shops in the area. The ones I visit most frequently are Top Cut Comics in Loves Park, and AK Comics in Beloit.

Top Cut Comics is a large storefront on North Second Street, the main north-south drag through Loves Park, heading into Rockford. It’s situated next to the local Salvation Army, and across from a liquor store with a delightful vintage neon sign (“House of Bottles”). When you walk in the door you face a small rack of new comics, as well as a selection of kid-friendly comics. The main space is divided into sections for comics, role-playing and board games, and action figures. Two side rooms, one with tables for gaming, and one that houses their extensive back issue collection, are located on the edges of the store. Along the wall, behind the counter, are collectible comics and colorful superhero branded T-shirts.

There’s one store-long rack of recent pamphlet comics, one store-long shelf of miscellaneous trade paperbacks and collections, and a couple shelves devoted mainly to the DC/Marvel Archive/Masterworks hardcovers series, but with a smattering of other independent titles among them.

The staff is always super nice. They even agreed to place a display of my comics on their counter, and have managed to sell a few here and there.

I asked Mike, who I believe is the manager, if he had any news to relay to readers of the Journal website, and he mentioned just that the DC relaunch had done very well for them, that he had ordered extras of all titles, and had sold out of nearly everything.

AK Comics, in Beloit, is located in a strip mall near the interstate, alongside a GNC, a shoe store, and a Staples. It’s a small shop, but clean, and well organized. The owner, David, has always been helpful and friendly, even pulling and holding some Marvel monster reprints from his stash at home for me because he knew I liked them. He also agreed to display a small selection of King-Cat titles on his counter, but unfortunately none have sold to date.

The store features a rack or two of new pamphlet comics, a couple tables of back issues, and several shelves of paperback and hardcover superhero collections. A table in the center of the shop is reserved for gaming. There’s a wall of collectible comics behind the counter, and action figures and other paraphernalia line the remaining walls.

When I asked David for news, he also replied that the DC relaunch had been a huge success, not only in terms of sales, but also in customer satisfaction, including a couple readers who were Marvel-Only before the relaunch.

In my year in South Beloit I’ve managed to meet a few cartoonists with ties to the area. Kevin Singles was raised in Beloit, Wisconsin, attended the comics program at Savannah College of Art and Design, and currently resides in Austin, Texas. But he was in town for the summer, working on his debut book (for First Second), illustrating a hard-boiled comic called Head Games, written by the novelist Craig McDonald. He’s also been working on his own title, Tension.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was wandering around downtown Beloit at night, looking in the windows of the College Bookstore, when I saw a flyer for, of all things, a signing by a graphic novelist! This I had to check out. I went down the following Saturday for the signing, by a South Beloit native (and, inexplicably, a Packers fan), Brent Schoonover. A graduate of Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s comics program (and currently a St. Paul resident) he was signing copies of his latest book, Mr. Murder Is Dead (Archaia Entertainment, written by Victor Quinaz). I shook his hand and said I couldn’t believe there was a cartoonist from South Beloit, and he said, “Yeah…”

I have kind of half-jokingly suggested to a few friends here and there that I might try to organize the First Annual South Beloit Zine Fest– and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. If I do, come on out and visit. We’ll have lunch at Miss Vikki’s and talk about comic books.

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