An Open Letter from Charlie La Greca, one of the two Co-founders of Comic Book Classroom and Denver Comic Con
Hello my name is Charlie La Greca. I am a cartoonist, lifelong comic fan, and lover of all things geek.
This is an incredibly difficult letter to write but I feel the need to tell you about an injustice and ask for your assistance in attaining its correction.
Comic books are my life. I grew up in Denver, Colorado and in the 1990’s moved to the East Coast to pursue my dreams of working in comic book publishing. It took years of hard work but eventually, I established myself in New York City working in the industry that I love. After working for such notable companies as Disney, Nickelodeon, and DC Comics, I moved back to my native Denver to embark on the next chapter of my dream.
I reconnected with my lifelong friend, Frank Romero, to figure out how we could apply our passion, experience, and networking within the industry to bring something very special to my hometown. I have completely and utterly devoted my entire being to this endeavor for the last 5 years and it was with our intention to encourage learning and ignite imaginations in children that Frank and I envisioned creating a pop culture convention that, with its proceeds, would fully support a good cause – children’s education and literacy. To that end, in 2009, Frank and I founded Comic Book Classroom (CBC) to raise literacy through comics, and we devised the Denver Comic Con (DCC) to become an institution that funded CBC.
The Denver Comic Con achieved success in its inaugural year, 2012. In DCC’s second year, we brought in over 61,000 attendees and became the fifth largest comic convention in the U.S. It was a great accomplishment and, as founders, Frank and I knew that we could not have done it without the generosity, support, and hard work of the artists, publishers, vendors, fans, and community.
However, the last eight months have been fraught with difficulty and tumult, and I am left questioning the ethics and values of the people that Frank and I brought on to the CBC Board of Directors. We were somewhat inexperienced and should have better selected a Board who was perhaps dedicated to the Comic Book Classroom mission and making sure that the focus and funds raised from the DCC convention indeed went to teaching kids.
That has not happened: Since the 2013 convention, it seems the teaching and literacy programs have been nonexistent; Frank Romero has resigned and I have been removed from control of the Board; there are allegedly up to $300,000 in revenues from the 2013 DCC alone, that remain unaccounted for, and some of which appear to be funneled towards high profile legal posturing.
After five years of dedicated service to Comic Book Classroom and Denver Comic Con and despite my desire to continue to be a part of the organizations I founded, I’ve been apparently removed from them. I’ve only heard this indirectly; most painfully through a letter recently sent out to all of my peers, clients, fellow artists, and industry professionals claiming I was no longer with the organization. Inexplicably and without explanation, my professional email and all of my admin rights were turned off overnight.
Additionally, since the beginning it is undisputed that Frank Romero and I co-founded these entities, and in the 5 years since, that fact has never once been questioned by any of the directors, members, or volunteers of CBC or DCC. That is why it was disconcerting to discover, immediately after the success of DCC 2013, that our Wikipedia page has been anonymously edited to remove the role Frank and I played. This fact alone speaks to further questionable tactics, as well as the mention of other Board members listed as founders in a press article directly after the 2013 convention. It is one thing to feel as though founders are being forced out from an organization, it’s another to perhaps claim ownership and rewrite history.
I’d like to first, make it clear that all Frank and I ever wanted to do was to help kids and I believe we both stand behind the original values and mission statement of education, respect, inclusiveness, diversity, responsibility, human dignity, communication, honesty, opportunity, and community with which we founded CBC.
Secondly, it must be known that I have never stepped down. I never resigned. This statement made in the aforementioned letter or any statement announcing that I resigned or am no longer with the organization is false. I set out my whole life to bring my passion and love of comics and geekdom to others. I did not and will not give up on this organization that I envisioned and co-founded and so believe in. Nor have I or will I leave it. I find it interesting that a letter of that sort was circulated and yet the other members of the Board never thought to contact me or meet with me to discuss my exit. In fact, the other members of the Board chose to walk away from mediation (I have the emails to prove this) and when I most recently made one last attempt to draw them back into mediation to discuss and solve matters, they refused and had their lawyer serve me with a letter threatening to possibly file a lawsuit against me. Presumably such a lawsuit would be funded through the unaccounted for monies raised from the Denver Comic Con. Money better used to serve children.
It’s hard to imagine that the people Frank and I chose to put in place – the very people who benefited from the financial investment that I personally procured – would seek this as a possible solution.
I believe my record as a founder and Board member speaks volumes of my sincerity, desire, and passion to bring only the best to Denver, its community, the pop culture industry, fans, and most importantly, children. As stated above, I secured the initial investment and the first convention would not have been possible without this funding. Being a cartoonist and designer I also created and directed almost every facet of branding and visual art for both CBC and DCC, including websites, logos, signage, mascots, promo materials, sponsorship decks, and even the graduation packets with the Golden Age Ticket and the curriculum of Comic Book Classroom. I used my vast network of friends within the comic industry to bring a multitude of talent, and personally secured guest of honor, William Shatner last minute after Stan Lee cancelled days prior to the con. Over the last four years, I have spent countless dollars out of pocket to travel to other comic cons to network and get our message out. I also implemented several features and revenue streams of the con that made the organization large amounts of money, such as partnerships, sponsorships, and merchandising, Rock Comic Con, the Four Color Mixer and the first donated Art Auction.
As of this writing, it seems not one CBC class has been taught since the Denver Comic Con in June of 2013 and there have been absolutely no new programs initiated. At this rate, that would mean no classes will have been taught come the 3rd Denver Comic Con, which means ticket buyers money did not go to teaching kids. With the amount of staff, funds, and hundreds of volunteers by our side, this is unacceptable. It breaks my heart that I gave my word. It breaks my heart that I gave my word to kids, artists, talent, fans, volunteers, partners, anyone and everyone that I have ever spoke with that this organization would teach kids. That word has been broken. Since the 2013 convention, I by myself have continued the original mission of Comic Book Classroom. I’ve found my own means to continue teaching, and have worked with close to 200 kids in the past 8 months, in after school and outreach programs and will continue to do so.
As it stands, Frank unfortunately has resigned, and it appears the people we’ve entrusted with the mission are able to use funds made from Denver Comic Con – funds earned for Comic Book Classroom instead are being used to retain high powered legal representation.
I on the other hand, am thousands of dollars in debt for all my out of pocket legal expenses seeking resolution of my position on the Board of Directors. And, in the last 6 months, many members of the local community have contacted me saying that they are disappointed as to how they are being treated. Many have volunteered their time, resources, and hard work over the past two to three years, only to feel under-appreciated and, now that the convention is deemed a success, people who helped build it through their efforts are no longer involved. This includes sponsors, publicists, coordinators, retailers, and cartoonists, all of whom worked for little to no pay and contributed greatly in the formative years because they believed in the mission of helping kids.
These are not “growing pains”. These are seemingly questionable steps by the Board of Directors, leaps away from the core values of CBC and DCC.
I understand that technically, a nonprofit has “members” who are entitled to vote for a Board, and thus are defacto “owners”. However, metaphorically, DCC/ CBC does not belong to any one individual. It is not my organization, and it is certainly not the Board of Directors’ organization. This was to be a not for profit that Frank and I started with a mission to serve the children, the artists, the fans, and the community. It is everyone’s organization! Therefore it is in everyone’s best interest to hold the Board of Directors accountable.
The fans built this con! The artists built this con! The community built this con! To that effect, a group of local artists and community members have joined together to create an educational resource outlining ways the community can get involved on a local level to be sure their ticket money actually does go to the programs, for which the Denver Comic Con advertised. I have joined them and we have outlined a number of goals and objectives that we feel should be met as a non-profit organization that we, the people, funded. For more information about those objectives, check out SaveDenverComicCon.com.
It’s my hope that you will share this with your networks, ask questions, and raise your voice and we as a community can come together and help drive this in the right direction, the direction for which it was intended.
For those in the Denver area, SaveDenverComicCon.com is holding a public meeting on Sunday, 2/23/2014 @ 3pm at Dead Academy @ 841 Santa Fe Drive. I will be in attendance and ask that anyone and everyone who can make it please attend.
In closing, a child’s imagination is his most powerful tool to affect and change the world around us. Our original purpose was to ignite those imaginations. Despite these struggles, I still have faith in the good of people and I believe that imagination along with hard work and dedication can overcome anything.
Thank you and here’s to comics and imagination!
Charlie La Greca
Co -Founder, Convention Director, Cartoonist
Comic Book Classroom/Denver Comic Con