Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — When Jay Berent was a child, teachers at his school thought he had a reading comprehension problem. As it turned out, the problem wasn’t Berent’s inability to comprehend the reading material, it was the reading material itself.
“I didn’t care to see Dick and Jane run,” he said.
Berent’s father bought him some comic books, and he was instantly hooked. The reading comprehension problem quickly became a thing of the past.
“I went through stack after stack after stack,” he said. “They turned my life around.”
Now, almost 30 years later, Berent, who works for Niagara County as a fraud investigator, wants to help other kids who may be having the same issue he had. Through an exhibit at the library, a raffle and a comic book seminar in August, Berent is trying to instill a love of comic books in children who may need them the same way he did.
Berent, who grew up in a family of traveling magicians, spent a lot of the money he made doing short stand-up bits in between magic shows on comic books to keep himself occupied on long road trips. The exhibit at the library, which runs through Friday, displays five decades of comic books. It includes everything from the hand painted covers of the 1960s to the digitally colored comics of today.The display also includes various comic book and movie action figures.
Berent donated over 100 books to the library for a free-entry raffle.
“Whoever gets it will have an instant collection,” he said.
There are a lot of valuable lessons in comic books, Berent said. From lessons about discrimination in the X-Men comics to broaching tough subjects like drug abuse and homosexuality, comic books represent a microcosm of everyday life, he said.
“Comic books have been addressing social problems for years and years,” he said.
Berent is also involved with Visions Comic Publishing Group based in Buffalo, and writes his own comic books, graphic novels and movies. The group published their first graphic novel and released it in October 2013. He’s currently working on a book that takes place in Lockport titled “The Girl From the Locks,” which he hopes to release this year. The book has received interest from local businesses who want to be mentioned in the book, he said. In the future, the group will be adapting stories by H.P. Lovecraft into a collection of comic books.
The display has been popular at the library, garnering “unprecedented interest,” Berent said.
Brian Porter’s two young sons, Brogan and Aedan, visited the display with their mother, and decided they wanted to view it with their dad the next day, Porter said. The kids were fascinated by the vintage toys in the collection, especially the Star Wars figures from the 1980s, he said.
“They came home and told me all about it, and I wanted to see it too,” Porter said. “They have the modern toys and they’re curious about the old Star Wars figures.”
On Aug. 5, Berent is running a seminar at the library, and will be discussing several different aspects of comic books. The history of comic books will be discussed, as well as their literary value. Several writers and artists from Visions Comic Publishing Group will be on hand to show those in attendance how a comic book is put together.
For Berent, if one kid is inspired to read comic books after visiting the display, it will have been worth it.
“It’s my way to pay it back,” he said.Contact reporter Michael Canfield at 439-9222, ext. 6246 or follow him on Twitter @MikeCanfield36.