Alter Egos is a column that highlights talented geeks in the Chattanooga area, tracing the origins of their favorite pop culture obsessions to their present-day hobbies.
For Keith Finch, comics played a huge role in his childhood—and have provided the groundwork for both his day job and his latest endeavor, Full-Service Comics.
"As a kid, I was always reading and drawing [comics]," Finch said. "I can draw a pretty straight line connecting the summer before my senior year in high school—reading my dad’s [collection of] 'Swamp Thing' comics and being blown away by the art … of Image Comics—[to] studying graphic design in college."
A graphic design degree turned into a successful career as art director for a local insurance company, which has impacted his design style.
"The combination and organization of words and pictures is the bulk of what I’ve done as a designer," he said. "On a subconscious level, comics had a huge influence on that."
Finch said the appeal of comics comes down to how the story is delivered—and the role the reader plays in deciphering what’s on the page.
"[Comics] give the reader more visual information than a purely text-based medium, such as a book or newspaper, but less than TV or movies," he said. "[They] fall into a pretty good space to guide the viewer without spelling every little thing out for them. More happens in the mind of the reader—and the space between panels—than is ever shown and spelled out on the page."
Finch loves the worlds comics can create, but he also enjoys interacting with their creators online or at conventions. The con experience can vary based on the show.
"I don’t really have a preference regarding the size of cons—it is more important to know what the focus of the con is before going," Finch said. "Some cons are mainly there for the vendors, some have a strong artists alley, and some are almost exclusively for celebrity interactions. None are inherently better or worse than the others—just different."
Finch is pleased with the direction the Scenic City is moving toward in terms of pop culture.
"Things have come so far in Chattanooga just within the last couple of years," he said. "Chatt Comix Co-Op is killing it on their releases and building that community up. Chattooine and other cosplay groups are [providing] an avenue for folks that want to dress up like their favorite characters. It feels like there is a spot for just about any kind of fandom."
The same goes for geek culture in general, with Marvel and DC Comics both releasing multiple movies over the next few years. Finch remembers when that wasn’t always the case.
"I grew up reading issues of ‘Comics Scene,’" he said. "One of the segments I always focused on were the in-development movies, [with] 99 percent of those never [coming] to fruition. Nowadays, it’s hard to keep up with all the awesome stuff that is actually coming out. It’s definitely a great time to be a geek. I’m still waiting on that Sgt. Rock movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger, though."
Crafting a new comic destination
Chattanooga has a variety of comic shops, and Finch enjoys what they have to offer. But he’s still left wanting more, so he chose to take matters into his own hands.
"[Comic stores in Chattanooga] are all well-run professional establishments ... but I haven’t seen anything that someone from out of town would visit and go home and tell their friends something like, ‘You have got to go [here] next time you’re in Chattanooga,’" Finch said. "The template in my mind for that type of experience is Tate’s Comics in Lauderhill, Florida."
With Full-Service Comics, Finch brings comics and conversation to the buyer by delivering local orders face to face. (Items are typically shipped to out-of-town customers.)
"The current incarnation of the company is aimed at serving a niche of customers who may be too busy to get to a comic shop regularly, but don’t like the impersonal approach of ordering online from a faceless company," he said.
Finch has had the opportunity to build his business slowly and throw around different ideas. His end goal is to be able to provide a brick-and-mortar storefront soon.
"I [want to] offer a unique environment and offerings to the hardcore geeks, as well as the more casual shoppers in the Chattanooga area," he said. "I’m always on Facebook rambling about something that I’m excited about or stocking things in the shop that I think are unique and might not be available elsewhere locally. There are so many great stories out there being told."
Rachel Stewart grew up in the '80s on a healthy diet of pop culture. In 2005, she discovered "Doctor Who" and never looked back. Since then, she co-founded the Tennessee Who Authority—a "Doctor Who" fan group—and has served as a panelist at fan conventions across the Southeast, including Con Nooga, Wholanta, Hurricane Who and ConGT. She also reviews "Doctor Who" novels and "Big Finish" audios at "The Oncoming Storm" podcast. Want to show off your alter ego? Email Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org.