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So Stasi followed the advice that he'd given to his students at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Shawnee Mission School District, places he taught for more than a decade. He went back to school and hit the convention circuit. Stasi recalls standing in line, portfolio in hand, hoping to catch an editor's eye. He found inspiration in the stories of other writers, such as Bruce Jones, a Kansas City native who moved to the Big Apple in the early 1970s and wrote for Conan the Barbarian and The Incredible Hulk.
Seven years after his dreams were crushed in New York City, Stasi heard from Dick Giordano, an editor with DC Comics, who offered him a chance to work on Warlord, an established comic about a Vietnam vet transported to a land of swords and sorcery. DC sent a script to Stasi in Kansas City. He inked the pages and mailed them back. But the pages got lost.
"My wife got a call from LaGuardia [Airport] a few days later," Stasi says. "A teenager had found the package. He said, 'I can't believe you killed that character on the last page.' "
The lost pages didn't derail Stasi's dreams. Over the next two decades, he drew Batman, Spider-Man and Tiny Toons.
As Stasi found professional success, Kansas City edged toward the limelight. In 1987, DC Comics made KC the setting of Doom Patrol. The superhero team was headquartered in Union Station and was drawn by local penciler Steve Lightle, whom DC had discovered in a talent contest three years earlier.
Stasi saw barriers to getting into the industry falling. He realized that he wanted to help local kids learn about the business of comics, and he started teaching storytelling and storyboarding at the Art Institute in 1990.
A promising young artist named Blair Butler was one of his first students. The daughter of longtime Kansas City Star film critic Robert Butler, she now is a writer and comic-book correspondent for Attack of the Show on the G4 cable channel. Butler has also penned Heart — a comic set in Overland Park about mixed martial arts — with local inker Mellon.
"I'm not a gentleman in a cage, but Heart is sort of a metaphor for me writing comics," says Butler, who bought She-Hulk comics from the quarter bin at Clint's Comics when she was younger. "It's about stepping up and doing that thing that seems terrifying because you're really afraid of failing."
The desire of comic-book creators to get better at their craft is both the driving force for what is happening in Kansas City and the reason that it's not a well-advertised fact. Most comic-book creators are working on a minimum of three projects at a time. That doesn't count the cocktail napkins, the pitches on editors' desks or the independent fundraising campaigns via sites such as Kickstarter. Mellon, 33, says the focus on creation, rather than promotion, is indicative of Kansas City.
"This town makes you seek things out," Mellon says. "There's a lot of talent making their way, doing their thing and being perfectly happy and content to do that. Without yelling really loudly, it's just about being really good."
Jason Aaron, 39, wasn't thinking about comics in 2000 when he moved from his home state of Alabama to Prairie Village to be closer to his sister. But in the last 12 years, Kansas City has become a hotbed for comic-book minds.
"I had no idea there was this great group of comic creators in Kansas City," Aaron says. "But we're right up there now. You see representations of all the major companies and guys writing independent graphic novels."