Dream Big: Lessons From a Startup Comic Book Creator

Posted on Spin Education with permission of author and publisher.

I’m 16 years old, deeply immersed in reading superhero comics in my bedroom. To me, the names Jim Krueger, Alex Ross, Jim Lee, Jeph Loeb, Mark Waid, Frank Miller, Darwyn Cooke, and Alan Moore–rock stars in the small and competitive comic book world–are synonymous with the likes of any of today’s mainstream literary giants. Then and now, at age 30, I still dream of following in their footsteps. I love what I do, but my dream gig has always been creating my own comic, and brushing shoulders with the greats that pen some of the biggest industry titles.

Omar Spahi, 25, is living out my dream.

Spahi’s venture into the cutthroat world of comic book publishing demonstrates what it takes to excel in an increasingly competitive, interconnected world. Students, teachers, and just about everybody else for that matter could learn a thing or two from this budding entrepreneur.

He not only runs his own publishing company, OSSM Comics, but he also serves as editor and creative director of Xenoglyphs, his flagship title. It’s a beautifully conceived series about two young heroes trying to stop Anubis, of Greek mythology lore, from becoming omnipotent and taking over the world. The writing is strong and realistic, complemented handsomely by artwork from PJ Catacutan, a penciler, inker, and colorist from the Philippines.

I recently spoke with Spahi, curious to hear his thoughts on what following one’s dream entails. “It just takes drive, passion, motivation, and a work ethic,” he says. “If you work hard at anything, you’re going to be successful. It’s just about how much energy you put in, and it’s about people. The more you talk to people, the more you work with people, the more successful you’re going to be in life.”

Through his young start-up, Spahi is certainly making a name for himself. He’s a regular at Comic Cons across the country, and to date he has over 100 thousand followers on Twitter (follow him @Xenoglyphs).

His relationship with Catacutan further exemplifies how around the world, young professionals are using the Web and social networking to foster success and innovation: “Skype is the only time we’ve ever seen each other,” Spahi told me (also over Skype). “We’ve never actually shaken hands, hugged, or anything like that.”

Spahi also emphasizes the importance of effective mentorship, and how thankful he is for having just that in Brian Buccellato, a top talent at Detective Comics. “He’s helped me out tremendously, as far as working through things, helping me with storytelling, telling me how to fix things, and make things better,” Spahi says. “He’s such an awesome guy, I’m really lucky to have him around and mentoring me.”

Spahi’s words ring true because six years ago, as a new teacher, I too needed mentoring.  Last month, I wrote an article for Edutopia about this very issue. “Today, my success as a teacher–not to mention the lives of all the students I hope I have inspired and changed in my seven years in the classroom–is directly related to the caring, high-quality mentorship I received during my first year of teaching. Without it, I would have become another statistic, quitting after my first few years on the job,” I write.

As far as high school goes, Spahi tells me, he’ll always remember how learning about Greek mythology “opened [his] eyes to all these different characters, all the different archetypes, all the different family dynamics that worked together in storytelling.” After this particular exchange, I acquire better insight as to why Spahi infuses Greek mythology into Xenoglpyhs.  He also reaffirms my belief that teachers have a superpower of their own: to promote creativity, which, in some cases, may take some time to be fully realized.

“Personally, I always believed that comic books are kind of the mythology of our time,” Spahi says. “Maybe in 1,000 years when they look back on our generation, they’ll see Batman and Superman and Spiderman, and these will be the Zeus and Herod of our generation. I took a lot of interest, especially when I was senior at high school. There was a fantastic mythology class that I took.”

Spahi’s energy astonishes me even more, as if, like the comic-book characters he adores, he possesses superhuman powers of his own. In spearheading Xenoglyphs, Spahi runs Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica, California, and he has his own real estate company.

No matter what he’s doing, Spahi is always communicating with people. I ask how important this and “people skills” are to his growing success.  “In any industry, people skills are really important. You have to put a name to a face, you have to be able to communicate with people, and you have to give people what they’re looking for. People don’t want to just take your idea. It’s about being a good listener,” he says.

Spahi says that through the people he meets and the things he accomplishes, he’s trying to make a brand for himself. “For me, it’s always been about passion, it’s about love, it’s about getting the book done,” he says. “I have the whole series planned out to be a 30‑issue series. The most important thing is how do we get from that beginning to that ending? How do we do it in a fun, unique way that puts a cool twist in a lot of the things that have happened in our real world?”

Before we part ways, Spahi tells me that one day, he dreams of meeting Catacutan in person. Knowing Spahi, I have no doubt that he will make that happen.

Interview transcript

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As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

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