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Mitch Hallock, '89, TerrifCon
TerrifiCon™ founder brings the world of comic books to his fellow fans — because with great power, comes great responsibility.

A young Mitch Hallock, ’89, was sitting in his dad’s parked car on the day destiny came calling. It was the early 1970s and the 5-year-old had been left alone, happily perched on the bench-style front seat while his dad ran into the neighborhood pharmacy to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Hallock will celebrate his 50th birthday this summer. But he still recalls the moment with picture-perfect clarity: “I was looking at my dad through the store window. There was a spinner rack next to the register, and I saw him picking out a few comics —  a Batman, a Shadow, a Spiderman. He came back to the car and handed them to me. ‘I had these when I was a kid,’ he said. My grandmother had tossed them out when he joined the service. ‘Don’t ever throw them away,’ he told me.”

Hallock stops for a moment and laughs: “He didn’t realize I was this obsessive-compulsive kid who would take his advice way too seriously.”

Decades later, comics remain Hallock’s passion as well as his livelihood. After working as an art director and in marketing, the self-described “fanboy” went on to launch TerrifiCon™, an annual Connecticut-based comic con — or comic convention — that showcases comic books and their creators, as well as films, television programs, pop-culture, and gaming.

This year, some 25,000 fans are expected to attend TerrifiCon™, held Aug. 19-21 at the Mohegan Sun Convention Center in Uncasville, Conn. The event sold out in 2015, and based on industry trends, the future is promising. In 2014, comic book sales in North America (print and digital) were about $935 million, according to Comichron and ICV2, which tabulate industry statistics.

The popularity of comic book-related films and television shows is at an all-time high as well. “Marvel’s The Avengers,” the top comic book-film adaptation to date, had worldwide ticket sales of more than $1.4 billion, according to Box Office Mojo (BOM). Equally telling, at press time, BOM listed more than 35 comic book film adaptations in development.

“In the early 2000s, the film industry realized that special effects had reached a point where we could capture what we could draw. We could show all of these great stories on film,” says Hallock.

His own story is intrinsically tied to Southern. Hallock majored in art, working as a staff cartoonist for the student newspaper, and as an actor and publicity director for the university’s Crescent Players. He met his future wife, Sharon, while working on a production.

Hallock also connected with other classmates who would later work in the comic book industry. He took art classes with Ron Garney, now an acclaimed comic book artist and writer known for his work on JLA (Justice League of America), The Amazing Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, Hulk, Daredevil, and Captain America. And in student theatrical productions, Hallock also crossed paths with Michael Jai White. White, now an accomplished professional actor and martial artist, played the title role in “Spawn,” becoming the first African American to star as a superhero in a major motion picture. Hallock has run into both former classmates at industry events. Following, he shares memories from these impromptu mini reunions and a few pivotal life moments — including being fired from Southern’s student newspaper.

Mitch Hallock, TerrifiCon

Hallock has loved comics for as long as he can remember. His earliest memories include drawing Fred Flintstone on the wall of his home. He was 3.

“My mom wrote to Stan Lee when I was about 5 — and he wrote back. [The legendary Lee worked with several artists to create Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men, and more.] He told me to work hard and to keep practicing. We hung that card on my wall, and I would look at it every day.”

Comics remained a childhood passion. 

“Marvel’s arch nemesis is DC Comics. Mine was [my friend] Al — my big competition. We starting writing and drawing our own comic books. At school, we would sit in the back of the room, take out our spiral-bound notebooks, and draw. . . . We kept up with it into high school until we developed some other interests. It helped with we went to an all-boys Catholic high school. The nuns hated those notebooks.”

Following in the footsteps of his aunt and older sister, Hallock came to Southern.

“I was going to go to an art school, but my dad was a marine, a no-nonsense kid of guy: ‘You can’t just draw pictures. You need to get a degree.’ So I enrolled at Southern, which ended up being a great decision for me.”

He was an active member of the Crescent Players.

“There used to be a public access television studio nearby. I would go to the Theatre Department, and when the actors showed up, I’d tell them, ‘I can get you on TV.’ . . . They’d come down, and we would do these sketches. I tease my kids. I tell them, ‘I was the internet before there was an internet.’”

Hallock continued to love comics.

“I was the cartoonist at Southern News, and I would get fired every year. They’d tell me I was getting too weird . . . that I needed to tone it down, which is the wrong thing to say to the kid who’s been in Catholic school since he was 6. [laughing] I had to break free! So I would get fired. Then I’d come up with a new strip, and I’d send it in under a different name. I think I was Hal Mitchell at one point . . . “

Hallock kept drawing.

“I got fired again. But I was working late night at a copy shop in New Haven, and I would draw, then turn out thousands of comics. My friend delivered Southern News to all the dorms, and I would put my comics right next to the paper.”

He found work in a creative field.  

“After college I got a job at a studio in Branford. I was 23, working as an assistant art director when my boss was fired. It was 1989 — I was making $17,000 a year — and the owner said he’d give me a raise if I could do the work for six months.”

Hallock also kept thinking about comics.

“So I was working on a catalog for office supplies and I thought, hmm, what will work? What do I know? The answer was comic books. . . . I came up with a story about a guy who has to make a presentation at work. He’s a complete wreck. Then he hears a voice from the heavens that tells him to use these products. . . . So I made the pitch to do a comic — and they liked it. Which is great. But now I’m a complete wreck — because I don’t know how real comics are made.”

So he reached out to a stranger.

“I called Marvel in New York and eventually got through to the secretary. I explained everything and she says, ‘I know what to do.’. . . and connects me to John Romita! [Romita is perhaps best known for his work on The Amazing Spider-Man.] I’ve always wanted to draw like this man. I couldn’t even speak . . . But eventually I explained everything to him. He told me to sit down — and for 45 minutes, John Romita walked me through the process of making a comic. So I did the catalog. It’s a hit. Sales are up. It’s written up in the industry magazine . . . and I get a raise. Now they’re paying me $30,000.”

He later rocked his dream interview.

“I had the opportunity to interview with Marvel. I met with the head of the marketing department — and I got it. They offered me $23,000 to work in New York City. I was married, making $40,000 a year, living and working in Connecticut. So I stayed. I regretted it somewhat at the time, but soon after there were massive layoffs [in the comic book field].”

He continues to love comics — and his alma mater.

“I had class with [alumnus] Ron Garney, an amazing artist with Marvel. He used to be a bartender in New Haven many years ago. At the time, Batman 1989 was premiering and there was a costume contest. I dressed up as the joker. Many years later, we ran into each other at a comic con, and realized I’d ordered a drink from him — dressed like the joker. He’s an amazing artist.

A lot of incredible talent comes through Southern. Among those talents is Michael Jai White, who has starred in numerous films, and portrays Marcus Williams on the TBS/OWN comedy-­drama television series, “Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse.”

“I met Michael Jai White at that same convention in New York City. He was promoting ‘Black Dynamite,’ a hysterical movie, which he [co-]wrote and starred in. . . . He looked familiar, so I asked him if he had gone to Southern? He said yes — and then it hit me. So I asked him, ‘Were you Larry the Lobster?’ It was a crazy play we did about a lobster about to be boiled. . . . I was working stage crew. He was Larry. . . . Does anyone have a photo of Michael Jai White playing Larry? Because if they do, I want it to blackmail him.”

Hallock continued to love comic cons.

“It’s Woodstock for geeks and nerds — but without any of the bad stuff.”

So he founded TerrifiCon — and is living the dream.

“I have to downplay it somewhat, but I am still that 8-year-old kid who wants to grow up and work at Marvel. Take Neal Adams. [Adams created some of the iconic modern imagery for DC Comics’ Superman, Batman, and Green Arrow.] If there was a Mount Rushmore of comics, he would be one of the four heads. I will always see him as legendary — and I have the opportunity to sit and talk to him. And I get to bring him to TerrifiCon™ — so others who feel exactly the same way get to see him, too.”

He says he’ll always be a fan — and here’s one reason why.

“We weren’t the wealthiest people in the world, and it wasn’t always easy. That’s one of the things about comic book heroes. They’re from poor families. They have problems. Peter Parker is living with his aunt who is sick. He’s a scrawny guy, not popular. Then he gets bit by a radioactive spider, and he becomes Spiderman. It’s inspiring. It gives kids a reason to stay on the right path. It gives you hope.”

And he’ll never tire of meeting his fellow fans at TerrifiCon™.

“It’s the coming together of like-minded people — those former 10-year-olds who were sitting in the back of the room drawing comics. You grow up, go to this event, and realize you are not alone. . . . I find that a lot of kids who loved comics grew up to be police officers and firefighters. They come to help society in very important ways. . . . When you talk to them at a comic con, you immediately see that 9-year-old boy or the 10-year-old girl. But the hero is there too.”

For more, go to terrificon.com.

Summer issue of Southern Alumni Magazine 2016

Joe Andruzzi, Walter Camp Award

Former Southern Connecticut State University All-American Joe Andruzzi has been named the 2016 Man of the Year by the Walter Camp Foundation. He was recognized at the organization’s 49th annual Awards weekend on January 14-16.

The Walter Camp Man of the Year award honors an individual who has been closely associated with the game of American football as a player, coach or close attendant to the game. He must have attained a measure of success and been a leader in his chosen profession. He must have contributed to the public service for the benefit of his community, country and his fellow man. He must have an impeccable reputation for integrity and must be dedicated to our American Heritage and the philosophy of Walter Camp.

A two-time All-American at Southern, Andruzzi won three Super Bowls while with the New England Patriots from 2000-04 and was named to the squad’s All-Decade Team. He also played with the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns during his NFL career.

Off the field, Joe and his wife Jen have worked tirelessly to support those in need. Andruzzi has been recognized with the Ed Block Courage Award in 2002 and the first Ron Burton Community Service in 2003.

In 2007, Joe himself needed help as he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma. Following his recovery, he and his family founded the Joe Andruzzi Foundation and have been committed to tackling cancer’s impact by providing financial assistance for patients and their families to help them focus on recovery.

In addition to his great work helping others, Joe’s personal life story is even more inspirational. His three brothers are all members of the New York City Fire Department, and all three responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. During the 2013 Boston Marathon, he was able to help injured people following the bombings.

Andruzzi was also previously named the 2010 Man of the Year by the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston.

Meet Nick Abraham, ’05 — musician, songwriter, and the “music mentor” of reigning “American Idol”-winner Nick Fradiani.

Musician Nick Abraham, ’05, is on the brink. While not quite ready to quit his day job at a local pharmacy, Abraham — the lead guitarist for Connecticut-based band Beach Avenue — is enjoying major success along with band-mates Nick Fradiani (guitar/vocals), Ryan Zipp (drums), Nick Fradiani Sr. (keyboards/vocals), and Jonah Ferrigno (bass).

The band has opened for everyone from STYX, Jefferson Starship, and REO Speedwagon to Third Eye Blind and Bad Rabbits. Twelve million viewers watched Beach Avenue perform on the 2014 edition of “America’s Got Talent.” Even the powers-that-be behind trendy retailer Hollister Co. are fans, featuring the band’s “Feel the Beat” on the in-store playlist, along with hits by megastars Taylor Swift, One Direction, Charlie XCX, and more.

And that’s just the beginning. In May, Beach Avenue’s lead singer Nick Fradiani won season 14 of “American Idol,” with Abraham and Zipp cheering him on every step of the way. Two days after his win, with the show’s full blessing, Fradiani invited the two to help with promotions leading up to the “American Idol Tour.”

The ensuing months were marked by one rock star moment after another. The three performed Fradiani’s hit single “Beautiful Life” in Times Square for VH1. Soon after, the guys traveled to Nashville to film the song’s official video. Later, it was off to Vancouver, Canada, to perform at the FIFA World Cup the day before the U.S. women’s team captured the trophy. A summer update on Beach Avenue’s Facebook page sums it up nicely: “We hopped on 9 flights in 11 days totaling well over 10,000 miles traveled.”

Far from an overnight sensation, Abraham has been a hard-working musician throughout most of life. His early childhood memories include listening to his mother sing and tirelessly banging on the pots and pans she gladly provided. Following in his father’s footsteps, he began playing drums at age 10 and went on to master more instruments — including the guitar, the mandolin, and the glockenspiel.

He joined his first band at 13. Others followed, and while Abraham initially planned to become a music teacher, he gradually realized that he wanted to be a professional musician.

At Southern, he majored in music, playing in numerous university ensembles. He notes that Mark Kuss, professor of music, was particularly inspirational. “He is an incredible pianist and composer. . . . He really inspired me and taught me a lot. I think he understood what I was looking to do with my music — and that really made a big difference.”

Scholarship support was helpful as well. Abraham received the Bellmore Family Scholarship, which benefits students who are majoring in music at Southern. “I was a musician myself,” says Roger Bellmore, who studied communication at Southern, and paid his way through school by playing in a rock band. “The cost of going to school has gone up significantly since I was a student,” Bellmore continues. “We wanted to make it a little easier for a musician, so he or she could focus more on music and classes.” He and wife, Sharon, have two sons, Nick and Charlie, both professional musicians. The latter majored in music at Southern.

Abraham notes that the scholarship met the Bellmore family’s objectives.

“The scholarship was huge in two ways,” he says. “First, in the financial sense, it was a big help. But it also was a big motivation. You feel like you have some support. . . . It’s an inspiration. It says ‘Okay, you are doing well, and you should continue down your path.’”

That path eventually led Abraham — then a Southern student — to successfully audition for a band that included drummer Ryan Zipp. When their lead vocalist left, Fradiani joined on and Beach Avenue was born, named after the Milford, Conn., street where the group got its start.

With only a few practice sessions under their belts, Beach Avenue went on to win Mohegan Sun’s Battle of the Bands in 2011, besting those who had been playing together for years. “Our prize winnings allowed us to put together a CD,” says Abraham.

An invitation to compete on “America’s Got Talent” in 2014 thrust the band into the national spotlight. The group played original music — typically not a winning formula for the show — and still made it through two rounds before being eliminated. “Howie Mandel wasn’t into it,” Abraham says with a smile. Fortunately, others were. “We were upset at the time. But when everything aired on TV, we had this huge response. . . . The song we played charted on ITunes. Social media exploded. So we were thrilled,” Abraham says.

Soon after, Fradiani auditioned for and was ultimately crowned the winner of “American Idol.” “We were really proud and happy for him. He’s our best friend about to win this incredible tournament,” says Abraham of watching the competition.

Fradiani, in turn, was quick to share the stage. Leading up to the show’s final weeks, the remaining competitors each had a homecoming parade and concert, and Beach Avenue was invited to play for the 10,000-plus fans gathered on the Guilford Green in Connecticut.

More surprises followed, with “American Idol” flying Abraham and Zipp out to watch the finale in person. There, Abraham was brought on stage so that Fradiani could introduce him to the world as his music mentor. Both Nicks were presented with cars from Ford. “I felt like I was on a game show. You don’t think things like that happen,” says Abraham, all smiles, shaking his head incredulously. “But they do.”

See Nick’s band page: Beachavenuemusic.com.

Southern Alumni Magazine, Winter 15
Read more in the latest issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.