Expanding her heart — and her brand — from a Downtown hostel
By Joyell Nevins
Jez Ibelle, San Diego resident via Florida and Michigan, is making her mark in the comic book arena — and has adopted Downtown as her permanent home base. Last year, at her third San Diego Comic-Con, the editor of First Comic News connected with another transplant … and never left.
In July of 2016, she arrived at the RK Hostel in Little Italy at 1 a.m. in advance of Comic-Con. Two days later, she was still talking to the man who checked her in, and he offered to help her get a job at the hostel. The Monday after the conference ended, Ibelle missed her flight and never looked back.
“I fell in love on the back deck of a hostel,” she said. “I moved here with a backpack and a suitcase.”
She is now a permanent resident at the RK Buckner Hostel, and continues to grow her comic brand. Although digital technology enables her to work from just about anywhere, Ibelle is invested in this city.
“I love San Diego — why would you not?” she said, gesturing to the expanse of Downtown from her rooftop view.
That impulsive, all-in attitude has marked many of Ibelle’s business and life choices — and propelled her into colorful adventures. From a geek-celebrating podcast in Detroit, to a conversation with “The Flash” writer Josh Williamson in New York, to being a First Comic News panelist in San Diego, Ibelle has pursued a variety of writing and speaking opportunities.
“In networking, nothing happens unless you open your mouth,” she said. “If they say yes, they say yes. But if not, you’ll never know if you don’t open your mouth.”
Ibelle has made it a habit to not only open her mouth, but to seek advice from experts in her field and follow it.
At a comic convention in Michigan, she sought out Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen from the television series “Comic Book Men” (among other credits) and asked them, “How do you present yourself as a personality?” Their first recommendation was “Get on a podcast!”
So, still at the convention, Ibelle tracked down some people who worked with Podcast Detroit, an entertainment podcast network.
Less than three hours later, she was a guest on a podcast they were doing from the convention — which then turned into a host spot on a new show “Geek-a-pedia.” (“Geek-a-pedia” has since gone off air, but previous episodes can still be accessed at podcastdetroit.com)
Turning connections into #goals is one of the reasons Ibelle loves San Diego Comic-Con.
“Every single person you would need to achieve your goal is under one roof,” she said.
And for fandom purposes, meeting people like Brian O’Halloran, original star of “Clerks,” or Grant Morrison, writer of “Nameless,” doesn’t hurt either.
Although she works in the comic field now, Ibelle didn’t grow up reading them. It wasn’t until she was living in Rhode Island in 2012 (Ibelle has crisscrossed the country several times) that she first embraced the genre. Always the gamer (Sega Genesis is what she grew up playing), Ibelle was exploring her neighborhood and discovered a comic book store. It didn’t take too many volumes for her to fall in love with the genre; although for Ibelle, after DC’s “A Death in the Family” turned out to be a major disappointment, she now goes “All Indy. All the time.”
She worked out a deal with the store owner to work in exchange for comic books . . . and here’s where the first connection in the editorial field was made. At the time, Ibelle was dating a stand-up comedian. He had performed a show at a party for the wife of First Comic News managing editor Matt Szewczyk. About five months after that, Szewczyk ran into him and Ibelle at the shop where she was then working.
In the course of the conversation, it came up that Szewczyk was looking for reviewers for his site. Despite having never written one before, Ibelle had always excelled in English and writing and thought, “Well, I could do that.”
Szewczyk agreed to give her a chance. Ibelle started receiving PDF review copies of comics and learning how to write for an online presence.
Six months later, Ibelle was back in Florida and partaking in her first comic convention season.
After attending the Florida Supercon in Miami on press credentials and making a “pretty insane” 27-hour Greyhound ride to the New York Comic Con, she was hooked.
“I wanted to go more,” she said. “I was jonesing – I love con-ning.”
Ibelle’s fourth “con” was in San Diego — thanks to $600 she found stashed in a drawer that she’d forgotten about — where she was a guest on the First Comic News panel.
“I still had no clue what I was doing — but I was doing it,” Ibelle said with a laugh. “I didn’t say much [on that first panel]. But I listened.”
One of the panelists was from Bleeding Cool, a comic news site and magazine, who spoke about the importance of developing your own brand.
“I took their advice to heart and applied it to my own career,” Ibelle said. “I need [to attract] attention to my personal self to get attention for the comic book reviews. My product is my personality — people have to know why they should trust me, why they would want to read me.”
Since then, Ibelle has taken on editorial responsibilities at First Comic News, hosted the aforementioned podcast, and continued to write her own reviews. She has worked at the Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, met the global brand director for ReedPOP, the coordinator behind NYCC, and was a panelist again at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con.
Her next step is to break into the publishing side of the comic world. And to anyone trying to make their own name in comic book reviewing and writing, Ibelle just has three words of advice: “Just. Do. It.”