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Chen is Comic Con guest and customer

These days Ming Chen gets paid to go to comic book shows.

It wasn’t that long ago that he was the one paying admission to meet comic book artists and actors from his favorite movies and television shows.

“I’ve met a couple actors — I’m not naming names — who clearly didn’t want to be there,” Chen said during a telephone interview. “There was a time, if you were at a con, you were washed up. Now, if you’re at a con, you have a good agent.”

Those experiences color how Chen, who appeared on seven seasons of the AMC reality series “Comic Book Men” and who has worked for more than a decade on the podcasts produced by writer-director Kevin Smith, interacts with his fans.

“I’ve been in line to meet somebody and worried, ‘What if I come off bad? What if I stammer?,” he said. “I try to make them feel very comfortable, give everyone a moment, talk about ‘X-Men’ or ‘Game of Thrones.’ We all love the same things.”

Chen will be among the guests this weekend at the Youngstown Comic Con at the Covelli Centre.

He’ll also be a customer.

Chen is working to complete his collection of Marvel “What If” comics, a series of books in the ’70s and ’80s built around speculative premises like, what if Venom possessed Punisher instead of Spider-man. He also has a weakness for busts and statues of his favorite characters.

He’s never spent more money at a convention than he earned, Chen said, “But I’ve come close. You gotta set a limit. It’s like gambling — once you hit that limit, you have to walk away … And I can only take back what I can take in my luggage.”

Chen was born in Euclid, but his family moved around a lot when he was a child. He graduated from the University of Michigan and has been working with Smith for more than 20 years, first on his View Askew website and later on Smith’s SModCast Network of podcasts. While podcasts have surged in popularity in the last few years, they were a relatively new art form in 2007. What appealed to Chen was the similarity to radio.

“When I was a kid, I wanted my own radio show,” he said. “Like most males, I listened to Howard Stern and he made it sound like so much fun to be on the radio with no rules. He could say whatever he wanted. I later found out that’s definitely not true. (With podcasts) anyone could start his own radio show. I could do a radio show about comic books and pop culture? Yeah, sign me up.

“Kevin is a very great storyteller, and the podcast format was built for him. He was a natural.”

Chen said he wasn’t a natural, but Smith gave him the freedom to pick his cohost, pick his guests and develop his own style and persona. One of the things Chen his “Comic Book Men” costar Mike Zapcic do now is teach others the skills they need to host their own podcasts.

“Kevin always says take what you love and find a way to live your life around it, and we definitely took it to heart,” Chen said. “Kevin says a lot of things, and like Silent Bob, a lot of it is very wise.”

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