This June, writer Dan Mishkin is hosting the first "KIDS READ COMICS!" convention in Chelsea Michigan. Dan stopped by Newsarama to talk to us about the convention and explain what fans will find at the "KIDS READ COMICS!" convention.
Newsarama: To start with Dan, what makes the Kids Read Comics Con different from other Conventions?
Dan Mishkin: The big difference is that it’s really not about selling product; it’s about selling the passion for comics that the organizers have felt since we were kids. It’s about turning on the imaginations of young people, not only as readers but potentially as creators. Our goal is to generate the kind of enthusiasm for art and story that opens up minds and expands people’s souls, if that doesn’t sound too high-flown. So the major focus is on interaction between the comics and animation professionals who are our guests and the kids and teens who’ll be attending. Which makes it seem to me to be more like the conventions I attended in New York City in the late sixties when I was fourteen or fifteen and I could sit next to Neal Adams in the audience at a panel and ask if he’d draw me a picture of Deadman. Which he did, for free, and which is framed on my office wall. Not that we don’t want the guests to be able to make a little money, we hope they do, so they can meet the costs of devoting their time to this effort, but there won’t be a dealers’ room or anything like that. Just, we hope, a community of people who care about comics.
NRAMA: Is it similar to the Kids Comic Con in New York?
DM: This was totally inspired by KCC. Alex Simmons is a friend, and when he did his first show two years ago I flew out for it because I thought is was such an exciting idea. And I was determined to bring it back to the Detroit area. I told my friend Jerzy Drozd, who’s a cartoonists and educator, about this little dream, and he told me about Edith Burney, a librarian he knew who was eager to do some kind of gala comics programming at her library, and the three of us started talking. At which point Alex and I spent a lot of time on the phone so I could pick his brain and learn from his experience.
NRAMA: Is this just for Kids, or can adults attend too?
DM: The focus is on kids and teens, but everybody’s invited. We’ve even got some professional development panels for teachers and librarians so they can become more educated about how to bring comics into their work with kids.
NRAMA: Some of your panels are for teens and adults. Are these panels not suitable for children?
DM: It’s not that they’re not suitable in the sense that kids might hear or see something inappropriate. When something is noted as being for teens and adults it’s for one of two reasons: the subject matter just didn’t seem like it would be interesting to kids 12 and under, or it’s a workshop that we thought would work better with a narrower age/experience cohort. In the latter case, that sometimes means we’ve got an 8-12 version and a teens-and-up version of the same workshop, as with a couple of the cartooning workshops and with Dwayne McDuffie’s “Life in the Writers’ Room” animation writing workshop.
NRAMA: Why do you have teen and adult panels at a Kids Read Comics Con?
DM: This is mostly a matter of definition of terms. “Kids Read Comics” was a good name, and a good web address, but “kid” was never meant to exclude teens. My own children range in age from 27 to 19, so my definition of who’s a kid is pretty broad. And it may not be what younger people mean by the word...as was pointed out to me by Edith, who’s in her twenties. She made sure that in all text aside from the name of the convention, the phrase “kids and teens” got used a lot. As for having adult panels, there are two reasons for that: providing professional development for those who work with kids and teens; and not wanting to exclude anybody if we didn’t have to, including parents who got dragged along but might actually be interested in some of our offerings.
NRAMA: Are any publishers attending?
DM: No publishers this year. As we tried to get a handle on what our focus was going to be, and what we could fit into the space we had, it got too complicated to try to figure out how to do that. There have been publishers at KCC in New York, but hey, New York is where some of them are based, and it’s easy to get to from anywhere else. There’s also a recession going on, and I know that comics publishers are cutting back even on the major conventions, so it seemed unlikely they could come up with the scratch to head out to Chelsea, Michigan. On the other hand, we’ve gotten a fantastic response from many publishers who we asked to provide giveaway comics and books. I’m tremendously grateful to (let’s do this in alphabetical order) Actionopolis Books, Archie Comics, Boom! Studios, DC Comics, DK Publishing, and Top Shelf Productions for providing freebies!
NRAMA: Why aren't you including retailers at the convection?
Dan MishkinDM: As with publishers, the size and the goals of the event made it hard to include retailers, at least in our first go-round. We were also a little concerned about making this seem too much like a commercial venture, but I’m hopeful we’ll find a way to bring them in next time. Our only retailer is one of our organizers, Dan Merritt of Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan, who I asked to join us so we could get his helpful perspective, but who’s sinking time and money into this that he’ll never get back, just like everyone else. Even Green Brain won’t have a table at the con.
NRAMA: You have portfolio reviews open to all ages. Are the reviews based on the age level of the artist?
DM: Absolutely. You’ve probably seen the gamut of reviewers -- from the ones who are gentle with even the least proficient artists, to the ones who snark and jab without paying attention to the effect their words are having. The people who are going to be doing portfolio review at our show are definitely on the gentle end of things, ready to meet people wherever they are in their development and talk about what the right next step is going to be for each individual.
NRAMA: If you have local artist aspiring to break in to the comic field, will this convention help them reach their goals?
DM: We’ve got a Breaking Into Comics panel that will probably help them, and one of the things I’m sure people will hear at that panel is that going to conventions and meeting professionals is a great way to move closer to selling your work: by learning how it’s done, by networking, by (hopefully) actually listening to what someone tells you in reviewing your portfolio. In our case too, I think aspiring artists will be inspired by seeing the range of guests we have and how much they’ve accomplished -- including people who have gotten published while still in their teens. The fact that many of our guests are local and are working in comics -- the Detroit area has actually produced a lot of well-known professionals, and plenty more who happily do comics as at least a sideline -- might also be inspiring.
NRAMA: Your convention is being held in the Chelsea District Library, aren't conventions a little noisy for a library?
DM: You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But the library has a really nice layout that’s going to make it not quite as crazy as it might otherwise be. Our Friday events will actually be at a local art gallery, and our Artists’ Alley on Saturday will be in its own room that’s a straight shot from the main entrance. And unlike most cons in their windowless warehouse spaces, our guests will be in an airy room with plenty of light shining in from the outside. Some of our events, by the way, will be outdoors -- under tents if the weather’s not great.
NRAMA: How much does it cost to get in to the Kids Read Comics Con?
DM: Not a cent. It’s totally free!
NRAMA: If the convention is free, how do you fund the convention?
DM: The old joke is that we lose money on every transaction, but we make it up in volume. Seriously, though, this is a seriously not-for-profit event, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the Chelsea District Library’s decision to make the convention part of their budget for youth and teen programming. The Friends of the Library organization is also kicking in a goodly sum. And once again, there’s Green Brain Comics, and the publishers who are providing giveaways and others who are making in-kind donations (the church across the street from the library is providing some of the tables), and artist guests who will contribute works to a charity auction that will benefit library programs. In fact, just today I met with Jef Mallett, who lives nearby but has a conflict that will keep him from attending the show, and he gave me an original daily from his nationally syndicated comic strip Frazz for the auction. (And hey, anyone else who can’t come but would like to support us in this way can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org).
NRAMA: You have a lot of guests for a free convention, how did you get so many creators to attend a smaller local convention?
DM: When I told Alex Simmons two years ago that I was flying out for the Kids’ Comic Con in New York, he said, “Wow.” But it turned out I wasn’t the only one who was willing to travel a significant distance to take part in something like that. And now we’ve got people coming from two and three hundred miles away by car, my old buddy Gary Cohn flying from New York, and writer Dwayne McDuffie, cartoonist Ray Friesen, and voice actors Tara Platt and Yuri Lowenthal flying in from California. I think people sometimes underestimate how much the comics creative community cares about younger readers, and about not abandoning them to the economic forces that have skewed the market older. (Not only economic forces, of course -- I think it’s terrific that there are so many good comics on interesting adult themes. But I also know that when people started talking about comics being “not just for kids anymore,” the industry was moving unhealthily toward “not for kids at all.”) We’re not just a “smaller local convention,” we’re a convention with a mission, and we’ve been gratified that so many people have responded to that by asking, “Where do I sign up?”
NRAMA: What type of panels do you have planned?
DM: In addition to the Breaking Into Comics panel, we’ll have a panel on self-publishing; one that features kids and teens who have published their own comics; one on the future of comics; another on what we mean by “all-ages comics” and how that’s not quite the same as “kids’ comics”; a panel on nonfiction comics; a webcomics demonstration in the computer room; a Ben 10: Alien Force panel with the show’s creator and star; and a behind-the-scenes look at animation. We’ll also have the professional development panels that will talk about how to read comics (which really means developing an understanding of how much is really going on in the interplay of words and pictures), and about using comics as a teaching/learning tool.
NRAMA: In addition to the panels you also have workshops. What do the kids do at the workshops?
DM: Participants in the various workshops will have hands-on experience with things like basic cartooning, character design, the dynamics of visual storytelling, how to draw humor, and creating a mini-comic. And they’ll experience what it’s like to develop stories as a group process for animation, and learn about the keys to turning a cool idea into an actual plot that makes sense. There will also be a chance to have “mouth-on” experience in a voice acting workshop with Yuri and Tara.
NRAMA: Any other activities at the con?
DM: We’re going to have special meet and greet and demo sessions with Mark Crilley, the creator or Akiko, and Ruth McNally Barshaw, whose Ellie McDoodle books combine text and drawings in a delightful way and have been a big hit with grade school readers; an improvisational Quick Draw session like the one they do in San Diego; a Saturday morning costume parade for younger kids and a masquerade ball that evening. And fun! Tons and tons of fun. Guaranteed!
For anyone interested in attending the convention...
Kids Read Comics! Convention
Chelsea District Library
221 S. Main Street
Chelsea, MI 48118
Friday, June 12th
Noon to 10:00 pm
Saturday, June 13th
10:00 am to 10:00 pm