In creating the children’s comic book convention Kids Read Comics, Jerzy Drozd wanted to break the typical pop-culture convention routine: meet a celebrity, get an autograph and move along.
“It’s kind of a one-way street,” Drozd says. “‘I like your stuff.’ ‘Thank you very much. Here’s an autograph.’ With Kids Read Comics, what was important to me at the outset was that I wanted to create an event where the kids can go meet their favorite author and their favorite author says, ‘Do you want to draw with me?’”
Kids Read Comics returns to the Ann Arbor District Library this weekend for its seventh year, featuring over 40 children’s comic book writers and illustrators from around the country. Convention guests will present a robust lineup of educational workshops for varying ages on storytelling, art and the comics business, and most exhibitors will be prepared to engage children at their individual tables as well.
“A lot of these kids are not just fans, but they want to learn to draw themselves or they think they might want to make a living doing this,” says Erin Helmrich, Ann Arbor District Library teen and production librarian. “Kids can get feedback about their art if they’re just doing it casually, but they can also see the reality of what this might be.”
Ruth McNally Barshaw, the Detroit-bred and Lansing-based author and illustrator of a series called “The Ellie McDoodle Diaries,” has appeared at Kids Read Comics since its first year. Although she travels extensively for conventions, school visits and other events nationwide, she says she’s never seen anything quite like Kids Read Comics.
“This isn’t a hawking-your-wares kind of event,” she says. “It’s people who understand that kids deserve our very best. It’s people who are there to teach.”
Barshaw will lead a workshop on storytelling at this year’s Kids Read Comics. She says she also likes to display examples of her creative process at her table, showing kids how she develops and reworks an illustration to demonstrate that “it’s okay not to do a great job right at the very beginning.”
In addition to teachable moments, the convention offers plenty of attractions that are just plain fun. A “Superhero University” session will allow younger attendees to design their own superhero costume and receive a superhero diploma. The Kids’ Comics Revolution! Awards will give kids a chance to vote on categories ranging from “Favorite Graphic Novel” to “Best Hair In Comics.” And recurring “quick draw” sessions pit artists against each other to see who can sketch audience requests the fastest.
The event also endeavors to connect with the adults responsible for young comics fans. A Friday “pre-conference,” Kids Read Comics! In the Classroom, offers a variety of sessions for adults on incorporating comics into schools and libraries. Helmrich says the convention proper aims to put parents at ease by creating a more kid-safe environment than the average all-ages comic convention.
“There has been such an explosion in publishing that it’s a nice way for us to offer some guidance for parents,” she says. “They know they can come, they know that everybody they’re going to meet will be somebody that’s writing for their kids’ age, and they can really get to meet the artist.”
Kids Read Comics
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 12:30 p.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Ann Arbor District Library
343 S. Fifth, Ann Arbor
Kids Read Comics!
In the Classroom pre-conference
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday
University of Michigan Duderstadt Center
2281 Bonisteel, Ann Arbor