I get about 600 emails a day. Par for the course for an independent publisher. They range from creatives begging for more time, ad sale opportunities, fans (and anti-fans), business propositions and contracts, and there’s this Nigerian prince… But I digress.
Occasionally I get an email from a kid letting me know how much they like a particular book. I really like these emails. But there was one email I received a few years ago from a third grader at Garden Road Elementary School in Poway, CA that really got me thinking. One of my regular writers was at the school for an Author’s Fair and this 3rd grader was really interested in what he had to say about creating believable characters living in an unbelievable world. Later he wrote an email thanking him for coming to the school and asked a lot of questions about how comic books are made.
That got me thinking. If one kid is interested in how comics are made…there are probably lots of them. What if I created a program that shared this prized knowledge?
Write script. Draw picture. Color in the lines. Put on lettering. Print. Distribute. Read. Simple, right? I called a local school and pitched the program and they were receptive to the idea.
So there I was in front of a 6th grade class in Whatcomb County, in north western Washington state telling them how the sausage is made. It didn’t go as expected. They were very respectful and listened diligently to my 25 minute presentation with Power Point and 3 foot cardboard blow ups of some covers. They were more interested how I drew the comics (I don’t…my stick figures are even quite suspect). What I didn’t expect were how creative they were and how they were very eager to apply it. That gave me another idea (funny how these things work!). What if I created a bigger program that not only gave kids the basics on how comic books are created, but to work together and create their own books.
This time a local library was my venue and I worked with kids to learn about the elements of telling a story with pictures. As a group they created characters and a general story…and then got to work illustrating their ideas. In two or three hours, they had a nice little story and everyone got a chance to participate in making it. Some were writers…some were artists…some were colorists. Some were letterers. A couple of days later I returned to the library and delivered a printed version of their collaborative effort for the librarian to give to the kids.
It was a wonderful experience. Not only did it broaden the next generation’s understanding and appreciation of comic books, but gives them a creative outlet to express themselves in a constructive and Who knows, in 5 to 10 years I may be hiring one of these kids…wouldn’t that be neat?
I am very serious when I say that comic books made me who I am today. When I was in the third grade, I was quickly falling behind. I was really struggling with reading. Honestly, I remembered what a chore it was and fought tooth and nail when it came to reading assignments. Then I found comic books: The Justice League, Spiderman, Batman. I couldn’t get enough of them, and I would spend every penny of my allowance to pick up new books. Bottom line, they got me reading. It increased my vocabulary, my comprehension and reading speed. So, maybe in some small way, the programs are paying it forward.
And I would be lying if I didn’t think it was self-serving as a great marketing program. Many libraries, as a result, order graphic novels from us and put us on an annual rotation of presentation programs. I also give away a lot of free (age appropriate) copies to the kids in hopes that they enjoy reading and maybe ask mom or dad to pick up future issues. For a small publisher, these programs are great grass roots promotion, but the only drawback is that it is cost prohibitive to do these programs more than 100 miles from home.
As a result, I do these programs a couple of times a year and really look forward to doing them. I do Educator Nights for teachers at local book stores too. It’s a great break away from answering emails from my printing vendor asking if they can substitute 20# gloss stock paper for 22# gloss ultra or what the meta-tags are needed for an ePub release.