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Returning to the big question: How can we make comics relevant to kids today?

Lot of answers, for sure, but here's another idea: with comics festivals! One in each school, every year!


Educational authorities, writers and librarians have been talking about 'Reading for Pleasure', the idea that if kids LIKE reading instead of having it shoved down their throats, they'll do it more, and get better at it. (I know, takes a genius to figure that out, right?) Well, kids like reading comics. And do you know which kids like reading comics the most? The ones who make comics themselves. Here's one way it could work, a five-point plan:



A bunch of us work together to develop a central database of all the comics creators in the country who are interested in doing paid comics workshops. We've been talking about the idea on Twitter (under the hashtag #awesomenewcomic), and Comica Festival have already said they might be interested in hosting this. Which would make sense, it's already a big database of what's happening in comics for adults. So the database website could be a sort of one-stop shop for schools, libraries and festivals looking for a creator to work with their kids.




Kids can make a comic book from something as simple as a single folded sheet of paper, photocopied. Comics creators can demonstrate how it's done. My general rule of thumb is to do comics workshops with kids who are 8 years old or older. You can do simpler character design workshops with younger children, but making a full comic book with children younger than eight requires more literacy and coordination than many of them have.



A creator could take part in this, but if the school doesn't have enough money for the time it takes, it could be a fun place for the teachers and librarians to pick up the idea and run with it. Kids can think about advertising: what makes them want to buy something? How can they make someone want to buy their comic? Ideas include:

*a witty blurb on the back that draws in readers
*a good price, possibly with incentives (buy a comic and get a sketch thrown in!)
*advertising posters
*book trailers (more and more kids are making their own films and simple animations with just a basic digital camera) A low-tech version of this could be something a simple as a puppet show.
*badges, postcards, art prints of the comics' main characters
*exciting quotations from other people
*musical jingles
*promotional flyers
*costumes - dress up as your character! Also known as cosplay in comics. (See my MCM Expo posts for some examples of awesome cosplay)


*attractive table displays


Philippa Rice with My Cardboard Life at MCM Expo

... which leads to the next part:



A school, library, or larger festival would need to brainstorm how this could best work for them. Perhaps they could tie it into a current book week they run. Or they could send their kids on a field trip to work at tables at a larger comics convention, such as Leeds Thought Bubble, London's Comica Comiket or Inverness's Hi-Ex.


Zoom Rockman with The Zoom! comic at London Comiket

They could partner with a comics award, such as the Leeds Graphic Novel Award. The festival could be part of a school Open Day. They could work in tandem with a comics publisher, such as The Phoenix comic or Walker Books, perhaps with the publisher running a stall at the fair, alongside the kids' tables, where the kids can buy the comics made by the visiting creator who inspired them, and have the privilege of getting them signed and dedicated.



It's almost like magic! Kids you never thought would enjoy reading are suddenly totally engrossed in stories, and making their own. I've done a lot of work in schools the past few years and I've this: if I give a talk about my stories where kids just sit and listen to me, they fidget and get bored. If I ask them to contribute and get THEM to think up story ideas, suddenly they're on fire! If you ask a kid to sit down and write a story just with words, often they'll be quite intimidated by the blank page. But if you get them excited about doodling their own characters, about dressing up their characters, giving them names, personalities, making their characters say things, letting them draw when words fail, suddenly they're off and running and it's a game, not work.



I've even seen kids who have absolutely no English or no writing skills draw amazing wordless comics with character development and plots that make perfect sense. And they can starting adding words - a ZOOM here, a POW there - they gain confidence, and as they keep making comics, they may choose to use more words.



Schools are also big on entrepreneurship. Again comics are perfect for this. A kid can make a comic, reproduce it on the school photocopy machine, fold and package each copy. They can come up with a blurb on the back to sell it, a price tag. They can design posters to sell their books, make videos, a proper ad campaign. It's exciting, thinking you can actually make something that people might buy. You have proper gifts for your family and friends for birthdays, Christmas, etc. If they're old enough or have adult guidance, they can set up a free blog to advertise their book, or to chart their character's progress in the story world they've created for it. Hurrah, web skills!

Possible areas of growth through comics: drawing, writing, design, typography, computer skills, web skills, business marketing skills, dealing with money/maths



I'm not a complete expert on this and I don't want to become a full-time festival organiser; I want to make books. But I thought I'd throw into the mix some experiences I've had with festival-type projects:



Pop Up Festival: I recently curated a tent at the Pop Up Comics festival in London. I pulled in comic creator friends and we turned it into the Comics Big-Top of Awesome, a comics festival-within-a-festival. Kids arrived, were met by professional creators, could spin the Story Wheels to help them come up with a character for their comic. They then drew a simple 8-page comic about their character. Next step was designing punchy covers for their comic. And at the end, they could show their comic to one of the professional creators and get feedback. The atmosphere was wonderful; the kids really got stuck into making their comics and the tables were hives of activity, with creators circulating to help out. This is one model where everything's done on the day, during one visit.

Have a look here at what we did and how creators and kids got involved.



And read here about how one of our team, an 11-year-old comics creator has been self-publishing comics since he was 8. It's possible!



School workshops: Another model I've experienced is workshops in schools, by myself or with another comics creator. (Here's an assembly comics battle I did with Neill Cameron!).



I'd lead an assembly to show the kids my work, then visit an individual class to walk them through designing their characters and writing an 8-page comic, with the first and last pages being the front and back covers, made out of one sheet of folded A3 paper. At the break, I went with the teacher to make photocopies of the comics. After break, the kids learned how to fold the copies of their comics back into little books, and, ta-dah, they each had a stack of six books! I've also done it where the insides were photocopied, but the covers were each handmade, like this comic:



They can be quite eyecatching!



Here's a promotional poster:



Have a look at some more comic books from school workshops here and here.

So I'm throwing the idea out there, would any schools be interested? Do you think you could host a comics creator and run a festival like this? The rewards could be enormous.

Now some more fine-print suggestions for some nitty-gritty details. But again, these are just ideas, feel free to suggest changes or additions!

The website database - Here's what I think could go on it for each creator:
Creator name
100x100 pixel avatar?
Creator website
Nearest city
Comics and books for children they've published with links (to own website if self-published)
Contact details (for people to enquire about availability and fee)
Lists of sample workshops (Between 1-10?), including:
*a title for the workshop
*age range it's suitable for
*size of group it's suitable for
*content of workshop (what will the kids be doing? what will they have achieved at the end of it?)
*materials needed (flip chart, flip chart pens, Powerpoint facilities, visualiser, etc)


Emma Vieceli, Kate Brown & David O'Connell doing a comics workshop at the Crystal Palace Children's Book Festival

Pay:

About pay, I hear teachers saying, "sadly, it is not always easy to locate funds in schools these days'. Not easy, but not impossible, either. If a school isn't willing to pay a comic creator a day's wage for doing a day's work, I'd encourage the creators to walk away; the people asking don't want it badly enough. Here's something that may sounds strange, but I've found it to be true almost 100% of the time: People expect to get what they pay for. If they don't pay you much, or anything at all, they almost always treat you like you're not worth anything. When you walk in, the kids won't have any idea who you are, the facilities won't be set up right, they may have even forgotten entirely that you're coming (and forget about the possibility of kids there buying your book). You will make very little impact on those kids because they pick up on that vibe and don't think much of you. The thinking behind this treatment seems to be, 'well, we didn't pay anything, so we have nothing to lose'. The more money you charge, they better the school will prepare for your visit. They want to get their money's worth! And if you charge a lot, they will see you as a bit of a celebrity and treat you that way; the kids will pick up on this and hang on your every word. You will have made an impact for good.

So it sounds like a paradox, but if you want to really make a difference with kids, even disadvantaged ones, charge a decent amount of money. You don't have to bankrupt schools and libraries, but remember that their staff are paid, why shouldn't you get paid, too? To the people asking for workshops: remember that comics artists often live on as little money as a £2000 advance they got for a book that may take them a year or more to make. Imagine trying to live somewhere like London for a year on £2000. Yeah. It's crazy. And that's with major publishers; indie publishers may pay even less. Things will have to change to make comic making more viable for the creators, but we can at least start by charging reasonable amounts to run workshops, so we don't actually starve. The Society of Authors recommends charging £350 a day plus travel, and lodgings, if they're asking you to come a long distance or start very early. 'A day' means three hours of actual eventing/workshop/on-stage time, you shouldn't be expected to work for that rate from when the school opens to when it closes. You'll still get very tired and do this when you get home:



I've had no trouble getting £350 and I've moved it up to £400 just because I'm hoping for less workshops and more time to work on my books. (So if people want me badly enough, there's a chance I'll still do it.) Remember that preparation and e-mailing back and forth with the organiser takes time, too, and often an energetic day will completely wipe you out for the following day. Even an hour's event can take up nearly the whole day, when you consider the preparation time and travel. (And if you're responsible, you try to get there a bit early, in case trains are delayed, etc. So that's more time.) If I'm doing half a day, I'll charge more than half of the full day's fee. It's up to you what you charge, but I really don't recommend underselling yourself.



The paybacks are amazing; I've heard all sorts of reports of comics taking off in schools; kids writing and drawing up a storm after I left. If schools want their kids reading, and reading for pleasure, the best way is to get in someone who will make them want to make their own books. And no one understands the hands-on, do-it-yourself publishing process from start to finish better than a comics creator. It's inspirational. If schools have to run bake sales to get you in, it's worth it to them. The pressure is then on you the creator to prepare well and do a good job, but that's a good pressure.



Feel free to leave comments here on my blog, but if you're on Twitter, do jump into the #awesomenewcomic discussion to brainstorm ways to make comics relevant to kids. And please DO use the hash tag, we don't want to see your comments and ideas disappear down the Twitter stream! If you click on the hash tag, you can see what a lot of other people are saying. This is just my idea (and not anything terribly original); you might have a better idea, or know ways to make this idea work better. That'd be fabulous!

***My studio mate Gary Northfield (former contributor to The Dandy and The Beano and current creator for The Phoenix comic and National Geographic Kids mag) has written a blog post here, talking about his hope for British comics.

***Hey, look, just this morning, Neill Cameron (creator for The Phoenix comic) has put forward his idea for an AWESOME NEW COMIC. For GIRLS! He says on Twitter: Please note that my #awesomenewcomic idea is not a proposal, not a plan - it's just a Thing That Could Be Done. ...Which is what I'd say about my idea, too. A Thing That Could Be Done.

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
rainboworchid
Aug. 21st, 2012 12:57 am (UTC)
Another great post, Sarah (I've been following many of the #awesomecomic Twitter posts when I can). I also use the SoA fees for school workshops and have found no resistance to paying. One local school got all the kids (well, their parents) to contribute a pound each to have me for the morning and I managed to stuff in four classes, all brilliant fun. (My workshops page).

I know I already mentioned this on Twitter, but David Lloyd's Cartoon Classroom has a database of comics workshop people - not quite in line with what you're proposing here, but still good.
jabberworks
Aug. 21st, 2012 06:41 am (UTC)
Hi Garen, thanks so much for that! Ah, I hadn't realised the Cartoon Classroom had a database, that's an excellent website!

Hmm, I wonder, though, if it wouldn't hurt to have one that was completely open to the public. Cartoon Classroom makes us register, and doesn't have details like the kinds of workshops each creator does. I don't think it needs to be hidden behind a registration wall, we want to make it as visible as possible; there's no reason people shouldn't be able to see a link to the creator's website, where they can then find the proper contact details. It would make sense for any other website to have Cartoon Classroom as a major link at the top of its database.

...But what do you think? We would want to support rather than detract from what Cartoon Classroom is doing, it's ace.
jabberworks
Aug. 21st, 2012 06:51 am (UTC)
Here are some comments from the link I posted on Facebook:

* Great work you're doing, Sarah- and you're 100% right about getting paid for the task, even if you do it primarily for your own satisfaction.
Getting schools interested and involved always needs some lead in from teachers and they're more likely to make things work if they know they have to justify the cost afterwards.
The Dandy's decision certainly seems to have lit a fire in the belly of adult comics lovers across the country. Now it's our turn to set kids alight with comics-love (although perhaps not literally as setting fire to children is still illegal in some parts of the country)


* That's all really great but ... I teach in a primary school. The powers that be won't have anything to do with ideas like this, as they think it promotes illiteracy, stupidity, and other things that we know it doesn't. You have to get through the overwhelming prejudices first, and I'm sorry to say that many people have very very fixed ideas. I'm speaking from the coal face.
jabberworks
Aug. 21st, 2012 07:22 am (UTC)
More comments from Facebook!

*So am I [to the person who posted the previous comment] and it's so sad that your head feels that way. I feel this is a can't fail idea - Sarah I'll post a proper reply on your blog later.
This ties in with a great number of curriculum areas and links to the primary approach for skills based learning. With strategies to tie into curriculum areas linking DT, art and literacy this could have some real impact in children's lives. Thank you! I've always wanted to have a comic/graphic novel event in school but it's so hard making it work. A festival gives solid credibility and the cos play thing is perfect. I'd make it a dynamic storytelling event too with less arty children (like me!) dressed up and acting out their favourite scenes - get a bit of drama in there too!
Love it and can't wait!!


* I would love to see this sort of thing happening in SEN schools. Comics are not only brilliant for developing written/verbal communication through the use of dialogue and other text fragments but also, by the use of facial expressions of characters, their body language and dynamics with others a way of exploring and expressing social communication. And they are good for learning about sequencing and the passage of time... plus there are the benefits you list in your blog post... the more I think about it the more benefits I can see. After the workshop, comics creation could be a tool that teachers and parents could use to enhance communication with SEN kids who struggle with big blocks of written language but have lots that they need to say - many SEN kids are frustrated by this difficulty. Would it be possible to invite parents to these events as well? It may help to build enthusiasm for the workshop and would ensure that parents know it is happening - we are not always told about this kind of thing until afterwards. I don't know how other parents would feel but I would be willing to pay for a ticket to be a part of it.


* Dylan Calder: I'm up for that - annual comics fest in Brit schools - let's talk!

jabberworks
Aug. 21st, 2012 07:34 am (UTC)
More from Facebook:

*I have felt the same way -- believe me -- but really really there are some very fixed ideas out there. Like most teachers, I am very pressed for time and energy, so when you come up against a complete blankout (not even a 'no', you're comp
letely blanked!) again and again I'm afraid I just give up out of sheer exhaustion. I would love to participate in something like this, but I think you need to realize what you are up against -- inertia, so-called traditionalism, and fear.

If they saw reports of successful festivals, it may work depending on the head teacher. As I teach in the private sector, there is also the whole thing that the parent is the customer, so if you depart from the 'tried and true' method you may not deliver results.

Just saying all this not as a downer, but because I think you should know what is really going on out there -- at least in my experience.


*My reply: Thanks so much for your honest comments. I tend to work with schools who are already sold on the idea, so I don't come into contact with schools who are down on the idea, and it's helpful to know the sentiments out there. I hope the barriers can be overcome (or these people will eventually retire!) but it's a good point for discussion: if it's worth approaching these schools or if it's better just to focus on schools who are already enthusiastic and let the news of their success stories trickle down. There's nothing worse than sending creators into a school that doesn't support them.


*Bit unfair, I train school librarians and teachers and I feel a lot of energy and support out there for new ideas such as this. As a committee member for London and SE SLG we have discussed comic art and graphic novels and how their expans
ion into younger children's literature has had a dramatic impact on reading. The Federation of Children's Book Groups have hosted some very successful comic events - this is just an expansion of that.
In fact this would be less work for teachers that having to organise it themselves as it would be a template to follow rather than having to do it all yourself.
I have worked in libraries for almost 25 years, the last decade specialising in primary school libraries and reader development and I feel the enthusiasm for thinking outside the box in literacy areas is rising, not waning.


*I organized an event last year at my school where David Lloyd came to talk to the secondary school pupils, which was really successful, but we couldn't build on the back of it because everyone was too busy. I completely support your endeavors, but you really have to have people who are willing to change ... and not everyone is.

PS One more idea: you should have / promote comics workshops for the teachers and how they can use the medium in the classroom. We all get lots of INSET training, and this could also really help. Of course, as long as you have an enlightened head.

*My comment: Oo, good point! What is INSET training?


*It's when you have training workshops for teachers (stands for In-Service-Training), either before the term as prep to inspire you for the year or even during the term. Sometimes organizations have INSET training at their premises, send out promotional materials to schools, and then lucky teachers get the day off and go to training instead. Schools are required to offer teachers INSET training during the year but the school pays for it and is responsible for furthering people's careers with it. They are basically designed for inspiring teachers and to keep them up to date with what is going on outside of their school.


Edited at 2012-08-21 08:19 am (UTC)
jabberworks
Aug. 21st, 2012 08:12 am (UTC)
From Matt Finch @booksadventures on Twitter:

@neillcameron @jabberworks Have you guys heard of Kids Comic Con in the States? Have similar aims: http://matthewfinch.me/2011/03/07/alex-simmons-interview-part-3-kids-comic-con-%E2%80%98giving-comics-back-to-kids-again%E2%80%99/

jabberworks
Aug. 21st, 2012 08:19 am (UTC)
From Facebook:

*I don't know how the system works but wonder whether it would be worth talking to Local Education Authorities about this idea so that it could be rolled out across one region or borough's worth of schools at a time (though this may not impact on independent or private schools)? Also, thinking about SEN schools here, it might help to try get endorsements from organisations like ICAN or National Autism Society. I love the idea of adding in teacher training, it would really give energy and sustainability to the idea - imagine how fired up and prepared the school would be at the next year's event!


*My comment: Great idea! I think I'd need other people to take the baton and talk to the authorities - I'm buried in deadlines - but if people think their schools really could benefit from it, the idea's there. And I'll check with Comica and Cartoon Classroom to see if we can have an up-to-date, wide-reaching database for schools to access.


*Don't forget about private schools either! They need just as much help, believe me!

Edited at 2012-08-21 08:21 am (UTC)
(Anonymous)
Aug. 21st, 2012 08:57 am (UTC)
Just as an asside, I always found David Lloyds Classroom website a bit of a waste of time in my experience. I wanted to link to my page from my website, but it's impossible to actually get a link as you can only view your own page as an account page. I've emailed them twice about this and no one ever bothers to reply. If you do have a database, make it easily linkable and accessible for anybody and not just teachers, and have good communication with your clients :)

Gary
jabberworks
Aug. 21st, 2012 09:00 am (UTC)
Oo, I didn't realise that. Excellent pointers, ta!
(Anonymous)
Aug. 22nd, 2012 09:09 am (UTC)
Pay for workshops
Thanks for all these posts, I'm well up for joining in with anything that gets comics into kids hands, whether they've made them or not.
Regarding pay, I've been £175 a day for way too long, so am now £200 or £250 a day - maybe once I'm a proper author I'll be able to charge more. The depressing thing is that most schools pass this cost onto the parents, asking for 'voluntary contributions' of £3, £4 or even £5.
Inset sessions for staff might be a good way of persuading them of the value - so often I'm booked at the end of term as a fun activity or 'filler' - I'm much happier working at the start or middle of term, when it's integrated into the rest of the lessons as treated as a valid activity that can be harnessed in all the other subjects (comics about Vikings, Victorians, science experiments etc...)

There is a primary school teachers magazine / journal that might be worth sounding out about it - http://www.teachprimary.com/
jabberworks
Aug. 23rd, 2012 06:37 am (UTC)
Re: Pay for workshops
Thanks for your feedback! I don't think it's depressing that schools pass the cost onto the parents. I mean, it would be better if they could get it from existing budget, but at least they want it badly enough to pass around the hat, because they realise how important it is. But do you still do it if they don't come up with your full fee? I hope they make up the extra if not.
And cheers for the link!
catdrawerjim
Aug. 23rd, 2012 12:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Pay for workshops
Oh yeah, and I'm not anonymous, I'm Jim Medway.
jabberworks
Aug. 23rd, 2012 08:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Pay for workshops
Yay, hello, Mr Medway! :)
(Deleted comment)
jabberworks
Aug. 23rd, 2012 06:33 am (UTC)
Thanks so much, Mike! I agree, wouldn't it be fab?! :)
dlasky
Aug. 29th, 2012 04:40 am (UTC)
Kids Comics Day
I like all of this, Sarah, and I'm ready to join your revolution!
jabberworks
Aug. 30th, 2012 04:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Kids Comics Day
Yay, thanks, David! You've already been fighting this one! :D
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )