CBR at Kids' Comic Con

Children, parents and fans alike crowded the Community Hall of Bronx Community College for the third annual Kids' Comic Con on April 25. With an attendance of over 700 guests and over 40 professionals, the event was a sight to behold as both kids and adults traversed booths, attended panels and workshops and met some of their favorite writers and artists. CBR News kept up with these young readers - or tried to, at least - every step of the way.

The industry was well represented on the show floor, from writers like Danny Fingeroth ("Darkhawk"), artists like Chris Giarusso ("Mini-Marvels") and other professionals like Scott Gimple (creator of Disney's "Fillmore"). The day's events opened with a few words from Kids' Comic Con founder Alex Simmons, comic book writer and Arts and Education Director for the New York City Children's Art Carnival.

"Unlike other cons, this is totally geared towards kids and family," Simmons told CBR News. "Some people think I mean 'Kiddies and Family.' Kids, to me, means anybody under the age of 21. We have teens here, we have tweens - we had a young girl named Jessica who came in 2007 and was just a participant having a good time."

Simmons went on to explain that Jessica Weiss, age 12, returned for the second show in 2008, not only as a participant, but as an exhibitor. "Her father [contacted me] in January of 2008 just before our other con saying Jessica did her own comic and she wanted to rent a table and sell it. He asked if that would be all right," Simmons explained. "What better place for a kid to sell her own comics than a kids' comic-con? She was here last year and she's back this year with a different issue."

The 12-year-old Weiss is the creator and publisher of the comic "Geezerville," and was on hand all day selling copies of her three issues. Not only is she an accomplished writer and artist, she's a fan of comics as well. "Right now my favorite is Little Lulu," said Weiss. "Even now it makes sense even though it's out of date."

When asked whether she preferred writing or drawing her own comics, she said, "I like writing and drawing equally. That's why I branched off and drew my own comic that had my own ideas."

Weiss went on to explain the inspiration behind one of her comics, "Surviving the Bully." "It's about a boy and a bully stole his homework. [He and his friends] get together and try to steal it back. I wrote that because we were learning about bullies in school and I decided I wanted to write it on my own time."

The type of enthusiasm and creativity exhibited by Weiss is exactly the atmosphere that Simmons is promoting with Kids' Comic Con. "Some of my friends' careers were actually determined by their comic book passions," he said. "Some of them went into science because they wanted to be Reed Richards. That field spoke to them because of their enthusiasm for those characters."

While there was no shortage of enjoyment and fun on the show floor, just as much was happening outside the crowded hall. Throughout the day, industry professionals ran workshops and panels to further the creativity and enthusiasm that the kids brought to the event. Workshops like Where the Action Is demonstrated how to bring more life to drawings, while panels like Motion Potion: The Magic of Animation featured a demonstration on cartoons and animation from "Fillmore" creator and executive producer Scott Gimple, who had altered travel plans specifically to attend.

"Comics are what got me into writing," Gimple said. "I experienced comics for the first time when I was nine years old. I think it's really important for kids to be exposed to comics because it might be the thing that keeps them reading. It pretty much gave me my life's purpose."

As both children and adults let their creative juices flow outside the show floor, there was just as much creativity demonstrated inside the walls of the hall. One of the standout exhibitors of the show was Ken Wong, a veteran of Kids' Comic Con. Wong, a writer/artist, created the folding comic "Pandora's Box" that is read in the three dimensional form of a box. Wong came up with the idea after attending an open reception on webcomics at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art.

"There are some things that paper comics can do that webcomics will never be able to do," said Wong. "I started to think about folding comics and I came up with 'Pandora's Box,' which is in box form. You actually have to open it at a crucial point in the story. That was part of the reader experience."

Though there were plenty of independent creators like Wong showcasing their work, there were just as many mainstream professionals in attendance, including a whole crew of creators from Archie Comics. "There's a lot of enthusiasm," said writer/artist Dan Parent. "We're trying to get a lot of early readers interested in Archie. We found out that a lot of people started reading through Archie Comics so we're trying to encourage that."

Newly appointed President of Archie Comics Jonathan Goldwater was also in attendance to support his creative teams and the outpouring of young readers. "I am thrilled to be here with everybody," he said. "I think [events like these] are vital. I think comics are generally the first step toward learning how to read. [Reading comics] leads to a lifetime of enjoyment. Comics are for kids and adults - it's a lifetime of pleasure."

Throughout the day, as kids and parents wandered on and off the show floor to meet and greet professionals, they could participate in contests. Everything from trivia to coloring contests was presented with a few very special events later in the day. "Sometimes we'll do a quick quiz, but other times we'll do things like Sci-Tech Heroes," said Simmons. "We use comic book characters to engage kids more in science and technology. If you look at the average comic book company, three quarters of their characters' powers are based in either science or technology. Ultimately, we have games that deal with that - who can give me the best way of dealing with a hurricane, for example."

Other contests included "Tag Team Comics," an event inspired by Simmons' collaborations during his childhood. Kids were paired with comic book writers and artists to design original comic book characters and bios before time ran out.

Although there were very few costumed kids in attendance, participants did catch glances of The Flash and Darth Vader on the show floor. Jake Kase, age 7, and his brother Logan, age 4, were there in full force as The Dark Lord of the Sith and the Scarlet Speedster, respectively. The costumed kids were in full support of their favorite heroes - "[I like] Spider-Man because he has webs!" said Jake. "I like Flash because he runs so fast!" said Logan, whose birthday was on the day of the convention. "I'm a huge nerd," said their father John, there with his children and their mother, Alison. "Jake draws comics every day and he has his own group of superheroes."

Without a doubt, the event was a rousing success as measured by the smiles of attendees like the Kase family seen from across the room - but according to Simmons, Kids' Comic Con is only a small part of what he is trying to accomplish.

"We created what we call the Creative Media and Graphic Design Studio [on the Bronx Community College Campus,]" said Simmons. "Seeing the enthusiasm and the interest that the kids have, we recognize that many of these kids are not exposed to the software and working with computers as anything other than a social tool."

Alex Simmons hopes to expose high school students to the resources and training technology can provide from graphic design to audio recording and podcasting software. If the success of Kids' Comic Con 2009 is any indication, younger comic fans are in very good hands.

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