Do the words “comic book convention” sound scary to you? Overwhelming? Completely irrelevant to you as a children’s book author or illustrator? Think again. Even if your work isn’t “in genre,” you can still learn a lot. If you want to know what kids are into right now, or your creative juices need a boost, there’s no better place to go than a Con.
This year Wonder Con, the smaller, gentler, but just as fun little sister of the San Diego Comic Con, was held in Los Angeles. In addition to sneak peaks of superhero movies, geektastic T.V. shows, and panels about everything from new anime to the real science in sci-fi, there were kids everywhere!
Today’s readers and future readers wandered the Wonder Con floor and oohed and aahed at all the fantastic art they saw. They bought independently and traditionally published novels and picture books. Kids listened to their favorite authors and illustrators speak on panels about diversity in storytelling. They sat in on discussions about becoming our future content creators. Kids even spoke on panels, like the The Making Comics Graphic Novel Project, where students learned how to write and illustrate for graphic novels.
Cons are also a great way to get your own work out there. I ran into several SCBWI members, including Jessica Chrysler. She’s been selling her illustrations at Wonder Con for the past five years. In addition to making sales, Jessica told me Wonder Con has been great for networking. “You find people here that you won’t meet anywhere else.” What kind of people? People who are looking for partners on their next project. People who want to know more about SCBWI and kid lit. And people whose own work will challenge and inspire yours.
“You have to know your market too,” Jessica says. “It’s important to know the style of the work you do and how it fits, what people respond to the most. Stuff like this, Wonder Con, helps figure that out.” Every year Jessica gets a lot of feedback on her work from attendees and exhibitors, which in turn helps her decide where to focus her efforts.
And speaking of networking? It isn’t a dirty word. It just means “relationships.” It means seeking out people who inspire you and have been where you hope to go, and listening to what they have to say. I met one of my favorite authors at San Diego Comic Con, Peter Clines, just as his books were hitting the big lists. He was kind enough to grab a coffee with me and share his author’s journey. I ran into him at Wonder Con this year and not only did he remember me, but he invited me to attend a writing group he facilitates in Burbank every month at Dark Delicacies. How cool is that?
So the next time you hear about one of those crazy comic book conventions, remember that it isn’t just for comic book lovers. Your audience will probably be there. Your next writing partner, illustrator, or critique group member might be there too. And there will definitely be a lot of people who are making a living at what you hope to do, or are doing, who have some sage advice and tricks of the trade to share with you.
Sarah Parker-Lee is managing co-editor of Kite Tales, reviews books for Dwarf+Giant, & writes for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs. She also writes YA alt. history & sci-fi. Her humor blog, Dogs and Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, shambles towards your tasty brains Summer 2016. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel
Photo of Jessica Chrysler used by permission. All other Wonder Con photos by Sarah Parker-Lee.