At the 10th annual Kids' Comic Con, held Saturday April 23 at the Bronx Community College, children and adults wound their way through a maze of artists' tables, stopping to look through a comic or chat with creators. This year's show featured about 41 artists and vendors and about 850 attendees.
Groups of children drew superheroes and clustered around a display of drones and light sabers. Artists at tables—among them Diana Leto (My Little Pony) and Steven Harris (Ajala)—talked up their books and drew sketches. Volunteers, some in costume, scurried around the floor, making sure everything was going smoothly. And no one was empty-handed: every child got a bag of comics as he or she walked in the door.
Big-name artists like Art Baltazar and Franco (Tiny Titans), Chris Giarrusso (G-Man), Alitha Martinez (Batgirl), and Jamal Igle (Molly Danger) were in attendance along with kids’ comics publishers such as Papercutz. This year’s show also featured members of the Schomburg Junior Scholars Comics Squad, who have created a #BlackLivesMatter comic as part of a class at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, part of the New York Public Library system.
"These kids are here with their own material that they have drawn, but they are also volunteering," said Alex Simmons, the founder of Kids' Comic Con. "So it's a matter of not only showing them how this [convention] works but also giving them some communication skills—being polite, asking questions, giving them some experiences being active participants.”
Simmons said Kids' Comic Con tries to give “kids a sense of ownership. Helping them understand from early stages you can do things that affect your community or affect others' lives."
Simmons, a veteran comics writer, comics educator and creator of the Black Jack graphic novels about a 1930s African-American soldier of fortune, said the first Kids' Comic Con in 2007 was supposed to be a one-time event. After Simmons organized several comics workshops at the Bronx Community College, Eugene Adams, director of collaborative programs at the school, gave Simmons the go-ahead to launch a comics convention designed for children and teens.
The first KCC "was me going to 15 of my artist friends, and I think we contacted a couple of community groups around here," Simmons said. "I figured we were going to have maybe 50 people here, and maybe 15 artists. Publishers Weekly did an article about the show in advance,” Simmons said. “Next thing, I'm getting e-mails galore. People came up from the south and the north, and we wound up with over 45 artists and guests and vendors, and we had somewhere between 800 and 1,000 people show up."
But it was the artist’s reactions after that first show closed that convinced Simmons to continue. "[The creators] were pumped, they were thrilled. At the major conventions [most artists] could not see anyone enjoying their work, especially kid-oriented material. I kept hearing ‘you're going to do this again, right?'"
Simmons said he realized that not only was he attracting local families from the Bronx but also families from Westchester and Connecticut, "and they were all mingling together. Now here we are, 10 years later." Simmons pulls the convention together every year. He gets a small amount of funding from the college and from Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit that supports community arts organizations, as well as support from a dedicated group of artists and volunteers. He also takes KCC on the road to other venues throughout the year.
Simmons said the show offers children a valuable experience: the opportunity to meet professional creators, see the people who make comics and learn that it's possible to make a living from the creative arts.