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Interview: Edith Donnell on this weekend’s Kids Read Comics event

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I’m chatting today with Edith Donnell, the Youth/Teen Librarian for the Chelsea District Library. For the last five years she has been one of the driving forces behind the all-ages Kids Read Comics event, which is held at the Ann Arbor District Library – 343 S 5th Avenue in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This year the event will be held on June 22-23, with a special event for educators and librarians on June 21.

Mike Pawuk: The event was created by you, cartoonist and educator Jerzy Drozd of Ann Arbor, comic shop owner Dan Merritt of Dearborn, and comic book writer Dan Mishkin of East Lansing. How did the four of you come together to help create this wonderful reading-based comic book convention?

Edith Donnell: We were pulled together by opportunity! I had the luck to get a couple of voice actors, Tara Platt and Yuri Lowenthal, to come to the library back in 2009, and I called up Jerzy immediately and said, “Let’s do a comic convention, we have stars!” Jerzy then got in touch with the Dans, who had also been simultaneously dreaming of doing a free comic convention for kids. I had been interested in doing an event for years, but always felt we needed “talent” first. Amazingly talented artists, actors and writers have been coming to our events every since, but I will always be grateful to Yuri and Tara for giving me the courage to say “let’s do this!” and putting it on the calendar.

Mike Pawuk: How many years has the Kids Read Comics event been going on?

Edith Donnell: Every year since 2009, so this will be our fifth year.

Mike Pawuk: Has the library staff been supportive of it being an annual event?

Edith Donnell: Ann Arbor District Library is VERY supportive of this event. It’s been pretty consistent in all of the libraries where we have held the event.

Mike Pawuk: Have you ever had complaints from staff or the general public about this event at all?

Edith Donnell: There were some complaints the first year about noise, but generally speaking we promote the event well in advance and make it clear that on the day of the event—it’s a CELEBRATION. Kids will be there, and they won’t be perfectly quiet. The AADL fixes this issue mostly by keeping the event on three floors and designating one floor as “quiet space”.

Mike Pawuk: Can you tell us a few of the special guests that will be there?

Edith Donnell: We are so excited about Ben Hatke! He wrote the Zita the Spacegirl comics. Dave Roman and Raina Telegemeier will be back this year, and as always, Raina will have copies of Smile and Drama on sale, among other things, and Dave will have his new Astronaut Academy book available. John Gallagher, writer and artist of Buzzboy and more cool stuff from Sky-Dog Comics is going to be at KRC this year for the first time, and we’re interested in seeing what he’s going to bring to the show. Jim Ottaviani, who just published his new book, Primates, will be coming. He writes non-fiction comics, including Feynman, which made it on an Oprah Book Club list as a must read. John Green, co-creator of Teen Boat with Dave Roman, will also be coming! He is also an artist for Phineas and Ferb magazine.

In addition to the “name” cartoonists, we’ll have artists and writers of all ages and experience levels at the show—that’s over 50 artists! We’ve had guests as young as eight years old with Artist Alley tables in previous years, and this time around there will be a trio of young teens sharing what they do. Many of the kids and parents who come to our event wouldn’t actually know a New York Times bestselling comics creator or Eisner Award winner if they tripped over one (and we don’t doubt that some of them will); they just love the fact that comics are so much fun to read and to do!

Mike Pawuk: What sort of activities are planned for the KRC event?

Edith Donnell: We have an amazing lineup of activities this year, all of them aimed and bringing artists, kids and teens together to get creative in entertaining ways! Every hour we try to have events aimed at all age and skill levels, so everyone can enjoy something at this event.

Ben Hatke will be leading our annual kickoff event Saturday, June 22, at 11 am. During this interactive talk Ben will walk through his process of making comics and share how to create characters readers care about, worlds that readers believe in, and dangers that set readers on the edge of their seats!

Dave Roman is back with a bigger, better and wilder “Comics Quickfire!” In this game, audience members are teamed up with KRCC guests to take on improvisational drawing challenges. Each contestant is given a mere 60 seconds to contribute to an ongoing comic. The crowd participates by providing twists to the story in an effort to stump the contestants!

These sessions promise to be memorable, as the contestants include KRCC special guest Ben Hatke, Raina Telgemeier, Rafael Rosado (Giants Beware!), Laurianne Uy (Polterguys), John Green (Teen Boat!), Lee Cherolis (Little Guardians), Samantha Kyle (Random Assembly), and Jerzy Drozd (The Front)!

Rafael Rosado, storyboard artist on Curious George, Transformers Prime, and Scooby-Doo Mystery Inc, is giving us a great event called “Heroes vs. Villains,” where participants will learn the secrets behind creating truly heroic, or deviously villainous, characters. It goes without saying that by the end of the workshop, everyone will have an awesome new set of characters to draw and write about.

On Saturday evening, tweens and teens will be invited to a special free concert at the Neutral Zone by the O-Matics! Cosplay is welcome.

Mike Pawuk: Do you have special crafts/activities for kids and teens?

Edith Donnell: The convention is almost purely workshop based, so interactive is key! Pencils and paper will be provided at practically every event, though in the case of “Quick Draws,” you tell the artists what to draw. When your fingers are exhausted, you can take a break at the Artist Alley, where over 40 comic book artists and writers will be displaying their work for sale and giving away freebies as well.

Mike Pawuk: On June 21 you also have a “Comics, Collections, and the Common Core” workshop for librarians and other educators. What activities are you doing for the day?

Edith Donnell: We are so excited to be building on last year’s mingle between artists, teachers, and librarians at the University of Michigan. For teachers, we offer Comics: A Pathway to Learning in the morning, led by our own Jerzy Drozd, which offers incites into using comics in classroom settings. All participants receive a comprehensive starter pack of information and materials to use for developing a comics based learning project in their classroom. Panel discussions later in the day cover everything from improving your library’s comics collection to understanding comics as literature, and getting a better understanding of how to assess whether a comic is right for your classroom or collection. Attendees will learn how comics have been used as a form of protest in history and today, and we’ll all just hang out and draw — with some VERY talented people!

Mike Pawuk: How can the public find out more about this event?

Edith Donnell: Go to the Kids Read Comics site. We have an up-to-date programming page with LOTS of information about events, dates and times, as well as a list of guests and their websites. There’s also links to our event from there on Facebook and Twitter.

Mike Pawuk: And how much does two fun days at your library and a workshop for librarians cost any attendees?

Edith Donnell: It’s all fabulously free!! If you want to buy a comic book from an artist, it’s up to you. Did I mention everyone takes home free comics from Archie, DC and Top Shelf?

Mike Pawuk: Sounds like a wonderful library-based comic book event, Edith. Good luck and hope this great event that promotes comic books and reading continues for years to come!

Mike Pawuk About Mike Pawuk

Mike Pawuk has been a teen services public librarian for the Cuyahoga County Public Library for over 15 years. A lifelong fan of comic books and graphic novels, he was chair for the 2002 YALSA all-day preconference on graphic novels, served as a judge for the Will Eisner Awards in 2009, as well as helped to create the Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee for YALSA. He is the author of Graphic Novels: A Genre Guide to Comic Books, Manga, and More, published by Libraries Unlimited in 2006 and is working on a followup to his book.

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