2023 Kids Comics Unite Annual Report

The mission of Kids Comics Unite is to help creators connect with each other and improve their craft. 

Looking back over what we did in 2023 to fulfill that mission, I was astonished. It was A LOT.

What We Did in 2023

In the early spring, Rivkah LaFille taught our signature 13-week Kids Comics Intensive course. I taught the last 3 weeks of the Intensive course, focusing on marketing and publishing skills. The course included curated critique groups, 20+ hours of live instruction, another 20+ hours of coaching calls, and Rivkah wrapped up the course with written and one-on-one critiques. 

It lived up to its name – it was intense, and students made huge progress. Here’s a sample of the feedback we got:

  • “My biggest takeaway is the confidence I gained throughout this course. Looking at my spreads before and after this class, I can see a massive difference.” – Michelle Mullen
  • “I took a lot away from this course! I got a brand new critique group of peers that I love so much! I also received so much knowledge about how to create a story, a page, a script….” – Jeslyn Cantrell
  • “I *always* looked forward to jumping on Zoom and seeing Rivkah/Janna/my intensive cohort. The weekly reward to be virtually surrounded by other people who love kids comics helped keep me accountable and wanting to push myself. The fresh and earnest delivery of the lectures and super insightful coaching calls also contributed to us staying so engaged and fostering a growth mindset during the entire Intensive.” – Caroline Hu 
  • “Loved the plotting structure info, inside deets into the publishing industry, and examples of different scripts! The editor feedback at the end was super helpful also. So much wonderful content!” – Brigitta Blair

Also in the spring, we had the first-ever KCU in-person team meeting in Bethesda, Maryland. It was incredibly meaningful to be with Jade and Lisa in the same room at the same time, and to share our dreams and ideas for KCU’s future.

The KCU team Lisa, Jade, and Janna meet in Bethesda in 2023

During the summer, we offered the Crowdfunding Crucible course taught by Patrick Lugo, Creative Coaching course led by Gibson Twist, and Build or Revamp Your Website course taught by me. Patrick facilitated multiple livestream interviews with crowdfunding creators, and almost all the crowdfunding creators exceeded their goals.

In September, we hosted the Pitching workshop again, with creators Ken Lamug, Annette Hashitate, David Rickert, and Urania Smith. Like our previous pitching workshops, it was a super lively event, with attendees asking detailed questions and the speakers offering honest, in-the-trenches advice on navigating the complicated path to a publishing deal.

And then we hosted the Pitchfest competition for the second time! This time, we worked with our web developer to allow participants to upload their own pitches to our site. There were some technical hiccups for some participants, and we organized several hands-on Zoom calls to resolve any problems and make sure all their work was displayed properly on our site.

In the end, we had almost 100 submissions, which were vetted by our jury of 18 agents and editors. Each of those 18 agents and editors looked at every single submission. There aren’t many competitions out there which guarantee that each pitch will be reviewed by such a large panel of industry professionals – we’re pretty proud of how we structured it!

The Pitchfest event was full of energy and once again, the guest speakers offered incredible insight on industry trends and how creators could tweak and improve their work. We were especially gratified by the feedback we got from judges:

  • “It was terrific!” – Andrea Cascardi, Transatlantic Agency
  • “This was really fun to engage in, and I appreciate the community building aspect I felt as a participating agent.” – Christie Megill, CAT Agency
  • “Participating in this competition was an honor. I was impressed by the range of styles, storylines, and intended audiences.” – Shannon Gallagher, Wernik & Pratt
  • “What a good batch of submissions! Some seriously interesting stuff. Not all commercial, but in a sense, that’s better! I felt the future sniffing at the door!” – Chelsea Eberly, Greenhouse Literary

One other highlight of the year was our KCU meetup at New York Comic Con. A special, unexpected guest stopped by to hang out with us: Raina Telgemeier! Unfortunately, because we were having so much fun talking with each other, we completely forgot to take any pictures with Raina. 😝

So we have no proof, you’ll just have to trust me.

The Numbers

Below is a chart showing our 2023 income and expenses. 

The top section shows a breakdown of our income. As you can see, slightly more than 50% of our income came from the Kids Comics Intensive course. The summer workshops and Pitchfest each made up about 11-12% of our income, and the rest of our income was from the Studio membership program (which I encourage you to join, if you aren’t a member already!).

The “Cost of Goods Sold” and “Operating Expenses” sections show our total expenses. The biggest line items are “Instructor and Speaker fees,” “Contractors” (the KCU team), and “Professional Services” (bookkeeper, accountant, web developer, etc) – in other words, “people costs.” Unsurprisingly, these costs make up the vast majority of our expenses. They represent almost 78% of our expenses when added together.

Kids Comics Unite 2023 income and expenses

What went well

We provided a huge range of educational content last year. And it was exciting to see more KCU members starting collaborations, doing crowdfunding campaigns, getting agents and book deals, and publishing books.

One of our goals in 2023 was to hit $100K in revenue. We almost got there – our final revenue total was $98,820.55. 

Also, our membership continued to steadily grow. By the end of the year, we had almost 2000 total members in KCU. 

What we could improve

As much as 2023 was successful in terms of numbers, it was also the year of the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” 

Because, unfortunately, “hitting our numbers” resulted in complete burnout by everyone on the team.

We have a very small team of 3 part-time people running everything that happens inside KCU, and the scale of programming (and launching all that programming) last year ended up overwhelming all of us. By the end of the year, each one of us was so exhausted that we knew we couldn’t take on another year like that.

So we’ve turned 2024 into our “timeout” year. We are only running the Studio membership program and have paused all other courses.

We also decided not to hold Pitchfest in the fall because KidLitGN runs their pitch event at the same time, and while we loved our collaboration with them last year, we felt it was confusing for creators to have two separate pitch events back-to-back. We also think that editors and agents might pay closer attention to both events if they were held at separate times of year.

Plans for 2024 and beyond

One big change that we instituted at the beginning of 2024 – which is already paying off in terms of member enthusiasm and engagement – is introducing themes for each month. We are designing a monthly challenge to accompany each theme, and our Studio workshop revolves around the theme as well.

The below graphic shows our list of Studio workshops for 2024. If you’d like to participate live in our workshops and have access to all the replays, please join us in Studio!

Kids Comics Studio workshop schedule for 2024

Finally, this year, we’re asking ourselves a bunch of questions. Questions like:

  • What does KCU “want” to be?
  • How can we make enough money to pay our team fairly? And to hire a little more help so we don’t burn out?
  • What do we want 2025 to be like?
  • How can we best make a positive contribution to the kids comics ecosystem?

Thanks for reading all the way to the end of this report. And thank you for pouring your heart into your work as a graphic novel storyteller, and for being a part of this wonderful community.

Questions for You!

And now I’d love to ask you to answer a few questions for us!

  • First, what is your favorite thing about KCU currently?
  • Second, what’s one thing you’d like us to change or do differently?
  • Third, if we could only offer ONE program in 2025, what would you want it to be?

Your answers to these questions will be so helpful as we plan what to focus on in the coming months and year!

About Janna Morishima

Janna Morishima is the founder of Kids Comics Unite and a literary agent who specializes in graphic novels and visual storytelling. She started her publishing career at Scholastic, where she was one of the co-founders of the Graphix imprint. She then became director of the Kids Group for Diamond Book Distributors, where she worked with publishers such as Marvel, Dark Horse, and Oni Press, and helped launch Françoise Mouly’s Toon Books imprint. In addition to her background in publishing, she has worked as an associate producer for documentary films, and as an assistant teacher in a kindergarten and a teacher in a high school for teens in the juvenile justice system. She later launched and ran the NYC Department of Education’s “NYC Reads 365” literacy initiative.

2 thoughts on “2023 Kids Comics Unite Annual Report

  1. 1. I love the wealth of information and how much I’m learning. And the community- so that’s actually two things I like best 😉
    2. No more burnout! Nothing is worth that level of exhaustion, because without the KCU team, there’s no KCU! Don’t be afraid to go in with a scalpel and cut what you can’t manage.
    3. If you could only offer one program, I’d say financial literacy. What is the economic model of trad publishing vs indie vs self pub but also: taxes, income vs overhead, hiring help (legal, accounting, as well as admin, studio assistant) savings, health insurance, cost of living. I also get that this is probably not sexy enough to get a critical mass to pay for it 😉

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Jenny!!! I appreciate the suggestion of a Kids Comics Financial Literacy course, but somehow I think that you’re probably right about it not being all that sexy for most of our members. LOL!!!

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