Bill Gates famously said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
I’d say that we usually overestimate what we can do in a week but underestimate what we can do in a year. When I look back at what KCU accomplished in 2022, that rings particularly true!
In the beginning of 2022, KCU had no website. No one but me had taught a full course for KCU members. We had never run a competition before. KCU wasn’t even an incorporated business entity.
Now, one year later, KCU does have a website! We are a registered public benefit corporation. I am no longer the sole instructor of Kids Comics Intensive (shout out to the amazing Rivkah LaFille!!!). And we’ve established an annual pitch competition, KC Pitchfest, that has gotten tremendous positive feedback.
In this blog post, I’d like to review what we accomplished in 2022, discuss a little bit about what we learned, and talk about our plans for 2023.
Kids Comics Intensive
We’ve offered the Kids Comics Intensive course every year since 2020. In 2020, it was a 10 week course that I taught, along with a few guest speakers. In 2021, it was a 13 week course that I taught, along with three lessons taught by Rivkah.
And in 2022, we revamped it again – big time!
This time we offered two 10-week courses: the first 10 weeks focused entirely on Craft, taught by Rivkah; and the second 10 weeks focused on Publishing, Marketing, and Business, taught by me. Another big change was adding a live critique session at the end of each course. We invited guest critiquer Tim Stout, an editor with First Second, and Gina Gagliano, director of the Boston Book Festival (and former publishing director of RH Graphic) to help critique the students.
The reason for the change is that we sensed KCU members wanted a true deep dive into comics storytelling and craft techniques. I think our instinct was correct. 54 students signed up for Rivkah’s expanded Craft course – an enrollment record for KCU!
The Kids Comics Intensive revamp received rave reviews. In our post-course feedback survey, one student gushed, “I stumbled upon the course and decided it was a sign. The last 20 weeks have had me so excited about this new journey you all have helped me embark on. I learned about process, how to get started, what I need to get started, how I can grow as an artist, and more!” While another wrote simply, “Rivkah was awesome.”
The KCU Website
Around the same time that we launched “Kids Comics Intensive 3.0,” we launched the brand new KCU website, kidscomicsunite.com!
It was a huge undertaking. Props to our awesome web developer, Jill Lynn. And props also to our beloved art director-illustrator-branding genius extraordinaire, Jade Vaughan. Jade paid attention to every detail and went above and beyond to ensure the website went live without any major hiccups.
Later in 2022, we published some important new content on the site:
- Janna’s blog post covering the ins and outs of how to pitch your graphic novel; and
- the KCU Resource page that’s a treasure trove of links to helpful courses, articles, podcasts, schools, and more.
The Member Survey
One of our most important initiatives in 2022 was running a member survey during the summer. KCU’s raison d’etre is helping creators improve and succeed; and the only way we can do that is by knowing where their difficulties and challenges are. So it’s absolutely critical that we keep our pulse on what members need and how they’re feeling.
Lisa Lowry (aka KCU’s Program Coordinator/Newsletter Wrangler) spent the first part of the summer designing the survey: crowd-sourcing the questions and enlisting multiple people to review the survey and offer feedback on it. (We are really lucky that Lisa worked in public policy analysis in her past life!!) In the second part of the summer, we sent it out to the community.
In the end, we got 127 responses and a ton of useful information!! Members told us exactly what they like about KCU, and what they wanted us to change, tweak, add, or subtract.
The survey helped us decide what to focus on for the rest of 2022:
- improving the new member experience;
- adding an Accountability Group to Kids Comics Studio; and
- launching a pitch competition to help members get more industry exposure.
The Welcome Checklist
Mighty Network (the platform on which our community is based) can be… let’s just say, a bit overwhelming. So in the fall, we expanded the “Welcome Checklist” for new members and added a “KCU Mighty Network Guide.”
We explained how members can:
- introduce themselves and edit their profile;
- adjust their notifications;
- customize the activity feed;
- create their own posts, groups, and events;
- invite new members;
- download the app; and
- understand the difference between the Kids Comics Studio program and the Kids Comics Intensive course.
However, we didn’t have much time to rest on our laurels before MN threw a big wrench at us. The platform released a major “upgrade” in November that completely reconfigured the community appearance and functionality. So we’ll be focusing again on improving the member experience in 2023 – more on that below.
Kids Comics Studio
In case you don’t know what Kids Comics Studio is, it’s like KCU “taken up to 11.” 😂
Kids Comics Studio is our subscription membership program, where we host weekly workshops and have fostered a deeply connected group of creators who are helping each other reach their full potential. Not to mention its incredible archive of past events, covering everything from storytelling structure to CSP and Procreate tips to coloring and thumbnailing to pitching, social media, school visits, Kickstarter campaigns, and so, so much more.
In September 2022, we added a new element to Studio: the monthly Accountability Group. We meet once a month to set goals, discuss action steps, offer feedback on challenges, and cheer each other on. The Accountability Group has already proven to be an immensely popular addition to the program.
We also added a bimonthly Live Critique Session where members can share their work in real time to get feedback from me and the rest of the group. What’s great about this session is that “work” can be literally anything: a section of a script, some thumbnail sketches, a piece of finished art, a pitch packet, a website, an Instagram account, or anything else. And what’s even more great about it is that getting feedback in a group helps not just the creator who’s sharing their work, but everyone else, as well, because we all share so many common issues.
If you might be interested in joining the Studio program, stay tuned for the next Open Enrollment period in May!
In October we announced the coming Pitchfest competition. We modeled it on a prestigious competition hosted in conjunction with the Bologna Book Fair called the Unpublished Picture Book Showcase.
For KC Pitchfest, creators submitted a “mini pitch,” and we assembled an expert group of editors and agents from across the industry to judge. Extensive details on how we ran the competition are in this blog post.
We received 90 submissions! The judges gave us excellent feedback on the submitted work, and many of them already told us they want to judge again in 2023. Yay! And not only that, some of our submittors have already received inquiries from agents and editors! Double yay!!!
Shout out to our winners! Alondra Araujo, Brigitta Blair, Jon and Desi St. Amant, Gibson Twist and Rori de Rien, Tryg Faste, and Katie Risor. (All of them, I should mention, former Kids Comics Intensive students!) You can view the full gallery of submissions here.
We’re so excited to host KC Pitchfest again in Fall 2023. We anticipate an even broader slate of judges and submissions. If you think you might want to submit, consider enrolling in Kids Comics Intensive for additional accountability and feedback that will help you tighten up your work as much as possible.
So What’s Happening in 2023?
We have a bunch of cool things on the docket this year:
- Our annual FREE Kids Comics Masterclass on Saturday, Jan 28th, at 12 pm ET! (Register here.)
- The fourth annual Kids Comics Intensive! It covers writing, visual storytelling, publishing, and more. Enrollment begins on Saturday Jan. 28th and ends on January 31st. The first day of class is Thursday, Feb. 2nd.
- Studio Open Enrollment will happen in May.
- The KCU Pitchfest competition will happen again in the fall.
In addition to the above programs, we’ll definitely set aside time to comb through the Mighty Network community interface and figure out how to streamline and improve it, since it’s gotten a bit confusing again.
Kids Comics Intensive “4.0”
So, what are we planning for the Intensive course this year?
In terms of content, the course is covering the same ground as past years. It’s a deep dive into:
- the specifics of great graphic novel scriptwriting;
- how to understand and take advantage of visual storytelling (going into the nitty gritty of things like thumbnailing, page layout and page turns, coloring, lettering, cinematic techniques, and more); and
- what you need to know about the current graphic novel market and how to build your career as a comics creator.
Once again, though, we’re revamping the format a bit. This year, the course will last 13 weeks. The first 4 weeks will focus exclusively on storytelling and scriptwriting, and if that’s all you want to focus on, you can enroll in just the “Writing” part of the course.
The final 9 weeks will include 6 weeks of coursework focused on the ins and outs of sequential artwork, a 1 week break for students to focus on finishing their class project, and 2 weeks focused on understanding the industry and your career as a writer/artist. During the final week, there will be a live critique session with agent and editor guest speakers. (Only students who complete the whole 13 week course will be eligible to join the live critique session.)
What’s most compelling about the Kids Comics Intensive is:
- You’ll be producing part of a comic from start to finish. If you do the homework, you will end the course with a finished piece of work that you develop into a pitch, or self-publish.
- You’ll meet other creators with similar interests as you. You’ll develop friendships that last far beyond the end of the course.
- You’ll get many opportunities for direct, professional feedback on your specific work and situation.
If this sounds good to you, sign up for our free Masterclass, where Rivkah and I will be teaching a workshop that previews what you’ll learn in Kids Comics Intensive!
What Else is on the Horizon?
Given our usual mode of working as hard as possible to make KCU as beneficial as possible, I can guarantee that we’ll be launching additional initiatives this year. But I can’t be specific (yet).
One of our biggest learnings last year was that it’s better to focus on one new initiative at a time than try to do too much. We get excited about helping you and want to do a lot! But doing too much at once is a recipe for burnout and reduced effectiveness. And our goal is a healthy, happy team and a very effective organization that makes a difference for you.
We can’t make KCU as effective as it can be – in terms of providing resources, fostering community, and offering educational opportunities – without your input. So if you have any questions about what we did in 2022, or what we’ll be focusing on in 2023, please leave a comment below!