Despite Marvel films taking £billions at the box office, there's lots of talk about children not being as interested in reading comics as in the past. Especially since comics are being increasingly welcomed into school libraries, it seems odd that the comic industry isn't chasing after kids and securing future readership and those all-important sales.
I'm always a bit wary about taking children along to comic events as there's hardly ever anything of substance for them to do. Sure I'm happy wandering around talking to creators, but kids get bored of this type of thing very quickly. Life isn't made any easier when the 'all ages' comics are hidden amongst the plethora of definitely not all ages comics. Even when there are dedicated kids activities advertised, they can often turn out to be, well, a bit rubbish. This is why, in part, that I started organising children's comic cons at my kids' local school.
Under normal circumstances I wouldn't have mentioned to my children about ICE and gone on my own, however it had 2 things going in its favour:
1. FREE ENTRY FOR KIDS was written in really big letters on the posters.
2. There were dedicated children's events and it was listed on online what these were before we got there.
We got to The Studio, down one of the side streets in Birmingham city centre, around 11am for 'general' opening and proceeded to have a wander around the numerous floors of the building. The idea was to have a quick look round and see where everything was before going back and focusing on points of interest. A good plan which sadly fell apart.
Initial pluses were the pile of free Beano comics, which immediately put the kids in a good mode (and a fight over which child got to wear Plug's false teeth), and spending a stupid amount of money on trading cards since obviously no one wanted to share anything.
We spent an hour basically wandering and not doing much other than seeing what was there (and buying trading cards). I wanted to go to the Dredd panel and finding the room took a fair few minutes (it was nice for the building to have 'cool' room names, but simply having them numbered would have helped locating them enormously in a 4 storey building). The kids stayed for the first few minutes of the panel, but soon left me to play table football outside with their mum.
Panel over, it was now 1:30pm. If I'd been on my own I would have skipped lunch in favour of talking to some creators/buying some comics, but children, annoyingly, require feeding. This process essentially took an hour, bringing us to 2:30pm and the start of the kids' events.
The children were really excited to see Hunt Emerson who was running the drawing workshop. He'd been kind enough to come to the school for our (fairly) recent comic con so they knew who he was. The workshop lasted 90 minutes, during which time Hunt gave advice such as how putting ideas down on paper was the best way to start drawing rather than sitting and thinking about it forever (good advice for writing and most other things too!). The children were then given the task of drawing animals in various occupations, with Hunt coming round and giving advice.
My 6 year old worked harder than perhaps he's ever worked before. He was almost in tears when Hunt asked him to draw his 'antelope cricketer' yet again, but he stuck at it and was very happy with himself afterwards. The improvement's in my 8 year old's 'giraffe astronaut' were dramatic each time he had another try. Even my 3 year old had fun attempting to draw an anteater...before she decided that drawing horses was much more interesting.
After the workshop, there was a panel with Dave Gibons. As Dave pointed out at the beginning, he didn't really have a specific 'children's' talk, but more a general overview of how he started drawing as a child and how his career progressed. It was an interesting talk and the kids enjoyed it, though they did start to fidget at the end, simply due to the length.
Which brought the time to 5pm and though I did attempt to run around the building and try to at least buy a few comics, everyone was now packing up for home. If anyone was exhibiting their comic at the expo please get in touch and I'll gladly purchase said comic! I really was planning to come away with as big a variety of the things as possible!
On the one hand it was annoying that I hadn't been able to see and do hardly anything of what I would have liked to. On the other, my children had a really, really good time. In fact my 8 year old has decided that he's going next year to sell his own (currently unwritten) comics. He was going to take one, then realised that if he made two he'd make twice as much money! Congratulations, ICE, you've made a comic-creator out of this kid!