In the event you need any further proof that kids are passionate about reading comics, look no further. Kids and Comics are alive and kickin' in California. I was there for 19 days promoting SMILE, and I met hundreds and hundreds of enthusiastic kids (and their parents, teachers, and librarians), all of whom were excited to read, discuss, and even make comics of their own! I was absolutely blown away by everyone I met and every place I visited. I could never have imagined I would receive such a warm welcome from my home state.
We kicked things off at the Alternative Press Expo
My first stop was the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco. I hadn't been to this con in 4 years, but it was as fun as always!
La Taqueria, San Francisco
Dave and I ate a lot of Mexican food.
Me and curator Andrew Farago at the Cartoon Art Museum, San Francisco
Both Dave and myself have artwork up in the Storytime! exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum, and seeing our work (from SMILE and Astronaut Academy, respectively) alongside pieces by Jeff Smith, Stan Sakai, and Irving Tripp was a real thrill. The show is up until November 14, so you've still got a chance to go see it!
The Girls' Middle School, Mountain View
Following our convention weekend, I did a straight week of two-event days all over the Bay Area. The first was at the Girls' Middle School in Mountain View, where I was the guest of honor for a full-day of SMILE-related events! I led three workshops, and the girls made some truly amazing comics in record time!
On-the-fly drawing demo
That evening, I gave a presentation and signing at Green Apple Books, one of the best independent bookstores in San Francisco (or anywhere). The event ended up being very special, because not only did kids and teenagers show up, but a bunch of my friends from high school and middle school also came to cheer me on! Thank you Melinda, Christine, Jeannie, Emily, Kayo (and Eric), Tania, Aaron, Tabitha, Mayuko, Gorton, Pira, Rommel, Aviva, and everyone else! (I hope I didn't miss anyone!)
Green Apple Books, San Francisco
The next day, I spoke at the school where my mom teaches, Skyline Elementary School. This was the single biggest group I have ever spoken in front of, and their enthusiasm blew my mind: These kids screamed as if I was Justin Beiber. No joke.
Me and my mom at Skyline Elementary School (where she teaches 5th grade), Daly City, CA
A crowd of 220 at Skyline Elementary School, Daly City
That afternoon I made a special stop at a place very near and dear to the heart of SMILE.
Approaching a familiar building...
It was my old orthodontist's office! "Dr. Dragoni" (NOT his real name) was thrilled to discover earlier this year that he had been featured in a graphic novel! His patients brought SMILE to his attention, and they ordered a bunch of copies for their waiting room. They invited me to come and sign books and meet with the staff and patients, and it was truly bizarre to be back in the place I spent so much time in 20 years ago.
Signing in the waiting room of my old orthodontist's office
Wednesday, my first event was a presentation at the Milpitas Library. What a lovely facility they have! Such nice librarians, too.
Drawing demo, Milpitas Library
Then we drove up to Berkeley for a signing at Comic Relief! This is an amazing comic store. Thank you to Sophie for inviting both Dave and myself to do readings and sign books!
Signing at Comic Relief, Berkeley
Thursday found us in a town I spent a bit of time in as a child, Alameda. My uncle used to live there, but I didn't remember just how cute and small-town the place is! I also loved this library's set-up, with a huge room for events that I took full advantage of! In the morning, I spoke to a huge group of kids, who asked really insightful and interesting questions.
Drawing demo, Alameda Library
A crowd of 150, Alameda Library
At most of these events, a bookseller would team up with the school or library I was visiting to sell books to the kids. This worked out great, as kids would get excited about the title as I presented it, and then had the opportunity to buy a copy and have me sign it for them.
The lovely booksellers from Books, Inc.
Signing for kids, Alameda Library
Then, after lunch (thanks, Eva and Linda!), I lead a workshop for about 35 kids. It was another breakneck-paced comics class, which resulted in some really fantastic work by the students.
Workshop, Alameda Library
Friday, I got to speak at the Pleasanton Library--a special treat, as my dad lives in that town, and most of my family came to the event. So did my best friend Theresa and her family, and even my family's current dentist (and my technical consultant on SMILE), Dr. Spiegel!
Floor seating, Pleasanton Library
That evening, still amazed that we hadn't gotten stuck in any serious traffic jams, we drove back to Berkeley for a mind-blowingly awesome event at Mrs. Dalloway's Literary and Garden Arts. I've never had such a big crowd waiting for me at a bookstore. The kids ate the presentation up. I think this was the highest-ever concentration of brace-faced, tween-age girls I've ever seen in one place, who were all there of their own volition. Thanks to Scholastic, for setting this event up, and the great store staff!
Drawing demo at Mrs. Dalloway's Literary and Garden Arts, Berkeley, CA
Saturday, Dave and I were Artists-in-Residence at the Cartoon Art Museum, where families could come and draw and talk to the artists in the Storytime! exhibit. We met some great kids that day, and everyone had fun!
She made herself a SMILE button
That night, I was delighted to have a dinner organized in my honor, by the fabulous Jenni Holm, co-creator of the equally fabulous Babymouse! I think that series really paved the way for my BSC adaptations a few years ago--whenever I did school visits and asked the kids what they liked to read, Babymouse was at the top of the list. It was nice to kick back and talk books with friends that evening.
Raina and Debbie Huey, goofing off
Sunday, I took a day off. My dad was celebrating a "milestone" birthday, and so my whole family and a bunch of friends came together to enjoy a whole lot of food and a really nice time.
Monday, we packed up the car, took some reference photos for my next book, and then drove down to Santa Clara for my final Bay Area event, at the Santa Clara Library. Talk about a photo-finish! 60-something people showed up at dinnertime on a Monday night! And what an enthusiastic crowd. I'm sure it had something to do with the free cookies the library supplied for the event...
Signing at the Santa Clara Library
The crowd enjoying cookies at the Santa Clara Library
One thing I heard over and over again over the course of the tour, from both kids and their grateful parents, was that SMILE was the first time they had ever been excited about reading a book. Any book. I heard that kids had read this book 2, 5, 20 times in a row. That they shared it with all their friends. And for so many, this had been the first time they'd been passionate about doing so. This is absolutely humbling. I cannot imagine living life without loving books. I was lucky to have avid readers for parents, and was surrounded by great books of every sort from the time I was a baby. Comics eventually took the lead as my true literary love, but I'll never tire of the feeling of staying up late to finish a truly wonderful book. The fact that I've been able to give this feeling back to kids is the most rewarding aspect of my career, hands down.
On the left, a brand-new reading enthusiast, Santa Clara Library
After Santa Clara, Dave and I hit the road, in an effort to make it as far south that night as we could. We ended up in a motel somewhere near Hearst Castle.
The next morning, we hit the road again, bound for Los Angeles!
Some much-needed sunshine in Santa Barbara, during our drive down the coast
For a little while, we got to relax. We went to an awesome dinner with recent LA-transplants Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley, who gave us a little tour of the area before we crashed in a Glendale motel. The next day, we went for a tour and early lunch at Dreamworks Studio, courtesy of Johane Matte. What a gorgeous studio! We got a sneak peak at some of their upcoming features, and got to take advantage of their insane lunch buffet.
Then, we drove down to Cal State Fullerton for a lecture there. The students were great, and had great questions for me! I wish we could have stayed longer!
The crowd at CSU Fullerton
Pencil Mileage Club, CSU Fullerton
But, we had a dinner date with Amy and Kazu Kibuishi and Jason Caffoe. They took us to a super-authentic ramen place, and then for ice cream. The we got to see the studio where they work, as well as the gorgeous Gallery Nucleus!
Thursday, Dave and I knocked off and went to Disneyland. It had to be done. I haven't been in 7 years, which is way too long! And I'd never been at Halloween-time. The park closed early, at 8 PM, which seemed like blasphemy--there's something particularly special about wandering around the Magic Kingdom in the midnight hours! Guess I'll have to wait till we're back in Florida for that experience...
Friday morning we got ourselves out the door and over to Long Beach for our final tour destination: The Long Beach Comic Con!
It was a nice, if somewhat quiet, convention. Quiet until the wrestling matches in the ring about 100 yards from our table took place, that is! Since it was Halloween weekend, there was an especially high ratio of dressed-up fans. I approve of this!
An awesome family at Long Beach Comic Con
Friday night, we attended a crazy, decked-out Halloween party, wearing our Hogwarts costumes (everything we wore, we already owned except the ties) and hanging out with a bunch of Dave's relatives. I started to feel a little run-down by the end of it, and by Saturday morning had a full-blown cold. I survived the remaining two days of the convention thanks to tea, cold medicine, and Dave doing most of the talking at our panel on Sunday! The convention ended really early that day, 4 PM, so we spent Halloween night eating chicken and waffles (well, only waffles and a salad for me) and playing Catchphrase with Dave's cousins as we greeted trick-or-treaters. So much fun!
Hogwarts' Finest, Long Beach Comic Con
We had one free day between the convention and our trip home, and I needed it. I spent most of the day in bed or wishing I was in bed, while still managing to squeeze in some sunshine and a dinner outdoors in the balmy November air. Southern California is always a hard place for me to leave, especially during the colder months on the east coast!
Now that we're home and I'm reflecting on the past three weeks, I am still bursting with gratitude and joy. Looking over the photos only makes it more so. Here are the rest of our pictures, and a couple of videos from the trip--there are a lot of them!
I want to make sure I say thanks to a few people, too: Kate Kubert Puls, my hard-working events coordinator, made 95% of this trip possible and helped me keep my head on straight; my family for hosting us during the Bay Area leg of the tour, and their general support and encouragement; Dave's extended family for hosting us during the Southern California leg of the tour, and their giant dinners and parties and good cheer; the publicity folks at Scholastic who organized the Green Apple and Mrs. Dalloway's events; everyone who hosted or coordinated or invited me to speak to their organization; my friends who came out in serious numbers to show their support; the kids I met; and most of all my husband Dave, who acted as tech support, pen keeper, receipt wrangler, and navigator, helped finalize most of my slideshows, and generally kept me calm and focused and motivated the whole time. He and the GPS were my constant companions! Couldn't have done it without all of you...and I can't wait to do it again!
One last thought for my fellow comics creators: kids are desperate for more good graphic novels to read. Make them, and they will be happy. And you will be happier for it, too. I know I am!