By: Alonso Nunez
Every Summer in San Diego, nerd, geeks, and fans both casual and obsessive gather for San Diego Comic-Con, a four day extravaganza (five, if you count Preview Night!) of truly epic proportions. Over a hundred and 150,000 people! Every year! But then, after the proverbial circus has left town and the people have gone home, then what?
That’s where we come in! And what are we exactly? Let me introduce myself. I am the Executive Director of Little Fish Comic Book Studio, a San Diego-based nonprofit that focuses on advocating for comics, teaching classes and camps in our nerd-bedazzled studio and generally I run around San Diego talking comics, and forging partnerships and opportunities for this artform and this community that I love. (In a bit of shameless self-promotion, I recently spoke with Comic Book Curious and you should check out that article is you wanna hear more about what all that entails!)
As part of that mission, every month at our San Diego studio we host a ‘Comic Savvy’, a community event that brings together students, professionals, retailers and fans; parents curious about our classes stop in with their kids to ask questions and pick up free comics, students swing by to borrow comics and graphic novels (and man, we’ve got quite a library!) or share work that they just finished and surprise guests or reporters swing by to get a feel for this awesome space.
Our most recent Comic Savvy was at the end of January, and it was a great mix of discussions about recent comics and collections, punctuated by an appearance by Jackie Estrada herself! Who’s Jackie Estrada? Well, Jackie Estrada is, if I may be so bold, comic royalty. A publisher, editor, convention organizer, and photographer, Jackie Estrada is also Lead Administrator of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards (The Eisners, as they’re known in the industry). Every year, she takes on the herculean task of selecting judges, accepting nominations from publishers big and small, and coordinating every detail of the award ceremony itself, which is held at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday night of the convention.
As the sun began to set on the College Area, the studio cleaned and ready for visitors, the shelves dusted and the staff cleaning and making last minute preparations, I looked out towards bustling El Cajon Boulevard and past the constant flow of cars rushing east and west along the road. This was during that rarest of stretches, when San Diego is blessed with a bit of rain, and there was precipitation in the air and a decent fog hanging in the night.
I stood, looking out through stacks of comics and toys and pop culture ephemera acting as studio decorations. Like in a movie (or a comic!), a shadowy figure emerged, crossing the street, holding two very full bags. It was Jackie Estrada and she was here at this Comic Savvy to meet with two other Eisner judges and to share and exchange materials, everything from single issues to large, prestige-format graphic novels.
If the idea of the Comic Savvy was to make the art form and the prestige of comics accessible and present for San Diego, that would be a wonderful notion (I think), but the Comic Savvy is meant to be, in a complimentary way, the exact opposite of that as well! As comics grew and expanded its styles and focuses over the decade, it found more and more acceptance in the culture and in the arts; at first, maybe a tiny crumb of respect, now not much more, but I’d say at least a crouton! However, in this rush to be “taken seriously” the young readers and potential creators who formed the original backbone of readership and then early creators… well, they began to be left behind. Lamentations could be heard far and wide of “Why don’t kids read comics” and “superheroes are too dark for kids to read and readership will soon dry up!”.
Enter the young adult graphic novel revolution of a decade ago. We’ll elaborate at a future date on the ins and outs of this (hey, this sounds like an article for a future date, dear reader!) but long story short… Raina Telgemeier and Dav Pilkey. Smile. Sisters. Dog Man. Cat Kid Comic Club. If you don’t know these books, your nieces and nephews, and all their friends, do! Selling in the millions every year, Telgemeier and Pilkey have brought young creators back to comics, and it’s important that they have a space to create, learn and grow.
One such young creator and comic fan was at the Comic Savvy this particular night, and her family had come to check out the studio and get a sense of what Little Fish had to offer. Not content to just listen to adults drone on and on about arts education (and fair enough!), she was here to create.
Little Fish is nothing without its amazing staff, board of directors, volunteers and community partners. On a micro level, this meant that our board’s vice president Mark Habbeger was here tonight as well, and he brought a whole set of pencils, pens and art tools. He offered to lend them to this young artists and she happily spent the remainder of her time there working and creating; she drew but she also asked questions about the tools, what they were, where she could by them… all the questions that we all have when we start any hobby, and the kind of question that Little Fish is built to answer, and that a community event like the Comic Savvy is specifically designed to embrace.
We’ll let the aforementioned Mark Habbeger have the last word on what makes these events so awesome. "I find that Comic Savvy events are a great way to spend time with other comics fans in an environment that stimulates a fun discussion... Or maybe an enthusiastic debate! The topic is usually pop culture oriented, but it can definitely veer off into a million tangents, just like any great conversation among friends."
About the Author: Alonso is a third generation San Diegan who has always had a passion for the comic artform in all its various styles, genres, and purposes. He is an active comic professional, a 2021 Eisner Comic Industry Judge, and founder of Little Fish Comic Book Studio.
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