Stan Yan couldn’t believe this was the 50th San Diego Comic-Con, and his EIGHTEENTH year of exhibiting! And, while he didn’t exceed his record sales from last year, there were a lot of things that made this particular year particularly special.
Firstly, his good friend and fellow Cuddlefish, Kaz Windness, who was debuting her convention exclusive edition of Mother Goth Rhymes, invited him to participate in a panel about horror in comics, which Stan said was great fun, and featured comics legend, Trina Robbins!
Secondly, there were fun meals with friends almost every night, including some with Kaz, her agent Timothy Travaglini, kidlit superstar, Salina Yoon and her phenomenal artist husband, Christopher Polentz!
Thirdly, although revenues weren’t up, he was extremely happy to say that he sold 37 copies of There’s a Zombie in the Basement this year (not to mention almost 200 buttons and stickers)! GO STAN!!!
Of course, he doesn’t want to understate how many great caricature customers there were! He received 40 zombie, pony, and other character commissions (62 subjects), finishing 31 (50 subjects), and will attempt to finish and ship the remaining drawings to folks over the next two weeks. Sounds like Stan is going to be a busy guy!
When we get to a certain age, I think most of us forget that when we were kids we totally knew what was going on. Sure, maybe we didn’t really understand that raunchy song that played on the radio… and sure, maybe we didn’t totally get why we cried when mean words were thrown at us. But we felt the joy in the music and we felt the pain in the words. So why is it that so many adults think that kids media needs the information to be dulled down for kids to understand it? Why do adults think kids aren’t paying attention to the world around them?
Dulling (or dumbing) down information is when we take ideas and words and make them simple and easy.
Distilling information is when we take ideas and words and make them more precise and effective.
This is the difference that children’s book authors and illustrators must keep in mind when making books for kids.
I write and illustrate a series of nonfiction picture books called the If Animals Disappeared books. These books take a look at the trophic cascade in various ecosystems and the cause and effects that the elimination of a keystone species can have on our planet. This series takes a lot of research and distilling the information can often leave me with a headache. When writing them, I keep this idea of “dulling versus distilling” ever-present in my mind. If I dull the information, it will make the science less effective and the story has little impact. However, if I distill the information, it will make the point hit home harder and inspire change in the hearts and heads of readers. While both dulling and distilling are forms of shortening complicated information and topics when you distill the information you keep the impact.
Example from If Elephants Disappeared (written and illustrated by Lily Williams, published by Roaring Brook Press September 17th, 2019)
Dulling: “African Elephants are important to their environment in a lot of ways because they are a keystone specifies. Because of this, it is necessary to keep them alive.”
Distilling: “Elephants are a keystone species, which means that their actions — from walking to eating, to pooping to sleeping — shape their environment. Without keystone species, the ecosystems they live in, such as African tropical forests, would change dramatically.”
I have read my books aloud at a lot of bookstores and I have not encountered one single kid to not understand the concept and the impact that we have on our planet, because my words are distilled (not dulled). Once we finish reading my books, most kids want to write to their representatives and help save the animals and their ecosystems. Young readers understand the importance of the animals and the cause and effect eliminating them has on our planet as a whole through carefully distilled word choices and effective illustrations. They understand that these animals are endangered and I am able to help them process what it means to be endangered and how that could eventually affect them at home. Giving kids the information and tools to make positive impacts on our planet, helps empower them as young people.
It is important to know that contrary to the way kids react to my books, many adults find my books to be any variety of “too upsetting” and “too advanced” for children. To them I say, you must not be talking to kids like they are people too. Kids hear the news, listen to their parents, overhear conversations in public, and know that topics like climate change are real (the topic of If Polar Bears Disappeared); however, if we do not give kids the tools to understand the long term impacts of their actions and honor them enough to give them the space to process the information… What are we doing and why are we doing it?
This is why it is important to distill the information rather than dull it down. The kids are listening and reading, they are growing and finding their identities every single day. We owe it to them to empower them with effective information to make better, more educated, choices as they continue to grow up and find their place in this world.
Cuddlefish member, Kaz Windness just got back from San Diego Comic-Con and has earned the affectionate nickname of “sell-out.” Why?
Here she is at the Hermes Press booth, seeing her book for the very first time. Hermes Press decked their display with a 10-foot banner featuring Stabby the Unicorn and ran a special comic-con exclusive limited edition version of Mother Goth Rhymes with a teal cover and full-color signed and numbered tip-in sheet. Mother Goth Rhymes received extra-special treatment.
This is the SDCC limited edition teal cover with signed, full-color tip-in sheet.
Hermes Press brought just over 210 copies at the conference with a special cover price of $49.99, and here Kaz is on Saturday afternoon selling the last copy! “Hermes told me this never happens,” quipped Windness. “Only Jim Davis [Garfield creator] sold every last copy. But by Saturday afternoon, we were taking orders for the special edition copies left back at the office, with free shipping, of course. Considering how many nightmares I had that I wouldn’t sell a single book, this came as a surprise and total thrill.”
On Friday afternoon, Kaz shared the panel stage with fellow Cuddlefish member, Stan Yan, and comics legend Trina Robbins for a discussion about women in horror and finding humor in the macabre, facilitated by Hermes Press founder and president, Dan Herman.
And perhaps the best thing is that Kaz’s book is officially out and pre-orders will be mailed on August 13th. You can get your copy HERE for only $24.99.
We asked Windness for any final words of advice for showing at Comic-Con.
“Bring business cards and some freebie handouts like button pins or vinyl stickers to go with a bigger ticket for-sale item. And NEVER trust natural deodorant to do the trick. It is no match for the power of Comic-Con.”
Congratulations to our sell-out, Kaz Windness, and here’s to the creepy world of Mother Goth!
As The Cuddlefish Gang is busy creating our new website (www.CuddlefishGang.com), I thought I’d take a moment to share some tips and tricks on portfolio websites, sure to hook those big fish clients.
Domain Names – Personalize it! While it’s tempting to use a free domain option (http://YourName.wixsite.com/mysite), that a sure sign of an amateur. Free web addresses are bulky, hard to remember, and look terrible on print marketing. – Choose an easy-to-remember domain name. Your name is your brand, so use it! YourName.com or YourNameArt.com is going to be a lot easier to remember than something obscure, no matter how cute it is. – Buy and forward your other names. If you’re like me, you go by both a nickname (Kaz) and your given name (Karen). I own all my names and I forward them to my website: WindnessBooks.com. Why WindnessBooks.com you ask? I lost KarenWindness.com for a couple years because I forgot to renew the domain and the domain thief wanted $400 for it! Don’t be like me. Set up an auto-renew!
Name Logo On the subject of names, many illustrators use a hand-drawn version of their name for branding. This is great for personalizing websites and social media, too!
Hosting with the Mosting I posted a survey to The Cuddlefish Gang, and here are our favorite portfolio website providers: Squarespace, WordPress, Wix, or build-it-yourself.
Lily K. Williams says: I use WordPress because it has video hosting, and that is basically it. However, in the last two years, they have really made it easier to use. I pay a lot for the business package though, so maybe that’s the only reason I think it’s worthwhile. If you don’t need video hosting (and can just upload a link from Youtube) and are more comfortable with a different hosting site, then go for it! I will say I do like the fact that I can have a blog, portfolio website, and store all in one place. But I think you can do that with most of them now. So chose what’s easiest and what you don’t have to learn!
David Deen‘s approach: I use a WYSIWYG program called Magix and then manually upload the files to my web host (Lunarpages). I used to write the HTML code in a text editor, and then later used a hand-written Perl script to make changes to all the pages at once, but as the web got more complicated, that became less and less feasible. So now I use the WYSIWYG editor. What can I say? I’m old school! (And I’m cheap, too!)
Dustin Resch adds: I recommend people use a builder these days (10 or 15 years ago I’d have punched myself in the mouth for saying that, those things are trying to put me out of a job) – I find Squarespace and others to be really easy to use. I’ll always do some extra template customization, part because I’m extra picky about websites, part just because I can, for me it’s like a cook reading a recipe and ad-libbing ingredients based on experience.
Templates Chose a template with a clean portfolio-forward display option. Wix has a design option specifically for illustrators. Squarespace’s Wexley, Avenue, Wells, or Flatiron templates are all good choices. The main thing is to show potential clients (HELLO PUBLISHERS!) your art right away. No landing pages, no cropped click-through images, no messy backgrounds, just bold, fabulous in-your-face art! White backgrounds with clean and simple navigation for the win.
What should be on your website? ART: But only your best work and only work that pertains to your targeted market. Quality over quantity. And if you enjoy painting simple baby board book stuff and highly rendered realistic chapter book illustrations, too, separate that work in different categories. We know you can do many things well, but if you mix it all together, it gives the impression that you are scattered and it’s hard for the client to zone in on exactly what they want to hire you for.
Unlike printed portfolios, your website can feature a lot of artwork. Just be sure you’re proud of everything in your portfolio and updating with new work regularly. And if you hate drawing something, don’t show samples of it! Murphy’s Law guarantees that your one tortured bicycle piece will land you a gig drawing lots and lots of bikes.
CONTACT INFO: Include a contact page that features your social media handles (live links are best) and at least one easy way to find you. I use my email address and I’ve spelled it out (karenwindness (AT) gmail.com) to avoid any potential bot fishing. I check this email account every day so I won’t miss an interested client. Also, I hate talking on the phone, so I don’t include my number on my web or other marketing materials. I wouldn’t answer if you called, so why would I advertise that number?
ABOUT YOU: Publishers are hiring a person and a personality just as much as they are hiring you for your talents. They want to work with illustrators they connect with. Include a photo of yourself and a short bio. Talk about your niche/focus and include some personal interesting tidbits, too.
Optional but good to have pages are: links to your blog, merchandise (print-on-demand store), published books for purchase, book projects, and events.
In conclusion, I hope you find these web tips helpful! If you’d like to add tips of your own or think I’ve forgotten something, please chime in and leave your comments below.
And be sure to follow The Cuddlefish Gang everywhere on the interwebs!
Welcome to The Cuddlefish Gang blog! We have a full calendar of inspiring content lined up for you, so stay tuna’d! We know you’ll be hooked on our tips and tricks for children’s book illustrators as well as fun interactive materials for kids and educators. Plus there’s no scaling back on the fish puns here!
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We are Colorado-based CUDDLEective of children’s book author-illustrators, passionate about creating and promoting inspiring content for children, teachers, and fellow kidlit creatives. AnyFin is possible when we swim together!