After years of experience at major companies like Scholastic and Diamond, Janna Morishima is now an agent specializing in cartoonists, illustrators, and other roles related to comics creation. She’s an excellent person to learn from, especially for new creators of kids comics. As such, she’s lending her expertise in the form of Kids Comics Intensive, an online learning program aimed at helping graphic novelists build their career. Enrollment ends Sunday, May 31, at 8pm ET, so don’t wait!

Having co-founded Scholastic’s Graphix imprint, worked with groundbreaking kids’ comics creators like Jeff Smith, Raina Telgemeier, and Kazu Kibuishi, and fostered a community for kids’ comics creators in the form of Kids Comics Unite, Janna’s passion towards comics for young readers speaks for itself. But even she couldn’t have predicted how eager creators were to share that passion!

Greg Silber: How did you develop the idea to start a masterclass specifically about kids’ comics?

Janna Morishima: I’ve been wanting to teach something like Kids Comics Intensive — a long-form, hands-on course about how to build a career as an author/illustrator/graphic novelist — for a very long time. Most people who know me would agree, I think, that I love to teach. I just get very excited about helping people see the big picture and then develop the habits and strategies that will enable them to make faster progress.

I’m not sure I could have taught this class a while ago, though. It’s really the culmination of life experience: I spent the first half of my career in corporate publishing, working for very big companies that occupy large sections of the book/comics market (Scholastic and Diamond Book Distributors). And then I spent the second half of my career as a “creative solopreneur,” working with my husband (who’s a photographer) and as a publishing and literacy consultant.

So what I’m doing now is putting those two phases of my career together, and helping creators take a more business-like approach to their creative work, and a more creative approach to their marketing.

I’m focusing specifically on children’s and YA graphic novelists because that’s the area where I have the greatest expertise and the widest network. And I have a huge soft spot in my heart for creators in that field, because it’s where I launched my career.

Silber: What challenges do creators face in the making of kids’ comics that may be less of an issue with more adult fare? How does this class prepare creators for such a unique publishing landscape?

Morishima: The number one factor that differentiates the children’s market from the adult market is the importance of “gatekeepers.” In the adult market, when you’re marketing and selling books or comics, you’re marketing and selling to the end consumer.

In the children’s market, you’re not. You’re marketing and selling to parents, librarians, teachers — the people who will put the books into kids’ hands. So you have to sell to them, but the end product — the graphic novel — isn’t for them, it’s for the kids.

In the Kids Comics Intensive program, part of the focus will be on getting very clear about the specific part of the market for which you’re creating your work, and then getting to know that niche really, really well. That means immersing yourself in reading recent books in that niche; learning who the “influencers” and movers-and-shakers are; and figuring out how your own voice fits into the conversation.

Silber: Besides your agency, Janna Co., you’re also the founder of Kids Comics Unite, from which Kids Comics Intensive extends. How did that group come to be? And how will the Intensive program differ from the experience creators get from being part of the Kids Comics Unite community?

Morishima: I started a “Kids Comics Meetup” last fall, which was an in-person meetup aimed at children’s graphic novel professionals. I quickly realized that it would be great if there were an online place for people from the meetup to continue the conversation even when they weren’t in the same room together.

Sort of on a whim, I started Kids Comics Unite to be that place. It was only a couple months later that the coronavirus crisis hit, and when that happened, I started offering a weekly Office Hour for creators, which was a very open-ended Zoom call where we could get together to talk shop, boost each other’s spirits, and share ideas. 

The Office Hour has been hugely popular and Kids Comics Unite has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past couple months. It currently has 216 members and I’m getting new requests to join every day. This really took me by surprise!

Hosting the Office Hour made me realize that there really was a strong need for the structured program that I’ve been imagining for the past few years. Since following my gut instinct has been working out so well, I decided to launch the program. :)

Kids Comics Intensive is extremely different from Kids Comics Unite. Kids Comics Unite is a free private community where creators can hang out and share ideas and resources. Kids Comics Intensive is a highly structured, paid program within a discrete timeframe, with very specific lessons and goals. The idea is to help creators make a quantum leap forward in their creative work and in reaching their audience.

If you’re curious to find out more about Kids Comics Intensive, you can watch a recording of the free masterclass I offered this past Wednesday. The recording will be available on YouTube at this link until Tuesday, June 2:

I also created a massive FAQs document about Kids Comics Intensive because I was getting so many questions about it, and I thought it would be easier to just compile them in one place!

Silber: Who would be best suited to enroll in your class? What can they expect from the curriculum and structure?

Morishima: The class is aimed at writers and artists who want to create graphic novels for kids or young adults. Because it will be very interactive and hands-on, it’s appropriate for both relative beginners and people who’ve got more experience. We already have a wide range of experience in the people who’ve signed up — some are newbies, and others have several published books already.

The curriculum covers 12 weeks, which is broken into three main sections of 4 weeks each:

  • Your Creative Work
    • Kickoff and The Big Picture
    • Prioritizing Your Creative Work
    • The Storytelling Craft
    • Visual Storytelling Fundamentals
  • Your Website and Branding
    • Author/Illustrator Marketing and Branding Fundamentals
    • Your Website
    • Your Blog and Email Marketing
    • Understanding the Industry and Finding Community
  • Connecting with Your Ideal Audience
    • Developing Confidence and a Positive Mindset
    • Planning Social Media and Outreach
    • Building Your Team and Getting Published
    • Making Money and Diversifying Your Income Stream

Since this is the first time I’m offering the program, the syllabus is flexible; I’ll be communicating constantly with the program participants to make sure that the lessons focus on the areas where they most need help. So it might evolve as we go.

Silber: As an agent, you have a great deal of experience in the business side of the comics industry, especially kids’ graphic novels. What’s something you think everyone should understand about comics publishing, but they may not know if they’ve mostly focused on the creative end?

Morishima: So much depends on your mindset! This is something that took me many years to learn. I’ve seen incredibly talented people struggle to reach their full potential, and then I’ve seen other people, who may have had less innate talent, eventually achieve remarkable success simply by working incredibly hard, not giving up, and finding kindred spirits to help them along the way.

If you’re interested in enrolling in Kids Comics Intensive, you just have to join Kids Comics Unite, and then click the “Courses” button in the left sidebar.