This is expanding a bit on some earlier thoughts about comic cons, found right here. Or you could just scroll down, since it’s the last thing I posted. I’m sure you understand how “weblogs” work. It’s been ten years now. The basic premise is about rethinking the structure of gatherings for comics fans, professionals, etc…and reimagining how they could look within the context of the world of Unconferences.

I recently spent the better part of a week training in designing and facilitating gatherings for people thanks to a micro-grant from the ROI Community, so it felt like an opportunity to apply some of that thinking towards planning my dream comic con. This is a first draft.

If it ever becomes a real thing, you’re all invited!

(No, you’re not.)

The setting: A hotel/conference center with multiple break-out spaces, ballroom-type rooms for large gatherings, solid rooms for panels, perhaps at least one room with circular seating. Also: good spots for screenings. Oh, and a bar.

Timing: At least 2.5-3 days, preferably over a weekend.

Target Population: 150-200 participants, representing a diverse range of people within the comics world/community/whatever. Ideally, this would involve equal numbers of fans, creators (indie, corporate and otherwise), editors, publishers, retailers, journalists/bloggers, and anyone else that I might have missed.

Read on for the schedule. I recommend clicking the links to methodologies, otherwise much of what I’m proposing here won’t make much sense. Assume that breaks, meals, and the ability to move freely at any time are built into the program.

Day One: Starts Mid to Late Afternoon

Opening Keynote – I’m not particularly fond of frontal speeches, but in this case I think it’s necessary in order to set the stage for the gathering. Nothing too long or boring, but rather to get the group on board with what will be taking place in the coming days.

Icebreaker (for lack of a better term) – What is needed is one big wall and whole mess of Post-It Notes in three different colors, let’s say red, yellow, and green. Each participant receives one red, three yellow, and five green. Instructions are as follows:

  • Everyone writes their all-time favorite comic on the red note
  • Everyone writes their three all-time favorite comics on the yellow notes
  • Everyone writes their five all-time favorite comics on the green notes
When the whole group is done, they place their Post-Its on the big wall by color. Once the wall is filled, everyone can simply take a look around to get a sense of the many interests in the room. These will stay on the wall for the duration of the gathering. Variation: do the same, but with favorite creators.
Evening – two options:
  • Pecha Kucha Comics Style: A night of presenting ideas for the comics world. This can be anything from ideas for books, new publishing models, ideas for digital formats, etc…The standard is that each presenter gets 20 slides for 20 seconds each, moving forward in content when slides are changed, for a total of 6 minutes, 40 seconds. The timing and slide stuff is flexible.
  • Film Fest: Comics people tend to also be pretty solid film people. Set up a night of screenings based on film titles pre-submitted and voted upon by participants.

Day Two

Morning: Panels & Skill Sessions – I have nothing against panels, I think they’re pretty great. I just don’t want it to be the only programming around. The only rule for the panels is that they’re talking about craft and relevant issues; promotional panels are forbidden. The other piece is “Skill Sessions”: if participants have particular skills that they want to share and teach, whether it’s scripting/writing/inking/marketing/managing/what have you, then they can propose and lead sessions of their own. I’m thinking 2-3 slots of 75-90 minute sessions.

Midday: Marketplace and Art Jam – I like those spontaneous events where artists just be all drawing crazy things upon prompting from the audience. Good times for everyone. It’s also a good time for classic vendor stuff, but in a limited capacity. Open up a ballroom space for sellers for like 2-3 hours. People have every right to want to get their buy on, it just shouldn’t be the focal point of the gathering.

Afternoon: Open Space – This is what I wrote about in my original post. At this point, the agenda is put into the hands of the participants, to host conversations about comics that they generate themselves. Throughout the experience, people are free to move in between conversations when they want. The best timing for this is at least three hours, containing two slots lasting 45 minutes long. Depending on the number of participants (150-200), there can be between 15-25 conversations taking place at any given time.

Evening: Storytelling – People in the comics world, they got stories about the comics world. I’d just like a night of people performing them for the whole crowd, that’s all. I think it would be a lot of fun.

Day Three

Morning: Samoan Circle/Fishbowl – Let’s do one panel discussion for the whole group, but in a way that anyone can participate if they like. It starts with four people sitting in an inner circle, with the rest of the participants silently sitting in a circle watching them. The facilitator starts by offering a question to the inner circle for discussion, and can bring in new questions whenever he/she likes. At any point in the conversation, if someone from the outer circle wants to join the conversation, all they need to do is “tap out” one of the people from the inner circle and take that spot. The questions for discussion could be anything about comics, the culture, and the industry. They can either be solicited from participants in advance of the gathering, or be generated during the first two days.

Alternative: World Cafe - The variation here is that it engages all participants in continuous conversation about a set of relevant questions, but it also gives everyone the ability to be jotting down notes on the tables throughout. The potential here is that if you have a lot of artists in the room, then you might end up with some really interesting stuff on the tables.

Midday/Closing: Vision Circle: This is a piece where there would need to be smaller groups, but it would essentially be a rotating series of conversations in which participants imagine what the next year will look like for comics and articulate that to their partners. So they would start by saying “It’s 2014 and it’s been an amazing year for comics…” As the event draws to a close, it’s an opportunity for participants to think positively about what they hope to see from comics in the future and to hear the different ideas that emerge from that.

The closing would simply be a debrief on the final exercise and the entire experience as a whole (gotta sharpen this final piece some more). A couple more things I’d add are little tweaks to the whole space to engage people in-between sessions. I’d ask everyone to bring a bunch of comics that they’d like to get rid of, and create a temporary Lending Library/Reading Room that is housed within the gathering. At the end of the event, people take what they want. I’d also make sure to give artists the ability to draw on the walls all over the place.

That’s what I’ve got for now. More at some point in the future. Always curious to hear people’s thoughts if anyone still reads this thing.