Every winter for the past six years, a local comic book shop in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, turns into an art gallery for a few weeks. And the pieces showcased within are very special. Not because they are original comic book art or signed pieces from famed comics artists, but because they are all created by kids.
The rules are simple: kids in middle school or younger can submit one piece of hangable art to the store. The art gets returned to the kids after the exhibit, assuming it doesn’t get sold.
I had a chance to chat with Andrew Neal, the owner of Chapel Hill Comics where the Kids’ Art Show takes place. I asked him a few questions about the origins of the show and his own experiences as both a child artist and a grown-up one.
GeekDad: This year marks the sixth Kids’ Art Show at Chapel Hill Comics. Way back in 2005, what gave you the idea to get kids to submit artwork and turn your store into a gallery for young artists?
Andrew Neal: I had the idea simply because I am a big fan of art by kids. Kids are rarely encumbered by the same self-consciousness that is present in so many grown-ups, so kids’ art is less likely to be worked and reworked to the point where it loses its fun and spontaneity.
GD: What was the reception like for that first show? And since then, how has the event changed?
AN: The reception for the first show was a huge success. The kids were excited, the parents were excited, and the customers who showed up to talk to the artists were all excited. The event hasn’t changed much — we still put a bunch of kids’ art up on the walls and invite folks in to talk to the artists and possibly buy their stuff. The biggest two changes we’ve made are that we only accept one piece per kid now, and that we no longer accept art submitted by teachers. Both changes were to ensure that we have enough room on the walls for everyone who wants to participate.
GD: Your store is colorful and clean and friendly. Even though we all know that kids aren’t the only ones reading comics these days, how important are the young’uns to the comic book business and to your store?
AN: They’re a very important part of the business. Many of our best-selling books are sold to kids or as gifts for kids. Among our best-selling series are Bone, Tintin, Calvin and Hobbes, Amulet, and Babymouse. Kids are very important to us as a retail store because kids who read grow up to be grown-ups who read, and who are more likely to shop for themselves or for their own kids once they are grown. I learned to read on comics and am still a voracious reader of both comics and prose.
GD: A lot of people — especially kids — are turning more and more to digital devices for their entertainment. Many even access their comic books via digital readers. How does a local store devoted to “analog” books offer a unique experience? How do you make sure that comics fans leave their houses and their internet connections once in awhile to stop by the store?
AN: Our presentation is very important. We keep the place clean and pretty, and our staff is made up of folks whose goal is to match the reader to the comic, rather than simply selling the flavor of the month. We sell flavors of the month, too, of course, but the best way to get someone to come back is to sell them something they enjoy. It’s very rewarding to hear, “You recommended the Bone series for my kids, and they loved it. Where should we go next?”
GD: That’s definitely one of the reasons why we love stopping by. Your staff is friendly and knowledgable and the store is such a comfortable place to be. What else is coming up for Chapel Hill Comics in the near future?
AN: Right now, we’re just making it through the holiday season a day at a time. This is our biggest sales month of the year due to gift sales, and it takes all our efforts just to try to keep everything in stock that we need! I keep telling myself I’m done with orders for the year, but I have to keep reordering things I thought I’d ordered to last into 2012.
GD: What about you? How did art and drawing impact you as a child? How does it continue to impact you as an adult?
AN: I was encouraged by my mom to be creative from a very early age, and went on to get a BFA in painting and printmaking. After buying the store in 2003, I began to focus most of my creative energies into the business, but eventually began to really miss drawing and have recently gotten back into the creation of visual art again. I’m currently curating and creating art for a web-based art project called AlphaBeasts, in which folks draw monsters every week corresponding with a letter of the alphabet.
Thanks to Andrew for answering my questions and for putting on such a great exhibit. The Kids’ Art Show is accepting submissions through Thursday, December 15 at Chapel Hill Comics at 316 W. Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. Read the guidelines before submitting.
The show itself opens on Saturday, December 17, with a reception from 4pm until 7pm, including a meet and greet with the artists. The show runs through the end of the month. Follow Chapel Hill Comics on Twitter for more information.