The Ann Arbor Book Festival is a wonderful event full of numerous types of programming from writers’ workshops to a vendors’ fair and events for children. Since I first moved to Ann Arbor, I’ve heard of this festival but until this summer, I was never able to participate. When the emails asking for assistance started to appear on the SI list serv, I quickly said yes, I’d like to help especially with children’s activities. The first meeting happened on a Friday morning and from the start I found myself deep in helping to think of ideas for structure about an afternoon activity based around manga and understanding narrative. One of the most fascinating parts of this planning process was the mixture of people involved in the planning, professors involved in Chinese, Japanese and childhood education alongside the tech coordinators for North Quad and students who wanted to help. You can see the wide variety of people involved here and a final breakdown of what the day looked like.
The first stages of creating Manga Mania were full of what at times felt like too many ideas and quite diverse opinions such as that we shouldn’t have too much structure or too little. A challenge happened because this was the first time this particular event had gone on and so there were no expectations of how many or what age of children to expect. The North Quad staff was helpful because they had held events in the community space before so knew what was possible within it and that helped us to build ideas around that. After much discussion, we decided to create activities that would work for all ages but aim for the eight to ten range as by observation those seemed the children most likely to appear. On the day of the event, this was true and our predictions were mainly correct. As we had a sense of the age of the children, we then had to think about the activities, here it helped that a few of the organizers had done events such as this before and knew what worked and the flexibility of the North Quad space.
We decided to create a few different stations; illustration and character creation, pop ups and 3D art, and lastly puppetry. In the end a map was created of these stations and represented them as a participant going from their house, character creation, city hall, storytelling and finally the amphitheater for puppetry, face painting and 3D art. This map didn’t fully map onto the arrangement of the room on the final day but did provide a way for children to be aware of what was available for them to do. Character creation was something that I brought up as an idea for a template that the participants could have with them and as a way to think about characters within stories. As a roleplayer in various mediums, I have a lot of experience with how creating a character can stimulate creativity and understanding of how people and stories worked.
As the focus of this activity was to be about manga and art, we planned to include a large space on the paper for drawing characters alongside some basic traits; strengths, weaknesses, name, age, zodiac sign. On the day of the event, most children were proudly carrying these templates that had been filled in off with them alongside 3D art and spoon puppets. A benefit of the space we used in North Quad is that all of the tables are covered with white board, which meant children could draw on the tables or on papers we ended up providing. This made for a relaxed event as everyone was drawing on the tables no matter their ages and sharing what they created. The day of the event things came together wonderfully as slide shows with manga and other action characters showed on screens along the walls, the artists predrew on some of the tables to make things easier and wonderfully inspiring handouts kept appearing with character ideas. The North Quad space has tickers to show words and alongside the already chosen words, character names, skills and qualities were added.
I spent most of the event at the front door where I explained what was happening and helped people find what they needed. One of the disadvantages of North Quad is that its a confusing building and since we had a clearly marked open door for the Book Festival, I fielded questions from many participants. We did have a small issue with our sign and the door but that was something we couldn’t have predicted alongside the strong wind.
I was also able to say goodbye to most of the participants and see what they had created and give them handouts to take with them so they could continue creating. It was gratifying to see how much every child enjoyed the event. I think next year this event will be even stronger as an expectation has been formed of what it is like and parents and children will remember. For me this was one of the best experiences I’ve had since it helped me to learn what it takes to bring such a large event together and what good programming looks like.