Children’s graphic novels sell better than most book sections at The Silver Unicorn Bookstore in Acton, according to the owner Paul Swydan. Only when something like an Obama memoir is released does another section surpass its sales.
“That’s the only other time,” Swydan said.
This popularity inspired the bookstore to host its first Kids Graphic Novel Festival on Saturday, April 22. The free, day-long event will feature book signings, panels, drawing demos, and book trivia. Seventeen authors and illustrators, many of them local, will celebrate the medium of graphic novels from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The bookstore celebrated its fifth anniversary in March, and Swydan is looking to grow it by hosting events. The graphic novel festival will be its first festival and likely an annual one, Swydan said. Around 1,600 people had signed up at the time of reporting.
“The response...from publishers, from our fellow bookstores, from the public has been universally positive,” Swydan said.
The day will consist of multiple events every hour. Inside the store, visitors can watch storytimes and drawing demos from authors like Drew Brockington (“CatStronauts” series), Maddie Frost (“Go Camping”), and Maria Scrivan (“Nat Enough” series). Outside the store, there will be a tent where authors and illustrators will sign books and a stage where a variety of presentations will be held. These three areas will operate simultaneously, except at 1 p.m. when John Patrick Green, author of the “InvestiGators” series, will give a keynote address.
A stage will be set up in the shop’s parking lot, with events like the Building Your Own World and Doing It All panels, which will touch on fantasy world-building and what it’s like to be both an author and illustrator, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. respectively. At noon, Cameron Chittock will talk about “Mapmakers and the Enchanted Mountain,” a graphic novel he co-authored with Amanda Castillo, set to release April 25.
At 3 p.m., organizers from the annual Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo will host a game show called “Iron Cartoonist,” designed after the reality TV program “Iron Chef America.” In this challenge, comic artists Raúl The Third, Michelle Mee Nutter, and Tom Angleberger will receive drawing prompts, and the audience will vote for the best drawings.
“I’m going to tell my opponents...that they better come prepared because my pencils and pens, even my pens, will be sharpened for this event,” Raúl The Third, the Medford-based author of the “World of ¡Vamos!” series, said.
Children who entered the bookstore’s graphic novel cover design contest, which closed April 15, can bring their covers to the festival and get feedback from the authors and illustrators at the signing tables if they wish. “Hopefully, that’s a magical moment for kids,” Swydan said.
Jarrett Lerner, a Boxborough resident and author and illustrator of the “Hunger Heroes” series, will present at the festival and help judge the cover design contest. Lerner said children gravitate toward graphic novels because the complex combination of visuals and text can challenge their reading comprehension skills.
“When kids are moving their eyes from one panel, from one drawing and one bit of text [to] the next, there’s a lot of inferencing, a lot of making sense,” Lerner said.
According to Swydan, the graphic novel form is helpful for children of all reading levels. He compared the art form to “universal playground equipment.”
“It’s not only key for kids who can read at their grade level. It’s also super key for dyslexic kids and kids who are not as strong readers,” Swydan said.
While visitors are welcome to drift in and out of the event throughout the day, the first 400 families or groups to arrive will receive a free tote bag. For transportation, complimentary shuttle buses provided by the town of Acton will run between the bookstore, the local commuter rail station, and nearby parking lots.
Lerner said he looks forward to meeting readers at the festival.
“Kids are just going to be so excited and overjoyed to get a chance to meet these creators and also learn from them and see that they can be cartoonists just like us,” Lerner said.
Kids Graphic Novel Festival. April 22, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, 12 Spruce St., Acton. Free. silverunicornbooks.com/kids-graphic-novel-festival.
Abigail Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.