Local artists in the graphic novel arena have a chance to flex their visual storytelling abilities in an upcoming contest hosted by Imaginary Friends Design Studios.

According to the company’s CEO Jon Perry, a similar contest took place last year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic for the sake of “positive community outreach.”

“We felt that there might be some talented artists who wanted a way to express some of their work,” Perry said. “It just seemed like it would be a place where we could help foster the creative community but with the angle of commercial outreach.”

The contest has three categories: expert, for artists age 18 and older; junior, for artists 17 and younger; and collaboration, for narrative-visual artist duos. Expert and collaborative entries should be a minimum of 40 pages, conveying one to three complete stories. Junior-level entries should tell one to two stories in no less than 24 pages.

“The visual aspects are key – it has to be enticing and grab you,” Perry said. “The story and dialogue needs to be able to flow. The page and panel layout is important to pace the story and show an understanding of what may capture people’s imagination. Those are the three things that I think would make a great storybook; it’s got to have all the elements of good storytelling as well as some visual representation to capture the person’s attention, because we are in such a visual society these days.”

Story elements should not exceed an R-level rating and be free of hate speech and “illegal, illicit behavior.”

“If our company is going to be behind it, we want to make sure that it offers a certain amount of freedom; but like anything else, all freedom isn’t free,” Perry said.

ubmissions will be reviewed by a panel of judges featuring last year’s contest winner Blake Wilde, local artist Lia Littlewood and Sony Pictures Animation story artist Shawna Mills, who will select three finalists from each category to advance to a final round in which artists will have two weeks to polish and edit their material based on the judges’ feedback.

“We want to help foster what (artists) are doing right and help show them other avenues that might potentially be there,” Perry said. “That’s why that constructive feedback is going to be so important to everybody even if they’re not a finalist. And if a connection can get made and something happens five or ten years down the line, this is where it all started.”

From each pool of category finalists, one winner will be selected. These individuals will have the chance to see their stories in print via the services of Imaginary Friends’ sister company, Print Zoom. According to Perry, winners will be guided through the ins and outs of the publishing process and receive up to 50 copies of their books (along with the profits), which will be available for purchase in the company’s webstore.

“Any time we can bring notoriety to the creative side of our community, it’s a benefit,” Perry said. “‘Geek culture’ has really come up a lot over the last decade and a half to two decades. This (contest) lends into that. More people want to explore this as a viable career option, so let’s see what we can do to help them foster that. It could be an inspiration point for them to see what they can do and also ask questions about where to go and how to do things next.”

Once the contest details are finalized, additional information will be posted to the Imaginary Friends website at www.neversee.me and Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ifdstudios.

The submission deadline is slated for Oct. 1; Perry said a private Facebook group will be created for participants to join, collaborate and ask questions along the way.

“I look forward to what Yuma can produce and the creative stories that will come out of it,” Perry said. “Some of these creatives might have a story or an idea in the back of their head that they’ve just been waiting for a reason to put it down; hopefully this is that reason.”