All Ages

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Read Like a Kid - Grampa and Julie

Grampa and Julie: Shark Hunters
by Jef Czekaj
128 pages, full-color
published by Top Shelf Productions


On the first day back to school, Julie presents a report on what she did over her summer vacation. Dragging a literal tome up to the podium she begins to recount her adventures with her grandfather and their quest to find Stephen, the largest shark in the world. Along the way they meet up with rapping squirrels, pirates who use cellphones, an alien scientist-monster and more in this first all ages graphic novel from Top Shelf.

The strength of Grampa and Julielies in its frenetic style. The constant unexpected plot twists and weird lack of story logic really work here -- it's like listening to an actual kid tell a story with all of its bizarre tangents and exaggerations. The book is also packed with what I like to call "groan" humor -- it's the kind of jokes that make adults cringe but kids absolutely love it. Remember there's no such thing as a cliche for a child. While Grampa and Julie is far from closely following curriculum, there are a few instances where Czekaj drops in science concepts and terms that most kids between the ages 8 and 12 would probably know. It totally enhances the reading experience here for a kid to either think "hey, I just learned that in school the other day" or "cool, I didn't know that before." Sometimes I feel like a broken record writing here, constantly harping on a good 4 or 5 key elements all kids comics should have. Probably one of the most important of these is large, easy-to-follow panels and Czekaj's book exceeds at that. And while the larger trim size may be a bit wonky for booksellers (publishing kids books is all about maintaining uniform formats and sizes to make things easier for bookstores), it encourages a clear reading experience, especially for a kid who may not have read comics ever before.

SPX!

I'm piling in a car with Chris Butcher (of comics.212.net), Bryan O'Malley (of Scott Pilgrim fame), Kean, Hope & Vera (from Image's Flight Anthology) and Jason (of Hey, Wait fame and the equivalent in comics to Cher, but much more quiet but equally talented) for 9 hour drive to Bethesda, Maryland for the Small Press Expo. Jose Villarubia has promised me a night of frolic and dancing on Saturday so I'm thinking this is already going to a be a great time.

Juicy details to come on Monday...

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Very Big Monster Show preview

It looks like everyone's trying their hand at all ages projects. IDW will be publishing a 56-page one shot called The Very Big Monster Show by Steven Niles and Butch Adams. CBR has a preview and a short interview with the writer.

"'The Very Big Monster Show' is about a little kid who discovers the old, classic monsters," said Niles. "They're basically out of work, unemployed and have been run out of town by the new monsters - the bloody, scary, stabbing type of monsters. This kid tries to help them get back on their feet and show them that they're capable of being scary again.

My initial thoughts? Great premise but I think the cover and artwork are a bit too painterly "IDW-style." Black panel borders and a dark pallete detract from the light and very appealing concept.

I'll definitely try to do a full-review after reading it though.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Adrian Tomine in Toronto

My friend Chris Butcher urged the Toronto comics community to come out to support Harborfront's first graphic novel creator as part of their yearly reading series. As he says in the post linked above, this is a pretty big accomplishment and definitely a step towards a more mass recognition for graphic novels and comics in general.

The crowd: Plentiful, which was a nice surprise -- stylish EMO kids, publishing folk, Chester Brown

The content: Tomine read excerpts from the introduction of his latest book Scrapbook, which is a collection of unused material, sketches, commercial artwork and strips published in other venues. Some of this material was projected onto a screen.

The mood: Tomine was humble, slightly self-deprecating but not too much to be annoying. He was smart to pick humorous strips that received quite a few laughs from the crowd. All-in-all I think he was well received.

And something more to look forward to from Harborfront -- Art Speigelman will be here next month.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Newsarama posters think kids are starved for comics

I'm feeling a bit like Graeme doing this. Every few months or so the online comics community screams out loud how kids are the key to saving comics.

"It was fun being with all the kids and seeing their excitement but kinda sad too. I know there is a small collection of stuff available at Target, and Marvel is trying to get stuff out there for kids, but the truth is that kids would buy this stuff up like crazy if they had better access to it -- and if there was more geared toward them."

"[A shelf of comics] is now the most popular with the kids in class, my wife says its usually bare by the end of the day, with kids begging to take them home. I would think Marvel and Dc would do some kind of reading program with schools."

"I wish Impulse and Young Justice hadn't been cancelled! My little sister loves them... Now the Johnny DC comics are too young for her, and the new Teen Titans comic is too old!"

"Again, if these little bastards can buy all those freaking yu-gi-oh cards, they can buy comic books. i always hear that manga is really popular with the kids these days (i feel so old). anyone know what the price is like on the books these kids are buying? are they notably cheaper than the traditional comics we buy?"

" think the real obstacle to kids reading comics, besides the "cool" factor, isn't price, it's accesibility. besides a comic shop, where can kids get comics? some places have the spinner rack, but there needs to be more than that. bookstores aren't the answer. what kid honestly even goes into a bookstore? i know i sure as hell didn't growing up."

A bit like an old, skipping broken-record don't you think? Can we please move away from all of the following message board rants:
- Comics need to be back in grocery stores -- No, comics need to adapt to the book market and piggyback onto the recent successes of the children's book industry and to get parents on board with the format
- Comics have to compete with other forms of entertainment for children -- Yes, but it's just not as dire as everyone seems to make it out to be -- kids are still buying books and I see sales results first hand
- Comics need to be cheaper -- No, comics need to abandon the pamphlet format and provide value at equivalent price points to chapter books that parents buy for their children
- DC and Marvel have ALL the answers -- Sorry, too jaded here
- Comics need to be "cool" -- No, they just need to speak to their intended audience and tell a good story

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Zoe preview

My friend Jon Ellis of Popimage sent me a link a couple weeks ago pointing to a new kids graphic novel called Zoe to be published by Mad Yak Press in Summer 2005. Known for publishing an annotated guide to the Invisibles, Mad Yak has quickly carved out a place in the market for themselves as a small publisher with exceptional production values and design. I mean, what indy company starts out publishing full-color, original graphic novel material with spot lamination on their covers. Not very many.

From Mad Yak's site:
With the discovery of a long-lost uncle, young Zoe moves out of an orphanage and into a fantastic lighthouse. But pirate neighbors, supernatural schoolchildren and a miniature dragon pale in comparison to the seemingly criminal machinations of her newfound family. Can Zoe and her friends get to the bottom of a mystery that threatens to end in robot domination of the world?

I was pretty impressed after reading the 13-page preview. This book could really end up being one of those break-out graphic novels for kids. And while the concept of a school with supernatural children has been done before in kids lit, the strength of the preview lies with the extremely appealing art and character design, the sharp pacing and comedic timing and the sense of scope in the artwork--Zoe is truly a little girl and this is emphasized by the sheer size of the objects and adults around her. Definitely looking forward to reading the book in its entirety.

Read Like a Kid

Everyone seems to have a snazzy title for their reviews and now I do too! What do you think? One of the challenges in publishing good comics for kids is looking beyond nostalgia and contrived sophistication to create a book that will engage and speak to kids on their level. In essence, you really do need to read like a kid.

I promised Jen DeGuzman back in June when I met her at BEA that I'd review Emily and the Intergalactic Lemonade Stand so here's the first in long queue of reviews that I'll be posting periodically here. If you have a kids book (comics related or otherwise) that you'd like me to review please email me.

Emily and the Intergalactic Lemonade Stand
by Ian & Tyson Smith
96 pages, full-color
published by SLG


Emily spends her spare time selling lemonade to save up for the thing she wants more than anything in the world--a pony! Luckily she owns a robot that's one part lemonade juicer, but he's also one part perfect weapon and the Government won't stop until they have him. Throw in an intergalactic invasion, a rival friend and cute, but deadly, stranded alien and you have this latest graphic novel from Slave Labor Graphics.

Initially I had convinced myself that the Smith brothers had made a grave mistake in making the protagonist of a robot book female. Boys like robots, not girls right? This reaction is mostly informed by working in Book Clubs where most of the sales results we see are so gender-specific, or we assume they are. Girls like kittens and puppies and boys like cars and monsters. But after reading the entire book, I quickly realized the robot really wasn't the main focus but rather the experiences of a typical 10 year old little girl--the jealousy of a school rival, unexpected crushes, making hard 10 year old girl choices and realizing that the thing you really want might not be worth losing something else more important.

Emily is just a great package overall -- bold, bright colors, a 'Nickelodeon' feel to the book with its wacky sense of humor, great comedic timing and cute character design, and good messages that don't hit you over the head. It definitely earns its place in a start-up graphic novel library collection for kids.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Board books and Art Spiegleman

A board book is a sturdy, cardboard edition of classic children's picture books durable enough for toddlers who like to chew on things. Generally running between 20 to 32 pages, board books were popularized by authors like Margaret Wise Brown, Eric Carle and Sandra Boynton.

In the Shadow of No Towers, the anticipated new book by Art Spiegleman, to my surprise, is a 42-page oversized board book. I haven't read it so shouldn't be making any grand sweeping judgements here but it's definitely an odd book design choice I had to point out.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Playing a bit of catch-up

We now return to your regularly scheduled blog about kids comics. Sorry about that folks -- was buried under a mound of work and been on vacation all this week. Recharging the body, mind and soul.

HARDY BOYS AND NANCY DREW -- A little late on this one but better late than never. Everyone and their eccentric aunt had something to say about NBM's new Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew graphic novels.

Someone in the comments section of Graham's blog had commented on why the publisher here is banking on the fact that HB and ND are such "popular established characters" and why there's such an obsession to allign them with graphic novels rather than creating new material. Sure we've been a huge resurgence of 80s properties being revived in the children's market but for the most part they've all been quite soft in terms of sales. This just seems to go against everything that Michael Chabon said in his call-to-arms speech about kids comics. We don't need more more licensed characters -- we need the efforts made in building that core list of great children's graphic novels. If you look at the breakout hits over the past 2 or 3 years most of them are wholly original. If you look at something like A Series of Unfortunate Events or Artemis Fowl or the popular Gossip Girl series. All original and not originating from media.

There definitely is a nostaliga factor in that HB and ND have going for it but the kind of nostalgia that seems to be working in kids publishing are the 'feel-good' properties, not in reimagined forms but in classic reprints like Dick and Jane. They seems to lean heavily in that classic 40's back when life was simpler or even an inspriational sense. I'm not sure if HB or ND falls in that highly popular inspirational category.

ABAZADAD -- Since the fall of CrossGen a good number of their creator-owned titles have been sitting in legal limbo. One of these such titles was ABAZADAD, a touted all ages, high fantasy comic in the vein of Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The creators, JM DeMatties and Michael Ploog are now taking CrossGen to court to revert the rights solely back to the creators.

I read one issue to see what all the online clamour was about and found some of the most common no-no's in creating kids comics. The issue was incredibly dense with text, the artwork was gorgeous yet confusing and the panel layouts hard to follow. Of course adult comics fans loved this book -- it was completely different and more slick than anything on the stands, it taps into a childhood love of fantasy and it's in direct opposition to most of the 'decompressed' comics of today. This is definitely more of the kinds of material that we should be seeing from publishers to build that afformentioned canon of kids comics, but here the work is so impenetrable I have doubts that your typical a 9 year old non-comics reader would continue to read this. Perhaps DeMatties and Ploog are creating comics for a highly literate teenager here. I just don't think it's the best place to start.