A few more SPX remnants trickling in...
One of the few panels I attended this year was the Writing for Young Readers panel with Jeff Smith (Bone
), Andy Runton (Owly
) and John Gallagher (Buzzboy
). When asked whether or not the panelists had the intent to specifically create kids comics, the three responded that they were creating the stories that they would've liked to have read when they were young. In fact, Smith commented that kids never even occured to him as an audience but he knew that if Bone was ghettoized as a kids book, especially in a time when there were very few trade paperbacks and when the hottest material out there was darker fantasy type stuff like early Vertigo books, that it would die a very quick death. In the early 90's comics for kids had no place in the Direct Market so creators didn't even consider creating material solely for kids. Of course this is a still an ongoing issue even in the market today.
Definitely one of the challenges in publishing kids comics will be overcoming this desperation to be viewed as a mature medium while at the same time being able to break out of that same desperation to create content-appropriate comics for kids. Of course, this doesn't mean dumbing down stories, which was another concern that came up in the discussion.
I ended up asking the panel whether they thought that outside influences were key in creating good kids comics, especially in a medium that so often refers back on itself. Gallagher said he prevents this by letting his wife read his scripts and pointing out any references or in-jokes that she doesn't get.
Gallagher brought up another interesting point concerning children's perception of value. He recounted a story about a kid who was questioning the price to page count ratio and how he can spend less money on a prose novel and get more story as opposed to a graphic novel which has less pages, less words but costs more. Here's another challenge -- changing the mass market's preconceived notions that art plus story has less value than just straight-up prose. Kids books stick to very similar formats across the board along with uniform pricing and the pricing of kids graphic novels needs to try and somewhat reflect this uniformity as well.
Surprisingly positive was the enthusiasm in the audience. About 70% of people in the room were interested in creating their own comics for young readers. But also there was a sense of discouragement with anecdotes told about artists being advised to draw in a more realistic style or coerced to move away from kid friendly material.
Jeff Smith pretty much ended the panel with this quote: "Kids stories should traumatize you." At first, I thought this was insane but quickly ran through the catalogue of some of the greatest kids books ever -- Charlotte's Web
, Bridge to Terabithia
, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
-- all very disturbing at times with images and feelings that have an impact on any child who reads them. Smith is definitely right -- it's these kinds of stories that stay with you forever and it's these kind of stories that need to be created in comics to fill that kids comics core list that Chabon refered to in his Eisner speech