All Ages

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Frivolous thought for the day

According to Disney's upcoming launch their new Disney Fairies product line featuring Tinkerbell and her never-seen before group of fairy friends, male fairies are known as SPARROWMEN. Hm. Ok then.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Marvel confirms 7-11 books

In a sort of piecemeal, round-about way, Marvel has confirmed the titles in their line of comics distributed in 7-11s across North America.

The line will be comprised of flip-books, the equivalent of two comic books, 64 pages each, priced at $3.99 with titles from Marvel's Ultimate line, their new all-ages Marvel Adventures line and "key" issues from the past few years including the relaunch of Avengers and the first issue of Joss Whedon's X-Men book.

As I mentioned in a previous post, most people are extremely positive about this and while I think it's a good deal in the fact that they actually got their foot in the door there, there are a few issues that really need to be addressed.

The line as it stands is marketed in the language of comics fandom. Your everyday casual reader will not understand the difference between an issue of Marvel Select and Ultimate Marvel. Give consumers Spider-Man or X-Men or even Hulk -- recognizable brands that the mass market knows from the recent movies. Hopefully these will be the prominent titles with the 'umbrella' titles having much less play on the covers. What most comics people don't get is that casual readers outside comics have no concept of Marvel as a brand, or even DC as a brand. And more importantly, they have no concept of the shared universe concept that's what makes superhero comics unique and niche as the same time. Shared universes require investment and casual readers just don't have that zeal that most hardcore fans have.

The fact that this line is made mainly made up of parts-of-a-storyline instead of stand alone stories (except for the Marvel Adventures books) seems to me that Marvel is hoping that by giving a taste to the casual reader that they will in a sense graduate from the 7-11 to the direct market comic book store. But how will they know where these stores are or whether or not they even exist?

Still no information on specific format changes, if there are any at all. In order to justify the price point here, Marvel should be making changes to the format so it stands up to like product on racks, your regular magazines and more importantly, the line's biggest competition, Shonen Jump. Perhaps a squarebound, larger trim size magazine style book with a higher quality paper for the cover, similar to the failed Ultimate magazine and the Target exclusive comics.

While content and format are important here, price is the key factor in the success of these books. $3.99 for 44 color pages of story, as opposed to Shonen Jump's 500+ b&w pages at $4.95. Will the remaining 20 in the Marvel book be ads like the comics or additional content created specifically for the line.

I hate picking on Marvel because I've been doing it a lot lately but these kinds of initiatives that have one foot firmly planted in the Direct Market and the other one firmly planted in the terms, ideas and headspace of comics fandom just seem not very well thought out to me.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Books books books...

I've had a call to arms from my pal Kevin over at Thought Balloons to participate in a bloggerific book meme that's supposed to reveal deep hidden secrets of my personality. Let's see how this goes...

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Probably Freckle Juice, because it's short and funny and would be hilarious to be called Freckle Juice.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Michael 'Mouse' Tolliver from Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City

The last book you bought is:

The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries of the Teenage Brain Tell Us About Our Kids, by Barbara Strauch

The last book you read:

Comics-wise it was Owly Vol. 2 Just a Little Blue and Yotsuba&! Vol. 1. Book-wise it was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon and The Unconquered Country, by Geoff Ryman

What are you currently reading?

The aformentioned The Primal Teen and a book I'm reviewing for work -- the 2nd book in a series called A Knight's Story, Field of Blood by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell.

Five books you would take to a deserted island.

The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende
Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin
Was, by Geoff Ryman
D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths
Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Kyle Cummings, Bryan O'Malley and Tim Fish because I know they've read good books.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Make-over!

All Ages has a brand new look! What do you think? The last template had really wonky fonts and when I'd italicize a book title the word would practically overlap the next word. It was beginning to annoy me. This new template is much more snazzy. I've also added a bunch of new links on the side including:

A few new blogs:
David Welsh's Precocious Curmudgeon
Tom Spurgeon's The Comics Reporter
Love Manga, a brand new site on all comics Japanese
Tangognat, a great site focusing on comics in libraries.

Also:
Scholastic's BONE mini-site with fun games, character profiles and lots of other good stuff
A link to the upcoming Toronto Comic Arts Festival, where I will be acting as Youth Program Co-ordinator. If you're planning on attending make sure to drop by the kids tent and say hi.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Round up!

Catching up on some of the important kids-related comics stories from the past month or so while I was on hiatus. When it rains it pours...

Marvel publishes a second Mary Jane mini-series
I was pretty hard on the first issue of the first Mary Jane series. I just couldn't see how it would really appeal to kids as a fun tween girl comic with one foot firmly planted in fanboy territory. It seems on the second shot, McKeever knows that Marvel has no idea how to push this to its intended market and has pretty much accepted it. It's a shame, McKeever can write teens and would probably do well with a project aimed at high tweens or even YA work with a publisher who knew where to place his work.

Josie and the Pussycats follows Sabrina with a manga make-over
This was a no brainer. Josie and the Pussycats are so manga-esque in the first place in their fun pop star glory, plus the cat costumes just work like a charm. Digests are an excellent plan here and I'm hoping if they're successful Sabrina will follow suit.

Franklin Richards back-up stories in the new Power Pack mini-series
Again, Marvel tries to fit a square peg into a round hole, this time emulating two popular children's entertainment themes -- the boy and his robot AND the boy genius. I'm curious to see how these back-up stories read. The artwork here and on the main Power Pack feature look very young, like Kindergarten/Grade 1 young. I'm already sensing a likely disconnect between the artwork and the stories.

Marvel teams up with 7-11s with new comic deal
Message board posters are hailing this as the best marketing idea Marvel has had in years. It's always seemed kind of obvious, hasn't it? However, didn't they try this already with the launch of the Ultimate line in a magazine format? Aren't comics already available in 7-11s? I know I've seen them in stores here in Canada. It seems like Marvel's big push here is the promise of exclusive product created for this market, except that no one knows what that product is -- format, price point and content. With an announcement as big as this, one would think that there would be a few more concrete details -- seems a bit like smoke and mirrors.

Exclusive Fantastic Four comic book hits 6000 schools nationwide
The school market is a tough nut to crack -- I know this working in it so I commend Marvel for sealing this deal. The book sounds promising too -- created with input from educators and ties into lesson plans covering reading, writing, science and math. Two issues may arise here -- how will parents feel about a comic book used to promote Marvel's upcoming movie and if they manage to dodge that bullet, there's also the possibility that kids might not even like the Fantastic Four. Coming off the heels of the Incredibles might hurt this property.

Krypto, Superman's Best Friend comes to Cartoon Network
It's Batman and Superman but as pets! Another no brainer. Expect this to get a MAJOR push for the 5 to 7 age group . The classic look to the character design here totally works.

Nickelodeon Magazine publishes the Best of Nick Comics Special
I haven't had a chance to really read through this, but it looks really great. And seeing Dave Cooper drawing SpongeBob is just such a treat for me. With this and the all-comics issue of Disney Adventures out there, comics are definitely becoming less niche and more recognized as a popular and appealing way of telling stories to kids.

Hyperion/Disney plans to publish a new line of graphic novel biographies
Librarians will be all over this and it's good to see that Hyperion is doing their research to use quality creators like Jason Lutes, James Sturm and Nick Bertozzi. The downside of this is that this still indicates to me that a lot of mainstream publishers are afraid to go headlong into the category with original fiction graphic novels. Starting with something safe like adaptations or biographies or even nonfiction is smart but definitely erring on the safe side.

Wow. Long post. And there I thought I was going to be short and sweet.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Read Like a Kid - Legendz Vol. 1

Chris beat me to it with a scathing review of the first volume of Viz's latest young readers' manga series called LEGENDZ. Chris has some great points -- the book certainly is no equivalent to most kids lit out there but I think it has its place.

Sure, LEGENDZ is unapologetic in the way that it's a manga created solely to sell the merchandise, but it's really no different than Pokemon, Beyblade, MegaMan or any other mass market type property. As well, the Tamagotchi-esque merchandise isn't available in North America...yet so we can excuse this until we start seeing LEGENDZ on the shelves at Toys R Us. What it boils down to with LEGENDZ is not from singular artistic vision, it's just another format of a media property -- this stuff is the bread and butter of children's publishing from Lizzie McGuire chapter books to Batman colour and activity. It's there for kids who have no interest in reading unless its related to the things that are in front of them on television 24/7.

With that in mind, LEGENDZ is perfect for what it is -- it's a quick, accessible book, good for reluctant readers. The characters are familiar types, the plots are simple and follow an episodic structure similar to cartoons and the action is over-the-top with lots of great visuals. There's even some decent 'teachable moments,' like bullying, self-esteem and teamwork, and as surface as they may be, they'll still have an impact on the reader.

What made me happy was the complete lack of questionable content -- no mild swearing, no panty flashes and no heavy violence, which is a rarity I find with a lot of "all ages" manga. Even with that stamp on the back, there are sometimes occasions where naughty bids have a tendency to trickle through.

Get 'em reading something, I say...

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Jeff Smith interviewed

Found this great interview with Jeff Smith that covers a lot of ground -- from the beginnings of BONE to the Scholastic deal and the projects he's currently working on. You rarely see Smith covered on the usual suspect comic book journalism websites so it's nice to see such an extensive interview by a children's/YA library specialist -- definitely aimed towards the people who need to know more about BONE to get it out there into kids' hands

I especially like this quote:

I have to say the people at Scholastic "get it;" they did not come to us the way other publishers have and say, "Well, this is an interesting story, and my kid really loves these characters, and why don't we do it right and have an illustration on one page and text on the other?" Scholastic got it. They wanted to do the books as books and treat them as books, which may or may not seem miraculous to you, but I've been talking to comic book people and book people for years now, and the idea of treating a comic book like a book—it's radical. It shouldn't be, because it is literature; you read it from right to left, top to bottom, just like a prose book. Some of the story information is in the pictures, but it's still literature. There is a language and a symbology to it that is its own. From the beginning, Scholastic never wanted to do anything except treat Bone like a book.

When nerds play board games

My friend Ian has written a hilarious article at Bookslut about the vices and virtues of Book Lover's Trivial Pursuit -- an evil, evil game that lasted for 4 to 5 hours, which seemed to go by so quickly after drinking copious amounts of wine. I cleaned up on the kids book section, while everyone else stood dumbfounded by questions like "What famous children's illustrator has written such books like the Very Quiet Cricket and the Very Hungry Caterpillar." Me answering with "Um, hello?? Eric Carle?" in my slightly tipsy valley girl-upspeak.

Ian quotes me at one point the article in regards to whether or not non-book people would find the game challenging: "I’m fine with that! Regular people have regular Trivial Pursuit and Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. For me, this is challenging.”

Yeah, keep me AWAY from this game people. Not one of my finest moments.