All Ages

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Long before Graphix...

Long before the kids manga bookstore explosion and even longer before the inception of GRAPHIX, Scholastic published a graphic novel called CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF DARK written by Newbery award winner Avi and illustrated by Brian Floca.

From his website, Avi had this to say about comic books and the creation of his own long-form comic book:

"When I was a boy I loved comic books. I read them by the ton. (I had to read the scary ones outside on the front steps. My mother would not let them in the house. When I had fantasy story that was giving me problems, I remembered comic books and began to think I could tell my tale best that way. It's something I learn over and over again, every tale has its own way of telling.

Working with skilled artist Brian Floca, we had great fun--and much hard work--putting it all together. It was wonderfully exciting to do such a book--but as I learned--very difficult. You can't just read CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF DARK, you have to look at the pictures. Nor can you just look at the pictures--you have to read the book. That was not easy to achieve."


CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF DARK has notes of Lois Lowry's The Giver as seen through Will Eisner's eyes. Set in an alternate version of Manhattan, a race of otherworldly beings known as the Kurbs have allowed the island to be inhabited only if a yearly ritual is performed that acknowledges their absolute rule. If the ritual isn't performed, Manhattan will be plunged into a deep freeze killing everyone who lives there. The ritual involves placing a magical subway token in its proper place by noon on December 21st -- and everyone is after the missing token including Sarah, the girl whose destiny is to place the token in its proper place and Mr. Underton who becomes madly obsessed with the Kurbs' power to restore his sight.

The first part of the book is a hybrid of prose and sequential art and explains a lot of the backstory of the Kurbs and how Mr. Underton came to become the madman that he is for the duration of the book. It's one of the only times where I've seen this mix work, where exposition is in prose but scenes with dialogue or visuals best illustrated rather than described are in comics.

CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF DARK works because of Avi's strong prose and high concept story but it's very apparent that the artwork here is secondary. There's a lot of places where exposition boxes are used heavily instead of letting the art tell the story. The illustration has a rough, unpolished quality to it, which reminds me of the work of Jessica Abel or Dylan Horrocks. Not to say it's bad, Floca creates some really great visuals like the design of Mr. Underton in his black trenchcoat commanding a flock of pigeons, but it does seem to take a bit of a backseat to the dialogue and exposition.

However, the sheer fact that a Newbery author has written a graphic novel (in 1993!)is definitely a good thing. Librarians should endeavor to add this book to their children's graphic novel collection.

What fun!

Guess who got to recommend an artist for an upcoming graphic novel series based on a popular teen show? I feel a little like Rich Johnston today.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

More kid-links

I've got a few longer pieces I've been working on but in the meantime here's a round up of some the goings-on in the world of children's comics and books.

- Marvel plans to offer Dollar Digests, reprinting early issues of their core series like SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, HULK, AVENGERS and FANTASTIC FOUR. Newsarama posters seem to think this is perfect for kids because of the low price point, but I'm skeptical to think that classic stories like these will appeal to anyone but hardcore Golden Age fans.

- Brandon Routh looks pretty snazzy in his SUPERMAN costume. In Fall 2006, expect to see readers, 8x8s, a jr. novelization and other book formats for kids -- everything except comics.

- Tania Del Rio talks about her work on the manga-reimagined SABRINA and JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS and has this to say:

"Some people are still surprised to learn that Archie has turned Sabrina into a manga-inspired series, but the two actually mesh together really well. The look and storylines are completely inspired by shojo manga, but the tone of the book is always going to be age-appropriate and this is something Archie is known for. While some parents may worry about what their kids are reading in Japanese manga, they don't have to worry with Archie's manga. It's a trust that's been built over many years."

Smart statement considering how hard it is to convince parents and librarian that manga sans content actually exists out there. Does it?

- As JM DeMatteis and Mike Ploog wait for Hyperion to republish ABAZADAD, they discuss details behind their new children's fantasy series, THE STARDUST KID.

- Greg Thompson speaks his mind about kids comics and talks about his new series called HERO CAMP.

"You know, I can't even buy my 7-year-old nephew an issue of Flash anymore," Thompson bites. "Super heroes are supposed to be for children. I'm not letting this go. The only stuff they're getting right now? Marvel Age books. What happened to the stuff I read as a kid? The Kirby, the Kane, the things anyone could connect with?"

And while I'm not hugely behind pumping out superhero comics for kids (I think there are other genres, topics that are way more appealing and that would sell to a wider audience), I'm glad someone has the courage to speak out about this issue.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Eisners

The nominations for the 2005 Eisner Awards were released today including the list of contenders to win the BEST PUBLICATION FOR A YOUNGER AUDIENCE. They include:

Amelia Rules!, (Renaissance Press) and Amelia Rules! What Makes You Happy (iBooks) by Jimmy Gownley

I'm pretty sure Jimmy's been nominated before and next to Bone I think Amelia is THE kids comic. I may be biased since I've been a big follower of the book since it was first published years ago but the work speaks for itself. It's fun, accessible, has heart and tackles subject matter that means something to kids without pandering to them.

Owly, by Andy Runton (Top Shelf)

Owly is totally deserving of this nomination as well. Runton came back to comics inspired and it clearly shows in the material. There's just nothing like Owly being published right now.

Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom, by Ted Naifeh (Oni)

I still have yet to read one of the Courtney Crumrin books but I hear they're well done. I've heard them called "Neil Gaiman books for kids," which is kind of funny considering that Gaiman writes kids books.

Plastic Man, by Kyle Baker and Scott Morse (DC)

I have loads of adoration for Kyle Baker's work but I find it interesting that this book made it here especially after winning last year. As well, Plastic Man really hasn't been marketed as a kids comic -- I was hoping that when they collected the first 6 issues it would be in an inexpensive digest sized book that could be put in kids sections, but instead DC went with a more sophisticated design and a higher price point. Oh well...

Tommysaurus Rex, by Doug TenNapel (Image)

I haven't had the chance to read this book yet but the interior art looks really appealing but that cover is just ghastly. No parent or kid would pick this book up in a children's section of a bookstore. Apparently Universal's optioned this book and hopefully when the movie is closer to coming out someone will redesign the book.

Other highlights include Jeff Smith nominated in the Best Graphic Album—Reprint category for the massive BONE ONE VOLUME EDITION and Raina Telgemeier nominated in the Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition category who is working on the new BABY-SITTER'S CLUB graphic novel series for Scholastic.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Speakeasy = good times

There was a time when one always heard there was a comics scene in Toronto, especially with talent like Chester Brown and Seth living in the area, but it was hidden, never cohesive. Things seem to be changing with events like the upcoming Toronto Comic Arts Festival and other events like last night's comic book themed night of Speakeasy.

Lots of great artwork exhibited from artists like Cameron Stewart, Paul Rivoche and Chip Zdarsky. Special acknowledgement goes out to Jeremy Tankard and Steve Manale both with whom I chance to chat with about the importance of good kids comics.

Read Like a Kid - Quick reviews

OWLY VOLUME 2 JUST A LITTLE BLUE: There's no decrease in the quality of the 2nd book in Andy Runton's OWLY series, in fact, it's better. Instead of two short stories, there's a single and stronger narrative this time -- Owly and Wormy decide to build a birdhouse to attract some new bluebird friends. Runton successfully combines a light hearted story of friendship with something deeper, a seamless tale of selflessness and also manages to touch on animal behavior and habitats all at the same time. For the amount of bad press that's been following manga titles these days, this is the book that needs to be put in front the faces of teachers, librarians, parents and obviously kids.

YOTSUBA&! VOLUME 1: Loosely translated as 'four leaf clover,' this new manga from ADV features the adventures of a spunky green-haired girl as she moves into a new neighborhood with her guardian. On my initial read, it was hard to figure out what exactly is age level for a book like YOTSUBA&! but the best way I could describe it would be a cross between Junie B. Jones and Judy Blume's Fudge books. The chapters are pretty much self-contained and episodic and feature humor stemming from Yotsuba's misunderstanding of the world -- one scene she is told that air conditioners contribute to global warming and from then on believes that anyone with one is evil. It's pretty funny but odd at the same time. I can't quite put my finger on it.

PEACH FUZZ VOLUME 1: As one of Tokyopop's first books in their original Ameri-manga line, PEACH FUZZ has all the makings of a great comic for kids - it's fun & humorous, it taps into the pet care trend that's attractive to the tween market, it teaches kids about responsibility and it delivers with appealing and relevant artwork. That is until we come to the vet office scene where two things stand out like sore thumbs -- the receptionist of the vet asks the main character's mother if she thinks the clerk at the pet store is cute. The mother thinks the receptionist is talking about a girl when in fact she's referring to a boy. The mother is very uncomfortable with this instance of mistaken lesbian identity. The second scene is when the main character, a young girl, runs into the vet who says "Women can't seem to keep their hands off me. Ha! Ha! Ha!" I can see something like this kept in a Japanese originated title, the views on sexuality are much more open in their manga, but to have these scenes in here with no reasonable context just seems sloppy and a bit gratuitous.

NANCY DREW VOLUME 1: Nancy Drew is one of those book properties will always remain in print despite the ups and downs of sales. After reading the first issue of the Hardy Boys comic book I was pretty skeptical of this line but Nancy Drew surprised me. The title character has a great internal voice in this book that's not heavy handed and that rings true as a young but smart teenager. It's a nice self contained mystery that unfolds with a decent pace. My major beef here though is the inconsistency of the artwork. There's really nice almost French comics-inspired work happening in the book that's reminiscent of the new Totally Spies cartoon. But the artwork has been muddied and darkened by so many computer coloring effects it makes entire pages blurry and almost unreadable. I'm not sure if the dark overcast to the artwork is supposed to create a moody effect but it's just not working here.

Ben Avery talks about Lullaby

Missed this one earlier this week. The Pulse has an interview with Ben Avery on his new kids comic called LULLABY, described as "a manga-inspired reinterpretation/sequel to almost every single fairy tale or children’s book...fairy tales and children’s stories take place in a fairy realm that co-exists with our world."

I'm a big supporter for the "fractured fairy tale" genre but when it's done wrong, the work comes across as a shallow exercise in style, but when done right it can be truly magical. Fractured fairy tales are so compelling for kids because it allows them to think that a century's-old, permanent story (fairy tales with a capital 'F' and 'T') can be disassembled and played with. I think they inspire an incredible amount of creative freedom.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Everybody's linkin' for the weekend

Just a few things to wrap up here...

- 5 pages of FRANKLIN RICHARDS: SON OF A GENIUS featured in each issue of the upcoming Power Pack series can be viewed at the Pulse. Comparisons to Calvin and Hobbes are already flying all over the internet but what I've read, it seems more Dexter's Labratory for me. It reads pretty well -- snappy and features a bit of gross-out humor that boys love but not sure if we've already moved past this theme after the aformentioned Dexter's Lab and Jimmy Neutron.

- Kudos to the LIONS, TIGERS AND BEARS creators for taking matters in their own hands with promoting and marketing their book. Two sold out issues (from the publisher, so Direct Market stores are supporting it, which is rare for a non-superhero, kids book) and now a deal with a major Arizona newspaper to serialize a new story to then be collected and given to kids through the Arizona Public Library' literacy program. Newsarama has a 10-page preview of the third issue shipping this month.

- A known Marvel creator who writes adult stories in kids clothing had this to say about the new KRYPTO cartoon:

Okay, I can't believe I was kind of interested in this, but I'm such a buff I had to keep watching when I switched on BBC1 on Saturday morning and saw the first episode of this new cartoon. It's not just bad. It's 80s bad. It's all those bad jokes and utterly forgettable characters with bad puns for names and Krypto is right up there with Scrappy Doo for annoying.

And this isn't the first place I've seen comics fans relentlessly flying off the handle regarding this show. DC's made it pretty clear that KRYPTO is for the 5 to 7 age range -- the character design really works for that audience and refers back to a more classic look reminiscent of Hanna-Barbara shows. Anyways, an interview with the Director of the show can be found at Newsarama.

Betty & Veronica Spectacular goes tween-y

For a company that is generally seen as conservative and has been absent from the online comic journalism circles for years, Archie Comics has been making some strong marketing decisions of late – first revamping SABRINA and JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS to a manga style and now changing the format of the BETTY AND VERONICA SPECTACULAR comic to "resemble a more fashion-oriented magazine with quizzes, Q&As and fashion spreads" popular with the tween market. Archie Comics is actually reacting to changes in the marketplace and reflecting that in meaningful shifts to their product.

One might argue that Marvel and DC are attempting these kind of grand sweeping marketing choices with the upcoming House of M and Infinite Crisis events. However, Archie Comics' decisions aren't editorial-based. They won't be undone by new creators or editorial regimes a few years down the line. ARCHIE is both maintaining the integrity of their brands (and along with the Betty & Veronica clothing line, slowly building interest in the brand for the upcoming movie) and making the books relevant for the current market. Someone at ARCHIE has really been thinking really hard about this stuff, and it shows.