Kids Comics Publishers: Movers and Shakers

As part of the Good Comics for Kids panel presentation at New York Comic-Con this weekend, my fellow bloggers and I added a new highlight to our standard spiel: looking at kids comics publishers. Librarian and former Marketing Manager Scott Robins polled all of us on our picks for both the biggest kids comics publishers, as well as those who deserve more attention from librarians, educators and parents.

The Big Three

The biggest players at this moment in publishing comics for kids were easy to compile. Scholastic’s Graphix made every one’s top of the list. As the first recognizable imprint for children’s comics, roaring out of the gate in 2004 with Bone, and then continuing with acclaimed titles Smile and Amulet, they continue to make their mark. They’ve done adaptations right with The Baby Sitter’s Club as well as delivered clever original work including Knights of the Lunch Table, and all is supported by an indefatigable marketing machine that knows its target audience.

Random House, with their popular trio of Babymouse, Kit Feeny, and Lunch Lady, have shown their muscle by sheer popularity. There was some dissension, however, among the panelists about whether they deserve a spot because they haven’t done much more with the format beyond those three titles.

Toon Books, the early reader comics publisher with the trio of Geisel award and honor winners StinkyBenny and Penny and the Big No-No!, and Little Mouse Gets Ready, is a model of how to stick to your guns and produce quality comics for young readers.

Worthy of note

Then there are the top three publishers putting out great titles that deserve more of our attention. Top Shelf is the little company that packs a huge punch. While they are known for publishing certain adult comics, their kids comics are charming and their selection is expanding over the next year. They’re already the home of kid (and parent) favorites Owly, KorgiJohnny Boo, and Spiral-Bound. By 2011 they plan to have eleven to twelve series running for young readers.

Udon gained a spot on the list for being one of the only companies publishing manga expressly for children including Fairy Idol Kanon, Ninja Baseball Kyuma, and The Big Adventures of Majoko. The big two manga companies, Tokyopop and VIZ, are doing their bit for kids manga, but Udon doesn’t rely on media tie-ins or retooling teen work for younger readers: they’re publishing appealing titles that are intended for kids in Japan.

Finally, Kids Can Press consistently produces quality titles for young readers, from the picture-book sized Binky the Space Cat to the how-to Lila and Ecco’s Do-It-Yourself Comics Club and Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves series starting with Tower of Treasure.  Kids Can selects wisely and offers titles for a growing range of readers, and we all look forward to seeing what they pick up next.

The Honorable Mentions

As with any vote, there are always honorable mentions, and in this case there were a lot of publishers we discussed that didn’t quite make the cut for our presentation. Abrams, with their colossal success in comics hybrid Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, is a strong player with newer titles like Hereville and the 3-2-3 Detective Agency. BOOM! Studios has distinguished themselves via Disney comics, and they’re noted for creating tie-in titles that boast strong creators and avoid rehashing of their related media. As one panelist noted, they made their Incredibles comics much better than they had to, telling new stories instead of simply retelling the film. First Second, like TOON, is a go-to press for quality — their books are always well crafted and beautifully presented, and their younger titles like Zita the Spacegirl, The Unsinkable Walker Bean, the Adventures in Cartooning series, and City of Spies are an eclectic and thrilling collection.

I’d be curious to see if our impressions of kids comics publishers match librarians, teachers, and parents lists. Are there publishers you think deserve more attention? What would be your top three?

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