Archive for the ‘Graphic Books’ Category

SAILOR MOON Returns!

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

The week’s big news in the world of comics and graphic novels is the announced return of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon, a much-beloved shojo (or girls) comic, one of the key titles that ushered in manga boom beginning around 2000. Alongside other now out-of -print series like Tokyo Mew Mew and Marmalade BoySailor Moon proved the importance of female fans to a skeptical (and yes, startled) comics industry.

Originally published in 1997 by Tokyopop (known then as Mixx), Sailor Moon is remembered by many librarians for its terrible binding, poor printing and paper quality; the volumes flew off the shelves until they fell apart. Kodansha Comics is resurrecting the series with a brand new translation and a deluxe edition (although what makes it “deluxe” is not  yet clear). The series will be released bi-monthly starting in September 2011 and will combine the original 18 volumes into 12 plus one more of side stories.

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Superheroes for the Uninitiated

Thursday, January 27th, 2011
Superheroes are everywhere lately: the inspiration for films (Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America, Batman) and television shows like No Ordinary Family and The Cape. Unfortunately for folks intrigued about the source comics, superhero stories feel like a fans-only world. Background information can be gained from knowledgable fans (see NPR’s Glen Weldon’s informative and hilarious rundown on just who all these Green men are) but for readers skeptical of costumed heroes, diving right in is a tough sell. With decades of back story that shift and change to hook each new generation of readers, trying to enter today’s continuities can be intimidating at best and baffling at worst.

It’s a shame. While some superheroes still conform to the stereotypes of whizz-bang action and moralistic heroism, others represent some of the best comics today. Christopher Nolan has proven Batman’s dramatic strength in film but readers may not realize that the bones of that success come directly from rich and dynamic comics.

Among pop culture icons like Batman and Captain America, there are stories that stand out for adult readers. In the Batman universe, classics like Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke and Batman: Arkham Asylum are must-reads, and all were source materials for Nolan’s take on the universe. With solid storytelling and no need to know more than the basics of who Batman is, these single-volume windows into Batman’s mission are engaging crime dramas that show off both the character and the grim Gotham Nolan brought to the screen. Many of the Year One series of titles, including personal favorites Green Arrow: Year One and Batgirl: Year One, are well worth seeking out as starter lessons on DC’s heroes.

With the news that Anne Hathaway has been cast as the sex bomb Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, in Nolan’s third and final Batman film, now is a good time to catch up with one of Batman’s finest foils. Sexy, amoral, brilliant, and loyal in her own special way, Catwoman has never been a true supervillian. Rather, she orbits Batman to poke giant holes in his rigid, unforgiving view of the world. Selina Kyle is a cat burglar by trade, and her skill at heists and existence apart from being Batman’s dangerous flirt is brought to action-packed life in the Catwoman series. Start with Catwoman: When in Rome for Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale’s impeccably gorgeous stand alone caper or pick up in Cooke’s retro series starting with Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street to see why Catwoman remains an icon.

Impossible to overlook on Marvel’s side, Ed Brubaker’s writing in Captain America in the past few years has been nothing short of outstanding. While the widely reported deaths of favorite superheroes are not unjustly derided as media stunts (see the death of Superman), the narrative leading up to and through the death of Captain America is complex, sincerely emotional, and a compelling parallel for real-life concerns about the conflict between privacy and security. Start with Captain America: Winter Soldier to appreciate the full arc of storytelling, or jumping ahead to another storyline, start with Civil War: Captain America. Along the way you may have to remind yourself who Bucky is (the Cap’s original teen sidekick), but otherwise the storyline works just fine with what you already know: Steve Rogers is a WWII hero who can feel out of time, heads the Avengers, and hangs out with Tony Stark (aka Iron Man.)

On the ladies’ side, this past year has seen Batwoman break down barriers by becoming the female lead of DC Comics flagship series, Detective Comics. Female readers (and quite a few male readers) have bemoaned the lack of a female superhero who was not only an equal to Superman or Batman but who took the lead in her own series and managed to sidestep donning a costume that was a more fetish object for fans than practical armor for fighting crime. As Batwoman, a counterpart to Batman, Kate Kane has existed since the 1950s, but in scribe Greg Rucka’s expert hands she has become a powerhouse reinterpretation. She echoes her namesake in brawn, deduction, and psychological damage, but she is also a departure from Batman’s blue-blood roots. A proud ex-military fighter and an out lesbian who’s personal history is coming back to haunt her in the Batwoman: Elegy storyline, she is giant step toward what fans have been craving.  With J. H. Williams’s breathtaking art, this series is recent enough that readers can start with the first volume and feel like they’re getting in on the ground floor.

In this post I’ve just touched on the most recognizable superheroes. In my next installment, I’ll take a look at some excellent superheroes from outside these universes.

GIRL GENIUS Day

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Making a giant leap on Amazon sales rankings is Phil & Kaja Foglio’s Agatha H. and the Airship City, the latest in the Girl Genius series, currently at #38, the highest rank to date for a title in the series. The authors nudged this along by proclaiming yesterday “Girl Genius Day” and asking fans to place orders on the new book’s release day, making it soar up the list. A similar tactic was used successfully last fall by the authors of Machine of Death.

I’m not a fan of these efforts to manipulate the lists, but I do love the series — it’s a smart combination of steampunk adventure, humor, and just a touch of romance. Up to now, the series has appeared in comic format, with the previous volumes collected as graphic novels. The new installment, however, is a prose novel.

The series has a devoted fan following. Teens and adults enjoy the derring-do and rich world-building the series excels at, including elaborate Victorian gadgets and believably complicated political struggles. The volumes I’ve managed to collect circulate very well in my library’s teen collection.

I’d love to give the comic series a whole-hearted recommendation, but it’s difficult to buy any but the most recent volumes via library vendors. Also, unfortunately, the bindings don’t hold up to frequent library use.

You can try to get older volumes through other sellers that list on Amazon, if your library is set up to order from them.

Agatha H. and the Airship City (Girl Genius)
Phil Foglio, Kaja Foglio
Retail Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 264 pages
Publisher: Night Shade Books – (2011-01-01)
ISBN / EAN: 1597802115 / 9781597802116

Defining Manga; Does It Matter?

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

When the NYT comics reporter, George Gustines recently asked, “What is Manga?“, the comics community groaned, “What? Have we gone back to 2000?  Do we really need to define manga yet again?”

Hetalia, manga by anyone's definition.

Folks who read past the headline discovered this was not another attempt to explain Japanese comics to the masses but instead an examination of  how the definition of manga has changed. Gustines interviewed Tokyopop Senior Vice President Mike Kiley who sees it this way,

“It used to be fairly straightforward to say that manga were black-and-white comics originating in Japan. But for many years now, there have been manga ‘variants’ in many places around the world…In my humble opinion, while my roots are in Japan and my first love of ‘comics’ really comes from Japan, I think a lot of these distinctions have become meaningless.”

In my work collecting and discussing manga with readers, I have been careful to maintain the following distinction: manga are comics from Japan, whereas manga-style comics are works produced outside Japan that with varying degrees of intent and success integrate that country’s traditions into their storytelling. Over the years I’ve made that distinction in direct response to my readers. Manga readers wanted only titles from Japan while the non-manga readers steered clear of Japanese origin titles.

The suggestion that these distinctions are now meaningless made me wonder how true this is from the reader’s point of view.  As a publisher of both manga and manga-style works, Tokyopop and Mr. Kiley benefit if readers no longer judge titles by their origins.  How do the readers rather than the publishers feel?

Librarians I asked both supported Kiley’s claim for younger readers and deflated the idea that the divisions are a thing of the past.

Koontz's Odd series, manga style.

Esther Keller, a school librarian in New York, reports that younger readers don’t particularly care:

I work in a middle school, so at times, the kids are less sophisticated in their reading choices than high schoolers, but they gravitate to titles that are familiar to them, whether it’s from TV or some other media tie-in.  In fact, recently, I overheard a group of students talking as they were thumbing through a volume of One Piece.  “You know,” one said, “All these comics are from China.”  I did correct them and I explained a little more about manga. But to these kids, it didn’t matter where the comics came from, just that it’s a format they enjoy reading.

Michelle Chrzanowski, from the Chesapeake Public Library in Virginia, reports that the divide is alive and well:

…For my readers, there is a definite divide.  Some of the younger readers will call everything either manga or graphic novels.  They are mostly the ones who read titles based on their popularity (i.e. they are on TV – Cartoon Network, Nick, etc.).  Then I have a group that are what I call the “manga snobs.”  They will only read manga (comics from Japan) and if I attempt to get them to read an OEL [Original English Language title], they inform me that they do not read “non-manga.”  Personally, I think the definition depends on the reader;  it is more blurry for the casual manga or graphic novel reader. However, if the reader is a dedicated manga reader or someone who has been reading for a while, they will definitely know the difference and will not be afraid to let you know about it.

Gilles Poitras, librarian and author of key reference works on Japanese popular culture including The Anime Companion, is skeptical of Kiley’s motives and points out that using country-specific terms shows respect for the creating culture.

It sounds like the old “let’ -call-anything-manga” line where all sorts of non-Japanese books had manga tacked onto the title or ads just to make a buck.

Frankly, I like my definitions clear. Manga is made in Japan for a Japanese audience, manhwa is made in Korea for a Korean audience and manhua is the term for Chinese works.
In the case of non-Japanese works like manhwa I find it disrespectful to the Koreans to call it manga. The Koreans, and other nations, deserve their own terms for their distinctive works.

Hilary Chang, hailing from McCully-Moiliili Public Library in Honolulu, finds her patrons agree with Gilles sentiment.

I personally feel “manga” means “Japanese comics” but know it has come to mean in the U.S. comic books with a certain art style.  Of course, in Japan, “manga” just means “comics” and does not specify origin.  However, my patrons (especially since we’re so much closer to Japan) feel if it isn’t from Japan, it shouldn’t be called “manga.”  They feel even calling it “Original English Manga” is like saying “Russian Yakuza.”  Just use the term ”graphic novel” or “organized crime” rather than trying to create an association just because manga is popular now.

Mr. Kiley concludes with the following sentiment:

At this point, it’s probably more helpful to consumers to ‘shelve’ (in a retail sense) comics by genre and by age range, rather than by minutely splitting hairs over whether a comics version of a British writer’s young adult novel illustrated by a Korean artist in a ‘manga’ style should be considered ‘manga’ or not. For me, it’s all about choosing and creating the best stories, and then making sure they get put in front of an audience eager to read them.

In spirit, I agree with Kiley’s point: the ultimate decision for any reader should be whether the story is any good.  Dividing by age range and genre are tasks libraries are already tackling.  The country of origin as a defining feature will matter less and less over time. Given that our youngest readers aren’t married to the distinctions older fans abide by, these lines may eventually disappear altogether.

At the same time, I see Gilles’s and Hilary’s point that works created in one culture have significant markers precisely because they are from that culture. You read them because of those trademarks.  It feels awkward at best to drop or misuse a term that shows a sensitivity to that difference without having a good reason.

Until the distinctions truly fade away, I will continue using specific vocabulary and teaching it to readers.

The Walking Dead

Monday, October 25th, 2010

As we all prepare for the zombie apocalypse—and by this I mean the much-touted new series from AMC (the cable network that brought us Mad Men and Breaking Bad) The Walking Dead—it’s important to remember that not all zombie apocalypses are created equal.

I, for one, have never been a huge fan of zombie tales.  Zombies always feel like a one-note threat, and one that, while notoriously relentless, is both icky and not very suspenseful (they’re just not very fast.)  Zombie stories of late are more silly than unnerving: Marvel Zombies (also by Walking Dead scribe Kirkman) is a ridiculous insider-joke of a series smashing together zombie movie cliches with your favorite Marvel superheroes (causing Spider-Man to exclaim the unfortunate line, “I can’t believe I ate Aunt May!”)  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies created a buzz-storm by combining Austen’s wit with zombie mayhem, and doing it cleverly enough that both the wit and gore remain satisfyingly zippy.

All that shambling and moaning can be tiresome unless you’ve got a deeper story going on behind it, and that’s where the best zombie stories find their hook.  Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, the comics series this TV incarnation is based on, is one of those stories.

Since the series began in 2003, graphic novel readers of diverse ages and genders have been following the series devoutly although the violence level makes it best suited to older teen and adult readers.  Artists Tony Moore and Charles Adlard use black and white with gray washes to tense, evocative effect throughout these pages.  The series has been a consistent bestseller for Image Comics and had ranked on the New York Times Graphic Books Best Seller Lists for 48 weeks.

The Walking Dead appeals to far more than comics or zombie fans in large part due to smart writing, measured pacing, and because the emotional and ethical dilemmas are kept in the foreground. When Country Sheriff Rick Grimes wakes up in a hospital with empty halls, you know it’s not a good sign. Kirkman quickly does away with the immediate questions of whether Grimes’s family has survived or how long it will take for him to find a group of survivors. The series’ drama comes from observing how his cast of characters do (or don’t) cope with the fallout from the invasion. He uses the creep of the zombie infection to its best effect, revealing the best and worst of humanity and punctuating moments of calm with gruesome reminders that humanity is no longer top of the food chain. Where would survivors ultimately go to be safe?  Can civilization ever return or has it been permanently lost?

For any librarian with an adult graphic novel collection, this series should already be on your standing order list. The series up to the present storyline is available in compilations:

The Walking Dead, Book One, Image Comics, 9781582406190, $29.99
The Walking Dead, Book Two, Image Comics, 9781582406985, $29.99
The Walking Dead, Book Three, Image Comics, 9781582408255, $29.99
The Walking Dead, Book Four, Image Comics, 9781607060000, $29.99
The Walking Dead, Book Five, Image Comics, 9781607061717, $29.99
The Walking Dead, Book Six, Image Comics, 9781607063278, $29.99

You can check out the first issue online here at Newsarama.

The trailer for the series is below:

Who Reads Graphic Novels?

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

What are adults reading? The Harris Polling service, which recently showed that 40% of Americans read eleven or more books a year, has taken a look at what kinds of books adults are reading, including graphic novels.

11% of all adults surveyed read graphic novels. Echo Boomers (ages 18-33) are the most avid graphic novels readers at 18%. The largest categories for this group are Literature at 42% and Mystery, Thriller and Crime at 41% (respondents could pick more than one category). Gen X-ers (ages 34-35) read the next highest amount of graphic novels, at 11%. More men read them than women; 15% as opposed to 8%.

In the survey, Graphic Novels are offered as a choice of “type of book,” along with Mysteries, Science  Fiction, Literature, Romance, Chick-lit, Westerns, and the catch-all  Other category. Unfortunately, this presents a misleading skew to the survey: graphic novels are not a genre but a format, and can fall in to any of the other genres mentioned (including nonfiction, which is broken out into separate statistics.)  You might better ask about who reads poetry, plays, graphic novels, prose, and listens to audiobooks.

As a genre reader, I find the pre-selected categories problematic in terms of definitions: where is fantasy, what exactly comprises literature, and just how is chick-lit defined?  How does each respondent understand the categories? I’ve had people insist to me that they don’t like fantasy and then list Harry Potter as their favorite book, so I know first hand how confusing genre can be.

Desperate for statistics on who reads graphic novels when researching five years ago, I was only able to uncover the already outdated figures collected about the direct, comic store market by Diamond Distributors: that the average reader was 29 years old, and readers were overwhelmingly men.  These new statistics are great fodder for discussion, but I’d also love to see a more in-depth survey about reading, graphic novels, and audiences.

Seeing RED

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Helen Mirren goes “badass” (to quote the People review) in Red, the movie based on the relatively unknown comic series by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, opening today. “Red” stands for “Retired: extremely dangerous,” which gives fimmakers an opportunity to bring out some “aging actors” (quoting People again), like Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman (even Richard Dreyfuss makes an appearance).

Unfortunately, the reviews are pretty terrible; People gives it just 2.5 of a possible 4 stars and the NYT‘s A.O Scott says, “It is possible to have a good time at RED, but it is not a very good movie.” Sounds like it’s a watered down version of the original story; Ellis has the deserved reputation of gleefully offending anyone and everyone, but being so hardcore and entertaining that he makes you love it (see Transmetropolitan, now being printed in new editions, for a splendid case in point.)

Thanks to the movie, Red is now back to print and I am taking the opportunity to pick it up. Warren Ellis is still one of the top writers. His work always goes out from my collection, so it’s a good bet regardless of how well the movie does.

Red
Warren Ellis
Retail Price: $14.99
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: WildStorm – (2009-06-16)
ISBN / EAN: 140122346X / 9781401223465

D.C. comics is producing a miniseries based on the movie. I won’t be buying those titles unless I get requests; I find most of the time my readers aren’t as interested in tie-ins as they are in the original source material.

Whatever the merits of the movie, it’s fun to watch Helen Mirren in “badass” mode in the trailer.
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Kids Comics Publishers: Movers and Shakers

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

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?

Debut Story Collection Gets Buzz

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Plenty of fiction will be competing for readers’ attention next week, including a debut story collection from Riverhead Books that’s getting some buzz: Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans.

Entertainment Weekly gives the book a B+, saying that it “offers rich slices of African-American life . . . and carries a strong scent of freshness and promise.” But trade reviews are more mixed: while Booklist hails author Danielle Evans an “important new voice in literary fiction,”PW observes, “Evans has some great chops that would really shine with a little more narrative breadth.”

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self
Danielle Evans
Retail Price: $25.95
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover – (2010-09-23)
ISBN / EAN: 1594487693 / 9781594487699

Other Notable Fiction On Sale Next Week

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella (Dial Press) is “chock-full of the kind of sitcom shenanigans Kinsella’s fans expect,” says Kirkus.” This latest in the series (Shopaholic & Baby, 2007, etc.) keeps the silly plot moving along. A little more growth from her iconic heroine, though, might have won over new readers as well.”

The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon and Hoang Nguyen (Del Rey) recasts Gabaldon’s bestselling time-travel romance from her 18th-century Scottish hero’s point of view. PW wasn’t impressed: “Scenes that ought to be exciting, such as sword fights and escapes from the law are breezed over in a page or two. Approximately four out of five panels are simply talking heads, and despite Nguyen’s most valiant efforts, it simply isn’t visually interesting.”

Don’t Blink by James Patterson and James Roughan (Little, Brown) finds reporter Nick Daniels interviewing one of baseball’s legendary bad-boys when he accidentally captures a piece of evidence that lands him in the middle of a mafia war.

Sante Fe Edge by Stuart Woods (Putnam) gets a decent review from Booklist: “while some plotlines are a bit repetitive, particularly regarding Teddy, who has been on the run for many novels, and [his ex-wife] Barbara, who is also always one step ahead of her pursuers, theres plenty of fun here for those who enjoy losing themselves in Woods entertaining escapist fare.”

Bad Blood by John Sandford (Putnam) is the fourth novel featuring Virgil Flowers, agent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Kirkus calls it “lurid and overscaled. . . The mystery, which is resolved early on, leads to an extended series of cat-and-mouse games between Virgil and the people he knows are guilty of some truly heinous crimes.”

Heaven’s Fury by Stephen W. Frey (Atria) follows a sheriff trying to solve a murder before a blizzard isolates his town. PW was not impressed: “The plot of this stand-alone crime thriller from Frey (Hell’s Gate) fails to generate much excitement, despite a gruesome murder that may be the work of a satanic cult and scenes set during a crippling snowstorm.”

And, One We Had to Mention..

Presenting…Tallulah by Tori Spelling and Vanessa Brantley Newton (Aladdin) is a picture book for very young readers by reality show star and bestselling author Spelling. PW and Kirkus both panned it, finding the poor little rich girl unbelievable and unsympathetic. Several libraries we checked haven’t ordered it – but given the success of Spelling’s previous books, you’re likely to be hearing about it.

Kids’ Comics

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Wondering why Dav Pilkey’s Adventures of Ook and Gluk hasn’t appeared on the NYT Children’s best seller lists? It’s not going to, because it’s on the Graphic Books list, where it’s been in the top spot for two weeks. It’s a bit of an oddity on that list; not only is it the only title for kids (the rest are all adult and YA titles) but it’s one of the few published by a traditional book publisher, rather than a comics publisher.

Until about five years ago, kids comics were an afterthought for comics publishers, and book publishers didn’t think about them at all. Then, the success of Jeff Smith’s Bone series, published under Scholastic’s Graphix imprint in 2005, lead other book publishers to explore the format. The Bone series was adopted by kids when Smith was self-publishing, and has continued to be consistently popular since Scholastic rereleased the series.

Titles like Pilkey’s Captain Underpants and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series have shifted the publishing landscape in comics’ favor by proving that hybrids, or titles that are part comic-part prose, can also attract a substantial audience. The fact that hybrids include prose also helps assuage parents’ fears (however unfounded) that their children aren’t reading real books if they’re reading comics. Full blown comics still have a bit of a climb in terms of proving their worth to skeptical parents, but are finally starting to get their due as valued reading all on their own.

A number of respected authors from the book publishing side of the pond have written engaging comics for children. One of my personal favorites, Shannon and Dean Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge arrived on the scene from Bloomsbury in 2008. Shannon Hale, the author of the Newbury-honor winning title Princess Academy and the lauded Goose Girl series, is a recognizable prose author who speaks eloquently about graphic novels as both engaging and quality reading. Her essay Graphic Novels: The Great Satan, remains one of my favorites in illuminating the reasons graphic novels are worth young and old readers’ time.

I find, however, that far too often librarians who know the great kids comics from the book world — Jennifer and Matt Holm’s Babymouse, Jarrett Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady, Eleanor Davis’s Stinky, and so on — are unaware of the equally brilliant kids comics from the comics world. Top Shelf Comix publishes titles to rival book publishers’ finest including Christian Slade’s Korgi, Andy Runton’s Owly, and James Kolchalka’s Johnny Boo series. Oni Press has a strong history of publishing titles for younger readers including Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy, Chris Schweizer’s Crogan Adventures, Ted Naifeh’s Polly and the Pirates and Courtney Crumrin series. Dark Horse, purveyors of the fine Star Wars kids comics that never stay on the shelf, also offer Sergio Aragones Groo, John Stanley’s Little Lulu collections, and tween favorites like Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. On the manga side of the business, VIZ has done a fine job of introducing a number of popular kids manga titles, including Sayuri Tatsuyama’s Happy Happy Clover , Kenji Sonishi’s Leave it to PET! , Yohei Sakai’s Dinosaur King, and Akira Toriyama’s COWA!. UDON has a whole line of manga just for younger readers, including Shunshin Maeda’s Ninja Baseball Kyuma and Tomomi Mizuna’s The Big Adventures of Majoko.

Libraries own far fewer of the kids graphic novels from comic publisher than they do of those from book publishers. According to WorldCat, all the titles mentioned above from book publishers are owned by 1,500 or more libraries (over 5,000 own Diary of a Wimpy Kid), while those from the comics publishers are owned by an average of just 150 libraries (Owly is the top title, owned by 748 libraries). This is because comics publishers get little review attention from the trade journals that librarians rely on for buying  (School Library Journal, Library Media Connection, The Horn Book). Whatever the reason for the lack of coverage, the result is that libraries are missing out on some great titles.
……..

To give you a head start on the comics world’s upcoming titles, here are a few that should be on everyone’s radar:

Okie Dokie Donuts by Chris Eliopoulis

Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken by Ray Friesen

Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell

Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of a Thimblewitch by Eric Orchard

Korgi: A Hollow Beginning (volume 3) by Christian Slade

And, not to overlook the book publishers, here are a few new and upcoming favorites from them:

Tower of Treasure by Scott Chantler

Lila and Ecco’s Do-It-Yourself Comic Club by Willow Dawson

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

The Olympians series by George O’Connor (Zeus and Athena are out, Hera is due out next spring)

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier

Owly and Wormy: Friends All Aflutter! by Andy Runton

Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost

What are the titles you’re most looking forward to in the next few months?

The Walking Dead

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

HBO has its book-based vampire series (True Blood). The CW has its YA-book-based vampire series (Vampire Diaries; new season begins 9/9).

And, now for something completely different, on Halloween, AMC is launching The Walking Dead, a series about flesh-eating zombies. Hotly anticipated by comics fans, it’s based on the Robert Kirkman series. The first trailer has just appeared online.

Don’t watch it on an empty stomach.

The series is available in five hardcover compilations:

The Walking Dead, Book 1
Robert Kirkman
Retail Price: $29.99
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Image Comics – (2006-07-19)
ISBN / EAN: 1582406197 / 9781582406190

Book Two: 978-1582406985
Book Three: 9781582408255
Book Four: 9781607060000
Book Five: 9781607061717

Going Graphic

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

The book trade eNewsletter Shelf Awareness published a dedicated issue on graphic novels today, offering an overview of the format. We’re delighted to see librarians featured, and partcularly our own Robin Brenner, who writes the weekly EarlyWord “Go Graphic!” column (see her latest here), as well as her friend and colleague, Eva Volin, supervising children’s librarian at the Alameda (CA) Free Library.

Robin reveals that, in the Brookline (MA) Public Library, circ of graphic novels has now surpassed DVD’s. Just goes to show what effect a knowledgeable selector can have. A story on indie bookstores reveals that they, too, often need an evangelist to get them to try the format.

Rounding out the issue is an overview of popular novelists adopting the format (Jodi Picoult does Wonder Woman) and interviews with Dark Horse editor Sierra Hahn as well as wife and husband comics creators, Kathryn and Stuart Immonen Patsy Walker: Hellcat.

Libraries; the Answer to Free Online Comics?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

The showdown has been coming for years. Voracious comics fans want access to each week’s installments as soon as possible. Others helpfully scan issues and put them online for free (called “scanlation”). Superhero fans, if they are even remotely savvy, can sign up for a weekly  link to download every single comic issue released each Wednesday. Japanese manga fans had it even easier, with sites like OneManga that allowed them to easily browse through and read thousands of titles for free. Comics publishers say this practice is  slowly eroding their business both here and in Japan.

None of these practices were legal; in May, the FBI shut down one of the biggest comics sites aggregating old and new comics, HTMLComics. Publishers both here and in Japan have started aggressively going after Japanese manga scanlation sites. At the recent San Diego Comic Con, a panel of publishers, creators, and industry watchers discussed potential solutions for digital piracy (link here for a smart breakdown of this complex problem).

The fans have raised a substantial outcry, dismayed over the loss of free comics (many of them argue that scanlation sites are just like getting free comics from libraries; see my own take on why this is not at all the case over at About.com). This blindness to the actual economics of running a business and unwillingness to acknowledge that artists deserve payment for their work boggles the mind, but an entire generation of readers are now used to reading online, and expect free access to hundreds if not thousands of titles. What happens to them now?

New business models are emerging. Fans may be willing to pay a minimal amount, à la the iTunes model, and they may be willing to pay a subscription fee, like the currently successful online anime service Crunchyroll or Netflix. Comics publishers like Netcomics and DMP Manga, with their eManga site, are already testing out the viability of this approach, but since they are limited to one publisher’s titles they are less attractive than the aggregator sites. ComiXology is gaining a strong reputation as a model for releasing content online from the major U.S. comics publishers. Most appealing? Getting access to comics via a site like Hulu, where fans may have to put up with ads but will have that great price tag: free.

What about libraries? Tokyopop, announced at San Diego Comic-Con that they are making a variety of their titles available via Overdrive. More recently, they announced that the fan favorite title Hetalia: Axis Powers will be released immediately via ereader Zinio and Overdrive, even though the US paper street date is not until September 21st (I’ve already asked our collection development team to snap up the title for our Overdrive collection).

Hetalia is an example of the problem we all face in trying to meet fan interest. As Deb Aoki points out at the Digital Piracy panel, Hetalia is a property that is already astronomically popular here in the US. Every major convention over the past year has been flooded with fans dressed as Hetalia characters, long before the series’ release date. Clearly, these fans have read Hetalia illegally online. Tokyopop’s release, via Overdrive or in print is already behind that market.

Providing Hetalia via OverDrive is a great solution for libraries serving casual fans, but it won’t allow us to keep up with the ravenous demand of fans who were raised on reading unlimited scans.

We hope the Tokyopop deal is just the beginning and that other publishers will see the advantage of working with Overdrive. It would be even better if they could provide titles as soon as they are available in Japan. If we truly want to compete, we need to figure out ways to meet demand quickly.

Comics to Film: Who Boosts Whom?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

There’s been a clear trend over the past few weeks on the NYT Graphic Books Best Seller list. Blackest Night, the Green Lantern storyline extravaganza, and Scott Pilgrim, the film arriving to rock your geek movie world, dominate the lists. Siege, a title clearly aimed at reintroducing and reinvigorating the Avengers comics, ranks well, heralding good news for the still years-away Avengers movie (currently scheduled for 2012).

The just-wrapped San Diego Comic-Con was awash in new announcements for films based on comics, demonstrating once again the power of geek fandom as well as the ease with which Hollywood gobbles up potential source material.

All of this leads me to ask a question I’ve long wondered about in this era of Hollywood rehashing comics; how much good does media exposure, via films or TV, do for a comic book series or graphic novel?

It’s clear that interest spikes around a film’s release. Watchmen, the graphic novel, certainly sold more during the build up to the film’s release, but it continues to sit pretty on the Best Seller list, having stayed there for 74 weeks. Watchmen was a consistently popular title before the film, and it continues to be a popular title after. The bump in film popularity may have helped to introduce more people to the book, but how much did it need the help and did that translate into an appreciation of the format beyond Watchmen itself?

Scott Pilgrim, as a comic book series, has long been beloved by its devoted fans. Creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and Oni Press have reaped great rewards from the upcoming film’s buzz (poster at left), as well as the fact that the final volume’s release so nearly coincided with the film’s release this Friday.

Both of the previous titles are no-brainers. The comics were the direct source for the films, so if people walk in off the street wanting the origin of the movie they’ve just seen, you can hand them the books without qualms.

What about Green Lantern, coming out next June? The Blackest Night volumes are racing up the charts and holding steady. The film is highly anticipated, as indicated by Entertainment Weekly’s cover featuring it nearly a year before the movie’s release. It was also promoted at Comic-Con this year, where star Ryan Reynolds charmed everyone by reciting the entire Green Lantern oath for a young fan.

However, those intrigued by the Green Lantern movie are unlikely to be engaged by the continuity-heavy, you-must-buy-every-single-collection tale like Blackest Night. The folks buying Blackest Night?  They are already Green Lantern comics fans. People haven’t been tearing into my library to get the skinny on Green Lantern, at least not yet, and I’m wondering if and how much they will. In chatting with patrons, it’s clear they know Batman, The X-Men, Wolverine, and Spider-Man from the movies and pop culture osmosis. The bulk of them are not interested in reading the comics related to the franchise; they’re happy to wait for the next movie.

The most viable titles for a library to collect are those that have a direct connection to the film or TV series, either as the direct origin or a strong inspiration for the style or voice, not comics that simply feature the same characters.

When Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were carrying away box office millions, it was easy to locate and hand out the inspirations: Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, Grant Morrison’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke, and Brian Azzarello’s Joker. Fans of the campy Batman TV show may have been startled, but the grim view of the Batman movie reboot had been flavoring Batman comics for decades. Similarly, The Walking Dead, the much-buzzed about AMC TV adaptation of the now complete Robert Kirkman series, beginning in October, is already leading folks to the source material.

Librarians need to know which titles are worth our investment. Ed Brubaker’s strong run on Captain America and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead are both quality and popular, and thus very much worth any library’s dollars. But I have yet to hear of a significant Thor volume I must purchase from either fans or reviews. The 2011 movies Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, as well as 2012′s The Avengers will need clear, continuity-free volumes to have an significant affect on the comics’ popularity with readers.

For lesser known titles, the impact remains to be seen. In previous years, my library patrons requested Mark Millar’s Wanted from the film of the same name, although readers were disappointed that the film had little to do with the comic — the film rights were purchased even before the comic had been finished. The graphic novel Wanted seems to go out now because it’s a Mark Millar title, not because it’s related to the lackluster film.

At Comic-Con, Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren were on hand to trumpet the upcoming film adaptation of Warren Ellis’s little-known Red, coming in October. The casual Bruce Willis or Helen Mirren fan may not realize the film is based on a limited series comic book. I will be waiting to see if sales and requests for the single-volume graphic novel start to rise.

So my question to you, dear reader, is what comics titles are getting demand due to films and TV? Which have proven worth keeping in your collection? I’ll be tracking this year’s upcoming tie-ins, and will report back on how much impact media attention has on graphic novels and comics beyond the first big bump.

The Importance of Scathing Reviews

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

If you track best sellers, you know that many of them are not loved by the critics. Take, for instance, the vicious (and often brilliantly funny) reviews of a title that appears on the NYT Graphic Books Best Seller List, Justice League: Cry for Justice. I admit, it can be fun to see a critic tear into an enormously popular title, such as the amusing reviews of Dan Brown’s latest tome.

The comics world, especially when you move outside the standard review journals and into industry and blog reviews, can be wildly entertaining as a forum for criticizing the bizarro turns that comics sometimes take. They can be especially critical when the publishers of the great universes of Marvel and DC come up with oddball moves to rejuvenate a series, a character, or their entire world. All Star Batman and Robin, created by the superstar team of Frank Miller and Jim Lee, was initially met with harsh reviews, accusing both creators of turning into horrible mockeries of their former greatness. The Green Lantern: Blackest Night storyline, which is both incredibly popular and embraced by many fans, also was chastised as an overly complex fantasy that only appeals to compulsive fans (for example, Shaenon Garrity’s commentary: ”See, I think that’s an awesome idea for a comic book. For ten-year-olds. It’s the part where it’s being written for adults that worries me.”)

Since most comics initially appear as serial issues allows for a lot of dissection and brewing commentary before a story line is finished, and roundtable reviews easily facilitated online make for entertaining reading while also airing opinions as each chapter comics to light. Check out Comics Alliance’s roundtable review of the latest Avengers incarnation by Brian Michael Bendis which criticizes the reinvention of a yet another major superhero franchise.

Aside from indulging in a mean-spirited giggle, negative reviews help selectors figure out how long a title might last. Are fans are running out and buying certain titles simply to complete their collections or is it something that will gain some ground and be popular despite initial reactions? Most of the time library selectors ignore snide comments and purchase what our public is clamoring for. But what if there’s no local interest in the latest big wave on the best seller lists? How do we judge epic tales that come out in many volumes before we get the full story (such as Blackest Night or DC’s Final Crisis)?

This is where reviews of individual titles in a series can be helpful, even though libraries generally wait to buy the collected editions in hardcover or paperback. These sites are also the place to find reviews of ongoing volumes in series that library journals choose not to review: library sources may review New Avengers volume one, but they rarely review New Avengers volume four, and fan sites become the only place librarians can check in on the continuing quality of a series.

There are several critical sites that review single issues; Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, Comics Alliance, and Pop Matters are just a few places to start. The comics journal Journalista is a great site for news as well as daily collections of reviews for every type of comic and graphic novel. As with movie reviewers, you’ll learn which comics critics match your community’s tastes and be able to get a preview of the book before you purchase it.

It you’re still wondering about a giant universe-wide event (storylines that cross over into many
different series), like Marvel’s Civil War or any of the many DC’s Crises, ask your fellow librarian fans and selectors. I frequently use the Graphic Novels in Libraries listserv to pick the brains of my fellow librarian fans about which volumes from major event series I must collect to satisfy my patrons. Marvel’s Civil War, which finished with the much-reported death of Captain America, spread over 80 different comic book issues and ultimately was featured in 23 different collected editions I could have purchased for my library. I found no reviews from library journals on any part of this series. On the advice from my fellow GNLIB librarians, I narrowed down my purchases to an essential ten volumes and have never had any complaints. As an online forum for librarians who also have an encyclopedic knowledge of comics, listserv can’t be beat. Many of us don’t have the time or inclination to read the series as they come out, so it’s helpful that many librarians are comics fans and understand both the comics universes and budget restraints.