Kids’ Comics

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?

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