Author Archive

DREDD Is Coming

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The Judge Dredd comics are getting the Hollywood treatment. It’s a classic series for good reason, so I hope the movie brings readers to the source. Unfortunately, it was made into a terrible movie in 1995, starring Sylvester Stallone and Rob Scheider.

The new movie, called Dredd, coming September 21, looks like it will be much better, because it stars Karl Urban, who always brings intelligence, and when necessary menace, to his varied roles. He has quite an acting challenge, since Dredd never goes without his helmet, which covers his eyes. Stallone opted to ignore this characteristic and ditched the helmet. Urban, however, believes the helmet is essential.

Also, Alex Garland wrote the script. He’s no stranger to thoughtful sci-fi given his novel (and the subsequent film) The Beach (Penguin/Riverhead, 1998) and his screenplay for Never Let Me Go, based on the Kazuo Ishiguro novel.

The Dredd trailer released recently and already there is talk of sequels.

Official Movie Site:

Hollywood is continually signing up comics, with the hopes that one of them will be the next Batman, if you’re aiming for gravitas, or Avengers, if you’re aiming for a lighter tone. The question for library buyers is whether the resulting movies (if they actually come about) will hook readers on the originals.

Most movie fans seem to be happy to enjoy the movie’s universe, with no interest in going beyond that experience. Part of the blame falls on the publishers, who issue lackluster tie-in comics and maintain the currently running series with no obvious ways in to the stories. I find myself sending the few eager readers back to the classics, to those that inspired the filmmakers, rather than the new releases.

In the case of Dredd, I will recommend the collected original series Judge Dredd: Case Files by John Wagner, with outstanding art by Brian Bolland. There are five collections (the fifth was published in June), beginning with:

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01
John Wagner, Pat Mills
Retail Price: $19.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: 2000 AD – (2010-06-15)
ISBN / EAN: 1906735875 / 9781906735876

The individual titles are available on OverDrive.

Movie tie-in:

Dredd: Collecting: Dredd Vs Death, Kingdom of the Blind & The Final Cut
Gordon Rennie, David Bishop, Matthew Smith
Retail Price: $8.99
Mass Market Paperback: 704 pages
Publisher: Abaddon – (2012-07-31)
ISBN / EAN: 1781080771 / 9781781080771

Note: The titles in this collection are available individually from OverDrive

Prose Adaptations. Yay? or Nay?

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

How interested are readers in graphic novel adaptations of prose titles?

To consider this question, I looked at recent adaptations to see how well they circulate against my general graphic novel collections.

In my library’s adult collection of over 1,600 titles, none of the top 100 in terms of circulations are adaptations. At number 101, is Nancy Butler’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  Equally popular is The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born, a series related to but not directly adapted from Stephen King’s popular prose series.  Next up is Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Parker’s Hunter.  The Exile, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander spin-off graphic novel, R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series rank in the middle range of popularity.

Adaptations of classics, including JinSeok Jeon’s One Thousand and One Nights and Gareth Hind’s The Odyssey stand on the list just after the far better known Anita Blake, showing that quality and appeal can compete admirably with name recognition.

The losers among adaptations?  NBM’s Treasury of Murder series, which is a shame considering the high quality of their adaptations. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunters series is also a low performer. Interestingly, this is a series I continued to purchase because a reader specifically requested them. In my library, it has a small, but dedicated audience.  The Dresden Files adaptations have also sat on the shelf, which is surprising considering how popular the novels are and how open many speculative readers are to trying out the graphic novel format.

On the teen side, there are a few that stand out. Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider, James Patterson’s Maximum Ride, Orson Scott Card’s Ender, and Ian Colfer’s Artemis Fowl adaptations all do tremendously well for the genre.  Point Blank, from the Alex Rider series, is right near the top with original works Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball and Raina Telgemeier’s Smile.

The losers for younger readers include NBM’s often lovely adaptations of classic fairy tales including P. Craig Russell’s Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, the Anne Frank House authorized biography of Anne Frank, Ellen Schreiber’s Vampire Kisses, D. J. MacHale’s Merchant of Death, and Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas adaptations.  That New York Times multi-week best-selling adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight?  The first volume ranks at #300 while the second volume has yet to be checked out.

What conclusions should we draw from all of this number crunching?

My thoughts:

  1. Just because a series is popular in prose does not mean you can slap together an adaptation into the graphic novel format with rushed art and lackluster attention to adapting dialog and have it succeed.  I think many of those adaptations of popular series that have failed are simply poorly made graphic novels.  Sometimes it’s the fault of a publisher pushing an adaptation too fast into production, and sometimes it just doesn’t gell in the graphic format.
  2. Readers do not easily jump from one format to another.  Some titles will be popular by sheer name recognition, and some will be as an engaging way to comprehend a difficult text (i.e. The Odyssey), but many popular prose titles aren’t going to attract graphic novel readers nor are they going to bring that title’s readers to the format.  Unless both writing and art are really solid, any adaptation will never be as popular as original material in the medium.
  3. Original material always circulates better, so I only collect adaptations if they are requested specifically by readers or if they are lauded in many a review from multiple sources.  Adaptations make up around 3% of my adult collection, and thus far I see no great reason to change that percentage.

What have your experiences been?  How much of your budget do you devote to collecting adaptations of prose in the graphic format?

NYT Graphic Books Bestsellers – Infographic

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Created for Comics Alliance, as a year-end treat, I present to you the New York Times Graphic Books Bestseller list as an infographic:

Go ahead, click on it, expand it (hit the plus sign to make it fill your computer screen), and take it all in.  I’ll wait here.

Created by Wired’s Art Director Tim Leong, this slick representation of the entire year’s data compiled into an easily digestible chart allows us to take stock of the graphic novel market and assess how useful the NYT list is for librarians developing collections.

What did I notice?

The obvious:

Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead dominated the charts. Any library worth it’s salt already stocks these titles. Their continuing popularity also happily brought some sturdy new omnibus editions, in the case of The Walking Dead, which can be great when libraries need to catch up or replace tattered, well-loved paperbacks.

To ponder:
Take a good look at that bar graphic of superhero versus non-superhero titles. What does that mean? Are superheroes no longer so popular? Does the NYT  list skew away from superheroes? Perhaps, but more likely, it shows that the market is diversifying and that mainstream comics are no longer defined by costumed vigilantes.

Five titles debuted at number one and then disappeared. All are popular titles in my library. They may not have had the juice to last on the official list but they’re still worthwhile additions to library collections.

The top ten publishers are lead by two small houses. Oni Press is #1 because of Scott Pilgrim. Image Comics, as publisher of  The Walking Dead, comes in at #2. Oni has been considerate and understanding of libraries, plus they put out a lovely assortment of quality titles for all types of readers. Image has been more scattered, with an impenetrable website and they are  just starting to court the library market.  The appearance of Scholastic and Pantheon (RH) in the top ten indicates that traditional publishers have made inroads into the comics market.

The fact that only 16 titles were in the top spot points to the limitations of the list for collection development purposes.  Once you’ve bought those 16, the list become repetitive.

What conclusions do you take away from this aggregation?  What would you like to know from a year’s worth of data?

Cowboys & Aliens vs. Batman

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

We are in the full swing of summer movie season, and while there are the major installments we book-lovers have been waiting for (ahem, Harry Potter), this summer is dominated by superhero movies. Marvel keeps churning out film after film in its ultimate mission of releasing the much-anticipated Avengers movie in 2012. DC competes by releasing its own signature characters on the big screen (Green Lantern — in 3D), even though their mediocre entries (excepting the Nolan Batman films) tend to disappoint even die-hard fans.

Other comics-inspired films, like Cowboys & Aliens, opening tomorrow, based on Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel, raise the question: when is it worth picking up the source graphic novel and when, as with the heavily anticipated but ultimately disappointing Green Lantern, (opened 6/17), is it best to wait and see? How do you build your collection to sustain interest as well as anticipate new hits?

In the case of Cowboys & Aliens, there’s a handy 2011 reprint available, and, fortunately, you only have to invest in one book. Few readers have shown interest in my library. For right now, I’m refraining from investing unless the movie proves to be a grand success.

Marvel puts out solidly enjoyable stand alone films from Iron Man (2008 & 2010) to Thor (opened May 6) to the eagerly anticipated Captain America: The First Avenger (opened last week and doing well both at the box office and with critics). The comics, however, require understanding of earlier storylines to grasp and can be impenetrable to new readers. Investing in every potentially relevant Green Lantern comic is a fool’s errand and is ultimately unnecessary. Stick to the solid storylines and authors that are already popular, as with Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America and Geoff Johns’s run on Green Lantern. Roger Langridge’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger is notable for for penciler Samnee’s clean, bright art and is  one of the best reviewed entry tales of the past year, admired by fans, creators, and readers alike. Although the series was regretfully canceled after eight issues, the book still stands as a solid introduction to Thor’s origin and place within Marvel’s pantheon. With all of these purchases, fans will be pleased, books will fly off the shelves, and libraries can stay within their budget.

DC may be losing right now on the movie front, but their books are easier to get into via a convenient entry point. Like Nolan’s Batman movies? Pick up Batman: Year One or Batman: Arkham Asylum (showing movement on amazon — Sales rank: 364, up from 578)
You don’t need to dive in to the current Batman storyline to find a satisfying read with your favorite blockbuster character.  Right now, I’m most curious about which Batman volumes I’ll need to collect to anticipate reader interest in villain Bane for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Night Rises (coming next summer).  Catwoman I’ve got covered in her own series (relaunching in fall 2011) but Bane (made all the more exciting because he’s being played by the buzz-worthy Tom Hardy) is more of a mystery.  For Bane’s most famous storyline, I’d need volumes one to three of Batman: Knightfall, sadly fallen out of print.  Keep your eyes peeled for a reprint, though, as DC knows to count on the movies to generate interest in older titles.  Bane has made a more nuanced reappearance in the DC universe as part of Gail Simone’s Secret Six, and her relaunch of this series following a supervillain team is a solid addition to a library’s collection (although be quick, as the six volumes are getting hard to find from vendors and the series has been canceled due to DC’s fall reboot.)

If you haven’t already seen it, check out the teaser trailer for The Dark Knight Rises that briefly features Tom Hardy’s Bane.

Thus, in my library, Batman buzz trumps Cowboys & Aliens.  The wind may change, though, and I’m prepped and ready to respond to my patrons if they fall head over heels for Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford battling extraterrestrial threats.

Note: Thanks go out to all my colleagues on the Graphic Novels in Libraries listserv for their help in identifying the best Bane-centric titles.

DC Reboot: What to do with 52 new series?

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Beginning in September, DC Comics will relaunch its entire universe — all fifty-two running comic book series — with new number one issues, new character designs, and in some cases, drastic shifts in character origins and line-ups.

These comics will eventually be released in trade paperback. Below is some information to help you figure out which comics to follow and which to buy when they are issued in collections.

Skeptics question just how much reintroducing characters and their origins will draw in new readers. I’d guess not very much, especially since many readers have no idea that such a reboot is in the works (i.e. a significant majority of my library patrons.) Reboots succeed in creating a few fans from folks already frequenting comics shops (and also annoy long-time fans), but I’ve rarely seen such a reintroduction pull in a reader who isn’t already interested in superhero comics. The readers who are eagerly awaiting Craig Thompson’s Habibi or who delight in the gruesome procedural Chew are not going to be won over by shiny new costumes and a bit of new back story. Still, change is good for superhero tales that have gotten mired in relying on hundreds of previous issues for fans to follow along.



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.


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.


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.

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.

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?

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?

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 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.