Tuesday 15 April 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008: Comic Books are not just for Klingon-Speakers

When characters on the Simpsons expressed surprise that Spiderman creator Stan Lee was still alive, the graphic-novel obsessed Comic Book Guy said:
Stan Lee never left. I'm beginning to think that his mind is no longer in mint condition.
Now I personally am glad that Stan Lee never went away - Spiderman was (IS) my all time favourite superhero. But the whole mint condition thing, the fact that Comic Book Guy (who once translated Lord of the Rings into Klingon) even exists, demonstrates the problem with comic books.

Comic books never had a good reputation with teachers, parents and librarians. And now, the readership has been totally taken over by adults - many of whom are of a type similar to Comic Book Guy.

But things are changing.

In 2007, the Michael L. Printze Book of the Year (the Oscar for YA book writers) went to the graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

Recently, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by David Selznick - a graphic novel published in the form of a hardback - won the 2008 Caldecott Medal.

In May, Philip Pullman publisher David Fickling will be launching a weekly comic anthology. Here's a link to the DFC's about page. Hmm. There is something familiar about the art on that DFC page.

In 2006 David Saylor - who published Hugo Cabret and is known for his art direction of the Harry Potter US editions - launched Scholastic Graphix, a comic book imprint for the world's largest children's publisher. The New Big Idea of Scholastic Graphics is actually an Old Big Idea. That kids love comics. Here he is interviewed by the All Age Reads blog
The first thing I'd love to change is the perception that “comics aren’t for kids anymore”. Perhaps it would be wiser to say: "Comics ARE for kids (and for everyone else, too)". In the push to make comics respectable and noteworthy, comics for kids have been somewhat ignored in the last 20 years. I believe strongly that now is the time for publishers to create wonderful comics for kids: we’re poised for an explosion of graphic novels, and perhaps even a new golden age.
David told the Bologna SCBWI conference that it was at the massive comic convention Comicon that he had a Pauline moment about kids and comic books. Here was a "major pop culture event in the US", an "incredibly vibrant world". He "remembered how strongly connected to comic books I had been as an eight and nine year old" - not with superheroes but with character-based comics like Little Lotta (pictured right) and Richie Rich.
Scholastic is the largest distributor of children's books in the world. Why were we not publishing comic books? Why were there no comics being produced for kids?
The result of this epiphany was Graphix, Scholastic's imprint devoted to comic books - which launched in 2005.

David set out to find comic books that, because of the graphic novel's skew towards adults, had not reached the kid's market. Graphix's big success is the Bone comic books by Jeff Smith, that pretty much already had achieved cult status as a black and white, self-published comic book. Jeff's website explains:
Apparently, BONE was one of the most requested graphic novels in libraries across the country. By kids! Now, if you’ve followed my career in comics, you know I’ve fought against BONE being labeled a children’s book. Mostly for marketing reasons - -today’s comic book readers are mostly adults, and a kid’s comic wouldn’t survive long - but also because I wasn’t writing for kids ... (but) the kids found BONE and claimed it. They got enough librarians looking for it, that Ingram [the library distributors] called us. When trade magazines like Booklist, Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly began reporting on the high circulations of graphic novels and teachers’ discovery that kids actually were reading them, big publishers like Scholastic took notice.
Graphix adapted existing bestsellers like The Babysitters' Club and Goosebumps to the comic book format.

David had some negotiating to do to get booksellers to put comic books into their children's sections, drawing a lot of knowing merriment from the audience when he said:
Comic book stores are not friendly to women and kids
Librarians were the first to take the new comic books on board. Children were easy. Teachers less so. But David predicts the dawning of a "golden age of comics for kids" as the gatekeepers of our children's reading life realise that "visual literacy" has a role to play in keeping kids reading.

As a child, I was the proud owner of a towering comic book collection - and read classics like Lorna Doone after being introduced to them in Classic Comics. Little Lotta and Spiderman didn't do me any harm either.

Words can't express how wonderful it is to witness the return of comics for kids! As Comic Book Guy would say:
There is no emoticon for what I am feeling!


  1. Great post Candy. I love DIARY OF A WIMPY KID and thought David's talk was great. Also loved the comics out of France.... I want to know how to make a maggot sneeze (well, if it doesn't involve getting too close to the maggot)

  2. I was an avid comic collector as a child (Marvel only, I never crossed to the darkside of DC), I think it's great that kids read anything!

  3. Great entry! Nope, that's not my artwork. Although you might see something that looks slightly more familiar in Saturday's Guardian, on a competition page. (But I'm not saying nuffink.) ;-)

  4. sarah - awww. i thought that was you! in the guardian? i will start taking it on saturdays!

    angela - thanks - must read diary of a wimpy kid!

    jon - oh DC wasn't bad - i loved Joe Kubert and recently bought a compendium of his Tarzan comics. Am hoping to get Sargeant Rock for my birthday. And DC did better horror than Marvel. But yup. Marvel. Spiderman. I love him.

  5. ...something very small, I hasten to add...

    Sarah ;-)

  6. Well, I've done two superhero comic books disguised as novels (and only because I can't draw). I love comics in all their varied forms. Nothing better for learning snappy dialogue and losing the purple stuff.

    And Comic Book Guy is my favourite Simpsons character. And the only unnamed one. Why? Could it be because he looks suspiciously like Matt Groening?

    Ah, the comic book memories. Too many!

  7. you're right! comic book guy looks like groening!

    ah but he has a name - it's jeff albertson - i just didn't mention it to cover up my extreme geekiness.

  8. This is really interesting to know... I shall bear it all in mind...

  9. you've been tagged:

    angela cerrito

    And I'm writing, really. Almost finished with my homework...just needs some re-revising!


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