Thursday, April 5, 2007

Houdini, the Handcuff King

Houdini, The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi, presented by The Center for Cartoon Studies (Hyperion Books for Children)

I’ve been anxiously awaiting this book about the great escape artist Harry Houdini which is the first publication from The Center for Cartoon Studies. I was curious as to why The Center for Cartoon Studies would go into publishing, so I did some digging around and found a weeklong journal from 2005 at written by CCS Director and series editor James Sturm. Here is how he explains it: My hope is that a working studio will lend vitality to CCS. Students will have an opportunity to see firsthand how one kind of graphic novel is put together by helping with research and production. Creating books will also provide a secondary source of revenue stream to supplement tuition. And in terms of marketing and promotion, these biographies, geared for a young-adult market, are likely to wind up in a lot of high school libraries where potential CCS student can discover them. Brilliant, I say.

Houdini, the Handcuff King is not a biography, but a fictionalized graphic depiction of Houdini’s handcuffed jump from the Harvard Bridge in 1908. We see Houdini’s entire day; his preparations and lock-picking practice, his morning jog, his press conference in a hotel lobby, tender moments with his wife, Bess, his swearing-in of a new employee, meeting his throngs of fans on the street, and finally the daring and highly-publicized stunt.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and not just because I’m a Houdini fan. It’s not a romanticized depiction of the escapist – his impatience and arrogance comes through – but his relationship with Bess humanizes him and brings him closer to the reader. The story also briefly touches on anti-semitism and Houdini’s deft defusing of uncomfortable situations. The “day in the life” depiction of one of Houdini’s stunts is a great story in its own right, but Lutes and Bertozzi have also managed to convey a sense of Houdini’s place in history very effectively. Bertozzi’s heavy line work is perfect for the tone of the story, though I might have chosen another shade besides blue for the third color – it comes across as a bit cold. The lettering leaves something to be desired, but I did appreciate the use of regular text and punctuation, reserving all caps for shouting. I particularly like the cover design under the dust jacket – I’ve left the book out on my desk just so I can look at it repeatedly. Be sure to read (and encourage kids to read) the introduction and the notes at the back – they’re full of fascinating historical information.

Sarah says: Houdini is this guy who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s who was a great escape artist. The book Houdini, the Handcuff King is about one trick that he did when he jumped off a bridge into the water and he took off handcuffs that he was wearing. It would probably be a hard trick because most people can’t hold their breath that long underwater and the water was cold enough to freak out the audience but not cold enough to freeze him to death. It was sort of cartoonish and I like that, but I didn’t like that they put too much sweat on the people and it looks funny. The kissing parts are really important even though I don’t really enjoy watching the cartoons kissing. I think that Houdini, the Handcuff King is for all ages. My only concern is that smaller children might get scared of it because there’s kissing in it and they might not understand the story.

Shelby says
: Houdini, the Handcuff King is a great book. It is very interesting to see how Houdini might have done his tricks. It’s amazing how only a few lines can look just like the real Harry Houdini. I don’t think this book is for everyone because there is some kissing and a little bit of violence, but it’s okay for 8-years-old to adults. I think it’s cool how there are only three colors that the artist uses. The black is the outline and the blue makes the shading. In addition to the story is real information about Harry Houdini and it’s very interesting because it tells you all about how he and Bess, his wife, got married. I wouldn’t get married on the very first day I met someone – they’re crazy!

Houdini will probably be of interest to readers ages 12 and older, but there’s nothing to keep younger readers away. Houdini’s new hire, Mr. Beatty, roughs up a nosy reporter, but it’s not too violent. There are a few kissing scenes, which elicited some eeeeewwws from Sarah, but they are integral to the story. Though this is being sold as a children’s book labeled “ages 12 and up”, I highly recommend Houdini, The Handcuff King for adults as well – it would certainly be a wonderful addition to any collection.

Read a preview of Houdini at Nick Bertozzi’s site, read a Newsarama interview with Bertozzi, and visit The Center for Cartoon Studies

Texas Strangers

Texas Strangers by Antony Johnston, Dan Evans III, and Mario Boon (Image)

I’m easily bored by Westerns (except for The Three Amigos and anything with or by Clint Eastwood) so I wasn’t expecting much here, but dang if I didn’t really enjoy this tale of the Old West. Well, it’s not exactly the Old West you might be used to, what with the native elves, Scottish orcs, and brawls fought with spells as well as guns. I’ve seen Western Mystery (Tony Hillerman’s novels) and Western Sci-Fi (Serenity) but this is the first Western Fantasy, or Magical Western, I’ve come across. It seems like such a no-brainer, I’m really surprised it hasn’t been done before (or maybe it has – I’m sure the highly knowledgeable Newsarama readers can correct me.)

In the world of Texas Strangers the United States of America extends west to the Mississippi and north to the Great Lakes, while the native elves control the remainder of the continent to the north and west. The French have set up a monarchy in the south and Mexico belongs to the Azteca and the Orcs. The Free Nation of Texas, smack dab in the middle of all of them, is policed by the magical lawmen known as The Texas Rangers, but most folks call them The Texas Strangers.

The story revolves around red-headed brother and sister Wyatt and Madera (I think they’re twins) and a mysterious knife which must be returned to its place of origin. This quest is complicated, however, by Black Bart and his gang of outlaws. The seeds of the tale are fairly standard western fare, complete with saloon poker games, a gang of mustachioed bad guys, and a wonderfully prototypical lawman named Rick Blackwood, but when magic is mixed in the story rises to another level. The intertwining of the two genres is done so seamlessly that a native elf casting a Wild Tornado spell in a saloon brawl seems like the most natural thing in the world.

I found myself caught up in the story right away and didn’t look up from the page until I had finished the issue. The art is clear and easy to follow while conveying a wonderful sense of adventure and the color palette captures the dusty feeling of the desert but is bright and fun at the same time. The story is well told and the first issue ends in a suitably breathtaking cliffhanger. The girls really had a hard time following some of the story, and I think that’s due to some of the vocabulary – mercenary, nexus, and commune are a bit over their heads.

Sarah says: I was confused in the story because all of it went by so quickly and you have to remember a lot of stuff. After my mom helped me try and figure it out I understood it, but I couldn’t do it by myself. I liked the elf that talks like Yoda and the Scottish Orc. I like the horse that has diamonds on its butt because it looks cool. I like the magic part better than the western part because I don’t really like cowboy stuff. I want to read the next one because I want to find out what happens to “What” (Wyatt). It wasn’t that violent, but some little kids might be scared and might not understand it.

Shelby says: I didn’t really understand some of it but I liked the art. It is interesting because it’s just a few lines for the characters but the backgrounds have a lot of shading. I like the idea of magic and cowboys and Indians because western stuff isn’t very interesting to me but the magic helps it. I’m not sure I like the saloon and gambling situations because gambling and drinking isn’t very good for kids. I liked the brother and sister and I like that there’s an orc that’s Scottish and one with a sombrero – that’s funny. Kids won’t understand what the elves are talking about because they’re speaking isn’t in kid talk – kids will say, “Run tracks to Hope to what?” because they won’t know what the heck that means. There wasn’t a single mention of “Yippee-kay-ay” though, so how can it be a western?

Texas Strangers is most definitely a western, so there is gun play and someone is very clearly shot (though I seriously doubt he will die). The magical knife, which plays a central role in the story, seems to turn Madera into a vicious killer when it touches blood, though the short, four-panel sequence depicting this is handled in such a way that it isn’t frightening, even with a close-up on the bloody knife. There are also references to whiskey and poker. I’d say it’s appropriate for ages eight and up, as long as the violence isn’t a problem for the adults. Kids will love Texas Strangers, but you never know how parents are going to react.

Read a preview of Texas Strangers and visit the Texas Strangers blog for character bios and previews.

Interview: Janna Morishima of Diamond Kids Group

This week, in place of our regular reviews, we proudly present an interview with Janna Morishima of Diamond Book Distributors’ newly formed Diamond Kids Group. Morishima, formerly an editor at Scholastic Graphix, will work with children’s book publishers, comic and graphic novel publishers, store buyers, and the media to bring more graphic novels and comics to the kids’ market.

All Ages Reads: While at Scholastic Graphix you worked on Bone, the Babysitters Club, and Goosebumps, which are all great books that are really breaking ground in getting kids excited about graphic novels. Do you feel that Graphix has been successful so far? Was it hard to leave?

Janna Morishima: Yes, I do think that Graphix has been successful. The books you just mentioned represent, in different ways, what I believe is the future in kids’ comics.

The phenomenal success of manga in recent years proves that boys are not the only ones who love comics; girls do, too, as long as the stories being told appeal to them. The Babysitters Club graphic novels are adorable, funny, touching stories aimed at girls. Raina Telgemeier has an uncanny ability to channel the emotions of nine to twelve-year-old girls and express them in her illustrations. I think we’ll see more books like Babysitters Club soon – graphic novels that are not manga, but are directly aimed at female readers. (This is not to say that I think manga will go away – I think they are here to stay. I simply think there is room for a range of artistic and storytelling styles.)

Goosebumps represents another trend that I hope will keep growing in kids’ graphic novels: genre fiction. I am looking for publishers to release more good, fun, juicy graphic novel series. Horror stories, mysteries, romance, science fiction, historical adventure – all those genres that get you hooked on reading for its pure entertainment value, those are the types of graphic novels I hope we see more and more.

And finally, Bone is a classic. It’s an epic tale that will stand the test of time. It’s the kind of book you can read on different levels when you’re seven, when you’re twelve, when you’re twenty-one, and then start all over again when you have your own seven-year-old. In other words, graphic novels can tell a story with as much depth and truth as the best prose novels. So I’m looking forward to more gns that add to the canon of great children’s literature.

Having said all this, I’m sure you can imagine that it was hard to leave. I admired and loved working with all the artists and writers I edited at Scholastic. But a couple of things made my departure easier. First of all, the Graphix line is in very good hands. Sheila Keenan and David Saylor, the executive editor and creative director of Graphix, are both phenomenal – I think the publishing industry is lucky to have them. Second, I think my job at Diamond is perfect for me; all I want to do is evangelize for kids’ graphic novels, and that is basically what I’m being paid to do!

AAR: Can you give us a general picture of the goals for Diamond Kids Group?

JM: Diamond Kids Group has two main goals: first, to work with publishers to help them develop children’s graphic novels that are effectively edited, packaged, and marketed; and second, to work with retailers to convince them that children’s graphic novels are a category worth investing in. As a distributor, Diamond is the middleman between publishers and retailers, so we’re in the perfect position to create a dialogue and help both bookstores and publishers figure out what they can do to increase sales of kids’ graphic novels.

AAR: For the most part, kids don’t get their comics at local comic shops anymore. Libraries seem to be the place most kids are getting their first exposure to graphic novels. I know you attended the American Library Association’s meeting in Seattle. How did that go? Are librarians still excited about graphic novels?

JM: Absolutely, librarians are the graphic novel industry’s biggest cheerleaders. I have never heard of a library that introduced graphic novels without seeing healthy -- or even abnormally high -- circulation rates. So the answer is yes, librarians are still excited about graphic novels, and we (the graphic novel industry) are correspondingly excited about librarians. Seattle was a nice lovefest.

As a matter of fact, by this point some librarians are so ahead of the curve that the rest of us in the industry should be turning to them for advice. Questions like how to shelve graphic novels for maximum exposure, the most useful ways to categorize graphic novels by age level and genre, how to lure new and reluctant readers, what types of stories kids respond to … librarians have been grappling with these questions for a few years now, and they have strong and well-founded opinions.

AAR: Librarians are on board, but I know many teachers still look at graphic novels as “light reading” or “entertainment.” Shelby's fifth grade teacher told her class they couldn’t count graphic novels as part of their required reading minutes. How can the industry help teachers and parents understand the value of graphic novels?

JM: Yes, I’ve discussed this issue with many people – librarians are big graphic novel supporters, but many teachers are still skeptical. Part of this must be because teachers are under so much pressure these days to focus on test-taking and rigidly controlled curricula. It’s not hard to see why they are reluctant to try graphic novels, which haven’t been thoroughly “clinically tested and approved” by the education establishment.

Luckily there are already a number of great people and organizations who have been working on creating curricula and classroom guides for using graphic novels. The industry needs to keep supporting these efforts, and graphic novel publishers and creators should target the education community at national and local conventions, like the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.

AAR: You mentioned that part of your job will be to help publishers package and market graphic novels for children. What do you think they need to do better?

JM: Comic book publishers need to take the children’s book market seriously and do their homework. For instance, if they’re going to publish a graphic novel aimed at boys ages 9-12, they need to go take a look at books that are being published for those readers. What trim size are they? How are the covers designed? How are they priced? What does the jacket copy say?

Then they need to actually *read* some of those books aimed at boys ages 9-12. What kinds of issues are dealt with in the stories? How do the kids talk? What makes the books funny, or suspenseful, or thrilling?

And finally, they need to learn about the book market’s marketing cycle and make sure that they get advance copies into the right reviewers’ hands, with the appropriate amount of lead time before the books hit the stores. Rather than just drop the books onto shelves and hope for the best, investing the time to create and execute a marketing plan will pay off.

My greatest hope is that there will be some “cross-pollination” in the industry: I’d love to see a comics publisher hire an experienced children’s book editor (of course, someone who also knows and loves graphic novels – and I know these people exist!) to develop a children’s graphic novel line.

AAR: Another big part of your job will be to work with book retailers. What specific things can retailers do to sell more graphic novels to kids?

JM: About six years ago, the graphic novel industry used to complain that their books were getting lost, either racked on a few lonely shelves at the end of the science fiction section, or mixed in somewhere among the humor books. A couple of things happened to change this situation: first, retailers decided to create a separate section with signage that clearly indicated “Graphic Novels.” Having a critical mass of graphic novels in one bay (bookcase) in the bookstores helped increase the books’ visibility. Second, some publishers, like Tokyopop, created P.O.P. (point-of-purchase) displays that called out their books even more noticeably for consumers. Suddenly, graphic novel and manga sales started taking off, and over the past five years sales have grown an astonishing 400% (according to, graphic novel sales were approximately $75 million in 2001, and were approximately $330 million in 2006).

I predict that we’ll see the same pattern occurring for children’s graphic novels. Retailers will create a distinct subsection labeled “Graphic Novels and Manga” in the children’s department, and suddenly kids who love comics and manga will know where to find their books. Publishers who are interested in focusing on the category will work harder to market their books with promotions such as displays, special offers, advertising, author signings, etc.

AAR: There’s been a lot of discussion about content labeling for comics and graphic novels, mostly stemming from the popularity of manga, where many of the covers look like kids’ books even when they are not, and superhero titles featuring childhood heroes engaged in extreme violence. Many parents are really reluctant to let their kids read any graphic novels for fear that they will be, well, graphic. As a distributor, is there anything you can do to make it clear to parents and teachers that your titles are kid-friendly?

JM: Discussions about kid-friendly comics often head straight into debates about age ratings. While I do believe that labeling books with icons that indicate their age-appropriateness is extremely important – and most comic book publishers agree – I do not think that this action in itself will solve the graphic novel industry’s “image problem.” After all, parents are not necessarily crazy when they are reluctant to let their kids read graphic novels for fear that they will be violent. As a matter of fact, a huge number of the graphic novels currently on the market ARE quite violent! The problem here lies in the fact that most comic book publishers’ target demographic is 18- to 35-year-old men. As soon as more publishers start looking beyond that demographic and start making books for kids, for girls, for women, etc., the graphic novel category will start emerging from the superhero ghetto and become recognized as simply another format for telling stories. I think this process is just beginning right now, but we have a long way to go.

Second, I think that the graphic novel industry’s outreach to librarians and educators is critical. Librarians have already seen that graphic novels are a great aid to literacy. Kids who never used to set foot in the library will gobble up 10 or 20 volumes of a graphic novel or manga series and keep coming back for more. I’ve heard anecdotally from Steve Weiner, a Massachusetts librarian, that the circulation for prose books that are shelved next to popular graphic novels also increases. And finally, the vocabulary that kids encounter in graphic novels is often just as sophisticated – if not more sophisticated – than the vocabulary they would find in prose books at their reading level. The more that the graphic novel industry can help communicate this positive message to schools and libraries, the better.

As a distributor, we reach out to parents and teachers in basic ways by providing lists of our kid-friendly titles and attending library and educational conferences as much as possible. But we’re also working behind the scenes to encourage publishers to publish more graphic novels that are expressly aimed at kids.

AAR: What do you think the difference is between a “kids’ book” and an “all-ages book”? Can the distinction between them affect sales?

JM: This is a very good question. Honestly, I think this distinction is largely meaningless. Many of the world’s best children’s books appeal to a wide age range. On, Harry Potter is listed for “ages 9-12”, but we all know that kids as young as 7 and adults of every age are reading it. Now, it might seem counter-productive to give a book like Harry Potter an age level, but in fact, I believe that labeling books with an age or reading level is almost always useful. This is because it provides consumers with a general idea of the book’s vocabulary and thematic sophistication, and it helps booksellers target an audience. This is especially important when a book or series is first released, and the general public knows little or nothing about it.

From my casual observation, comic book publishers seem to want to label anything that is for kids “all ages.” This is probably because they don’t want to lose adult readers who might buy certain graphic novels because they are fans of the artist, writer, or character. I wonder, though, if this reluctance to explicitly target, for instance, 9- to 12-year-old readers is actually hampering the development of the children’s graphic novel market. It certainly makes it hard for sales reps and bookstore buyers to figure out where the books should be shelved – do they go in the children’s book section, or in the adult graphic novel section? As a matter of fact, many “all ages” titles do get shelved in the adult graphic novel section, where they will probably never reach thousands of kids who might otherwise love to read them.

AAR: Can you tell us about any specific titles in the works for Diamond Kids Group? Do you plan on mostly helping publishers repackage existing titles, or will you scout out new works as well?

JM: One publisher with whom I’ve been working closely recently is Seven Seas. Seven Seas is known primarily as an adult manga publisher, but they are expanding into the children’s market in an interesting way. Avalon is the first children's series that Seven Seas is releasing as part of its new children's book line. It's an interesting twist on a relaunch: Avalon is a very popular fantasy series for middle grade girls that was first published by Scholastic and then taken over by CDS. When CDS was acquired by Perseus and decided to get out of the children's book publishing business, Avalon was left without a publisher. Jason de Angelis discovered it last year and decided to relaunch all ten original volumes with new, manga-inspired cover art and interior illustrations. Seven Seas will also be publishing the last two volumes in the series (#11 and #12) which have never been published. And to top it off, Seven Seas is launching an all-new manga series based in the Avalon universe in Spring 2008.

Seven Seas has also licensed a whole slew of Japanese children’s book series that sort of straddle the line between prose and manga: they are traditional chapter books, heavily loaded with manga-style illustration. The first series, coming in October, will be The Pirate And The Princess, about a young princess whose family dies at the hands of an invading army and who is saved by a mysterious – and apparently immortal – pirate queen. Naturally, avenging the death of her family and uncovering the truth about her rescuer become the focus of the series.

The Pirate And The Princess will be followed by a series about an apprentice thief who is learning the trade at the side of his uncle, a true master criminal, and another series about a girl who wrangles ghosts and supernatural beings for a living, a la Ghostbusters.

I’ve also been working with Jimmy Gownley, the author of Amelia Rules!, who is continuing that series and planning a big publicity push this year. He just wrapped up Kids Love Comics Day March 3rd at the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts in Harrisburg, PA, where a group of creators held all-day workshops, signings, and demonstrations for more than 500 wide-eyed local kids and their parents. The tremendous success of that event bodes well for the future; Kids Love Comics is hoping to take their “Kids Love Comics Day” model around the country.

Top Shelf has a brand-new kids’ graphic novel coming out next month called Korgi, which looks absolutely beautiful. There’s a trailer for the book on the Top Shelf website. And of course, Owly volume 4 will be coming out April, too. Chris Staros and I have discussed the possiblility of repackaging Owly in color specifically for the children’s market, but it’s an option that we’re still exploring….

Lastly, I am in touch with a lot of artists and agents who have fantastic projects that are just waiting to find a home. As much as I can, I’m hoping to act as a conduit, sending the right projects to the right editors.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A Bit Haywire

A Bit Haywire by Courtney Huddleston and Scott Zirkel (Viper)

This is the best superhero comic you’ve never heard of. I don’t know if it’s the clunky title or what, but even though I spend entirely too much time looking for all-ages books, it took me a while to stumble across this one. The concept is brilliant – young Owen begins to get his superpowers but they are, well, a little bit haywire. He has superspeed, but only when he holds his breath, he can fly, but only with his eyes closed, and just wait until you see what happens when he sneezes! My favorite is what happens when someone takes his picture, but I won’t spoil it – half the fun of this book is watching Owen discover new powers, each zanier than the one before.

A Bit Haywire is high quality on every level. Zirkel’s writing is spot-on. The story is crystal clear and none of us had any trouble telling what was going on at any point. (I know that seems like a given, but you’d be surprised how many comics we’ve tried to read where the kids had no idea what was happening.) I loved how it brought back the feelings I had as a kid playing superhero – there’s nothing better than putting on a mask and a pair of oven mitts, tying your mom’s bath towel around your neck, and flying off to fight evil. Huddleston’s art is perfectly cartoony, action-packed, and expressive and Mike Garcia’s fully-saturated colors are simply awesome. This is everything all-ages comics should be –colorful, funny, and highly entertaining. There’s nothing inappropriate for kids in this book because it just isn’t needed – the story will entertain everyone, regardless of age or affinity (or lack thereof) for superheroes.

Shelby says: I like A Little Bit Haywire because it is very funny. It’s about a kid who figures out he has superpowers when he’s chased by a dog, falls off of his treehouse, and accidentally lays on ice cubes. His superpowers are special because he can only run really fast when he holds his breath and he has to do other certain things to do other certain superpowers, but I can’t tell you because they’re surprises. The idea of using superpowers by doing a certain thing is a very good idea because it’s new and original. The drawings are cool because the people are just simple lines, but the shading is what makes it look sort of 3-D. Also I like a series of panels when he is in his new costume and everybody is asking him questions. I like it because of the colors are really interesting because I would never have thought of using those colors. It turns out that his parents also have super powers but they have to take a certain type of serum to get them. I think that this book is for kids 7 to adult.

Sarah says: I like A Bit Haywire because of the characters. My favorite character is the little boy named Owen because he likes Hotfoot (she’s a girl) even though she’s older than him. My favorite part is when Owen and his dad race across the canyon. I liked it because I like the idea that a little kid could beat a superhero dad. Another favorite part of mine is when Owen dresses up in a “HERS” bath towel as a cape and tries to stop three boys in super robot suits from trashing a mall. I also liked it when he accidentally teleported into the girls bathroom! I think that it is for all ages, like our column says, and I even think my dad and grandpa would like it.

I just don’t understand why A Bit Haywire hasn’t gotten the buzz it deserves. It’s great all-ages entertainment and belongs on every reader’s shelf, in every library, and in every classroom. A Bit Haywire is going straight into my personal top ten all-ages comic list. Yes, it’s that good.

The Mighty Skullboy Army

The Mighty Skullboy Army by Jacob Chabot (Dark Horse)

We discovered Jacob Chabot and his Mighty Skullboy Army mini comics at the San Diego Comic-Con as he was sharing a table with Chris Giarrusso (Mini Marvels, G-Man, and the best website ever). Then, Chabot went on to win the Dark Horse new talent competition which has resulted in a trade of Skullboy goodness – yay! The girls will give you a good idea what it’s all about, but basically Skullboy is the world’s most evil elementary student, who, assisted by robot Unit 1 and monkey Unit 2, attempts to rule the world. Throw in a bunch of other fun characters – Mod Dog, Booger Ralph, Kevin the intern, Brutus the bully, Decoy Double #17 – and you get fun for everyone.

Sarah says: This is about this evil guy that’s a skeleton but is a kid and runs an evil corporation but he still has to go to school. The other major characters besides Skullboy are Unit 1, a robot, and Unit 2, a monkey that was made in a science lab to be extra smart but he’s really not. He’s extra dumb. I think that Skullboy and the Units are very cute characters. They look cute, but they don’t act cute – they just try to rule the world. Skullboy just wants to be evil and that’s it. My favorite character is Decoy Double 17 who is a clone of Skullboy. I like him because he is nice, but I feel sorry for him because everybody hates him.

Shelby says: Skullboy is basically a kid with a skull for a head. He has to go to school as he runs his evil corporation. He has two assistants who are a monkey and a robot. The robot is called Unit One and is very smart but very mean to the monkey, yet everyone in the corporation is anyway. The monkey (called Unit Two) was supposed to be the most intelligent animal there ever was but it didn’t happen. He can’t talk and messes around a lot. These three characters terrorize everyone, make a new unit for the corporation (which is a radish that goes psycho and attacks), compete each other with lemonade stands, and get (almost) demolished by the school bully. The art is very simple but it somehow works. I think this is a book for anybody ages 8 and up.

Skullboy is right up my alley as I’ve always loved a good mashup of cute and evil. Chabot’s character designs are so yummy, I’m even going to preorder the Skullboy vinyl figure. This is a fun book for all ages and would fit well on library and classroom shelves.

Journey into Mohawk Country

Journey into Mohawk Country by George O’Connor

This is an ambitious and fascinating project in which O’Connor uses as his text the 1634 journal of a Dutch trader in North America, creating all the visuals based on research and a creative interpretation of the trader’s own words. The story does have a beginning and an ending, but the storyline is not its allure. The difficulty of traveling many miles by foot in the winter, the size and configuration of native buildings, Mohawk healing traditions, the keeping and eating of bears – this may not be the most exciting graphic novel ever created, but it’s fascinating for its everyday details.

This is definitely a book that should be used in classrooms studying early American history – it’s amazing how we like to focus on the pilgrims, when so much more was going on in North America in that time. Journey into Mohawk Country is also a must for classes studying Native American culture, as there is a wealth of information about Mohawk life. This book could also provide the basis for a study on the interpretation of historical documents. Students can read the actual words written by Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert (albeit translated into English) and discuss O’Connor’s interpretations as well as the comedic additions he made via the illustrations, most likely in the name of making the story more interesting. Anyone with even a passing interest in history will enjoy it, and kids are certainly going be more interested in Journey into Mohawk Country than a textbook.

As to age-appropriateness, there is one depiction of topless women from behind (it’s in the preview) but it’s certainly not racy in any way. Due to the subject matter, I’d say this book is most suited to upper elementary students and older, only because younger kids might not be interested (unless, of course, they are history buffs like Sarah).

Sarah says: Journey into Mohawk Country is about a guy from the Neverlands (sic) that trades with Indians in New York. The Dutch guys mostly got beaver skin or other skins from animals. I think it was interesting that the Mohawks kept bears as pets. They waited for them to get fat and then they ate them! I like it when the Dutch guy watches some Indians try to heal a sick man traditionally. My favorite characters are the Dutch guy’s two friends because they are funny. They always mess around and in the beginning they fight and fall in the water. Once at night the large guy’s pants accidentally fell into the fire – that was funny. It’s not violent, but some little kids might be scared of the parts when the Indians try to cure the sick guys – it’s gross. I think that people who want history with a bit of funniness would like this book.

Shelby says: I like the fact that the author figured out how to turn the writings of the Dutch guy into pictures. It’s interesting that he used all of the writings from the journal and didn’t change a single thing. I think I would like this better than a textbook because it’s much more interesting!

The Professor's Daughter

The Professor’s Daughter by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert

Shelby says: I loved this book because the story was very unique – it was about a mummy who dates a professor’s daughter. He thinks that she is the reincarnation of his wife when he lived in Egypt. It seems like it’s in the 1800’s because of how everyone is dressed and there are horse-drawn carriages, but it never says anything about the time. I love the paintings because they were realistic and each scene has a different main color to create the mood. It’s not a horror story at all – the mummy is just a guy in some bandages. The mummy confronts his dad and there’s some violence in end. It’s a romance, but there’s no kissing, and it’s action-packed, too. This book would be for 12-year-olds and up. I’m 11, but I’m sophisticated in reading. The story is a bit rough for kids younger than me – there’s a bit of violence – but it’s not gross and gory.

Sarah says: I like The Professor’s Daughter because it has special qualities that might not appear in other graphic novels. It is about many things that the professor’s daughter, aka Lillian, and Imhotep “eye-vee” do together. It’s a romance story and an action story, too. The romance part is when Lillian and Imhotep talk about loving and marrying each other, but I like that there are no smooches. The action part is where they escape from The Tower of London and there are a few chases. Something happens to the Queen, too, but I’m not telling you what! Ha ha ha! It’s weird when the mummy drinks tea and gets drunk. The story has three people dying in it, but it’s not gross at all. But little kids that don’t understand that it’s just a story might get freaked out and cry. I didn’t understand the ending, but after my mom explained it to me, I understood everything perfectly and it was a very nice and happy ending.

Written by Sfar and beautifully painted by Guibert, this was the extraordinarily creative duo’s breakthrough hit ten years ago in Europe. The art is absolutely gorgeous and the story genuinely unique – imagine a mash-up between Masterpiece Theater and film noir, throw in some mummies, and play it all out in Victorian London. It’s probably too much for younger readers, with the murder and all, but I highly recommend The Professor’s Daughter to everyone old enough for a tale of love, kidnapping, betrayal, murder, and Queen Victoria soaked to her undies.

Read a preview here.

Tiny Tyrant & Sardine

Tiny Tyrant, by Lewis Trondheim and Fabrice Parme

Tiny Tyrant is series of short stories about King Ethelbert, the nasty little six-year-old king of Portocristo. Whether he’s trying to force Santa Claus to become his personal chef, calling for his own Ethelbertosaurus, or trying to cut to the front of the line for a signature from his favorite comic artist, this kid is one major handful. The art brings to mind the Fractured Fairy Tales cartoons that played alongside Bullwinkle (a personal favorite) and the retro animated style works perfectly for these stories. Ethelbert is the funniest spoiled rotten brat ever and I laughed through the whole book.

Sarah says: It’s about this dude named Ethelbert the something, and he’s really super bratty and he’s like a five-year-old. In the book he has a few supporting characters. They are a lady he calls Miss Prime Minister and he always gets what he wants and he thinks that nothing is impossible and she has to try to get him what he wants without letting him destroy the country. There’s Princess Hildegardina who is three times richer than him and says big words all the time like “disconsolate” and “philistine” and she tries to teach Ethelbert how to talk her way. Sigismund is his cousin and always fights with him. I would give it to my friends AND my grandparents!

Shelby says: I tried to read this book two times, but I only got to do it once all the way through because my mom took it away from me so she could read it. I would like to read it again because it is very funny and the stories are creative and the art is cool! It’s about a six-year-old dictator who is the king of Portocristo, an imaginary country. He thinks that he’s the best ruler in the world and he wants to be richer than his cousin, Sigismund. Actually, he’s pretty bad. He doesn’t pay attention to his tutor, and when the chef makes an ice cream sundae about as big as a couch, Ethelbert only takes a spoonful and says, “Small helpings are for wimps.” The adults treat him like he’s the neediest person in the entire city by getting him everything he wants and he threatens them if they don’t give him what he wants. I can’t pick which story is my favorite, so I’ll say all of them! This is a book for kids about six years old to adult.

Ethelbert is definitely an anti-role model, and there is some violence (lots of bombs explode, but no one gets hurt), so very conservative parents might not want to share it with very young readers (or little boys who might try to become Ethelbert). Honestly, I think Tiny Tyrant is what all-ages entertainment is all about – grandparents and grandkids could truly enjoy this book together.

Read a preview here.

Sardine in Outer Space by Emmanuel Guibert and Joann Sfar

I’m going to go ahead and call this a “kids’ comic” instead of all-ages because it really is squarely aimed at younger readers. There are plenty of jokes about bodily functions and a whole bunch of rambunctious pirate kids who, guided by Uncle Yellow Shoulder, repeatedly defeat the evil Supermuscleman. I imagine this is probably the European version of Captain Underpants – it’s goofy and silly and all kinds of fun.

Sarah says: I like all three books of Sardine in Outer Space because they are about kids that do bad things and don’t get punished for it – they get rewarded! They fight the evil Supermuscleman and his assistant, Doc Krok, who is a mad scientist. All the characters have something in common…they are all space pirates. I mostly remember two stories. One is about a flea circus that Uncle Yellow Shoulder and the kids save from a giant. The other one is the one about the Cha-Cha flies. It’s about these flies that sting people and that makes the people sing annoying cha-cha songs. The flies lure the people into their trap with their poo that tastes like chocolate. Anybody that is a geek for pirates or space and maybe boxing will like these books, as long as they’re old enough to know that they shouldn’t talk about poo and pee in public.

Nickelodeon Magazine comics

The Best of Nickelodeon Magazine All-Comics Special

I would never, ever have picked this up in a grocery store and I would never have guessed what treasures were inside. With The Fairly Odd Parents on the cover, I automatically assumed that it would be nothing but branded junk from the network. Wrong! There are a Sponge Bob and an Oddparents strip at the beginning and the end, but sandwiched in between is such comic-y goodness! Strips, interviews, gags, and games by young, talented creators like Charise Mericle Harper, Souther Salazar, Andy Ristaino, and Jason Shiga (Eisner and Ignatz winner). Not convinced? How about Gahan Wilson, James Kochalka, Craig Thompson, and Jordan Crane? Thought that might get your attention.

In addition to the strips and gags, which really will make you laugh, this is a really wonderful way to get your creative juices flowing and learn more about how comics work. There are two great games – match the missing item to its gag (Robert Leighton), and mixed-up word balloons (Craig Thompson) – and lots of gags which really get you thinking about how to tell an entire story in one panel. The “how to” strips by Ellen Forney and Gahan Wilson and the interview with gag writers Felipe Galindo, Johnny Ryan, and Karen Sneider were so inspirational and instructive that I actually got out my crayons and drew some comics – for the first time ever!

Sarah says: I liked the Nickelodeon comics because there are many different stories and all of them are cool. I liked the Gag Station because it’s by all these different artists and each one is only one picture. They are funny and I especially like Ian Baker’s because it’s about a teenage fish getting her lip pierced and it made me laugh.

Shelby says: It’s all about how to make comics. There’s the kind that it could go different ways, like a maze. There’s some really interesting ones like “The Worst Comic Book Villains That Never Existed,” like Doctor Buckethead, Pants-On-Head-Man, and the Crayoniacs, who wear dog costumes and draw on people’s walls. I also like the one called “Rules for Falling in Public.”

The All-Comics Special, especially the Forney and Gahan bits and the interview with the gag writers, is a must-have for anyone teaching kids about making comics. This would also be a great little booster shot of creativity for anyone who writes or draws funny stuff. Next time you see a Nickelodeon Magazine in the grocery check-out line, pick it up and look for The Comic Book – you’ll be surprised. Check out some samples at the Nickmag Comics Livejournal.

Big Fat Little Lit

Big Fat Little Lit, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly (Puffin Books)

We have owned and enjoyed the three hardcover volumes of Little Lit for a while now, but at twenty bucks each, they can be a real budget buster. Now, there’s Big Fat Little Lit, a paperback anthology selected from all three volumes, bringing you 36 comics and games for the nice price of $14.99. It’s an amazing line-up of creators from both comics and children’s literature, including Neil Gaiman and Gahan Wilson, Ian Falconer (Olivia) and David Sedaris, J. Otto Seibold (Olive the Other Reindeer), Crockett Johnson (Harold and the Purple Crayon), William Joyce (A Day With Wilbur Robinson), Tony Millionaire (Sock Monkey), Walt Kelly, Kaz, Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are), Daniel Clowes (Eightball), David Macaulay (The Way Things Work), Lewis Trondheim (Mister O), Martin Handford (Where’s Waldo?), and of course, Art Spiegelman.

This is a refreshing collection of odd, imaginative, clever, and unconventional stories that are not just for kids. There’s an edge to many of them, and that’s what I like best – Little Lit proves that not all stories for children must have happy endings. Some of my favorites:

The Hungry Horse by Kaz– a circular tale wherein a bad guy gets what he deserves.

Maurice Sendak’s Cereal Baby Keller – which proves that even a beloved children’s author can be slightly twisted.

The Several Selves of Selby Sheldrake by Art Spiegelman – which begins with nose picking and turns into an inventive play on words.

Ian Falconer & David Sedaris’ Pretty Ugly – which gives new meaning to an old phrase.

Neil Gaiman & Gahan Wilson’s It Was A Dark And Silly Night… – which includes a Jell-O fight in a graveyard, and, really, what’s better than that?

Sarah says: I like Neil Gaiman’s story because it has good pictures and it’s a funny story about a boy having a party at a graveyard and all the monsters come alive. I like “The Hungry Horse” because the guy who’s a farmer turns into a horse and they sell him. I learned that you shouldn’t get something when you can’t take care of it. I also liked the “Prince Rooster” story by Art Spiegelman because it has good pictures and the story is very original.

Shelby says: I liked the story by Joost Swarte because the drawings are cool and this boy, his head came off and he had to go to the hospital and they put it back on. At the end he had his head on backwards. “The Baker’s Daughter” is good because some fairy person, dressed like a very poor person, asked for some food. The baker’s daughter only gave her a little piece, so she turned her into an owl. I learned even if someone’s poor and you’re rich, don’t treat them differently because they’re the same as you.

This definitely belongs in every library, with copies in the children’s section, the teen/young adult section, and the adult collection. If you want to show someone how diverse, entertaining, and engaging short-form comics can be, give them Big Fat Little Lit.

The Cryptics & The Very Big Monster Show

The Cryptics by Steve Niles and Ben Roman (Image)

“For Immature Readers Only!” When you see that on the cover of a comic, it’s gotta be a good sign, right? Well, yes and no. For older readers, The Cryptics is really a lot of fun, but not so much for the little ones.

Niles and Roman take a bunch of young monsters (Wolfy, Drac, Jekyll/Hyde, and Sea Boy) and give them smart-aleck 10-year-old personalities, which, of course, leads to all kinds of zany mayhem and fun.

The first issue isn’t what I’d consider all-ages. There are the seemingly compulsory uses of the words “crap” and “ass” that seem to have become ubiquitous in comics. There is also the scene where “getting it on” and “sexual intercourse” are mentioned in reference to Wolfy’s parents (!), and there’s a seriously twisted Christmas tale. It’s very entertaining, however, for anyone over the age of about 15.

The second issue is much more kid-friendly. The story involves Wolfy mistakenly being sent to Limbo and the boys’ attempt to rescue him. A solid story, funny dialogue, and likeable characters make it a fun read for anyone 10 and older. The bureaucratic reaper minions and their psycho boss just might be my new favorite comic characters.

Sarah says: Cryptics is very funny, even though it has a few words in it that are, well, you know what I mean. The comics are very short. In the first comic it’s a bunch of different stories and in the second one it’s two different stories. My favorite character is Kid Hyde because he is really dorky when the potion isn’t in his body, but when he has the potion he is a giant monster. The Hyde monster doesn’t quite say things clearly and his shirt and pants are ripped. He’s funny because he doesn’t really know much but he always ends up helping everybody. In the second story there are little Viking dudes that accidentally come to the monster kids’ world. The Viking dudes are really teeny, only about a foot tall and I liked them because they were so chubby and cute, like little babies with beards and Viking hats.

Shelby says
: I LOVE the Cryptics because the stories and the art are very cool. The art is awesome because the monsters are cute yet still creepy like they should be. There’s Drac, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Wolfy, and Jekyll turns into Hyde. The stories are cool because things happen like when Drac’s mom comes out to where he and his friends are playing with water guns. So Hyde says, “Drac’s in trouble…Drac’s in trouble!” She ends up making them play with their toys in the play room (a dungeon) which happen to be torturing stuff. So basically they act like regular kids but they are really monsters. This is basically all ages but there’s only a few things you have to watch out for. Sometimes the Creature from the Black Lagoon kid says “ crap,” Drac says “ass” once, and the occasional gross drool from their mouths, but other than that it’s really appropriate for almost anyone who likes monsters. Anyway, I LOVE this comic.

Read the Newsarama interview with Niles and Roman here. See a five-page preview of Issue #2 at Ben Roman’s blog.

While we’re talking Niles, we should also mention The Very Big Monster Show by Steve Niles and Butch Adams (IDW). This great little book came out a couple of years ago and is well worth picking up. In what amounts to a love letter to classic movie monsters, a young boy gets the old gang back together (Drac, Frank, the Mummy, etc.) and helps them remember how to be scary, just in time to run off the newbies from Big Deal Studios like Devil Doll and Forkhead. A really fun story with beautifully creepy art by Butch Adams, this isn’t for the littlest tykes, but anyone who likes monsters at all will love it.

Sarah says: It is not mean, and horrible, and scary except for the part when the monsters look all creepy because they’re all dark and have these big fingernails and teeth. I felt happy for the monsters because they finally got what they wanted, which was to be more famous again.

On the Roman side of things, we all loved the art in The Cryptics. Be warned, however, that Roman and Giffen’s I Luv Halloween, which on the surface appears to be a “spooky cute” story like The Cryptics, is most definitely NOT all-ages.

Gumby comics

Gumby by Bob Burden and Rick Geary (Wildcard Ink)

I remember watching the Gumby show when I was a kid and thinking it was like an odd dream, but in a fun way. Reading the first two Gumby comic issues felt like floating through fever induced nightmares caused by the flu. In the first issue, a gang of rogue clowns loots a convenience store, tries to kidnap Cuddles and beat up Gumby, and then sets all the booze ablaze, trapping Gumby and friends in the burning building. In the second issue Gumby gets hypnotized and turned into a Golem, Pokey pukes, and Gumby’s mom is driven to say, “Our child! His guts are coming out!” Personally, I find Nimrod to be one of the creepiest characters ever drawn (*shudder*). There are some fun gags that adults will enjoy, and the art is actually very good, but overall the whole thing just set my teeth on edge.

Sarah says
: Gumby is very different than most comics. It has its own style to it. The stories are very odd and sometimes they didn’t make too much sense. In the second one it sort of didn’t look too kid-friendly in Gumby’s dream because the girl, Cuddles, was all burnt and was on fire. When reading it, it felt like torturing myself a little because it creeps me out a little bit. I want to read the next one so I can torture myself more.

Shelby says: Gumby is very interesting. The art creeps me out sometimes because some of the characters are very creepy looking, like the clowns and the Ringmaster. The stories are not for children in some parts because the things that some of the characters do are bad examples for children and there are some scary images, like when the bulldog takes a bite out of Gumby’s leg and when the clowns scare away a policeman by kicking him in the bottom and aiming a cannon at him. In one scene, a superhero sidekick calls Cuddles a “hoochie mama.” Gumby and his pal Pokey are cute and I like the town because all of the buildings are things like a big, huge mailbox, a chair, a fire hydrant, and other stuff.

Ugh – I think that’s our first across-the-board negative review. The next one is better, I promise!

Castle Waiting

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley, published by Fantagraphics

If you have even a passing interest in all-ages graphic novels, you’ve heard of Castle Waiting. It has won Harveys and Eisners and was just named to the American Library Association’s 2007 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens. I’m slightly ashamed that we are just getting around to reading this book now, and I intend to do penance before St. Wilgeforte to make up for it.

Castle Waiting has its roots in classic fairy tales (Sleeping Beauty shapes the beginning of the story) but the completely original cast of characters drives this book into new and very creative territory. You get bearded nuns, a horse knight, poltersprites, a green baby, an Opinicus, and plenty of other odd and amusing characters, but it’s the depth and complexity of the main characters that is so appealing. There are no Disney princesses here! My favorite character is Sister Peace, a bearded nun who can be silly as well as strong, inept as well as insightful, and, like most of us, is groping and stumbling her way toward doing the right thing.

The clean lined art is completely focused on the characters, featuring great facial expressions and body language. The story can get complicated – there’s a story within a story within a story – so it might be difficult for younger readers to follow. There is some minor language (“crap” and “hell”) that might keep it out of an elementary school, but that would be a shame, because this is a great book that shows what an all-ages graphic novel can and should be.

The girls balked at the sight of the hefty book at first – it certainly doesn’t look like a comic book! – but that only lasted about two pages. The very second Sarah finished the last page of the book, she flipped back to the beginning and started all over again. Now, she’s a strong reader for her age (8 years old), and often has her nose buried in a book, but I’ve never seen her do that before. Shelby (age 11) flopped out on her bed and read it cover to cover in a couple of hours straight.

Shelby says: Castle Waiting is very awesome because the characters are interesting. There are funny characters and characters that are like people but they have animal heads. The drawings are very detailed and it’s only black, no gray at all, but Linda Medley uses lines to give it a lot of depth and detail. I like Pindar because he’s a cute, tiny baby and he’s got funny hair when it doesn’t get cut. If kids think that this book is way too long to read, they should know that it’s not hard to read and I read it in one day. I think the ages should be nine to adult. Like our topic says, “This is an all-ages book!” Kids eight and under might not understand it because there are stories within the story.

Sarah says: I like Castle Waiting because of the characters. It’s different from other books because it’s a VERY large graphic novel. It has many characters. I can probably only name half of them because there are so many. My favorite ones are Leeds, who is a demon, because he always talks to and has a crush on Sister Peace. He can turn into anything he can think of, but the only thing he can’t do is get lost. Sir Chess is a man who looks like a horse and I like him because he’s a really tough guy and he always makes jokes and he’s nice, too. Did you know that “caudal appendage” means a tail? You’ll learn a lot in this book! I like Finny, the worm-looking dude that protects the baby. He talks funny, like when he says, “Skeereeree monnsserrrz!” I had to read his words out loud in order to understand them and that was fun. I think that both kids and grownups would like this book, but kids that don’t know that they shouldn’t say certain words that are in the book shouldn’t read it by themselves. The words aren’t really that bad, but just to be safe, adults should be supervising them.

The collected hardcover edition of Castle Waiting from Fantagraphics is a beautifully produced book. You can purchase color plates to put in it and a gorgeous cover to put on it at Linda Medley’s site, where you can also preview an entire chapter. The best news of all is that Castle Waiting Volume 2 is being released in single issues every six weeks. We have the first four issues and we’ve penciled in the release date for #4 on the family calendar.

Lunchbox Funnies online comics

Lunchbox Funnies online comic collective

When I read about the launch of, the new all-ages webcomic collective, my excitement about new all-ages material was tempered by the fact that I’ve never been a big webcomics fan. I’d rather see a two-page spread all at once and not have to scroll and click. That, and the computer screen gives me a headache if I look at it too long.

But the mission statement for Lunchbox Funnies is so dead-on, I just had to give it a try:
The term “all-ages” has become something of a mantra for our creators. We’ve each been working towards creating highly entertaining comics that can be enjoyed by beginning readers, teenagers, and adults alike. We’re convinced that “all-ages” doesn’t mean “just for kids,” but rather it’s a label that should apply to entertainment that allows for shared experiences across generational lines. Our creators benefited greatly from quality all-ages entertainment growing up, but these days stories that can be enjoyed by children and adults seem incredibly rare. Lunchbox Funnies wants to change that.

Ah, someone actually gets it. But are the comics actually all-ages? And are they any good? We took it upon ourselves to find out. I clicked and clicked and clicked some more, got a headache, took a break, and clicked some more. And I smiled and I giggled and I laughed. The best part, however, is what happened when I turned the girls loose on the site. It was completely silent in our house for several hours except for the occasional chortle, giggle, or guffaw. That alone makes this site a success in my book.

Here’s what we thought of each of the eight webcomics in the collective. Our reviews include the number of clicks (think “pages”) available as of this writing.

Aki Alliance by Ryan Estrada

I got a few chuckles out of Ryan Estrada’s story of “one girl's battle to make friends with everyone in her class, whether they like it or not.” Each chapter features Aki trying to make another of her classmates into a friend – all on a bet. If you like smart-alek humor, definitely give this one a shot. 36 clicks

Sarah says: My favorite part about Aki Alliance is the part when Aki’s mom talks instead of the Dad. I also like the part when the kids talk in a funny made-up language. I can understand it because I know that they separate the letters in to different colors so you just read the black letters. I want to read more because I want to see her make friends with all the other people in the school.

Astronaut Elementary by Dave Roman

I had a hard time getting through about the first 18 clicks or so – the quirky way the characters speak just got annoying after a while – but I started to get into it when I got to the “anti-gravity drill” storyline and enjoyed it from there on. Be warned that the second page is somewhat inappropriate for young kids, so you might want to skip that one. 30 clicks, some much longer than others

Shelby says: It’s a series of different comics that have a story about a different character. There’s a snotty brat rich girl, a bunny, a regular girl, and a boy who lives in a robot’s head. It’s really long, so I didn’t read it all yet, and some of the pages take a while to download on my computer. Someday, if I have enough time, I will finish reading it.

Butterfly by Dean Trippe

Butterfly is a cute, little superhero sidekick and most of the other characters in the strip are parodies of existing superhero characters. I think I’m missing something here – even though I started reading at the oldest strip in the archive it feels like I came into the middle of the story and I’m not quite sure what’s going on. It’s always hard to start a new title and establish characters, so maybe I just need to stick with it until it gets rolling. And maybe if I read more superhero comics, especially DC titles, I’d get more out of this one. 38 clicks

Sarah says: It just didn’t make sense to me because it didn’t introduce you to any of the characters – it just sort of started.

Cow & Buffalo by Mark Maihack

Stupid Cow + smart Buffalo = funny. I really enjoyed the early strips in black and white – pretty funny stuff. But when Maihack started adding color shading, well, it just isn’t my cup of hot chocolate. For me, it actually made it harder to see the characters. I also liked the writing up until about the same point, but I just didn’t find the time travel storyline as entertaining as the earlier stuff. Many, many clicks, going back to 2003

Shelby says: The cow is a boy with udders – it explains how that happened and it’s funny. They try to eat the hen’s eggs and they tease her like on one that’s Halloween costumes, they say, “What are you dressed up as?” and she says, “I’m a witch,” and they say, “No, really, what’s your costume?” It’s funny.

Lunchbox by Ovi Nedelcu

Sarah says: Lunchbox is about a girl and her little brother, but the brother is a baby but speaks long words. They’re not very good friends. The girl is basically a brat in most of the stories and the little boy is cute and kind. Each picture is a separate story but about the same two characters.

Hard to tell about this one as there are only 7 strips so far. All I can say at this point is that the humor is very biting. I enjoyed Ovi’s Pigtale, so I’ll come back for more of Lunchbox to see how it plays out.

Silent Kimbly by Ryan Sias

Silent Kimbly is a collection of one-shot puns which run the gamut from real groaners to genuine laugh-out louds. I can see these being used in a classroom to teach homonyms, heteronyms, homographs, and other odd fun with the English language. I recommend that parents and kids (or teachers and students) read it together so those with more life experience can explain some of the jokes to the younger readers. 292 clicks –the puns start around the mid-fifties

Sarah says: It’s like Amelia Bedealia because it has different meanings for the words that make it funny. It’s not a story but each picture tells its own joke. Most of them made me laugh, but certain ones (like the “bottom of the bathtub”) just made me go, “Eeeew!” I think it would be good in a second grade class or older to teach kids about double meaning words.

Wally & Osborne by Tyler Martin

In the same spirit as Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes, Tyler Martin makes all-ages comics really funny. Wally & Osborne is a Sunday funnies style strip starring a penguin and a polar bear in Antarctica and it will definitely make you laugh. Much of the humor revolves around something very bad happening to Osborne the penguin (a la Coyote & Roadrunner) and/or various bodily functions, so I suppose if a parent were worried about violence and bathroom humor they might want to skip this one, but it’s no worse than most cartoons. Recommended for most everyone and should definitely be in the funny pages of all major newspapers! Mucho, mucho clicks going back to June 2005

Shelby says: The polar bear is Wally and the penguin is Osborne and they tease each other. Sometimes they’re really stupid because they get themselves trapped or hurt or in some kind of trouble. I liked it because it’s funny when their teasing works on each other.

Zip and Lil’ Bit by Trade Loeffler

In my opinion, this is the best of the bunch. Completely charming and old-fashioned in the best way, Zip and Lil’ Bit really needs to be put in print. Go read it right now – it won’t take too long and will totally be worth your while. On a technical note, I liked that I could set the screen at just the right spot and not have to scroll at all as I went from page to page. 48 clicks

Sarah says: It’s awesome and would make a good text book (without pictures). It’s interesting because it has a strong amount of mystery-ish stuff. Lil’ Bit never really has a speech bubble – she only whispers into people’s ears and then they say stuff like, “Hey, that’s a good idea,” and then they say what she told them. There are two Zips, the upside down Zip and the regular Zip. They both think each other are upside down. They switch places and most of the story takes place with the actual upside down Zip. I can’t wait till Sunday to read and find out what happened to right-side-up Zip!

Kat & Mouse

Kat & Mouse, Teacher Torture and Kat & Mouse, Tripped
Alex de Campi and Federica Manfredi (Tokyopop)

When Kat's dad gets a job as a science teacher at a posh private school, things seem perfect—that is, until Kat's rich, popular classmates shove her to the bottom of the social heap just for being smart. And bad turns to worse when an anonymous student blackmails Kat's dad to give the class better grades! Can Kat and her new friend, the rebellious computer nerd Mouse, find the real culprits before Kat's dad loses his job? (Tokyopop)

The girls had to really push me to read these books. Frankly, reading about seventh-grade girls just didn’t appeal to me – I lived it, and I didn’t enjoy it the first time. I’m a sucker for a good mystery, though, and I have to admit that once I read the first two volumes, Alex de Campi had me hooked. There isn’t as much overblown pre-teen drama as I expected, and very little focus on the boy-girl dynamic, which is a relief. Each issue in the series features a mini-mystery (which is solved by the end), but the larger mystery of the Artful Dodger carries through all the books. I freely admit to being a manga moron (I don’t even how to pronounce it), so I can’t speak to how these books fit the genre, but the characters are all big-eyed and beautiful, so it looks like manga to me. I was a bit relieved that Kat & Mouse is in the English format and I didn’t have to read backwards, as I’ve just never gotten the hang of it.

Overall, this series is very entertaining so far and will certainly appeal to its intended audience of preteen girls. Adults looking for some light reading will also enjoy it. Kat & Mouse is definitely a must for every youth library.

Sarah says: Kat & Mouse is a good beginner’s mystery story that anyone would like. The two books I read are really good. The characters are all different – Kat and Mouse are friends Mouse is a punk chick and Kat is more girly-girl. I like the art because it’s kind of cartoony and kind of realistic at the same time. I like Mouse’s Guide to Dover Academy Seventh Grade because it explains everybody at the school. I like when younger people are the solvers of the mystery because it makes me feel like I could do it.

Shelby says: I like the art because the characters look sometimes manga but like real people at the same time. They make a good team because Kat is really smart and Mouse is friendly and tough. I like mystery stories and I liked this one a lot because I can’t figure it out before they give you the answer. The “popular” kids are just lame because of the way they talk and the way that they bully around Kat and Mouse just like what the popular kids do at my school. Boys wouldn’t be seen reading a story about girls, but if you gave it to them and they read it at home when no one was watching, they would like it.

Mail Order Ninja

Mail Order Ninja, written by Joshua Elder, illustrated by Erich Owen (Tokyopop)

Shelby says: Mail Order Ninja is a story about a boy named Timmy who enters in a contest and wins a ninja named Jiro. His mom and dad won’t let him keep Jiro but he ends up doing it anyway. So the snobby rich girl at his school gets jealous and buys an evil ninja, which happens to be Jiro’s arch enemy.

And hilarity ensues! Timmy takes on bullies, deals with his bratty little sister, battles the most evil of villainesses and her ninja army, and saves the town – with Jiro’s help of course. Mail Order Ninja puts a ninja clan battle in the middle of an elementary school, manages not to kill anyone, and makes you laugh.

Is this great literature? No. Is it really, really fun? Absolutely! Kids will love the story, the humor, and the action, while adults will enjoy the plethora of pop culture references. Elder does a great job of working the references into the story so that even if kids don’t get them, they still make sense. The author and artist found some very creative ways to make these books all-ages – there’s nothing here that would keep these books out of a children’s library – with some simple word choices (“crud” instead of “crap”) and carefully depicted fight scenes. I got quite a few chuckles out of these books and I enjoyed the art quite a bit, even though I’m not a manga reader. Mail Order Ninja is silly fun for pretty much everyone.

Of course, some parents might make the “ninjas are violent” argument, though the violence in this book is very mild compared to many supposedly all-ages comics I’ve read. Be prepared, however, for some role play. As soon as Shelby finished reading Mail Order Ninja Vol. 2, she used her newly acquired ninja skills to attack me using a rolled up map as a sword. Though the stealth of her approach was impressive, I was able to employ some swift defensive maneuvers and take her down with the dreaded “tickle torture.” Tokyopop has a “Youth Age 10+” label on M.O.N. but I think I’d put it at 7 and up. The preview of Vol. 1, Chapter 1 is about as violent as these books get, so you can decide for yourself.

Mail Order Ninja Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are really one continuous story, so if you’re going to get one, go ahead and get both.

Shelby says: The art is very manga and the story is cool but the way some of the characters talk is a little odd. Like, the stupid kid just goes “duhhhhhhhhh” and the nerdy kid talks the opposite. That’s not how kids in the real world act but it was funny. It’s funny the way that Timmy’s little sister, Lindsay, always says, “Are you prouder of me than of Timmy? May I have a unicorn since Timmy gets a ninja?” She’s always jealous, like somebody else I know. You probably can guess who! The second book is much different than the first, but I can’t tell you why because it’s a surprise. If you are gonna read the first book, you should read the second because it’s the same story. If you only read the first one, you’re not going to get the entire story. I would say the ages are 7 and up. If you like funny things and action you will like this book, because there’s a lot of that in it.

Sarah says: Mail Order Ninja is so good it was certificated by the Awesome Awesomeness Association of America. I like it because the art was totally awesome and the kids and the ninjas kicked butt in it – hiiiiiiiiyaaaaaaaa! I would consider it easy to read except for a few long words that Herman says. Herman is the school nerd. I liked Felicity, the evil rich girl, because I made a voice up for her and it’s a cool voice. I liked the part when the kids that had no training beat up the bad ninjas. I didn’t like the kissing part so I’m glad they didn’t really show it. Everybody will like it except for small kids that can’t understand words very easily. I gave these books to my school library and I’ll bet lots of kids will check ‘em out!

Interview: David Saylor of Scholastic Graphics

This week, we have an interview with one of the very first folks to take up the graphic novel banner at a major children’s publisher – David Saylor of Scholastic Graphix. Scholastic is, according to its website, “the largest publisher and distributor of children's books and related products to home and school,” distributing approximately 400 million books in 2006. So far the Graphix imprint has released two volumes of Raina Telgemeier’s adaptation of The Babysitters Club, a first volume of Goosebumps adaptations, Chynna Clugston’s Queen Bee, and four color volumes of Jeff Smith’s classic, Bone.

All-ages Reads: With so many people saying, "Comics aren't for kids anymore," it's wonderful to see a large publisher bring all-ages work out in a big way. Where did the idea for a Scholastic line of all-ages graphic novels originate and what are your goals for the imprint?

David Saylor: 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. I want GRAPHIX to be a part of that. About 4 or 5 years ago, the buzz about Graphic novels was heating up again due to the incredible talents of creators like Jeff Smith, Kazu Kibuishi, Marjane Satrapi, and Craig Thompson. At that time, too, I began reading graphic novels and I rediscovered a love for comics originating from when I was eight years old. But when I was around ten or eleven, I stopped reading comics (except for the comics in MAD Magazine), and I think it was partly because there wasn’t a broad range of comics available for me to read, beyond superhero comics. The comics I liked best then were character-based stories with Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, Little Lotta, and Richie Rich. And I definitely liked reading longer comics that felt more substantial. Anyway, while I was discovering these great graphic novels for adults and thinking back on my childhood reading patterns, it suddenly seemed clear that today’s kids who love comics weren’t being especially well served by comic book publishers, and worse, were being completely ignored by mainstream children's publishers. And that made no sense: kids love comics; we publish books for kids. Why weren’t we publishing comics for kids? It seemed so obvious. So that’s what spurred me to create the GRAPHIX imprint at Scholastic.

Another nice confluence happened when I hired Janna Morishima to be my assistant, and it turned out that she loved comics as much as I did. Our passion and quiet determination helped launch the GRAPHIX imprint at Scholastic, though it only came together with the addition of the talented editor and comics advocate, Sheila Keenan, and the vision of our then publisher, Jean Feiwel. And now here we are, going into our third year of publishing.

AAR: So, how is it going so far? Are you getting the response and sales figures you wanted or expected?

DS: The response has been great from everyone so far: retailers, comics aficionados, and, most happily, kids. I think our timing was good. We launched in 2005 and we seem to be riding a very nice wave, one that grew from the grassroots of the comics world, swelled from the enthusiasm of Librarians (who quickly embraced graphic novels for kids), and is now surging forward on the excitement of retailers and the book-buying public. Teachers, too, are starting to join the swim. Everyone is looking for ways to get kids reading and I think graphic novels and comics are the new answer to an old problem. As far as sales go, we’ve been doing well, and in some cases the sales have been spectacular, as with Jeff Smith's BONE books. The first four BONE books combined have sold over a million copies in all of Scholastic’s distribution channels (Trade, Book Fairs, and Clubs). Those figures verify for me that when kids connect with comics, it's a really powerful phenomenon.

AAR: Scholastic's distribution model is distinctly different than Diamond's direct market approach or even most mainstream book publishers - kids can buy Scholastic books at school. For those readers who don't have kids in school, can you explain the Book Clubs and Book Fairs and how they impact your sales?

DS: Scholastic is very unusual in that we have three areas of distribution: Trade, Book Fairs, and Clubs. The Trade market consists of traditional book stores, comic book stores, mass superstores (Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, Costco, for example) and other retailers and wholesalers. This is the territory that every publisher is selling to.

Scholastic Book Fairs are like a book store set up by schools in their library, gym, or even a hallway for several days or up to a week. Kids and parents come to the fair and are able to buy books at good prices from all publishers, not just Scholastic, and so there’s a great variety of books to choose from. Each fair is managed and staffed by volunteers from the community--kids and adults alike--and they put enormous energy into making it a success. The essential part is that each school receives a percentage of sales from their fair, and that money is then used to support programs at that school. Beyond income for the school, it also generates plenty of excitement about books. I’ve been to several fairs and it’s always incredibly energizing to see kids get so excited by books they’ve picked out for themselves. The fairs are a great way for kids to explore the pleasure of reading.

The Scholastic Book Clubs distribute book catalogs through teachers who then distribute them to kids in the classroom. The Clubs are all about great value: wonderful books at amazing prices. And again, they offer books from all publishers, not just Scholastic. I have great memories of ordering from the Scholastic Book Clubs when I was a kid. It was the first time that I got to choose books for myself. And I ordered anything that piqued my interest: mysteries, joke books, adventure stories. It was very empowering to be able to order what I wanted and to realize that the world was full of so many different kinds of books that I might love to read. So, when it comes to getting books to children, Scholastic is incredibly effective: it’s astonishing how many kids we can reach. We’re the largest publisher and distributor of children's books in the world.

AAR: When I was teaching, my entire classroom library came from Scholastic Book Order bonus points! Scholastic’s presence in the schools is huge. How are books selected for the Book Club flyers? Is there the possibility of an all graphic novel flyer in the future?

DS: Book Club selections are made by a team of editors at the Book Clubs. They review books sent to them by various publishers who are eager to license a Scholastic edition of their books to the Book Clubs. The editors pick books that they feel are right for the age group and for the particular book club (there are a few different Clubs, mostly differentiated by ages/grades and content). Naturally all books are screened for content to make sure that it’s age appropriate and therefore many Teen graphic novels would not work for Book Clubs based on that criteria. As to what’s featured in the flyers, these are also decisions made by the Book Club editors. Graphic novels can be submitted to Teresa Imperato, Director of Product Development. The idea of doing an “all graphic novel flyer” is interesting, but my guess is that there would have to be enough interest among kids and teachers to justify the expense of creating and marketing a separate flyer, which is enormous. And at this point, the demand is not yet there.

AAR: Your PDF publication aimed at teachers, Using Graphic Novels in the Classroom, is excellent. I think every teacher and librarian should have a copy. Who wrote it? Has it been well-received?

DS: It's a great pamphlet and it's available as a free download on our website: There’s a box on the homepage that says, “Click here for Teaching with Graphix”. Click, and you can download the PDF file. It was written by Philip Crawford and Stephen Weiner, two authors who are each highly regarded experts in the field of graphic novels for youth librarians and teachers, and edited by our Director of Library Marketing, John Mason.

AAR: Graphix has gone with some proven winners, like Bone, and adapted some popular prose series, like The Babysitters Club and Goosebumps. When evaluating existing titles that could be added to the Graphix line, what do you look for?

DS: The first thing to think about is whether or not a book feels like it can be successfully adapted into a graphic novel. Not every book or series we've published is going to be right for visual adaptation. Nor would we want to try: most books intended as prose works are just perfect as they are. Why adapt them unless there’s a compelling reason to do so? In the case of Goosebumps and The Babysitters Club, both were series that had been out in the world in several different forms, including spin-offs and movie versions, so they were ready for a graphic novel incarnation. With Goosebumps, it felt like a natural next step, so we created anthologies, putting three scary stories in one volume that we knew would be fun see as a comic. And it’s a great way for us to work with well-known artists who can’t fit a longer volume into their schedule: a 40-page story is very do-able. So far we’ve worked with Greg Ruth, Scott Morse, Gabriel Hernandez, Amy Kim Ganter, Jill Thompson, Jaime Tolagson, Kyle Baker, Ted Naifeh, and Dean Haspiel.

With the Babysitters Club, we weren’t sure at first if it could be done, until we found the perfect person to adapt them, Raina Telgemeier. She grew up reading The Babysitters Club, and she realized that reading Ann M. Martin greatly influenced her own writing voice. So when she told us that it was something she'd love to do, we were very excited to see how she’d handle it. After seeing her first sketches, we knew she was the perfect person to adapt this series. At the moment, we’re open to adapting other series, but we don’t have any immediate plans.

AAR: You've got some original work as well, such as Queen Bee. How do you select creators to work with?

DS: Chynna Clugston, who wrote and drew Queen Bee, channeled exactly the right tone for this story about middle-school girls who are rivals to become the "Queen Bee" of their social set. Girls really love it, and that was part of Chynna's interest in doing this book: to make entertaining comics for girls that they'd love reading. Queen Bee was one of the reasons that GRAPHIX won the Lulu of the Year Award at this year's Comic-con in San Diego. We're committed to creating comics for girls that reflect their interests.

When we're looking for original books, we want three things: rich storytelling, great characters, and wonderful artwork. When those three things come into combination, that's a book we want to publish. For that reason, BONE is really the centerpiece of the GRAPHIX imprint. Jeff Smith created a timeless classic that represents the best of what a comic book writer and artist can achieve. We try to publish books that are creator-driven, meaning that the artists and writers have a strong point-of-view and they express themselves eloquently through their words and artwork.

AAR: How do you feel about the recent discussions regarding content labeling for comics and graphic novels? Do you think it's necessary? Would content labeling change the way Graphix selects or publishes its titles?

DS: Content labeling feels necessary sometimes, if only because when it comes to children's books, people get very nervous and want guidance. With the usual children's prose or illustrated books, it's perhaps easier for consumers to get a book for the right age child because they are shelved within specific age categories inside book stores. But graphic novels for different ages, at least at the moment, are sometimes placed together on the same shelf. It's occasionally unclear (without carefully perusing the book) whether or not a comic book is age appropriate for a certain child. As with most things involving kids, parents (or some other adult) are the guardians and they are responsible to help sort things out. If labeling helps, especially when bookstores are still figuring out where and how to shelve graphic novels and manga, then it seems like it could be useful for everyone: parents, teachers, librarians, and booksellers. In fact, most children's books already have an age range printed on them somewhere, so I don't think it's a problem to offer general content information or age-appropriateness guidelines on kids’ books. So, content labeling would not effect how we select or publish our titles.

One side note: GRAPHIX is about to publish our first graphic novel for teens called, Breaking Up, by Aimee Friedman and Christine Norrie. It has a T for “Teen Content” label and will be in bookstores in January of 2007.

AAR: The Graphix line so far seems aimed at upper elementary and middle school students. I'd love to see some titles for the younger kids, say kindergarten to second grade - I think the graphic novel format is great for beginning readers because it allows them to read more complex stories. Do you have any plans for that age range?

DS: We have the Magic Pickle graphic novel (reissued in full color) and two Magic Pickle chapter books coming from Scott Morse as well as two younger series by Frank Cammuso, Salem Hyde and Knights of the Lunch Table. Aaron Renier is creating two books for us. They both feature a spunky boy, Walker Bean, who fights evil merwitches and thwarts pirates. These will definitely appeal to those younger elementary kids. As GRAPHIX grows, I’m sure we’ll be publishing more for younger readers from K to 2nd grade.

AAR: Jeff Smith's book tour looks like a great undertaking. Any chance of getting some of your creators to visit schools as well as trade shows and bookstores?

DS: This is very much a possibility. In fact, if anyone is interested in setting up a school visit or bookstore visit, then Scholastic can help arrange that. You can reach our author appearance coordinator at: 212-389-3772.

AAR: Thanks so much, David. We’re certainly looking forward to more Graphix!

In addition to more volumes of Bone, The Babysitters Club, and Goosebumps (Kyle Baker and Jill Thompson!), here is a short list of upcoming titles:

The Seventh Voyage adapted and illustrated by Jon J Muth. Caught in a time warp, a hapless astronaut meets his past and future selves as they attempt to fix their broken rocket ship.

The Woodland Chronicles, written and illustrated by Greg Ruth. Fifty years ago a boy named Walt disappeared. Strange woodland creatures seem to be responsible. Can 12-year-old Nathan Superb solve the mystery and save the world from a cataclysmic battle?

Amulet, Book 1 by Kazu Kibuishi
Emily and Navin must rescue their mother after she disappears in the basement of their strange new house. They stumble into a subterranean world of giant robots, human-eating demons, and weird creatures. The brother and sister are befriended by a small mechanical rabbit as they head out on a mysterious and dangerous adventure.

Interview: Kevin Grevioux

Valkyries is written by Kevin Grevioux, who is probably most well-known as the writer of the movie Underworld. A former microbiologist who left his graduate studies in genetic engineering to give Hollywood a try, Kevin became a successful actor (Underworld, Planet of the Apes), stuntman, and producer. A self-described Marvel Zombie, Kevin is multi-talented and a heck of a nice guy, and the good news for us is that he’s now writing his own line of All Ages comics under the banner of Astounding Studios. Until recently, several of his titles (Valkyries, The Toy Box, The Hammer Kid, Guardian Heroes, The Vindicators) were being published by Alias, but with their change in publishing focus, things are a bit up in the air for Astounding’s comics. We checked in with Kevin to talk about Valkyries and get the latest.

All Ages Reads: You have quite a varied and fascinating background. How did you go from genetic engineering to Hollywood screenwriting to writing comics?

Kevin Grevioux: Well, I have always loved science-fiction and fantasy ever since I was a kid. Getting into REAL science as a profession was a natural progression that was more “socially acceptable” than getting into “science fiction,” especially for the parents. Basically, I ended up getting out of science because it didn’t pay very well. I loved it, and I was already in grad school, but when I looked at how long it was going to take me to finish my masters and PhD, as well as the small amount of money that people in my lab at NIH were making, I decided it was no longer for me. Plus, I had already decided to try to start a film career by taking film classes congruently with my GE curriculum. Film eventually won out.

AAR: Was it a natural transition from writing films to writing comics? It seems to me that because of their visual nature they might be similar.

Kevin: I don’t know if it was natural per se, but I think I was able to do it without too much difficulty, although there are still some things I’m learning. But remember, I’m doing my own comics, so the environment of doing my own thing is probably much different than working for Marvel and DC. There are some similarities between screenplays and comics, but there are differences as well – the major differences being the placing of “reveals” and the pacing of a comic book script versus a screenplay. You can drag things out and take your time with comics, but with a screenplay you can’t do that. At least not in the same way.

AAR: What made you want to write comics? And why all-ages comics in particular?

Kevin: As far as the comic books were concerned, they’ve been a hobby of mine since I was about 12 and I’ve always wanted to write them, but I never thought I’d get the chance. But, doing the all-ages stuff really came about accidentally. I met two guys, Scott Sava and Mike Kunkel, two of the most talented cats I know, and they showed me this book of all-ages/animated properties they were creating. It was some of the most imaginative stuff I’ve ever seen. That’s what really got the ball rolling and provided the impetus for my getting into the medium. Other than that, I had noticed for some years that there was really a dearth of comics for kids nowadays. The public still thinks comics are for kids, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I like mainstream comics, especially with Marvel’s Civil War. But sometimes parents read some of the books out now and they may view them as too intense for younger audiences, thinking that comics have gone from G rated to R rated. But after seeing some of the books like Dreamland Chronicles, Herobear, and Bone I thought…WOW – these are cool. So I decided to throw my hat into the ring.

AAR: How do you define “all-ages”?

Kevin: I guess the best definition is a book that ANYONE can enjoy. But all-ages shouldn’t mean “kiddie”. I don’t want to read a kiddie-book. I do want to read a book that takes me back to the time when I first started reading books. Look at the books Stan Lee created in the 60’s. To me those were all-ages books. But they didn’t talk down to the kids. They respected them and treated them like they had intelligence. And to be honest, no matter how sophisticated or how good mainstream comics get, I still get a kick out of the books Marvel created in the 60’s and 70’s. The writing may have been simpler, but it was honest and fun. Marvel currently has a line of all-ages books, Marvel Adventures, that I think is really cool – especially the Avengers one.

AAR: It’s difficult enough to create one successful all-ages title – what made you want to create a whole line?

Kevin: A couple of reasons. First, because I have varied interests. I like mythology and action-adventure, as well as fantasy and science fiction. Secondly, I wanted to appeal to a wider demographic. When I grew up, comics were basically for boys. But with an eye towards global inclusion, in today’s market you have to have something for everyone. So, I have The Hammer Kid and The Toy Box that may appeal more to boys. Valkyries, The Mighty Girls, and Pam Bam are skewed more towards girls. The Vindicators is about a group of black superheroes, something that black kids can identify with because healthy, well-balanced images of African-Americans are so scarce in comics. And lastly Guardian Heroes is an international and multicultural book that everybody can enjoy. However, and I want to be clear about this, ALL the books can be enjoyed by EVERYONE. They are not so demographically specific that only the target audiences can enjoy them. There is something about each title that can strike a chord with everybody.

AAR: It seems that there aren’t a lot of kids going into comic shops these days. Do you have any great ideas for getting your comics into kids’ hands?

Kevin: I do, but then again, who am I? I’m really not going to say anything that hasn’t been said better by someone else. I just think that if comics got on the news stands again, in the schools and the libraries, kids might be exposed to them more. I will say that comic commercials may do the trick. Marvel has put out some neat little trailers of some of their books, and I’m quite sure if you did those on TV more people would at least be more aware of current comics. All action figures and video games should also come with a corresponding graphic novel or comic book like some DVD’s do. But, that’s just my 2 cents, for what it’s worth.

AAR: What comic books did you read as a kid? How have they influenced your work?

Kevin: I was a HUGE Hulk and Fantastic Four fan. The Avengers and Thor too. I have almost a complete run of each of them and even recently bought the DVD collections that Eagle One is putting out. These books really helped instill a sense of wonder in my books. I hope it translates.

AAR: You mentioned Thor -- were those books an influence on Valkyries?

Kevin: Hmmm… Yes and no. I mean Marvel’s Thor is a modern day comic book superhero character and they brought Norse mythology to the medium. I’ve done the same thing, but my book is a period piece based on the myths. Stan and Jack’s Thor, at least in the beginning, was a mixture of mythology and science fiction. So it stands out and can go much further in terms of scope and power than mine can.

AAR: Mark my words – Vikings are going to be the new pirates! How did you develop such an interest in Norse mythology?

Kevin: HAH! Probably because I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan. I grew up partially in Minnesota, so the cool Vikings logo the football team had was probably what flipped the switch for me.

AAR: Did you do any research while you were writing Valkyries?

Kevin: Yes. I was already familiar with most of the Norse myths, but I didn’t know that much about the Valkyries. Most of the names of the Valkyries I took from the myths.

AAR: The art in Valkyries, as in your other books, is phenomenal. I mean, talk about eye candy! Who are your artists and how did you find them?

Kevin: Leonel Castellani and his team of Eduardo Lemos, Mauro Vargas, and Javier Tartaglia at Pampa Studios are my main guys. The work they do is so good it seems to MOVE off the page. They’re so good it scares me sometimes when I look at the pages! They are doing three of my books, Valkyries, The Vindicators and Guardian Heroes, with more titles on the way.

I’m also working with a great artist named Javier Giangiacomo. He’s doing The Toy Box for me as well as the upcoming book P.R.O.D.I.G.Y. The work he’s doing is simply amazing. Toy Box #2 should be out soon.

Lastly, I’ve had the privilege to have worked with the incomparable Jack Lawrence of Lions, Tigers and Bears fame. My buddy Mike Bullock introduced us and I was able to get him to do The Hammer Kid preview issue for me. Jack couldn’t finish the series for me due to other commitments, but I have a new fantastic artist named James Riehl who will be taking over the book. You’ll be floored when you see what he can do.

AAR: Can’t wait to see it – we really loved The Hammer Kid. Can you talk a bit about the work process between you as a creator/writer and the artists?

Kevin: I come up with a book concept and bang out on paper what I envision as character concepts and possible environment elements. I give these to the artists and they draw based on my descriptions. Very rarely do we disagree. I’m hands-on, but not so much that I’m stymieing to the artist. I basically do my job and let them do theirs. But there have been occasions when they have spotted something in a scene I’ve written that they think can be done in a much more exciting and dynamic way. I give them as much latitude as they need. But, to be quite frank, I can come up with cool concepts, ideas and scripts all I want, but it’s my artists that really make the books come alive. If there is a reason that people like the books, I have to tip my hat to them. I’m just here to enjoy the show.

AAR: With Alias’ change to all Christian comics, we certainly hope that Valkyries, as well as your other books, will continue. Any news on the publishing front?

Kevin: Not quite yet. The artist is working on #3 now, and I will have Valkyries #3 and #4 available at SDCC 2007 and online as they're finished. I’m working on a few things that I hope come to fruition, but I’m just not sure yet. But when I do you’ll be the first to know.

UPDATE: Kevin has been announced as the writer of Marvel's New Warriors!