29 November 2012

Two Parallel Channels for Kids’ Comics

From Graphic Novel Reporter’s interview with Scott Robins, coeditor with Snow Wildsmith of A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics, on the question of judging what’s appropriate reading for different ages:

Any kind of art that has a visual component will be scrutinized because of its immediacy. Looking at a page of comics is more in-your-face than reading a page of prose. This immediacy often causes people to make grand generalizations about comics, usually about the levels of sex and violence. Also, comics have struggled with being perceived as less literary and of lower educational value, which is a huge factor when discussing reading and books for children. . . .

Traditional children’s book publishers are putting out the bulk of comics and graphic novels for kids now. Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Candlewick, and others have decades of experience publishing books FOR kids and know what’s appropriate and what’s not. . . .

we came to the realization of how little superhero material is appropriate for kids and readily available for people to buy. DC and Marvel don’t really have a strong commitment to creating comics for kids and what they do publish doesn’t stay in print.
Children’s comics remains an area of obvious disjuncture between the comics publishing industry (meaning the specialized creators, publishers, wholesalers, retailers, and journalists) and mainstream book publishing (which has its own publishers, wholesalers, retailers, and journalists). The two businesses are parallel, which by analogy means they’ll never meet.

It’s not that bad, but last year I moderated a panel on which Gareth Hinds, adapter of Beowulf, King Lear, and other classics, talked about choosing the children’s publisher Candlewick to republish his work because he saw a choice between getting those books into schools and libraries getting them into comics shops. He knew he couldn’t have both.

I’ve heard the current proprietor of my favorite comics shop as a teen talk about buying the color Bone volumes from a discount bookstore because he didn’t have a Scholastic sales rep to order from. They were so hot he needed them right away and couldn’t afford the time to set up a new business relationship.

The distribution issues have gotten better as businesses realize there’s money to be made in the other channel. I’m guessing most of the flexibility comes from middle men (distributors) rather than the publishers or stores. But that’s what those distributors are for.

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