Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Phila. Daily News Cartoonist Signe Wilkinson launching new comic strip

It's hard to believe anyone still starts new comic strips (for newspapers) nowadays. The market is so brutal, the venue's restrictions so many. But Philadelphia Daily News political cartoonist Signe Wilkinson is launching a new strip with United Media, called Family Tree.

It sounds like a cross between Doonesbury and For Better or For Worse:

"'Family Tree' is not a political strip in the Democratic or Republican sense," Wilkinson said. "It's sort of how politics filters down to the family level."

The new comic has a strong environmental theme, and also touches on various other topical issues. For instance, the teen girl and boy in the Tree family have to deal with the overemphasis on standardized testing, and the mother is trying to switch jobs in order to get better health-care benefits.

Finally, Wilkinson wanted to add another woman's voice to comics pages that have more female creators than 20 years ago yet remain a mostly male-cartoonist bastion.

"I feel I can deal with beauty, clothes, social pressures, mother-daughter relationships, and other issues in a way that will ring true to other mothers and other daughters," she said.
I remember seeing (though not meeting) Signe many years ago at the Philadelphia Inquirer building (which shares space, and its advertising staff, with the tabloid Daily News). I was in a mentorship program with the gracious Inquirer political cartoonist Tony Auth, and he took me on a tour of the building. It was shortly after Signe had won the Pulitzer, and we passed the room in which the Daily News staff was having its Editorial Board meeting (where the paper works out what will appear on the Op-Ed pages that day, including the content of the Editorial and the political cartoon). As I recall, Signe and a fellow staffer were in a "heated debate" (i.e., screaming match).

Hope her comic strip has as much fire!

Friday, November 16, 2007

More from Mac McCool on Children's Graphic Novel Day

Mac McCool posted more about the roundtable discussion at the Children's Graphic Novel Day:

Part 2 - On the best format and avenues for submissions:
Writers face the added challenge of selling a graphic novel proposal to publishers without visuals to support it. Douglass Barre stressed that writers approaching comic book superhero publishers like Marvel and DC have little chances of having a proposal accepted with a manuscript alone, and so they should find an artist to draw sample pages. Comic artist Tommy Kovac suggested starting your publishing career with smaller publishers to prove your abilities. Agent Kelly Sonnack recognized that with children's book publishers, no submission standards or protocol presently existed for graphic novels. Kazu Kibuishi said that many artists are struggling to finish their graphic novels, so shopping a completed graphic novel not only proves you have the required discipline, but also makes it easier for editors to take or reject your project (since they are still new to editing graphic novels).
Even though the field is wide open, and publishers are hungry for graphic novels, I still get the sense that they don't quite know what to do with them. I'm still quite curious to see what becomes "standard operating procedure" for graphic novels at children's book publishers: A writer-illustrator team coming in with a concept, a solo writer/illustrator pitching her own work, a writer coming in and asking to be hooked up with an illustrator, or something else.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wordstock post-game

Wordstock this past weekend was excellent. We had a very nice crowd of young'ns at the Target Children's Stage (though overall attendance didn't seem huge; I fear it was because it was sunny, not rainy). J. Otto Seibold was my co-presenter, and he is charmingly insane. He let us all in on the fact that many of his illustrations have hidden (often gross) details. I noted how much his illustrations of Olive, the Other Reindeer looks like an octopus when it starts out. And he set forth a bold claim: He is the very first person to illustrate a book entirely with computer. Can anyone disprove it? I think he's got something there.

I met many comicky types, too, many of whom are neighbors. Like Shannon Wheeler of Too Much Coffee Man fame, and the folks at TinyMeat, who make slick pop-culture wallets and iPod cases and such. (And I picked up the Buffy Season 8 graphic novel and the The Trial of Colonel Sweeto from a local comics shop's booth. Both are excellent.)

Also there were some folks from Fantagraphics who had every artist they came across draw a picture of Yoda in their sketchbook. (Mine dealt with Yoda's bad posture and obvious osteoporosis. Poor guy.) I hope they're able to publish it someday, but I imagine it was just for their amusement.

International Reading Assn. Southwest Regional Conference: I am there

Or rather, I'll be there soon enough. I'm currently at PDX, using the airport's excellent free wifi service (unlike miserly Albany, NY—my old home port—which makes you pay for wifi).

One question (which I'm sure will be answered many times over by the end of the day Friday): Why is the IRA's Southwest Regional Conference being held in Little Rock, Ark.? When did Arkansas become the Southwest?

Come out and see us! I'll be hanging out with the great folks from Perma-Bound. They take our books, slice the paperback covers off, and re-bind them so that they are indestructible. It's a fascinating notion, and something you, as a kid, never thought of—where did all those weirdly-bound hardcover library books come from? I also found it interesting that it's actually easier for them to cut the covers off of fully bound books than it is to get unbound pages straight from the presses and bind them up.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Eventful days ahead

That is to say, I've added an upcoming events list to my blog's sidebar. (Google Calendar really doesn't translate well to a blog sidebar, I must say.)

See where I'll be!

(Reminder: I'll be at Wordstock in Portland tomorrow, 12Noon.)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Children's Graphic Novel Day

Missed this one. Mac McCool posted on the just-passed 1st Children's Graphic Novel Day, organized by the SCBWI Tri-Regions Chapters of Southern California.

Part 1: On Trends in the World of Children's Graphic Novels:
The Harry Potter series proved to adults that children could read longer books, so one of the trends affecting graphic novels is higher page counts (Baby Sitters Club, Amulet, Avalon High). Another continuing trend is the broadening appeal to girls, from Babymouse to Fruit Basket. Books that increase social and playful interactions (with Harry Potter bringing parents and children closer or Captain Underpants with flipbook animations in its pages and other fun activities) connect and engage readers beyond the mere reading experience, with the universe of the story entering the real world of the children.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Do books for kids and teens need to have kids and teens as characters?

Betsy Bird's post on the "Favorite Books as a Teen Meme" crystallized my thoughts on something that's been troubling me for a while now—ever since I became a professional children's book author.

Why are all children's and teens' books today required to have children and teens as the main characters?

I'm sure the better-read kidlit types out there (i.e., everyone) will immediately be able to jump in and list dozens of such titles with no youngsters at all. But let's take a look at the books I was reading as a teen:

  • The Xanth series by Piers Anthony (yep, I got sucked into that, as well)
  • The Split Infinity series by Piers Anthony (actually, Anthony started becoming so age-inappropriate at this point, that I really shouldn't have read this series)
  • The Pern books by Anne McCaffrey
  • The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams
  • The Space Trilogy by CS Lewis
  • Everything Isaac Asimov ever wrote
See a trend? (Sci-fi/Fantasy geek.) Now, granted, I also read things like Lloyd Alexander's Prydain chronicles and CS Lewis's Narnia books, which do feature kids. And I read piles and piles of comics collections—Peanuts, Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, BC, the Wizard of Id, the Far Side—some of which featured kids (Calvin and Peanuts, yes; Bloom County...? I defy you to show me how Milo, Binkley, or Oliver Wendell Jones are really kids.)

I also read comic books, which had their share of teens: Robin from The Dark Knight Returns, Evey Hammond from V for Vendetta, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Peter Parker...

But let's look at the rest of the pop culture I consumed as a teen and preteen:

  • GI Joe: Not a kid to be seen
  • Transformers: Ditto
  • Star Wars: This was the big one; and no kids, see?
  • Indiana Jones: Which was the crappy movie? The one with the kid in it.
So, as a kid, I certainly had no particular affinity for stories that had kids in them. Give me Secret of NIMH over Feivel, and take those stupid Apple Dumpling Gang kids away!

In fact, I can barely remember reading anything that might show up on the sort of list your typical teacher/librarian would think kids would read; I had How to Eat Fried Worms, Fat Men from Space, and Bridge to Teribithia read to me by teachers and librarians, but I certainly didn't seek them out.

I think this is a major failing in today's market: The Formula (your story must have a protagonist who is a year or two older than the age group you hope to have read it; no adults as protagonists, and certainly no characters younger than the reader). I wish there was a way out of it, but I don't think there is.