Tuesday, September 30, 2008

One More Kidlit Blogger Conference Post: A Special Babymouse: Monster Mash Door Prize!

I totally forgot to mention this yesterday. I created a special Babymouse: Monster Mash gift for the door prizes at the 2008 Portland Kidlitosphere Bloggers Conference.

The prize was a poster ... a poster of which only two others exist in the world—one belongs to my sister, and one hangs in my office (below). It's the rejected cover of Babymouse: Monster Mash:

(Note that it wasn't rejected for the reason you might think—scariness and general zombiehood—but rather because people feared that Babymouse wouldn't be immediately recognizable as Babymouse since she's wearing a suit. And, to be fair, she's not smiling as she is on every single other Babymouse cover.)

Adrienne Furness was the winner!

She picked a plain brown poster tube out of the pile of prize goodies, without any notion as to what was inside. Brave girl! Congrats!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Babymouse: Monster Mash reviewed by SherMeree

Blogger/Librarian (geez ... I feel like I've been saying that a lot lately) SherMeree reviewed Babymouse: Monster Mash over at her blog.

Check it out! It's in among a nice treat bag of spooky books, just right for Halloween!

At 2008 Portland Conference, Kidlit Bloggers Raise Money for Books for Africa


Here's the backstory:

As an author, I automatically get author copies of all of my books (although I have to say the European publishers are a bit stingy when it comes to sending copies of the translations ... but then again, they pay in Euros, so with the exchange rate being what it is, I can't really complain). For example, here's what I just pulled out of my garage:

These are the GLBs—Gibraltar Library Binding hardcover editions. I also get copies of the standard, paperback versions of the books. Those are the flashy ones—silver foil, French flaps, secret illustrations under the flaps, etc. So I give those away to people when I need to promote the book, etc. Fortunately, Random House takes care of every reviewer I could imagine, so I never need to send out review copies myself.

But I'm usually left with a case of GLBs for each book. When I was living in New York, I tried (tried) to give them away to a Brooklyn-based charity that in turn donates books to schools in the city. After shipping them to the indicated person and having them returned after total failure to deliver, I sorta gave up on giving books to local charities.

So I searched further afield, spurred on also by one of my friends' trips to Burundi in east-central Africa (one of the ten poorest countries in the world), when she visited schools throughout the country on a fact-finding mission for the Church of England. The photos she brought back were both inspiring and appalling. Students living and studying in buildings that we wouldn't let people squat in here. Kids sharing iron beds which had metal springs but no mattresses. Everyone she met in the country, she said, was in a sort of continuous haze as a result of low-level Malaria infection. And these were the best schools in that country, the ones with the best chance for the future.

Perhaps the saddest thing was a photograph of the library of one school she visited. It was the biggest library of any school in the country, and it was a single bookcase. I'm pretty sure that I have more cookbooks on my donwstairs bookshelf than these students had in their whole library.

Anyway, things are dire there. Fortunately, there are folks like the Minnesota-based Books for Africa working to correct this problem. I sent them a few cases of books last year, along with a check to cover the transportation costs (it costs them around 38 cents per book to ship them).

Back to the Kidlit conference. When I came to the 2008 Portland Kidlit Bloggers Conference on Saturday, armed with a case of Babymouse: Monster Mash GLBs to give away, I was faced with the reality that (a) There were 70-some people in attendance and (b) I had about 20 books. I didn't want to shortchange anyone, so I decided, on the spur of the moment, to let the market decide (as the economists like to say). I gave away the books for free, but collected any donations people wanted to give in return for a book ($3-$5 was typical) to pass on to Books for Africa.

It was a rousing success. Even when I had to run out to pick up my wife for the conference dinner, people kept leaving donations! They even tracked me down afterward to shove five-dollar bills into my hand, like some kindly uncle at a birthday party.

The result: a whopping $97!

Not bad for people's spare change! Thank you, thank you, thank you all. I'll round this up to $100 and send a check out to BFA pronto, probably with a case of Puppy Love. (I'm sure the themes in Skater Girl would resonate with people in any country, but will the subject matter—ice skating—strike a chord with kids in the tropics? I think I'll pass the Skater Girls on to Jone MacCulloch for her Doernbecher Children's Hospital drive.)

Fantastick Ye Olde Manga

Killer stuff from Shaenon Garrity—pre-WWII Manga, including Monkey Steelworkers and people in Robot Disguises:

(See also the put-upon mouse.)

That's from the manga Yukaina Tekkôsho, which translates as either The Delightful Steel Mill or The Happy Cog Factory. Awesome stuff.

More fall-out from the DC/Minx collapse

Looks like some people are on fire about what they think the comics bigwigs are going to conclude from the failure of Minx comics.

Yes, Minx, DC’s line of realistic fiction comics for young girls that held interest to only a small sliver of young girls that had no reason to access the direct market that it was sold on in the first place, predictably failed and its going to be chalked up as an argument against marketing comics to women.

Because heaven forbid they–as Katherine Keller suggests–actually produce the sort of YA fiction that appeals to tween girls–fantasy.

... Heaven forbid they consider that their assumptions about young girls who read manga may be wrong, that maybe they should actually crack a [@!#$] manga and see what sort of story is told rather than just pump out the after-school-special [@!#$] they think girls like to read and assume everyone with girl parts and the ability to read English will flock to it.

And heaven forbid they look at this failure and compare it to the relative successes of series like Courtney Crumrin and think of what they could do to capture that audience rather than write off an entire age demographic and gender as out of reach.

But we all know they won’t do that. We all know what’s going to happen. Just as sure as my coworker will assume the lack of a scrunchy on my car’s gearshift is due to his mentioning it rather than my personal hair habits, there are people who will assume the failure of Minx is due to a disinterest in comics that results from the pairing of two X chromosomes rather than poor marketing or a poor product.

Yowzers. Sounds like her thesis is that the quality of the Minx comics was also a factor in the failure. I couldn't say—I still haven't read the Plain Janes et al, so I can't comment on that aspect . (There're only so many hours in the day, you know.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Portland Kidlit Blogger Conference: Postgame

Well, that was a rousing day. Here's a quick rundown on the highlights of the 2008 Portland Kidlitosphere Conference as I saw them:

Airport Sheraton: Much nicer interior than the exterior implies; easy to get to; terrible climate control. Look at photos of us throughout the day (I took none; others took hundreds; see how that balances out?), which range from jackets and parkas in the morning to mopping our fevered brows with icewater in the afternoon.

Learned some things about Podcasting and Social Networking that will actually be of more use to me in my Web Design business than in my kidlit life. Thanks, Mark and Greg!

Our table won a LOT of raffle prizes at dinner, and then at the Readergirlz after-party. Ahem. There might have been some ... mixed ... feelings from some of the other tables over that. I'm expecting I'll be able to link to one of Fuse's photos of my loot in the next day or so. Unfortunately, I have to finish drawing Babymouse #11 before I can read any of the books I won.

[UPDATE: The photo is here.]

PORTLAND Kidlit Drink Night! That's right, New York—you're not the only ones who can have a semi-regular get-together! Laini Taylor rounded up contact info. on all of us local yokels, so expect there to be fun, frolic, and socializin' in the not-too-distant future!

Speaking more of conference organizer and Portland local Laini Taylor, I must here confess something I confided to Laini and Fuse yesterday ... until yesterday morning, I had always thought Laini's book was called DREADmark, not DREAMdark. Lordy lordy.

Also, Laini and husband Jim recommended some excellent local Indian food, which we will try in due time. They were stumped as to good local Chinese food, though, as has been everyone I've yet encountered in Portland. Anyone??

Sock puppets. Look to everyone else's blogs for much more on that.

We collided with another conference, one which was involved in some sort of alternative-health-multilevel-marketing-scheme: "Tunguska" herbal mouth sprays, which do everything from pep you up to make you fall asleep within five minutes. (Rather than "Binaca", I suggested "Bi-knockout" as a name.) I couldn't even make up all of the crap associated with this. Just follow the link. ("Adaptogens?") Also discovered that, with reference to "Tunguska," (a) I was the only one who knew of the 1908 Tunguska Event (the curse of deep knowledge of useless fields, like the UFO world) and (b) out of 7 or 8 kidlitters and their spouses, only Laini had read The Golden Compass (which references "Tunguska"—the region, I believe, not the impact there).

I had some rousing success raising donations for Books for Africa. Thanks to all of you! Details on the final numbers and all else related to that will follow in a separate post.

Next year in Jerusalem! Oops, wrong event. I mean DC. Washington, DC. I'll see what I can do about getting myself out that way.

Oh, and one more thing:


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Shojo is old news

The word "Shojo," that is. Here in the States, we just started to hear about "Shojo" in the context of Shojo Manga (via Shojo Beat) only a few years ago, but apparently the word "Shojo" is almost extinct in Japan itself. Matt Thorn did the scholarship here:

The word itself has been used in Japan for centuries, but it didn’t really become “popular,” it seems, until the turn of the century, which is to say the latter Meiji Period. You can read more about the word on the Wikipedia article I’ve been helping to edit. But since the 1950s, the use of the word in colloquial Japanese had declined to the point where now it is used basically as an adjective for a genre of manga and fiction, and also as a “news/legal” word that is rarely used in daily conversation.

... But what really came as a shock to me was the realization that, unless I’m overlooking something, the word “shôjo” now appears in the title of just one girls’ magazine, Shôjo Comic. There are two other extant girls’ magazines (Bessatsu Friend and BetsuComi) that used to include the word “shôjo” in the title, but the one dropped “shôjo” in 1984, and the other dropped it in 2002.

... The “shôjo” peak is in the late 1910s and the 1920s.... Throughout the 1950s, the word “shôjo” seems to have lost the potency it once enjoyed, and was now being used simply to identify a magazine as being for girls. Publishers began to try to distinguish new magazines from the pack, while at the same time identifying them as “feminine,” by choosing titles such as Margaret (from the French “marguerite”, which is what the Japanese call a daisy). By the 1970s, publishers pretty much stopped including the word in the titles of new girls’ magazines. Now it seems all but extinct.

Minx bows out; shelving practices blamed

Looks like DC Comics' Minx division for teens is shutting down. Although there's no full consensus yet on the cause for the failure of the line (a line best known for Cecil Castelluci's The Plain Janes series), a major component appears to be the inability of comics distributors to convince bookstores to shelve the graphic novels alongside YA novels. Apparently, not enough of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants crowd is venturing into the Graphic Novels section of bookstores.

Some trouble was evident back in March. I wrote then:

I guess it looks like DC tried to do both--get girls into traditional comic-book stores and get a piece of the YA bookstore market--and fumbled.
Seems the fumble led to a game-losing touchdown (to stretch the metaphor too far).

It's an interesting quandary—which section do you go for? For instance, in the Children's category, most graphic novels tend to be filed with other children's books, not with the graphic novels. I can think of a number of reasons: (1) the difference between picture-laden kids' books and graphic novels is not as great as the difference between text-only teen books and graphic novels; (2) there are simply not that many graphic novels in the children's category, so it makes less sense to devote a special section of the GN area to them alone; (3) booksellers/parents feel more comfortable keeping children out of the GN area altogether, because that way they don't have to worry about the young'uns stumbling onto the sex and violence that will probably be shelved not too far away from Bone and Owly.

I suppose the dichotomy has helped Babymouse, keeping it where the book readers are, but hurt the Minx line, which couldn't get at those same book readers.

Graphic Novels and Books ... why can't we all just get along?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More filthy, dirty disease carriers

Yup, move over Redwall and Mouse Guard. Now, there's Mice Templar.

(Not for kids; much beheading.)

How to Break into Writing Comics

The number-one question I get from people is, "Do you get tired of drawing Babymouse?"

The answer (fortunately) is no. Babymouse is fun to draw. Wilson and Felicia Furrypaws are fun to draw. I could draw them over and over again all day long, given I had things for them to say and do. Less fun, for me, since I came from a newspaper-comic-strip background, which is character-focused to the detriment of all other visual elements, is drawing the rest of Babymouse's world—making sure sidewalks and houses and hillsides all have the proper perspective, drawing tree after tree, drawing cars (I'm one of those kids who never really drew cars ... I spent more time drawing spaceships), and so on.

The number-two question I get from people is, "How can I get started in children's books/graphic novels/publishing?"

Luckily, someone else did the homework on this one, because my answer isn't very satisfying (draw cartoons for 15 or 20 years with no reward in sight, get a job at a magazine for eight years while doing graphic design work on the side, wait until your sister develops a successful YA publishing career, collaborate with her on a graphic novel series, then wait two and a half years for publishers to begin to show any interest in the graphic novel genre). Johanna at Comics Worth Reading has a four-and-a-half-step-plan to success. The follow-up discussion is also excellent, as other successful comickers chime in with their own experiences.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Killer Superhero Art from the ’70s

Via newsarama, a collection of superhero (and esp. TV superhero—like the SuperFriends, Space Ghost, and Herculoids) artist Alex Toth's work. Boy, here's a guy who could draw:

Babymouse: Monster Mash reviewed by 100 Scope Notes

A rousing good review of Babymouse: Monster Mash by the blog 100 Scope Notes:

... Girls have a whole ... set of unwritten Halloween rules, and in “Babymouse: Monster Mash” we see how those rules can have an impact on your social life. Full of the same wit that has been an unfailing hallmark of the Babymouse series, “Monster Mash” is a graphic novel full of the sort of real-life friend troubles that younger readers will identify with.

... Once I started reading, it was hard to put this one down. Babymouse books have a way of keeping the reader engaged all the way through. Be it with daydream sequences, humorous situations, or moments of genuine feeling, the plot never plods.

The illustrations, created in ink, as inventive as ever. This is the first Babymouse book to forego the pink color scheme in favor of an appropriate pumpkin orange. I think this was a smart move. Not only does it instantly I.D. this as a halloween title, but the absence of pink might also result in more boys picking it up.

Entertaining through and through, “Monster Mash” is a book you should have on hand.
Don't miss Scope Notes' reminiscence of Worst Halloween Costume Ever (Hint: it'll make you jump, jump).

What were the Worst Costumes you folks ever wore? Thinking back, mine was a black cat. Which wasn't bad as costumes go, but I wore it in 8th grade. That's a bit late for a boy to be a black cat, even in my enlightened opinion.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

... and yes, we are living in the End Times

The Department of Homeland Security is teaming up with...

Sesame Street.

No. I'm not kidding.

Now, I'm as much in favor of disaster preparedness as the next guy (probably more so, actually), but ... Homeland Security? This has more than a whiff of "Duck and Cover" about it.

Don't Panic?

No, not the financial markets. I'm talking about the fact that a new Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book is being written:

Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer has been chosen to write the sixth book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. The new book, And Another Thing..., will be published by Hyperion in October 2009. The Bookseller reports a bit of backlash on the Hitchhiker fan site over the choice of Colfer, who is in turn defended on his own fan site. Ellen Archer at Hyperion negotiated the deal with Sophie Hicks and Ed Victor of Ed Victor Ltd., agents for both Colfer and the Douglas Adams estate.

One question: Why? I mean, the series has ended three times. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish was a fitting (second) finale. Mostly Harmless was Mostly Unnecessary. Do we really need another one?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Steal this book? How big of a problem is this for libraries?

The post on Babymouse in the Auckland City Libraries made me think of something else:

Stolen library books.

A number of the ACL copies were listed as "MISSING." Presumed stolen? It reminded me of a story my sister related to me not too long ago. She was speaking with a children's librarian, and Jenni mentioned that the Babymouse books were also available in a durable, hardcover, Gibraltar Library Binding. She assumed, naturally, that librarians would be interested in buying books that were likely to survive years of repeated use and abuse.

But the librarian replied, "Oh, no—we only buy the paperbacks."

"Why?" Jenni asked.

"Because people always steal your books, and paperbacks are cheaper to replace."

Flattering to us, of course, but I wonder, librarians—is this a serious problem at all libraries? Is it worse for Children's departments?

Babymouse is big in ... New Zealand?

Google Alerts occasionally brings me Babymouse listings from various libraries. I don't usually follow them up, because there's usually not much more to glean from the pages than the fact that, yes, a certain library has a certain book.

But when I followed a link to Monster Mash on the Auckland (New Zealand) City Libraries site, and then checked the pages for the rest of the Babymouse books, I saw that nearly all of the copies are checked out! It looks like they have 7 copies of each book, so that's 63 altogether for the series. I see that one copy of Beach Babe is available, and one copy of Rock Star. (Another copy of Rock Star is listed as "MENDING." I envision a book in body cast and traction, for some reason.)

So, to the 60 readers in Auckland (and the many others who have placed holds on the books!), you have my thanks. Maybe someday (say, should my wife ever decide to work a winery harvest in NZ) we'll have a book tour there.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sue everybody!

Heh. Saw this post today:

Ashli has been getting these Babymouse books from the library. They are really cute and fun. I should sue the Holms because it is clear to me that Babymouse is just an anomorphic representation of Ashli.

First review of Babymouse: Monster Mash!

Hurrah! The blog, A Year of Reading, has posted the first review of Babymouse: Monster Mash!

I was so happy to find BABYMOUSE: MONSTER MASH this weekend! Now that Jennifer and Matt Holm are only writing 2 new Babymouse books per year, the wait between books seems like forever!

(Aww, thanks ... sadly, though, I need to get SOME sleep ...)

BABYMOUSE: MONSTER MASH is set during the Halloween season. And, the fun thing about this book is that it is ORANGE INSTEAD OF PINK! A fun change that totally works for this issue. And, as always, Babymouse is quite adorable on the cover and throughout.

In this story, Babymouse is planning a Halloween party. The group of "mean girls" (Felicia Furrypaws and friends) want to be invited but they want Babymouse to play by their rules. Babymouse has to make some choices.

I love so much about this series, but this one really nails why I like it so much. Babymouse gets lots of peer pressure in this book-peer pressure to be someone who she is not. Peer pressure to do things she knows are not right. I like this because it is so real--so close to what some of our kids deal with on a daily basis. Babymouse is a character who gives us a way to think about these things. Since I've read every Babymouse book out there, I've become quite attached to Babymouse. In the first few books I think I loved her because she was adorable and unique. And I loved the size of the books and the humor. But in this book I realized, I love the character Babymouse. She is strong and real and anxious and fun-loving and so many other things.

Reviewer Franki's 3rd-grade daughter also has a capsule review of her own at the end—but beware of spoilers!