Tuesday, December 30, 2008

General rules for villains

Betsy's review of Fiendish Deeds over at Fuse#8 includes this fun rumination:

The general rule when it comes to villains is that if there is a mayor in a children's book, they are a bad mayor. This is always true unless A) The mayor is the hero's dad or B) The mayor is the hero. The same rule often applies to principals of schools. And the usual crime committed by mayors? City development, of course. You probably saw it in Hoot where it threatened endangered owls and in Highway Cats where it threatened felines. In this case the redevelopment would threaten only the residents of a bog, but it's still seen as a pretty underhanded act. Sex scandals and graft are difficult to impossible to work into children's middle grade novels, so good old nepotism and illegal development often have to do the job instead.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Heh. The prescient Bill Watterson.

"Calvin and Hobbes on the Big 3 Bailout." 'Nuff said.

Parkersburg News and Sentinel: More Best Books of 2008

Over at the Parkersburg News and Sentinel (and at Amy's Book Nook), columnist Amy Mendenhall listed her own "Best Books of 2008," in a wide variety of categories:


Graphic Novel: "Incognegro" by Mat Johnson (DC Comics). This might be a graphic novel, but it got literary acclaim for its story about racism and identity in the early 20th century as a light-skinned African-American man goes undercover to cover lynchings going on in the South for his newspaper.

Kids - Preschool: "The Pigeon Wants a Puppy" by Mo Willems (Hyperion). Somehow this got left out of a column, and I still don't know why as my kids loved it and I've had to read it over and over. The famous Pigeon who wants to drive the bus now wants a puppy. But the puppy is a bit larger than he expected... It's funny and cute and I haven't gone crazy reading it multiple times, which is always a good sign.

Kids - Middle Grade: "Babymouse: Puppy Love" by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House). The irrepressible mouse is back, and this time wants a pet. But pets aren't working out so well for her, they tend to disappear. So when she finds a lost dog, she decides to take care of it. This series is always a hit at my house.

Kids - Teen: "Stealing Heaven" by Elizabeth Scott (HarperTeen). A young professional thief who works with her mother finds a summer romance the possibility of life on the straight and narrow after befriending a "mark" and a cop. This book sucks you in with its story of becoming your own person and is good for both teens and adults.

Literary: "Home School" by Charles Webb (St. Martin's Press). The author of "The Graduate" delivers the sequel more than 30 years later in a sharp, firecracker of a book that tells what happened to Ben, Elaine, and the infamous Mrs. Robinson.

Wow--really? Were people looking for a sequel to The Graduate?


Paranormal: "Souless" by Christopher Golden (MTV Books). This book, in which teens and college students struggle to survive after a group of mediums try to contact ghosts and end up bringing zombies instead, wins for me because it has to do with zombies, terrified me, and I still loved it and am forcing friends to read it. It sucks you in and will keep you up all night reading and probably give you some nightmares after.

Ooh! Zombies!

Paranormal Romance: "Eternal Pleasure" by Nina Bangs (Dorchester). A woman falls in love with an immortal who is charged with making sure an evil race doesn't break into our world to destroy it. Sure, there are the usual vampires, werewolves and warlocks that make an appearance, but what wins me over is the dual-souled main characters, whose last bodies they inhabited were...dinosaurs. It is unusual and it works brilliantly. My only question is when does the next book come out?

Romance: "Queen of Babble Gets Hitched" by Meg Cabot (William Morrow). A New York dressmaker is set to marry the man of her dreams but is torn between two guys and tries to figure out who her heart belongs to with the help of her crazy friends and family members. This wins hands down for me, because Cabot took a plotline that I usually dislike and turned it into gold.

Science-Fiction: "The Host" by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown). Sure, she's getting all of the attention because of that OTHER series, but this book combines science-fiction with a tense thriller setting and a bit of romance in a story about what happens after an alien invasion has almost completely taken over the world by inhabiting the humans' bodies.

Another Stephenie Meyer book in the world? Oy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

More on the "top titles" of graphic noveldom

My last post ended with a question about the top graphic novel sellers. A PW article had mentioned that "sales of the top graphic novels often run under 10,000 copies." I went on:

Really?? I know the graphic novel market is still small, but I'm stunned that the top titles would sell less than 10,000 copies (I'm assuming per year; if those are total lifetime sales, that's even crazier). I guess the question is, what is "top" here?
Well, I just can't see how that 10,000 number makes any sense, however you slice it. From ICv2's list of Top 300 Graphic Novels, the top two titles each sold more than 10,000 copies in November alone. Granted, these are sales to retailers, who maybe can't get customers to buy them, but... I doubt they're hanging on to them for an entire year without selling them. Are they? Seems insane.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Excellent "State of Comics in the Classroom" article at Publishers Weekly

Laura Hudson at Publishers Weekly has written a rather comprehensive State-of-the-Union type article, "Comics in the Classroom." It covers the current state of educational acceptance of comics, the hurdles still to be met, and the continual game of catch-up that comics publishers are having to play. See, the thing is, comics publishers are basically magazine publishing companies. Only now they've been tapping into the bookstore market for the last decade, and they still don't know exactly what booksellers want (which is utterly different from what comics retailers want and need). They've been getting schooled there, and now they have belatedly turned their attention to the educational market, which--despite the excellent promise of comics in the classroom and the huge amount of advocacy by librarians--seems to be beyond their comprehension.

Most major comics companies are now dipping a toe into the schools market, and while some have made only cursory attempts to reach teachers, others, such as Dark Horse Comics, have worked directly with academics and education experts to develop materials....

But for every [comics] publisher working side by side with educators or attending American Library Association conferences, others have made only perfunctory attempts to reach out. “It’s great that there’s some material for teaching graphic novels, but they aren’t really comparable to what a typical language arts teacher would expect from an educational publisher or trade publisher,” Gutierrez says. “In graphic novels, publishers don’t have the expertise or the money to invest in research or teaching guides. They’re waiting to see if the market justifies that kind of incursion, while the educators are waiting for more third-party–verified research studies.”

New Market a Challenge

The biggest question mark is not just whether educators will accept comics as teaching materials on a broader scale, but whether traditional comics publishers, who only began to get their graphic novels into the general bookstore market in the last 10 years, are prepared to capitalize on the opportunity.

“Comics publishers are lagging behind traditional book publishers,” says Janna Morishima, director of the Diamond Kids Group at Diamond Comics Distributors. “Creating for kids hasn’t been a big priority until rather recently. I think they’re still getting used to the book market, and the educational market is an even more specialized part of the market. They are at a bit of a disadvantage.”
DC, in my opinion, was smart. They punted.
For DC Comics, home of Superman and Batman and, with Marvel, one of the “Big Two” mainstream comics publishers, the most efficient way to deal with their relative lack of expertise in educational publishing was simply to switch to a distributor that already possessed it. DC moved from Hachette to Random House Distribution in 2007.

“This discussion of how to expand our market was a crucial factor when we moved distribution. One of the more impressive things in the Random House package was the systems they have to access the school and library markets,” says John Cunningham, v-p of marketing at DC Comics. “Understanding their needs and how to sell and market to them is an enormously complex undertaking. Plugging our materials into [Random House’s] system made more sense than trying to develop systems of our own.”
Also fascinating is the look at the College-level comics educational market:
Outside of the k–12 level, graphic novels and comics have also made their way into university classrooms, where they have been adopted as course texts in a variety of disciplines. “There’s a critical mass of [professors] who are pursuing this as a study, and they’re legitimizing the medium not only for their students but also for their departments,” says Coogan, adding, however, that many comics publishers doom their chances for course adoptions by their unwillingness to send free copies to professors.

“Comics publishers could be actively trying to cultivate relationships with university English departments,” suggests Aaron Kashtan, a teaching assistant who researches comics theory at the University of Florida. “At my university, the English department regularly holds book fairs where textbook publishers like Penguin and McGraw-Hill market their materials to the department’s instructors. These publishers do this because for each instructor who decides to adopt a textbook, 20-some students will then have to buy that textbook. Comics publishers don’t seem to have come to a similar realization that university students represent an untapped source of income.”

Top Shelf Productions co-publisher Chris Staros explains it this way, “If 100 university courses with 40 students each use a book on a regular basis, that’s 4,000 copies a year.” In the comics industry, where sales of the top graphic novels often run under 10,000 copies, those sales can constitute a significant base.
Two amazing things here. One, that there are publishers out there who still don't understand that, if you want a title to really succeed, you have to hand out free copies like water. And two--"sales of the top graphic novels often run under 10,000 copies?" Really?? I know the graphic novel market is still small, but I'm stunned that the top titles would sell less than 10,000 copies (I'm assuming per year; if those are total lifetime sales, that's even crazier). I guess the question is, what is "top" here?

Friday, December 19, 2008

For Designers AND Cartoonists: Rejected Obama Logos

This is making the blogosphere rounds, thanks to Drawn: An inside look at the process of designing Barack Obama's campaign logo. You see some graphically interesting, though emotionally vacant, designs:

(Looks like something for the Olympics.)

Plus a neat cartoon speech bubble design:

Everyone, it seems, is in agreement that the "sunrise" logo that prevailed was the best, though.

It's always interesting to see which aspects of an artist's work needs to be hammered into place piece by piece, and which ones spring forth pretty much fully formed.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Babymouse: Just Plain Weird

I love to see when parents let their kids read stuff that they, themselves, don't understand. Lord knows my parents couldn't have begun to comprehend any of the fantasy and sci-fi books I was into when I was a kid, but they helped feed my habit, anyway. So it was cool to see this on a homeschooling blog:

... Anybody out there have kids who enjoy graphic novels? I don't recall them being around when I was a kid, but we've stumbled across a couple that mine like. N. just checked out her second Babymouse book. These are just plain weird if you ask me. I guess they're basically about a girl mouse who's probably 11ish years old, loves to read, is not especially talented or popular, and is quite the daydreamer. It's written in comic book form, all in white, grayscale, and pink.
... and to see that she included this in her sidebar:
Books that got my late reader reading for fun...
* Breyer Stablemates, by various authors
* Nate the Great, by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Craig Sharmat
* The Adventures of Benny and Watch, by Gertrude Chandler Warner
* Babymouse, by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm

Friday, December 12, 2008

Minx ... not dead yet?

When DC's Minx collapsed, the imprint's flagship series, The Plain Janes, was left in limbo.

Well, it appears that some of that quarter-million-dollar marketing budget must be left, because Minx ads are appearing online to support the just-released second Plain Janes title, Janes in Love (click for larger view):

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hear the New Babymouse Song, "This Is Babymouse!"

Here's another Babymouse treat, in advance of the January release of Babymouse: The Musical:

The exclusive new Babymouse song, "This Is Babymouse!"

The song features lyrics by yours truly, music and production by the incredibly talented Marty Beller, and vocals by Jenni Babymouse and me.

Download the MP3 for future sing-alongs!

Check out the Babymouse Classroomcast Video!

Howdy, campers! Jenni and I were in New York City and very busy back in October. Here is the first treat from those labors:

The new Babymouse ClassroomCast Video!

It's a "Behind-the-Music"-style exposè. Check it out! If you want to embed the video on your own site, just follow the link above and copy and paste the code provided.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Emily didn't look strange. She looked ... uncannily familiar."

Whoa. I was sad to see the shake-up over at Blog@newsarama.com (where I get 80% of my comics and nerd-culture news), but the new staff has certainly convinced me that they can do the job. To wit, Jeff Trexler's post, "This week in copyright."

First, I learn that the cruel reign of the Bratz may be at an end.

Then, comes the even more shocking revelation about Emily the Strange. I don't think any more commentary is needed, other than to say that the top image is from the 1978 picture book, Nate the Great Goes Undercover, by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Marc Simont.

Be sure to read the rest of the commentary over at the appropriately named blog, You Thought We Wouldn't Notice.

UPDATE: I now see that everyone and their mother had already blogged about this. Oh, well. No scoop to speak of. I guess that's what happens when you're on Pacific time.

Hey, did you all hear about the OJ Simpson trial sentencing ...?

Harry Potter Lexicon Dispute Concludes with Worst Book Title Ever

I don't have much to say on the whole RDR Books vs. Rowling case over the proposed Harry Potter Lexicon. The book sounded like a cockamamie idea that was stretching Fair Use way beyond its breaking point. So it was good to hear that RDR is going in a different direction:

... Instead, the company has announced plans to release a new unauthorized guide to the Potter series, The Lexicon: An Unauthorized Guide to Harry Potter Fiction and Related Materials. The book will include commentary that does not appear on Vander Ark’s Web site. RDR publisher Roger Rapoport said the new book “has a new focus and purpose, mindful of the guidelines of the court.” The $24.95 trade paperback is set to be released January 12.


"...Harry Potter Fiction and Related Materials?"

Um ... no offense, but ... hey, RDR, let me guess: Your lawyers wrote the book title, didn't they?

Vote in the Nickelodeon Magazine Comics Awards!

Just saw, thanks to The Comics Reporter, that Nickelodeon Magazine is asking readers to vote for their favorites in its Comics Awards.

At the top of the ballot, you will find BABYMOUSE as a nominee for "Favorite Graphic Novel!" Go vote, kids!

My favorite award category: "Grossest Thing In Comics." (I picked "Wolverine's Back Hair.")

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Library bragging rights

I was amused to see the following post at the Hawthorne Library Media Blog:

You may have heard some of the kids talking about Babymouse. Who and what is Babymouse you might ask. Well, she is the very dramatic and adventuresome main character in this graphic novel series by sister and brother Jennifer and Matthew Holm. There are nine in the series and all the illustrations with the exception of the last one are done in pink and black.

I have to brag that Hawthorne was the first school in the district to have #9 (Monster Mash), which was just released this fall. I was at the Mildred Laughlin Festival of Books at the Stillwater Public Library in October and during a break I was browsing the "for sale" shelf in the lobby. I was flabbergasted when I spied Babymouse #9, as the kids have been asking for it since last year. It must have been a sample the library had received and I gladly left one dollar in the box for it. Now we have two copies, although there is a rather long waiting list, and the kids are anxiously looking forward to more Babymouse!

Love it! Be the first library on YOUR block to get the next Babymouse book!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Graphic Novels Market HUGE! Sort of?

I came across an older article (April of this year) that notes that, in 2007, annual Graphic Novel sales hit $375 million dollars.

The U.S. retail graphic novel market reached $375 million in sales in 2007, according to an analysis conducted by ICv2 and presented at its annual ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference at New York Comic Con on Thursday. The growth came from both bookstores and comic stores, which were both up around 12% over 2006 sales.
Which is awesome, of course ... except when you consider that $375 million is about the same as the (US + UK) first-day sales of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on July 21 of that year.

Baby steps, folks. Baby steps.