Friday, February 12, 2010

Seven Impossible Babymouses before Breakfast

I've been thumbnailing BABYMOUSE #14 frantically all week (still am), so I haven't had time to give this unbelievable interview its due:

Seven (Give or Take) Questions Over Breakfast with Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Jules' interview with us covers everything from breakfast foods (eggs vs. leftover Chinese food) to our road to publishing to thoughts about the writing process to upcoming titles. Boy, we just prattle on and on, don't we? Some selections:

Jules: Any more historical fiction (novels) ahead in your future, you think?

Jenni: Yes, finally, I have a new historical coming out in May 2010. (Sorry, I have been very slowed down by popping out kids.) It’s called Turtle in Paradise and is inspired by my Key West family. It involves diaper changing, scorpions, treasure and, well, just read it already!

...Jules: What’s been some of your best Babymouse fan mail?

Jenni: I just got an email from a man asking me if I would sign books for his girlfriend as a romantic gift. I can’t decide whether to be freaked out or charmed.

Jules: Any other new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Jenni: Matt and I are putting to bed the first of a new graphic novel series called Squish. It’s about amoebas. Yes, amoebas.

Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Jenni: Let me ask my six-year-old son, Will.

Will: “Mommy says a lot of bad words but I can’t say them or I get in time-out is this a trick I don’t want time-out but one is really bad even my teacher says so can I have some ice cream now?”

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Jenni: Quiet.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Jenni: “Mommy, I feel sick!” followed by barfing.
And a few from me:
1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Matt: When I was in college, my fiction teachers told me that the way to write was simply to start writing and see where the characters took you—never outline, never plan more than a paragraph ahead. Having written a large number of things in the years since then, I find that advice to be utter nonsense. I much prefer the advice I got from my painting and figure drawing teachers, which was to never focus on a single part of the page or canvas, but to work everywhere all at once, so that you gradually move from roughed-in composition to finer and finer details, all over the scene. That’s how I treat writing (by outlining and by jotting down key moments/dialogue/etc. that I want to place in each scene) and drawing.

...3. Jules: As a book lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Matt: For me, it was Dr. Seuss and Charles Schulz all the way. I divided my time evenly between reading Peanuts cartoon collections and reading Seuss books. We had tons of both and hardly any other kids’ books. I remember maybe one Richard Scarry book, one Berenstain Bears book, a scattering of Sesame Street books (like The Monster at the End of this Book), and Go, Dog. Go! All the rest were Seuss. I never read many of the other “classics.” I never read Goodnight Moon until we had to parody it in Babymouse. I never read Where the Wild Things Are until this year. And, after the picture-book phase ended, I read few middle-grade chapter books. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Judy Blume book. As soon as I could, I moved straight to fantasy and sci-fi novels.

...6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Matt: Apparently, that I listen to Vanessa Carlton and Ashlee Simpson! Also, I was once in an independent film called The Hall Monitor. It was a dark comedy, and I played a football player who gets bumped off by a mysterious serial killer.

Best of all, it wraps up with the Star Wars theme! What more could you want out of an interview?

The 2009 Annual Report on Graphic Novels

... at least, that's what it should be called. Every year, Brian Hibbs at Comic Book Resources performs an analysis of graphic novel sales, as reported by Bookscan:

For the seventh year in a row, I’m going to try to figure out something that can only vaguely be seen and perceived: the size and shape of the sales of books through the book store market, as seen through the prism of BookScan.

Some preamble:

“Direct Market" stores (also known as “your Local Comics Shop") buy much of their material for resale from Diamond Comics Distributors (though, not, by any means, all – many DM stores are also buying from book distributors, and in increasing numbers). DM stores seldom have Point-of-Sales (POS) systems (though this is rapidly changing), and, because we buy non-returnable, what we track is in our side of the industry is what sells-in to the store, not what sells-through to the eventual consumer. In a very real way, this means that the DM store owner is the actual customer of the publisher, as opposed to the end consumer.

The bookstore market, however, buys their material returnable, where they can send back some portion of titles that don’t sell. Because of this, sell-through is the data that is tracked and trended. Bookstores that have POS systems are able to report their sales to BookScan, a subsidiary of Nielsen.

Each week, BookScan generates a series of reports detailing the specific sales to consumers through its client stores. I have several well trained spies who have, for several years, provided me with access to the BookScan reports.
Mr. Hibbs then goes on to give an unbelievably exhaustive review of the data, with this caveat:
... Really, what I’m trying to get across to you is that this really is entirely unreliable data in terms of the absolute and total number of books sold, and is only able to give the broadest outline of what’s happening in book stores, based upon the data-set that I’m being given, which is in no way comprehensive. I still think that’s better than having no information, so I persevere in writing this each year.
Some highlights:
The sum of the Top 750 in 2009 is down 8.4% in unit sales, taking the retail sales in the book channel back to near 2005 levels.

... More worrying, perhaps, is that gross dollar sales had its first drop [about 8%] since I’ve been able to track this information, taking dollars to their lowest level since 2007.

Obviously, a certain amount of this can be blamed on the general level of the economy, and more specifically, problems at the largest brick and mortar retailers like Borders.

... The majority of the decrease comes from the manga category ... and the main reason that the dollar drop isn’t even worse appears to be a greater number of Western-created comics selling, at higher price points.
and this:
The book of 2009 is the same as the previous year: "Watchmen." The big story, however, is that while "Watchmen" in 2008 was the biggest TP sale we’d ever seen before (nearly triple was the best seller of 2007), for 2009 "Watchmen’s" sales broke even that record. "Watchmen" sold 424,814 copies in the BookScan report.

That’s kind of crazy.

..."Watchmen," the movie, was released early in the year – March 9, 2009 – and yet, breaking conventional wisdom, as "Watchmen" often does, it appears to have continued to sell significantly past the movie’s release date. That is a rare thing, something we’ve never really seen in either the book market or the [direct market]...

Clearly those stellar unit sales also makes "Watchmen" the number one book in terms of dollars sold, as well – nearly eight and a half million dollars, or, if you really want to be scared, nearly 5% of all of the dollars for the entire BookScan list in 2009 (all 19k+ items)!

And that’s just the paperback.
Bone was another big seller, which is great, as was the Diary of a Wimpy Kid-style book, Dork Diaries. (I'm ashamed to say I haven't heard of or read this. It appears to be Diary of a Wimpy Kid for girls, with illustrations that mash up Jeff Kinney, Manga, and Bratz.) Hibbs includes these details about kids' comics:
The 21st best-selling book is Jennifer Holm’s "Babymouse" v9, another comics series aimed at kids – it comes in at 15k. Ten volumes of "Babymouse" make the chart, in fact. It isn’t big as "Bone" (what is?), but it shows there is a thriving market for “comics for kids." In point of fact, there are sixty-three books in the “Everything Else" section that are primarily aimed at children. You might not have heard about Babymouse, or the “Lunch Lady" series, or "Dragonbreath," or "Stone Rabbit BC Mambo" or "Black is For Beginnings" or "Club Penguin," but kids clearly have, and they’re selling well. In fact, I suspect that if you were to sort the entire list out by “intended audience," comics aimed at Young Adults or younger would actually dominate the listings. It might also be worth noting that most of the titles that I just mentioned haven’t been carried by Diamond, whatsoever.
The Beat (lately of Publisher's Weekly, if I'm remembering correctly) performs more meta-analysis, largely centered around this bold statement:
The success of Bone and Babymouse (and the manga blockbusters, of course) is still a testament to the number of younger readers who are the potential audience for comics. Once and for all, can we send the idea that the industry isn’t training a new generation of readers off to the glue factory? Yes, it was a close call, but we made it through. Now whether the kid will pick up the weekly buying habit is another matter; the readership is clearly there — the question is how and if comics publishers can successfully tap INTO that readership.
They may be right--we do appear to have made it through. But I think the bigger takeaway is that Marvel and DC, which, when I was growing up, were companies who did nothing BUT sell comics to kids, apparently no longer are able to sell anything to kids. The revolution of the 1980s took full hold of these two companies, and today they are really just publishing for an adult-only audience.

The big takeaway is that comics for kids, while hopefully thriving, are entirely in the hands of Book publishers and Manga publishers, and not at all in the hands of the people who brought us Spider-Man and the Super Friends.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

BABYMOUSE: THE MUSICAL reviewed at GenX Comics

Just came across a nice review of BABYMOUSE: THE MUSICAL at GenX Comics:

5 Stars Babymouse a riffic
Move over High School Musical! Annie, take a seat! Chicago, put a sock in it! Baby Mouse is here with nothing but strutting in high step, belting out a tune, and wowing the parents at the Elementary School Musical.

Jennifer and Matthew Holm have given readers a charming, musically literate look at musicals from an elementary mind set. The interesting thing is that while young readers will miss the references, their parents won’t....

... parents will read it to their kids and find out that musical theatre is not dead by any stretch of the imagination. Who knows, maybe there will even be a rebirth of musicals.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Multnomah County Library Podcast with BABYMOUSE Co-creator Matthew Holm

I recently visited Ronit Fahl of the Multnomah County Library. Ronit works in their secret headquarters, where they acquire new books, label and catalogue them (sometimes in foreign languages), etc. She showed me the impressive trans-shipping area where a jumble of crates filled with books on interlibrary loan (intra-library? not sure what you call it when it's all within the same library system) come in by truck, are tagged with obscure codes, get sorted out into new bins, and then shipped back out to their final destinations.

Then she sat me down for a podcast interview, in which I field questions submitted by local elementary-school students--about becoming an illustrator, our work process, and my feelings about the color pink. Go listen now!

Then, come check out both me AND Jenni at the Hollywood Branch of the Multnomah County Library at 6:30pm on Tuesday, February 23, 2010.