Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Field trip!

Here's a guest entry from J.D Ho, our circulation and marketing manager:

In an office full of kids' book reviewers, there aren't many comics readers -- just myself and Alison, the circulation and marketing Assistant. Overflowing with missionary zeal, I undertook to organize a trip to the comic store, a place Alison and I visit every Wednesday (new release day). There was some foot-dragging, but eight of us finally went to the Malden branch of New England Comics this morning. I had warned Jim, the store manager, that we'd be arriving, and he kindly gave us a tour.

Something I didn't know was how popular Manga has become. Jim told us that the section has grown five- or six-fold in the last few years, and that the audience for manga is much more varied than it is for American comics. I love the superhero genre, but most girls don't. You'd be hard pressed to find a romance title put out by DC Comics, but there are plenty of romances in the Manga section. The rest of our tour covered the big publishers (DC and Marvel) as well as the smaller, indie publishers, who (in my opinion) lead the way with more offbeat stories. Some of my favorite titles have come from Slave Labor Graphics, Fantagraphics, Viper, Top Shelf, and Oni Press.

One of the things I love about comics is the serial storytelling of the format. Jim told us that actual comics (the familiar magazine format) are filling less of the store than they did a few years ago. Trade paperback collections are becoming more popular. It makes sense for libraries and bookstores to order the paperbacks, which are sturdier and easier to obtain from book distributors, but I hope the magazines never die out. It would mean an end to those exciting Wednesdays, and possibly an end to comic shops. Then where would budding comic geeks hang out after school? And where would I take the office on field trips?

10 comments:

Anne said...

I can't think of comics without seeing the comic book guy from Simpsons. The genre desperately needs a new spokesmodel.

jd said...

Maybe I can do one of those READ posters with Batman!

fusenumber8 said...

Currently I'm trying to find a reliable review source for graphic novels aimed at kids (not teens). If anyone has any suggestions to offer, I beg you to send them my way. I'm trying to update NYPL's paltry GN offerings, but reviews of things like "Clan Apis" and "Patrick the Wolf Boy" are spotty at best.

Anonymous said...

Not many comics readers? Wouuld that explain the appalling ranking the latest HBG gave to the first Bone collection and the latest Chynna Clugston Major? I was speculating they went to non-comics readers; the comments on the Chynna implied the reviewer was unfamiliar with manga art styles, and the comments on the Jeff Smith implied the reviewer was unfamiliar with the methods by which graphic novel compilations are collected from monthly serials.

Hollis said...

Lots of girls like superheroes. And there is plenty of love interest in DC/Marvel Superhero stories, Black Panther just got hitched! (but I'm a girl who doesn't care about that too much, gimme some muscle and some powers and some impossible tricky situation...) Gail Simone's Birds of Prey is fantastic and very pro girl, and girls and women are gobbling up mainstream titles such as Y the Last Man, Fables, Runaways to name a few.

Comics shops are certainly taking advantage of the Manga craze, and other spin off merchandising (my LCBS even sells Pokky!)but I don't think comics/floppies are going anywhere. It's too much a part of the culture, comics geeks like owning and collecting and trading and selling, and the suspense of a new story every few weeks. Bookstores are selling floppies too! I can hardly believe it, but the local Barnes and Noble has a great comics area that includes old standbys such as Archie and new phenoms such as Young Avengers. The theft rate is very high I am told. I actually buy all my comics (and manga and GNs...) from a local Comic Book Store, and I will always do so. No where else can you find that crazy kind of rapport among customers who don't know each other's names but know every title in each other's pull list. And the people who work there are an INCREDIBLE resource for the latest trends, stories, and up and coming artists and writers. Comic stores aren't going anywhere, I promise. (And if they do in MA, move to WI!)

kf said...

In response to Anonymous: My own knowledge of comics/graphic novels is unfortunately limited to Tintin and Archie, so it's good that I didn't review Bone and Queen Bee myself, but I have to defend the Guide reviews. Of the former: a rating of 4 is hardly "appalling." Books that receive 4s are recommended with minor flaws--in this case the only quibble was that the book is "slow paced but nevertheless imaginative." I can't speak to whether or not the reviewer is familiar with how monthly serials are turned into graphic novels--I know I'm not--but if something works well in one format that doesn't necessarily mean it translates well into another. In any event, the review doesn't complain about this at all. In fact, reviewer liked the book.

The Guide gave Queen Bee a 5 (seriously flawed with some redeeming qualities) because of "cliched dialogue" and "forced plot points," in addition to the fact that "the anime-style characters are hard to distinguish." Worried that we might have been too hasty/uninformed in our judgment, I asked our resident manga devotee, J.D., to take a look at Queen Bee. She agreed that, compared to something like Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist, the illustrations are a lot less nuanced and the plot is choppy. We seem to be alone in our criticism of this book, though. PW, SLJ, and Booklist all liked it.

Finally, to fusenumber8: in Robin Brenner's FAQ article about graphic novels in the March Horn Book, her bio mentions her website "Sidekicks," which reviews graphic novels for kids (her "No Flying, No Tights" reviews the same for teens).

Kitty

rindamybyers said...

The illustrator for my first book snuck an "underground comic" book title into one of his pictures. I was delighted. A librarian reviewer hated the comic book in the picture. I doubt anyone at the publishers ever recognized that the comic book was even there--or cared! Somehow, after reading this blog, I am feeling very high, on-top-of-the-world justified....after all, words came out of pictures in the first place, way, way, way back when....before the Egyptians even...

Anonymous said...

Re Bone: I guess a 4 isn't technically appalling, but we are talking 4 on a 1-6 scale for a book that won the Eisner award a decade ago. It is a surprisingly low rating for a notable book.

Anonymous said...

Re Bone: I guess a 4 isn't technically appalling, but we are talking 4 on a 1-6 scale for a book that won the Eisner award a decade ago. It is a surprisingly low rating for a notable book.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

You can count me among girls who read superhero comics (steadily since age 5), and while there aren't a lot of genre romances, it's not hard to find a fun love story. Peter-MJ and Peter-Kitty from Ultimate Spider-Man are both entertaining reads, and Cassie-Kon from the DCU just broke my heart. Actually, my pet peeve at the moment is our folks (children's/YA lit) talking about comics and graphic novels as though they were nothing until we discovered them. Don't get me wrong, I love our community, but occasionally we need an ego check. In any case, Wonder Woman was the first (and for a long time only) woman I ever read who said that girls didn't need boys to protect us, and I'm still grateful to her for it.