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She Has No Head! – Can I Be In Charge Please?

Hunger Games fanart by Burdge-Bug and Peibee-an-Jay

Like millions of others, I recently bought a (losing) lottery ticket for the $500 million dollar Mega Millions jackpot.

Before my hopes were dashed against the brutal non-winning rocks of reality I, like anyone with a lottery ticket in hand, fantasized about what I would do with my winnings. Though I spent much of my time imagining the swanky New York apartment I would buy, as well as the sunlit pad in Los Angeles (complete with badass pool) and infinite traveling I would do, I kept coming back to one thing over and over that I’d like to do.

Start a publishing company.

Seeing the furor over The Hunger Games, and being part of it myself (I love the books and thought the movie was pretty good for an adaptation) was part of what kept me returning to the fantasy of me having the power and funds to launch a comics line with The Hunger Games graphic novel adaptation at the heart of it.

It continues to baffle me, why YA (Young Adult) Fiction continues to skyrocket – massively successful series like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games – which are monster hits in terms of readership and sales; while YA Comics are barely even a thing in the mainstream comics market. Not only do those novels have huge readerships, but they have huge female readerships, while female mainstream comics readership continues to struggle and flounder.

Hilarious Hunger Games Fan Art by Noelle Stevenson

I suspect YA comics aren’t a thing in the mainstream because in fact most mainstream comics are supposed to be appropriate for YA audiences as well as young adults, but to be honest I can’t see it. Even the more mainstream comics that I think are great these days, I have trouble imagining anyone under the age of 20 enjoying, certainly to the degree that they must have them and religiously follow them from month to month. And that’s ignoring how painfully unfriendly most mainstream comics are to new readers thanks to complicated continuities. Monthly mainstream comics are painful in a way that mainstream books simply are not. It’s as clear as day what you need to read and where you can get it if you want to read the latest series. But pick up a random mainstream comic series and you’re going to need – at a minimum – the internet to help you navigate those complicated waters.

Like anyone, I come back repeatedly to distribution and advertising being the primary issues beyond new-reader friendliness – that kids don’t frequent comic book stores the way they do bookstores and so many other places. But I like to believe that digital is changing this…evening the playing field both between the sexes and between the age groups. The ability to buy something instantly digitally, something the younger generation is more adept at and comfortable with anyway, is a game changer.

Comics and graphic novels in bookstores still continues to be hit and miss, there’s been a lot of progress, but we’re still not there yet. We may never get there. In the Barnes & Nobles in Manhattan the selection is phenomenal, but I’m sure that’s not always the case.

At my fictional YA comics imprint, which I am fictionally naming NOVA (awesome right? Yeah, I know you don’t have to tell me) after securing The Hunger Games adaptation (yes, for bucketloads of cash) I would put a slew of talented comics creators to work on quality projects that fit that YA vein. And I wouldn’t be shy about going directly after those highly coveted female dollars that mainstream comics seem happy to leave on the table.

In truth, I would let the creators simply pitch whatever they want, they’re brilliant and I have great faith in their ideas and talent. But that’s not much fun for a column…so I’m going to take some of their visuals and speculate wildly as to what my “fall line” would look like alongside the first Hunger Games graphic novel. There are nearly limitless new, established, and up and coming creators I would want to approach, but I limited myself here to a solid baker’s dozen.

I’ve raved about Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman pitch from a while back. I ache to see it in print. DC isn’t interested? Fine. But they don’t own the Amazons as a concept. I say Caldwell revamps the whole thing, basing it around the Amazons, rather than one specific Amazon. And done!

Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan have proved themselves repeatedly to be one of my favorite creative teams whether they’re tackling projects that hit my sweet spot like Demo, or doing something completely out of the box (for me) like Conan The Barbarian. Anything they’d do together would surely be magic. This image is from Demo Volume 1 and to me seems like something any female YA reader would pick up in an instant. Something like this please!

Faith Erin Hicks. As I said, she can do whatever she wants. And already Hicks ongoing online comic Ice about a futuristic and rather dystopian society would be a nice fit for anyone looking for something with a similar Hunger Games vibe, while still being completely different and new. That said, can I tell you how much I would adore a Lucy from Friends With Boys spinoff? Yes, I would pay Hicks buckets of cash for that story.

Mike Maihack‘s Cleopatra in Spaaaace! series is fantastic, his Marvel and DC sketches are the things adorable dreams are made of, and just flipping through his website is a treasure trove of interesting ideas. Hey, look at this character…yeah, what’s her story…give her a story, make it a book. Sold!

Meredith McClaren draws like her life depends on it and searching through her blog is like discovering other planets, rich with ideas. It was honestly hard for me to pick just one image that I’d love to see explore further. In fact…I didn’t even manage that…I cheated and am showing two. This first one is so interesting to me because it’s so unlike the image that we usually see or think of when it comes to mermaids.  I’m fascinated by it. Make it a book!

This one is actually a riff on Lady Gaga I believe, which I find beautiful, brilliant, and kind of hilarious (in a great way)…I’d love to see it explored into something else.

We all know what a big fan I am of Ross Campbell, and I’d of course let him do just about anything he wants, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t really interested in seeing his Abandoned world further explored. That said, just browsing his DeviantArt gallery gives a taste of how many wonderful ideas he has just waiting to be explored.

I know Fiona Staples is really busy right now with Saga, and I would NEVER want to get in the way of that, but for my fictional imprint perhaps she could PLEASE do a story about this drawing that is on her blog, and that I love so much:

And if not the futuristic pink flying Vespa chick, then a story about whatever this awesomeness is then about something like this image inspired by Viera? Yes please and thank you!

Pretty much everything Emily Carroll does is scary and cool. So I would just ask her to do something scary and cool. There really cannot be enough things in the world that are like His Face All Red – haunting, beautiful, smart, and just scary enough to leave you thinking about it for days.

Obviously she can’t do Scooby Doo since that’s a licensed property (even though her sketches improve on the concept dramatically as far as I’m concerned) but I would love to see Noelle Stevenson give us a crack team of kid detectives.

Jillian Tamaki is amazing. Already you can get her absolutely hilarious Super Mutant Magic Academy for free online, and if you’re not reading it, what’s wrong with you?! But I’d love to give her a blank check to really expand the world and do a huge print version to go with her digital comics.

Jennifer Davidson is pretty new to me, but her blog is full of beautiful dreams. Love to see some of them made reality – look at the colors in this!

From Nuno Alves’ DeviantArt gallery, I believe this is supposed to be Misty Knight (and it’s wonderful) but this image (or the dozens of others that live in his gallery) could easily be re-worked into its own concept. Absolutely gorgeous, kinetic, and full of life.

If this isn’t the coolest damn (as yet unknown) superheroine, I don’t know what is. How I would love to see this single painting by Jason Levesque turned into a concept.

So that’s just a smattering of the talent I would beg, borrow, and steal to bring over to my fictional imprint NOVA, a massive publishing endeavor that would begin its life by losing money hand over fist. Yes, even in this fantasy world I’m not delusional. It would take time for a line like this to find an audience. But I do believe, however naively, that ‘if you build it, they will come.’

The one caveat?  You have to actually tell them you’ve built it. You have to let them know. You have to advertise in the places that these readers go, you have to get the product in front of them in order for it to speak for itself.

If you can do that, I really do believe there is a massive untapped wealth of young (and female) dollars out there to be captured. And bringing them in with something they are already obsessed with like The Hunger Games adaptation would be an excellent way to get their attention.

Unfortunately I did NOT win the mega millions jackpot and so this remains only a lovely fantasy.

Who would you hire for your own fictional imprint?

23 Comments

I’m not sure what the current situation is, but I worked for a little while at a Barnes & Nobles about 5 years ago and at that time we actually had a ton of YA readers coming in to buy comics. Except, they weren’t American comics, they were all buying translated manga. It was huge. And it wasn’t just the collections; the manga anthology Shonen Jump was one of B&N’s top 30 bestselling magazines, nationwide, right up there with stuff like Time and Sports Illustrated. The experience left me convinced that kids and teens are just as into the comic medium as ever, they’re just turned off by the content and format of American comics. Why American publishers haven’t learned a lesson from and tried to adapt to the big demand for manga is something I still don’t understand.

I’d hire me.

Given your gushing over Avengers vs. X-Men, I no longer trust your critical faculties.

To paraphrase the RPG industry.

“How do you make a small fortune in the publishing industry? Start with a big fortune…”

Jemma Salume. And then I’d go ahead and write the stories for a bunch of these characters too.

Getting awesome writers and artists on board? Easy (All the good ones always seem to be doing little side projects for almost nothing)
Raising the funding to print a bunch of copies? Doable (Once the creators are on board take your cue from the Womanthology and OOtS Kickstarters)

Getting Chapters to stock it on the YA shelf next to The Hunger Games where is deserves to be instead of back in the dusty corner next to the Identity Crisis reprints? A sisyphean task.

I’d read NOVA Comics. :)

Although, after reading all about Kevin Eastman’s experience with Tundra and learning more about both of the printing and publishing businesses in general, I don’t think I could run my own publishing company. Maybe (MAYBE) finance one (if I one said lottery) and provide some vision, but certainly not run it. Self-publishing is about all I can handle!

if i had a company i’d hire Kelly Thompson!!! thanks for the nods, as always! <3

i was at the comic store last week and there were some guys there asking if there was a Hunger Games comic/graphic novel, so if a handful of hipster dudebros were comfortable asking about that then there must be a pretty good demand for it out there. all the publisher has to do is send me an email.

Regarding that second drawing by Fiona Staple’s, there’s already a story about those characters. It’s called Final Fantasy 12. Those are Viera from that game: http://finalfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Viera

Eh, I wouldn’t call FFXII a story *about* Viera, any more than LOTR is a story about elves. Viera are in it, but that’s about as far as it goes.

YA Comics are barely a thing? Maybe not at your LCS, but they are huge in libraries and every time I’ve checked over at The Beat they seem to be the growing market.

@Julian: I would say those are “graphic novels” not “comics” i.e. monthlies

But it SHOULD say (and I thought it did and I will edit it now to make sure it does) say “Mainstream” which was my intention.

Does anybody know how Adventure Time has been selling so far?

And I still can’t believe that Faith Erin Hicks hasn’t been tapped to do a Hunger Games adaptation yet after that amazing fan comic she did. Seriously, how has that not happened?

If you REALLY want to change the game, i’d apply some of those winnings to being your own distributor, too. Because Diamond would choke most of these in their crib.

sandwich eater

April 9, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Do kids still hang out at book stores? In my city, except for second hand book stores, the only book stores that we have are college book stores.

I always thought it would be nice if comic shops were cooler places to hang out. I went to one store that had a seating area with a soda vending machine where you could read, and they had some arcade video games like Street Fighter and the old X-men arcade game. I’d go to this store more often if it wasn’t so far away. Unfortunately the closest shop to me doesn’t have any cool stuff like soda or chairs.

I’m reminded of that one Simpsons episode (“Husbands and Knives”) where a new comic shop opens up across from The Android’s Dungeon. The owner of the shop, a hipster named Milo (voiced by Jack Black), actually did everything RIGHT with his shop, “Coolsville Comics & Toys”. The store is filled not only with comic books, but also with video games and modern art, giving it a sophisticated arcade look. It became so successful that one of their events was a book signing by Art Spiegelman, Daniel Clowes, and Alan Moore. Turns out that Coolsville is based on Meltdown Comics & Collectibles on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California. Anyone ever been there? Is it a comic shop that has “done it right”?

I think most of your ideas are great, though I’d certainly like to see some love for Coleen Coover as well, but I agree with Mr. Hatcher, what’s going to be most inventive is how you circumvent Diamond. To use your YA book model– you’d almost have to go to Scholastic Press or a similar publisher and get them to make a graphic novel imprint that would sell to bookstores and on digital and avoid the quagmire of traditional comics altogether.

Captain Librarian

April 10, 2012 at 8:54 am

I was about say there is a growing market of YA Comics, like the manga adaptations of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride and Witch and Wizard, and Meyer’s Twilight, then I saw you wanted serials, not graphic novels.

I’m not sure what to say about that, as someone who generally prefers trade paperbacks of serials anyway.

Speaking as a YA Librarian, I can say there’s a strong interest among girls in comics (I work in NW Arkansas), but yes, manga is the big thing. There are a growing number of girls who branch out into non-manga comics, but I do think one obstacle will be that there still exists a bit of a divide between Superhero, Manga, and Independent/Artsy comics. Some fans are just grabbing the next Spider-man book, and a lot turn their nose up at anything that isn’t following the specific manga style (and some will react harshly if it becomes obvious that it is merely an attempt at American imitation of manga).

That seems to be cooling down a bit though, which is a good sign. I try to do my part, without being annoying, and help kids try out new things, but you can’t force people to like something.

I do agree, that there’s no Hunger Games manga or comics yet is surprising. Maybe they worry about oversaturation? There’s 3 movies to be made (maybe more, with the way they’ve been splitting books into 2 movies these days), so I suspect they’ll get around to it. I just hope they give it to a worthy artist and not the lowest bidder.

I like everything here! Keep buying those lottery tickets, Kelly. I’d probably do about the same thing if I ever won a huge amount of cash.

As for business models, I would do several things…

1 Make character design more animation-like. Exaggerated, easy to identify by silhouette, etc. All shapes and sizes! Aim for iconic. Aim for something worth cosplaying!

2 Release everything digital first. Online and for ipad/iphone viewing if people so desire. 99 cents per title for as long as it updates, which lets creators work at their own pace. 4 pages per week. Or 2. Or 20 pages per fortnight. Whatever they can handle. And for however long their GN is – 64 pages to 200, whatever. (Okay, maybe 200 pages could be 1.99)

3 Have a social aspect where, if you’re low on funds to buy new comics, you can earn points by gifting comics to other people.

4 The most popular stuff, make it in to a book, but make that book something worth having. Nice production values. Extra content.

5 Until the books come out, or when they come out, if you want to keep the comic shops in the loop, do signings, workshops etc. in store. Presumably the low price point will bring in tons of fans who might just make the pilgrimage to a store to see their favourite creators, and from there – minds blown. (Assuming it’s a well-stocked store.)

That’s what I would do if I won big time. :)

Ah, see, doing monthly books, yeah, that’s where you’d run into a bunch of problems. Because as others have said, YA GNs are gaining ground in libraries, and those GNs are coming from big timey publishers. I’m not sure if Graeme was talking hypothetical or not, but Scholastic already DOES have a GN imprint (Graphix, I think?), and iirc, they’re the ones who reprinted Bone in color.

So book publishers are trying, libraries are doing their part (that’s where I read all of the DC/Minx books that I have encountered), presumably some readers are buying and what book stores there are left are carrying them (if not placing them at ideal spots). But getting monthly comics sold, there’s the rub.

As Hatcher said, if you got a distributor as well, that’d be the ideal. Get these comics in supermarkets, big box stores, and so on.

One thing I wonder about re: comics publishers not getting into the YA game — I’m sure you heard a bit of the rumbling about how Hunger Games the movie was rated, and how it’s aimed at a certain age, and how violent it is (or isn’t). Since comics are visual, I’m wondering if that would scare off some publishers who would fear a Seduction of the Innocent-esque backlash. Especially considering that the big 2 are owned by giant conglomerates.

Also, as you found in the Ladies Comic Project, some females seem to not want to have the story so visual, as it “interferes with their imagination” (to paraphrase some of the thoughts I remember there). As I believe the big time YA novels (Twilight, HG, etc) are aimed at/read mostly by women, that “stumbling block” of the medium itself might prevent some sales. Just with the movies of those books (and the Larsson “Girl” books), there have been plenty of words about certain actors not seeming right, the one character in HG being played by a “dark skinned” actor, even though that description is in the book, the actresses portraying the main character from “Girl” being “too Hollywood goth”, and so on, comics adaptations are bound to face the same sorts of objections.

Not to say they shouldn’t be tried.

I suspect as well (without reading any of them, so I could certainly be wrong) that the main characters are very loosely described physically, allowing the reader to more easily “project” into thinking themselves as the character. I suspect that’s the case with that new BDSM e-book Grey area/shade, whatever it’s called (you know what I’m talking about, right? Right?), that the main character is not “fleshed out” (ahem…) in a physical description that’s too specific.

OK, anyway, what was I saying? Yeah, me like these ideas.

Oh, me likee Noelle Stevenson’s Velma and Daphne.

Jillian Tamaki did a lovely piece for the Sunday Times Week in Review of a lovely redhead (for some story about the GOP candidates, or something). I’m guessing that that piece paid more than all of her comics work….

That second Meredith McClaren piece looks more like an Elfquest Wolfrider to me, but thinking about it, a Lady Gaga Wolfrider would be awesome!

I hope you eventually get the chance to “Go NOVA” and blow up the comics world!

[...] Caanan is back with another amazing guest comic! I seriously want to hire Caanan to do a spin-off series spotlighting all the other students at Yasiro Academy. He has this uncanny grasp of these characters and the hijinks they get into. He’d be perfect! Ah, to have my own publishing company… [...]

I would happily buy all of the NOVA books. If I ever won a lottery, I know what I’d invest in! ;)

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