Flipping through the anime-ridden, sometimes gruesome/sometimes sexy tween, teen and adult comics displayed at Comic Book Expo-a two-day, closed-to-the-public prelude to the world’s largest comic convention-one begins to wonder if kid-targeted comics are dead. While decidedly less prevalent at Comicon than more mature pulp books, all-ages comic books are alive and well according to artists, distributors and retailers alike. ‘We’re buying comic books for kids because there’s an increasing number of little kids coming into the store,’ says Lynne McCafe of Mile High Comics, a California- and Denver-based retailer that also sells comics and back issues on the Internet (www.milehighcomics.com). McCafe cites the Cartoon Network Presents line, plus Batman, Animaniacs, Archie, Garfield, Star Wars, Richie Rich Archives and Pikachu titles as big kid magnets.
DC Comics editor Heidi MacDonald says this year’s increased kid comic presence is easily traced: ‘Viz Communications’ Pokémon has kids coming into the comic book stores again.’ As a result, retailers are looking for product to place on racks adjoining the Pokémon displays, to provide alternatives for parent and kid browsers. The Simpsons comic book arm, Bongo Comics, debuts original kids fare including Hopster’s Tracks, about a female kangaroo who is an unemployed artist. Fliner is another popular all-ages Bongo title. Hot sellers with tweens and teens are Bongo’s The Simpsons-based graphic novels such as Bart Simpson’s Guide to Life.
Hot all-ages titles at DC are the Cartoon Network anthology book (which combines Cow & Chicken, Johnny Bravo and Space Ghost Coast to Coast) and Powerpuff Girls, due in March 2000. The latter (a comic spin-off of the hit Cartoon Network series that features little-girl superheroes in a hip, Japanimation format) has spurred a burgeoning demand for girl-targeted comics, says MacDonald. Image Comics, the third-largest comic book publisher after Marvel and DC, is banking on this trend with Evil and Malice (recently retitled The Adventures of Evelyn & Malinda) by artist/creator Jimmie Robinson of Jet Black Cat. Perhaps in recognition of his highly regarded girls book, Robinson is said to have been offered the job of creating the Powerpuff Girls comic series.
Evil and Malice, which launched in June, centers around the adventures of two 12-year-old twins as they secretly help their supervillain dad. Although his title capitalizes on the girl-empowerment boom and some heavy promotion by Image, Robinson says it’s still not easy sailing for kid books. ‘In the comic book industry, it’s a very big uphill battle for all-ages books,’ Robinson notes, while concurring with the industry buzz that Pokémon has opened doors for the category.
Another factor boosting all-ages books are the new places for kids to buy them. ‘We’ve targeted a few places on-line, such as NextPlanetOver.com, and I have my own Web site,’ Robinson notes. Millions of comic book fans currently exchange information, and trade and purchase comics on the NextPlanetOver.com site.
Fueling the trend towards kid-oriented pulp, adult-heavy publishers such as Sharkbait Press increasingly offer several titles that skew 12 and up. Sharkbait’s Rabbit #1 series targets that demo, and its Pete the P.O.’ed Postal Worker series is aimed at the 16 and up crowd. ‘It’s a tough issue,’ admits Sharkbait writer Marcus Meleton. ‘Some stores want to make it so that parents can drop the kids off,’ he adds. Other hot 12 and up books include Dark Horse’s Hellboy, centering around a young hero who is summoned from Hell by the Nazis, but reforms himself into a metaphysical superhero. Dark Horse’s tremendously successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer series is also tween-safe, says a spokesperson.
According to Pioneer’s animation marketing supervisor Chad Kime, 10% to 15% of all comic book retailers currently have a video section. Hence some Comic Book Expo exhibitors, such as anime-heavy Pioneer and Central Park Media, display a plethora of dubbed and subtitled Japanimation video titles, many spun off of comic books. Central Park Media offers the kid- and tween-friendly Slayer videos as an alternative to adult fare. Slayer has been picked up by the Sci Fi Channel, indicating a growing awareness that some anime is not as adult as once thought. According to C.B. Cebulski, Central Park’s editor-in-chief, anime gets a bad rap as only 5% of the overall product contains excessive sex or violence. ‘Slayer is kid-friendly, but the story is more complex than children’s animation, so we call it 10 and up,’ says Cebulski. Once again, the ‘P’ word comes up in discussions of Japanimation. ‘Pokémon caused a lot of companies to look again [at anime],’ Cebulski notes. Two of Central Park’s teen anime products have been featured on MTV’s Cartoon Sushi, including Iria (about a female bounty hunter) and Genocyber (a high-tech intergalactic fantasy). MTV has expressed interest in widening its offerings of anime, according to Cebulski.
Pioneer’s array of video product includes a dozen Pokémon videos from Viz Video, as well as other kids fare. ‘We’ve made a conscious effort to get into kids by picking up features such as three Sailor Moon titles: The Dog of Flanders, Catnappeal and Miffy,’ says Kime.
Ironically, industry icon Marvel Comics, the leader in kids comics for decades, displayed little product at the Expo. Marvel titles such as Spider-Man are still going strong with the youth audience, however, and kids book scribes such as X-Men creator Jason Liebig were on hand to wow devotees with autographs and hints about upcoming story lines.