Once relegated to the back corner of indie comic book shops, the graphic novel genre is starting to make some serious in-roads into the mainstream book market. According to Calvin Reid, news editor at Publishers Weekly, the category made a US$55-million gain in 2003 to finish at US$165 million (up from US$110 million in ’02). And for the first year ever, graphic books sold more robustly in bookstores (US$105 million) than in comic shops (US$60 million).
Wanting to get in on the action, kids publisher Scholastic has launched a new graphic novel imprint for kids six to 14. Graphix’s first offering, Bone, will hit U.S. retail in January 2005. The nine-volume, black-and-white graphic novel series sold 400,000 copies in its initial run from 1991 to 2004, when it was published by indie house Cartoon Books.
Scholastic publisher and editor-in-chief Jean Feiwel chose Bone to lead off Graphix’s slate because it was continually recommended to her as the pre-eminent graphic novel series for kids. Described as Lord of the Rings meets classic comic strip Pogo, the story line revolves around three modern-day cousins who stumble into a pre-industrial valley full of weird and sometimes terrifying creatures, such as Kingdok – chieftain of the Rat Creatures.
While graphic novels primarily pull in teen and adult readers, Feiwel expects kids to appreciate the genre’s visual literacy on a new level. ‘Really, it’s fiction with pictures,’ she says. ‘I think kids, especially those who aren’t good readers, will find that tracking pictures makes navigating the text much easier to manage.’ And it might just be an effective way to entice the elusive tween boy demo back to bookstores.
Scholastic plans to sell Graphix titles via its school book club channel, but Feiwel says the launch strategy’s focus is on making a splash at trade retailers such as Borders and Barnes & Noble. The initial print run of 60,000 to 100,000 copies of the full-color, 6×9 edition of Bone will be accompanied by a six-figure marketing campaign, which includes a ‘graphic novels 101′ kit for retailers new to the scene and an extensive in-store author tour by Jeff Smith.
Graphix is not limiting itself to boy-focused fiction. Feiwel says at this point, she’ll consider a wide variety of stories and subjects and is not ruling out picking up licensed properties. Slated to follow Bone in fall 2005 are two decidedly girl-skewing projects. Queen Bee is about the trials and tribulations of a social hive of middle-school girls, in the same vein as Lindsay Lohan’s movie Mean Girls. And the Graphix treatment of early-’90s Scholastic hit series The Babysitters Club will hit shelves at the same time.