There was no sophomore slump at the second annual Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo as far as comics and graphic novels for children and teens are concerned. Although Boom! Studios, Disney, and other kid-friendly publishers were noticeably absent, other publishers picked up the slack, with new title announcements from Archaia and Oni Press, an Owly picture book debuting from Top Shelf, and a new Jill Thompson title from DC's usually adults-only imprint, Vertigo.
Thompson's new book, Delirium's Party: A Little Endless Storybook, was actually announced almost a year ago, but fans at the Vertigo panel were happy to see it come to fruition. Illustrated in a whimsical watercolor style, the book is set in the Sandman universe and features the characters known as The Endless as small children. In this story, the character Delerium throws a party to make her sister, Despair, smile. "It's like The Little Endless Storybook, part two" Thompson said. "It's the same type of silly story, a story I that want you to be able to enjoy in the Sandman universe, be able to read, pass off to little kids that might not have ever read a comic before,trick people that don't like comics into reading a comic because it has prose in it."
At the Archaia booth, Janet Lee, the artist for Return of the Dapper Men, was signing books and showing off some of the art for the next volume, Time of the Dapper Men, to be followed by yet a third book, World of the Dapper Men. Mouse Guard creator David Petersen was also a featured guest. Archaia's big announcement, though, was something completely different: A Tale of Sand, based on an unpublished script by Muppets creator Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl and illustrated by Ramon Perez. The script was written before Henson created the Muppets and is an allegorical tale that will probably appeal to teenage readers, about a young man who finds himself in the desert, with only a knapsack, pursued by the residents of a nearby town.
Oni Press featured its Yo Gabba Gabba board books and anthology at its booth, and they brought Ray Fawkes in to talk about both the second volume of his graphic novel Possessions, which came out last week, and his new book, One Soul, which is pitched at older audiences but has definite teen appeal. The two books couldn't be more different: Possessions, which Fawkes says is ideal for children seven and up, is a slapstick comedy about Gurgazon, a pit demon in the shape of a little girl, who is held captive by a little old lady who likes to collect ghosts. Gurgazon tries every method she can to kill or at least gross out her captor, but that makes the little old ladies just enjoy the game even more. Fawkes's other book, One Soul, is a sophisticated experiment in storytelling: Each two-page spread encompasses 18 panels, with each panel a single moment in the life of a single character. The 18 lives run in parallel through the book, and the reader can choose to focus on one character or read all the stories simultaneously. With its themes of questioning and faith, this book seems a natural for older teens.
Top Shelf had no new titles to announce, but they debuted the first Owly picture book Owly and Wormy in Friends All Aflutter at the show. Random House devoted most of its booth to science fiction and fantasy prose novels, but reps were happy to talk about their newest children's graphic novel series, Squish: Super Amoeba, by Babymouse creators Jennifer and Matthew Holm. Also getting prominent play was their young adult graphic novel The Sons of Liberty, the story of two escaped slaves with superpowers and martial arts skills in Colonial America; the second volume is due out in June.
The Artist Alley was filled with established creators like Archie writer and artist Dan Parent, Tiny Titans artist Art Baltazar, and the creators of Skullkickers (who sold out every book they brought to the show) as well as a number of new artists working toward that first big break. In the Artists Alley, Amy Mebberson, the former artist for the Muppet Show comics, did sketches for fans and discussed her newest project, as co-artist and colorist for Ape Entertainment's Strawberry Shortcake comics.
In the digital realm, David Steinberger of Comixology said that he has submitted a children's comics iPad app to Apple for approval, but he is not sure when it will go live. This would be a big step forward; the Comics by comiXology app includes a number of children's titles, but because it is rated 17+, they are mixed in with more mature comics.
Sunday was set aside as Kids' Day, but there were plenty of children in attendance on all three days, many in costume and tagging along after their enthusiastic parents. Several booths catered to children, and the Archaia booth was particularly welcoming, with a special lounge area featuring a kid-sized table, coloring pages, comfy chairs for the grownups, and a generous selection of Archaia titles for browsing. While C2E2, like all comics conventions, is still pitched mostly to adults, it certainly extended a warm welcome to even the youngest comics readers.