Combining a push into the YA reading market with a longtime commitment to the work of comics writer Brian Wood, Dark Horse has acquired several backlist titles by Wood originally published by Vertigo and Minx, DC’s now defunct graphic novel imprint for teen girls. In November the house will publish a new combined edition of the two-book series New York Four/Five, created with artist Ryan Kelly, followed by a new edition of DEMO, with art by Becky Cloonan.
In 2007, DC Comics launched Minx, an imprint targeted at a wholly underserved segment of the comics market: teenage girls. It was a bold and laudable creation, but a concept that was also a bit ahead of its time. Minx closed shop just over a year after launch. But in retrospect, the names on those Minx graphic novels read like a who’s who of comics creators, including such highly regarded artists as Derek Kirk Kim, Mariko Tamaki and Jim Rugg. Perhaps most unjustly buried under Minx’s downfall was New York Four, a title from comcs writer Brian Wood and artist Ryan Kelly, longtime indie collaborators who also produced such acclaimed comics series as DMZ and Local, both done with other publishers.
The New York Four (2008) is centered on a quartet of young women who moved to the Big Apple to attend NYU. It was popular enough to warrant a sequel, even after Minx’s shuttering. New York Five enjoyed a five issue run and a trade paperback volume in 2011 from Vertigo, another DC imprint devoted to more independent fare. But while neither series may have gotten the shake they deserved the first go-round, Portland publisher Dark Horse is looking to right those wrongs.
“Overall, I do think that NY4 never got a fair shake,” Wood explained via email. “The marketing of Minx was something that was well-funded and aimed at the bookstore market, but 2008 was a unique point in time for comics, when comics overall were enjoying a lot of mainstream press attention. So the marketing aimed and fired it at an audience in a way that ultimately wasn't going to stick, I think. I mean, clearly not, and Minx was too far out of the norm for the direct market [aka the comics shop market] to get behind.”
In November, the company will collect both series into a single volume for the first time, along with several pages of sketch work from Kelly. The acquisition was, in part, the work of Sierra Hahn, a Dark Horse editor and DC Comics editorial expat who first met Wood and Kelly while working as a publicist for DMZ, a political book set in the near-future. Hahn says that the acquisition is part of Dark Horse’s on-going commitment to the YA market, one she only expects to grow in the coming years.
“I’m really personally invested in the YA market and have started to acquire more projects for that age range — 10, 12 to 16, 17,” Hahn says. “With Dark Horse, we’ve always published YA and we’ve always published kids books, but they’ve never been a prominent part of our line. But I think with big successes like Avatar the Last Airbender and Plants vs. Zombies and things like The Beasts of Burden, we have an opportunity to really show people our line. Going into 2015, I think we’re going to have a lot more young adult books.”
Also on the list is DEMO, another Wood title formerly published by Vertigo that focuses on the struggles of a cast of young protagonists. Though in that title, drawn by cartoonist Becky Cloonan, superpowers are also thrown into the mix. Both are books whose times have come, says Hahn, with a number of YA comics titles having proven to publishers, bookstores, libraries and educators that there is indeed a market for both graphic novels and graphic nonfiction.
“I think they’re all books that are initially targeted toward a YA audience but have a much broader appeal and have been having such a huge success,” Hahn says. “They’ve been getting in the hands of librarians who are huge fans of YA graphic novels. I’ve been meeting with teachers here in Portland, who have discovered graphic novels in just the last four years as reading tools for their students.”
On top of fitting into Dark Horse’s larger YA push, The New York Four/Five and DEMO will become part of the publisher’s longtime collaboration with Wood. The writer has worked on a number of series with the company, including popular licenses like Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian and the on-going sci-fi disaster book, The Massive.
The push also comes after a period controversy surrounding Wood late last year after a female comics artist leveled charges of misogyny against him. The charges generated weeks, if not months, of debate in the online comics community about the specific incident in question as well as the larger issues surrounding the treatment of women in the comics industry.
Wood continues to keep a full workload. He's appearing at Special Edition, a new and smaller comics-focused show that opens this weekend at the North end of the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. “We have some exciting new stuff from him coming out in 2015,” Hahn says, declining to give specific information beyond the DEMO issue in April. Wood won’t spill the beans either, though he does readily express interest in the possibility of pursuing YA titles in the future. “Nothing [YA] on the schedule,” he explains, “but like I said, I love YA. I'd write more YA in a second. And I'm always ready to work with Ryan again.”