Spiderman stopped by the Penguin booth
to chat with Erin Dempsey (l.),
director of retail marketing,
and Lisa DeGroff, assistant marketing manager.

With Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese winning the 2007 Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature and Masashi Kishimoto's Naruto, Volume 7 getting a Quill Award last fall for graphic novels, coupled with recent announcements like Scholastic's, that it will release lesson plans for its graphic novels starting this spring, it's clear that the market for graphic novels for kids is expanding rapidly.

In fact, the growth of the category when it comes to kids was the subject and subtext of much of the educational programming at last weekend's New York Comic Con. According to Milton Griepp, president of ICv2 and organizer of the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference at NYCC, the number of graphic novels for kids and tweens more than doubled over the past year, from 64 in 2005 to 144 in 2006. Others on ICv2 panels, like young adult librarian Michele Gorman with the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County in Charlotte, N.C., attributed part of the strong growth in graphic novels for kids to the success of Scholastic's Pokémon books and Naoko Takeuchi's Sailor Moon manga series with TokyoPop.

Bone creator Jeff Smith signed copies
of his Shazam books at the DC Comics booth.

But it's not just a matter of libraries fielding more requests for graphic novels for children. Specialty retailers like Hot Topic as well as discount giant Wal-Mart are stocking more kids' comics. At independent comics stores like the Beguiling in Toronto, one of the hottest areas for teens—and their moms—is yaoi, or stories written by women for women about male/male relationships. Yaoi is also showing increasing growth at the chains, according to Barnes & Noble graphic novel buyer James Killen.

While it doesn't carry anything as potentially sexually explicit as yaoi, Scholastic Book Fairs finds plenty of graphic novels to choose from. Since it started carrying the category in spring 2004, Scholastic has sold nearly four million graphic novels, says category manager Ed Masessa, who estimates that its fairs are attended by 50 million children. "We don't buy wide, but we buy deep," he noted. "Because of limited shelf space we carry 20 to 25 sku's." As with books, Masessa seeks out graphic novels with strong storylines.

When asked what they would like to see more of, several buyers concurred with Beguiling manager Chris Butcher, who said: "I would love more saleable books for kids. There's a real lack of materials for grades K to 5. God bless Scholastic for publishing Bone." Butcher singled out Bone,Kingdom Hearts (Children) by Shiro Amano, which he named the best black-and-white novel for $5.99, and W.I.T.C.H. from Hyperion, as "the industry standards."

Artist Jim Rugg and author Cecil
Castellucci were on hand to promote
their forthcoming graphic novel

The Plain Janes, for Minx.

Of course, price can be a key factor when it comes to creating those standards. Some like Masessa at Scholastic question whether parents will spend $10 to buy a graphic novel for a younger child. "Once kids get into the middle-school age," he said, "with their own pocket money, graphic novels really take off." Still, comics retailers like Chris Powell, general manager/COO of the eight-store Texas chain Lone Star Comics, are willing to make the extra effort to sell graphic novels to younger children by working with schools and libraries. "But," he added, "it has to be in the $5.99 price point, and it has to be entertaining."

With buyers asking for more, Janna Morishima of the Diamond Kids Group commented at a Kids' Comics panel that the category isn't waiting to explode—it has exploded. "Long story short," she said, "I'm very excited about the future."