Graphic novels for kids were strongly represented at San Diego Comic-Con, held July 17–21 at the San Diego Convention Center, which marked the 50th anniversary of the show. The sprawling four-day celebration of the popular arts was accompanied once again by a five-day Comic Conference for Educators and Librarians, held in conjunction with San Diego Public Library, at its nearby flagship branch.
This year’s CCEL kicked off with a spotlight event featuring Raina Telgemeier, who was in town to promote her forthcoming middle-grade memoir Guts (Graphix, Sept.), following up on the massive success of her memoirs Smile and Sisters. San Diego Public Library hosted record crowds for her presentation, filling the library’s 300-seat hall and accommodating an additional 200 fans in overflow seating. This far exceeded attendance records for Telgemeier’s past appearances at SDPL, according to Bonnie Domingos, library arts and culture exhibitions manager, who noted that books like Guts are now “at the forefront of mainstream literature.”
Scholastic made several notable announcements in the lead-up to the 15th anniversary of its Graphix line. Cartoonist Katy Farina will join the Baby-Sitters Club family with a graphic adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Little Sister: Karen’s Witch, following the success of the bestselling Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels adapted by Telgemeier and Gale Galligan. A licensed tie-in with the recently rebooted 1980s cartoon and toy franchise She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Legend of the Fire Princess will be adapted by Gigi D. G. and Paulina Ganucheau from stories by Noelle Stevenson. Also announced was the much-anticipated re-release of Andy Runton’s Owly: The Way Home in a newly updated, full-color edition, due in winter 2020.
Noteworthy this year was the return of the Scholastic booth to the Con floor, with creator appearances, book sales, and giveaways. Lizette Serrano, Scholastic v-p of education and library marketing, noted that “the timing felt perfect, saying that Scholastic’s absence from the convention floor for the last decade was entirely due to the long waitlist for space at SDCC. Given the dramatic shifts in the landscape of comics publishing for young people in the last 10 years, it was unusual for a major new children’s publisher not to exhibit at the country’s most important comics show.
Buzz about Random House Graphic’s inaugural line-up of graphic novels for young people was in high gear at the event. A few days before the show, RH Graphic announced its four launch titles, including two middle grade graphic novels, The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski and Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico and Karensac; a graphic novel for young adults, Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky; and a hybrid graphic-chapter book Bug Boys by Laura Knetzger.
There was no big news from the Big Two this year. Marvel and DC chose not to focus on their initiatives in the kids’ graphic novel categories. In fact, DC took the stage at the annual Diamond Retailers’ Lunch to address the confusion caused by the creation (in 2018) and then the abrupt recent elimination of its DC Ink and DC Zoom lines for young people. In June, DC announced it will eliminate the former “imprints” for children and young adults, but that going forward its books will be published under age-specific “labels.” Though the DC Ink and DC Zoom imprints have been cancelled less than a year after they debuted, it looks like all the titles originally scheduled for those imprints are being folded into this new labeling system. It remains to be seen what the impact of this rebrand will be on its publishing program for young people.
Marvel, meanwhile, announced two new projects with potential appeal for younger demographics: The Amazing Mary Jane, written by Leah Williams and drawn by Carlos Gomez; and a Spider-verse miniseries from Jed Mackay with art by Juan Frigeri, Arthur Adams, Stuart Immonen, Stacey Lee, and others. Marvel did not present these specifically as titles for young people, but they do hold appeal for teen and even middle-grade readers.
At the annual Eisner Awards ceremony, James Kochalka’s Johnny Boo and the Ice Cream Computer scooped up the award for Best Publication for Early Readers for Top Shelf/IDW. On the exhibition floor, Top Shelf was also showcasing veteran Star Trek actor George Takei and his debut graphic memoir about Japanese-American internment during World War II, They Called Us Enemy (with art by Harmony Becker), a much-buzzed-about book that chronicles his family’s internment. Long lines of fans greeted Takei and his cowriters Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott at multiple autograph sessions throughout the week, buoyed by a release-day appearance by Takei on the Today Show immediately prior to Comic-Con.
Other Eisner Award winners in the young reader categories included Canadian cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks, who won an Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids for The Divided Earth, the final installment of the Nameless City trilogy (First Second). Hicks was also on hand to promote her forthcoming graphic novel Pumpkinheads, written by YA author Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park), to be published next month by First Second. From the same house, Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker won Eisners for Best Publication for Teens and for Best Writer/Artist (for any age category) in a strong showing for the publisher, which took home five Eisner Awards overall.
Multiple Eisner Award-winner Katie O’Neill announced her September 2019 book The Tea Dragon Festival, a follow-up to 2017’s The Tea Dragon Society, as well as a new title, Dewdrop, due in spring 2020, all from Oni Press. Oni publisher James Lucas Jones told PW that although Comic-Con can feel dominated by the vast array of pop culture material on display, “there’s rampant enthusiasm for kids’ comics.”
Woodrow-Butcher is the manager of Toronto’s Little Island Comics, The Beguiling’s kids’ comics store, and director of library services at The Beguiling Books and Art.