In 2020, DC Books for Young Readers is releasing three middle-grade titles based on original intellectual property, marking the first time the imprint has published books not tied to its famous DC Comics superheroes.
“DC has an 80-year history with a wonderful array of characters,” said Michele Wells, v-p and executive editor, who heads up the Books for Young Readers program. “It was not a conscious decision to not use DC characters. We wanted to make sure we engaged with a younger readership in a new way, and as I was having discussions with authors and illustrators about what kinds of stories they wanted to tell and whether there would be a fit with DC, I realized that original IP was the best way to do it.”
The first title is Anti/Hero, written by Kate Karyus Quinn and Demitria Lunetta and illustrated by Maca Gil, which goes on sale in April 2020. It centers on two girls that switch bodies in a Freaky Friday-like mishap involving an experimental technological device. My Video Game Ate My Homework, written and illustrated by Dustin Hansen (Apr. 2020), is about a boy whose science fair project gets sucked into a video game-like virtual world in which he must play through the levels, battling monsters along the way, in order to retrieve the project. And Primer is written by Thomas Krajewski and Jennifer Muro (June 2020), who are known for their work in kids’ animation, and illustrated by Gretel Lusky. It focuses on a girl who finds a set of body paints that give her a range of superpowers when applied in different combinations.
While the books all feature original IP, there is a connection to the world of DC Comics. “The original characters live in a world of DC superheroes,” Wells said. The stories subtly acknowledge well-known characters, for example in a cameo by Bruce Wayne/Batman, a bedroom poster of Wonder Woman, or a news story about Superman on a TV in the background.
One of the hallmarks of the new books is that they feature diversity of all types. The protagonist of Anti/Hero is Latina, the lead character in My Video Game Ate My Homework is dyslexic, and the 16-year-old star of Primer lives in a foster home. “We want the readers to see themselves in the characters,” Wells explained.
She noted that at their core, all of DC’s middle grade books are about a conflict of some sort and characters who are learning about the world around them. The original IP fits into that pattern as well. Most of the protagonists are different from the standard DC character in that they do not have a superpower. But they do have a unique characteristic or ability that makes them exceptional and helps them succeed, Wells explained. In My Video Game Ate My Homework, for example, the main character Dylan uses his dyslexia to solve the game.
DC Young Readers is actively looking for more original IP to publish, and has two stories for YA readers coming up in 2021. Whistle features a Gotham teen who gains superpowers that place her in a position of choosing between her family, which has criminal underground connections that are helping pay for her mother’s cancer treatments, and a newfound, strong desire to make the world a better place. It is written by E. Lockhart and illustrated by Manuel Preitano. The second YA title, Galaxy: The Prettiest Star, is written by Jadzia Axelrod and illustrated by Jess Taylor. It is about a princess-in-exile whose home planet is under attack as she is kept safe as a teenaged boy on Earth, with a normal life and a female love interest. Her life goes into turmoil when her true identity is revealed.
DC Comics characters have appeared in TV, films, and consumer products, and that may be the future for some of these properties as well. “We’d love to see these presented in other forms of media,” Wells said. “But the primary goal is to create a compelling story.”