If you haven’t noticed, the typical comic book fan—usually thought to be a teenage dude—has changed. And major comics publishers like DC know they must change as well. In a response to a changing fan base, DC is releasing the first titles from DC Books for Young Readers, a new publishing unit composed of DC Zoom (for middle grade readers) and DC Ink (for young adults) imprints. The first YA graphic novels from DC Ink are now being released.
DC Books for Young Readers marks a major reorientation by the publisher to deliver a line of graphic novels aimed at girls and young women as well as young men, marketed to the book trade as well as the comics shop market. DC has recruited a stellar lineup of young adult and middle grade prose authors to write those graphic novels, a lineup that includes such acclaimed authors as Laurie Halse Anderson, Danielle Paige, Lauren Myracle, Meg Cabot, Ridley Pearson, and Gene Luen Yang .
In April, DC Ink will release Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige and artist Stephen Byrne, a YA origin story focused on the relationship between Aquaman and Princess Mera; and in May the imprint will release Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale by acclaimed YA author Lauren Myracle with artist Isaac Goodhart.
Michele Wells, v-p, executive editor of DC Books for Young Readers, comes to DC from the book trade—she was formerly executive editor at Disney Worldwide Publishing, worked in editorial at Penguin Random House and has 20 years of experience in the book trade—and she talked with PW about the vision behind the new imprints.
“Graphic novels are one of the bright spots in publishing right now,” Wells said, noting that the launch of the DC Books for Young Readers provided DC with the opportunity to produce “out-of-continuity comics stories that push the storytelling boundaries of our iconic heroes for new fans.”
“We’re looking for stories that are authentic,” she continued, “stories about school problems, relatable narratives that use our characters as a lens through which to view these issues.” The key to the strategy, she said, has been the recruitment of a lineup of proven and acclaimed authors like Lauren Myracle, “using their expertise with this fan base to tell those stories.”
Wells cited the importance of the 2015 launch of the DC Superhero Girls line. The line, now a part of DC Zoom, identified a wave of middle grade girl fans excited about the superhero genre. “We saw an opportunity because of its success at identifying an audience that wanted more of our heroes,” Wells said. “And we wanted authors with a POV like Lauren. Her books ttyl and ttfn [YA novels written in the form of text messages], her dialogue and relationship to her audience was really authentic. We feel that way about all the authors [at Zoom and Ink].
Under The Moon: A Catwoman Tale is an origin story about the teenager Selena Kyle, who grows up to become Catwoman, a complex female super hero who is both foil and love interest to Batman (in the story a teenage Bruce Wayne is a classmate and teen crush at Gotham High). But Selena and her mother are trapped in a dysfunctional, violently abusive family situation that forces Selena to run away and become homeless. Ultimately, she finds a new kind of family/team on the streets of Gotham City that also leads to a dynamic adventure.
Myracle has written many books for young readers (at least 17 novels), but Under the Moon is her first attempt at writing comics. “I’m completely a 100% newbie and, knowing how passionate comics fans can be, it’s a little scary,” she said. Myracle grew up in Atlanta, and attended a Christian prep school where “comics just weren’t present,” though she did read Richie Rich and Archie comics. “I did not know about the countercultural and subversive world of comics until my own kids started reading graphic novels,” she said.
Her five children were her real introduction to comics. “My kids fell in love with graphic novels so I began reading them and appreciated them,” she said. Nevertheless, she said, “I’m a words girl, and when I read I gobble up the words. Now I had to slow down and read pictures.”
“I felt a bit hobbled at first,” she said about reading comics and about writing them. “Yes, there was a learning curve” when it came to writing her first graphic novel. “I dove into reading about comics. I read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and all the graphic novels I could get my hands on,” she said. “I tried to absorb and learn about comics just the way I did when I got my MFA in writing fiction,” Myracle said.
DC Comics helped by providing an online tutorial in writing comics, connecting her with more experienced comics writers, among them Mariko Tamaki, “people who know what they’re doing and explained the little things,” Myracle said. “Like how much characters can talk. Comics are more like a poem in a way and it’s fun to have to fit your creativity into a certain structure.”
But it was the character of teenage Catwoman—15 year-old Selena Kyle is a student at Gotham High—that captured Myracle’s imagination. At first DC offered Poison Ivy, another Gotham anti-heroine, but eventually suggested she take on Selena. “My stomach jumped,” Myracle said. “Catgirl or Catwoman spoke to me: she’s tough, she’s a feminist, and she has skills. And my books don’t usually have sociopathic killers in the plot so the whole idea of writing this big story was really amazing.”
Even better, she explained, DC did not want a writer who was overly indebted to the character’s comic book legacy. The publisher wanted a story, she said, “that rings true and can go anywhere.” In Under the Moon, Selena grapples with such issues as domestic violence, cutting, homelessness, and the cruelty of adolescents toward social stigmas. “Gotham is a gritty city and I wanted to tell the best story, the most true story, I could tell about Selena,” she said.
Most people, Myracle said, don’t want stories that offend anyone, but “to me that’s not what fiction is about. I can’t kowtow to social pressure. Selena is a broken girl who finds a way to get past challenges despite what she’s had to go through. My job as a writer is to tell an authentic story that other kids can look at and say I can relate to her.”
Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle with artist Isaac Goodhart. DC Books for Young Readers, $16.99 May 7 ISBN-13: 978-1401285913