“Vixen” was taken

November 26, 2006

Remember that advertising campaign that NBC had for its reruns, cheerfully suggesting that “It’s new to you!”? I’m often reminded of that when The New York Times covers comics. This time it’s about DC’s new line of graphic novels for teenaged girls, the horribly named Minx.

As Johanna Draper Carlson and Chris Butcher have already noted, DC is rather late to the party (and already showed up in a different outfit), but they’ve previously managed to convince the Times that Identity Crisis represented the maturation of the graphic novel, so it’s not surprising that they’ve passed this initiative off as innovative instead of belated.

It’s always mildly irritating when a comics publisher gets away with it, though, and frankly odd in this case. Draper Carlson noted at her blog that she mentioned Scholastic’s year-old Graphix line when interviewed, and she could just have easily brought up Tokyopop’s significant output of girl-friendly global manga, but the article sticks to the impression that DC is breaking ground.

DC VP Karen Berger’s first quote, “It’s time we got teenage girls reading comics,” reminded me of Dirk Deppey’s “She’s Got Her Own Thing Now” from The Comics Journal #269:

“It has now been conclusively demonstrated that the young female reader is, in fact, quite willing to buy comics. She just doesn’t want yours.”

I wonder if another quote from Berger isn’t an indirect (and reductive) swipe at available shôjo:

“Teenage girls, Ms. Berger said, are smart and sophisticated and ‘about more than going out with the cute guy. This line of books gives them something to read that honors that intelligence and assertiveness and that individuality.'”

But perhaps I’m overly cynical. And what better name to express assertiveness, individuality, and a focus on more than mating rituals than Minx?

Admittedly, this bid for that sector of the audience seems likelier to succeed than any of their previous efforts. I like a lot of the creators involved, listed at Butcher’s blog, and I’m pleased to note that, for the most part, they’re talented and versatile graphic novelists, even if they haven’t written specifically for this audience before. Mike Carey is the closest thing to a “house DC writer” in evidence, but the prospect of him reuniting with My Faith in Frankie partners Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel is welcome news, no matter who’s publishing them or under what imprint.

Andi Watson is a versatile writer, and I’ve liked a lot of his comics, whether he’s worked as a writer-illustrator or just provided the script. (He also had the good sense to stand out of the way and let Simon Gane wow everyone in Paris from Slave Labor.) And the world needs more comics from Derek Kirk Kim, so First Second will just have to share.

Butcher notes the manga-esque packaging and pricing, which are eminently sensible, as it increases the likelihood of the target audience finding these books in places where they’re already going for their manga fix. (In my experience, bookstores tend to shelve by size when it comes to graphic novels. If it’s shaped like manga, it’s shelved with manga.)

I don’t know if I can really take issue with his assessment of CMX, DC’s manga line, as “designed to fail,” though I do think they’ve been making conscientious efforts to improve their product. They’ve spruced up the trade dress considerably (though it could hardly have been more generic at the outset) and are publishing intriguing titles like Emma, though marketing in general could be much stronger. (I’ll always be steamed by the fact that the wonderful Chikyu Misaki seemed to have to rely entirely on word of mouth.)

Given recent claims about DC’s corporate culture, neatly summarized at the Newsarama blog, it would be easy to view this as a cynical cash grab. It probably is, but at least it’s targeted at a burgeoning audience that’s still underserved by traditional U.S. publishers instead of another bid to shake more money out of dedicated spandex fans. And it seems likely to produce some good books, so count me in the “cautiously optimistic” column.


Overheard

November 26, 2006

I usually find it really irritating when people use their cell phones in book stores, but I eavesdropped on the best conversation at a Barnes and Noble in Ohio the other day. Some guy was staring at the manga shelves and needed back-up, so he called his child.

“Hey, (child’s name), I’m here at the store, and there’s no book called ‘Manga.’ There’s like a thousand of them. Which one do you want?”

Pause.

“They have stuff called ‘Negima’ and ‘Imadoki’ and…”

Pause which must have included pronunciation corrections.

“Well, which ones do you want then?”

Pause.

“They have a lot of ‘Narutos.’”

And so on.

Aside from the floor show, this was probably the worst B&N I’ve ever seen. With some slight variations, I’m used to feeling that chain-store space warp that leaves me thinking I could be anywhere, because all of the outlets are essentially the same. This one was really cluttered, and its GN selection was terrible.

But they did have plenty of Narutos.