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Crunching the Numbers: Round Robin Discussion

Robin Brenner
My conclusions about all of these statistics?  They reflect a lot about what libraries are buying, and therefore shed light on what is popular in libraries and what libraries may need to be hearing more about.  I asked a variety of librarians and publishers here on Good Comics for Kids to chime in with their thoughts, and thus we can present a round-robin of opinions.  Read, enjoy, discuss!

1. Libraries need to be buying from outside their comfort zones.
Robin Brenner: These stats obviously say as much about what libraries are buying as the sales stats say about what comics fans are buying.  They reflect the habits of a specific audience, with reviews gleaned from specific sources.  What I think we could learn from that is that there needs to be more reviews in library publications about non-book-publisher comics aimed at kids, like the indie folks and the superhero comics.  If the comics publishers want to appeal to kids (and parents) they could do a lot worse than have kids be introduced to their work in the library, and right now book publishers are dominating that section.

Esther Keller: I do think that libraries have introduced a whole new group of people to comics. Some that have never thought to read them before. It always surprises me that kids come to the library, and seeing the rush to the GNs, come to me and ask – what are these?  They’re being exposed to it for the first time. As more and more school libraries get GNs, I’ll see this less and less, I’m sure.  (It also surprises me how many kids don’t use the public library… but that’s another story.)

RB: I know what you mean — it’s hard to get a substantial group of teens into the library, and while kids are apparent, I know there are a lot more out there who aren’t using the public library.  I do think libraries are a great introduction to graphic novels, too.

Scott Robins: As for comics publisher needing to the step up to the plate to make their books available for review and be bought by libraries – from talking to a number of people this has been an upward battle. Sometimes I feel that some publishers aren’t fully committed to publishing children’s material mainly because the bread and butter of their business comes from the 20-40 year-old set. And this brings a whole other set of issues with appropriateness of content, designing material for kids that they’ll actually respond to and just general appeal to that audience – a lot of times it just misses the mark entirely. And if it’s not the issue of full commitment, a lot of times it’s just a lack of resources and knowledge in how the book industry works.

Eva Volin: The article that appeared in the Washington Post mentioned how Diamond Comics has had to figure out the book market in order to get its product into libraries and bookstores.  I think libraries are also going to have to figure out how to do business with non-traditional publishers and/or distribution channels if they want to provide the books the patrons are looking for.  Some libraries are on top of this.  Others are still waiting for Baker and Taylor (or Ingram or BWI or…) to magically provide whatever it is. 


2. Media tie-ins are, unsurprisingly, hits. 

RB: Partially perhaps because this is what gets bought or is requested by the kids themselves.  Having Warriors, Redwall, Artemis Fowl and Goosebumps all in the top ten circulates certainly means name recognition counts for something, although I admit I was pleased to see that these are book to graphic novel tie-ins, not movie or game to graphic novel titles.

EK: Interesting, while Artemis Fowl is/was pretty popular – no one touched the GN.  Redwall was not as popular and also didn’t move. Same for Goosebumps.  But I have a small limited population.  Though Superman, Ironman, etc. did move.

RB: I thought this was interesting too.  I didn’t expect Goosebumps or Redwall to be that high up there — and again, that may be a reflection of what librarians are buying rather than what is automatically popular with kids.  Kids may just be taking out anything that’s on the shelf more or less equally, but because more libaries are buying Goosebumps or Redwall, they’re accumulating more circs.


3. Marvel Age/Adventures, the paperback series from Marvel aimed at kids, are popular like whoa. 

RB: I’m not surprised at all, really, but I wonder if Marvel actually knows this.  As Eva and I were running around San Francisco and visiting James Sime’s store Isotope, Eva made off with great stacks of older Marvel Age/Adventures titles from his store, and if I recall a lot of them have gone out of print.  Bad Marvel.  Learn the ways of libraries and bookstores, and keep these puppies in print!  And also, bind them better! (Although I suppose that goes without saying).  This also, to me, says that there’s a real thirst for superhero titles that are age appropriate, not just the mysterious all ages designation given to so many Marvel titles.  Kids (and parents) want superheroes that are actually aimed at kids, not just vaguely appropriate for them.

EK: In my experience, these aren’t that popular, but that’s because of my demographic. If I were in an elementary school, this would be great! I do love them.

We can’t keep saying this enough.  The notion is that comics are for kids… and not all comics are for kids.  But with a vast number of titles out there, it’s really hard to make the selection necessary. I doubt I’ll have more than $1,000 or $2,000 to spend on GNs this year…. that’s not a lot of money. (Especially since I have to replace half the volumes of Naruto) and how do I narrow down the choices and balance between popularity, age appropriateness, and quality – oh and curriculum connections?

EV: Ha!  I also remember that James wasn’t terribly thrilled that I was buying his entire stack of Marvel Adventures, Teen Titans Go!, and Justice League digests.  Because most of them are out of print and we both acknowleged how popular they are.  But while he could only sell them once, I can sell them over and over, brining in new readers every day (or every three weeks, anyway), who may just drag their moms to the bookstore to buy more copies of their favorite series.  Or they would buy more copies of their favorite series if they’d stay in print.

 
Parents do want superhero books that are aimed at kids.  So do the kids.  They hear about the movies, watch the cartoons, see the videos.  Why wouldn’t they also want the books?  It’s crazy that they come and go so fast, especially now that the comics companies have seen how long-lasting their backlist can be.  I can just about guarantee that the Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures series will remain popular long after the movie is out of the theaters.

4. Bone and Babymouse are also incredibly popular, again something I’m not really surprised about. 

RB: I do think it’s interesting that Babymouse is so popular in the library and yet, when I’ve talked to many a comics folk, they haven’t really heard of it.  When I served as an Eisner judge, and we were discussing titles for kids, none of the other judges had ever seen it or heard of it.  This illustrated to me the gap between what comics folks see for kids and what book industry folks see for kids — I don’t think it’s willful blindness, but I do think it means there’s a pretty substantial lack of information going both ways.

EV: I had the same experience on the Eisner committee.  Only one other judge had heard of Babymouse and the two of us spend quite a bit of time explaining that, when it comes to comics, the Diamond bestseller list isn’t the only list to be looking at anymore.  It had just never occurred to them to look anywhere else for comics information.  Robin’s right, though.  I also don’t think it’s willful blindness.  It’s more of a learning curve thing.  There are plenty of librarians who would never think to look on a bestseller list for comics info, let alone consider Diamond as a source.

EK: Bone. *sniff* my hardcovers are falling apart one by one.  Even the ones with low circ.  And it is interesting that comic fans haven’t heard of Babymouse.  She is the best!

 
Snow Wildsmith: It worries me that the "mainstream" comics professionals seem so unaware of titles like Babymouse or that they think that stuff like the Marvel Adventure titles aren’t a success. I would think selling multiple copies to multiple library systems would count as a success, especially with the built-in need for replacement copies. That also frustrated me (and I know Eva and I have discussed this) about Tokyopop’s seemingly rapid dismissal of their titles for ages 8-12. They’ve canceled Agent Boo and I think others and the stock on many of the remaining titles is very low. We have Josh Elder coming for our festival of reading in Oct. and he said that he doesn’t know if he’ll even have copies of Mail Order Ninja to sell. And that was a title that ran in Sunday newspapers. If libraries are buying them and kids are reading them, then why aren’t they a success?

SR: Most of the titles on the kids list hit that more recreational read category (self contained superhero stories [not continuity-based] and media-related, whether book or tv/cartoon) and not the literary-type or longer story graphic novels. I think the introduction of graphic novels to these next couple of generations is going to be similar to the development of comics starting in the 1950′s. Comics were a form of escapist, purely recreational entertainment that was disposable but fans read TONS of it. So kids these days are coming into their library wanting to read comics…and they’re going to seek out and grab the first title they recognize so of course they’re going to go for the Spider-Man material or Batman because of The Dark Knight movie or Artemis Fowl because they’re fans of the book. Eventually this material is going to run dry and hopefully lead readers to something more sophisticated or meatier. Problem is there’s very little of this kind of material being published right now with probably the exception of Bone – and Bone had an inherent audience of fans from the past decade who passed it on to kids to read. There just isn’t a critical mass yet for this kind of (I hate to use this word but), more literary work.

5. The Stone Arch and Graphic Universe books undoubtedly circulate. 
RB: Partly I think that’s because this is what libraries, especially Children’s librarians, have had aggressively marketed to them as safe for children, and they definitely fill a niche.  Are they great in terms of writing and artistry?  Not particularly.  Do they appeal to their audience?  You bet.  I see that as an opportunity for more, better books like these.  Please, somebody, make great nonfiction GNs for kids!

EK: I’m afraid to open my mouth on these and say something that isn’t PC. I have a handful in my library. Only gifts – what I’ve reviewed or free from shows.  I just can’t spend that kind of money on materials that won’t circulate.  And they don’t!  I keep them with my GNs and they’re not touched. On occasion they do go out if a student has a report…. and I love that I have some titles available for struggling students.  But they’re just not good enough and way too pricey.  And it’s interesting that they’re going out in Robin’s system. They surely don’t go out by me (or from my understanding in my colleagues libraries.)

RB: They’re just so disappointing to me — art-wise, dialog-wise.  Have you guys seen No Girls Allowed from Kids Can Press?  That’s what I actually want to see — it was snappy, with fun art, and it taught you a bit of history, enough to inspire you to go out and find out more about these ladies.  So again, I think this actually shows what Children’s librarians are buying, at least in my network, rather than what would, in an ideal world, be circulating.

SW: I agree that the current run of graphic novel nonfiction for kids and teens is pretty sad. We had a lot of the available titles at a previous library, but they didn’t circ that much, usually unless the parent picked them out or there wasn’t anything else on the shelf. The problem is that that is all that is really available and, esp. since it’s being marketed as "safe," that means people will be buying it, so that means that the publisher will consider those works a success and they might not have the nudge needed to publish something better.

EV: As I said before, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Graphic Universe titles holding their own.  And it’s not just the books on battles or Greek heroes, either.  The Max Axiom science books?  How cool is that?  Another title that’s doing well (just not in the top tier) is called Howtoons.  It’s a how-to guide for making cool stuff, done completely as a comic.  So cool!  We really need more like these.


Other thoughts:

EK:
It would be interesting to see similar lists in other large systems. Not all can run the report though. But New York Public Library, Boston Public Library, or other large urban and suburban systems…. What goes out by them. It’ll show us what they’re ordering and also what’s popular in those areas. How do comic reading habits differ in different demographics?

SW: I’m talking with the collection development staff here to see if I can get a similar list of titles compiled. (I know we can, but it’s not something I usually do, so I want to make sure I’m doing it the easy way, not the hard way!) Our system is 24 branches, so a little smaller than Robin’s, and we don’t own some of the titles that her system does (like my beloved Wallflower, *sniff*). I think that will make an interesting comparison.

EV: I’ve had a chance to crunch some numbers (by hand — our circ system isn’t nearly as helpful as Robin’s).  Because our system doesn’t allow me to track my bestsellers, I looked only at the numbers from our main branch (where our highest circulation statistics come from), and only books we’ve added since January 2008.  Here are the titles that have circulated the most in the last 8 months:
 

1. Totally Spies by Various Creators
2. Palette of 12 Secret Colors by Nari Kusakawa
3. Scooby Doo by Various Creators
4. Time Guardian by Tamao Ichinose and Daimuro Kishi
5. Ultra Maniac by Wataru Yoshizumi
6. Nancy Drew, Girl Detective by Stefan Petrucha
7. Beet the Vandel Buster by Koji Inada
8. Lost Warrior created by Erin Hunter, written by Dan Jolley

9. Pokemon by Makoto Mizobuchi
10. Sugar Sugar Rune by Moyoco Anno
11. Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma
12. Hikaru no Go by Yumi Hotta
13. Kingdom Hearts II by Shiro Amano
14. Translucent by Kazuhiro Okamoto
15. Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
16. W.I.T.C.H. by Various Creators
17. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories by Shiro Amano
18. Robot Dreams by Sara Varon
19. Teen Titans Go! by J. Torres
20. Walt Disney’s Donald Duck series by Various Creators


I was really happy with the results.  While I expected the media tie-ins to do well, I was pleasantly surprised to see the kid-lit books and the non-fiction holding their own alongside Teen Titans and the manga. I really don’t think Oprah’s list has had much to do with Robot Dream‘s popularity (it’s an online list and hasn’t gotten much attention, at least not around here).  I also think Bone and the Marvel Adventures books would have made an appearance on my list if I hadn’t been constantly having to pull the books and send them to our mending department.  Honestly, those books shed pages like they have mange.

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Robin Brenner About Robin Brenner

Robin Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. When not tackling programs and reading advice at work, she writes features and reviews for publications including VOYA, Early Word, Library Journal, and Knowledge Quest. She has served on various awards committees, from the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards to the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards. She is the editor-in-chief of the graphic novel review website No Flying No Tights.

Comments

  1. Kat Kan says:

    The Stone Arch, Capstone, Lerner Graphic Universe, and Rosen books all do well in my school library (preK-8th). Bone is the big circ. winner, bar none, but everything in graphic novel format does well. And the teachers are telling me that the kids are reading them, and they are reading the few manga titles I’ve been able to add and want more. Unfortunately, I have NO budget for new materials this year, so I can only add donations.
    And both DC and Marvel aren’t supporting their comics for younger readers the way I’d like.
    As far as supporting indie publishers and creators, I’ve been doing so for at least two decades, and as more of them have been publishing kid-friendly books, I’ve been trying to support them with reviews. I did this when Jimmy Gownley was first self-publishing Amelia Rules!, and I did this when Linda Medley was self-publishing Castle Waiting, and on and on.

  2. Joan says:

    Just to clarify, Stone Arch Books publishes only fiction graphic novels, so if you’re referring to nonfiction, these books are not published by Stone Arch Books.

  3. Robin B. says:

    I apologize for the confusion between Stone Arch and other publishers’ titles — that comment was more a general cry for more good nonfiction graphic novels for kids, but I see how it reads that it could be taken to mean Stone Arch is also nonfiction, when they’re not. I apologize for the confusion!

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