I was delighted to read this morning that Abrams is planning to bring out something called The TOON Treasury of Funny Comic Books for Kids, to be edited by TOON Books publishers Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman. From ICv2:
The TOON Treasury will focus on comic books, not strips and will feature humorous self-contained stories that range from a single page to eight or sixteen pages.
This is something the British have done well for decades: Slap a bunch of stuff together into a fat, colorful anthology and give it a title like "The Big Book of Fun." I loved these as a kid—there was something so promising about all that bounty between two covers.
The question that arises upon further reflection is whether the book will be a compendium of classic children’s comics from the past, to be read and reflected upon by adults, or an anthology of fun stuff for kids. I would hope for the latter, but the naming of a Distinguished Editorial Board suggests the former:
Spiegelman and Mouly will compile the selections with the help of an editorial board that includes Jeff Smith, Frank Young, Seth, Steve Geppi, Paul Levitz, Jeet Heer, John Benson, and Chris Duffy.
These are a distinguished bunch, no doubt about it, but does Paul Levitz actually know what kids like? Jeet Heer? Seth? Even Jeff Smith says he didn’t write Bone for kids; it just turned out that they liked it. The one member who gives me hope is Chris Duffy, the comics editor of Nickelodeon Magazine, which puts out one of the best (and least recognized) comics anthologies on the market. I’ll take Nick’s annual comics issue over the Best American Comics of 20XX any day.
And that’s why I fear for this latest TOON venture: It may go the way of most comics anthologies for adults and become a children’s version of The Big Book of Angst* or The Big Book of Inscrutable Indie Comics or, more likely, The Big Book of Justifiably Obscure Masterpieces from the Past, which won’t have the kids skipping school to read it. I’d prefer to see them drop the blue-ribbon panel and bring in, say, the folks behind Sugary Serials. And I certainly hope they don’t plan to publish this on clay-coated paper and charge $60 for it. The classic Big Book was printed on cheap paper and always included mazes and dot-to-dots and some sort of bogus cartooning lesson ("Draw Mickey Mouse in Three Easy Steps!").
Adults are already well served in the classic comics department, what with those luscious Fantagraphics collections and all the Carl Barks stuff. To attract the kids, though, the editors need to really brush the cobwebs off and present these comics as fresh and new—the way they appeared when they first ran—not as a lovingly preserved historical record. And for God’s sake, don’t put a million small panels on the page! Keep the book cheap, light and fun, so the kids can enjoy it… and maybe grow up to be grownups who read Seth, Jeet Heer, and Jeff Smith.
*Besides, there already is a Big Book of Angst. But does it have mazes?