While at the American Library Association conference in Chicago, Snow Wildsmith and I had the opportunity to talk with VIZ Kids editor Traci Todd. We asked her about the origins of the imprint, how licensing decisions are made, and where she sees the line going in the future.
Good Comics for Kids: Would you ever consider expanding out your age ratings so that all-ages is for the youngest kids, then have a 7+ or a 10+?
Traci Todd: Those are conversations we’re having. I like the idea of Youth as a rating, because I think that all-ages is different in Kids from what it is in shojo and in shonen. I’d like to see that kind of distinction. Having our VIZ Kids branding helps, but for parents and educators, I think it’s important to have that kind of distinction and be really clear as to what each of the ratings mean.
GC4K: What are you doing differently to market this line to the general public versus what you’re doing to market VIZ Kids to teachers and librarians?
TT: We are increasingly focusing on the education market. We’re doing teacher guides. We’re going to have many more resources for educators on our website. Before I was in trade publishing, I was in educational publishing, and children’s media prior to that. I really think the format of graphic novels is such an interesting format for the classroom and for reaching out to reluctant readers and readers who learn differently. Therefore I’d like to find ways of incorporating our books into classrooms and into the curriculum. I think finding creative ways to make teacher materials around our books will help that happen. Sure, it may be a challenge to find a way of fitting Pokémon into the classroom, but we do have titles like Dinosaur Hour and Leave it to P.E.T. that have an educational subtext. All of our titles have really strong themes, so it’s not too far of a leap to make those themes work in a classroom, especially for the younger reader.
GC4K: Speaking of Pokémon, is it pretty much the Naruto of the VIZ Kids line? Does it allow you to license titles and support titles that won’t immediately sell quite as well?
TT: Yeah, Pokémon pretty much pays the rent. [laughs] And while I so appreciate what Pokémon allows us to do and how strong it is, I would love to find other titles that are just as strong. But I don’t know that there will ever be another Pokémon. It’s brilliant. The characters just keep coming, the stories keep coming, the readers grow up and new readers come in. We love Pokémon!
GC4K: Do you ever have parents or teachers come to you and say that they just don’t think kids should be reading comics or that comics have no value? How do you address concerns like these?
TT: I haven’t had that happen to me exactly, but I’ve listened to conversations and read between the lines. For example someone will pick up one of the chapter books and say, “Oh, you do real books!” Yes, we do! They’re all real! The challenge is more that we do manga and they don’t know what that is. People say that their kids won’t be able to read it because it’s “backwards.” That’s my favorite complaint, that it’s “backwards.” It’s not backwards, it’s just not Western. So, that’s more of what I hear. I don’t hear that comics are bad; I hear that our comics are weird.
GC4K: Right. I think it’s kind of the old-dog-new-tricks thing. Just because you can’t figure it out doesn’t mean your eight-year old won’t be able to.
TT: Exactly. I feel like if you’re a good teacher or librarian and you’re doing your job, you already know that your kids are getting it. You may not get it, but you’ll see that your kids do.
GC4K: What do you see in the future for the VIZ Kids line?
TT: I’d really like to see us find that next Pokémon, whatever that is. And I’d like to see us do some original content. I don’t know how that would be perceived, but if we’re going to think of ourselves as a comics publisher then we should take what makes us unique, which is the manga style and the influence of Japan, and apply it to original content. Taking the design sensibilities and all the things that make manga fantastic and applying them to a Western story.
I wouldn’t want anyone to confuse us with DC or Marvel, because they’re really good at what they do. They’re known for a certain thing and VIZ is known for a certain thing. And I think creating comics that aren’t from Japan wouldn’t invalidate what we’re known for. I think the Kids line is the place to try it, especially as we’re finding that the children’s material from Japan doesn’t necessarily work for an American audience. But we’ll see.
For part one of this interview, click here.