As part of our participation in this month’s Manga Moveable Feast—which is focused on manga for children, specifically Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma (published by Yen Press)—we thought we’d speak with Traci Todd, Senior Editor of VIZ Kids. Traci started at VIZ in May of 2008. Before that she was a children’s editor at Chronicle Books for three years. She also spent several years in educational publishing, and started her career as a writer for You Don’t Know Jack and its educational sister That’s a Fact, Jack!
Good Comics for Kids: How do you select the titles you want to license?
Traci Todd: There are some really exciting things afoot in the VIZ Kids imprint. We still look to Japan for compelling stories with empowering themes that will resonate with our core audience. But now we’re also reaching out to new–and in some cases non-Japanese–partners for the creation of original content for children. In those cases, we’re going after brands that we really believe in. Brands that we think we can take in a unique direction while staying true to the core VIZ Kids values of strong storytelling, eye-popping graphics, and most importantly, a whole lot of fun.
GCFK: What do you look for in a kids’ manga title?
TT: Humor and heart. It’s really all about the story. Yes, it’s easy to market familiar brands to kids, but we’d like to offer a little depth behind that branding.
GCFK: How does the manga licensing process work?
TT: We get our content in a few different ways. Sometimes when my colleagues travel to Japan, they bring back series they think we should consider. We find out as much as we can about these series, and if they seem right for us, we present them at an acquisitions board. If everyone agrees that the series is a good fit, we make the licensor an offer.
We also scour magazines that run series appropriate for children. We keep our eyes on series that look interesting, do our research, and go through the acquisitions process, if it makes sense.
We stay on top of what’s happening in popular culture as well. If a toy is coming back or a movie is being made about a property for which we know a manga exists, we look into whether we want to secure the manga rights.
But most of our content comes from our parent companies in Japan. We license the material from them, and if there’s a U.S. brand counterpart (Pokémon Company International or Nintendo U.S.A., for example), we also coordinate with them. From a content perspective, the Japanese side is very concerned with the integrity of the art and maintaining the overall spirit of the storytelling. The relationship with the American companies is very important as well. They help us keep our product consistent with all of the other products out there under the same brand umbrella. We work very closely with Pokémon Company International to make sure that we have all of the Pokémon terms right, for example. There’s a very thorough approvals process.
GCFK: What elements of choosing manga for kids are different from choosing manga for teens or adults?
TT: This is hard for me to answer since I don’t work on any adult titles at all, but I’ve sat in on some acquisition meetings. Let’s just say the conversations about kids’ titles and adult titles are very different. On the kids side we worry about whether to add a sticker sheet or color pages to a volume. On the adult side they worry about…other things.
GCFK: Is there a difference in what is defined as “kid appropriate” in Japan versus in America? How does that affect your selection process?
TT: Definitely. As with many cultures, it’s often the humor that doesn’t translate. Sometimes there’s a lot of panty humor in kids’ manga in Japan. Take Dragon Ball, for example. In Japan, that series is meant for children. But all the sexual jokes make it completely inappropriate for American kids. In fact, those jokes–and their accompanying imagery–are pretty much what makes Dragon Ball a T-rated title.
GCFK: Is the translation process handled differently when you are working with manga for children? Do you look for translators that can create “kid friendly” language?
TT: A lot of the kid-friendly language comes from the editors, actually. We look to the translators to give us literal meaning and context. Sometimes we hire rewriters to then take the literal translations and massage them into natural sounding kid-speak, but more often than not, it’s the editors who do the rewriting.
GCFK: Which of your kids manga titles have been the most successful?
TT: Pokémon Diamond and Pearl Adventures, hands down. As a whole, Pokémon is our most successful brand in the imprint. There’s just nothing like Poké-power.
GCFK: Which surprised you, either because they did so well or because they didn’t do as well as you hoped?
TT: I would say that the Dragon Ball and Naruto chapter books were less successful than we’d hoped, but I think we misjudged the audience there. The kids we were targeting with the chapter books were already reading the manga, even though we weren’t marketing it to them.
One success story that I love is Happy, Happy Clover. It didn’t sell Pokémon numbers, but it was the best selling of our non video-game titles, which is really interesting.
GCFK: What upcoming titles are you excited about?
TT: We’re really exploring some new things with the imprint. In November, we have two new series launching: The Adventures of Taro, starting with Taro and the Magic Pencil, and the Adventures of Panda Man, starting with Panda Man to the Rescue!. These two series are a mix of prose and comics, kind of like Captain Underpants, and also feature mazes and puzzles that have to be solved in order for the stories to progress.
In the summer of 2011, our first original children’s publishing program launches. We’re the exclusive children’s publishing partner for Mameshiba, a brand of super-cute trivia-spouting beans. We’ll launch with a full-color graphic novel–which looks just amazing–and a character guide. In the seasons that follow we’ll have sticker books, board books, picture books–all the typical children’s formats. We’re thrilled to be a part of bringing this brand to the U.S.
Additionally, we just signed a graphic novel-only deal with a brand you all know and love. We can’t say which one yet (we’ll announce it at New York Comic Con), but it’s a pretty exciting thing for us. Look for other surprises from us at NYCC, by the way. VIZ Kids is really shaking things up!
GCFK: Thank you so much for speaking with us, Traci!