Two of our own contributors, Scott Robins and Snow Wildsmith, are now the published authors of the brand new A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids Comics. In order to get a sense of how the guide came about, what it includes, and how everyone might benefit from its content, I took it upon myself to formally interview these two about the guide.
Robin Brenner: How did you end up writing this book? Where did the idea come from, and how did you shape the project as you went?
Scott Robins: Snow approached me in early June last year about the project. She had been contacted by Maggie Thompson of Krause Publications with the idea of putting together some kind of guidebook for parents on comics for kids. Maggie wanted the completed manuscript fast, like in 3 months. Snow recognized how great this project would be and since she was working on other books at the time she asked me to be involved as well. Snow and I came up with the general formatting for the book with some input from our editors. As with many projects like this, many tweaks were made along the way in regards to formatting, design, and the titles we selected but I think we had a pretty clear purpose for the book from the get-go and that made it pretty smooth for Snow and me to write.
RB: How did you work together on the book as co-authors? Were there particular parts or topics you fought over who got to do what? Or did you just divvy up the titles?
Snow Wildsmith: Since I’m in North Carolina and Scott’s in Toronto, we couldn’t just meet and talk things over face-to-face, so thank goodness for Skype!
We started out talking about how we envisioned the book and what loose criteria we wanted to use to determine what to include. Then we started brainstorming titles. We used a Google spreadsheet to keep track of books and we’d both add titles as we thought of them. Titles got moved around a lot, from one grade level to another or from a main entry to a read alike. We wanted to make sure that, within each grade level, there was a wide variety of genres. We checked to be sure that we had a representative selection of publishers and that we covered both popular, fun-reading titles and more educational titles that might be a harder sell, but still have kid appeal.
After our list of titles was set (though there was still some tweaking as we went along), we divvied up the main entry titles and each started writing them up. Once one of us had a section done, we’d post it to Google docs to let the other person edit. After that was done, we’d send the entry along to our editors.
RB: What was the easiest part of putting this guide together? The hardest part?
SW: The easiest part for me was getting to work with Scott. It was so nice to have another person to bounce ideas off of and to help make sure that nothing was forgotten or overlooked. The hardest part was realizing that we couldn’t include every wonderful title that’s available for kids! Even now there are new titles coming out and I think, “Oh, if only we’d known about that one so we could have included it!”
RB: Who did you check in with (if anyone) on judging which books to include and how to categorize them? Librarians, parents, comics shop folks, kids?
SR: Snow and I have many years of experience with graphic novels for kids, me in my former publishing career at Scholastic and Kids Can Press and Snow’s experience as a former librarian and as a reviewer, so we felt pretty confident with 80% of the selections and how we categorized them. Of course, the entire Good Comics For Kids bloggers, including you, Robin, were a valuable resource for questions and suggestions. As well, I relied heavily on Andrew Woodrow-Butcher and the staff at Little Island Comics here in Toronto. As the first store to exclusively showcase graphic novels and comics for kids, Little Island’s staff is extremely knowledgeable and have front line experience with parents, teachers and librarians, both school and public. Snow and I have a lot of friends in comics at the creator, retailer, and publisher level and I’d say there were definitely a few questions here and there that we fielded with them.
RB: Who do you see as the audience for the book? Who do you hope it will help?
SW: We hope that the book will be useful to parents, teachers, librarians, bookstore or comic shop staff, basically anyone who works with kids and books. The two of us love to talk about all the wonderful kids’ comics that are out there. This just gives us a way to talk to people all across the US and Canada!
RB: How would you pitch this book to someone picking it up in a comic shop or library?
SW:I’d ask them what they know about kids’ comics and I’d go from there. If they don’t have any experience with kids’ comics, then I’d show them how the book can help them clearly and easily see the content of some of the best kids’ comics, so they can decide which of those comics will appeal to their children. If they know a little bit about kids’ comics, I’d show them how the book will introduce them to titles they may not have heard of. The kids’ comic world is very spread out, with publishers who focus on many different segments of the reading market — bookstores, comic shops, libraries. This book pulls together all of those elements into one guide.
RB: The book looks gorgeous, with bright colors, full page spreads for each title, and lots of sample images. What did you plan each reader will get from those two pages for each title?
SR: We hoped the book would work on multiple levels. A first look at an entry allows readers to see the cover and the sample page to get a sense of the art style and general appeal. The clear grade level indicators as well as the sample page (Snow and I tried to select pages that would show readers the level of complexity of the panel layouts and how many words there are on a page) would give readers an quick snapshot of age-appropriateness. From there readers can go deeper into the entry and read a synopsis, understand the featured genres and a get a sense of why we recommended each book or series. We wanted to really push the educational tie-ins only because the use of graphic novels to supplement areas of curriculum may not be entirely obvious, especially in the area of character education. Graphic novels are perfect texts to help reinforce this area. We definitely had parents in mind when creating the “What’s Next” section in each entry. Kids who discover graphic novels read through them quickly and sometimes parents have a hard time keeping up with what to give them next.
RB: Was there any element (for each title) you wished you could include that just didn’t work out?
SW: Originally our editors had kicked around the idea of using icons to indicate genre and content flags. As the project developed, the designers decided to drop those icons and just use basic, easy-to-remember words on the side of the page for genres and a more descriptive sentence for the content concerns. The final result shows that the designers definitely knew what they were talking about! The book has a clean, streamlined, easy-to-read layout.
RB: Were there any titles that you wished were still in print that you weren’t able to include? Consider this a plea to bring titles back in print.
SR:I think the two big ones we didn’t include as featured entries were Leave It to Chance by James Robinson and Paul Smith and Jellaby by Kean Soo. We also had a lot of difficulty finding in-print and high quality material from Marvel and DC. It’s unfortunate that the kids market is such an afterthought for these two publishers and because of this mandate, books tend to go out of print very quickly. Although books going out of print is a reality we face in the ever shifting world of publishing. Perfect example – while we were finishing up the book a series that we featured, Twin Spica, was announced to be going out of print and another series, Kid Beowulf, sadly had its publisher go out of business.
RB: How was it to have a launch party at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF)?
SW: It was amazing! This was my first time at TCAF and my first launch party. I’d been to launch parties for other authors, but it was very exciting to be the one launching! I was really touched by all the kind words and support that everyone — staff, visitors, and creators — at TCAF had for us.
SR: I’ll definitely echo Snow here. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old, so having my first book published and being able to celebrate with all my past children’s publishing colleagues, library colleagues, friends, and kids graphic novel creators was pretty amazing. I think this year TCAF really set the bar for kids comics in regards to programming and creators. Heidi MacDonald from The Beat called TCAF “Ground Zero for kids comics” and I love that our new book was connected with this incredible buzz and excitement.
RB: Any favorite reactions you’ve gotten from readers, parents, artists, or kids themselves?
SR: Anyone I’ve spoken with about the book has had very positive reactions mainly stating how there’s a dire need for a book like this. So I feel pretty good about that. Also, at TCAF Dave Roman, creator of Astronaut Academy, expressed his gratitude in being included in the book. Both Snow and I were really touched by that. Dave is one of the first people I met at San Diego Comic-Con about ten years ago who was as passionate about comics for kids as I was so the whole exchange was heartwarming in a full-circle kind of way.
RB: Thanks to you both for the interview!