Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
This year’s pairing of Banned Books Week and comics, with considerable input from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, was pure genius. While it is sponsored by a number of organizations, Banned Books Week is heavily supported by libraries, and librarians have been among the most ardent boosters of graphic novels in the last ten years.
In fact, Banned Books Week is really all about libraries, and to a lesser extent, schools. The days of government censorship in the form of prohibiting publication, import, or sale of a book for offensive content are long gone. Nowadays, “banned books” really refers to books that someone wants to remove from a public library or a school. Often, those attempts are unsuccessful because the library in question has a solid acquisition policy and a process for handling challenges, which is how it should be. Libraries buy books for a reason, and they shouldn’t take them off the shelves without a better reason.
Many public library challenges have a similar narrative: Kid checks a book out of the library, mom finds the book and freaks out, mom goes to the library, or the press, and demands the book and all others like it be removed from circulation. When the proper process is followed, a committee of professionals reviews the book and makes a decision, and you and I seldom hear about it; it’s when someone goes to a public meeting and starts yelling and waving a book that things go haywire. That’s what happened in South Carolina, where the a mother let her daughter check out Alan Moore’s Neonomicon, which the library had correctly shelved as an adult book, then was shocked to discover it had sex in it. In this case, the library review committee recommended that the book remain on the shelves but the library director overruled them.
Banned Books Week | National Public Radio’s Lynn Neary covers Banned Books Week, with interviews with frequently banned creators Jeff Smith (Bone) and Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants). Although Smith acknowledges he was initially shocked to see his acclaimed fantasy adventure among the 10 most challenged books of 2013, he soon came to terms with the distinction. “I mean my heroes are on this list,” he says. “People like Mark Twain and Steinbeck and Melville and Vonnegut, so part of me also kind of says, ‘OK, fine I can be on this list.'” [NPR]
Banned Books Week | Michael Dooley runs a brief excerpt from Fun Home, and Keith Knight does a show-and-tell of his comics that were too controversial for some newspapers. [Print Magazine]
Creators | Jeff Kinney, author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, was traveling the day a tornado devastated Moore, Oklahoma, and he saw the damage on a news broadcast while waiting for a flight. The images stuck with him, so he rounded up fellow creators Lincoln Peirce (Big Nate), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine, Timmy Failure) and Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants), all of whom he describes as “novelists whose DNA is in comics,” to hold a benefit to rebuild the town’s school libraries. The quartet will meet in Norman, Oklahoma, for a panel discussion and will raffle off original art and sell autographed copies of their books this weekend, with all proceeds going to the Moore Public Schools Foundation, earmarked for the school libraries. [Oklahoma Gazette]
Creators | Joe Sacco, author of Palestine, Footnotes in Gaza and, most recently, The Great War, talks about his work day, his process and the places he’s been. [The Telegraph]
Among the deluge of pre-NYCC press releases was one from Papercutz that really grabbed my attention: According to publisher Terry Nantier (who also helms parent company NBM), pre-orders of their Ninjago graphic novel have topped 170,000 copies. That’s a pretty impressive number.
The graphic novel is based on Lego’s ninja-themed Ninjago playsets, which have already spawned a couple of made-for-TV movies, and there’s a cartoon series in the works. Plus, people really like Lego, so it’s logical that it would do well.
Still, numbers like that put Ninjago in rarefied company. The first printing of Scott Pilgrim (which admittedly wasn’t a slam dunk) was about 10,000, if memory serves. Potential blockbusters justify greater risk: Yen Press announced an initial printing of 350,000 copies of the first Twilight graphic novel, and over 168,000 copies were sold in stores monitored by BookScan (which includes sales from bookstores only, and not all of those) last year.
There aren’t many books that do that well, though. Dork Diaries, which is a prose-graphic novel hybrid, actually topped Twilight on the BookScan charts, and The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung Fu Cave, by Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey, came in a very close third. But only those three topped 100,000 copies; Scott Pilgrim filled slots 4 through 9 on the chart, with sales ranging from 90,000 to almost 60,00, and the number 10 book was a volume of Naruto that moved about 53,000 copies.
That effect was even more pronounced in 2009, when BookScan’s top seller Watchmen, dwarfed the ninjas and the vampires with sales of well over 400,000 copies. The second best-selling book that year was Dork Diaries (again!) with sales of over 68,000, a considerable dropoff from the top spot. With graphic novels, it seems you can’t count on volume—unless you have Lego ninjas on your side.