Brigid Alverson on Good Comics for Kids

As the parent of an eight-year old boy who is still warming up to the concept of reading outside of school assignments, I’m always looking for resources to help interest him in reading. So when I found out that Brigid Alverson had started a blog called Good Comics for Kids, I was definitely enthused. In fact I was so interested in finding out more about the group blog, I contacted Alverson for an interview. Here’s some background on Alverson:

“Editor-in-chief Brigid Alverson grew up reading American and British comics and developed a passion for manga late in life. She is the blogger at MangaBlog and the editor-in-chief of Digital Strips, and she does freelance comics writing for Publishers’ Weekly Comics Week, Shojo Beat, and other publications. You can see examples of her non-comics journalism at her personal site.”

After reading this interview, be sure to check out the links that Alverson was kind enough to provide of her fellow Good Comics for Kids bloggers.

Tim O’Shea: When did the idea for this blog first come about?

Brigid Alverson: Shortly before this year’s New York Comic-Con. Gina Gagliano, of First Second Books, and Janna Morishima, from Diamond, invited me to take part in a few panels on children’s comics. I started poking around on the internet and couldn’t find a site that was covering them in a regular, systematic way. So I started one.

The idea was similar to my other site, MangaBlog, which I think of as a morning newspaper for the manga industry—lots of links to what everybody else is writing, plus longer reviews and interviews. But as my work with MangaBlog and my other writing already take up a lot of my time, I decided from the start to make it a group blog.

O’Shea: Could you give folks a general breakdown of who is involved in the group blog–am I correct in thinking many participants are librarians looking to help fellow librarians stock their holdings with effective and engaging comic books?

Alverson: Actually, it’s much more general than that. We do have five librarians: Robin Brenner, Eva Volin, Esther Keller, Snow Wildsmith, and Scott Robins. Robin and Eva have been Eisner judges, Esther was on the YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee, and Snow writes regularly for Manga Jouhou. Scott’s blog, All Ages, was one of the inspirations for Good Comics For Kids.

But we also have five non-librarians on staff. Lori Henderson is a blogger and the editor of the Manga Village website; she and I are both moms who share a love of comics with our kids. Kate Dacey is Senior Manga Editor for PopCultureShock, and she’s a great writer and critic. Sabrina Fritz is a good young writer who is a regular contributor to Manga Village. Jason Sigler is a webcomics artist and blogs with me at Digital Strips. So we’re approaching comics from a variety of different viewpoints—as readers, critics, parents, and librarians.

I also have to give credit to Dee Dupuy, who designed the site, and Dan Hess who did the banner art. Dee is a professional web designer and a talented comics artist, and Dan is the creator of two kid-friendly webcomics, Angel Moxie and Realms of Ishikaze. They gave us our look, which really made the site.

O’Shea: Since starting the blog have you gotten much positive feedback from kid friendly (or perceived to be kid friendly) publishers?

Alverson: Yes! We started getting press releases the very first day we went live, and we are continuing to hear from publishers and receive review copies. I spent a lot of time at NYCC talking to people about the blog, and people were very enthusiastic. I think this is an idea whose time has come. It’s an exciting time for the category—there’s a lot of good work coming out, and people are just starting to figure out how to get it to the kids. So it’s a great time to jump in and start covering it.

O’Shea: You’re still trying to build an audience with this blog, I assume, who is your target audience.

Alverson: Right now, we’re mainly writing for people in the business, which includes editors and creators as well as librarians. I hope this will become a valuable resource for parents and teachers, and anyone who is interested in children’s comics.

I think most children would find it boring, but there is one feature I would like to expand for them: Our list of kid-friendly webcomics. Some of the best webcomics out there are written for younger readers, and they don’t get much publicity. So I’m hoping our site will be a place kids go to find new webcomics as well.

O’Shea: Who are harder to convince to try comics for their children: librarians or parents?

Alverson: Parents. Librarians are mostly on board, because they have seen how popular manga and other graphic novels are with readers, particularly teenagers. Parents, at least some of them, are a tougher sell. They think comics are trash, and they often don’t like comics that are tied to TV shows.

I never had that problem. My father always loved comics. He liked everything from the Sunday funnies to Mad Magazine, and I remember him reading comics to me even when I was very young. So we never had any stigma about them growing up. I think it’s important for kids to read what they enjoy. My sister is very particular about what she will let her kids read, though, so if a comic pleases her, as well as her kids, I know it’s going to be a winner.

O’Shea: People often point to video games and other media distractions for as to why kids are not reading comics as much as they once did. What do you see as the challenges publishers face in trying to attract more kids?

Alverson: Maybe we’re just a bookish lot, but my daughters and their friends have always been enthusiastic about books, not just comics but series novels like the Warriors YA books and Stephanie Meyer’s YA novels. If kids get hooked on a book, they will ignore the TV and everything else. So part of the challenge is to create content that’s that compelling.

The other part is tougher: Getting that content out where kids can find it. Graphic novels are a very small presence in the kids and teens sections of chain bookstores, but I think that’s about to change. Once a kid discovers a comic, he or she will often share it with friends and start a mini-craze—but first they have to have the opportunity to discover it.

O’Shea: Do you think the comic book industry will ever tap into their own version of Harry Potter–a book that all ages would read?

Alverson: It’s possible. A lot of children’s books, like Joann Sfar’s Little Vampire, the Flight Explorer anthology, and Matt Loux’s Salt Water Taffy, work on several levels. There are plenty of true all-ages titles out there. It’s really a question of marketing—getting the books into the hands of the kids and the grownups. In the end, it may be a movie tie-in, like Amulet, or it may be viral, but I think it will happen.

When I was growing up, children’s comics were very formulaic: Little Dot, Richie Rich, Archie, Superman, they all lived in limited universes and did the same things over and over again. The work being done now is much more creative, whether it’s Tiny Titans and Franklin Richards from DC and Marvel or the really high-quality graphic novels coming out from First Second, Oni, and other small publishers. I think these more creative comics are a more satisfying read for adults as well as children.

O’Shea: What do you hope to do with the blog, and so far, have you made progress with the blog that you are happy with?

Alverson: I want to build the site into one-stop shopping for professionals and casual readers alike, a place where they can check in every day for news and maybe spend a little more time reading reviews and in-depth stories. I would like to make it a venue for creators who don’t have time to blog regularly can drop in with a guest post once in a while. And I’m hoping to develop some static pages that will be references people will come back to again and again.

O’Shea: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I did not ask?

Alverson: For some reason, kids’ comics are the hot new arena for creators these days, whether they are doing webcomics, superheroes, or artsy graphic novels. I see a lot of enthusiasm among this group. Some are parents themselves, others are simply drawn to that particular type of work. There’s a lot of creativity in this field. If the publishers can figure out the marketing piece, we may be standing on the threshold of a new golden age of children’s comics.

Supplemental Resources

Brigid Alverson
MangaBlog
Digital Strips (editor-in-chief)
Professional site

Robin Brenner
No Flying, No Tights (editor-in-chief)

Katherine Dacey
PopCultureShock (manga editor)

Sabrina Fritz
Manga Village (contributor)

Lori Henderson
Manga Xanadu
Manga Village (editor-in-chief)

Scott Robins
All Ages (no longer updated)

Eva Volin
Manga Jouhou (contributor)
MangaCast (contributor)

Snow Wildsmith
Manga Jouhou (contributor)
No Flying, No Tights (contributor)
Fujoshi Librarian

Esther Keller
cornerbooks
I.S. 278 Library

Jason Sigler
Digital Strips (contributor)
Amazing Super Zeroes (artist)

J. Dee Dupuy

Dan Hess

Webcomics:
Angel Moxie
Realms of Ishikaze

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