It's a debate that's rolls around a lot on the comics side of the internet: are there enough comics for kids, and can those kids find them? Even with comic shop staples like Marvel and DC's kids initiatives and the aggressive push from smaller companies like BOOM! Studios with their Disney titles, producing attractive comic books for kids comes with a lot of question marks in the direct market. That raised plenty of other questions when Ape Entertainment revealed earlier this month that they'd be releasing comics based on Dreamworks Animation properties for Free Comic Book Day as part of their new KiZoic all-ages imprint.
CBR has learned exclusively the full details of the publisher's deal with the theatrical powerhouse, as well as the rollout plan for their KiZoic line, and spoke with Ape co-publisher and artist David Hedgecock about how Dreamworks will be arriving in comic shops. The entire KiZoic imprint will launch this April with the long-awaited "Mecha-Nation" mini series from "Spectacular Spider-Man" animated producers Greg Weisman, Vic Cook and Greg Guler. Then, KiZoic will release three other projects featuring Dreamworks characters Shrek and the Penguins of Madagascar – a stand alone "Shrek" prequel in April, the already announced FCBD flipbook in May and then a four-issue mini series for each property in May and June respectively.
"We've been waiting a long time to tell people about it," Hedgecock said of the long wait from conception to creation for the Dreamworks books. "At the suggestion of a good friend, we approached DWA in February and had the majority of the agreement wrapped up by Comic-Con this past summer. Since then, we've just been working on making cool comics and waiting for the right time to announce. I won't go into the boring details about how we landed the rights, but I'll say this – we put together a plan that was conservative, sensible, and easily executed, and then we presented it to DWA with more energy and enthusiasm than I think they are used to seeing. That was really it. A little common sense and a lot of passion."
Passion is definitely a driving force for anyone getting into the kids comic game, as even massively recognizable properties like Shrek can sometimes prove a tough sell to some retailers. Hedgecock said that the crew at Ape recognized the challenge. "'Who's going to pay attention to a line of Young Reader books?' We said the same thing. So, in addition to getting great talent, we went out and got the biggest hammer we could find to smash people's preconceptions with. We are putting 'Big-Boy' properties in this line. Judging by the response so far, I think we're going to have more than our fair chance at success in the DM.
"We are in an age where there are many distribution players on the field. We've got a healthy Direct Market, a new and growing digital market (via our digital partners at iVerse Media) and a bookstore market that has finally started to figure out how to make comics work for them. We'll be taking advantage of every available outlet for the KiZoic line."
"Shrek" and "Penguins of Madagascar" hold the added draw of tying in to upcoming Dreamworks animation projects, allowing Ape to promote their new line when recognition of the characters is at a high point amongst kids across the country. "'Shrek 4' hits theatres on May 21st, 2010. We want to make sure retailers take full advantage of all the buzz that will be around the film (which is brilliant by the way)," Hedgecock explained. "So, there will be a 'Shrek Prequel' [comic] in April, 2010 that is a great primer for the new film, and then 'Shrek' #1 will hit May 19th to coincide with the movie being released. As for 'The Penguins of Madagascar,' it's currently the highest rated new television show on Nickelodeon and is in heavy rotation, with new episodes on the way. Again, it seemed like a no-brainer to get this out to the public as soon as possible."
Of course, the Free Comic Book Day flipbook will provide a no-risk intro to the Ape/KiZoic version of the characters when it hits on May 1 of next year. "'Shrek' is being handled by Russell Lissau and our own Kevin Freeman on the writing chores. Art will be by a couple of Ape Crew regulars – Christine Larsen (who is also our lead artist for the 'Shrek' mini-series) and Drew Rausch (who is handling art chores on the 'Shrek Prequel'). 'POM' is being written by Jackson Lanzing and Dave Server, and they are also handling the writing chores for the 'POM' mini-series. Let me say right now that these two guys will own comicdom within the next few years if Hollywood doesn't pull them away. They are amazing. The art is being handled by the Ape Crew's 'nice guy' - Antonio Campo (who is also the artist for 'Mecha-Nation' and the feature artist for the 'POM' mini-series) and Lucas Ferreyra (handling back-up story duties on the 'POM' mini-series).
Beyond those books, Hedgecock teased, "Yes. We are doing more with DWA. That's all I'll say at the moment. Let the speculation begin."
But before those high profile series hit stores, "Mecha-Nation" will be on the way with its first three-issue mini series in April. The teen superhero book was originally announced as part of SLG Publishing's lineup due to the fact that writer Greg Weisman continued his Disney series "Gargoyles" at the longtime indie fixture, but the project instead ended up at KiZoic thanks to Hedgecock's artistic involvement with "Gargoyles." "It was definitely my relationship with Greg Weisman (I drew about 6 issues of the 'Gargoyles' comic that he wrote for SLG) that brought 'Mecha-Nation' to us," he explained. "When Dan at SLG couldn't make the book fit into his publishing plan, we asked to step in and take over. Vic Cook, Greg Guler, and Greg Weisman liked our ideas, liked the artists we wanted to bring in and so, with Dan's blessing, we brought the project over to Ape/KiZoic where it has been a perfect fit.
"We're launching 'Mecha-Nation' as our first title because it's brilliant. Greg, Vic & Greg have built a comic that's this new, shiny, sparkling, fresh take on super powers. It's everything that all of us older guys had when we were kids and someone handed us Jim Lee's 'X-Men' or Liefeld's 'Youngblood' or McFarlane's 'Spider-Man.' It's that thing that gets young readers excited and hooked on comics. 'Mecha-Nation' is really that good."
Hedgecock expressed big plans for Ape Entertainment and KiZoic throughout 2010 with new standard graphic novels "Second Chance At Sarah" and by Neil Druckmann on its way from the former and an eventual "Mecha-Nation" ongoing and the series "Scratch9" and "Little Green Men" from the latter.