If a panel starts out with a father explaining Doc Samson to his ten-year old son, then you know it's going to be mighty fun. That's exactly how the Disney/Marvel Kids panel kicked off, as the next generation of true believers filed into the presentation room with parents in tow. The attendees were greeted with cardboard Spider-Man masks and a guidebook to Disney's current line of Marvel storybooks that featured a foldout Avengers poster. Moderator Tomas Palacios then introduced the all-ages crowd to the panel, including Senior Editor of Disney Publishing Michael Siglain, Disney's Director of School & Library Marketing Dina Sherman, writer Rich Thomas, artists Val Semeiks and Craig Rousseau, Editor of Disney Publishing Nachie Castro and Senior Vice President of Marvel Ruwan Jayatilleke.
The new line of hardcover storybooks retell the origins of popular Marvel heroes for younger readers. "We went back to classic picture books like 'Curious George' and Maurice Sendak to try and get the pacing of a storybook and translate these classic Marvel Comics tales into picture books," explained writer Rich Thomas. "We hope these storybooks can be an entry point for kids."
Two of the artists, Val Semeiks ("The Incredible Hulk: An Origin Story") and Craig Rousseau ("The Invincible Iron Man: An Origin Story), both comic book veterans, were on hand to discuss the journey they took from drawing traditional comics to these storybooks "There are only one or two panels per page," said Semeiks. "The dynamic is completely different because it's entirely splash pages." Working on the line of books was a natural progression for Rousseau, who has spent the last several years illustrating titles for the Marvel Adventures line of kids comics. Rousseau also has a personal stake in the line, telling the audience, "My 7-year old read the Iron Man book as soon as it came in and made me promise that I'd return from the con with the Hulk one."
Much like recent Marvel films have led up to next summer's Avengers movie, this initial line of storybooks leads up to, in a sense, an Avengers origin storybook being released next April. "The story of the Avengers is more about teamwork and coming together, acknowledging that sometimes things can be too difficult for you to handle on your own," said Avengers storybook writer Rich Thomas. The Avengers origin proved so epic that they had to split the story up into two books; the first one focusing on the initial line-up (Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Wasp and Ant-Man) while the second storybook adds Captain America to the roster. Both Avengers storybooks feature art by Pat Olliffe.
With Spider-Man, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America all receiving the storybook treatment, there was one Marvel megastar noticeably absent. Hint: he's the best at what he does, but what he does isn't kid friendly. Berserker rages aside, Wolverine will be getting a storybook by the end of 2012. "Even though Wolverine skews a bit older, at his core is a really good story about growth, discovery and fitting into the world," explained Thomas, who added that tackling a more mature character like Wolverine paralleled the work done to translate the more intense aspects of Spider-Man's origin into storybook language. "Both the teams at Marvel and Disney discussed the fact that Uncle Ben dies in Spider-Man's origin story. We had to leave it in because he wouldn't be Spider-Man if Uncle Ben wasn't murdered. We had to find a way to make that plot point known without being disturbing to kids, who are probably being read this story at bedtime."
Kids can expect to see more offerings from Disney and Marvel besides origin storybooks. A hardcover book called "Meet the Marvel Superheroes" will contain information and fun facts for over 100 different heroic citizens of the Marvel Universe. Marvel staffer Ruwan Jayatilleke said that they thought very hard about which of Marvel's over 9,000 characters to include, making sure to focus on accessible characters void of continuity baggage. They also made sure to include characters pegged to play pivotal roles in upcoming Marvel films and animated series.
Nachie Castro introduced the crowd to the "Amazing Spider-Man Storybook Collection," a giant 320-page hardcover book coming out in 2012 and packed to the brim with wall-crawler goodness. The hardcover contains a number of short stories, including initial run-ins with most of his major villains as well as stories that focus on the Peter Parker side of his life. The stories in the collection will be illustrated by Rousseau and Todd Nauck. "My daughter loves the Disney Princess storybook collection, and this Spider-Man one is aimed right at my son," admitted Rousseau.
Disney and Marvel will continue their line of tie-in picture books with a series adapting episodes of the "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" cartoon. The picture books will retell key episodes from the series and be packaged with trading cards that, when combined, form a mighty poster.
Just because this panel was meant for kids doesn't mean that the parents in attendance wore kids gloves when it came time for questions. Several parents noted that the initial line of books contain nothing but white men and wondered if there were plans to diversify the line. Thomas agreed with their point and explained the line's lack of diversity by stating, "Unfortunately, the most famous Marvel heroes are white males and we have to start with the best known to ensure we can do more storybooks in the future." He added, "We've been talking to Marvel about diversity from day one, and there is a plan to include more women and minorities in the book." They did mention that Black Widow (along with Hawkeye) would be receiving a 24-page storybook tying into the upcoming Avengers film.
A father asked about how to bring these books to libraries and get them integrated into the classroom, which Disney's Director of School & Library Marketing Dina Sherman jumped into action to answer. "We are going to create guides for teachers, showing them how to use these books in the classroom by applying their overarching themes of teamwork and self-realization."
Things temporarily heated up when a father asked the panel to settle a bet he had going with his young son. When asked who was stronger, Thor or the Hulk, "Hulk" artist Semeiks emphatically supported the jade giant. Upon hearing this, the father took a five dollar bill out of his wallet and put it in his son's tiny hand. You win some, you lose some.
Throughout the panel, the extremely gracious speakers gave away the Marvel Origin Storybooks on display to kids who were either dressed like or asked a question about one of the depicted heroes. Heck, one kid got a book just for nervously forgetting his question and being downright adorable. One thing's for sure: all of the kids were genuinely excited to get their hands on these beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully prepared epic tales. With both Disney and Marvel putting their best efforts into producing a product that excites new readers, the future looks bright.