Look almost anywhere in the Western world, and it becomes abundantly clear: little kids love superheroes. From lunch boxes and backpacks to t-shirts and toys, legions of five-year-olds everywhere have spent the better part of the past decade gobbling up superhero-themed merchandise. Though the one exception to that rule has often been the comics themselves. And Mark Millar has his own personal plan to change that.
Best known for producing comics like "Kick-Ass," whose subject matter is anything but G-rated, Millar has often said that regular superhero comics work best for adolescents when they feature content that feels like it's geared towards older kids. Today, the writer shared exclusively with CBR the news that he's launching his first superhero story specifically for early readers: "Kindergarten Heroes," a superhero picture book created with artist Curtis Tiegs. The kid-centric hybrid of comic book iconography and picture book pacing will be published by UK house Books Noir with plans towards an American release down the line, and a share of all proceeds going to a children's hospital in Millar's native Scotland.
"I don't think I've met another parent who hasn't, at some stage, toyed with the idea of writing a kids book," the writer told CBR. "Since my oldest daughter was born, I've been mulling it over and now, over a decade later, have finally got around to it. I've got two or three very different projects planned over the next year or so, but 'Kindergarten Heroes' is the one that tickled me most. Little kids love superheroes, but they tend not to pick up comics. Having spent a couple of years of my life having a wonderful time on [the kid-friendly comic] 'Superman Adventures,' I can also tell you that they're mainly read by an older readership. They're aimed at seven to nine year olds, but the readership is much older, and I thought it might be interesting to really create something for all the little five year olds out there. Walk down the high street and you don't see 25-year-old men with their faces painted like Spider-Man (well, not usually...). It's the toddlers who are maybe most fanatical about this stuff. They love the cartoons and the movies, but tend not to pick up the comics. As we've seen with the all-ages comics at Marvel and DC, there's a definite glass ceiling in terms of readership. The bulk of comic readers don't feel they're for them and little kids are unaware they're even out there. So I've tried to reach out to this new audience in a different way.
"'Kindergarten Heroes' is packaged and written and drawn like a traditional children's book, but featuring characters and concepts we'd traditionally find in a superhero comic. Interestingly, it's a genre that's never really been tackled in kids books, but I've got a good track record in creating new superheroes that catch on, and I want to see if I can flex my muscles and try to push these ideas to a whole new readership. Wouldn't it be great if kids discovered superhero comics after reading these books and went out and bought 'Superman' and 'Spider-Man' when they were a little older? There was a great tradition of very young kids comics in the UK to get readers started, and they graduated onto titles like '2000AD.' I'd love to get something like that going here and, to be honest, it's just FUN doing something a little different. I don't value my work on 'Superman Adventures' any less than I value 'The Ultimates' or 'Old Man Logan' or 'Kick-Ass' or 'Superior' or 'Civil War.' Yeah, hardly anybody was reading what I was doing back in those days, but as a writer, I just like trying different kinds of stories and this has been genuinely lovely to do."
While Millar and Tiegs shared some early art from the book with CBR, including a group shot and a sample page featuring speedster hero Whiz-Kid, though for now that's all the details they'll be sharing. "We've got a long-term plan for the release of this book -- this is just the first step," Millar explained. "All I'll say is that it does what it says on the box, which is that this is the kindergarten where all the superheroes leave their toddlers when they go on their adventures. We never see the parents, so we can assume that these kids are the super-powered off-spring of all your favorite heroes. It's very cute and their little adventures, in terms of tone, would be similar to Pixar. I'm trying to make it genuinely funny, genuinely exciting and genuinely dramatic when it needs to be. Pixar is pretty beat-perfect in terms of doing something that doesn't alienate the adults or the kids and that's what I'm trying to do here. I'd like my readers to buy this for their kids or little brothers and sisters, but at the same time really enjoy it themselves."
The writer discovered his artistic partner for this project as part of his ongoing, online talent search for creators to work on his "CLiNT" newsstand magazine. "Curtis and I started putting this together over a year ago now, which is incredible," he said. "I have talent scouting things on the Millarworld boards from time to time, and he just leapt right out at me. I think he's one of the most exciting artists I've seen come onto the scene in the last five years. His style is so incredibly unique, as soon as I saw it, even after looking at dozens of pages of samples from people, I knew he'd nail it. And he did. He just totally got that cute little Japanese vibe I wanted this thing to have. I'm delighted with what he's been doing, and, like all Millarworld projects, he's a 50-50 partner with me. I've been stunned to hear that a lot of people don't do this, and it's a pretty disgusting practice. But artists, if your writer is owning even one percent more than you, he's ripping you off. If he's getting a producer credit and you aren't, he's ripping you off. Curtis and I split everything down the middle on publishing ,and this will extend to any toys or whatever we do beyond the books. This is the beginning of what I hope is a long and fruitful partnership. If this book goes down well, we'll do more."
And Millar is hoping the book will do well for more than comic fan recruitment or his own personal gain. The writer is once again donating a portion of proceeds from his work to his favorite charity. "I don't know if it's because it's a superhero project or a children's book, but Curtis and I feel it would be kind of appropriate to make sure a chunk of the money from this goes to a deserving charity," he said. "I've been trying to do a couple of days charity work every month for the last year, interested in seeing how I can work this around my day-job. We thought we could give 10% of our profits to Glasgow University's medical faculty, funding research projects we have a particular interest in. I've had a relationship with the university for a number of years in this regard, but I'd like to formalize it a little more with this project, and we're talking to them at the moment about a number of possible options. We'll release details closer to the time -- this is probably a good time to mention that the original art from the 'Kapow! Superior Special' goes up for auction in a couple of weeks, too. The money raised from the book itself will be added to whatever we raise here and goes to Yorkhill Sick Children's Hospital. Keep an eye out for this at the beginning of the month, and huge thanks to all the people who not only took part in the project, but also supported it with their dollars."
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on "Kindergarten Heroes" as it draws closer to release.