NYCC, Day 2: Minx, The Face of Modern Fiction

Sat, February 24th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Andy Khouri, Editor

Saturday morning at NYCC marked a historic occasion for DC Comics: the first ever convention presentation of Minx, DC's new young adult graphic novel imprint. Led by DC Comics' Marketing master Gayley Carillo and editor/Minx architect Shelly Bond, the panel spotlighted the line's first release, "The Plain Janes," and covered in-depth the goals of Minx and how DC plans to achieve those goals.

"Three or four years ago I started to notice that there were lots of teenage girls in Manhattan who were clustered together at book stores reading manga," explained Minx editor Shelly Bond. "I thought that was so cool and I was very inspired by that. I started to wonder what was going to happen in a few years when those readers would want something new. So I pitched this line as an alternative to manga, but also as an alternative to traditional fiction, because I thought that it was really about time that teenage readers had their own imprint and that they could experience a brand new visual reading experience."

Thus, the Minx line was born. Touted by DC Comics as the first American comics line created especially for teenagers, each Minx graphic novel promises to feature edgy and evocative plotlines that, stressed Bond, focus on modern teenagers facing modern problems and modern issues while existing in a number of various genres. Additionally, every Minx title will feature strong female protagonists. "Each book is as original and as captivating as the people who will read them," Declared Bond.

Every book in the line is standard mass-market paperback size, black & white with grey tones, 177 pages in length, and comes with a free preview of another Minx book. Perhaps most remarkably, every Minx graphic novel is priced under $10. "We wanted to start out by giving this teen reader a format that they could afford," Bond explained. "[A book] they were comfortable holding in their hands. At one point we considered going digest-sized which is a little bit smaller like manga, but we wanted to go mass-market paperback size so that traditional fiction readers would actually open it up and take a look inside and see how cool and different it is, but still feel comfortable with that book and that price-point. I think anything over $10 is a little bit much with today's allowances."

All of the Minx books announced are created by some of comics' most impressive and critically acclaimed talents, as well as novelists, journalists, filmmakers and performance artists. As the chief goal of Minx is to cultivate an audience of young women, many Minx projects will naturally be created by women authors, although not exclusively. "Of course as a woman in comics I really wanted to get more female contributors," Bond explained. "I reached out to lots of people in and outside of the industry. I specifically wanted to start meeting young adult fiction writers, because I thought they would bring a great and fresh point of view, people like Cecil. I also talked to other people from different arenas, and at the end of the day I bought the material that best represented the line. The male writers, people like Mike Carey and Derek Kirk Kim, they're sort of known in the comics industry as writing great female characters. They just have a flare for understanding the female protagonist. I didn't want to create a gender bias. Great writing can come from many different points of view."

Debuting the line in May is "The Plain Janes," a graphic novel created by "Street Angel" artist Jim Rugg (who spoke about the book here) and novelist Cecil Castellucci, who CBR News spoke with earlier this month. A lifelong comics reader, Castellucci is known as the author of the successful young adult novels "The Queen of Cool" and "Boy Proof," and is, agreed Bond and Rugg, a natural comic book writer.

"When I read in 'Boy Proof' about the kid wearing a 'Preacher' t-shirt, I knew Cecil was destined to write comics."

"The Plain Janes" art by Jim Rugg

"The Plain Janes" is the story of Jane and how she deals with moving to the suburbs after a terrorist attack on her metropolitan hometown. Feeling her life is basically over, Jane encounters a group of girls who inspire her profoundly. Each one also named Jane and seated perpetually at the "reject table" in their high school lunchroom. Together, the girls form a secret club called P.L.A.I.N. – People Loving Art In Neighborhoods – which seeks to teach the wrld about art and beauty by perpetrating "art attacks" on the unsuspecting suburban populace.

The panel detailed specific pages from "The Plain Janes," for which Castellucci provided a DVD-style writer's commentary. Special attention was paid to the artistry of Jim Rugg, whose illustrations depict beautifully the familiar yet also stylized real-life world of teenagers. One page in particular revealed very aptly the power of the comics medium, a splash page divided into four panels with captions. Incredibly simple yet a quintessential example of the cartooning artform, it was that page that made writer Cecil Castellucci fully "get" the comics medium and its storytelling possibilities.

"I think what's really important, that you're already seeing as our first Minx insiders, is that when you put a writer and an artist together who really see in a similar way, real magic happens on the page," said Shelly Bond. "And that is what happened with Cecil and Jim when they came together for 'The Plain Janes'"

As to which Jane he enjoyed designing the most – Main Jane, Brain Jane, Poly Jane and Theatre Jane – Rugg couldn't pick a favorite, although Castelluci confessed a fondness for theatre jane.

"How can you not love writing for Theatre Jane? She has such a flare! She wears a scarf all the time, anyone who wears a scarf is just fabulous to write for."

Coming one month after "The Plain Janes" is Minx's second graphic novel, "Re-Gifters," the story of a Korean-American girl who "discovers in gift giving and in love, what goes around comes around." The book is written by Mike Carrey and illustrated by Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel, the team behind Vertigo's popular, digest-sized "My Faith in Frankie." Shelly Bond credited "Frankie" as the source of some inspiration for the Minx line, as it was a younger-skewed story with broad appeal, and indicated that the currently Vertigo-branded book may be re-branded as a Minx title sometime in the future. Bond did say that "My Faith in Frankie" is likely to be the only Vertigo-Minx transplant, should it happen, as its content is singularly unique among the Vertigo line, making it unusually appropriate for a younger audience.

"Clubbing" follows "Re-Gifters" in July. Created by indie sensation Andi Watson with Josh Howard, the graphic novel tells the story of a spoiled and rebellious London girl who conquers the stuffy English countryside when she solves a murder mystery on the 19th hole of rich grandparents' golf course.

August will see the release of "Good as Lily" by Derek Kirk Kim and artist Jesse Hamm, a book that asks the question "What would you do if versions of yourself at ages 6, 29, and 70 become part of your already awkward high school life?"

A new Minx book will be released every month through November. The covers of each Minx book displayed received enthusiastic response from the NYCC crowd as well as the panel themselves. Shelly Bond took special care to credit Minx art director

Robbin Brosterman, who created Minx's captivating trade dress and covers.

"We've really got a variety of styles and an incredible variety and diversity of stories and characters," remarked DC Marketing exec Gayley Crillo. "British countryside murder mysteries with cute little goth chicks, and seeing different versions of yourself from different ages is slightly sci-fi and really cool. There's really something for everyone here. The goal of Minx is to have something for every reader and really get teens inspired to try graphic novels if they haven't already or just give them something new if they already are."

With such rich content designed for the decidedly wide age group of 12-18, the Minx line is aimed at what is arguably a much broader market than that of the largely Direct Market-central DC Universe, or of the mature readers Vertigo line. Carillo explained to fans just how serious DC is about getting Minx books into the hands of that wide audience.

"The Plain Janes" pages 16 and 17

"Right now we are working with Alloy Media & Marketing to do a major, major quarter-of-a-million dollar marketing campaign which reaches directly to these teens. Alloy has a history and access to millions and millions of teen readers and so we're working with them on web initiatives, direct-mailing initiatives through their catalogs. Alloy recently purchased Sconex.com, which is kind of like MySpace for high school students… I think they have about 800,000 participants and they know which of their members will pass on information on books that they love. We're also working with BookSense to really make sure independent book stores are aware of [Minx]. We're doing a lot of marketing initiatives with the direct market to make sure comic book stores are completely aware, and the same with all the [bookstore] chains.

"But our main initiative is really with Alloy, to make sure we're really hitting those target teens. To make sure they're going to read [Minx books]."

Carillo also indicated that DC Comics is working very closely with major chain bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, so as to insure that Minx books gets the placement it deserves – ideally in the Young Adult section – so that the audience will be more likely to find them. Carillo also said that Minx had been present at many American Library Association shows, and took questions from and discussed with librarians in the audience various ways to make sure Minx graphic novels find their way into the hands of young readers in schools.

"As the daughter of a retired teacher, it means a lot to me that these books can be used as teaching tools," Shelly Bond remarked.

One audience member asked Cecil Castellucci if she thought more prose writers would be working in the comics medium. "I hope so," Castellucci said. "I think comic book writers should come over and write novels! I think it's always interesting when you try and do something outside of your own comfort zone as an artist. I have a lot of young adult author friends who are writing graphic novels now and I've got some new comic friends who are like, 'hey, so what about all those words…' It's exciting to be in both worlds now."

Shelly Bond added, "I can tell you that there are four new female novelists who will be working on Minx books soon, and some of them are in the room right now…"

The panel concluded with every audience member receiving a free advance copy of "The Plain Janes," quite possibly the best kind of freebie fans could receive at any convention panel.

 
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