Tag Archives: YA

YA Comic Books

This idea has been somewhere in the back of my mind for a while, but it came together last week when Marvel Comics announced that they are launching a series of YA novels, based on their superhero characters. The first two announced are She-Hulk and Rogue, written by Marta Acosta and Christine Woodward and they will be published by Hyperion. I’m going to be stay optimistic. I’m going to say I’m excited by these and I hope they do very well. And I’m not being disingenuous. I want young people, those under 25, especially those under 20, to be interested in comic book characters, whether that’s from Marvel, DC or other publishers.

Superhero comics dominate the US comic book market, but in other countries superheroes are not the main focus. Despite the diversity that now exists in the US market, the majority of the top 100 comics every month are superhero titles. There are exceptions (Walking Dead, Saga etc) but mostly it’s superheroes.

In the last 2 years both Marvel and DC have had one of their biggest reboots and relaunches in a long time. Not just a bit of a tweak, but an almost (almost!) wipe the slate clean and start from issue 1 across the board at DC. Marvel took a right turn and all titles are gradually relaunching with new creators and very new directions. All of which has been great for me, as a lifelong comic book fan. Sales are good in general, but my gut tells me that the percentage of brand new comic book fans, coming into Marvel or DC for the first time because of these initiatives, is very small. My gut also tells me that not many of those were women.

DC and Marvel are always actively seeking new writers and they do mentor new writers. They pair them up with an established creator who helps them learn the ropes. We’ve seen this time and again at Marvel and now some of their most interesting and unique writers were once being mentored. Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction are two names that immediately spring to mind. DC are also doing it as well, and people like James Tynon IV first partnered with Scott Synder before writing solo books. It’s a tried and tested method.

Both companies also bring in writers from other mediums, TV, film and novelists. Sometimes it works out very well and we get writers like Duane Swierczynski and Allan Heinberg, both of who have done some very memorable work for Marvel and DC. Sometimes it doesn’t work and we get Jodi Piucoult. I am sure she is a lovely person and I know her novels sell very well, but her run on Wonder Woman was very short and she’s not been invited back. Her view of the character did not gel with the audience, sales were poor, and they tried a different approach with a new creative team.

I’m very aware that women read comics and superhero comics, but I think there are more men reading them than women. I also think it’s fairly safe to say that the percentage of new and young readers coming into the books is fairly small. I’m also pretty sure that if you took the average age of a mainstream comic book fan, it would be twenty or thirty something, if not older.

Here’s a wacky idea to get more new readers and more women reading comics. Perhaps, in addition to the YA books, Marvel and DC should hire some YA authors to write their teen comic books. As I mentioned above, it doesn’t always work out and if the person is not a fan of comics to begin with, or is not at least familiar with the medium, then the chances of success are fairly small. But I know of several YA authors, most of them women, who are massive comic book fans and I know they would love to write comics. Can and do some of them write their own independent comics? Yes. But getting noticed and getting the word out about one of those comics is a lot more difficult. Also, both of the big companies have some very well known brands and icons that are immediately recogniseable. It’s a lot easier to convince someone to take a chance and spend their money on a new Supergirl comic than something they’ve never heard of before.

I’m sure most, if not all of the YA writers, would need to be mentored first, and during that co-writing phase both the lead writer and the company would find out if it was working or not. But imagine if it worked. A Teen Titans book, written for a YA audience. Now this isn’t me dumping on any of the teen focused books that have gone before, because I have read and enjoyed some of them. But DC in particular made an effort to put some of their comics into sections. Here are the Dark books (Vertigo-esque) grouped into The Edge, here are the Teen books, here are the Batman books etc. So with the relaunch I’m not the target audience for Teen Titans.

In theory, it would also mean that if more younger readers jumped on board with the teen books and assuming they keep reading for several years, they would eventually progress to the mainstream titles. It would also mean more women reading comics, more female role models working in the industry, and hopefully more women who become mainstream comic book writers. The number of women writing at both companies, who are working on major icons, is tiny.

I’m not privy to what is going on behind closed doors at the Big 2, and I’m sure those who are may instantly reject my idea for a number of reasons, or perhaps if I am being optimistic, these sort of talks are already taking place. From an outsiders viewpoint, it seems like a sensible and logical idea to me. It ties together some of what they are already doing and it would tackle one of the biggest problems in mainstream comics. It wouldn’t solve everything but it would be a step in the right direction.

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My experiences at Eastercon 2012

I’ve made the title of this post specific to me on purpose as not everyone had as enjoyable time at Eastercon 2012. I missed out on some of the controversy as I was elsewhere attending other panels or I was out to dinner at one point, but I’m sure other people will go into detail about the bad. In general though the feedback has been very good and the event was a huge success as it sold out for the first time in many years. Given that the good outweighed the bad from my point of view, I’ll start with the bad and then end on a much more positive note.

For me there were a few problems with one or two of the panelists and some of the audience members. Being specific, no matter the nature of the panel and the tagline, they were determined to make the panel about something else entirely. They sometimes asked very leading questions or irrelevant questions in an attempt to get the panel to discuss the topic they wanted. This ruined a few panels for me. The moderators valiantly tried to steer the discussion back on topic and they were successful on some occasions, but not always. One of the positives this year was the variety of panels over the four days, so there were plenty of opportunities to discuss many subjects. The organisers provided a daily opportunity for feedback and there were also opportunities before the event to submit ideas and suggestions for panels. I appreciate the programme was not posted until two weeks before the event, but even so it was still being tweaked up to the last minute. So if there was a gap they should have raised it with the organisers instead of trying to derail other panels. I found it really annoying and disrespectful that some people were so incredibly selfish and I was very disappointed by a couple of panelists for the same reason.

Moving on to the good. I managed to meet several authors whose work I admire in person and I chatted to them about all sorts of stuff from writing to archery to role playing to all sorts of nonsense. These included, Mike Shevdon, Elspeth Cooper, Suzanne McLeod (again! – *wave*), Anne Lyle and I met a bunch of shiny and new authors whose books are due out imminently. These are authors with Strange Chemistry, the YA Imprint of Angry Robot Books. I had a lovely dinner one evening with Kim Curran, Laura Lam, Natasha from Voyager, Amanda from Strange Chemistry and my mate Adrian Faulkner.

Over the course of the weekend we also invented several harmless games to keep ourselves amused including Author Cosplay and Author Wave. Adrian has all of the details about the games over on his blog here, as well as a third game Pitch! which we discussed but didn’t dare try in person. I think I was ahead by the end on Author Wave as one of the guests of honour, George RR Martin, himself waved at me. I also received confused and puzzled waves from a few other people but didn’t get any points. It was just interesting to test their memory or their eyesight to see if they were able to read my badge and then work out if they knew me after all or not.

I went to a lot more panels this year than last and even though there were some I was not interested in, I’m sure they were to some who enjoyed them, so we all had a piece of the pie. Despite contracting flu during the latter part of the event (I blame being very tired and run down, plus late nights and early mornings) I came away with a renewed sense of purpose. I said this in my previous post, some days I wake up and think every word I’ve written is awful and other days I don’t think it’s half bad. Eastercon was good for many things but it rekindled the fire in my belly and turned up the hungry dial from 9 to 10. As I said before, the final decision is not in my hands, but being knocked back isn’t going to stop me and it hasn’t stopped me this far. I should point out that my current novel is not my first, or second, or even third or fourth novel. I don’t know if you need to have written 10,000 words or a 100,000 words of crap before you get to the good. Some people make it on the first book, some after 13 years of submitting like Ian McDonald, and as John Jarrold pointed out he’s not a ‘bad little writer’. I almost didn’t go to the panel on how to get published but the new faces on the panel won me over and I was glad I did. I made copious notes, some of which I already knew, but it’s good for reinforcement and there were some interesting comments. The short version is, it’s a long-shot, it’s a crap shoot. If they don’t say wow in the first few pages they (the agent then the publisher) will say no. One audience member was struggling with his story which really kicked off in chapter 8 and the short answer again was, page 1 doesn’t have to be a murder, a car crash, an explosion. It can start slow, but it needs to be your voice, have you written all over it, be distinct and special, and it can be poetic and beautiful or blunt and visceral but it can’t just be run of the mill. Revise and revise and then revise again. Then get other people to look at it. Then give it to someone who hates you and listen to their feedback. Then revise it some more. Ok, perhaps not someone who hates you, but I’m sure you can see why. My mum will always say she likes it and is proud of me (probably) but this isn’t a competition where everyone gets an award for taking part (and what is that about! Don’t get me started) you only get one for first place.

The only person who can let you down, is you, be it because of bad grammar, punctuation, not reading the submission guidelines, printing it on red paper, or writing it by hand. They are looking for a reason to put it down, not because they are evil but simply because every day they get 30 or 50 and have to get through them because tomorrow there will be 30 more. That sounds harsh and cruel and cut-throat, but if you get all of the basics right, and they actually sit down to read your double spaced (lines not between words!) submission, then the full weight rests on your story and your style, which is what it should rest on. Also, read the genre guidelines. If they say no romance and you submit it to an agent who only does SFF, don’t think they will give you a chance because your book is special. They won’t. They don’t have time. Revise. Read. Do your research. You’ll never be 100% happy with it but be as close to 100% as you can be and don’t think, oh well cleaning it up is for the agent and the publisher to do, my job is to create Art and I don’t deal with the small details! That’s someone else’s job! Wrong. It is your job.

Anyway, coming back to the event in more general terms I had a great time. I think George RR Martin helped sell out the event, I met some great authors and had a number of very interesting discussions over drinks and dinner, and I was able to spend some time and socialise with some friends that I don’t seem more than once a year. I also met several new and interesting people. I’m not sure if I will be attending next year, it depends on so many factors, but it is closer to where I live, which does make it appealing. I’ll decide closer to the time as I did this year but I believe that despite some issues and controversy, Eastercon 2012 was a big success. I’ve definitely forgotten to mention some stuff, but it’s the end of a busy first week in a new job and I’m still brain addled with the flu, so apologies to anyone I missed. Don’t forget to wave at your author!

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Coming of Age

Last week SFF publisher Angry Robot announced they are setting up a YA imprint, Strange Chemistry, and Amanda Rutter, has been appointed as the editor. I am totally thrilled and delighted for Amanda because for as long as I’ve known her she has always been extremely enthusiastic and vocal about the joys of YA fiction. They could not have picked a better person for the job. This, combined with reading my first YA book, Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan, made me think back to when I was the right age for YA books and what was available.
 
When I was in primary school the only SFF books available were those to help you read which contained lots of colourful pictures and not many words. After that I jumped to books of Myths and Legends which often had beautiful paintings and sketches of the monsters like Grendal or the Green Knight from the story about Sir Gawain. After that I had to jump to borrowing my brother’s books, which were the Belgariad by David Eddings, The Lord of the Rings, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis and there’s another series I’ve completely forgotten but will come back to me later. LOTR was a bit beyond me and at that age I quickly grew bored and was bogged down with it, but the Belgariad was probably closer to what we might call YA today. No such segment existed back then, there was just one small and quite repetitive SFF segment in my local bookshop for SFF and it was dominated by the likes of Stephen King (too old and weird for me back then), Clive Barker (far too scary) with the occasional Terry Brooks or Eddings thrown in. Once I had exhausted the Belgariad, and the Mallorian was not yet in print, I went through all of Brooks’ Shannara books.
 
The first time I read the Belgariad series I was probably ten or eleven as I distinctly remember sitting on a bench at lunch times in Middle School reading Pawn of Prophecy while other boys ran around playing football. This could explain why I never got into football and don’t support a football team. Anyway, I picked up most of the content in the Belgariad, probably missed some of the nuances but that was all right, I absorbed enough to know what was going on and who all of the characters were. I was already in love with the genre by that point and without knowing it, this was my first brush with a coming of age story which I would later read over and over again. The story was about a boy named Garion who grew up to discover he had a destiny that could not be avoided and like Luke Skywalker, and a host of other orphans, farm boys, scullions and stable hands, he discovered the kindly old man with the white beard who was always so nice to him was actually a powerful Sorcerer.
 
I’ve gone back and read the Belgariad since and on subsequent readings it has had far less of an impact. I can see what is going to happen next, I know the main character will always do the right thing and that in the end the heroes will always win. It’s a comfortable read and without meaning to sound patronising, it’s a much simpler book than I remember.

So some of that was in the back of my mind when earlier this year I read Glow, my first proper YA book and to my relief it was a totally different animal. Some adult issues were referred to in passing, or they took place off the page, so perhaps that is one of the minor differences between YA and other fiction, but apart from that I didn’t notice anything in particular. It was a SF story and like the SF I enjoy the most, it focused more on the characters and it used the SF elements as background and structure, the technology did not become the whole story. As someone in his thirties I know it was not written for me and therefore there were certain elements I felt were missing, but it didn’t prevent it from being an enjoyable read.

I was recently listening to an episode of the SF Signal podcast where they had a panel discussion on YA. One of the panellists said in their experience there are typically two types of YA. The stories that can be read and enjoyed by anyone of any age, and the teen focused stories which centre around particular issues they might be struggling with, such as eating disorders, image issues and personal confidence, social conformity and so on. They’re never spelled out that overtly, but at their core that’s what the stories are about. I haven’t read much YA so I can’t comment on that so I will defer to her knowledge.

I think an adult could read and enjoy a novel in the latter category, but personally I would probably want the heart of the story to be focused on something else. My angst days are a long time ago. Glow probably straddled the two categories but I can definitely see it appealing more to a YA audience as it is all about searching for answers and searching for yourself. I think it was about the main characters believing they would grow up to be one thing and then events didn’t go as they had anticipated and they had to adapt in order to survive. By the end of the book they were totally different people and they looked back on their younger selves as naïve. It was never patronising, there were no easy answers and unlike the Belgariad the characters didn’t always do the right thing. There were plenty of grey in Glow and at the end of the book it was not all tied up neatly in a little bow. I would definitely read another YA book, but right now there are so many other books I desperately want to read and don’t have enough time, so perhaps I will revisit YA when my to read pile is more manageable.

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