16
Mar
11

Classic EBI #80: The World’s Greatest Detectives?

In this week’s new EBI, I continue my attempt to make sense of comics that have been started and re-started so many times that… well… they no longer make sense.

Everything But Imaginary #390: Failing Math Part 3… Um… I Mean 2…

But in this week’s classic EBI, I look back at a time when some old friends were coming to comics, and I pondered who else may follow them.

Everything But Imaginary #80: The World’s Greatest Detectives?

The World’s Greatest Detectives?

I know I told you guys that there may be no EBI this week, due to the impending Hurricane Ivan. I know I broke your hearts, left you shattered, rendered you unable to speak. I know I’m toying with your emotions now, showing up out of the blue, and giving you your regularly-scheduled Everything But Imaginary after you’d already resigned yourselves to the fact that you wouldn’t have one today. But y’know, that nasty sucker Ivan is taking his sweet time, it seems, and I’ve got just enough time to dash off my thoughts for this week before I dash for higher ground.

A few weeks ago I read some really cool news online – two old buddies of mine are making their way back to comic books, a couple of fellas named Frank and Joe, better known as the Hardy Boys. I’ve always loved to read, from the earliest age I can remember, and one of the first things I read was a huge collection of reprints of the original Hardy Boys series, going all the way back to the first book, The Tower Treasure, that was released back in 1927.

Frank and Joe Hardy lasted through several series, hundreds of novels, encounters with other stalwarts of kid’s literature like Nancy Drew and Tom Swift and once (this was my favorite book) even thwarted the theft of some rare comic book art at the San Diego Comicon, conquering a group of crooks rigged up to mimic supervillains. I remember being impressed that one man, Franklin W. Dixon, had managed to keep the series going for so long, and that Carolyn Keene had accomplished a similar feat with Nancy Drew – this was before, of course, I realized these authors were both pen names for dozens of writers that contributed to the series over the years. I can understand the urge to give the series a feeling of continuity, especially to kids, but as I grew up and started writing myself I always thought it sort of unfair that the real writers never got credit, and that I’ll probably never know who wrote some of my favorite childhood novels.

But now, there will be new tales of Frank, Joe and Nancy, and the writers will get credit – NBM comics has announced its new Papercutz line, a series of titles aimed at “tween” readers. (I have to admit, I hate that term – it seems to refer to the demographic where a child is not yet a teenager but an irresponsible parent will allow her to dress and behave like Britney Spears.) Hardy Boys will be a monthly series by well-known comic stalwarts Scott Lobdell and Lea Hernandez. True to form with the classic stories, the comic will tell three-issue stories then dovetail right into the next mystery, with the arcs being collected in the digest comic size that is becoming increasingly popular again. It’s been a long time since the boys graced a comic book page – they had a four-issue run from Dell in the 50s based on the Disney TV show and another short run in the 70s, and that’s it.

Nancy Drew will be written by Stefan Petrucha with art by Sho Murase, and this will mark her first journey into our four-color world. Nancy’s adventures, though, will not be monthly – her comic will only be presented in the quarterly digest format. This took me aback at first. Why do the Hardys get the monthly treatment but Nancy doesn’t? The only explanation for this that I can think of is that the publisher thinks that boys are more geared to the monthly comic format, whereas girls will probably pass the comic by, but would be lured by the paperback-book sized graphic novel. (I ran this theory by Ronée, by the way, and she confirmed it for me.)

These graphic novels will be 84 pages for the Hardys and 96 for Nancy (a little balancing of the scales for you there, ladies) and will retail at a highly affordable $7.95, not much more than you’d pay for one of the prose books these days. I haven’t heard much about Papercutz’s marketing strategy, but I’ve got to hope they plan to try to shelve these near the other books in the children’s section of bookstores. Most stores, I suppose, will automatically shelve them next to the similarly-sized Manga titles, where they will be summarily ignored by young teenagers looking for the next Evangelion and kids flipping through them because they heard sometimes they draw boobies in those comics. I really think putting them with the other books, where they are being shown off to the built-in audience, is the best way to go.

And I sincerely hope this experiment works, because as I’ve said time and again, we’ve got to find new ways to get kids reading comic books. I actually intend to check out at least the first paperback editions of each of these two series, partly because I’m a big kid myself and partly because I want to be able to opine with authority as to whether or not this effort to lure younger readers is on the right track.

The good news is, Papercutz has great backing – NBM has published offbeat American and foreign graphic novels for 20 years now, they know how to sell their titles and if they throw themselves into this product and put quality writers and artists to them there’s no reason the titles couldn’t prosper. And if they do prosper, I’d like to see them branch out and try other popular children’s series.

Some children’s series, like “Lemony Snicket”’s Series of Unfortunate Events, would be difficult to work in as a comic book, unless they did a straight adaptation. Each novel in the series takes place in a very tight timeframe, and the books take place one after the other, leaving no downtime to inject “extra” stories. Others would leave more room – Goosebumps is a series of totally unrelated scary stories, it would be simplicity itself to write new ones (or adapt existing ones) and print them under that label. Comic mastermind Neil Gaiman has his own children’s novel, Coraline, that may be interesting to expand and adapt. There’s plenty of room to mine stuff like Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game or Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books. (2011 Note: Both Ender’s Game and Artemis Fowl have found their way to comics since I wrote this column, as did Coraline, although that was more an illustrated novel than a true comic book.)

Then, of course, there is the children’s lit juggernaut, Harry Potter. Although the books have a very specific time frame, each one of them takes place over an entire school year, from September to June. Even when the novel clocks in at 800 pages, you know J.K. Rowling hasn’t chronicled every single minute of the year. While chances are she’s too busy to write comics herself, it would be interesting to see other writers – writers she would trust with her baby – come in and tell some stories that could “fill in the blanks,” so to speak. Show an unseen Quidditch match, a potions experiment gone awry. Titles like this, that fill in blanks of an established series (be it movies, novels or television) usually don’t have the luxury of making deep or lasting changes to the mythos, but as any Star Wars comic fan can tell you, it can be a great way to explore the world outside of the lives of our main characters or develop their characters a bit more through adventures we didn’t get to see.

Papercutz is definitely on the right track, and I hope that the quality of these two new series lives up to the great idea they started with. Comics aren’t just for kids anymore – that’s a crippling stereotype that the whole industry has to fight. But the reality that there are so few good comics for kids is even worse. They’re coming back. Uncle Scrooge. Courtney Crumrin. Writer J.M. DeMatteis is even fighting to get back the rights to his brilliant Abadazad series and resurrect it outside of the doomed halls of CrossGen.

This is another stepping stone. We’ve still got a long way to go.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: September 8 2004

I’m going to start sounding like a broken record, because I never stop talking about what a great comic book She-Hulk is. Do you know why I never stop talking about what a great comic book She-Hulk is? Because not enough of you are reading it yet! Issue #7, which came out last week, is the first of a new storyline in which Jennifer Walters, the spectacular She-Hulk, is offered a position as a magistrate on a cosmic level, meting out judgment as a subordinate of the incarnation of Justice, the Living Tribunal. Although there are some rumors of cancellation, writer Dan Slott has said that the book has been “picked up” at least through issue #15 (and even better, that Paul Pelletier will take over as the new regular penciller with issue #9) – that means you guys have eight issues more to figure out how great a comic it is. This is one of the funniest comics out there, consistently entertaining, and a real celebration of the rich tapestry that the Marvel universe is. And if that’s not enough for you – hot, green women in swimsuits. Oh, and Forbush Man is on the cover. There, satisfied? Go read it.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.


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