Friends of Lulu Presents DC's Minx line @ MOCCA

Friends of Lulu presented a panel on DC's new Minx line at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art on Monday, which included Minx Group Editor Shelly Bond and DC Marketing Director Gayley Carillo. The duo discussed how Minx came about and the individual titles from the line for 2007, including those to be released in the next couple of months. The Minx books are geared toward an audience of girls ranging from 8-13. Friends of Lulu is " a national nonprofit organization whose purpose is to promote and encourage female readership and participation in the comic book industry."

Carillo said she liked how the Minx books "spread far and wide to girls who don't necessarily read graphic novels," to fans of Young Adult fiction as well as manga fans. She turned the mic over to Bond, longtime editor on the Vertigo line, to tell how Minx came about.

Bond said she'd been an editor of Vertigo since 1993 and had been talking about a line directed at teenage girls for awhile. "I remember walking into bookstores and seeing teenage girls sitting around the bookshelves reading manga and thought there was a need for more material for this audience," said Bond.

She said she wanted to put out "an alternative to manga" that could flourish in the YA fiction market. As a young girl, she said "a lot of the books didn't appeal to her" and that she hoped to "broaden the readership for this age group."

Carillo then asked Bond what "the common thread" was throughout the vastly different titles.

"I think all the books are edgy and provocative, but they also have a social conscience and don't pander to its readers. They all have strong female protagonists who make up their own rules or make 'em up as they go along," said Bond.

The first graphic novel to be released in the Minx line was "The Plain Janes," written by YA author Cecil Castellucci with art by Jim Rugg. A second book is already in the works for 2008 with the same creative team.

"'The Plain Janes' sets the tone for the whole line," said Bond.

Even though the story follows a girl named Jane who is moved to the suburbs by her parents after being involved in a terrorist attack, Bond said it "engages readers on different levels."

"The terrorist attack is not explicitly stated. An older reader will recognize and understand the social ramifications of the attack and its consequences while the tween reader will be more attached to the characters and their problems in high school, this group of Janes," said Carillo.

Main Jane meets a whole group of Janes at the reject table of the high school cafeteria and forms an art group with them called P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods) to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy and her new life. They go around to "paint the town plain."

As Bond said, "Jane doesn't want to be in the popular crowd anymore and actually seeks out the reject table, convincing the others to form an art group. Their motto is 'Art Saves.' They even get into trouble."

Bond remembers meeting artist Jim Rugg ["Street Angel"] at one of the MoCCA Artfests three or four years ago and said to him that she wanted to work with him someday. She thought he would be perfect for "The Plain Janes." "When I contacted him, he couldn't believe it. He thought I was just saying that and would never hear from me again," said Bond.

Cecil Castellucci is a female young adult author best known for YA books like "Boyproof." "The Plain Janes" is her first graphic novel.

"This is happening a lot, where comics are stealing novelists from the publishing world," said Carillo.

Bond said that Minx is bringing in different kinds of writers, including playwrights, journalists and even a performance artist for a book to be released next year. More information will be doled out about next year's lineup during Comic-Con International in San Diego later this month. The great thing about graphic novels, Bond said, is that you get "to unite two very creative minds, writer and artist" as opposed to prose books.

"When I read 'Gingerbread' by Rachel Cohn, I thought she would be great for the Minx line, but she was too busy at the time and suggested Cecil Castellucci who knew more about comics. I read 'Boyproof' in one sitting and knew she was right when one of her characters wore a 'Preacher' shirt," said Bond.

"They're a movie-like experience on the page for savvy teenagers who engage with the visual interaction; they take away what they want. And it could get kids to read who otherwise wouldn't," said Carillo.

"Graphic novels are visual, which appeals to reluctant readers. It's a different reading process. Images can be so powerful," said Bond.

Carillo refers specifically to an image of Jane in the hospital standing over the comatose John Doe drawn by Jim Rugg, a love interest who was injured in the terrorist attack. She keeps coming back to his hospital room to visit him. She finds a book by his side called "Art Saves" which is the inspiration for the formation of her art group and subsequent art attacks.

"The interesting thing about this love interest is that she has no idea who he is and yet feels like she knows him through this book. She writes him letters and sits by his bedside. It's a part of the healing process for her," said Carillo.

There are romantic threads in the story, including another love interest neither of them would go into, but Bond said the book is "not about girls who go shopping, or go shopping for boys. There's a certain gravitas and it's very multi-layered."

While the Vertigo line is for mature readers in which Bond uses "judicious editing," the Minx line is handled differently, taking into consideration its readership.

"The implications are off panel and the mature themes are dealt with differently, not explicit. We think of it as PG-13," said Bond.

She looked forward to working with the writer of the second book released last month, "Re-Gifters," written by Mike Carey ["Lucifer," "X-Men"] with art by Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel.

"Mike Carey is an amazing writer whose mastered so many genres," said Bond. She knew he was right when he wrote "My Faith in Frankie" for the Vertigo line, which had the same creative team.

"When he first pitched 'My Faith in Frankie' to me, I was hooked after the first page. It wasn't quite right for Vertigo and the initial sales numbers weren't that good, but it was a solid script. And when we started the Minx line, Mike Carey was one of the first calls I made," said Bond.

"Re-Gifters" follows a young Korean American teenager named Dixie whose "only outlet is the ancient Korean martial art of hapkido" and who has a California surfer boyfriend. She "learns that in love and in gift-giving, what goes around comes around."

"Clubbing" is the latest book, just released this week, and written by Andi Watson with art by indie fave Josh Howard ["Dead @17"].

It follows the main character "Lottie" Brook as she solves a murder mystery at her grandparent's country club where she's been exiled to for the summer as a punishment for using a fake ID to get into "an extravagant West End nightclub" in London, but Bond characterized it as basically a "fish out of water story."

Bond said writer Andi Watson interjects numerous "literary references from the British classics" through Lottie's love of classic lit and Watson describes it as "Agatha Christie meets Heathers."

Next month's offering is "Good as Lily," written by Derek Kirk Kim with art by Jesse Hamm. The story follows Grace Kwon, a teenager confronted with three different versions of herself from three different periods in her life, including a younger version and two older versions, while she tries to save a school play.

"These different versions are kept secret from her parents, but she tells her friends that they're her relatives. It's the ultimate look at the 'what-if' story, but it also focuses on the high school theater crowd and the politics of school," said Bond.

As for the title, there is no character named Lily in the book, but Bond said for the answer to who Lily is, "you have to read the book; it's an integral part of the story."

Mike Carey also wrote "Confessions of a Blabbermouth" with his 15-year old daughter Louise Carey and art by Aaron Alexovich ["Serenity Rose"], set to be released next month. Bond recalls asking Mike Carey if his daughter could write and his nonchalant response was "Oh, she's written a few things here and there. She has written a few chapters of a novel."

"After reading the first few pages, I said to him, 'You have to write a Minx book together,'" said Bond.

She said that they have a terrific relationship and work really well together. "It was great to have a father/daughter team write a story about a dysfunctional family."

"Confessions" refers to a blog written by a teen named Tasha who vents to the online world about her mother's obnoxious new beau and his "deadpan daughter," reaching a climax which threatens this newly formed family.

Whenever Bond would mention to Carey about her favorite parts of the story, he would credit his daughter for putting in this part or that.

"She constantly upstages him and I love teasing him about that," said Bond.

Carillo said the story would be relatable to a lot of teens, especially with "kids constantly online these days" and that it was fitting "to have a teen writing for teens."

Alexovich follows "Confessions" with his own book, "Kimmie 66," a story with "a futuristic slant" in which a teen finds a suicide note from her best friend, one she's only met online, and embarks on "a dangerous quest" to find out if she is still alive or has become "the first digital girl."

"Good editors actually dig through the stacks at comic book stores to find the next big wave of comic writers and artists," said Bond.

She described Alexovich's art as "so powerful because he has a great sense of lighting and working with grayscale. This book was a great way to end the Minx books of '07." "Kimmie 66" will be released in September.

"All we can say about '08 is that there will be the next installment of "The Plain Janes." For more, you'll have to wait for San Diego," said Carillo, referring to the biggest annual comic convention in the country, Comic-Con International.

The floor was opened to questions from the audience and the first one wondered about where the name "Minx" came from since it has negative connotations, if "not derogatory."

Bond said she liked Minx because it's "decidedly modern, edgy and evocative." She said that names have different meanings. When DC came up with name Vertigo for their mature readers line, she remembers people questioning it, as if it suggested something that made them "dizzy or wanting to puke."

"Some countries have different meanings for the same word. In England, minx means 'precocious girl'," said Bond.

They used a focus group of diverse teenage girls who loved the name and "couldn't have put the line together without them."

"Even though people 13 and up can enjoy these books, including some men in their 30s who I know have liked them, they are created for an amazing group of voracious readers who devour manga," said Bond.

Another question focused on the covers, which use photo collages as well as original artwork, and wondered if this technique was used inside the books as well.

"The cover approach follows the trend in Young Adult fiction which tends to utilize photos, but we wanted to make sure they had both photo and art to delineate that these were indeed graphic novels," said Bond.

As for the format, all the books have 176 pages, with 144 pages of story and art, and includes free previews of the other books in the line. They are priced at $9.99 to fit the budget of the average teen and use black and white art with grey tones "because of the reader's familiarity with manga."

Though many of the books have self-contained stories, Bond said she "hopes many of the books are serialized and so far, the next installment of 'The Plain Janes' is already in the works."

An audience member brought up the popularity of the sub-genre of manga called "yaoi manga," which features gay characters and if this will carry over to Minx.

"'Plain Janes' has more than one gay character and another book next year will be exploring those themes, so we're hoping to treat it in a way that our readers would appreciate," said Bond.

Someone also questioned the diversity of the characters in the Minx line, which features different ethnicities Bond said, "including Mexican American and Asian American protagonists." An upcoming book will feature an African American protagonist with a mixed heritage.

When asked how Minx is changing the industry, Carillo replied that comics are now crossing over into the realm of traditional publishing.

"The front table at a Borders when you walk in now has graphic novels sitting side by side with other books as if they are just as valid. One wonders if this is because consumers are clamoring for GNs or if dedicated comic book fans have pushed these books to the forefront, but I think it's a little of both," said Carillo.

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