Minx Creators React to Cancelation

CBR broke the news last week that Minx, the young adults graphic novel line published by DC Comics, has been cancelled, a report DC later confirmed in a statement saying the imprint will be officially shuttered in January 2009.

Masterminded by longtime Vertigo editor Shelly Bond, Minx publishes original graphic novels aimed primarily at teenage girls, and was created as an alternative to manga as well as, in Bond’s words, “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."

Since the news broke, the comics community has been deafeningly abuzz with journalists, commentators and creators speculating and theorizing as to why the line failed — or whether it did indeed fail, with some arguing Minx may yet have succeeded given more time. In any event and regardless of what led to this fact, what remains is that DC’s book trade distributor, Random House, has not been able to successfully place Minx books in the crucial Young Adult sections of booksellers like Borders and Barnes & Noble, which was the imprint’s stated goal when launched in February of 2007.

While the comics punditry performs a thorough post-mortem on Minx, reader concern has largely been with respect to announced, in-progress or otherwise unreleased books. Solicited projects “Emiko Superstar” and “Token” will be released as planned, but other works including the completed “All Nighter” will not, and the future of an in-progress second sequel to “The PLAIN Janes” remains uncertain. A sequel to Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s “The New York Four” will be published, with details regarding release date and imprint to be determined.

David Hahn is the writer and illustrator of “All Nighter,” a 144-page graphic Minx graphic novel announced in April. Although Hahn completed the book, he was told last week that “All Nighter” would not be released before Minx closes down in January of next year.

“With the exception of grey toning the art and final edits, ‘All Nighter’ was complete at the time of cancellation,” Hahn told CBR News. “I do not know the fate of the book yet. As to whether it will be published in another DC incarnation, or if the rights will revert back to me to take elsewhere, it is much too soon to know. Regardless, over the past two-and-a-half years, I've ignored my other creator-owned projects to devote my efforts to ‘All Nighter,’ so somehow, I will see to it that it eventually gets published."

Like many commentators, David Hahn, who also illustrated the Vertigo hit “Bite Club,” suspects Minx may have succeeded if given more time, but characterizes his experience with the imprint as resoundingly positive. “I have worked with editor Shelly Bond for years and my experience with her on ‘All Nighter’ was inspirational, gratifying, and, frankly, fun.”

Cecil Castellucci, author of the successful young adult novels "The Queen of Cool" and "Boy Proof,” launched the Minx imprint with her and “Street Angel” artist Jim Rugg’s “The PLAIN Janes,” which was successful enough to warrant the just-released sequel, “Janes In Love.” Castellucci told CBR, “It's weird, since ‘Janes in Love’ just came out last week, I feel as though I was there at the debut and at the end of the line.”

Being a successful YA author, Castellucci has a precise insight into the apparently hostile bookstore environment in which Minx found itself, and agrees with David Hahn that given more time, the line would have become stronger. “I think that part of the problem is that YA graphic novels are currently getting lost because bookstores, both chains and independent, don't quite yet know where to put them and they are not cross shelving them in both the graphic novel section and the YA section, which I think could have helped,” she added. “As a YA author, I could see that YA graphic novels in general, and not just the Minx books, were not getting shelf space in the YA section where they needed to be for the girls / kids who don't already love comics to discover them. I know that DC tried very hard to get the Minx books into the YA section and I wish that had worked out. I think that the YA section and shelving of YA graphic novels will change and is changing slowly, but unfortunately not in time to save the Minx line and give it a chance to grow.

“But the good news is that there are more and more YA graphic novels coming out, so I think in the next couple of years we'll see that YA section grow to accommodate more comics. I liken Minx to being a bit of a pioneer project, I think DC tried their best and I think it was just bad timing. The whole thing is a shame.”

“I'm disappointed to see the line canceled,” Jim Rugg told CBR. “The books weren't aimed at me, obviously. But as a fan of comics, I think it was exciting to have a line of books dedicated to young women. I hope the rest of the industry doesn't see this as some sort of validation for the boys club sexist-bullshit-mentality that's plagued mainstream comics for far too long.

“I am proud to be associated with Minx and I am grateful to Shelly Bond, Karen Berger, and Cecil Castellucci for the opportunity to produce ‘The PLAIN Janes’ and ‘Janes in Love’ as well as to the fans, readers, retailers, and reviewers who enjoyed and supported the work.”

At the time of Minx’s cancelation, Castellucci and Jim Rugg were working on the third Janes graphic novel, “Janes Go Summer,” the fate of which is presently unknown. But fans of Castellucci’s comics work will be glad to know the author has more to come, regardless. “I'm going to keep writing comic books because I have fallen in love with writing them,” she said, adding, “I am very proud to have been a part of Minx.  For me, Minx was an incredible experience.  I loved working with Jim Rugg.  I loved working with Shelly Bond and Karen Berger and DC Comics.  I loved meeting, hanging out and reading all the books by the other Minx creators.”

“X-Men” and “Lucifer” writer Mike Carey is arguably the most mainstream comics creator associated with Minx, and his contributions — “Re-Gifter” and “Confesions of a Blabbermouth,” the latter co-written with his teenage daughter Louise -- are among the best reviewed of the line -- and of his whole career.

“This was an amazing line of books, with a real identity and sense of direction,” Carey told CBR. “It came up like thunder with Rugg and Castelluci's ‘The PLAIN Janes,’ and given how short a while it lasted, it did a lot of exciting, fun and innovative things. Shelly [Bond] did a great job at the helm, and she was inspiring to work for. Speaking personally, ‘Re-Gifters’ and ‘Blabbermouth’ are two of the books I'm proudest of having written.”

Of Minx’s demise, Carey remarked, “It's just a shame - a tragedy, really - that the market didn't find a place for such a worthwhile, cool and necessary imprint. I'd impute Minx's fall to the expectations of the market and the way it operates. It was an unusual format, and unusual formats have to elbow their way to the table. The books were well reviewed, won awards, got positive mentions everywhere. But at the end of the day, without shelf space you're dead - and shelf space is governed by very cold equations indeed.”

Minx was inspired in part by the success of “My Faith In Frankie” — or, more specifically, the reprint edition of that 2004 Vertigo miniseries by Carey and artists Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel. Digest-sized and black-and-white with grey tones, “My Faith In Frankie” was extremely well reviewed, accessible to readers of all ages (in contrast to the rest of the Vertigo line), and starred a teenage girl. The same team went on to produce “Re-Gifters” for Minx.

Sonny Liew lives in Singapore, where he says Minx books are typically shelved in the generic “comics” sections of bookstores, and believes they “probably needed to be lined up next to the manga books or in the YA section; from what I've read online, it seems that was the case over in the US too.”

“I guess Minx was meant to reach out to teenage girls who read manga and young adult fiction, some amalgam of Tokyopop and ‘The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants’ maybe, and this hybrid nature was probably both its potential strength and its Achilles' heel,” Liew told CBR. “They were books that could combine the appeal of its different inspirations, but might also prove to be tricky to market and place in bookstores.

“I wonder of course if the line's failure had anything to do with the inherent quality of the books produced. Would ‘Re-Gifters’ have done better if the drawings had been better? If it'd looked more like manga? I'm not sure how idle these thoughts are,” the artist laughed.

On his LiveJournal, Sonny Liew addressed one of the recurring opinions about Minx’s cancelation: that the line should have employed more established YA authors and female creators. “Any set of decisions would have been criticized at some level,” Liew wrote. “If they had gone with more YA authors, there might have been complaints about not making more use of actual comics creators who understood the craft better. If there were no male creators involved, they might have been accused of a sort of reductive reasoning that you could only create comics for your own gender. And I'm pretty sure any name other than 'Minx' would have ended up with problematic connotations at some level or another; and so on and on.”

Illustrated by Steve Rolston, “Emiko Superstar,” about an ordinary suburban girl using someone else’s diary as a blueprint for a fabulous second identity, will be one of Minx’s final releases, coming in just under the January ’09 cutoff. The book’s writer, playright/performer/non-fiction author Mariko Tamaki, told CBR, “I'm really and truly very sad that Minx will be no longer. I'm a huge YA fiction fan and a comics fan and I thought that Minx did a pretty incredible job putting out comics that combined amazing illustration with strong, unique storylines. I think Shelly Bond did a wicked job as the muscle and heart behind this imprint. She was an incredible editor to work with; she basically gave me a loving crash course in comic writing 101. Not a lot of editors will do that. I'm hoping to get the chance to work with her again soon.”

Rolston confirmed in a LiveJournal post that work had already begun on a spinoff graphic novel, which he and Tamaki have been invited to re-pitch as a Vertigo project.

Tamaki is one of several Minx creators who reported personal experience with the bookstore market’s difficulty with the line. “In some cases, I talked to bookstore people and there wasn't a clear consensus on where these books belonged,” she said. “I did see them in the comic book stores that I go to here in Toronto. I had really positive feedback about Minx from readers. So what went wrong? Not sure. Maybe we just didn't hit our target audience in time.”

The final Minx book is to be “Token” by “Flirting In Girls” novelist Alisa Kwitney and illustrator Joelle Jones. “When I heard from Shelly that the Minx line was folding, I felt much the same way as I had about Joss Whedon's ‘Firefly’ series ending -- sad and a little baffled that something creative and intelligent and fun wasn't going to get a chance to grow,” said Kwitney, whose next novel, “The Better to Hold You,” will be released in February under the name Alisa Sheckley. “But publishing's in an odd, unsettled state these days -- kind of like the economy. I love working with Shelly, for creative reasons -- she is a terrific editor -- and personal ones -- no one else I know will call me from the train to say that she hasn't finished my script yet, but is loving what she's read so far.”

Like Cecil Castellucci, Kwitney sees the Young Adult market as increasingly complicated. “One thing I know is that writers like Holly Black have pushed the envelope on how dark and subtle YA can be, and I think the boundaries between YA and adult fiction have become far more porous,” Kwitney said. “More and more adult readers I know are reading YA, especially dark fantasy YA, and more and more teenagers I know are reading in the adult section of the bookstore.”

"Water Baby" is the story of -- among other similarly intense, visceral things -- a teenage surfer whose leg is bitten off by a shark. Its writer-illustrator, Ross Campbell, the Eisner-nominated creator of “Wet Moon,” also suspects the plug was pulled on Minx too quickly. “A year-and-a-half or however long it was doesn't seem like a long enough time to foster an audience, but I think the people at DC working the financial and marketing ends of it know better than I do,” Campbell told CBR. “I don't think there's any easy, simple solution as to what could have worked, and no simple answer to why the books tanked at bookstores or didn't find their audience, it's too sprawling for that. Too many factors, too many people, I don't see how anyone could boil it down to one or two reasons. If the situation was that simple, then Minx would still be around.”

Like the rest of Shelly Bond’s roster, Campbell very much enjoyed Minx in his capacity as a creator. “Doing ‘Water Baby’ was a blast, I was honored and pleased to be a part of the line and that Shelly Bond let me write and draw my own thing and get away with what I did, and I'm sad to see it end. It's sad because of the people who worked hard on their books, and it's one less outlet for other creators, and it's sad because I could see other publishers looking at Minx and going ‘see, girls don't read American comics!' and then ignoring them.

“Why does anything succeed when other stuff fails? I don't know. People seem to be treating Minx as different from other endeavors just because it was ‘for girls,’ and yeah, that's what the marketing was going for, but I think maybe that's everyone's mistake: you can't say ‘girls’ or ‘teenage girls’ and have it be this cohesive, knowable group to market to, because they're like anyone else, they're all different and they all like different stuff. And I think it would've taken longer than Minx's lifetime to reach the people who would've been into the books, but maybe that just wasn't financially viable. Who knows?”

“Confessions of a Blabbermouth” illustrator Aaron Alexovich (also a character designer on “Invader Zim”) had the unique privilege of not just drawing a graphic novel aimed at teenage girls, but also collaborating with a teenage girl on its creation. “MIke [Carey] and Louise [Carey] put so much personality into those characters, I was more than happy to be dragged out of my typical spookyscreamymonster comfort zone,” Alexovich told CBR. “I'd work with them again anytime.”

Alexovich also wrote and illustrated for Minx the 176-page “Kimmie66,” a critically acclaimed graphic novel about a girl in the 23rd century who investigates the apparent suicide of her closest internet friend. “I have nothing but good things to say about working with Shelly on my Minx books,” he said. “‘Kimmie66’ was my first book for DC, so I sort of went into it expecting a pretty heavy editorial hand, but there was a lot more freedom than I expected. There was a lot of conversation and re-jiggering, yeah, but in the end, that book came out feeling just as much ‘mine’ as if I'd done it with a smaller publisher. That's probably the saddest thing about Minx falling apart. It's one less place at the Big Two for unique, personal voices to be heard. You can certainly pour a lot of your own voice into a Superman story, but it's just not the same thing.”

“Kimmie66” is widely considered a highlight of the Minx line, but that didn’t make it any easier for its author to find in bookstores. “All I can say is that whenever I'm in a Borders, I look to see if my books are there, and I've found them maybe three times, always smooshed in among the ‘Captain Americas’ and whatnot,” he said. “I don't think they ever found the best place to shelve the Minx stuff, to be honest. I don't think I would have, either.

“Alternately," Alexovich added, "maybe people just didn't like them as much as they, y'know, liked other things.”

"The New York Four" writer Brian Wood agrees, writing on his LiveJournal that Shelly Bond and DC did everything right and yet the line still failed to find an audience. "I think I can say with utter certainty that anything that the collective [punditry] could think up, it occurred to DC first," Wood wrote."They tried all they could, and it didn't work. Again, this is bad for all of us. But they tried, we all tried."

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