DC Entertainment, the home of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and a legion of other heroes, is planning two new graphic novel imprints aimed at younger readers. DC Zoom will feature stories for middle school readers, and DC Ink will focus on young adults. Books from the two divisions are scheduled to come out in the fall.
“We wanted to go back to what we used to have in comic books: story arcs for younger readers,” said Bobbie Chase, a vice president at DC and the executive editor for the new imprints.
Though a few of the graphic novels will have creators who are already working in the comic book industry, the majority of the writers are a Who’s Who of popular novelists for young readers. They include Laurie Halse Anderson (“Speak”), Melissa de la Cruz (the Descendants series), Michael Northrop (“TombQuest”) and Ridley Pearson (the Kingdom Keepers series).
“Any initiative that will create material for 7- to 15-year-olds, I’m all for,” said Chuck Rozanski, president of Mile High Comics, which has three comic stores in and near Denver. “That’s our biggest growth area in the store.”
Rozanski added that a lot of comics, particularly those centred on superheroes, attract a limited, diehard audience. “The young people coming into stores are not getting material they can take ownership of,” he said. “They are hungry for adventure and for the kind of escapism that comics can provide.”
DC Ink will begin with two graphic novels: one featuring Harley Quinn, a supervillain from the Batman universe, written by Mariko Tamaki and drawn by Steve Pugh, and one with Mera, the regal, longtime love interest of Aquaman, written by Danielle Paige. (No artist has been announced for that project.) DC Zoom will make its debut with “DC Super Hero Girls: Search for Atlantis,” by Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat.
If that sounds like a line-up heavy on heroines, there is a reason.
“If you look at readership in middle grade and Y.A. in general, you’ll see a swing on the side of female readers,” said Michele Wells, vice president for content strategy at DC.
While staple-bound comic books have traditionally appealed to an audience of male readers, graphic novels have a more diverse readership.
“You’ll see that Gene Luen Yang book, ‘Superman Smashes the Klan,’ will be for both,” Wells said. “If anyone can make a bold statement with Superman, it is Gene Yang.”
The softcover Zoom graphic novels will cost $9.99 and run 128 pages, while the Ink books will be priced at $16.99 for 192 pages. The stories will be free from the elaborate continuity of previous superhero tales.
“They are character studies, not necessarily superhero stories,” Chase said.
The adventures meant for middle graders will delve into characters who are figuring out the world around them, including dealing with parents and teachers, she said. The young adult graphic novels will focus more on questions of personal identity, with budding heroes deciding what paths they will take.
Pearson, whose Kingdom Keepers series follows teenagers who are trying to keep villains from taking over a Disney theme park, has signed on to write a “Super Sons” graphic novel. It will feature Jonathan Kent and Damian Wayne, the sons of Clark Kent (Superman) and Bruce Wayne (Batman), who have appeared in various DC Comics.
Jonathan Kent, whose mother is Lois Lane, does not rely on his superstrength, Pearson said. “He’s also got a lot of Lois in him: He’s thoughtful, investigative and a reader,” he said. “He wishes he had his dad’s superpowers, but he’s at 50 or 60 per cent. That’s fun to play with.”
In his stories, Pearson said, he will tackle climate change and introduce a character, Candice, who discovers that she belongs to an African dynasty.
Pearson said he welcomed the chance to help bring in a new generation of readers.
“I have an older brother who was obsessed with comics,” he said. “They were all over the house. In many ways, they gave me a gateway into reading.”