ALA, COMICS SQUAD, & SECONDS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Random House & Ballantine
Reviewed by Marc Mason
In my day job, I’m a professional library dork. There, I said it. Now you know.
Thus, when the American Library Association held its annual conference in Las Vegas at the end of June, I was on hand to see the true future of the comics medium. Spoiler alert: it isn’t Marvel and it isn’t DC. More and more, I am convinced that they are never be able to truly crack the book market in any meaningful way beyond their evergreen books (WATCHMEN, for instance). But the traditional book publishers are getting the job done, and getting it done right multiple times a year. ALA was all the proof you need.
For instance, ALA has its own Artist Alley, and it is as good as you would find at any comic-con, if not better. Gene Luen Yang. Janet Lee. Raina Telgemeier. Dave Roman. Jimmy Gownley. Kean Soo. The list goes on. And if you think that librarians didn’t recognize the amazing resource they had in front of them, think again. One of the best things I saw at the entire conference was a little girl dressed in an astronaut costume, accompanied by her librarian father, so completely thrilled to be getting her picture taken with ASTRONAUT ACADEMY author Dave Roman. Friends, it was adorable.
Or you could have seen the extraordinary line stretching across five aisles for Raina Telgemeier as she was preparing to sign advance reader copies of her new graphic novel, SISTERS. That would be the same graphic novel that is getting a 200,000 copy first print run. Her previous book, SMILE, has a million copies in print.
How many Marvel or DC trades will do that this year? None. Think about that.
If you want to ignore young women readers – the ones who devour Telgemeier’s work – you do so at your peril. And you are wasting an extraordinary opportunity.
ALA was a stark reminder that there is a bigger world out there as pertains to comics, and it is the true mainstream.
Two new book releases also get to the heart of that mainstream, starting with COMICS SQUAD: RECESS!, which features not only Telgemeier and Roman, but also Gene Luen Yang and Jennifer & Matthew Holm amongst others. Don’t recognize those last two names? Welcome to the true mainstream. Their BABYMOUSE series of graphic novels have dominated sales charts for years, and they’re up to 18 volumes in print. Young kids know these books, and they know them far better than they know what is currently considered mainstream comics.
The material in this book is incredible. Every talent involved is either an award-winner of some kind, a NY Times best seller, or both. And unlike most anthologies, there is no weak link here; every single person brings their A-game, delivering perfectly entertaining material for readers young and old. I was in love with this book from page one, and smiled al the way through to the end. This serves as a great book on its own, and it serves as a fantastic guide to the creators’ other works. Buy it. Immediately.
Also in my hands is SECONDS, the new graphic novel from writer/artist Bryan Lee O’Malley. This is his first major project since the completion of the SCOTT PILGRIM series, and he delivers on a massive scale. SECONDS is a 300-page hardcover in full color, and in both story and art, he has continued to grow and produce amazing material. The story introduces us to Katie, a chef who is struggling with her life and her decision to open a second restaurant. After an accident hurts one of her waitresses on the job, Katie is given an opportunity by a spirit who lives in the restaurant to alter reality and prevent it from happening. When it does, Katie seizes an opportunity to use the spirit’s gifts (against the spirit’s will) to begin changing her life at every turn, causing reality itself to begin to unravel.
To tell you more about the story would be to spoil some great surprises, so I’ll just say this: O’Malley amazes in the execution. Katie is kind of insufferable, yet he manages to keep her likeable enough that we root for her. The other characters are fleshed out nicely as well. The art? Gorgeous. The layouts and storytelling are even more innovative than some of the stuff in the SCOTT PILGRIM books, and the color work (by Nathan Fairbairn) gives the pages depth and added emotional engagement. In every way, this book is a huge winner.
And it will sell massive numbers, far beyond anything from the Big Two. Welcome, again, to the true mainstream. You’re seeing at it right here. Don’t get caught looking back. Don’t get left behind, standing and staring, waiting to see who Batman is punching this month. There are legions of kids and libraries redefining the comics market every day. It’s time we listened harder to what they – and their money – have to say.