For Graphic Novels, a New Frontier: Teenage Girls
“It’s time we got teenage girls reading comics,” said Karen Berger, a senior vice president at DC Comics. And DC, the comics powerhouse best known as home to Superman and Batman, has a program to make that happen.
In May, DC plans to introduce Minx, a line of graphic novels aimed at young adult female readers, starting with six titles in 2007, each retailing for less than $10. The stories will be far removed from the superheroes who more typically appeal to young males. They include “Clubbing,” about a London party girl who solves a mystery; “Re-Gifters,” about a Korean-American teenager in California who enjoys martial arts; and “Good as Lily,” about a young woman who meets three versions of herself at different ages.
Teenage girls, Ms. Berger said, are smart and sophisticated and “about more than going out with the cute guy. This line of books gives them something to read that honors that intelligence and assertiveness and that individuality.”
As a whole, the line is positioned as an alternative for teenage girls who have, especially in bookstores, become increasing smitten with the Japanese comics known as manga. In 2004, DC started CMX, a manga imprint, to capture part of that audience. The marketing then was similar to that used for DC’s other titles.
With Minx, though, DC has taken what, for it, is the unusual step of seeking outside help. It has joined with Alloy Marketing + Media to promote Minx. All told, DC, a unit of Time Warner, will spend $125,000 next year to push the line.
“In terms of consumer marketing, it’s got to be the largest thing we’ve done in at least three decades,” said Paul Levitz, the president and publisher of DC Comics. “It’s not large by the scale of consumer marketing and advertising as it’s done in America, but it’s a large-scale commitment, I think, for a publishing company in general.”
Alloy Entertainment, a division of the marketing company, has helped to make hits of books like “Gossip Girls” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” Alloy was also the so-called book packager behind “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,” a first novel by a 19-year-old Harvard sophomore named Kaavya Viswanathan that was pulled from stores earlier this year when it was learned that numerous passages had been copied from novels by other writers.
Still, Alloy is offering DC access to a large audience of teenage girls, through Web sites and the Delia’s shopping catalog, which has a mailing list of nearly five million, according to Samantha Skey, Alloy’s senior vice president for strategic marketing. Ms. Skey said Minx would be the first graphic novel publisher to be included in the catalog.
Along with other initiatives, Alloy plans to create online networks about the novels that will let subscribers write reviews, see previews and sketches or discuss the stories.
DC cast a wide net in seeking those stories. “To us it doesn’t matter if the person has written comics before or is known to the comic book market,” Ms. Berger said. “We want writers who can really write to the demographic and to really bring something new to the table.”
The right creative team is important. “When you had mostly boys and men making comics, you had comics made mainly for boys and men,” said Johanna Draper Carlson, the editor of comicsworthreading.com, a Web site for comic book news and reviews. “Then you end up with teen-girl superheroes who are drawn like Victoria’s Secret models.”
“I don’t think only women can write for women,” Ms. Carlson added, “but I think it helps provide an alternative perspective and a more true-to-life experience.” Ms. Carlson, who often champions female-friendly comics on her site, is taking a wait-and-see attitude to the Minx line.
The first Minx graphic novel will be “The P.L.A.I.N. Janes,” written by Cecil Castellucci and illustrated by Jim Rugg. It tells the story of Jane, a transfer student in a suburban high school who starts a campaign, “People Loving Art in Neighborhoods.” It’s a call to appreciate the everyday world that comes to involve everything from protesting the construction of a new mall to encouraging pet adoptions from animal shelters.
Jane’s classmates and fellow believers are Jane, who is interested in theater; Jayne, an academic whiz; and Polly Jane, a jock. Each is decidedly not part of the in-crowd. The reason for Jane’s transfer is serious: her family fled to suburbia after Jane survived a terrorist attack that blew up a cafe in fictional Metro City.
The experience of survival is a personal one for Ms. Castellucci, 37, whose young-adult novels include “Boy Proof” and “The Queen of Cool.” In 1979, when she was 9, Ms. Castellucci witnessed a bombing by the Irish Republican Army in Brussels. In 1986, she was in Paris during a rash of bombings. Those incidents, and the events of Sept. 11, played a role in shaping the story.
“It seemed like this was a good opportunity to explore those fearful feelings that I had growing up,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles. “They’ve always been a part of my makeup and fears.” Feeling scared, she said: is an emotion everyone understands. “You can’t help it if you’re a part of this world.”
DC Comics commissioned Cecil Castellucci, a novelist, to write a graphic novel for teenage girls.
Ms. Castellucci was recruited by Shelly Bond, a Minx editor. It was an easy sell. “I love comic books,” Ms. Castellucci said, listing several series she enjoys, including “Fables” and “American Virgin,” on the DC imprint Vertigo, and a particular creator (“Brian K. Vaughan. I love everything he does”).
But reading comics is different from creating one, particularly a 146-page graphic novel. “I had to learn how to write a story all over again,” she said. “I did have a week or two when I thought I don’t know what I’m doing.” She said that the graphic novel was “kind of like a movie or a storyboard, but it’s not. There’s so much you can do with the images and the pacing.” She credited Mr. Rugg, the artist of “The P.L.A.I.N. Janes,” as a prime source for advice.
Mr. Rugg, who is based outside Pittsburgh, said he appreciated the goal of Minx. “I liked their target demographic,” he said. “I like the idea of doing comics for an atypical reader.” In addition to creating the drawings, Mr. Rugg also gray-scaled them, giving the black-and-white comic book a sense of color. He finished his work last month.
One of Mr. Rugg’s previous comics was “Street Angel,” about a homeless teenage girl who fights crime, which he created with the writer Brian Maruca. Mr. Rugg, 29, called that comic, published by Slave Labor Graphics, his response to the typical depiction of women in mainstream comics, most particularly their impossibly proportioned bodies.
“It’s the same for men,” he acknowledged. “But I don’t find that as offensive.”