Kids Graphic Novels Industry Report: ALA 2022!

Sitting from left to right: Ryan Estrada, Gareth Hinds, Jarad Greene, Janet Lee. Ryan gets the award for most dedicated conference traveler – he came all the way from Busan, Korea, to attend the show!

Over the last weekend in June,  I attended the American Library Association’s annual conference. It is BIG. 

One of my clients was attending ALA for the first time, and as she stood marveling at the size of the show floor, she said, “This is bigger than the Democratic or Republican National Convention!” 

Yup. According to ALA, about 25,000 people attend the show, and it features about 1,350 booths and 350,000 square feet of convention center space. As you can imagine, lots of stuff happens at ALA! 

In this post I’m focusing on kids and YA graphic novels at ALA and a few of the things I saw at the show.

KCU Meetup!

First off, we had a kids comics meetup at a local bar! It was beastly hot and Ed Masessa looked at me like I was insane for having us sit outside, but we survived.

Sitting from left to right, Janet Lee, Raul the Third, John Gallagher, Ed Masessa, Angela Hsieh, and Gregg Schigiel. Angela is an up-and-coming creator working on her first original graphic novel, THE TRAVELER’S GUIDE TO GEOZOOLOGY, which will be out from Harper Collins in 2024!

I deeply appreciate Zoom and how it has let us stay in touch and get so much done over the course of the pandemic, but Zoom cannot replace seeing people in person. I LOVE in-person meetups. Let’s do more of them! 🙂

Graphic Novel Tea event

At every ALA Annual, the Graphic Novel and Comics Roundtable sponsors the “Graphic Novel Tea,” an event where publishers can pitch some of the books they’re most excited about directly to librarians.

I attended this event on Saturday and got the chance to hear a bunch of amazing creators talk about their newest work!

Ryan Estrada talks about his upcoming book STUDENT AMBASSADORS CLUB, a madcap middle grade graphic novel that incorporates language learning into the story. In the first volume, the characters learn Korean!

Ryan gave away a fun brochure detailing all the different school workshops that he offers at schools. Check out his mind-blowing prolificness at ryanestrada.com.

In this photo, from left to right, creators Jess Ruliffson and Liniers, and Fantagraphics director of sales and marketing Jennifer Chan. 

Jess Ruliffson talked about her upcoming work of graphic journalism, INVISIBLE WOUNDS. She grew up in Mississippi and knew many people who served in the military, and after having a conversation with an old friend who returned from the Iraq war, she decided to interview a wide range of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war about their experiences.

In this photo, Jennifer Chan introduces Argentinian artist Liniers’ upcoming collection of his newspaper strip MACANUDO: WELCOME TO ELSEWHERE, a whimsical and absurdist comic that has been compared to Calvin & Hobbes, Mutts, and Krazy Kat.

When someone commented on his traditional art style, he replied, “Yeah, I do everything in watercolors because I suck at computers.”

I finally got the chance to ask where he got his name – because, after all, people who go by one word names are pretty cool!! 

“Eh, ‘Liniers’ is the name of a neighborhood in Buenos Aires,” he said, grinning at me. “So it’s like if someone was called ‘Brooklyn.’” 

Next up, the award-winning Tillie Walden discussed her graphic novel Clementine, which she described as “a Walking Dead story, only gay and for teens.” She described how learning to draw zombies didn’t come naturally. Her enthusiasm for building a multi-layered, ultimately hopeful story in the Walking Dead universe was infectious.

After Tillie Walden, Shannon Watters and Branden Boyer-White gave an ebullient pitch for their upcoming YA graphic novel HOLLOW, “Sleepy Hollow and queer romance meet in a coming of age tale.” Shannon is one of the writers of LUMBERJANES and a long-time Boom Studios editor. Her and Branden’s lively banter about the book-making process charmed everyone.

Next up, writer Alys Arden plugged Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend, “a hot summer gothic romance!” she told us. She set this DC Comics title in Coney Island.

Writer Julio Anta talked to us about his original story HOME, which he described as “X Men meets Life is Beautiful,” about a young Guatemalan immigrant who discovers that he has superhuman powers. 

Artist Rose Bousamra and editor Kiara Valdez from First Second gave us a captivating pitch for middle grade graphic novel FRIZZY, written by Claribel Ortega. I’m mad at myself for forgetting to take a photo of them. I was absorbed in their conversation about how the book came to be that I forgot to take any pictures!

The short version is that Kiara herself had the idea for a book about a Dominican girl who’s sick and tired of getting her hair straightened but has a hard time convincing her mom that “going natural” with her hair is OK.

On the Show Floor

I didn’t have time to peruse the entire exhibit hall – much to my dismay, since I wanted to see everything! But I did spend a few hours wandering the exhibits and chatting with editors, publicists, marketing staff, and creators about all sorts of graphic novels and illustrated books.

Here’s an abbreviated snapshot of what I saw.

Funny Books!

If You LAUGH I’m Starting This Book OVER – This picture book reminded me of THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by BJ Novak. I’m a big fan of illustrator Serge Bloch, who’s done a lot of kids comics in French. (You should definitely visit his website if you need a massive dose of illustration inspiration!)

Two new comics-inspired easy reader books from the “Elephant and Piggie Like Reading” line: It’s a Sign by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey, and THE FRUSTRATING BOOK! by Mo Willems.

This one looks quirky and hilarious: Quest Kids and the Dragon Pants of Gold, by Mark Leiknes. It’s an upcoming book from Union Square and Co., the rebranded Sterling Books, who recently hired the fabulous Chris Duffy to head up their kids graphic novel publishing.

At Canadian publisher Kids Can Press, I saw two very goofy looking graphic novels: Linty – a Pocketful of Adventure by Mike Schiell, and Rover and Speck by Jonathan Roth.

Then it turned out that Jonathan Roth was standing right there in the booth, so I had the chance to meet him and invite him to join our Kids Comics Launch panel in November!

I was really excited to see Spanish publisher NubeOcho with a few books on display, including this silly one:

The English blurb for Tekis by Gómez says, “The day Purpurina disappears, Ada, Oli and Kat are thrust on a journey to Mars that will test their courage and powers of invention! Will they be able to save Purpurina in time?” Who wouldn’t want to save a character named Purpurina?

In the Harper Collins booth, under the display of Jerry Craft’s New Kid, I was intrigued to see a new book by Jim Benton. (If you don’t know Jim Benton, he’s written a zillion laugh-out-loud series like DEAR DUMB DIARY, CATWAD, FRANNY K. STEIN, etc.) 

Jop and Blip Wanna Know is about “the answers to life’s most pressing questions,” such as “Can you hear a penguin fart on Mars?”

Graphic Universe, the graphic novel imprint of educational publisher Lerner Books, has a ton of silly kids comics, like Felix and Calcite, The Wolf in Underpants, Super Potato, and Timothy Dinoman Saves the Cat.

Indie comics publisher Flying Eye Books had this gem of a series, “The Adventures of Team Pom,” which is a middle grade graphic novel about a synchronized swimming team!

The Yen Press booth attracted me with its huge display of Svetlana Chmakova books.

Then I noticed this manga gem: Zo Zo Zombie by Yasunari Nagatoshi. I’m not sure if it’s very well-known, but I sure love the book cover!!

And speaking of awesome book covers, this one attracted my attention right away at the Reycraft booth! Freestyles… Heavy on the Styles, written and illustrated by Chuck Gonzales.

And here’s another one to celebrate, by KCU members Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell: BUMBLE BROTHERS: CRAZY FOR COMICS! Woohoo! Steve and Brian will talk about their journey to publication in our Kids Comics Launch event in November.

And more celebration!!! KCU member Ed Masessa busts a move with Reycraft staff members who are plugging his two ultra-silly picture books, THERE WAS AN OLD DOG WHO NEEDED A NAP and SNOWMAN’S BIG ADVENTURE.

Kids Graphic Novels on Religion

I was intrigued to see some religious publishers with graphic novels on display, as well. Patrick Wigglesworth’s Bizarre Bible Adventure by Liz and Jack Hagler will be published by Tyndale House next March.

And then there was this SUPER interesting book from the ridiculously talented John Hendrix: The Holy Ghost, published by Abrams. It’s “a series of conversations between a squirrel, a badger, and a friendly blue ghost who may or may not be one third of the Holy Trinity.” !!!

Interesting Illustrated Nonfiction!

I loved the title of this book so much I had to include it in the blog post. I wasn’t sure whether to put it in “Funny Books” or “Nonfiction.” Given the title, it’s funnier to put it in the “Nonfiction” category, right? What kid wouldn’t like a practical how-to book on how to take the groan out of grown-ups?

On a more serious note, How to Take the Groan Out of Grown-Ups IS nonfiction! It’s a book about communication skills from educational publisher Free Spirit Publishing, that has a whole line of goofy comics-style books on social-emotional learning topics.

Another teacher favorite, “easy to read” comics publisher Toon Books had a small display with a super fun young reader graphic novel about multiplication by Ivan Brunetti: 3×4.

And another math book with (stick figure!) comics! Math Games (with Bad Drawings) by Ben Orlin.

Love the cover on this one: The Ultimate Biography of Earth, by Nick Lund and illustrated by Jason Ford.

I’m a big fan of these two social-emotional learning titles by Catherine Newman, illustrated by my client Debbie Fong: HOW TO BE A PERSON and WHAT CAN I SAY?

And yay, it’s KCU member Teresa Robeson’s book Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom!!! With charming illustrations by Rebecca Huang.

Little Brown Books for Young Readers had two stunning and heavy-hitting nonfiction graphic novels on display: Muhammad Najem, War Reporter by Muhammad Najem and Nora Neus, illustrated by Julie Robine, and Numb to This: Memoir of a Mass Shooting by Kindra Neely.

Nonfiction GN imprint Graphic Mundi (an imprint of Penn State University Press) presented a slew of searing books: The Pass by Espé, Queen of Snails by Maureen Burdock, Bipolar Bear and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Health Insurance by Kathleen Founds, and Hakim’s Odyssey by Fabien Toulme and illustrated by Hanna Chute.

Down to the Bone by Catherine Pioli looks incredibly powerful. “When Catherine is diagnosed with acute leukemia, a deadly form of cancer that attacks the immune system, her life is turned upside down. Young and previously healthy, she now finds herself catapulted into the world of the seriously ill.”

Heart-tugging Middle Grade and YA Graphic Novels

As you’d expect, there was a ton of great graphic novel fiction of all types. Below are just a few highlights.

Swim Team: Small Waves, Big Changes by Johnnie Christmas looks so awesome — I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my To Read list! Publishers Weekly said it’s a story that “details segregation’s generational impact through a warmhearted story of community, Black diasporic identity, and learning.”

Thunderous by M.L. Smoker and Natalie Peeterse — this looks like a fun action adventure story about a Lakota girl who has to face the Spirit World she thought was just a bunch of old-fashioned stories. Smoker is a member of the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes, and grew up on the Fort Peck Reservation in northeastern Montana.

Slip by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Aatmaja Panja, has a premise that I think will hit home with some young teens. “

Right before Jade is about to leave for a summer art intensive, her best friend, Phoebe, attempts suicide. At the Art Farm, Jade has artistic opportunities she’s been waiting for her whole life. And as she gets to know her classmates, she begins to fall for whimsical, upbeat Mary. Jade grows, prospers, and even falls in love this summer, is she leaving Phoebe behind?

Another book that’s at the top of my “To Read” list! Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao has gotten lots of great buzz. Many of the reviews combine the words “beautiful” and “funny,” two of my favorite qualities in a graphic novel.

Abrams Books had this lovely notice from Mariko Tamaki talking about her vision for her new imprint, Surely Books. Check out the books that are already available on the Surely Books website.

And two books from John Jennings’ Megascope imprint: Across the Tracks by Alverne Ball and Stacey Robinson and After the Rain by Nnedi Okorafor, adapted by John Jennings, illustrated by David Brame.

I absolutely love the cover of this book!!! I ran into David Levithan at the Scholastic booth and asked him to show me which books he was excited about. This was the first one he showed me: Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure by Lewis Hancox. What quirky teen wouldn’t want to grab this book and read it?

Interesting GN Adaptations

Publishers love creating graphic novel adaptations of prose books. When the adaptations are classic literature, it’s an easy way to repurpose material in the public domain with a built-in audience. When the adaptations are existing bestsellers, it’s a no-brainer way to “extend the brand.”

I tend to approach adaptations with a healthy dose of skepticism, but sometimes they’re really good in and of themselves! Below are a few interesting examples I saw at the show:

This adaptation of Kwame Mbalia’s bestseller Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky looks incredibly dynamic and punchy — pun intended! 😉

SparkNotes has a very nicely packaged line of Shakespeare adaptations with a lovely comics aesthetic. The online reviews speak for themselves — I love the teacher who said, “What fresh air could a graphic novel possibly breathe into a story so common it’s become a cliche? You’ll be surprised. Or at least I was. For one thing, the artwork is fabulous: beautiful, inventive, playful, modern. For another, the novel uses modified English that communicates Shakespeare’s themes clearly but doesn’t water them down.”

Super appealing cover on this modernized adaptation of Twelfth Night — Twelfth Grade Night by Molly Horton Booth, Stephanie Kate Strohm, and Jamie Green, published by Disney-Hyperion.

Cool Illustrated Books That Aren’t Graphic Novels

And finally, I saw a few books that weren’t graphic novels but will be of special interest to the comics community.

Levine Querido is publishing an art book by Shaun Tan, Creature, that showcases his haunting and elliptical artwork. A must-see for all illustrators.

I had a lovely conversation with editor Emilie Wong at the Enchanted Lion booth, who told me about their new line Unruly, which she described as “picture books for teens.”

Here’s a spread from You Can’t Kill Snow White by Beatrice Alemagna. A saturated, surrealist fever dream of a picture book, coming out this October.

What’s Your Takeaway?

As you can see, there was a lot going on at ALA and a dizzying array of books on display. What interests you the most? Do you find inspiration at live industry events like this?

We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

About Janna Morishima

Janna Morishima is the founder of Kids Comics Unite and a literary agent who specializes in graphic novels and visual storytelling. She started her publishing career at Scholastic, where she was one of the co-founders of the Graphix imprint. She then became director of the Kids Group for Diamond Book Distributors, where she worked with publishers such as Marvel, Dark Horse, and Oni Press, and helped launch Françoise Mouly’s Toon Books imprint. In addition to her background in publishing, she has worked as an associate producer for documentary films, and as an assistant teacher in a kindergarten and a teacher in a high school for teens in the juvenile justice system. She later launched and ran the NYC Department of Education’s “NYC Reads 365” literacy initiative.

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