ICv2 recently spoke with BOOM! Studios President of Publishing and Marketing Filip Sablik to hear his views on the kids market, the company’s upcoming fall releases, whether the periodical format is viable for kids titles, and how the company has expanded into new markets despite making a conscious decision to publish fewer titles than last year.

ICv2:  What has BOOM! seen in terms of the overall market for comics and graphic novels?
Overall, graphic novels continue to grow and expand both in the direct market and the book market. We’re continuing to get more interest from mass market and clubs and other channels that might previously been closed off, or more conservative towards graphic novels, so that’s been great.

In the direct market (single issues), my observation is that retailers toward the end of 2015 and the beginning part of 2016 are really struggling with the amount of product that is coming at them from the publishers. A lot of the anecdotal conversations I’ve had seem to indicate that they’re beginning to pick and choose what they are racking on their shelves, and really thinking about how they’re boutiquing and merchandising the content that they are working well with, as opposed to conventionally the big stores would try to carry a copy of everything and really make sure everything was available. I think that’s becoming less and less the case, at least until the output from the publishers starts to trend the other way.

You said they’re reacting to the number of titles. Is that due to a lack of fit between the number of titles being published and the demand?
I think that’s true. If you look over the last three years, I think in the top three publishers there’s been an increase in output. That’s certainly my perception, something that we looked at. We had been expanding our title count for a couple of years and then toward the tail end of last year we really felt the marketplace was being overrun a bit, so we made a conscious decision to scale back this year (see “BOOM! Studios' Comic Production Cuts”), which is something that seems to have worked and benefited us. We’ve gotten a positive response from the retailers, too.

You said other channels seem to be growing for graphic novels specifically?
Yes, and specifically to get back to kids’ material, that has consistently been growing for us, certainly for the last four years that I’ve been here. The buyers are continuing to order incredibly strong and in many cases increasing their commitment to the lines we’re putting out. We’ve had the ability to sell in a much wider breadth of content, which is exciting.

Any specifics on what types of other outlets are expanding their attention to your kids’ titles?
Anecdotally, Scholastic Book Clubs is definitely an arena where we’ve seen more and more success year over year, specifically in the number of things they’re taking a look at.

Is that as opposed to the Fairs?
Yes.  Fairs have been fairly consistent in supporting a number of things that we’ve done on Cartoon Network titles that we’ve published, Lumberjanes, a few other things. But Clubs seems to have really opened up in the last 18 to 24 months. It seems to have the ability to take chances on different types of product, which is really exciting for us as a publisher.

Walmart and Target are starting to take things in periodically, mostly on the pre-branded side. That’s an avenue that we didn’t see previously. And accounts that we’ve counted on for years, Barnes & Noble, AWBC [Anderson Wholesale Book Company, which services Books-A-Million], Hastings, as well as Baker & Taylor are continuing to grow their kids business with us, which is great.

You said the mass outlets were interested in pre-branded titles. What do you mean by that?
Licensed materials. Those things that have a TV show or movie tie-in.

What have been BOOM!’s biggest kids’ sellers in the last six to 12 months?
Cartoon Network continues to be incredibly strong for us. Adventure Time is still one of our biggest performers. Things like Steven Universe and Amazing World of Gumball have really accelerated in a great way. On the BOOM! Box side, with our originals, Lumberjanes and Giant Days have both been terrific hits for us.   That’s something that we’re excited about, not only the buy-in but the velocity of the reorder activity.

What does BOOM! have coming out this summer and fall for its kids imprints?
The biggest imprint that’s solely dedicated to kids’ material is KaBOOM! In terms of summer and fall, we’re continuing to add to our Cartoon Network lineups with new volumes of all the series that I mentioned before.  Probably the things we’re most excited about at KaBOOM!, include What Is It?, which is our first ever children’s picture book by Dustin Nguyen and his wife Nicole Hoang. It’s a great story; it’s a picture book she wrote when she was 10 years old and he illustrated it for her as a wedding gift. It’s got this really cute story behind the story that we just fell in love with and wanted to get behind. 

Over the Garden Wall is going to be collected for the first time in August. It’s based on a Cartoon Network miniseries that’s developed a really dedicated fan base even though it only has 10 episodes. We’re interested and excited to see how that ends up hitting in the book market. 

And in October, we’re doing our first Garfield original graphic novel, our first long form graphic novel. That’ll be out in October.

The other imprint that kind of straddles the line between kids, middle grade and up to young adult is BOOM! Box.  New volumes of Lumberjanes and Giant Days have been really successful for us.

Other series that we have coming out in summer and fall include Jonesy, which is a new series by Sam Humphries and Caitlin Rose Boyle about a girl who is essentially a teenage cupid, but instead of using her powers to fall in love she uses them to cause mischief. It’s a fun series that evokes the spirit of Scott Pilgrim and pairs really well with Giant Days.

Goldie Vance is another release big we’re going to be collecting in the fall. That is by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, about a young girl detective who lives in a resort hotel that her father manages and solves mysteries in and around the hotel. Both books have a ton of charm. There’s a jubilance in them that’s really exciting.

Hope Larson has mostly drawn her own work in the past.  Is this kind of collaboration new for her?

Yes, I think so. She’s primarily known as a cartoonist; most of the stuff she’s done is in graphic novel form. This is actually her first serialized comics series that she’s ever done and then on top of that she’s only writing it as opposed to writing and drawing it, so it’s a new experience for her, definitely.

The last imprint for kids’ material is Archaia. We’ve got a number of Jim Henson things coming out from there, including some books from Labyrinth that we will be putting out at the tail end of the year to celebrate the anniversary of that. We just announced a Mouse Guard coloring book that we’ll be putting out. That reinforces thinks like Rust which we’re recollecting in softcover for the first time. Archaia’s been known predominantly for high-end beautiful hardcovers. One of the things we wanted to do with a series like Rust, which is a really great kids series, is put out some softcover editions which are a little more price-friendly for parents and younger readers.

It’s interesting that you’re doing a children’s storybook that has some crossover to the comic store audience; obviously the book store audience is a great fit. We’re curious about the decision to do that and to go in this new direction for BOOM!?
First and foremost, it always starts with the content and the creators we want to work with, so in this case we’ve wanted to work with Dustin Nguyen for years and years. He’s been a friend of the company for a long time. His watercolor, his Li’l Gotham, and books he’s been doing with Scholastic’s Graphix imprint, Secret Hero Society.  Those watercolor, stylized drawings are so different from his superhero work.

It’s so charming, we were trying to figure out, is there a way we can work with Dustin on this style that we all love. And this project really came about because he and our managing editor were having lunch one day and they were talking about various stories, including their wives, and this story came up. Bryce [Carlson] found the story so cute and charming, that he wanted to see it.  And of course it’s Dustin, so it’s great, the story’s great, so that leads the conversation. 

You look at a project and say ‘this is something we want to see out in the world,’ so how do we facilitate that? I think we have the advantage, as a comic book publisher, of being distributed by Simon and Schuster, so we know that their sales team is experienced and equipped to help us and guide us in the process of making sure the format and the price points are right and also getting it in front of the right buyers. It’s something that we certainly would expect to be more of a book store item than a comic shop item, but Dustin has such a following in comic shops and more and more comic shops have a diverse kids’ section that we have some pretty high hopes for it there as well.

With regard to format, some of your titles directed toward younger readers, like Lumberjanes for example, did OK in the comic stores (better than expected, not like a superhero title or something that’s specifically directed at that comic store audience), but then it really found its audience in book stores where the sales were tremendous. Is the periodical format really a viable format for kids’ material?
I absolutely think so, and I think it’s all a matter of perspective.  You’re absolutely correct in saying that when you compare the Lumberjanes single issue sales to a top tier Marvel and DC book, or even a mid-tier Image title, it may not look that impressive. But what’s fantastic about it is that the first issue went in the neighborhood of 6,000 copies ordered initially, but by the time we got done going through multiple printings, and FOC, it sold in the neighborhood of 20,000 copies, which is really respectable for single issue sales, and then it’s been very consistent throughout. The way we look at it is single-issue sales are the thing that helps build that audience and helps set the graphic novels up for success.

What’s amazing is I remember our first Book Expo, and it was because of the single issues. We just had a banner for Lumberjanes and a few single issues to give away. Librarian after librarian kept coming up and knew what it was, and I think that’s because Lumberjanes in particular found some really good advocacy from the Valkyries, and the Valkyries have such a great relationship with local librarians that they really helped build that audience.  We have to give a lot of credit to them for that. The first volume hit around the same time that Noelle Stevenson was really emerging with Nimona as a creator to watch in the book market, so that helped continue to build the excitement.

What’s interesting is that the Lumberjanes trade sales have been incredibly strong in the book market, have been very strong in the direct market as well.  And this is true for most of our kids’ material as well, we sell about 40% to the direct market and about 60% to the book market.

Where are you on the total printings of the first volume of Lumberjanes?
We’re north of 100,000, and I stopped counting after that.

And Giant Days?

Giant Days has done really well in the book market and we’re about to go back on print with Volume 1, which came out in November. We’re north of 12,000 copies on the first printing, which is again very exciting for a series about three girls in their freshman year of college. There’s no genre component to it. There’s no high concept to speak of. It’s really a relationship comedy book that has managed to find stable success in the direct market. The Eisner nominations just came out--John Allison was nominated for best writer in a category with some really all-stars of traditional comic direct market publishing for writers.

Anything else about the kids’ market that you’d like to communicate to our readers?
The thing that we’re really continuing to see is that the audience for kids’ material in the comic shop market is continuing to grow, and we benefit from having been in there early, since 2009. What I love is walking into stores and seeing the front section be a kids’ section, something that’s pulling people into the stores and it’s diverse and robust. 

On the book market side, we’re just excited to start to expand some of these other categories like picture books and coloring books and see if we can continue to expand our footprint in that section. 

BOOM! Box is really the thing that seems to have captured the book market’s attention recently. I don’t think there’s a lot of other publishers that are putting out material that is consistently aimed at younger and middle-grade girls in a series format.  There’s obviously publishers like First Second and Graphix, who do amazing jobs with a lot of stand-alone graphic novels that are targeted and accessible for those readers, but what we love is being the publisher that can deliver three volumes of Lumberjanes every year, three volumes of Giant Days, multiple volumes of some of these other series into the channel and keep those readers coming back.