As part of our Kids Graphic Novel Weeks coverage, we caught up with Beth Kawasaki, Senior Editorial Director -- VIZ Media, who oversees all publishing for VIZ’s kids titles, and talked to her about the growing kids market and the twin sales drivers of Pokemon (with some exclusive reveals) and Yo-kai Watch.

Click any image for larger view, or click the Gallery below for all the images in large size.

What are your impressions on any changes in the market for your kids’ lines over the last year?
Overall as an industry, as you’ve reported on ICv2, kids is just seeing phenomenal growth as a category.  And VIZ overall is doing well, and we’re very happy.  It’s our 30th anniversary this year for the company.  This last fiscal year was our best ever, in the history of the company, and we do have some hit kids’ titles contributing greatly to that.  We’re very, very happy about that.

Why do you think the overall kids’ market is growing?
There’s a variety of things.  The economy is good, so kids get more money from their parents to spend. I think there’s more exposure across product lines and forms of entertainment.  These properties are on linear TV and streaming, in video games, on toy products that you buy, on the apparel that you wear.  There’s a lot more exposure to these things all around through advertisement and retail placement of products.  Then I think also at the retailer level, there’s a lot of management of what’s being put out.  There are smart buyers out there and they’re supporting us with displays and promotions, and really working closely with us on the selection of titles.

We work with Simon & Schuster for our sales distribution partnership, but we also individually talk to the retail buyers from the big chains, the box stores and Diamond as well as with librarians, who have a lot of readers coming in.  Librarians are always pushing for great kids’ content and we love them.

What are the big VIZ kids hits over the last six months or so?
Pokemon continues to amaze us. It’s Pokemon’s 20th anniversary as a brand (see “Super Bowl 50 Spot Kicks Off 'Pokemon' 20th”).  We have been with Pokemon that whole time, so we have a lot of things planned with that, the continuing manga line.  We’ve been doing a series of Pocket Comics.  We have a boxed set of the first two volumes that are going to come out in October.  And a third volume of the series that focuses on the XY arc, that’s going to come out in December.

We haven’t announced this yet, we are going to be spinning off into some other publishing as well with Pokemon.  We’re going to be doing our Pokemon Cookbook; that’s coming out in December and is aimed at kids.  You can learn about Pikachu ramen and Poke Ball sushi rolls and Mashed Meowth Potatoes, and Psyduck omelets.  All of the recipes are made to look like the faces or the body of a character from Pokemon.  It’s really fun, we’re very excited about it.

Are there any specific 20th Anniversary Pokemon products coming out?
We are going to do some stuff at San Diego Comic-Con, so we’re super excited and honored that the artist and writer for the Pokemon Adventure series are going to come as official guests of the Con and make their first appearance at a North American convention.  We’ll be releasing details on that. There will be a panel, we’ll do an autograph signing, and we’re looking at doing exclusive items for sale.  One of them will be tied into the exclusivity that you were talking about. 

What other properties are doing well?
We’ve had great success with Yo-kai Watch. We thought it would do well, but it’s really gone above expectations.  We’ve seen a lot of support in all channels for that property.  It’s a video game for Nintendo, and the animated series is airing here in the States on Disney XD.  We have seen a lot of pick-up on that across all channels.  We’re seeing a lot of support through our regular retail channels, as well as Diamond has been supporting it (we’ve seen some reorders there), and with Scholastic also, so we’re really getting a nice reach with that property.  There was some placement at Walmart when we launched the property.

It’s a really funny comic about a young boy who sees what are called yokai, which in Western culture, the closest thing we could equate it with is spirits, although it’s not exactly the same.  It’s basically these characters that have died then come back, either for good or evil, and problems have to be solved.  It’s very comedic, very gag-driven, very physical humor.

What is the age range for that property?
It’s for ages 6 to 10.

You said Yo-kai Watch is doing better than expected. Do you think the TV is driving that, or is it something else?
I think it’s definitely the TV exposure as well as the video game exposure.  I know Nintendo put some marketing behind the video game launch and continues to do so.  It’s just a really funny story.  A lot of gatekeepers that saw and read the information we sent out, they took a chance on it and it’s performed well.  Now they’re ordering more and asking us for more content.

What is the product pipeline on Yo-kai Watch for the rest of the year?
We’ve announced through volume 5 and then beyond that, we’re working to see if there is some additional content that we can secure.  There are some more volumes that have come out in Japan, so that is under discussion.

So they’re past 5?
Yes, they’re a few volumes past that.

Anything else among your better sellers after Pokemon and Yo-kai Watch?
Those are really the two biggest ones we have right now.  We’re really seeing some backlist stuff continue to go gangbusters, like The Legend of Zelda series, which has been out since 2010.  We’re still seeing healthy orders for that on our backlist.

It’s just one of those stories that has now become the fabric of pop culture.  As new people discover it, people who first read it five-six years ago may be older and moved onto something else.  There’s a whole new generation.  It’s very similar in that way to Pokemon where every five years or so there’s a new set of kids that are getting into this.  It’s just classic interesting and exciting entertainment, so that hook’s always there and they continue to buy and support it.  It just amazes us how well it continues to perform.

You’re doing some new packages of The Legend of Zelda: Legendary Editions this year, right?
We are. We’re doing some more deluxe two-in-one editions of that, which have some extra material.  There’s a color art piece in there, in addition to some pages that are being colored by the artist that were not colored before.  They’ve gone back and colored about 16 pages for each volume.  That was originally a 10-volume series and it will be collected into five volumes.  It’ll be a bigger size, nicer paper stock.  We’re really looking forward to it.  Kids may buy it as well, but we think that will reach a little more into the adult audience.

Speaking of differentiating between age groups, are there changes to how you target ages by imprint?  Are you discontinuing the Perfect Square imprint?
We’re rolling up everything up into VIZ Media because we’ve had a lot of requests on that.  People are used to it, they’ve known VIZ for a long time and it makes sense with our 30th anniversary to streamline a lot of things with our website, and information for retailers and fans, to make it easier for people to find what they want.

But as far as the ratings go and content, that is not going to change.  The all-ages content, for all intents and purposes, means exactly that, all ages; but a lot it is geared, for say, under 10, under 12 years old.  And then the Teen rating and above, we start at age 13 and go up from there for mature audiences.

Anything else you want to convey about the kids’ market and VIZ’s offerings for it?
Just that we’re really happy and encouraged to see that there is so much great content out there.  And that kids and their parents are finding this material, and sharing it, reading it, and want more of it. We’re glad to be a part of that.  That means that if they’re buying these books, that we can make more of these books.