ICv2 caught up with VIZ Media Vice President – Publishing Leyla Aker to talk about what VIZ is seeing in the kids’ market, what’s selling, and what’s coming.

ICv2:  Maybe you could start out by looking back a little bit. Tell us about any changes you've seen in the market for kids' manga or kids' graphic novels over the last year.
Leyla Aker:  For us the big story for 2016 was obviously Pokemon. The manga performance for all the Pokemon‑related titles went absolutely through the roof, thanks to Pokemon GO. That momentum has continued, so that was something of a shift.

For kids' manga, in general, we found that all of our manga titles had a pretty strong performance, including things like Yo‑kai Watch and Legend of Zelda. The market seems pretty solid. It's all a good picture.

Some specific questions about a couple of the properties you mentioned. Viz has previously said that the popularity of Pokemon was expanding the channels you were in. Has that continued? Has Pokemon been tip of the spear for getting into new markets?
It definitely did expand the channels that we were in. The mass retailers started taking the titles. Some mass retailers that we'd never worked with before were interested in taking the Pokemon volumes.

Some of that has translated to sales of other titles, and some of it hasn't. When you're talking about moving into mass market channels, the property needs to be of a certain size. It's not like they're going to go back and take a small indie manga after that.

It definitely expanded our channels. We're still writing that.

You mentioned Pokemon and Yo‑kai Watch. Have those held up this year? I know Pokemon GO went down, and then earlier this year they introduced some new features that were popular.  First quarter, was that comparable to fourth quarter? How is the property changing?
We were waiting to see what was going to happen. A second generation of the game was released, had some new features and brought in more Pokemon. We saw another little spike from that.

Overall, it's been interesting, because the sales as a whole, obviously, ramped up really fast after the release of the game. They've achieved a new plateau, so to speak.

We were curious to see whether they were going to go down to the previous level, but that doesn't seem to be happening. It seems to have achieved a new ongoing level. How long that is going to last, we don't know. It's pretty gratifying to see that the strong sales are still continuing.

We understand that for the Pokemon trading card game, last year was bigger than the biggest years around '99 or 2000, when the last craze happened.  Viz has a lot more Pokemon material in print than it did then.  Were you also seeing that for the manga? Was this bigger for you than the last time around?
Yeah, it was simply because of the fact that our catalog is probably four times the size, at least, than it was back then. It's not really an apply‑to‑apples comparison.

Having not been around for that '99, 2000 spike, personally, I can't say, and I don't have that data in front of me. I have to imagine by all measurements it must have vastly exceeded what was happening back then.

Yo‑kai Watch got renewed for a second season; what have you got in print there, and how's that holding up this year?
We've got seven volumes of the manga in print. We will be releasing volume eight towards the winter. That's holding up. There seems to be an organic support for the property that's not really tied in, directly, to the anime or games. It seems to be standing on its own as a solid kids' title. That's nice to see.

We've been seeing incremental improvement in the attention that comic store channel is paying to kids' graphic novels, in general. Are you seeing that in the case of Viz manga?
Maybe a bit. From our perspective it's hard to tease it out, because the material that we publish, everything that we've been talking about, Yo‑kai Watch, or Pokemon, or Zelda, or any of these really high‑performing properties, ostensibly they're children's properties. They're targeted towards the 8 to 12 market.

At the same time, there's a huge teen and adult audience for them, as well. That's the hallmark of really classic properties like that.

I can't remember who said it. Tolkien or somebody had this quote that if a kids' property is really well done, then adults can enjoy it, too. That's what we're seeing with all these.

As far as the direct market's interest goes, it's hard to tease out whether it's specifically because these are children's titles and they're doing well right now, or because they're titles that are doing well that are appealing to all segments of their audience.

Take the example of Pokemon. What's happening is you have grandparents buying it for their eight‑year‑old grandchild. You have, maybe, preteens and teens going in and picking it up. Then you also have young adults and adults who are either genuine, legitimate fans of the genre, or it's more of a nostalgia thing.

For the direct market for the other retailers, that's obviously a great value when it comes to evaluating these properties. Some of what we're seeing is based on that, as well.

What are you looking at for this year, in terms of your biggest releases in the kids' market?

[laughs] We're continuing with the Pokemon. We have two generations going on now, XY and Omega Ruby, Alpha Sapphire. Those will be continuing through the end of the year.

We are re‑releasing an older work, a Let's Find edition. A special, complete edition of Pokemon Let's Find, which is definitely targeted towards the children's market. That had been out of print for a couple years. We're bringing that back.

We're really excited to be launching Splatoon tie‑in manga towards the end of the year. When we did our announcements at C2E2 this past weekend, Splatoon far and away got one of the biggest reactions we've had to an announcement. People were really excited about it (see “Viz Licenses ‘Splatoon’ Manga”).

In addition to that, we have a Hello Kitty coloring book that's coming out. That'll be out in the fall, around near Comic‑Con timing.

The last big thing, it's not directly a children's property, but it's going to be an amazing book, is The Art of My Little Pony, which is tying into the movie release this fall. It's gorgeous. I think that the kids would love it, but it's also for more of an adult collector market, as well.

Is that going to be in the same format as your Art of Magic; The Gathering books?
It'll be slightly different. It is going to be a substantial, hardcover, jacketed, very beautifully produced edition.

When are you launching Splatoon, and how many volumes are there?
Splatoon has three volumes going. I believe they're launching a new arc based on the second game that's going to come out in the fall. We are scheduled to release the first volume, at this moment, in December.

It comes from a video game. Is that right?
Splatoon is a Nintendo video game that came out a couple years ago. [laughs] It's a lot of fun. It's definitely one of the most enjoyable video game properties that has come out recently for a younger market.

It's basically a shooter, but it's paint wars. The main characters can transform back and forth from kids to squids. They have running gun battles, but it's all with paint. They can swim through the paint, and everything. It's technicolor. It's crazy. It's a tremendous amount of fun.

Along with Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, and Super Mario, Splatoon is one of the four top Nintendo properties. We have, now, books tied into all of those four major Nintendo properties. Splatoon is rounding that out.

We understand that Beth Kawasaki, who was editing a number of your kids titles, has moved on. Who’s the editor(s) handling the kids' titles now?
Right now one of our senior editors, Joel Enos, who has been here for many, many years has kept everything on track, very, very smoothly. He's been handling all this.

We have made a new hire for someone who's going to come in in another senior editorial position. We will be announcing that soon.