Interview: VIZ Kids editor Traci Todd, part 1
While at the American Library Association conference in Chicago, Snow Wildsmith and I had the opportunity to talk with VIZ Kids editor Traci Todd. We asked her about the origins of the imprint, how licensing decisions are made, and where she sees the line going in the future.
Good Comics for Kids: With the economy and the publishing market the way they are at the moment, why did VIZ decide that now was a good time to expand the children’s line?
Traci Todd: It all happened before I came on board, but what I’ve been able to glean is that it was recognized that the children’s market was the one area VIZ had not expanded into. It was also recognized that kids are really into manga, really into the format, so it seemed to make sense. It was also a decision that was made long before the economy tanked, so it’s not like it was a strategic decision to launch the line during an economic downturn. [laughs] We had Pokémon and that was the kids’ imprint for a while, but we realized that there is other content out there.
GC4K: What’s the target audience you’re looking for with the VIZ Kids line?
TT: The core audience right now is seven to ten years old. That’s what we put on our chapter books and what we’re defining as all-ages for the imprint. But we are looking into the possibility of going a little bit younger and going more into the tween market, as well. We don’t have anything specific that we’re looking at right now, but we are having conversations about that possibility.
GC4K: If you do start putting out books for the different age groups, will you differentiate between the books so readers can know that the content in the books for younger kids is different from the content in books meant for tweens?
TT: Not only will we differentiate, we might offer totally different formats. We might have things that are not manga; we might have a picture book or something that will obviously be for a younger reader. So, it’ll be the format that’s different, rather than the age rating.
GC4K: You mentioned the VIZ Kids chapter books. These weren’t originally in Japanese. What made you decide to publish spin-off books?
TT: We published spin-offs of two of our biggest brands, Naruto and Dragon Ball. Neither manga is terribly appropriate for the audience we’re targeting with our chapter books. We had a sense that the younger siblings of the kids who are reading Naruto were into the series, too. We wanted to give them something more appropriate. Obviously, we’re working with our more marquee brands, but in the case of Dragon Ball, it’s also a really great story about a little boy. We thought it was perfect for the age group, so we’re expecting really great things from the chapter books.
GK4K: Are you looking to spin-off any of your other popular titles? For example, Yu-Gi-Oh does really well in our libraries.
TT: We’re going out with what we feel are our two strongest brands and testing the water to see how they do. If they are successful then we will add other stories down the road. But for right now, we’re holding with just these two.
GC4K: What do you look for in a potential title when you’re choosing new properties to license for VIZ Kids?
TT: First, we look for stories that are age appropriate. For example, sometimes a shojo title may feel younger than the books in our Shojo Beat line. In my mind, it doesn’t make sense to just put it into VIZ Kids because it feels younger. It really needs to speak to the experience of the child in the age range that we’re targeting. The book also needs to have some kind of hook. It needs to have a really good story, something that will engage the kids and make them want to continue reading across the whole series.
We also have to look at stories that are put out by our parent companies. We look to see what’s age appropriate that they’re offering. A lot of times humor that’s appropriate for children in Japan isn’t quite appropriate for children in the U.S. There are some really great titles in Japan we can’t bring over. They’ve either got salacious humor, or nudity, or other things that just won’t fly here. So, even though the core story is interesting and will engage our audience, the peripheral jokes and things just aren’t going to work.
GC4K: Do you have any examples of titles your parent company thought would be great for America, but you knew would never make it in conservative areas?
TT: Well, I probably can’t talk too specifically. [laughs] But there is something I’m working on that I’m trying to make work. It’s huge in Japan, it’s huge in Europe, and it just won’t fly in the U.S. There may be a way to make it work. We’d have to do some sort of write-around, or pick and choose story arcs, or that sort of thing. We’d like to see it be successful in the U.S., too.
GC4K: Are you afraid that if you do have to do write-arounds for some of the titles, you might get the kind of backlash other companies have faced when they’ve done those kinds of edits?
TT: I think there is more tolerance for that kind of thing with kids titles, because the expectation is that these books have to be squeaky clean. Therefore, there’s more understanding. But I will say that we try not to choose things that we have to write around.
GC4K: Do they have as much trouble with cultural differences with the teen lines?
TT: It’s not as much of an issue with books for teens. It’s because we’re all-ages, which means we have to be totally squeaky clean. No sexuality, no nudity. As long as you’re saying it’s all-ages, you can’t have any of that stuff in there. So with Teen, T+, and Mature, you can have a little bit of that stuff. There are some lines we won’t cross with the more mature books, but in general there aren’t the same kinds of issues that we have with the Kids line.
For part two of this interview, click here.
About Eva Volin
Eva Volin is the Supervising Children's Librarian for the Alameda Free Library in California. She has written about graphic novels for such publications as Booklist, Library Journal, ICv2, Graphic Novel Reporter, and Children & Libraries. She has served on several awards committees including the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. She served on YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee for three years and is currently serving on ALSC's Notable Books for Children committee.
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