Thursday, December 5, 2013 Dedicated Issue: Perfect Square

Perfect Square

Perfect Square: Ben 10 Omniverse

Perfect Square: Max Steel

Perfect Square: Ugly Doll Graphic Novels

Perfeact Square: WNX

Perfeact Square: Hello Kitty

Editors' Note

Perfect Square

Shelf Awareness, with the help of VIZ Media, celebrates the company's new imprint, Perfect Square, aimed at kids and kids at heart. The stories were written by Shannon McKenna Schmidt.

Perfect Square: Monsuno

Books & Authors

Vibrant Stories for the Young and Young at Heart

Strong storytelling, eye-popping graphics, empowering themes and a dash of irreverence are the hallmarks of Perfect Square books, the newly launched imprint from VIZ Media, the largest publisher, distributor and licensor of manga, graphic novels and anime in North America.

Aimed at kids and "kids at heart," Perfect Square produces comics, graphic novels and other children's books. Traditionally, VIZ Media has transformed Japanese content for English-speaking audiences. Perfect Square will continue to publish titles from overseas, including favorite manga series like Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda previously branded VIZ Kids, while also expanding its offerings to include more works produced in the United States.

Playing on VIZ Media's strength, Perfect Square has teamed up with select companies to publish graphic novels based on popular licensed properties. While seeking out additional business initiatives, "We saw there were licensors that would lend themselves to great storytelling and fun, funny, action-packed books," said senior editorial director Beth Kawasaki.

Among the characters Perfect Square is bringing to readers are Mattel action figure Max Steel, the Cartoon Network's Ben 10, Sanrio's Hello Kitty and the Uglydolls. In addition to graphic novels and comics, the imprint's lineup includes other kinds of books. In summer 2014, it's rolling out illustrated books tying in to Bravest Warriors, the animated, science fiction/adventure web show created by Adventure Times's Pendleton Ward.

Perfect Square's books don't retell stories fans already know but expand on the existing realms--spinning fresh tales, illuminating lesser-known aspects and sometimes even creating new characters. "We brainstorm and talk with our writers and the licensors to bring the property to another dimension and add it to the canon," Kawasaki explained. Books are available in print and digital editions, and there is also a Perfect Square app for the Apple iPad and iPad Mini.

While the majority of Perfect Square's titles are aimed at seven- to 12-year-olds, there is also a secondary market for the books. Many older teens and college-age kids who grew up collecting Pokémon, Hello Kitty or Uglydoll merchandise, or who watched the Ben 10 cartoons, have a continuing affinity for these brands and characters. And some books are intentionally multi-faceted to draw in adults. In the graphic novel Hello Kitty: Here We Go!, an episode follows Hello Kitty in a James Bond-style caper. Grown-ups will understand the spoof on 007, while kids are entertained with a fun spy story.

Graphic novels and comics have increasingly "become woven into the fabric of society and into the entertainment landscape," Kawasaki noted. In turn, this has created a crossover audience for many of Perfect Square's books beyond brand loyalty. "Watching cartoons or reading comics, or even YA fiction for that matter, isn't just for kids anymore," she added.

Likewise, Kawasaki expects the Bravest Warriors tie-ins to appeal to readers of varying ages and collectors, in addition to the teens they're targeted toward. Created by Emmy Award-winner Pendleton Ward, the animated comedy follows the adventures of four teenaged heroes-for-hire as they warp through the universe to save aliens using the power of their emotions. "It's the next thing on the verge. Their audience has grown exponentially since it launched," said Kawasaki. Bravest Warriors is shown on the YouTube-funded channel Cartoon Hangover. Each episode of the first season has averaged more than 1.8 million views, and the second season, which launched in October, is on track to build an even broader audience.

Perfect Square is developing two illustrated books based on the series, slated for publication in July 2014. The first is Bravest Warriors Presents: Catbug's Treasure Book, a sort of journal featuring thoughts and ideas from the mind of Catbug as the part cat-part ladybug creature travels through the universe. Bravest Warriors: The Search for Catbug is a compendium showcasing illustrations by more than two dozen artists. Editor Joel Enos describes it as "a fun book and also a beautiful one." 

Perfect Square's vividly rendered titles span a breadth of topics and styles to interest avid and reluctant readers alike, from humorous books to sweet and quiet stories to action and adventure tales. The imprint's name, a play on different factors, evokes a panel like those in comic books, as well as the experience of looking through a window into other worlds. "Graphic novels are a fantastic way to grab kids' attention and to get them to read," said Kawasaki. "In my own experience, with the kids I'm around, I see how engaged they get with the content. Their worlds light up, and they go places they never imagined."

Perfect Square: Pokemon Pocket Comics

A Hello Kitty First: Graphic Novels

A talented team of artists and writers bring Perfect Square's vibrant stories to life. Here we introduce you to some of the people behind the page-turners.

Images of bow-bedecked Hello Kitty, known around the world, adorn everything from backpacks, bracelets and bedding to a jumbo jet. But Perfect Square's books featuring Hello Kitty mark her first appearance in graphic novels.

In Hello Kitty: Here We Go!, the intrepid cat embarks on a series of adventures climbing the Himalayas, walking on the moon, chasing an unsavory cake thief around the world, bird watching in the jungle, encountering aliens in an underground dwelling and more.

Since Hello Kitty doesn't have a mouth, the stories in Here We Go! are told entirely with visual images. According to the company that created her, she "speaks from her heart. She's Sanrio's ambassador to the world and isn't bound to any particular language."

Cartoonist and illustrator Jacob Chabot is one of several artists who came up with the plotlines and unfolded Hello Kitty's escapades through wordless storytelling. "Most of the stuff I write ends up being comprised of a bunch of doodles and sketches anyway, so my process has always been pretty visual," he said. "It wasn't that much of a transition to work in a wordless format. The hard part was trying to use expressions and simple iconography to convey abstract concepts like 'Hey, what do you want to do?' or 'I'm lost.'"

One of the sample stories that landed Chabot the job was "Breezy Does It," in which Hello Kitty's yellow umbrella sweeps her into the sky and leads to some interesting encounters. In another scenario he devised, avid reader Hello Kitty imagines herself as part of the action in different books, including an undersea-set story, a hardboiled detective tale and a medieval-era epic in which she holds court in a castle.

The adventuress continue in the culinary-themed Hello Kitty: Delicious! (January).

Perfect Square: The Legend of Zelda

Uglydoll: Stories to Tell

In Uglydoll: Goin' Places, Babo, Ice-Bat, Ox, Wage, Jeero and their pals rocket into space for blueberry pie, sail the high seas in search of a golden cookie, visit the Old West, where a candy heist happens, and unleash their imaginations in a library.

Goin' Places is the first comic book adventure featuring the lovable characters from Uglydoll, which began with handmade plush toys and has since grown into an extensive line of licensed products and a global brand. David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, the Los Angeles husband-and-wife duo that founded Uglydoll, give each of their unusual-looking characters its own history and personality traits--like Babo, who is obsessed with cookies, and Jeero, who doesn't pay taxes.

"We see the toys and products as storytelling vehicles," Horvath said. "So you can imagine how thrilled we are now that we are watching the Uglydoll comics released in our neighborhood comic shop. This is the first time you're truly reading a narrative about the characters in their own world… in the Uglyverse."

Since its launch more than a decade ago, Uglydoll has won admirers of all ages. Even fans who weren't previously comic book readers are journeying into the Uglyverse in Goin' Places, SHHHHHHHH! and the forthcoming Eat Dat! (January).

"The thing that impresses the heck out of me is how devoted so many people are to Uglydoll. There are fans who know every single character and every variant," noted Travis Nichols, an author and illustrator, one of many people who worked on the books. Horvath and Kim also wrote and illustrated some of the stories and created the cover art for each volume.

In the world Horvath and Kim have created--where characters can have three eyes or four legs--ugly means unusual and different. "The title Uglydoll is confusing to some at first because they are not ugly, they are cute--just different looking, like me and you," explained Horvath. The Uglydoll characters represent nonconformity and accepting who you are. "They'd like to help you be you. Or you just be you with no help, and please bring candy. They love you, and also candy."

Ben 10: Saving the Universe

A popular Cartoon Network television character, Ben Tennyson has been saving the universe for five years with his Omnitrix, a device that allows him to use alien DNA to take on heroic new forms. In Ghost Ship, the first volume in Perfect Square's original graphic novel series, he investigates a distress call from a stranded spaceship and finds himself battling a formidable enemy. The teenage superhero returns in Joyrides (January) and Parallel Paradox (April).

While some comics and graphic novels are too dark for younger readers, the Ben 10 books should garner parental approval. But that doesn't mean they're boring, stresses Joel Enos, a Perfect Square editor and writer for the Ben 10: Omniverse graphic novel series. "They're fun, they move really fast, they're entertaining," he said. "There's humor. There are pop culture references. Kids are very savvy. They understand a lot of what's going on beyond just in-jokes and pop culture but even references to politics and social norms that are out in the world in this day and age. These stories are very much of their time but also age appropriate."

For readers who have yet to discover comics and graphic novels, there's no better time than the present to dive into them, suggests Cory Levine, the author of Ghost Ship and a former editorial staffer for Marvel Comics. "It's a thriving medium that is experiencing a creative windfall as some of the greatest living artists and storytellers are expressing themselves through sequential art," he said. "There is literally something for everyone out there."

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