Not long ago I was a guest at a comic book convention and while walking around the floor I happened upon the Top Shelf table. For years Top Shelf has been known for publishing quality books from great talents like Jeffrey Brown, Craig Thompson and Alan Moore. However, as a father, what really struck me when visiting the Top Shelf table was the abundance of amazing all ages books they have available.
I recently spoke with Top Shelf’s Leigh Walton about their newly christened Top Shelf Kids Club.
GeekDad: Top Shelf has a great reputation for publishing more mature themed books like From Hell, Blankets and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. What prompted Top Shelf to get involved with publishing all ages books?
Leigh Walton: Thanks very much! We think of ourselves as being interested in all kinds of good comics — both heads of the company, Chris Staros and Brett Warnock, are famous for having wide tastes — so we’ve never felt that Top Shelf needed to have a narrow focus in terms of genre or content, and that applies to age as well. What we do insist on is that our books have some kind of depth to them, a richness of subtext and a kind of human connection. So even our books that work great for young readers are also rewarding for older readers. If we’re doing it right, they truly have an all-ages appeal — from preschoolers to great-grandparents.
As for the specific prompt… we had always done cool books for kids (Renee French’s The Soap Lady, James Kochalka’s Pinky & Stinky), but the arrival of Andy Runton’s Owly series was a real turning point in terms of creating a Top Shelf library of kids’ books. Andy and his Owly books have been such a phenomenon that they really could be an anchor for an entire line, which has now grown to be a very healthy part of the overall Top Shelf world. As a result, we decided earlier this year to officially declare it the Top Shelf Kids Club!
GD: Fan favorites Owly and Korgi are well known all ages book Top Shelf publishes. What are some of the other all ages titles you publish?
LW: Owly by Andy Runton and Korgi by Christian Slade are definitely two landmark series for us — they’re both adorable animal tales that are told completely without words, although in very different styles. I love watching people walk by our table at a convention and seeing their eyes light up as they discover Owly or Korgi for the first time.
To them I would add Johnny Boo by James Kochalka, a long-running series of goofy adventures starring the “best little ghost in the world” and his pet ghost, Squiggle. (The scene in Johnny Boo 3 where Johnny Boo tries, and fails, to climb a tree, is one of my favorite scenes in the history of comics. I don’t know why, it just cracks me up every time.) That’s been so successful that James has also created another series, Dragon Puncher, which is just as silly but even more action-packed.
Now there’s a “new class” of wonderful books joining them. First there’s Chris “Elio” Eliopoulos, the cover artist of this year’s Free Comic Book Day book (and the corresponding free poster), who makes his Top Shelf debut with the kooky cooking comedy Okie Dokie Donuts. He’s got a wonderful creativity that practically bursts off the page, combined with a chunky visual style that’s silly and sophisticated at the same time.
The other awesome newcomer is Ray Friesen, who’s been making great all-ages comics for many years but only recently joined the Top Shelf family. His book Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken is a real wonder, just jokes and battles and crazy twists on every page. It’s like sketch comedy mixed with Saturday morning cartoons, or like reading the back of a cereal box from another planet.
GD: What new books are on the horizon for the Top Shelf Kids Club? Any new creators involved?
LW: Would you believe that all of the abovementioned titles are ongoing series? These books are so much fun that the creators want to keep on telling new stories with those characters. So, for example, coming up we have Owly book 6, Okie Dokie Donuts book 2, Johnny Boo book 5, and so on.
Then, yes, we will have a couple more new creators! We’re proud to be collecting Sam Henderson’s Scene But Not Heard comics from Nickelodeon Magazine, which are great visual gag comics, into their first ever book. And for next Halloween, we’re celebrating with Jess Smart Smiley’s Upside Down, an epic full-length adventure about a young vampire who loves eating candy more than drinking blood!
LW: Basically however you like to get books, we’re there! Your favorite comic shop probably carries our books, or can certainly order them if you ask nicely. Same with any bookstore. You can also order directly from our web site at www.topshelfcomix.com/kidsclub, or from any online retailer.
We’re also very excited to announce the release of the TOP SHELF KIDS CLUB app, appearing in the iTunes/iPad/iPod/iPhone app store on November 14! It’s a completely free app that lets you browse and purchase digital versions of our all-ages graphic novels – including several titles at launch, and many more coming soon!
Finally, parents can join the Top Shelf Kids Club at www.topshelfcomix.com/kidsclub — and we’ll send them a poster and comic book totally free!