IDW has made several smart licensing decisions to make their company’s books attractive to the all-ages reader. As a reader, I’m naturally drawn to original characters and stories but as the father of a precocious comic reader I know I can grab a title like Dexter’s Lab or Rocky and Bullwinkle and not have to screen it first to see if it is appropriate for my 9-year-old daughter “Big D.” Example: when I picked up the first issue of Rat Queens I thought it was a title Big D might be interested in reading, too! Good thing I read it first!
IDW has struck a certain amount of “licensing gold” with the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic franchise and in recent months they have made some savvy expansions into other titles based on cartoon properties. Recent releases include the first issue of Dexter’s Lab (Derek Fridolfs, writer; Ryan Jampole, art; Jeremy Colwell, colors; Tom B. Long, letters) and while that particular show hasn’t been in Big D’s regular watching rotation (unlike Powerpuff Girls, another IDW resurrection), Big D was interested in the book because she knew of the TV show.
Dexter’s Lab revolves around a familiar “child genius with plans thwarted by his idiotic sister” trope found in Jimmy Neutron or Phineas and Ferb. Dexter is more sinister than any of those brainy boys, though. I don’t feel that I have sufficient background in the characters to know how well the creative team has captured the voice and tone of the original series but Big D said “It was good. I can’t wait to see what happens next.” The art is looser and more curvy than the source material and a lot of the action takes place over solid colour panels. I know the series had a somewhat minimalism tone to its design but this end product looks a little rushed and perhaps overly simple.
One of the stronger titles in IDW’s licensing line is Rocky and Bullwinkle #3. Big D and I were equally excited about this title when it was first launched and have found that the creative team (Mark Evanier, writer; Roger Langridge, art; Jeremy Colwell, colors) consistently nail the tone of the original series both in writing and art style. One can even hear the omnipresent voice of the narrator whenever a text box appears. In issue 3, Pottsylvania claims ownership of the moon and our brave titular heroes strike out to stop Boris, Natasha, and Fearless Leader from collecting royalties any time someone looks at, reads about, or mentions the moon. Boris even tries to collect from a werewolf. Ample amounts of meta-humor reminds readers that the “fourth wall” is not lode-bearing in this world. Big D says “It was funny that the bad guys made everyone pay to do anything with the moon in it!”
Another recent IDW release was Volume 2 of the Amelia Cole series called Amelia Cole and the Hidden War. Big D and I missed the first six issues of this series (collected as Amelia Cole and the Unknown World) but this creator-owned series clearly deserves more attention. The creative team (Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride, writers; Nick Brokenshire, art; Rachel Deering, letters) formed a rich and intricate mythology combining magical and technological marvels with some fun twists and turns (or perhaps they are more expected to someone who has read the first six issues). It might go without saying that dropping right into Volume 2 of this series isn’t the best way to start but what I read was compelling and encouraging on its own merits. So many creators are hoping to hit the Harry Potter/Percy Jackson jackpot that many of these attempts can seem shallow and derivative. What I have seen of the Amelia Cole series (currently working through a third arc: Amelia Cole and the Enemy Unleashed) takes familiar elements but truly synthesizes them into a fresh and engaging story with a lot of potential. Big D says “I liked it. I liked that they had magic (or something like it). I don’t know if I want to read any more of it.”
By taking sources with a strong fan base and providing good quality material in the same vein as the original, IDW has found an easy way to attract all-ages readers. When Big D started reading comics 5 years ago, there seemed to be a lot of comic book options which have since dwindled and vanished. She and I are both happy that companies such as IDW are increasing their commitment to the all-ages audience.