10 years after the short-lived DC/Vertigo line aimed at tween girls, Minx, launched, an ex-Vertigo editor is revisiting that audience with new titles and a new imprint of her own. Writer/editor Mariah McCourt nee Huehner is leading Charmz, a new imprint at Papercutz that comes at a time when the demand for young adult OGNs has grown 24% in the past year according to Nielsen.
Charmz' debuts on May 2 with three titles - Stitched, Chloe, and Sweeties - with the first written by McCourt herself before she was asked to take over the line. McCourt will be representing Charmz at next weekend's Los Angeles Festival of Books (Booth #838), while Stitched artist Aaron Alexovich will be representing at C2E2.
Newsarama talked with McCourt about the modern tween girls audience, where Charmz fits into all of this, and how she came to be enlisted as writer and editor.
Newsarama: Mariah, what is the mission statement of Charmz?
Mariah McCourt: To create smart, engaging, relationship driven stories for tweens and teen girls. And to have a lot of fun while we do so!
Nrama: How did this imprint, and you working with Papercutz, come about?
McCourt: The imprint was started by editor Rachel Gluckstern, who approached me about doing a book for it. I was super excited; I really love writing for this audience and the prospect of getting to create a whole world, characters, and tale of my own was like be handed my ideal project. I came up with the concept of Stitched right away, contacted Aaron who I knew would be perfect for it, and we were off and running.
Charmz was passed along to me after Rachel (who is awesome!) had to move on to other work. Terry and Jim approached me about taking over the line because of my editorial experience and it was perfect timing. Kind of fate or ka, I think. I had been thinking about how to reach a younger audience with OGNs and creating comics for girls is a passion of mine. So I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to take it on and see what we can do with the line.
Nrama: There are comic books for tween girls, but I believe this is the first line dedicated to that since perhaps DC's Minx line. How would you say the market has changed?
McCourt: The market for graphic novels has grown exponentially in the last 10 years. Kids love comics, they want to read them and share them and make them. Nowadays it’s not the same struggle to convince anyone girls read comics. Everyone wants to reach that audience because they’re smart, they’re enthusiastic, and when they love a book they share it and are dedicated to reading more and more.
When Minx launched there was still a lot of resistance to that audience, even though it’s always been here. The comics market and companies have been slow to accept it, i think, with some notable exceptions. These days everyone wants to figure out how to reach girls and young women. Papercutz has an advantage there because they’ve already been making comics for kids for a decade.
Nrama: In the marketing for this, the fact that each title had a female creator is "incredibly important"; I'm not arguing with that, but how important is it to you and Papercutz? Is it a formal rule?
McCourt: I would say it’s a formal rule and it’s essential for me personally. I think you need that perspective in either the art or the writing. I know that will make some folks cranky but I think the evidence clearly shows it matters. There’s an authenticity that comes with having books for girls created by women. Women from all kinds of backgrounds and interests, who really want to tell these stories.
Nrama: Can you put on your writer hat for a bit, and tell us about Stitched?
McCourt: I would love to! Stitched is very near and dear to me, it is the kind of story I’ve always wanted to tell. It was written with tween/teen me in mind. I was a weird kid and I loved weird stories.
With Stitched, I wanted to create a protagonist that girls could relate to on multiple levels. Crimson Volania Mulch is quite literally made of different dead girls. She has visible scars, a world she doesn’t know to explore, and an identity she has to build for herself.
She struggles with all kinds of things: friendship, crushes, fitting in (or not). It’s fun, and a little dangerous, and every character has their own issues to overcome.
I’m very proud of the story but the art is something truly special. Aaron Alexovich and Drew Rausch did an incredible job of making it a real, lived in, place. Every character is unique looking, from our swamp boy to our werewolf girl. We have all the usual spooky suspects but realized in new and refreshing ways. Stitched is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on because it’s a real collaboration, which is really what makes comics special.
Nrama: And as editor, how would you describe Chloe?
McCourt: Chloe is such a fun, fraught, classic crush/family drama. Chloe is a vibrant young teen who has to navigate a new school, mean girls, a disastrous hair color experiment, holiday crushes, and long distance relationships. You’ll root for her even as you wince at some of her shenanigans.
Nrama: The third Charmz book Sweeties spins out of the successful Chocolate Box Girl juvenile novels. How'd this partnership with Cathy Cassidy come about?
McCourt: Terry Nantier, the publisher of Papercutz and Charmz, thought this series about a mixed family and the relationships between 6 girls and their respective adventures and love lives would be a great fit for the line. And I have to agree! It’s a very sweet (sometimes literally, they start a chocolate company!) series with a great cast. From Cherry, the stepsister coming into a family where not everyone is thrilled with her addition, to two very different twins and a somewhat haunted mystery.
Nrama: The Kids OGN category has grown 24% this year per Nielsen. What is Charmz doing to reach that market?
McCourt: Everything! Our whole line is for kids who read comics, want to read comics, and are looking for more kinds of comics. That’s who Charmz is for!
We also just spent a weekend talking directly with children’s booksellers and got great feedback about what they need and what they’re looking for. So stay tuned for even more projects and Charmz books from incredible creators. I’m already working on the next wave and it’s looking incredible with folks like Amy Chu, Monica Gallagher, Kata Kane, and more!
Nrama: Do you have any sort of test group of tween girls to better understand the marketplace?
McCourt: Nope! Just instincts, enthusiasm for creating stories for them and the tweens we used to be.
My philosophy when it comes to storytelling for girls is: tell a good story, that matters, with characters they can relate to and a world they can be a part of and get invested in. I really believe that if you create that way, the audience will respond.
Nrama: Charmz's first three books debut in May. Any special events or initiative plans to debut with?
McCourt: We’ll be doing some signings at the Los Angeles Festival of Books this month and hopefully some local shops since several of us are LA based. Aaron will be at C2E2 the weekend of LAFOB. And we’re working on some other events, too!