How Kaboom Transformed Licensed Comics For Kids
In just over a decade, Boom Studios has established itself as one of the most important publishers in comics, and key to its success is the all-ages Kaboom imprint, headed up by editor Shannon Watters.
A former Tokyopop copy editor and assistant editor on titles like Irredeemable and Elric, Watters has been a part of Boom from the ground up, and even with licenses for some of the biggest properties on the planet, Watters and the creators under her have consistently traced their own path, to the delight and benefit of critics and readers.
Kaboom has published original work too --- like Mike Kunkel's Herobear and the Kid, and the recent The Baker Street Peculiars --- but it built its reputation chiefly on licensed material, most notably in three stables of titles; the Disney/Pixar books, the Cartoon Network books, and classic comic strips.
From roughly 2009-2012, Kaboom published comics based on Wall-E, Monsters Inc., Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles --- that last one written by Mark Waid, who served as Boom's editor-in-chief from 2007 to 2013. Kaboom also published classic Disney comics titles like Walt Disney's Comics and Stories and Uncle Scrooge, which, like the current IDW incarnations, translated and reprinted European stories like the Italian Wizards of Mickey series.
Primarily written and drawn by famed British cartoonist Roger Langridge, The Muppet Show --- and an assortment of related miniseries --- did something that seemed entirely antithetical at worst and plain bizarre at best. Taking icons like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy from real world felt-and-foam to the comics page and rendering them in his expressive, distinct style, Langridge nailed the characters' humor and heart perfectly, winning two Harvey Awards in the process. So well-done is his work that Marvel recently collected it in an omnibus, simply titled The Muppets.
When Disney withdrew its licenses to divide among IDW (the classic Disney titles) and Marvel (the Disney Kingdom imprint), Kaboom rallied by becoming the go-to comics publisher for Cartoon Network, which was undergoing its own creative revitalization with brilliant, beloved shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe.
It's here we return to Watters, and a choice she made that helped cement Kaboom's reputation and dominance. Rather than hiring mainstream creators like Waid to tackle a comic for what was then the most popular cartoon in the world, Watters turned to Dinosaur Comics creator Ryan North, and paired him with artists Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb. North wrote the monthly escapades of Finn, Jake, Marceline and pals in the Land of Ooo for three years, winning an Eisner and two Harvey Awards in 2013.
The overwhelming success of Adventure Time allowed Watters to set in motion a simple yet ingenious system of taking talents from the wide world of webcomics and putting them to work on licensed kids' books, making sure they stuck to the spirit of the source material while still bringing their unique voices to the mix.
The results are hard to argue with. From a Regular Show comic that's seen contributions by Gunshow and BACK creator KC Green, to a line of Adventure Time original graphic novels largely written by Girls With Slingshots' Danielle Corsetto, and Kate Or Die creator Kate Leth that primarily focus on the show's diverse female cast, Kaboom has delivered excellent work across the board with its Cartoon Network comics, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Since 2011, Kaboom has published a monthly Peanuts comic combining classic reprints with new and repurposed stories by Paige Braddock and Vicki Scott and others, which is a consistent delight. It captures the timeless appeal of Charles Schulz's creations while giving just a bit of modern edge to the antics of Snoopy and company.
More recently, Kaboom has been publishing new comics based on that other long-lived newspaper icon, Garfield. The results have probably been the most consistently funny Garfield stories since the 1990s Garfield & Friends cartoon, and help remind us just why this cat took the world by storm in the 1980s.
While Kaboom is certainly not immune to missteps --- the first Steven Universe comics published captured the show's look but not its feel, and Kaboom has a poor track record when it comes to collected editions --- by and large, Kaboom has breathed fresh air into the world of kids' comics with exactly the sort of licensed properties that reach children most easily, but that usually play it too safe.
And look at the outgrowth. Not only have creators from Kaboom gone on to spread their inclusive and empathic approaches to all-ages fiction to other publishers like Marvel, but Watters herself used Kaboom's clout to establish the creator-owned imprint Boom Box, and launch sensational original properties like Lumberjanes, Jonesy, Goldie Vance, and Backstagers.
Mainstream comics is becoming more open and diverse inside and out, and Shannon Watters and Kaboom deserve a share of the credit for making that happen.