Degrassi the comic book
Set of graphic novels coming out for youthful fans Publishers are on board here, the U.S. and France
Stephen Stohn, one half of the production team that has guided the Degrassi franchise from its birth as a 20-minute home movie all the way through to international television phenom, has modest goals.
“Yes, it’s world domination,” chuckles Stohn, his voice deepening to the tenor of an evil super villain.
“But really, we’ve always viewed the Degrassi project as its own internal world,” Stohn said. “And it was a pleasant surprise to us that that world seems to be expanding.”
Expanding indeed. The TV series is carried by broadcasters in 150 countries, two-minute “minis” episodes designed for cellphones are available on the website, and film director Kevin Smith (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), a long-time fan, is rumoured to be at the helm of a big-screen Degrassi project.
But Degrassi’s most immediate frontier is another medium entirely: comic books. Or, to use the more apt term, graphic novels. Tomorrow afternoon, fans will get a first glimpse of Degrassi: Extra Credit, a four-volume series that’s been brewing for two years.
Stohn, along with Extra Credit writer Jay Torres and a TV cast member or two, will talk about the transition in a public panel discussion at the Toronto International Comic Convention.
About two years ago, Stohn and Linda Schuyler, his production partner and wife, had been considering ways to further extend the Degrassi universe.
And then Chris Jackson came along. Jackson, an executive with Madison Press, had made a special edition book on the history of Degrassi for the show’s 25th anniversary last year. While Stohn and Schuyler mulled their entry into print, Jackson commissioned the writer/artist team of Ed Northcott and Torres to produce some sample pages and two mock covers.
“We didn’t even consult them first,” Jackson said. When Stohn and Schuyler saw the samples, “they were overwhelmed,” Jackson said. “They loved it.”
Something else they might love is the medium’s burgeoning market.
Manga, a subset of the graphic novel industry, has been one of its primary drivers in recent years, surging to $125 million in sales last year (U.S. figures) from $55 million in 2002, according to ICv2, a website that tracks the industry.
Surprising to some, perhaps, is that girls and women account for about 60 per cent of its readership, with the strongest market being girls aged 12 to 17.
Degrassi’s core audience? Those same 12- to 17-year-old girls. “We’ve always said, `Let’s be where they are,'” Stohn said.
The graphic novel series, yet to be released, has already secured publishers in Canada, the U.S. and France.
“There is the mercenary aspect to it,” Jackson allowed. “But with this, we’re able to feed the voracious appetite of the Degrassi devotee and also express what the show is really about: the issues that affect teenagers’ daily lives.”
Schuyler and Stohn have earned a reputation for their sensitive, unvarnished portrayals of teen life. Teen pregnancy, drug use, disease, violence: all of it and more has been in the foreground in the show’s ongoing quest for authenticity.
And that, too, is part of why the graphic novel format works. Recent years have seen the form, long a venue for sophisticated artists dealing with mature themes, shed its baggage as a juvenile narrative form.
“To do something that only appealed to a younger reader just wouldn’t have been right,” Stohn said.
“It’s so important to this world that it remain true to itself, whatever form it takes.”
The Degrassi graphic novel launch panel takes place at 1 p.m. tomorrow in Hall C, Salon 109, at the National Trade Centre on the CNE grounds.