Sunday, December 4, 2011

When Will the YA Fiction Bubble Burst?

The article in the LA Times only reinforces what many writers already know, that YA fiction is where it's at in publishing right now (and as source material for major motion picture, threatening to supplant comic books & graphic novels). As I write this I am 64,000 words into the first book of a YA sci-fi series. I hope to have a first draft completed before Christmas, and to have a final draft ready to submit some time in the Spring. Assuming that it turns out to be good enough for publication, I can't help but wonder if I am going to beat the inevitable bursting of the YA fiction bubble. It will burst eventually, of course; they always do. It's part of the nature of a bubble.

J.K. Rowling is the primary reason behind this bubble, although one can point to R.L. Stine as having had an incredibly impressive run; he didn't raise the tide, as it were, the way Rowling did. Following hard on the heels of Rowling, Stephanie Meyers managed to achieve a similar level of success with her Twilight books, and then Riordan's Percy Jackson series came along and kept the trend going...and then bam, along came The Hunger Games and reignited that same fervor that Harry Potter and the Twilight books ignited, albeit in a completely different manner.

I see the YA fiction bubble as part of a larger, more solid expansion of the audience for what I call "genre material," meaning sci-fi & fantasy and horror, superhero comic books and related areas. The way I see it, Harry Potter, the first Spider-Man movie, and the rise of manga were a trifecta that brought the genre world back from the brink of oblivion. One could definitely make the argument that games were the sole torch-bearers for the genre with an significant audience. However, here's my argument for why the three I picked are the reasons why we are seeing such successes as The Walking Dead, The Vampire Diaries (which has been around longer than most people realize), Twilight, the X-Men movies, the Batman movies, True Blood, the Iron Man movies, The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, etc.

First, Harry Potter brought children back to fantasy. Until Harry Potter came along, most fantasy was what we in the field term "phat fantasy" books, massive tomes that made up even more massive series and, while officially some of them were "bestsellers" they did not contribute to raising the profile of the genre. However, Harry Potter brought kids back, and kids are the engines that drive the genre. They become familiar with fantasy tropes with Potter and then move on to other works, possibly even sci-fi and horror as they become teenagers and adults.

Second, the Spider-Man movie delivered what comic book fans had long been dreaming of: a cinematic portrayal of a super hero character that did not suffer from crappy special effects or a tragic misinterpretation of the character. Spider-Man opened up the movies for comics in a big way, and brought normal, non-comic book fans into the theaters to see something worth seeing on the big screen. It helped that the X-Men movies also delivered, as did the Iron Man movies and the first Batman movie...and then The Dark Knight hit a grand slam, forever giving comic book inspired movies a place in the realm of serious filmmaking. Yes, before Spider-Man there had been the Superman movies and the Batman movies of the 1990s, as well as Men in Black and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but none of those managed to do what Spider-Man did, which was to bring his fellow super-heroes to the party with him.

Manga, which are essentially Japanese-style comic books, sneaked up on the American comic book scene, and soon were outselling regular comic books in the U.S. What made manga important, though, was the appeal it had as a "genre" to females. At one point, 60% of all manga sales were to females. This was unheard of in comics and related fields, such as sci-fi publishing. The influx of females changed everything. Suddenly, comic books went from a dying form of media to having a massive resurgence. Of course, Harry Potter also appealed to girls (starting younger), but manga created a real sea change in the business of comic books.

To me, these three things are what saved what I collectively call "the sci-fi genre" even though most of it is fantasy or "paranormal romance" or what have you. This does not discount the fact that other events helped bring fans in or keep fans loyal, sometimes arguably so, as in the second three Star Wars movies.

The question, to me, has to be: Is this all part of a big bubble that's now twenty-plus years old, or is it now part of the fabric of our national identity the way baseball, NASCAR, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the Space Race all were at one time or another? Even if the genre as a whole is, I still think the current boom in YA fiction, particularly YA "genre" fiction, is a bubble. It will pop eventually...but when?

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