The new children’s graphic novel series “Judge Kim” is the brainchild of veteran comics, video game and toy industry experts who combined their knowledge of Black Panther, Fisher-Price and film to create a series of stories featuring a little black girl which settles disputes in the town of Fairville. Kim, a diverse standout with her bouffant hair, chocolate skin and little dog, is a multi-dimensional character whose mom is a judge, which inspires her to take on this job on the children’s set.
The ten-year history of this series and its art is the subject of a current exhibition in New York at the Society of Illustrators Museum of Illustration. It’s also a book that has caught the eye of School Library Journal’s 2022 Librarian of the Year, KC Boyd.
“This genre is just exploding,” explains Boyd, a former Newbery Award judge and school librarian in the Washington, DC area. “And, here’s the thing. It sends a very silent, but powerful message to the child that “I count” and that “my stories are just as important as my peers.” When I was a kid, I didn’t see many of these on the shelves or in the bookcases. Here we have a story that a little colored kid could really relate to.”
Kim’s school friends include the mix of skin tones you might find in your average big-city America. Some kids are recognizably black – like Kim. Others are white. Some are Latino and Asian. Some may be biracial. There are also income disparities lightly touched on in the text, and through Judge Kim’s investigations, they provide opportunities for parents to talk to their children about matters as simple as being able to buy a fancy new bicycle.
Martin, the son of a New York City public school teacher, came up with the idea after combining two ideas: the success of graphic novels in raising reading scores and his love of the old TV judge shows that mom used to watch of. decades ago.
“If you think about our country, our country is run by lawyers,” explains Martinbrough, an Eisner Award-nominated Image Comics veteran whose comic credits include The Black Panther, Hellboy and Batman: Detective Comics. “Our MPs are lawyers. And I feel like your average person is afraid of the law because they don’t understand the law. And I thought, what would be really cool is to come up with an idea that could entertain kids, but also teach kids and their families about the law from a young age.”
Judge Kim was born. The four co-creators are also friends, all of whom are independently known in the entertainment industry. They pooled their resources to create her story and pitch the idea. It was originally a TV show, but over the years it has morphed into what it is now, as part of the Simon & Schuster publishing family. The book also comes with a glossary in the back, with easy-to-understand definitions of key legal terms that six- to 12-year-olds may need to know as part of the basics of being an American citizen. One of those words is judge.
Boyd, the librarian, says the inclusion of a glossary makes the book extremely accessible for teachers and larger student populations.
“I’m already thinking six steps ahead,” he explains. “If I were talking in a book about these series, the teacher could include the words in the glossary as part of the spelling to be used throughout the curriculum. It was excellent of them to do this. Someone he was talking to a teacher.”
Video game designer and author Milo Stone also attended judges as a child. As a writer, he thought it would be a fun challenge to combine his childhood interests in the form of a graphic novel, since graphic novels are often more difficult to create because the language is more unreserved. They also challenge children to read more deeply, as the child cannot rely on the crutch of an entire paragraph to give them an idea of what a sentence means.
“The concept of a show judge? A lot of that was implemented in the books,” explains Stone. “These types of shows are so popular. This format is the perfect format for a children’s book. We hope this one stands out because it’s so unique compared to all the other book series and it’s limitless in the number of stories you can do.”
The characters also benefit from being fleshed out by seasoned writers who understand that a children’s book benefits from subtle character development.
“We want characters with flaws,” Stone says, referring to any popular Marvel, Image or DC characters who are made more interesting by sometimes struggling.
Illustrator Christopher Jordan said that the choice to make the main character a brunette girl with darker skin was deliberate in terms of showcasing diversity, as was the choice to focus on the kind of childish antics you might find in any neighborhood class in the United States States. Or, in the case of the children, in the town of Fairville, where all should be fair.
The diverse note is key because books produced by and about children of color still lag behind the number of books published focusing on white children. Also worth noting is that this book series tells stories that are positive without being sugar-coated, preachy, or patriarchal.
The Society of Illustrators event runs until March 18 and gives the public – and fans of the authors – an up-close look at the work of illustrator Christopher Jordan.
“Our young visitors have spent hours reading the work on our gallery walls,” says Anelle Miller, the executive director of the Museum of Illustration. “We are proud to host an exhibition featuring art from this incredibly creative as well as educational series of children’s books.”
Jordan is humble when he talks about his ten year contribution to the series. His work is in demand and he has signed contracts with clients large and small, but throughout he has stayed with Judge Kim.
“We’ve been working on this project for so long together, all of us together, it would be kind of unthinkable not to finish it,” says Jordan. “There’s no greater reward than being able to not only cross the finish line, but cross the finish line with a major publisher.”
Judge Kim and the Kids Court: The Case of the Missing Bicycles, written by Martinbrough, Stone and Joseph Illidge, and illustrated by Jordan is on sale now. Creating Justice: The Art of Judge Kim and the Kids Court can be found at the Society of Illustrators in New York.