Black Panther and Fisher Price vets team up for Judge Kim book series

The new children’s graphic novel series, Judge Kim, is the brainchild of veteran comic book, video game and toy industry professionals who have combined their knowledge of Black Panther, Fisher-Price and the film industry to create a story series about a little black girl who settles disputes in the town of Fairville. A multifaceted standout with her textured hair, chocolate skin, and small dog, Kim is a multidimensional character whose mother is a judge, inspiring her to take on that job among the kids.

The ten-year history of this series and its artworks is the subject of a current exhibition in New York City at the Society of Illustrators Museum of Illustration. It’s also a book that caught the eye of School Library Journal’s 2022 Librarian of the Year, KC Boyd.

“This genre is exploding,” said Boyd, a former Newbery Award committee judge and librarian at a Washington, DC area school. “And here’s the thing. It sends a very quiet but powerful message to the child that says “I count” and that “my stories are just as important as those of my peers”. When I was a kid I didn’t see much of it on the bookshelves or in the libraries. Here we have a story that a child of color could really cling to.”

Kim’s school friends encompass the mix of skin tones you might find in the average big city in America. Some kids are identifiably black — like Kim. Others are white. Some are Latinos and Asians. Some might be biracial. There are also income disparities, touched upon lightly in the text, that Judge Kim’s research offers parents opportunities to talk to their children about issues as simple as the ability to afford a fancy new bike.

Martin, the son of a New York City public school teacher, came up with the idea after mixing two ideas: graphic novels’ success at increasing reading scores and his love of vintage TV Judge shows his mother used to watch decades ago.

“When you think of our country, our country is ruled by lawyers,” explains Martinbrough, an Eisner Award-nominated Image Comics veteran of his comic projects The Black Panther, Hellboy, and Batman: Detective Comics”. “Our congressmen are lawyers. And I have a feeling your average person is afraid of the law because they don’t understand the law. And I thought what would be really cool was a concept that could entertain kids, but also educate 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 well known in the entertainment industry. They pooled their resources to write their story and present the idea. Originally it was a TV show but over the years it has grown into what and who it is today as part of the Simon & Schuster publishing family. The book also includes a glossary on the back cover with easy-to-understand definitions of important legal terms that children ages 6 to 12 may need to learn as part of the basics of American citizenship. One of these words is judge.

Boyd, the librarian, says the inclusion of a glossary makes the book extremely accessible to teachers and a larger group of students.

“I’m already thinking six steps ahead,” she explains. “If I were to give a book lecture on these series, the teacher could include the words in the glossary as part of the spelling to be used throughout the curriculum. That was brilliant on her part to do that. Someone spoke to a teacher.”

Video game designer and writer Milo Stone also watched judge shows as a kid. As a writer, he thought it would be a fun challenge to combine his childhood interests with the format of a graphic novel, as graphic novels are often more difficult to create due to the more sparse language. They also encourage children to read deeper, since the child cannot rely on the crutch of an entire paragraph to give them a clue as to what a sentence means.

“The concept of the judge show? A lot of that got carried over into the books,” explains Stone. “These kinds of shows are so incredibly popular. This type of format is a perfect format for a children’s book. We hope this one stands out because it is so unique compared to all other book series and has unlimited stories to tell.”

The characters also benefit from being touched by experienced writers who understand that a children’s book benefits from subtle character development.

“We want characters with flaws,” Stone says, echoing a number of popular Marvel, Image, or DC characters that are made more interesting because they sometimes have difficulties.

Illustrator Christopher Jordan said the decision to make the main character a dark-skinned black girl was a deliberate one to showcase diversity, as was the decision to center the kind of child antics that you see in every class of neighborhoods across the United States could find. Or, in the case of the kids, in the town of Fairville, where everything should be fair.

Diversity is key, as books produced by and about children of color still lag behind the number of published books that focus on white children. Also of note is that this book series tells stories that are positive without being sugary, preachy, or patriarchal.

The Society of Illustrators event runs through March 18 and gives the public – and fans of the authors – a chance to see the work of illustrator Christopher Jordan up close.

“Our young visitors have spent hours reading the work on our gallery walls,” says Anelle Miller, executive director of the Museum of Illustration. “We are proud to host an exhibition of artworks from this incredibly creative and educational children’s book series.”

Jordan is humble when discussing his decades-long contribution to the series. His work is in demand and he’s struck deals with clients large and small, but he stuck with Judge Kim the whole time.

“We’ve been working together on this project for so long, all together, that it would be unimaginable not to finish it,” says Jordan. “It doesn’t get more rewarding than to be able to not only reach the finish line, but to reach the finish line with a big publisher.”

Judge Kim and the Children’s Court: The Case of the Missing Bikes, written by Martinbrough, Stone and Joseph Illidge and illustrated by Jordan is now available in stores. Delivering Justice: The art of Judge Kim and the Children’s Court can be found at the Society of Illustrators in New York City.

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