by Gina Gagliano
[Last week we ran a piece asking for comic shop retailers to weigh in on the relative merits of periodical comics vs original graphic novels. Although the serial nature and rolling monetization model of periodicals was praised, we still live in a world where there are a lot of doe-in-one graphic novels. With the vewpoint no that, here’s OGN publisher First Second’s Associate Marketing and Publicity Manager, Gina Gagliano.]
There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over the original graphic novel format recently – people have been talking about whether doing a preliminary serial or going straight to a graphic novel is better for comics.
Since First Second specializes in publishing graphic novels (we’ve published one pamphlet comic ever), it’s pretty clear what our opinion on this is – we’re big fans of the original graphic novel, and we think that graphic novels are a great way to be publishing comics – and reading them!
I personally am a huge fan of books (whether they’re prose or comics or some combination of the two) where you can read them front to back and be done with the story. Partially that’s for convenience – it can be a pain in the neck trying to track down all the volumes in a series or a whole set of pamphlets if you aren’t reading them as they come out. But I also really just enjoy stories that have a narrative arc where in the beginning they are like, ‘problem!’ and then by the end they are like, ‘we have solved this problem; there is no need for the return of the great white whale ever.’ I find it most satisfying to read a story arc all in one sitting, and hey – graphic novels make it easy to do that.
OGNs and pamphlets are also different structurally. We know firsthand from our :01 TBC online serial project that it’s a big challenge (and sometimes an impossible one) to take a project designed for one form and fit it into another. A lot of our graphic novels just don’t work well on a page-by-page break out – you always end up cutting off the action or the dialogue when you break them up that way. And just like a season of television isn’t the same as one long movie, pamphlet comics and original graphic novels have different pacing and plot arcs. It’d be pretty difficult to turn a lot of our books (eighty-page early reader Odd Duck, anyone? Or our Nursery Rhyme Comics or Fairy Tale Comics anthologies where the works range from one to eight pages?) into something that would actually read well in the pamphlet format. When the end goal is to create a graphic novel (and that’s always our end goal here at First Second), the creation process for that doesn’t necessarily generate a finished piece that can easily break down into chunks that are precisely the 22 or 36 pages that would work successfully for a pamphlet comic.
The graphic novel format reaches multiple distribution channels – schools and libraries and bookstores. And it also reaches the readers associated with them (who can be different from the readers associated with comics stores). This is not true of pamphlet comics, most of which are distributed directly to comics stores. Many of the outlets that have come to accept graphic novels just don’t have the capacity to shelve or store pamphlet comics, and pamphlets just aren’t durable enough for the use and re-use that schools and libraries put books through. As a publisher who publishes books for adults in categories like literary fiction, biography, historical fiction, and two-thirds of our list for readers under eighteen – ie, kids and teenagers – does it really make sense for us to be constructing an entire publishing program of serial pamphlets aimed at a market where the majority of stores are not designed to support those genres or age categories?
Original graphic novels may not be the main revenue stream for comics stores, but we hope they can be one successful revenue stream. Obviously, comics stores don’t carry just pamphlet comics – depending on the store, they carry trade paperbacks and original graphic novels and comics-themed clothing and statuary and merchandise; they carry manga; they carry large round stuffed animals; they carry bubble gum and other candy; they carry original art; they curate special collections for schools and libraries; they carry store-branded merchandise like mugs, clothing, and tote bags; they carry posters – and the list goes on and on.
And bookstores are similar – many of them carry things like stationary, pens and pencils, magnets, bookends, and other literary merchandise. With all of that going on, we think it’s great that comics stores are finding space in their stores for graphic novels, and, from the response to Heidi’s initial article, that they can make some of their graphic novels a success. The thesis here doesn’t have to be ‘pamphlets OR graphic novels – two will enter; one will win!’ – we think that they can both be part of what a comics store offers.
First Second is also in a bit of a unique position in the comics industry (accompanied by Scholastic Graphix and Abrams ComicsArts) in that we’re part of a larger company that’s dedicated to publishing books. So here at First Second we’ve got a full-time staff of four people and the four of us are all dedicated to publishing comics, but we exist within a larger infrastructure of production, subsidiary rights, accounting, sales, warehousing, and shipping that is set up to manage books that come in with a spine rather than in pamphlet format. And I can tell you that from our experience publishing Paul Pope’s ‘The Death of Haggard West,’ it would be a logistical nightmare for all of these people if we started publishing our books as serial pamphlets.
We’ve also found that OGNs are a great opportunity to break authors out in the marketplace. We find that the best way to raise an author’s profile is to have as many people talking about her as possible. That means not just comics stores – it means bookstores and educators and librarians, too. And it means the comics media and the literary media and (depending on the project) the pop culture media or the music media or the Jewish media or the Asian-American media or the romance media. And it means submitting the book for any awards it’s eligible for. To hit all of these outlets, you have to have a graphic novel – the National Book Award isn’t interested in pamphlet comics, for example. With a lot of awards and publicity, it’s a problem if your book was previously serialized. With media, that means you’ve lost a big moment because nothing in your book is new – with awards, they frequently won’t accept books that don’t have at least 50% new content.
Here at First Second, we sincerely believe in the original graphic novel format. In our eight years publishing graphic novels, we’ve found that people we’d never expected to read comics are starting to accept graphic novels as part of the standard literary landscape. Graphic novels have changed what people think comics are for, and what they should be about – things that comics stores already knew. We’re so glad that because of the continual championing of the comics medium from the comics stores, now more people than ever are getting the chance to enjoy comics – whether as pamphlets or graphic novels or webcomics or even in the daily newspapers.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.