alecomnibusIf you have a little downtime over the holidays, you could do much worse than by reading The Comics Reporter’s yearend series of interviews:

Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson
Scholar and critic Jeet Heer
A looooong interview on mainstream comics with Tucker Stone
Indie comics with Sean T. Collins
PictureBox’s Dan Nadel
and the always interesting Eddie Campbell.

There are some newsy bits scattered here and there — PictureBox will be putting out retrospectives of John Kricfalusi and Syd Mead in their non-comics publishing arm. Also, Campbell, who it would seem to be impossible to interview poorly, has quite a bit to say about the recent reorganization at Macmillan which put his publisher, First Second, into the Macmillan’s Children’s Group:

I’m not surprised, because the book world, by which I mean the mainstream book publishers as well as the libraries and the Library Association, has been viewing “the graphic novel” as a young reader’s genre for quite some time. In part I think it’s because the part of a publishing house that is likely to be interested in bright illustrated narratives is the children’s books department, and in part also because those publishers, and America’s libraries, see the “graphic novel” as a way of grabbing a part of the literate populace that has hitherto proved elusive. Now, I have no objection to young folks having their own literature specially designed for them, though when I was a young ‘un myself I would have been highly suspicious of anything that the adult world thought I should read because it was supposed to be good for me. Let’s not forget that this is one of the things that drew us to comics in the first place, the very fact that they were not approved by our adults; they were our visual rock’n’roll, the things we knew that they didn’t. However, let’s not get bogged down on that point. The problem with this development is that comics were supposed to have grown up and become the “graphic novel,” but now we are apt to find articles telling us that the “graphic novel has grown up.” In other words we’re back where we started.

While Campbell has every right in the world to fret about his publisher, Tom Spurgeon also had made a bit note of First Second’s move. Nothing can be taken for granted in the publishing world, but this isn’t quite a shocker — First Second was ALWAYS part of Holt’s children’s division, as the initial press release from 2005 made clear:

Long rumored in the publishing press, children’s publisher Roaring Brook Press today announced it’s new Graphic Novel imprint, First Second, with an impressive line up of established creators like Jessica Abel, Warren Pleece, Eddie Campbell and others. The line will be guided by Editorial Director Mark Siegel and the first books will see publication in early 2006. The full press release of their announcement follows.

Tom mentions that First Second EIC Mark Siegel has his own response that will probably be even more forceful, but it’s worth pointing out.

Which doesn’t mean that Campbell’s general point doesn’t stand. While we’ll have more on this (hopefully) when we sit down (in March!) to do our own Year in Review, the fact is that juvenile graphic novels did much, much better in 2008 than literary comics from major (i.e. book) publishers did. Indeed, several of TCR’s interviewees ponder the effects of traditional publishers’ forays into graphic novels, and those effects do bear continued scrutiny.


  1. Regarding First Second and the general idea that graphic novels are viewed as “children’s literature”…

    1) Librarians know that graphic novels are a medium, that there are many titles not suitable for young readers and/or teens.

    2) Get `em while they’re young. The first one is always free.

    3) Barnes & Noble now has a dedicated Graphic Novel section in both the children’s and young adult categories. That’s shelf space that features titles, not a general category like “favorite series” where they get lost among other titles.

    4) Not all First Second books are shelved in juvie. American Born Chinese? That’s in general Graphic Novels at B&N, even though it won the Printz Award for best Young Adult Novel. B&N buyers understand that GNs are a medium, and I’m sure that the librarians at the major publishers are careful in tagging the titles with the proper BISAC code so that other vendors and retailers place titles in the right place for the right customer to see.

    5) Kids are always reading up. The golden age of science fiction? It’s twelve years old. Eighth grade, I had a friend reading Stephen King. Kids want to be mature, grown up, adult. They might start with Bone, but soon cross over to Dark Tower or Anita Blake or Buffy.

    6) Hey, as long as it’s good (it sells, it wins awards, it becomes dog-earred from repeated readings, it gets handed down to the next generation) I don’t care who it’s written for, I’ll read it. First Second and Mark Siegel have been doing a fantastic job of publishing a strong line of GNs that appeal to a wide audience. My only complaint? Not enough hardcover editions!

  2. Speaking as one of those “crazy” librarians from a quarter-century ago who were pushing to get graphic novels into libraries, I faced absolute opposition from other librarians, particularly those who ran the “adult” sections (Language, Literature & History, etc.) – they refused to have anything to do with graphic novels, much less comic books. We who worked with teens were the ones who decided to take a chance and get comics into the library. However, there have been librarians who were willing to put graphic novels into their adult sections, librarians who recognized the importance of literary graphic novels for adults, such as Stephen Weiner in Massachusetts, who is one of my library heroes for doing exactly that. I don’t think people in the comics world truly appreciate just how much support the comics format has had in the library world, and for how long. We are talking more than 25 years, this is not a recent phenomenon.

    First Second, from the very beginning, tried something no other mainstream book publisher had done, by creating a separate imprint to focus on graphic novels. Yes, it was part of Roaring Brook Press, which is a children’s publishing imprint. Yet, Mark Siegel was selecting books which would be suitable for adult readers – such as those by Eddie Campbell – not just books for younger readers. This was something publisher Simon Boughton envisioned from the beginning. He sat down and talked with librarians, including myself, before starting First Second. I know I told him graphic novels as a format should be in every age level department in libraries, not just children’s and teens’.

    I started reading comics when I was about 6 years old, and haven’t stopped. I’ve grown up to read and appreciate such creators as Eddie Campbell. But come on, how cool is it when a first grader pipes up with Little Lulu as her favorite book when a visiting librarian asks?

    People should be glad that libraries are helping to inspire a new generation of comics readers! Don’t knock the fact that graphic novels comprise at least 50% of my school library’s circulation every single week. And don’t knock the fact that kids don’t appreciate a librarian who likes comics. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have had my “reference desk groupies” (mostly teen boys) hanging around every day after school back in the early 1990s. They thought that it was cool that a woman old enough to be their mom liked comics; it validated their choice of reading material, even if their parents didn’t like it, at least one adult approved. And later, in another library in a different state, comics allowed me to make personal connections with some of the street kids and some of the young adults just out of high school; some of them thought of me as a fellow “rebel” even though (again) I was old enough to be their mom.

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