Random House Graphic is a graphic novel imprint as you’ve never seen it before.
Earlier in January, media outlets including The Beat were invited to Penguin Random House’s headquarters in New York City to witness the launch of Random House Childrens’ new graphic novel initiative. Random House Graphic’s goal, according to their website, is to “a graphic novel on the bookshelf of every child and YA reader.”
It’s an ambitious aim, to be sure, but it’s one that the imprint’s core team — including Gina Gagliano, Whitney Leopard, Patrick Crotty, and Nicole Valdez — are intent on meeting.
The first fruits of RH Graphic’s labors were on full display, as piles of their first release, The Runaway Princess, were on display for journalists’ and Random House employees’ perusal. The book, which is a translation and collection of French cartoonist Johan Troïanowski‘s Rouge series, offers the public a first glimpse at what we can expect from RH Graphics’ editorial vision. Featuring a singularly captivating usage of crayon and other mediums, as well as a whimsical and interactive(!) storyline, the eclectic nature of The Runaway Princess causes it to stand out from similar titles on the shelf.
RH Graphic is clearly aiming to pursue a unique path in the rapidly expanding childrens’ and YA graphic novel markets, as it plans to follow up The Runaway Princess with Laura Knetzger‘s endearingly quirky Bug Boys; Thom Pico‘s and Karensac‘s whimsical Aster and the Accidental Magic; and Jessi Zabarsky‘s hauntingly beautiful coming-of-age story, Witchlight.
While all these books might find siblings in titles published by other houses, there is a decidedly more indie aesthetic to the art style and design presentation of many of these titles that could potentially tap into and expand the readership of graphic novels even further. Indeed, at the event, Random House Graphic provided The Beat with the opportunity to meet with a variety of creators whose books will be published through Random House Graphic over the next several years.
The creator whose book perhaps best embodies RH Graphics’ expansive look is Aatmaja Pandya‘s Check Your Texts (2022), an all too rare horror graphic novel targeted at the YA market. This book follows Yooni, a girl who searches for her missing best friend in the woods and soon starts receiving messages from beyond.
Aatmaja says that she “didn’t intend for [Check Your Texts] to be a horror story,” and was surprised when her friends told her what she had created. She hopes that her “own sensitivity” will naturally temper some of the more potentially squeamish elements for younger readers, though.
Veering in the complete opposite tonal direction is Megan Brennan‘s Magic Girls (2022). Originally conceptualized in a zine called “Hana Doki Kira,” Magic Girls takes readers to a fantasy world inspired by shoujo manga such as Sailor Moon. The middle grade comic takes place on Neo-Earth, “a middle school filled with heroines, geniuses, and secret mermen,” and follows a new student named Kira.
According to Brennan, who previously worked on projects including several Amazing World of Gumball comics, Kira’s core motivation is that she “really wants everyone to pay attention to her” — perfect for a book about middle school! The first book in this trilogy of stories focuses on the slice of life mishaps of “everyday school,” and will be followed by a book that focuses on sports, and then further joined by a third book focused on “prom,” ultimately hitting every major teenage story trope possible and proceeding to “blow [it] up.”
Oh, and yeah, there’s something called a Catacorn in this book.
In a similar vein of whimsy, The Beat also got to speak with Mika Song about her young chapter book, Donut Feed the Squirrels. Seemingly tailor-made for fans of games such as Donut County and Untitled Goose Game, Donut Feed the Squirrels follows two talking squirrels, Norma and Belly, as they discover a donut truck for the first time and proceed to get a donut…at any costs. Song said that she had originally pitched this book as a picture book, but has ultimately found the experience of developing it as a comic to be liberating, with “less pressure” on her.
Rounding out the group, Sophie Escabasse previewed her middle-grade graphic novel, Witches of Brooklyn, which will prove near and dear to those of us who live or have lived in New York City (or love Noah Baumbach). A coming-of-age story in the vein of Sabrina: The Teenage Witch, Witches of Brooklyn follows a young girl who is sent to live with her crazy aunts, whom she quickly discovers aren’t so much crazy as they are, well, magical.
Asked about the inspiration for this story, Escabasse said that when she moved to Brooklyn and went by Ditmas Park for the first time, she saw all these Victorian Houses and thought “there must be witches in there.” A love letter not only to witches, but to the city she now calls home, Escabasse says that she hopes the story will honor the “pillars of the neighborhood who are skilled at listening…really listening.”
Coming away from the event, the future of graphic novels has never felt brighter. With a whimsical sense of magic and humor, Random House Graphic seems poised to take the industry and our hearts by storm for years to come.
For more on Random House Graphic, check out The Beat‘s recent video interview with Publishing Director Gina Gagliano and Senior Editor Whitney Leopard.