Last night the team behind Random House’s new Graphic Novel imprint gathered at the much-loved Manhattan bookstore Books of Wonder to celebrate the start of Random House Graphic, and discuss some of their recent and soon-to-be-released books. A diverse crowd attended the gathering, which included those on the production line for Random House in addition to the editors and marketing staff one might expect, as well as comic artists, writers, and press.
Gina Gagliano, the publishing director for Random House Graphic and a major force in the cultivation of new comic works for the past 15 years, lead a panel that included senior editor Whitney Leopard, graphic designer Patrick Crotty, and Nicole Valdez, manager of marketing and publicity. Gagliano opened with the mission of Random House Graphic, namely to: “put a graphic novel on the bookshelf of every kid in the US.” This slogan was also emblazoned on tote bags distributed at the event, and is echoed on the imprint’s website.
Gagliano explained that her plans to expand the kinds of graphic novels available to young readers will help to give “every reader out there” a comic to love. The rest of the Random House Graphic team spoke briefly about their positions. Leopard described her role as “working on stories, getting pitches in” and “working with Gina on acquisitions” as well as “helping to make the best version of the stories” that was possible.
Crotty joked that many people think his job as a designer means that the artist sends him sketches and “given enough time I learn to draw exactly like them.” He clarified that his job is far more technical: reviewing submitted artwork to ensure that it’s ready to publish in terms of margins, spacing, and other formatting details. Working on covers for the books is “the most visible part of what I do designing comics,” he said, and it’s what he loves doing most as it allows him to collaborate closely with their artists and authors.
It’s the job of Valdez to come in at the end of that process, explained the marketing manager, to ensure that the libraries, educators, and “you all” know about the work that Random House Graphic releases. Valdez was enthusiastic about her work, saying that she cherished her role as “cheerleader” for the imprint.
In the coming year, Gagliano said Random House Graphic will publish 12 new works on their own, and team with the children’s books division of the publisher to release 12 more graphic novels “for a total of 24 books for children.” The panel then took turns introducing the room to some of those releases.
Gagliano spoke about Witchlight, from Jessi Zabarsky due out in April. Just mentioning the title led to an outbreak of applause from the audience, so there’s clearly already a following for the book, which she described as a “queer YA graphic novel about a girl who fights with swords and a girl who does magic.” The art, which Gagliano said “is so good,” provides “lovely nature for them to travel though,” as the main characters come to terms with their pasts, develop their powers, “become whole,” and fall in love.
Next up was The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski, released late last month. Leopard said that the book was special to her because the main character Robin was “the kind of princess” she wanted to be as a child, one who wants to go on adventures rather than play dress-up. She also mentioned she was impressed with the interactive moments in the book, which challenge readers to complete tasks to aid the princess in her journey. Leopard said this was “taking advantage of the comic format, engaging the audience by getting them involved with the characters.”
Characterization was also key in Leopard’s assessment of Stepping Stones, which she said was a “very exciting book” because author Lucy Knisley “is such a good storyteller.” Based on Knisley’s life, which Leopard also related to her own experience, the middle-grade novel sees young Jen uprooted from her life in the city in the wake of her parents divorce. Following her mother to the country, she struggles to adjust to her new home which includes her mother’s boyfriend, his children, and life on the family farm.
More cheers erupted from the crowd when Crotty introduced Bug Boys by Laura Knetzger. Bug Boys follows characters Crotty enjoys because they “fight like friends do and go on weird adventures.” Crotty felt connected to the book because it began its life as an indie comic. “I’ve seen [indie] artists at shows for years,” he recalled, observing that those creators had a special drive “in their hearts” to create indie comics “on their own.” Crotty was visibly moved by the fact that Knetzger’s work was now being released by a major publisher, saying “it’s amazing to see what love of comics can do… all of you doing indie comics, keep that fire alive because it makes comics a better place.”
“We had a minor fight over who got to talk about Bug Boys,” laughed Valdez, who said she had a soft spot for the “little bugs with big feelings,” but was similarly pleased to present Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico and Karensac. Due out in March, Aster resonated with Valdez as a “headstrong” character who “has her opinions” and is moved to the wilderness by her family. Her parents neglect to tell her the move is permanent, however, and Aster is less than pleased with this development. She ends up bonding deeply with the dog of a local hippie. When she encounters a trickster spirit, she wishes for the ability to understand her canine companion which doesn’t turn out as she’d hoped. Valdez praised the emotional layers within the story, and the unlikely love Aster ends up having for this new and “accidental” chapter of her life.
Before the Gagliano dismissed the crowd to cut the Random House Graphic cake, she mentioned that the evening also served as a benefit. For every book sold, a book would also be donated to a children’s charity.
“When I started in comics fifteen years ago,” Gagliano said, “I struggled to convince people that comics are for kids. Now I walk into Books of Wonder and there are two shelves of comics.” Librarians and educators, she said, now look at comics as “real reading,” something she believes will happen more and more often as comic options for young readers continue to proliferate.