When graphic novel publisher First Second contacted me to see if I was up for chatting about their 2013 wares, it struck me as a good idea. After all, I’ve already reviewed (and loved) their upcoming Odd Duck. I’m not sure if the Preview Interview will become a regular feature (I mean, A Fuse #8 Production has the librarian preview locked down), but maybe I’ll sneak in here and there with future installments.
Let’s get started…
Travis: I’ve never done this before, how does it work?
Calista Brill (Senior Editor, First Second): It helps if you burn sage while reciting the correct incantations. You can manage without the sage, but it’s not as reliable.
Okay… done. Extra sage.
I work with K-6th grade, so maybe a breakdown of your new fare by age group would be appropriate. Anything K-2, 3-4, 5-6, and/or up?
Sure! The two youngest books we have coming out this year are Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon’s Odd Duck (out May 14), and Fairy Tale Comics (out September 24), which is a follow-up to 2011’s Nursery Rhyme Comics. Both are great for the K-2 set as well as grades 3-4.
For middle-grade readers we have a lot to offer this year, including Curses! Foiled Again! by Jane Yolen and Primates (out June 11), by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks, which is about the great primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas.
Mark Seigel (Editorial Director, First Second): This October, one of our most anticipated books ever: Battling Boy (out October 8) by Paul Pope. Paul is himself a kind of superhero of the drawing table, so anything he does is greeted with frenzy—but in this case, it’s the birth of a new myth. And one incredible ride.
Speaking of Primates, Jim Ottaviani previously wrote Feynman – a book that received a lot of positive attention in teen and adult circles in 2011. His new book (with Maris Wicks) is for a younger audience – how did this new book come about?
Jim Ottaviani is the mad genius scientist of comics! And he turned up with this proposal on the greatest primatologists in the world—and who could pass that up? And Maris wasn’t even out of college, when she drew a sample for it. And she turned out to be a phenomenally talented artist, a natural born storyteller, and a real pro. Primates shines.
Is your goal to put out a little something for everyone? It always seems like you have a book or two for each age range, each season.
Yes, that’s always been part of First Second’s mission. Every season includes something for children, something for teens, and something for adults. And more often than not, the books don’t just stay put in their age categories . . . that’s one of the distinct qualities of good graphic novels. So First Second lives in all reading audiences, with an aim to raise the standard for comics—and in the case of children’s graphic novels, to help raise the next generations of discerning readers.
So if there’s an illustrator I want to bully into making a graphic novel, can I contact you guys to help with the strong arming? I don’t have anyone in mind right now, but I’m just curious. Have you ever reached out to someone to encourage them to give the form a try?
Heck yes! We love getting recommendations from people. It’s how we find most of our favorite projects, actually.
On the script side, we do work with some exceptional writers, screenwriters, playwrights, novelists… We love bridging creative fields, as long as it’s done well, and in a way that enhances the medium itself.
The pitfall for illustrators turning to comics is in making overwrought artwork which kills the rhythm of the story. As the seminal French comics author Baudoin once said, “in comics your artwork has to be really good . . . and a little bit not good. So the reader moves on to the next panel.” It’s not an absolute rule, of course, but there’s some truth to it. A good graphic novel can’t rest on pretty pictures—the images are the author’s handwriting. So if we reach out to someone in another field, we might have this kind of conversation with them.
Is there anyone you really want to see make a graphic novel some day?
Yes! …She’s working on it right now, so mum’s the word.
I’ll second that call for an Adam Rex graphic novel, Calista.
What’s the weirdest book you guys have coming out?
I have a VERY HIGH THRESHOLD for “weird,” but Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry (out May 14) has one of the funniest, oddest, and most idiosyncratic styles of dialog I’ve ever encountered. It reads like a badly dubbed kung-fu movie, and it’s glorious.
Oh yes, Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry is deliciously, skillfully, uniquely, delightfully weird.
What’s the biggest crowd-pleaser?
Wow! Probably a toss-up between Battling Boy and Gene Luen Yang’s incredible new project Boxers & Saints (out September 10), which is a two-volume work about the Boxer Rebellion and is one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever read in graphic novel form.
What’s the timeliest book in your upcoming roster?
I vote for Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, because 19th-century globetrotting adventuresses are so now, you know?
Templar is not for your youngest readers, but it’s Paris in 1307, and I think swashbuckling is making a real comeback. Three Musketeers meet Ocean’s 11 (there’s a breathless heist involved) and it’s as engrossing as Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. Plus it will build your muscles (or worsen some librarian’s scoliosis) because at 480 pages, it’s THE biggest full-color graphic novel around, period. Okay I totally overshot the scope of this question, just to plug Templar.
Fifteen year ago, did you think we’d be where we are today (with widespread acceptance of graphic novels)?
Well… no. It seemed so unlikely back then. Back then, a few pioneering librarians were the most prominent champions of graphic novels. Now, there are serious reviews, national attention, major awards, swelling ranks of readers—America is cracking open, at last. There’s still a way to go, but there really is no more turning back.
I think this went well – anything we missed?
Two delicious, young treats: a whole new Adventures in Cartooning book is coming out in October: Characters in Action! (out October 8). This vital series for all undiscovered cartoonists gets zanier, and more inspiring with every installment. Even the early proofs of this one have already caused several children to design their own characters and create new comics! This could become epidemic!
And worth mentioning again: for the youngest set Fairy Tale Comics delivers superb stories by some of the most beloved cartoonists alive today. It’s a beauty and a treasure of a book, and perfect bedtime reading with your little tot.
And of course there’s Poseidon: Earth Shaker, the fifth installment in George O’Connor’s amazing Olympians series. This is a terrific series about Greek mythology for ages 8 and up.
Thanks to Mark, Calista, and Gina Gagliano for the preview.