Last year Hilda and the Midnight Giant from UK publisher Nobrow Press was one of our Top 20 Books. When word came out that Nobrow was poised to launch a children’s imprint, Flying Eye Books, I was excited to see what they had to offer. One of the first books out of the gate was the excellent how-to/graphic novel mash-up Welcome to Your Awesome Robot. It seemed like a good idea to get in touch with the folks at Flying Eye to talk about what the rest of 2013 will bring.
Travis: Greetings from Michigan! I’ve never been to London – how’s the weather over there today?
Sam Arthur (Managing Director, Nobrow): It’s raining. And cold. In short it’s about time for Spring to start.
How has it been starting up a brand new imprint? (or how did Flying Eye come about?)
Hard work! But very rewarding.
Flying Eye Books came about when we realized it would be easier to market our books for younger readers direct to kids themselves. Previously titles like Hilda by Luke Pearson were being sold to stores who were buying for graphic novel, art & design or novelty departments of stores and libraries and not very often for the children’s sections. This was due to the fact that the majority of our titles were a good fit for these sections. But it did mean that our children’s books suffered a little.
The Flying Eye Books imprint is all about communicating to our customers – we have always done children’s books – but now we are doing even more and it’s easier than ever to see which books are suitable for which age groups.
Call me crazy, but it seems that there’s a growing trend toward (for lack of a better word) artier children’s publishing. I think of two recent American examples in McSweeney’s McMullens and ABRAMS Appleseed. Do you agree, and if so, do you think there’s a reason for it?
It’s an interesting observation. I’m not entirely sure about other publishers – I can only really speak for Flying Eye and myself in particular. I have two sons, aged 5 and 3 and when I started to look around at what books there were out there for them, a lot of stuff I was looking at felt very formulaic. It made me want to produce something different and perhaps something slightly nostalgic too.
I loved the books I had as a kid, the feel and smell of them as well as the stories and facts they contained. I think that a lot of the mass market books on offer these days have lost some of those qualities. There seems to be an over emphasis on making things cheap and as a result the product we end up isn’t good value at all – even if it is inexpensive. On the other hand we try to make things that deserve to be printed. By using good design and being smart with our use of materials we can provide our customers with something of real value that they will want to keep for years to come.
So let’s lay 2013 out on the table. Do you have any books coming out that would appeal to the K-2 (ages 5-7) range?
Akissi (out June 11) is a comic book featuring short stories about a little West African girl named Akissi and her friends and family and all the adventures… and mischief they get up to. It’s like Just William or Denis The Menace but set in West Africa!
One Night Far From Here (out May 28) is a bestiary featuring clever acetate pages which reveal the different habitats of animals and what times of the day and night they live.
Wild (out September 12) is a picture book by Emily Hughes – it’s her first book and we think it’s really something special!
How about 3-4 (ages 8-10)?
We have a great non-fiction book called Monsters & Legends (out June 11) which goes some way to explaining the fact and the fiction behind our favorite mythical monsters such as Big Foot, The Loch Ness Monster and Dracula to name only a few.
Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space (out October 15) is an amazing introduction to the science of outer space. Written by an astrophysicist and illustrated by one of our favorite artists, this book is going to be out of this world!
And what about younger kids (ages 0-4)?
Pongo (out September 10) is a really charming picture book about an Orangutan searching for the bright orange sun in his rainforest habitat. As he moves up through the canopy of the rainforest he encounters all kinds of orange things that don’t turn out to be the sun at all!
A Letter for Bear (out November 12) is a really heartwarming picture book from established children’s author and illustrator David Lucas (Grendel, Halibut Jackson) – Bear is a mailman and everyday he braves the snow and the cold to deliver to all of the animals in the forest, but one day he realizes no one has ever sent him a letter. He puts a plan into action to change all of that.
What’s the weirdest book you have coming out in 2013?
Topsy Turvy World (out June 11) is a wordless picture book – on each page something is not as it should be! This book shows how things might look if the world was topsy turvy. This is great for any parent trying to explain the concept of right and wrong to their kids, it’s also a great discussion starter for teachers and classes of K-2.
What’s your biggest crowd-pleaser?
Hilda & The Bird Parade (out April 2) has got to be our most eagerly awaited title of the year! Luke Pearson brings us the new Hilda adventure and it’s absolutely worth the wait.
We are also re-releasing Hildafolk, the first Hilda book in a new special Flying Eye hardback Edition with extra material, including maps and character drawings, plus a fold out poster disguised as a dustjacket! The new edition will be called Hilda & The Troll (out September 12).
Any gap fillers? These are books that fill a particular need, or tread on seldom-covered ground in children’s literature.
We have a fun activity book all about the dinosaurs of the Triassic period – Triassic Terrors. It’s a similar format to our other activity book Welcome to Your Awesome Robot.
What are your plans for the books you publish? Do you plan to work exclusively in picture books, graphic novels and novelty books, or is any format fair game? What about age range? Your website shows a 12-14 year old category – are there books planned for this age group?
We are focusing on picture books (both fiction and non-fiction), comics and graphic novels. In terms of age group we are working on books for kids up to 12 years old. We are also developing some graphic novels for the teen market, but we’ll probably keep these within our Nobrow Press (for adult readers) list.
Looking at your books, you have a mix of new and seasoned talent. How has it been finding and working with up-and-coming illustrators?
That’s one of our favorite aspects of our jobs: finding and developing new talent! We also like working with established people but – perhaps by giving them a new or unexpected direction to work in – we get something fresh.
For publishers like you that put out unique books, I always wonder how much you consider the reader. Have you ever said “we can’t do that, it’s going to go over kids’ heads”? Would you ever say it?
We are constantly asking ourselves that question! But we do think that kids can and should be challenged and if they don’t understand something they have the amazing capacity to ask questions – and this is something I wish more adults would do!
The other thing that I feel is important to mention is that some books are designed to be an activity for child and caregiver together. Reading with children is something that we want to encourage with our books, and hopefully they can be interesting for the grown-ups too.
I’m all for novelty books, as long as we can circulate them in the library – One Night, Far From Here looks like one that could survive some checkouts. It uses acetate pages to reveal different animals at different times. How did that book come about?
This is a book originally published in French – we are great admirers of books from French and other European publishers and when we see one we love, we try and acquire rights for the English markets. Julia Wauters is an amazing illustrator and we had been following her work for a while but when we saw Une Nuit Loin d’Ici (its French title) it was just too much to resist!
I’m a fan of Hilda and the Midnight Giant – and Hilda and the Bird Parade is just out. Can we expect more Hilda books (beyond the reissue of Hildafolk)? Related topic: If the answer is no, do you need me to send a strongly-worded letter to Luke Pearson to get him going?
No need for the strongly-worded letter – although he loves letters of encouragement! He’s currently working on the fourth book in the series, which will be out in spring/summer 2014.
Good to hear!
What’s the plan moving forward for Flying Eye?
We’d like to be developing more of our own comics and picture books certainly – next year look out for some more non-fiction titles, which we have some very talented US-based illustrators working on.
I look forward to what you have up your sleeve.
Thanks for the preview, Sam!