Graphic Novels for Kids: A Year in Review
I like comics. I like ’em a lot. Always have, and as a librarian I’ve watched with interest the changing mores in my profession concerning their presence in a library setting. Who has two thumbs and a copy of Seduction of the Innocent on her bedroom bookshelf? This guy, that’s who!
So with the turn of the new year it seemed like a good idea to check in with the folks at First Second, Macmillan’s graphic novel wing, to see what they thought of comics in 2014/15. Speaking with me today are Gina Gagliano (Associate Marketing and Publicity Manager) and Mark Siegel (Editorial Director).
Betsy Bird: Let’s talk about the state of graphic novels for kids today. First off, how was First Second’s 2014 year?
Gina Gagliano: Really good! We started off the year winning the LA Times Book Prize for Young Adults for Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints– the first time a graphic novel has ever won that award – and things have just gotten better from there, with wonderful books throughout the year.
Mark Siegel: The First Second collection continues to grow in all three age categories, but this year our youngest readers are getting some new treats—a line of picture books. They’re closer to the conventional picture book format, but they’re from proven comics creators, and will often feature some of the styling of the graphic novel. And I’m very pleased to say, there are more coming. First off we presented Ben Hatke’s Julia’s House for Lost Creatures which was wonderfully received. And the first of the Anna Banana books, called Sleep Tight, Anna Banana—a delicious, hilarious, adorable new character who will bring laughs to bedtime reading. They’re by Dominique Roques and Alexis Dormal, an exceptional mother and son team from France, where these are national bestsellers. The next one comes out this year, in 2015, and is called Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion. Try it on a child sometime, the howling laughter should speak for itself.
BB: Yes indeed. Julia’s House for Lost Creatures appeared on NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list for 2014 as well. Now First Second has been around since 2006. What are some of the changes in the graphic novel industry that you’ve noticed since your debut? How has First Second itself changed?
GG: I just spent a day visiting bookstores in the New York City area, and one of the changes I noticed is that graphic novels are everywhere! When First Second started publishing books, most stores didn’t have a graphic novel section – or if they did, it would be for literary comics for adults. Now, most stores also have a separate comics section specifically for kids. That’s a pretty big change!
First Second has changed a lot in that time, too! We’ve got different staff, different offices, and new books and authors every year. But our core values of quality, thoughtfulness, and originality haven’t changed, and they’re things we hope will never change about :01.
BB: Considering how popular comics are with kids, why aren’t we seeing more graphic novel imprints at the other big publishers? What’s the reluctance?
GG: Even though a dedicated graphic novel imprint may not be right for every publisher, it’s clear that all the major publishers are including graphic novels in their lists in some way. And with First Second, Graphix, Abrams Comic Arts, and Toon, there are definitely some comics imprints making a name for themselves out there!
That said, graphic novels can really be a challenge to acquire, edit, print, market, and sell if you don’t have a staff that appreciates and understands the format. It’s really wonderful to have Macmillan’s support behind us here!
BB: What does First Second have in store next year?
GG: Lots! You’ll be seeing new books from George O’Connor, Andi Watson, Jay Hosler, Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado, Gene Luen Yang, Ben Hatke, Maris Wicks, and many other awesome authors and illustrators. We’re going to be publishing twenty-two graphic novels, which is our all-time high number so far. It’s going to be a year filled with great stories and amazing artwork!
MS: Among our young titles, there are a great many goodies! The second of the Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents… is coming! And after Macbeth it’s now Romeo and Juliet. If instead of his Stratford-on-Avon troupe Shakespeare had had the cast of the Muppet Show to work with—you’d get something like this.
Then there’s another continuing series—our bestselling adventures of Claudette, by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado. Giants Beware! came first, and introduced us to a lovable, thrilling little world. Dragons Beware! confirms that this is indeed a whole world young readers will never tire of returning to—and that Aguirre and Rosado are superb storytellers, creating something for the ages.
And wait there’s more! Gene Luen Yang has many a juicy surprise up his sleeve, and here’s the next: Secret Coders, with art by Mike Holmes! It’s a brand new fantasy series which also happens to teach computer coding… Something like a Hogwarts for coders!
Just to mention one more (and there’s still more, besides) is a very special offering from Ben Hatke: Little Robot. After the award-winning Zita Spacegirl trilogy and his Julia’s House for Lost Creatures picture book, Ben’s new work is in a new style, and it’s exciting and tender and magical, and continues to reveal an A-list author at the top of his game.
BB: So where do you see the future of comics and graphic novels going?
GG: I think the future of comics and graphic novels is more of them, everywhere! With the positive reception that we’re seeing for the format, I know that lots of people are being inspired to sell them, teach them, read them, and even create them. Soon the day will come where no one will have to ask, ‘A graphic novel? What’s that?’
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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