Huge Variety of Graphic Novels from :01 in Fall '09

Richard Sala

As we head into the fall of 2009, we decided to check in again with our friend Mark Siegel of First Second Books for a quick glimpse at what’s coming up during the year’s closing months.  Here’s what we found: humor from Colbert Report writer Glenn Eichler and artist extraordinaire Nick Bertozzi (Stuffed!), a young woman’s sensual coming-of-age (Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Heaven, concluding the trilogy begun in The Color of Earth), loss of small town innocence in the wake of the Iraq War (Refresh, Refresh), Richard Sala’s whimsically dark adventure romp (Cat Burglar Black), and dystopian visions of humanity’s future from playwright Adam Rapp and George O’Conner (Ball Peen Hammer).

And in 2010, more from the creators of Prince of Persia, but let’s hear about it from Mark himself.

Newsarama: It’s maybe a bit early, but what are your thoughts on the reaction to the first wave of First Second’s 2009 line-up?

Mark Siegel: Reviews have been very encouraging across the lists, and a few titles have given our 2009 seasons real momentum. It’s winter for the economy, and the publishing world is no exception. Given these big weather patterns, First Second’s 2009 is a pleasant surprise.

Nrama:: I thought, personally, that Color of Water and Photographer were the standouts of the spring line.  I know it’s a bit of a favorite child question, but looking ahead to the fall line-up, what books in the fall set do you think will surprise people?

Siegel: That’s great. We also had Adventures in Cartooning (Mike: another great book) bolt out the door and already in its third printing. This Fall, Refresh, Refresh comes out, and it’s already earning unusual attention. Danica Novgorodoff is certainly one to watch.

Nrama:: Each season, it seems that you have at least one book that surprises me as coming from First Second, and Ball Peen Hammer is definitely that one for the fall.  How did you get in touch with Adam Rapp about this story, and did you have any reservations about publishing such a dark, pessimistic title?

Siegel: That’s good to hear! I think every coming season will have at least one such surprise, that will defy anyone’s idea of First Second. In fact, I can pretty much promise you that. As for Adam Rapp, he’s a phenomenal playwright, and I remember thinking his dialog could work especially well in comics form. You’re right, it’s possibly the grimmest, bleakest title we’ve yet put out. But it’s another way of building the adult side of the First Second collection, with a major author, and a nearly hopeless vision of our future. His next project with us is also a fairly dystopian future, but different in tone: it’s called Decelerate Blue with artwork by the very talented Sonny Liew.

Nrama:: Sonny’s a really good artist.  I’ve seen his work in My Faith in Frankie and Regifters. It seems that you have something for everyone this fall, including (to name just a few) The Color of Heaven’s romance and sexuality, the small town perspectives of Refresh, Refresh, and the humorous children’s antics of Tiny Tyrant.  When you’re planning each season’s line-up, do you consider the overall make-up of the line to provide differing styles?

Prince of Persia
Prince of Persia
Siegel: Yes, different styles, different themes and genres, and I do try to keep a balance of works for young readers, teens, and adults. In terms of styles, First Second exists for personal voices—so I trust they’ll always feel varied and eclectic.

Nrama:: Richard Sala’s been working with a few different publishers for the last decade, but what brought Cat Burglar Black to First Second?  Despite its gothic tone, it’s very much a fun adventure story.  It adds a nice balance to the fall roster of titles.

Siegel: Richard Sala has indeed published with a number of houses, most notably Fantagraphics. This may be his youngest work yet, and it immediately appealed to me when he sent it—it’s dark but buoyant and a little zany, and it has a funny way of immersing you in Sala’s universe from the first panel, while making a departure in tone and plot from his other known works.

Nrama:: Several of your past titles have had moments of humor, but I can’t think of anything that’s been specifically a humor title like Stuffed! is.  What about Glenn’s pitch stood out, and how did he wind up paired with Nick Bertozzi?

Siegel: Nick Bertozzi only had three major projects on his plate, so it seemed like a good time to show him a new script! Eichler is a staff writer on the Colbert Report, and he has this wry, deadpan humor that works wonderfully in a graphic novel. Bertozzi came to mind for his clarity and exquisite sense of timing. And the result is even kookier than I’d hoped.

Nrama:: After pairing Eddie Campbell with The Black Diamond Detective Agency and now Danica Novgorodoff with Refresh, Refresh, you’ve successfully transplanted two screenplays into comics.  How do these screenplays get onto your desk, and what quality makes Refresh, Refresh the right story for Danica to adapt?  And do you worry you’ll be the go-to man for every unsold screenplay in Hollywood?!

Siegel: A number of film producers and studios send scripts for review, but most of them don’t really want to be comics, I think. Every so often, something comes along that’s either very challenging or appetizing for a graphic novel artist. In the case of Refresh, Refresh, Danica found the short story and fell in love with it. At the time she was still a designer at First Second, and she set out to find an artist to adapt it—but found she couldn’t not do it herself. And that was totally fine by me.

Nrama:: You’ve been in the comics market for a little over three years now, right?  The graphic novel market’s exploded; online options are still looking for the money angle, but they’re creatively strong; and superheroes seem to be straight-jacketing the DM more than ever.  What sorts of trends are you seeing now, whether in content, format or distribution (not too broad a question, right?), and how will these factors be influencing First Second’s business going forward?

Siegel: Well yes to all the above. First Second books have been in stores since May 2006. Day to day, it seems like a long time, but it’s really the blink of an eye. And indeed, so, so much has happened for the graphic novel in so short a time.

Trends in content and format don’t have much bearing on how we run First Second, although we keep doing this impossible dance, trying to lower prices and raise the production values. Distribution is always work in progress – First Second’s graphic novels find new outlets and new readers every time a new book is published.

There’s one moment I’m watching with great interest, and that’s the release of the Scott Pilgrim movie. I hope it does very well, and I think it could portend a great deal for a number of us publishing this kind of graphic novel—the big houses, as well as D&Q, Fantagraphics, Oni of course, NBM, and others. Scott Pilgrim was born out of the so-called indie or alternative comics scene. I think these comics will become the new American mainstream, and a huge hit for the Scott Pilgim movie could accelerate that. It would be good for Bryan Lee O’Malley, and good for Oni Press—but also good for everyone else trying to grow the author-driven graphic novel.

Nrama:: Can you give us any teases what’s coming up in 2010 from First Second?

Siegel: OK, I’ll try not to recite our Spring ’10 catalog! But keep an eye out for the swashbuckler Solomon’s Thieves, by Jordan Mechner, LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland, the creators of the Prince of Persia graphic novel. And Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro. And George O’Connor is launching an epic series called Olympians, from his lifelong passion for Greek myth. The first of them: Zeus. And more, including a couple of newcomers who should be making a splashy entrance.

First Second books is online here.

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