SATRAPI's THE SIGH & ARCHAIA's Move To Illustrated Novels

ARCHAIA Moves Toward Illustrated Novels


As the comic book industry has been abuzz about its shrinking American comic market and the quest for female creators, small publisher Archaia has been making some additions to their business that address both issues.

By pursuing the creation of non-traditional graphic novels while publishing the English editions of foreign work, Archaia has started expanding its offerings while still publishing fan-favorite titles like Mouse Guard and Fraggle Rock.

Although Archaia's operations were completely restructured in 2008, including a lengthy publishing hiatus, the company has since built itself into a publishing house known for its variety of high-quality fantasy, sci-fi and alternate genre comics and graphic novels. With titles like Rust, Mouse Guard and Return of the Dapper Men, Archaia has been able to boast prestigious awards and critical acclaim for its diverse releases.

Now the company is also turning its attention to books that don't follow the standard format for graphic novels, including illustrated prose, as well as looking toward publishing foreign titles, beginning with an English edition The Sigh, the new book by Persepolis author Marjane Satrapi.

Satrapi becomes the latest on a long list of female creators who are working with Archaia, from newcomer Polish artist Anna Wieszczyk on Lucid to the work of writer Grace Randolph on Fraggle Rock, Archaia's concentration on a variety of genres seems to attract a new crowd of female creators.

Newsarama talked with Mark Smylie, Archaia's founder and chief creative officer, about what the turn toward illustrated novels and foreign works means for the publisher, and what he thinks is driving women toward a career in comics.

Newsarama: Mark, what was it about The Sigh made you guys want to be the ones to bring it to the United States?

Mark Smylie: There were a few things. Obviously, all of here at Archaia are huge fans of Marjane Satrapi's work, and so when we discovered that this hadn't been published in the United States, we were excited.

I think in particular, the storytelling is something that perfectly fits us as a company, with a fantastical, fairy-tale like quality. It really fits with a lot of the titles that we put out. So it was great to find that type of story from her, with that fantasy style, but it also has subtle elements of feminist storytelling and feminist fairy tales of Angela Carter.

We'd also been looking at a way to begin doing illustrated prose stories. We released our first illustrated book with Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes, which came out over the summer. And we've got an illustrated set of Edgar Allen Poe's stories called Tales of the Macabre.

So to find something from Satrapi that also fit into that type of illustrated storytelling instead of just being a straightforward graphic novel or comic book was another plus for us.

It's also formatted as the perfect holiday gift. So really, on every level, it fit us perfectly.

Nrama: What's the benefit of Archaia expanding its releases by bringing in more foreign titles?

Smylie: This isn't the first time we've done something like this. For example, The Killer has been nominated for an Eisner for Best U.S. Edition of International Material twice now. So for us, this represents an expansion of what we've already been doing. But we do hope it's in a much bigger way. And in a more varied way.

The books we brought in before were European takes on traditional American comics. But one of the things we want to do with books like The Sigh and some other titles that we've got coming out next year is to really look at European titles that are a bit more off-the-beaten-path and a little less like American comics. Much more non-traditional.

For example, we have a book called Billy Fog, which is coming out about the same time as The Sigh. It's hard to call it a graphic novel or illustrated story. It's got little bits and pieces of those. It's a Goth take on Calvin and Hobbes, focusing on a boy and his dead cat as it deals with mortality and loss but in a really very sweet, all-ages way.

We've also got a Spanish horror story called Black Fire, coming out about the same time, which is about two soldier in Napoleon's army on retreat from Moscow, and the come upon a Slavic village ruled by this unseen and malevolent force. It's an interesting European take on horror that's reminiscent of Brotherhood of the Wolf.

There are another half dozen or so titles that we're bringing in over the next year or so.

Nrama: The Sigh is unique because it isn't a traditional graphic novel, but is laid out more like a storybook. What story can people expect from The Sigh?

Smylie: It's presented very much like a traditional fairy tale, like something out of Grimm's Fairy Tales or something similar. It's about a girl named Rose, who's one of three sisters, and their father is a merchant who does a lot of traveling. Each of his daughters asks him to find a particular gift for them. Rose asks him for the seed of a blue bean. For several reasons, he's unable to find it, and when he returns home, he's disappointed and has to tell her there's no blue bean for her. And she lets out this "sigh." In the world of the story, the fact that she lets out this sigh attracts a creature called The Sigh, who arrives with the bean and makes a deal with Rose. And it follows her adventures as she has to fulfill her obligation in the deal, and as she visits other parts of the world.

So it's very much a fantasy story that echoes Sleeping Beauty and some of the stories of One Thousand and One Nights.

Nrama: There seems to have been a lot of critically acclaimed graphic novels and illustrated books like this lately that are written by women, and Archaia has quite a few women among its talent. Do you see this as a trend as you work with these types of books?

Smylie: Yeah, I think it's been a generational shift in some ways. For those of us that grew up in the '60s '70s and '80s, when comics were mostly a male-dominated field, and also in terms of the readership, what you're seeing really is a generational shift where women who were exposed to comics in the '80s and '90s are finally growing up and coming of age to be able to be writers and artists themselves.

I think the shift may be even more pronounced in the future when there is a generation of women who have grown up on manga come of age. I think you'll see even more women as creators and writers and artists.

Most of us who work on comics want to work on comics because we read them when we were younger. And somehow, it gets into your mind that you want to go from a reader to someone who will produce them. You want to write and draw them. So I think it will just take time for generations of women to have that same seed planted in them, and then want to put the material out.

So I think we're just seeing the beginnings of a shift where more and more women because writers and artists.

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