November 24, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes



We’re so pleased to welcome our new designer, Danielle Ceccolini, to First Second!  You will all get to know her better in the coming months and years, but here are a few questions to get you started!

What book would you take with you to a desert island?

Probably one of those “Edible Plants” books. Not the one Chris McCandless was using.

Flight or invisibility?

Flight! Because FLYING, obviously. And to play Quidditch.

What was your favorite book as a kid?

The Hobbit! I was in 4th grade when I read it and it felt a little bit like “Where have you been all my life?”. It was my first “adult” book and I couldn’t figure out yet why this was so much better than anything I’d ever read before haha.

What literary character is your favorite Halloween costume?

Mystique! The whole costume is a test of dedication — Blue body paint! Hair dye! Contacts! I’ve only ever seen three brave this experiment and they killed it. One day I will join them.

Who’s your favorite author?

Since childhood: Roald Dahl and Alan Moore. I guess I’ve always had a thing for fantasy and adventure.

You will find Danielle in the :01 offices, furiously designing all things First Second!

November 21, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: News

From Calista Brill, Senior Editor:

We got some sad news recently.

We lost a member of the First Second family…someone who had a crucial role in bringing more than half our books to print. None of our authors or artists ever met her, and few of them even knew her name. I’ve worked at this company for six years, and I only met her once, and fleetingly.

But Manuela Kruger, in her phenomenal work as a copyeditor, contributed as much to the making of our books as any of the rest of us. And beyond her sharp eyes and thorough care, she brought something even more invaluable to the process:

Her wonderful personality and excellent taste.

Despite never having had a conversation with her, I felt like Manuela and I were friends, communicating across the written page. Manuela would return her copyedited printouts of our books to us with a cover letter sharing her thoughts—always perceptive, and sometimes very funny—about the book she had just marked up. The notes and asides she added to her copyediting corrections often made me laugh—made me feel like I had a friend reading along with me.

There are a lot of people whose work goes into making a graphic novel see the light of day, and a lot of them are pretty invisible to the reader and even to the person who wrote or illustrated the book in the first place. But their contributions are invaluable, and it’s a very sad day when you lose one of them.

Manuela Kruger was born October 7, 1939. She copyedited somewhere around 100 of our books, and we all miss her scratchy cursive handwriting—always in the same erasable red ballpoint pen.

It won’t be the same without her.

November 20, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes


(The second printing of two of our Spring 2014 titles — Andre the Giant and This One Summer.  You can tell that they’re second printings just from looking at the cover — we didn’t print the first printing with ‘New York Times Bestseller’ on it.)

Figuring out when to reprint books is always a challenge for publishers.

When a publisher does their first printing, they take a lot of different factors into account.  These include (but aren’t limited to):

How many copies of a book does the imprint generally sell?

How many copies of a book does the author generally sell?

What are the company sales expectations for this particular graphic novel?

How good is the book?

How commercial is the book?

Is the book likely to win an award, hit the New York Times Best-Seller list, or get a lot of media attention?  Or all three?

How many copies of the graphic novel have the different distributors and bookstores the publishers work with estimated that they’ll buy?

How accurate do the distributors and bookstores the publishers work with tend to be?

Is the author doing a lot of events that will boost book sales?

How many months or years of sales is the first printing meant to cover?

Despite carefully taking all of these factors into account, publishers do sometimes find themselves in the situation where they have run out of books sooner than expected.

That’s great news, because it means the book is selling really well!  But it’s also not great news, because the publisher can’t sell any additional books (and therefore no new stores and readers can get their hands on copies) until it gets some more copies printed.

So, how do publishers figure out when to reprint a book?

Ideally, careful monitoring of stock levels ensures that each book is reprinted with enough time that the new copies get to the warehouse just as the previous printing runs out.

Unfortunately, in the real world, this is often a challenge, no matter how carefully you monitor how many books are sold each week or each day.  That’s because the different things that drive book sales — like a feature in the New York Times or winning the National Book Award — are often very difficult to predict.  And in addition to that, depending on what the book is and who your author is, a feature in the New York Times or winning the National Book Award can indicate drastically different sales for different books.

Consumers are another X-factor!  Until the book is published and out in the world, it’s really difficult to answer the question, ‘how much are people going to like this?’  In publishing, we use our extensive knowledge of the industry and of books being awesome to try to figure this out, but sometimes, people like books much more than we predict.  (Those are good times!  Except that generally means we’ve run out of books and need to reprint them.)

This consumer factor is especially difficult to figure out before the book is published.  Six months or a year after the book has been published, it’s a lot easier to look at sales patterns and have a good idea of how many copies people will buy of a particular book each month.  But before a book is published, who can tell?  This book might be everyone’s next favorite graphic novel — and no one knows.

Because of this, a lot of books end up being reprinted in the first month of publication, some even right before the book comes out.

How soon will the new books come in?

The timing of the second reprint arriving in the warehouse depends on a number of factors.  These include:

Is the book black and white or color?

Is the reprint happening in the United States or in another country, where it may take more time to ship to the US?

Do corrections need to be made to the book?

How extensive are the corrections that need to be made to the book?  Is this a matter of fixing one typo on the copyright page or changing whole pages of art?

Does the book design need to be altered to include new information (like, ‘A New York Times Best-Seller’)?

Do the author and the publisher need to see and approve proofs of any changes?  Are digital proofs okay, or are printed proofs needed?

Does the printer have the correct paper in stock?

How busy is everyone at the publisher?  Can they drop everything and deal with this situation?

How busy is everyone at the printer?  Can they drop everything and deal with this situation?

The answers to these questions can produce a widely variable situation — with the time involved being anything from two weeks to four months.  (The two weeks is a situation where the books are reprinted in the US as is; the four months one where the books need lots of corrections and are reprinted overseas.)

That’s a pretty big difference!

Because no one likes books to be out of stock, publishers try as hard as they can to print a first printing that won’t run out immediately.

But, mixed blessing!  Sometimes books are more popular than a publisher expects, and then they’ll go out of stock temporarily while the new reprint is on its way.  If this happens, a publisher will do everything they can to get the reprint as quickly as possible, without sacrificing the quality of the book.

November 17, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes


(from Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant — meeting new people with tea is always the best option.)

Congratulations!  You’re making a graphic novel for the very first time.  That means you’re a real author now, and you’re allowed to put that on your taxes and tell your relatives you really are making money writing and drawing books.

That’s so cool!

So . . . how do you get other people to know about your book-to-come?  Having gained entry into this mythical AuthorLand, how do you meet other authors and people who work in publishing?

Meeting people can be difficult and intimidating, especially if you’re the kind of author who spends most of or all their time at home at the computer or the drawing table.  Meeting people does involve finding new people, and talking to them!  And this is even more intimidating because all the new people you have to find and talk to are super-talented beings whose work you have a huge amount of artistic respect for.  That’s pretty tough!

On the other hand, meeting authors and publishing people tends to be very useful, because then you become part of a community who you can turn to when you have questions about the publishing process, when you need new story inspiration or feedback, and when you just want to talk to people who understand what’s going on in your creative employment situation!  It’s also useful because the biggest advocates of books tend to be other people who love books, and authors and agents and publishers and teachers and librarians and book reviewers tend to be some of the most book-obsessed people around.

In addition to this, one of the side effects of meeting people is befriending them!  You meet them and then you become acquaintances and then you, you know, share your hopes and dreams and book first drafts.  It’s pretty fantastic, having friends!  And who would not want awesome authors as their friends?

One of the things I think is coolest about being an author is that it gives you an excuse to write to your favorite authors and tell them how cool you think their work is.  Perhaps you will become friends in the process!  Maybe they’ll read your book and think you are a great writer too.

In conclusion: when you have moved to a stage in your career where you feel that you are an ‘official author,’ it’s good to meet people in the publishing industry for multiple reasons.  The first is that the vast majority of them are very nice and smart and kind!  The second is that people in the publishing industry spend all of their time talking about books, and you want your books to be one of the books they’re spending all of their time talking about.

How to start?

It’s really easy to e-mail people, you guys.

November 15, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Books


(John Patrick Green is the author of our upcoming graphic novel Hippopotamister, which was just announced this week!)

1. What’s your protagonist’s favorite flavor of ice cream and why? What’s your own favorite flavor of ice cream?

Hippopotamister’s favorite flavor of ice cream is Green Tea Soufflé with Lemongrass. The lemongrass is because hippos only eat grass, and the green tea soufflé is because, due to his adventures outside the zoo, Hippopotamister has developed a complex palate. Naturally the milk for the ice cream has to come from grass-grazed cows. My favorite ice cream flavors are a toss up between Mint Chocolate chip and Peanut Butter & Chocolate. When I’m feeling really indulgent, though, I make a Mint Chocolate Chip with Peanut Butter milkshake.

2. Flight or invisibility?

Invisibility! Flying would certainly be cool, but if I go traveling I’d be carrying luggage, so unless the power also comes with super strength I think my arms would get tired. There are so many other powers you could mimic with invisibility. I could show up somewhere invisible, then appear snapping my fingers as if I just teleported! Or I could pretend to be a ghost and haunt people! Or I could team up with a friend and make it seem like they have the power of telekinesis!

3. What was your favorite book as a kid?

The Giant Jam Sandwich, by John Vernon Lord. This tale of a town that dealt with an invasion of four-million wasps was fascinating and disturbing to me as a child. The story, told in rhyme, is quirky and whimsical enough, with the villagers constructing a giant oven to bake a massive loaf of bread that they can then make a giant jam sandwich with and trap the wasps in. But the art! The perspective is disorienting, the faces of the villagers downright creepy, and the wasps are illustrated in near-scientific detail. The book, to a child, is both wonderful and frightening. This book is like Jaws, but instead of a shark, the shark is four-million wasps. And, you know, for kids. As a young adult, my favorite novel was Jean Carighead George’s My Side of the Mountain. The main character has a pet falcon and a weasel! And there are pictures illustrating all the survival tools he makes! How cool is that?

4. What’s your favorite part of a book?

The denouement. Which I guess is sort of like saying my favorite part is the ending, but for me, as entertaining as a story can be all the way up to that, the resolution is where everything pays off. A mystery can build and build, but if the payoff isn’t very good, then everything before that loses a bit of luster. I do put a lot of credence in the notion that “it’s all about the journey, not the destination”, but at the same time, a good ending just makes the trip that much more satisfying.

5. What would a reading tree house designed just for you look like?

If Philip K. Dick and J.R.R. Tolkien teamed up and wrote a steampunk epic it would look like something out of that. And be made out of LEGOs.


(John Patrick Green; photo by Ellen B. Wright)

November 13, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

A number of :01 authors have self-published their books, before or in addition to making graphic novels published by First Second.  Here’s what they have to say about these two publishing routes.

My experience of self-publishing is limited to mini-comics. My very first comic was spat out of the art school photocopier, the covers screen printed by myself in the print room. It’s where I was first bitten by the comics bug, not just telling a story but overseeing the whole process of putting an object together from beginning to end. Choosing paper stock, designing covers and logos, figuring out page turns; everything down to stapling and folding by hand. It’s a blast and a great foundation to build from.

Working with a publisher is naturally more collaborative. Editors advise on stories, sales and marketing make decisions based on market conditions and trends, designers have to try and please everyone: the creators, marketing, editorial and themselves. When the graphic novel is finished, the pages drawn and scanned, cleaned up and corrected you hand it over, or less poetically, upload the digital files to the ftp. Let it go, as the song goes. Fortunately the people you’re handing it over to are very capable, experts in the areas you’re not, helping take the thing I made at home on sheets of paper with pens and pencils and putting it out into the world. It’s nice to know you have people on your side.

There’s also something deeply satisfying about folding a pile of photocopied pages in half, pressing two staples into the spine, setting it down in front of you and knowing, I made that.

Andi Watson, Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula

I love self-publishing and will never stop. It’s probably the only time when you’ll have total control of the presentation of your work, for better or worse of course. Self-publishing is a direct conduit between you and your reader with nothing in between. It’s also a good opportunity to experiment.

Working with a publisher requires satisfying other parties in the presentation of your work. The great thing about working with a publisher (besides the fact that more people will likely read your book) is that a group of colleagues really CARE about your work and have a stake in it. You have help in the creation of your comic from people who are skilled in the art of helping cartoonists make comics.

Many times your publisher (if they’re good) will think of a lot of stuff you never you thought of about your work and then they’ll explain it to you.

Box Brown, Andre the Giant

I was mostly surprised how much secret backstage work goes into self-publishing. When I had my first mini, Seeds of Good Fortune, printed up, I figured that the packing and mailing wouldn’t occupy too much of my time. When it was a busy week, and there were lots of orders, it was okay — you just allocate a few hours to it, and it’s worthwhile. But when there are only one or two orders in a week, having to take the time, get out the supplies, make a special trip to the post office, all that — enhh, it just starts to wear at you. I liked how much control I had over the production of the book, of course, and I’m up for those challenges (design, layout, printing technicalities), but I’m lucky I had an understanding project manager at the printers’, because I messed up a couple details.

I’ve done print-on-demand publishing with, and I liked that I could leave the printing and shipping up to someone else, AND I felt confident that the book would arrive safely in the readers’ hands (they pack those comics inside a cardboard brick). But it is not a good way to make any money, and when I was using it the books had that sort of laser-copier-like “print on demand” quality. Disclaimer: that was years ago.

Meanwhile, with Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, I’m not even sure what that would be like to try to achieve the same availability and presence in the book market that it has had with First Second. I’m sure there are a lot of things publishers do which I cannot even imagine. Maybe not, maybe it is really easy. :) I will say that the most relief I have ever felt in regards to exhibiting at a comic convention was when I was able to have a case of Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant shipped from Macmillan’s warehouse in Virginia to the Fantagraphics store in Seattle in time for Emerald City. It meant I didn’t have to worry about carting boxes of books over the border from Canada and the potential hassles that might introduce. It was great. (Thank you, Gina!)

Also, if you’re REALLY lucky, your publisher will let you stay at their place during NYCC.

Tony Cliff, Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Someone who worked in Hollywood once said to me, “Man, when you draw comics, you have to be in charge of everything! Acting, set design, hair and wardrobe, lighting, everything!” That is all completely true, and when you self-publish, there are even more responsibilities heaped on! Distribution, printing, promotion. It’s another full-time job on top of the actual production work!

The beauty of working with a publisher is that they can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. You don’t need to worry too much about printing and marketing, and can be free to just create. When you self-publish, you live and die by your own sword. But therein lies the chief difference, and perhaps the deterrent for some. For self-publishing, the only gatekeeper is that of your own time, money, and energy. You’re in charge and every mistake is your own, as well as every victory! In working with a publisher, you have a much larger wall to scale. So much stress is lifted from your shoulders, but at times you can feel like some things are out of your control and aren’t done the way you’d hoped. So really, it all comes down to control and how much of it you need to function as a creator.

Having done both, I feel that working with a publisher is more satisfying to me at this point in my life. But I am certain I will self-publish again in the future. I have a lot of weird vanity projects in my head!

Zack Giallongo, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth

How is self-publishing different? The obvious ways are, well, obvious: if you want an advance, you pay it yourself (which means your bank balance doesn’t actually go up); you get to (or have to, depending how you look at it…it’s a double-edged sword) make all the deadline and design and production and marketing and sales and distribution decisions yourself; having made those decisions, you get to (or have to!) do the work that goes along with them, and; you don’t have to share all the riches that follow. (Unless, like me, you want to work with artists who draw better than you do. Then you do share the riches…and you need to define “riches” broadly.)

If that sounds like a hard road, it is, especially if you’re dealing with printed books. I’d be delighted if I never had to haul boxes up and down the stairs to my basement and prepare to ship them via UPS again. But I’m glad I’ve traveled that road, since it’s taught me what’s possible and what it costs — in time and money and effort — to make a graphic novel. And for good or ill, my self-published books hew as closely to my vision of what they could be as I could make them.

(That’s not to say that they’re all as good as I dreamed they would be. None ever match up to the ideal, perfect version of the book that got shelved in the corner of my brain the moment I thought of writing it. The art? Yeah, it’s usually better than what I imagined. The writing? Well, sometimes I wonder who hired that guy.)

By delegating some of the things I don’t do as well as I’d like to my friendly corporate overlords at First Second (Hi Mark! Hi Calista! Hi Gina! Hi Casey!), I lose a little control in every area I mentioned above. I don’t regret that either, because self-publishing helped me learn my blindspots and weaknesses, and has made me appreciate and benefit from having traveling companions on the publishing road.

Jim Ottaviani, Feynman

Self-publishing is a great way to get your start in comics!  I got my start self-publishing, as did the vast majority of my cartoonist friends.

Self-publishing forces you to learn about every aspect of the comics industry.  It also gives you complete control over your comic, from beginning to end.  That’s why some cartoonists — like Jeff Smith and Jason Shiga — continue to self-publish even after they’ve signed with publishers.

Gene Luen Yang, The Shadow Hero

November 10, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Books

Getting new books in the office is one of the best times of year!

Today, we’ve received James Kochalka’s new graphic novel, The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie.

We can’t wait for this to be out!

(And now: photos!)

Here’s the cover.


And here are the two covers together.  You can see the spot gloss reflection on the space snake showing up on this one!


Here’s the spine.


And here are the two spines together.  Purple and aqua!  What excellent colors.


Here’s a close-up on the spine graphic.  So adorable!


Who does not want to read a book when there is tiny pie on the spine?


And here is what a whole bunch of books stacked together looks like.  Very handsome!


And the inside!

It’s got aliens!  Bright colors!  Other cool things!


Refrigerators!  Elbows!


And here’s the back cover, featuring our antagonist, Buster Glark.


The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie will be in stores in March.  We are counting the minutes!

November 6, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes


(some long books we have published)

One of the things that we look for when we’re considering acquiring a graphic novel or signing up a new illustrator to work with a writer on an already-acquired graphic novel is their previous work.

Specifically: how long is it?

Making a graphic novel is very different from making a mini-comic.  An eight page mini is something that you can make in a week — or, if you’re very fast and very much in a rush, in a weekend.

You can definitely have super-insane crazy complicated mini-comics that are complicated puzzle pieces!  That are sixty pages long!  That are all screenprinted in five colors!  That take years to create!  But those tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule.  A mini-comic is something you can start on Monday and put away on Friday and be finished with.

A graphic novel is not something that you can make over a week, or a weekend.  It’s a project that will definitely take a year or two — or maybe (going from our experience) even five or six, depending on how fast you work.  It’s something that requires a regular, every day commitment from an author: you have to sit down every morning and make comics, or else the graphic novel won’t get done.

This is a very different experience from making an eight-page mini-comic.

When you’re making a graphic novel, you have to write a lot.  You have to draw a lot.  You have to do both those things all the time and then do them again the next day and the next day and the next.

If an author is used to only writing short mini-comics, gag cartoons, or occasional comic strips, this can be a very difficult transition.  Instead of making comics being something that can be crammed into the spare parts of your life, it becomes the thing that your life has to be crammed in around.

So one of the things we look for when considering graphic novel proposals or illustrators is: how long has their previous work been?  Have they made something that’s fifty pages?  How about a hundred pages?

If you’re a person who wants to professionally create graphic novels, mini comics are a great way to experiment, play with styles, and tell fun short stories.  But we also recommend trying your hand at something longer — a short graphic novel or webcomic that hits the 50 page mark.  That’s helpful for you in feeling out and getting used to what the typical schedule on these sorts of projects is — and it’s helpful for publishers because they’ll know you have experience doing something the length of the book you’re proposing.

November 5, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Events


This weekend, First Second will be exhibiting at Comic Arts Brooklyn at table U33!

Here’s our signing schedule.

12:30pm: Box Brown, Andre the Giant

2:00pm: Danica Novgorodoff, The Undertaking of Lily Chen

3:30pm: Jen Wang, In Real Life

5:00pm: George O’Connor, Olympians

CAB’s Sunday programming will also feature Jillian Tamaki, the co-author of This One Summer.  You can check out the programming details here:

We’re excited to see you all at the show!  Half of our staff live in Brooklyn, so this is a hometown festival for us.

November 3, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes


(imagine what trouble the Magical Cartooning Elf would get into if he didn’t tell people he was just showing up to help them make comics!)

We frequently go to industry events — conventions and book parties and art openings and panels and lectures and classes and workshops.  While we’re there, we frequently have conversations that go like this:

Person: I’m Alex.

Gina @ First Second: Hello!

Person: So . . . First Second.  Tell me about that.

Gina @ First Second: First Second is a graphic novel publisher; we publish books for readers of all ages.  We strive for high editorial and production quality, and publish comics for readers of every age.  We’re an imprint of Macmillan, which means that we’re wholly owned by one of the major NYC publishers, and they do a great job getting our books out really broadly around the United States.  Distribution is really one of the major factors in the market right now, and (etc.).

Person: Oh, interesting.

Gina @ First Second: Yes!  We have some exciting books coming up; I can tell you about them.  Let’s go through our upcoming winter season (etc.).

Person: Thanks.  Thank you; that was really interesting to learn about.

Gina @ First Second: Is there anything else I can tell you about First Second?

Person: Well, I’m actually a printer, and I’d like to know where you get your paper supplies and what you look for when acquiring paper.  We’d really like to supply your company; we’re based in New Jersey and offer really competitive rates on printing.

Gina @ First Second: So what you mean is, all of the things I’ve told you about First Second for the past ten minutes are completely irrelevant to you?

Person: More or less, yes.

Gina @ First Second: !

This kind of exchange is something that happens all the time.  Seriously, you guys.  It happens all the time.  And it’s super-frustrating.

Whether the Mysterious!Person involved is a teacher, a librarian, an author or aspiring author, a printer, a designer or editor or publisher hoping to get a job, it’s frustrating.

It’s frustrating for us because all of those different people probably are interested in a different facet of our company.  And we have lots of facets that are different from each other, so when we’re asked for a general overview, we don’t give the two-hour version ‘All About First Second’ with singing and dancing and musical hats.  Instead, we try to give the most general information possible, assuming the person asking is someone who isn’t at all familiar with the company and is in need of that general information.

(And when I say ‘two hour,’ I’m being conservative; I have an hour-long talk about marketing that I give to authors whose books we’re publishing when we start on the marketing part of things.  I’m sure that the editorial and publishing and design and production and sub rights parts take at least an hour!  Possibly each!)

And I should think that it would be frustrating from the other end of things — having to sit through ten minutes of overview when all you really want to do is ask about our paper stock, or our submissions policy, or whether we distribute our books to libraries, or our desk copy policy.

Therefore!  We advise that if you’re at a professional event, and you’re trying to engage a fellow professional to talk about professional things, it’s best to let the person you’re talking with know who you are and what you want to talk about in the first or second exchange.

Because, how frustrating for you to sit through that whole overview and then get, ‘our parent company makes all our paper purchasing decisions and they are also all super-hyper environmental, which you’re probably not equipped to handle anyways.’

If you’re genuine and passionate and excited about your topical professional commitments/affiliations, people will be glad to talk to you, as long as you’re not interrupting them in the middle of something.  Professional events are designed for meeting people and talking to them about your various interrelated jobs.

Not mentioning your professional affiliation when you’re asking about a professional matter (possibly, I guess, to trick people into conversing with you?) just makes things confusing!