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

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(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

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(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.

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(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 Lulu.com, 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.

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

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Here’s the spine.

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

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

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

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

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And the inside!

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

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Refrigerators!  Elbows!

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

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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

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(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

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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: http://comicartsbrooklyn.com/#programming

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

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(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!

October 31, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Books

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(Zack Giallongo is the artist of The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth, and its sequel, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet.)

What was the last book you read?

I haven’t finished it yet, but I love the title (and the book so far). But I’m reading The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill. It’s about the Minotaur, who has survived to modern times, working at a barbecue restaurant outside of Atlanta.

What food goes perfectly with your novel?

You could go one of two ways with this. For SZMRP:Macbeth, I suggest tacos. Or, if you want to go very authentic, Scottish haggis. However, I actually love both of these things, and I’m thinking a little fusion cuisine of a haggis taco would be a great thing to put in your face.

What’s your favorite word?

“Callipygian.” I like the rhythm and the way it rolls off the tongue. It’s also funny. It means “having a shapely buttocks.”

What literary character should your readers use as a basis for their mental picture of you?

Rooster Cogburn from True Grit by Charles Portis. Anyone who’s met me knows that we share many of the same traits: a beard, an eyepatch. Also, I am so way tough. I could totally be a U.S. Marshall with my level of toughness!

What literary character is your favorite Halloween costume?

One year I dressed as Grendel using a series of bath mats. I don’t remember if I won or not. . . .

October 30, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Books

Halloween is coming up!  It’s a night of pumpkins and candy and other spooky things.

Here are some books for you to read along with your creepiest night of the year.

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Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol

This is not a ghost you want to be your friend.  Sadly.

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Friends With Boys, by Faith Erin Hicks

This ghost would also not make a good friend, as she doesn’t ever talk but just wafts around spookily.

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The Undertaking of Lily Chen, by Danica Novgorodoff

If you aren’t spooked by grave-robbing and crazy-mystical ancient Chinese customs, I don’t know what to tell you.

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The Unsinkable Walker Bean, by Aaron Renier

Magical crystal skulls!  What could be more Halloween-y than that?  Except possibly filling them with candy. . . .

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The Zoo Box, by Ariel Cohn and Aron Steinke

This book has costumes in it!  Um, they’re worn by children who are totally running for their life at the time, but still: costumes!

Happy Halloween!

October 29, 2014
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Books

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

The Ultimate Doonesbury. Doonesbury was really my first graphic obsession. Everything about it is great. It’s smart, funny, and Trudeau always manages to find a unique angle on any subject. And despite Dave Sim’s wild claims for Cerebus the Aardvark, Doonesbury has been following the same characters for 45 years, making it the longest running narrative in history.

What’s your favorite word?

Petrichor. Defined as “the smell of soil that comes with the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.” It’s one of those words that we would normally say, “the Germans would have a word for that.” It’s so evocative. Plus, I live in California, and this drought is so frightening that any hint of moisture in the air sparks wild celebrations.

What literary character should your readers use as a basis for their mental picture of you?

Ichabod Crane. I’m skinny and slightly stooped (note to self: must work on posture). Plus, I have to confess that I am a bit scared of the idea of a headless horseman hunting me down on my commute home from work.

You have one chance to convert someone into a book lover.  What book do you give them?  

Instead of book, I’ll say “graphic novel.” And I would (and do) give them Persepolis. The art is beautiful, the story is simple, the voice and the setting are unique. Last I checked, that’s what  most people are looking for when they open a book.

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

It would be inside of a hollow tree and the pages of the pages of the books would still be connected to the tree, and still alive. I’m not sure it would be practical, but it sounds really “groovy.”

(Ian Lendler is the author of The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth and its sequel, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet, which comes out next fall.)