The Tails that Wag the Dogs: Part Four

The tour continues:

Oni Press does a nice job of balancing genre books with what I will call literary works. They've put out almost an entire line's worth of noir/crime fiction, though usually with a twist (The Long Haul is probably my personal favorite of these). They also publish the terrific (if erratically published) Queen & Country, Capote in Kansas, and they're currently putting out Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly's Local and we'll soon see Sam Kieth's My Inner Bimbo from them. Almost everything they publish will appeal to comic converts and we try to use those titles to introduce new readers to the medium. Plus, they seem to publish in whatever format best fits the material (singles for Local is absolutely necessary), the sort of flexibility that is always the hallmark of a good publisher.

As much as any other publisher (and more than most), Top Shelf publishes books that truly deserve to be called graphic novels. We're talking Blankets, Box Office Poison, Tricked, American Elf, and From Hell (assuming they get it back into print), books with some real weight to them (both literally and figuratively). On the opposite end of the spectrum, they publish one of the best kids books available, Owly. The only problem Top Shelf seems to have is that they publish such high quality, best selling authors that the competition seems intent on poaching their talent.

Which brings us to Pantheon. As a division of Random House, I don't know that it can really be called a small publisher, but despite the ire that occasionally gets directed its way (how dare they infringe on our turf and publish comics) publishers like Pantheon will play a huge role in the future development of the industry. They have the sort of resources to put behind a title that really only Marvel and DC do and they can develop a presence in bookstores much more easily. The drawback of course is that they're only going to publish a known commodity (although I wouldn't have expected them to publish Jessica Abel's La Perdida a couple of years ago). Still if you look at Pantheon's sales compared to any other company, their percentage of hit to miss is ridiculous because they don't take much of a risk with what they publish. Of course being able to pay out some serious money to get people like Spiegelman and Charles Burns under your umbrella certainly helps. At the same time, I understand the fear that they will hurt the industry in the long term by "stealing" creators like Craig Thompson and Alex Robinson from a company like Top Shelf, limiting Top Shelf's ability to take a chance on a title like Owly. Ultimately, though, they have quickly developed into a brand name that can get books like Persepolis into the hands of many people who would not consider themselves comic book readers.


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