A Worthy Catalog

Over the last couple of weeks I was able to read and review five of First Second's six spring releases and to varying degrees I've enjoyed and appreciated them all. The level of planning, care and capital that went into this launch is pretty awe inspiring and will hopefully pay large dividends for the industry critically and financially.

One example of just how committed and innovative First Second's approach can be is apparent in their Spring Catalog. I'd been hearing rumors about this catalog months ago and when I finally got the chance to look at a copy I was impressed. It's fairly slim, as to be expected from a company without a backlist, but it has great extras that are pretty clearly devoted to selling the concept of graphic novels as a viable, commercial approach to storytelling and therefore bookselling. This includes Jessica Abel's wonderful "What is a 'graphic novel'?" comic that works as a very simplified version of McCloud's Understanding Comics. Calvin Reid offers his thoughts as Publishers Weekly's resident graphic novel reviewer with some nice insight regarding the growth of the format. Meanwhile Booklist's Michael Cart recommends some starter material for those who are new to the format (none of which, interesting enough, are a part of First Second's offerings).

First Second gets something that many publishers (and businesses for that matter) do not. Creating widespread acceptance of the product increases the potential customer base and helps grow sales in a healthy, organic way. Rather than leaping into the fray and making a grab for as much market share as they can muster, the approach seems to be "improve the industry as a whole and sales and profits will follow." It's an approach that the rest of comics would be smart to emulate.

What's most appealing about the catalog for us, though is that it promotes really impressive work in a really impressive package. That makes it a great tool to utilize in an effort to appeal to customers like libraries, particularly in an effort to get them to stock a greater number of literary graphic novels. As much as I enjoy showing librarians just how viable comics are as an art form, it's immeasurably helpful to be able to point to publications with some significant cache like Publishers Weekly and Booklist to reinforce my point. And best of all, the final essay is from a librarian, indicating just how much graphic novels bring to a library's collection.

On the other hand, I don't know that this first wave of books has a breakout star. I loved Fate of the Artist and it certainly has the potential to make a commercial splash, but as good as the Alec books are, they don't exactly sell From Hell numbers. The Rabbi's Cat has sold well but its a bit more mainstream (at least on the surface) than Vampire Loves, though I do expect the latter to find a nice sized audience. It's simply difficult to predict just how much initial demand there will be for these books (though we're prepared for quite a bit). Even so, I expect all of these titles to do fairly well as evergreen titles (their quality certainly suggest as much).

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out David Welsh's interview with Alexis Siegel over at the CWN's Flipped. Siegel translated The Rabbi's Cat and two of First Second's spring releases (Vampire Loves and Deogratias). Its an interesting perspective on translation in general and the particular difficulties translating not only language but cultural quirks as well. Definitely worthwhile reading, and probably due another look after reading those books.


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