First Second, Macmillan’s graphic novel imprint, spotlights its new middle-grade graphic novel, Battling Boy (Oct.) by comics superstar Paul Pope. According to marketing director Gina Gagliano, First Second is using Pope’s BEA attendance “to introduce him to teachers, librarians, and booksellers.” Battling Boy is Pope’s first book with a trade publisher, as well as his first book for a younger audience. Without giving specific print numbers, First Second’s editorial director Mark Siegel says it’s “bigger than our usual run.”
But partnering with First Second and Macmillan offers Pope an opportunity to broaden his audience. “Having come from different trajectories in comics, self-publishing, doing work for Marvel and DC: working overseas in both Europe and Japan, every time it’s a different thing, and I can feel Macmillan really getting behind this, making an effort to get this out to a larger population.”
Like Pope, First Second is a publisher that has a foot in different parts of publishing. “From the start, First Second has been living in different worlds at the same time,” explains Siegel. “We live in the book trade in the same way as a big publishing house, but we’re also friendly and involved in the library world and the direct market, which is the comics community, so this is a chance to really push in all directions with this book.”
According to Siegel, Pope’s work is “a bridge stylistically between the great schools of comics, spanning the whole universe of comics from manga to European to American superhero comics.” Gagliano adds, “Those are great things to use as talking points with booksellers and librarians as well, because everyone knows superheroes and everyone knows manga. Paul’s work is a fusion of both.”
Pope cites the films by acclaimed Japanese anime director Miyazaki as a big influence in this book for lighting up his color palate, and the French cartoonist Moebius for opening up his page layouts to create a more accessible style as compared to the “dark and urban and gritty and lots of black shadows” that are typical of his previous work.
Battling Boy is a “classic coming-of-age story,” says Pope, but “a little more informed for the 21st century, so it’s aware of films like Dark Knight and Iron Man and Lord of the Rings.” The main character is a 12-year-old superhero, who must clean up all the monsters on a planet and rescue the inhabitants. Integrated into the superhero story are themes of adolescence that Pope hopes will speak to a younger audience about the awkward stage of life they find themselves in. Pope speaks of the lack of control he remembers as an adolescent and how this informs his character in Battling Boy. Pope’s need to create a young superhero was driven by the realization that there were no superhero comics for his teenage nephews. “I really wanted to do something original that my nephews would like to read,” Pope says. “This book is sort of dedicated to them and the kind of love I felt for comic books as a kid reading X-Men and Love and Rockets.”
Pope is currently working on the second and final volume of Battling Boy, which is slated to come out next October, a year after the first volume. Also, First Second will publish THB, a series that has achieved almost cult status among Pope’s fans, as a young adult book. “THB is a science fiction parody,” Pope says. “It’s kind of a brother-sister project with Battling Boy. It’s another coming-of-age story with a teenage girl and the story is set in the future on Mars.”
Today, Pope signs galleys in the Autograph Area at Table 15; tomorrow, he will sign galleys at Mac-millan’s booth (1557). There will also be a Battling Boy T-shirt given away at the Friday signing. And Pope appears today on a panel at 4 p.m. at the Uptown Stage, about the graphic novel format spanning ages, genres, and categories.