Bucking an otherwise down graphic novel marketplace, sci-fi and fantasy publisher Tor has found sales gains managing a growing line of licensed and original manga published through a joint venture with indie manga house Seven Seas. Now, the house plans a series of Tor graphic novels including New Spring, the just released first volume of a series adapting Robert Jordan's bestselling Wheel of Time series, and Laddertop, an original sci-fi manga series, written by bestselling author Orson Scott Card and his daughter Emily, that will be published in the fall of 2011.
Tor has had such success with both manga and conventional comics that it plans to release two original graphic novels in 2011. Battle of Blood and Ink, an original steampunk sci-fi work by Jared Axelrod and Steve Walker, and Dear Creature, an eccentric mashup of 1960s beach and monster movies by Jonathan Case, are both coming in November 2011. The Tor graphic novel/manga program is managed by three editors—senior editor Melissa Ann Singer, a comics fan and publisher since high school, editor Liz Gorinsky and editorial assistant Steven Padnick, both former DC Comics interns—who are also knowledgeable and passionate comics fans as well as experienced book editors.
The house plans four Tor graphic novels this year and likely up to six in 2012, although Singer said the house is looking to acquire more for next year. Comics adaptations of bestselling prose works have been a bright spot in the comics market, and Tor has big hopes for the forthcoming adaptations of Wheel of Time. Packaged by the Dabel Brothers, indie comics producers, Jordan's New Spring, a Wheel of Time prequel adapted by Chuck Dixon with art by Mike Miller and others, was first released as periodical comics by comics house Dynamite Entertainment, and was released in the book trade this month as a $24.99 trade paperback with an initial print run of 35,000 copies. In the fall of 2011, Tor will release the first volume (in hardcover) of a six-volume comics adaptation of Jordan's Eye of the World, the first book in the Wheel of Time series, also adapted by Dixon with art by Chase Conley, with a print run likely to start at 40,000 copies. Tor is working closely with the Jordan estate and with Dynamite Entertainment (each volume will feature a different artist) to produce the graphic novels. And there’s much more coming from Tor, including omnibus editions of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s popular webcomic, Girl Genius in 2012.
Tor first teamed up with Seven Seas, an independent Los Angeles manga house founded by Jason DeAngelis, in 2008 in a joint venture in which Tor provides support for the acquisition and production of Seven Seas titles and handles marketing, sales, and distribution to the book trade.
Singer said that Tor has worked to integrate its manga and now its conventional graphic novels into the Tor list, and Padnick, who works closely with Seven Seas, said this has helped Tor grow its comics line in the traditional book trade as well as the comics shop market. "We do the ground work of communicating with all the accounts, we listen to them, and it's paid off in in-store display and in getting orders," Padnick said.
Tor also works closely with Dynamite in the comics shop market (aka the direct market), a network of about 2,000 stores serviced by Diamond Comics Distributors that specialize in traditional comic books and now book-format comics. "The Jordan comics do well in comic shops," Singer said. "We know we can get Jordan fans in the book market, but selling first into comics shops has gotten us great advance reviews and it gives us sales and marketing data we can use to create quality adaptations."
Seven Seas is publishing 24 manga titles in 2011, including Card's Laddertop (with art by Honoel Ibardolaza), a deal, Singer said, first proposed to Card by DeAngelis that ultimately won over Card's daughter Emily, a big manga fan and talented writer who persuaded her father to do the book. Since it's produced in the manga drawing style, Laddertop will be jointly published by Tor and Seven Seas in two volumes, the first slated to be released in the fall of 2011.
Seven’s Seas Vampire Bund series is a New York Times bestseller and the house is launching several new Japanese licenses—including A Certain Scientific Railgun, a much anticipated sci-fi manga based on A Certain Magical Index, a series of light (prose) novels very popular in Japan. The house also grabbed the lapsed license to Gunslinger Girl, a hugely popular manga/anime series previously published by defunct manga house ADV Manga, and will reissue the five previously published volumes in giant omnibus editions before releasing unpublished volumes later this year.
Singer said that Tor isn't setting up a graphic novel imprint, but "we plan to do up to three or four a season if we can find quality works. We like having flexibility." And while Tor has published graphic novels in the past (notably Tim Eldred's Grease Monkey in 2008), Padnick said, "People don't see us as a graphic novel house. We're doing a lot this season to let the market know that we can do it and we can sell them."