Founded in 2006 by former Hill & Wang publisher Thomas LeBien, FSG/Hill & Wang’s Novel Graphics, a line of serious nonfiction comics and, more recently, comics adaptations of literary classics, is now under the editorial direction of Amanda Moon, named to head the imprint after LeBien left for a new position at Simon & Schuster at the end of 2011. Moon, a senior editor at the Scientific American/FSG prose imprint specializing in trade-oriented science titles, takes over an innovative line of nonfiction comics that includes works on everything from evolution and genetics to a history of the Beats and the construction of the first atomic bomb.
After launching the Novel Graphics line with The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, a trade book bestseller, LeBien, has followed through with a string of serious nonfiction comics works on history, economics, science and public policy that include After 9/11, also by Colon and Jacobson; The U.S. Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnel, The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA by Mark Schultz and Zander and Kevin Cannon and the two-volume Cartoon Introduction to Economics by Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman, just to name a few. LeBien, a historian as well as a publisher, also happened to be a comics fan, but a fan who became passionate about both exploiting the teaching and storytelling advantages of the comics medium, producing nonfiction comics of the same seriousness and editorial quality as the prose works on history he published at Hill & Wang.
Moon, who will continue as a senior editor at the Scientific American/FSG imprint, takes over the Novel Graphics imprint and its backlist of 21 titles (also including the adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451) with 13 new books in the pipeline for 2012 through 2014. Sales and school adoptions across the line have been significant. Published in December 2011, the prescient title Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works, written by MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber and illustrated by Nathan Schreiber, was an immediate and unlikely New York Times bestseller, landing on the list well before the recent Supreme Court Ruling. The book is on its third printing. The NG list has two other New York Times’ bestsellers, The 9/11 Graphic Adaptation and The Beats: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle.
Moon began her publishing career at Palgrave, Macmillan’s academic publishing division, in science eventually acquiring academic and trade titles in the history of education, parenting and social science. (She also worked at Basic Books). In 2010 she was named senior editor at the newly formed the Scientific American/FSG prose imprint, which was also under the direction of Thomas LeBien. Much like LeBien, who worked to teach himself the production and editorial details of producing comics, Moon now says she’s “learning about InDesign files and grappling with all that.” She’s also looking forward to combining her background in science prose publishing with the new world of nonfiction graphic storytelling. “Several Novel Graphics books, like Evolution and The Stuff of Life, deal with science and I will push to do more in that direction, areas where I have expertise,” she told PW in a interview.
Moon said the line will continue to be “retail focused,” but emphasized the importance of the education market—Novel Graphics titles are often adopted—pointing out school market hits like the two volume, Cartoon Introduction to Economics (published in 2010, volume 1 is on its seventh printing, volume 2, published in December 2011, is on its third printing). “Sales have been great for the economic books and they will sell for a long time. You can see the sales spike around the school year” she said, pointing out that entire line has had “multiple printings on many of the books.” The U.S. Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, she said, " has been adopted at the high school and college levels and has been selected as a college 'common freshmen read' as well." Tim Hamilton's graphic adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, "has been selling very well over the years, and we’ve seen a jump in sales over the last few months due to the revival of interest in Bradbury’s work since his recent passing," Moon said.
Moon said the line is always looking for “cross promotional” opportunities with Macmillan, its parent company and a major educational publisher, to offer graphic books focused on a subject category as supplements to traditional prose textbooks. “Professors are taking these books and introducing them into the curriculum,” she explained, “not to replace traditional texts but to reach a broader range of student and using them to help students having problems with the subject category.”
Macmillan has a lot of experience in publishing and marketing graphic novels and in addition to Novel Graphics, comics works are published by its First Second graphic novel imprint and Macmillan also distributes the works of acclaimed Canadian independent comics publishing house Drawn & Quarterly. She said that social media and academic conferences are their most important marketing/promotional tools—“it depends on whether the book is trade or academic,” she said. Peter Janssen, Macmillan’s head of academic marketing, works to “bring the graphic novels to academic conferences to make sure they’re on display and get feedback from the professors on what’s working.” She also attends events like the USA Science and Engineering Festival, “a family convention event with a mini-book fair that features science author writing for a YA crowd,” she said, looking for both readers and new potential new authors for Novel Graphic titles. Moon said the event was, "a wonderful opportunity to chat with young people and find out what they are most excited about when it comes to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as I think more about the science imprint and the graphic books list going forward."
The 13 titles in the pipeline now were all acquired by LeBien. Titles about to be released include Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar and JT Waldman, a trenchant history/memoir focused on the Jewish State; The Hammer and The Anvil: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the End of Slavery in America by Dwight Jon Zimmerman; art by Wayne Vansant (with a foreword by the historian James M. McPherson) and Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm.
In 2013, she said, Novel Graphics will publish Beat the Odds: A Graphic Guide to Diabetes, a YA-focused book on diabetes that's being created by Nick Bertozzi and Kim Chaloner and The Cartoon Introduction to Statistics by Alan Dabney and Grady Klein, a work that will "provide readers with a hilarious educational adventure into the world of statistics and big data." Moon said she’s on the lookout for titles in the kids YA age range and titles targeting high school science and math students. Digital distribution is still to come for Novel Graphics, she said, blaming the slow transition to digital comics delivery on the complexity of designing narrative and graphics heavy books for digital display. “Can you do it and stay true to the narration? Can you zoom in on details and not lose context,” she said.
“I’m looking at the market, trying to find the right topics and find the right pairings of writer and illustrator,” Moon explained. “I haven’t signed anything yet, I’m looking at how everything works and looking for titles that have some connection to what we’re doing in the science imprint. There’s a lot of interesting ways to bring science and how-to books to comics. This was Thomas LeBien’s baby and I want to do right by it and put my own spin on it.”