Françoise Mouly, New Yorker art director, cofounder (with husband Art Speigelman) of the seminal comics magazine RAW, and founder of the award-winning Toon Books line of comics for early readers, is launching Toon Graphics for Visual Readers, a new imprint for older readers. The line will feature works by such acclaimed artists as Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti and include graphic novels as well as highly illustrated books for readers eight years old to adults.
Toon Graphics will launch with three titles: Yvan Pommaux’s Theseus and the Minotaur, due out in August; Cast Away on the Letter A, by the late French creator Fred (1931–2013) in September; and Gaiman’s Hansel and Gretel, illustrated by Mattotti, in October. Toon Books and Toon Graphics are both imprints of RAW Junior, RAW’s children’s book unit distributed by Candlewick Press. Mouly is the publisher and editorial director of RAW Junior.
Mouly originally launched Toon Books to focus on the ability of comics to facilitate the mechanics of early reading and encourage reading through comics. Toon Graphics, she said, will take that a step further, using visual narratives to engage readers more deeply than text alone. She pointed to video games, which her son was fond of when he was younger. “It seemed mindless to me,” she said, “but he explained that it wasn’t about the physical skill of hitting a keyboard, it was about inhabiting this world in a video game” and “investing in the rich texture of the story. That’s where I think comics are such a good tool for young kids.”
Cast Away on the Letter A is a graphic novel about a boy who falls into a well and emerges in a parallel universe; it was a favorite of Mouly’s when she was a child. “Fred created this fantasy world, which is fed and nourished by all of the stories he heard as a child,” said Mouly. “There’s some Lewis Carroll, Greek mythology, Charles Dickens. This is when, as a reader, you become friends with the characters, and you become an involved reader with comics as well as stories.”
Theseus and the Minotaur uses text and pictures to draw the reader into the world of the story—how people dress, what their houses look like. “There are a number of mythology comics, and they tend to represent things in terms of the action, one big battle scene after another,” Mouly said. “We want to have books that give children mental maps—so it fuels their imagination.”
Gaiman and Mattotti’s Hansel and Gretel uses alternating text and illustrations to engage children in a different way, by allowing them to experience fear and overcome it. “It’s in reading and rereading and having those fears, not shying away from it but holding it in your hand, reading the words, that you learn to master those fears,” Mouly said. Toon will publish two different editions of the book, a library edition and a larger deluxe edition with a die-cut cover.
Like the original line of Toon Books, the Toon Graphics titles will tie in with the Common Core standards, and Toon will provide supporting material for teachers. Several of the books include visual glossaries and other visual backmatter. “We don’t think in long paragraphs, and we don’t think in words,” Mouly said about the mechanics of reading. “Most of our mental contents are visual, and the cartoonist is boiling things down to the symbolic essence of things, so vocabularies are blocks of thoughts you can construct new stories with afterward.”