Despite its somewhat old-fashioned imagery—quill pens forming the store logo, a manual Olivetti typewriter on the store’s Web site that links to its blog—McNally Jackson Books in the Nolita section of New York City is hip to the latest bookstore trends. Since its opening in December 2004, it has stocked graphic novels, placing them near the registers and close to the Photography and Art sections.
While the placement was clearly intended to deter shrinkage, the four-and-a-half year-old store’s commitment to keeping graphic novels front-and-center has translated into sales, according to Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, who buys graphic novels in addition to coordinating events for the store. “The graphic novel section is small—one big bookcase and one display wall—but it’s one of the highest turning in the store. It has the same number of turns [the fraction of a year that an item remains in inventory] as fiction,” she says.
Unlike comic shops, McNally Jackson doesn’t have the advantage of periodicals to draw in customers every week, nor does it do particularly well with superheroes—with the exception of Watchmen. What the store sells best says Bagnulo, is literary, or “writerly,” comics. like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Charles Burns’s Black Hole and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Politically-oriented reportage like Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea are also consistent sellers.
The store does very little cross-shelving between graphic novels and other sections. For example, Fun Home is shelved only with graphic novels, not memoir. “Just as there are mystery readers, there are graphic novel readers,” says Bagnulo. However, McNally Jackson does make an exception when it comes to children’s and YA. Books like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival can be found in both the juvenile andadult graphic novel areas.
To boost graphic novel sales, McNally Jackson has begun upping the number of panels and in-store artist talks it holds. “We’re still learning to connect with comics readers,” says Bagnulo, who herself is a relative latecomer to the genre. She was introduced to comics five years ago through her boyfriend, now husband. “I feel like there’s a much bigger graphic novel audience. It’s not a young white boy thing any more,” she adds. As part of the store’s outreach, in March Bagnulo launched a graphic novel book club, which she hosts with pop culture critic Evan Narcisse. The McNally Jackson Graphic Novel Book Club now has close to 30 friends on Facebook, and 25 attended the first one on Watchmen. Bagnulo plans to include both classic and more contemporary graphic novels in the mix; May’s selection is Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Endless Nights.
But even without an extra push, graphic novels have a devoted following at the store. Watchmen tops its all-time graphic novel bestsellers list, while Persepolis holds four of the top ten slots in various formats—hardcover, paperback and boxed set. Anthologies like McSweeney’s Comics Issue (13) and The Best American Comics 2006 are also among the top ten.