More than a year after it last released an original graphic novel, Pantheon is gearing up for a big fall season in 2008 with plans to release five comics-related titles, including much anticipated works by Art Spiegelman, David Mazzucchelli and young comics artist David Heatley. In addition, Pantheon editorial director Dan Frank outlined plans to release an unusual Batman manga originally published in Japan in the late 1960s, a comics travel journal with work by Joe Sacco and Phoebe Gloeckner.
Pantheon has been a serious publisher of graphic novels long before the current boom in interest in comics. The house is the publisher of such acclaimed artists as Spiegelman (his Pulitzer Prize—winning Holocaust memoir, Maus,was first published by Pantheon in 1986) and Dan Clowes, and it is generally considered one of the most prestigious publishers of serious comics. In October, in anticipation of the December release of the animated film based on Persepolis, Pantheon released a new one-volume trade paperback edition of Marjane Satrapi’s memoir that combines the book’s two volumes. But the last original graphic novel the house published was Jessica Abel’s La Perdita in March 2006.
[Correction: Pantheon also released Kim Deitch's Alias the Cat in April 2007. The house is also releasing Joann Sfar's The Rabbi's Cat 2 in April 2008. PWCW regrets these omissions.]
What’s the holdup? Frank told PWCW that it’s just business as usual at Pantheon. “We’re not out to just fill a list each season,” he said. “When we decided to get into this business, we knew we didn’t want to be forced to look for titles to publish to fill out the list. We will only publish when we can find unique, original works.”
Apparently that time will be the fall of 2008. Frank went down the list of upcoming Pantheon titles, starting with Art Spiegelman’s long awaited autobiographical work, Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@*!. First published in 1977 in various underground comix, the book has been unavailable for years. A seminal autobiographical work that includes the first appearance of Maus, Spiegelman’s Breakdowns is both a deeply personal self-exploration as well as a formal self-analysis of his own conceptual basis for creating narrative and non-narrative comics.
Frank said the new edition will consist of 24 new pages (including some sections published in the New Yorker as well as the Virginia Quarterly Review) including an eight-page prose essay by Spiegelman surveying his work and early life during the heyday of the underground comix movement. “It’s an autobiographic look at how he became a comics artist and the forces that shaped him,” said Frank.
But the new book by David Mazzucchelli may even be more eagerly anticipated than Spiegelman’s new work. Pantheon is publishing Asterios Polyp, Mazzucchelli’s long awaited graphic novel. A highly regarded comics professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York, Mazzucchelli is the author of such critically acclaimed works as the comics adaptation of Paul Auster’s novel City of Glass and worked with Frank Miller on the critically acclaimed superhero graphic novel Batman: Year One. Mazzucchelli has been working on the book for more than 10 years, and he has generally declined to say much of anything about it.
Frank also declined to say much about the book, but said the book’s title is the name of its central character, “a middle-aged architect and academic who has never actually built anything.” Frank said the character’s only accomplishment is a “book called Modernism with a Human Face and the story follow his life after he’s struck by lightning.”
The fall 2008 list will also feature My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down by David Heatley, a book originally slated to be published by St. Martin’s Press that will now be published by Pantheon. Among other topics, Heatley’s comics have surveyed his own sexual history, and his work has been published in the indie comics anthology Kramers Ergot, McSweeney’s #13 andthe New York Times. “It’s work in an autobiographical mode,” said Frank. “There are portraits of his parents and a look at his school life, among other things. It’s very revealing.”
Frank was particularly enthusiastic about Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan, edited by Chip Kidd, the book designer and Pantheon editor, with photos by Geoff Spear. The book documents a short-lived Batman craze in Japan in the late 1960s that led DC Comics to license the iconic character to the Japanese manga magazine Shonen King. Kidd worked with a collector to track down the original manga and compile an archive of vintage Batman manga from Japan. Mangaka Kiro Kuawata wrote and drew the original Batman and Robin manga stories, and he will contribute an essay to the new book. Frank said these Batman mangas have not been seen anywhere in more than 30 years; “even DC did not have copies.”
Actress Mia Kirshner is the author of I Live Here, a travel journal consisting of a variety of graphic works including comics. The journal chronicles trips to “crisis zones” in Mexico, Thailand, Burma, Chechnya and Malawi and offers “stories, comics and collage works; narrative shards and fragments that illuminate these journeys.” The book includes a 32-page section of comics on Chechnya by acclaimed comics journalist Joe Sacco, as well as comics by Phoebe Gloeckner on Mexico and work by French-Algerian artist Kamel Khelif, a comics artist not well-known in the U.S. The title, Frank said, includes four separate volumes that are being sold as one set in a specially designed collapsible slip-case.
“We try to publish powerful books,” Frank said, “and we try to be as creative and selective as we can in choosing them. But to understand what we do, look at what Knopf does for fiction or history or for cookbooks. We publish a certain type of comic, but we publish other things as well.”