Following the success of The9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, the bestselling 2006 comics adaptation of the 9/11 Commission Report, Hill and Wang will offer two new works dealing with American history and politics as part of its Novel Graphics line. The two titles, After 9/11: America’s War on Terror (2001- ) and The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, illustrate, according to Hill and Wang publisher Thomas LeBien, the promise of “graphic non-fiction to take complicated information and make it available to readers with sophistication, subtlety and force.”
Appearing in August, After 9/11 reunites The9/11 Report creative team of author Sid Jacobson and artist Ernie Colón. The 160-page full-color work, which LeBien describes as “graphic journalism,” grew out of Jacobson and Colón’s frustration at having to remain objective in the earlier project. Both men were challenged by the need to recreate the strictly nonpartisan tone of the original Commission Report, LeBien explains, as they were required to assiduously copy the neutral tone of the prose original. They had to work so that their personal voices and political viewpoints did not intrude. But it was clear that they did have an opinion about the ‘war on terror’,” LeBien continued. To pull together the script, Jacobson culled through a wide variety of material from White House briefings to international newspaper accounts, to address America anti-terror actions over the past seven years. “We will publish it quite literally without knowing how it will all end. It is therefore an interpretive work,” the publisher concluded.
The United States Constitution attracted LeBien’s attention because author Jonathan Hennessy and artist Aaron McConnell “were envisioning an undertaking that was dead-on for the list I am developing.” To be published in October, it illuminates the United States’ governing document article by article in 160 full-color pages. LeBien describes it as a “marvelous example of how a graphic novel can take something that seems familiar but isn’t” and encourage people to engage with the actual text. The timing of the publication, on the heels of the nominating conventions in an era when people are concerned about the erosion civil liberties, should stimulate interest in the book.
“Both of these books will have very large and elastic audiences,” LeBien said. Teachers, students, and libraries are natural markets, where “there is such a repository of interest for these type of books. It is easier to do that type of marketing than for a new author of a prose book.” The books will also be sold in the comics shop market, also called the direct market, where previous Novel Graphic works have done well. The publisher explained that “the direct market is a terribly important one and we do our best to be attentive to it,” while acknowledging it was the area in which he had the most to learn.
LaBien expects the books to attract readers of prose history and non-fiction, especially if they are not exclusively shelved with other comics works. Emphasizing that this should not be an either/or proposition, he nonetheless argued, “graphic work that deals with current events should be in that space, biography should be with biography, and science should be with science. They shouldn’t have to keep company with [only other] graphic novels.”
Print runs have not been set. LeBien notes, however, “We sold over 100, 000 copies of the comics adaptation of The9/11 Report and that is informing our print decision” for After 9/11. The earlier work has been appeared in numerous languages throughout the world, and the publisher anticipates similar international interest in the After 9/11.
The run for TheUnited States Constitution will likely be smaller, as its creators are less known, but LeBien stresses he has “great expectations” for the work. He believes there will eventually be international interest in the book as foreign publishers come to “see it as a window onto the United States.” Marketing plans are expected to include advertising through print, television and radio, as well as tours and appearances at conventions.
On the horizon for Novel Graphics are a biography of dancer Isadora Duncan, an introduction to genetics and a history of The Beat writers the 1950s and 1960s. While stressing he is still dedicated to prose books, LeBien is clearly enthusiastic about the potential of non-fiction graphic works. They are, he explains, “remarkably suited to taking a great deal of complicated information and rendering it accessible, without dumbing it down.”