Launched in 1976 with big hopes and a love of European comics, NBM Publishing marks its 25th anniversary this year with a growing frontlist of graphic novels, increased sales in general book stores and a couple of big books for the fall—the English translation of the first volume of Stéphane Heuet's adaptation of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and 2024, an update of George Orwell's classic 1984 by cartoonist Ted Rall.
"The term graphic novel hadn't been invented," said Terry Nantier, founder and publisher of NBM, when he launched the firm to publish book-length collections of "literary," non-superhero periodical comics series. "We were testing the waters with one or two books a year. But in the 1980s, we really got going when PGW began distributing our books," he said. NBM now does its own distribution.
Today NBM publishes 25 graphic novels (and other illustrated books) each year that "run the gamut of genres—general fiction, sci-fi, humor, nonfiction," said Nantier. "We never intended to appeal only to hardcore comics fans. We wanted the widest appeal, like any general-interest publisher." First printings are around 5,000 copies and NBM regularly goes back to press. His bestselling comics artists are Peter Kuper (Kafka), Vittorio Giardino (A Jew in Communist Prague) and Milo Minara (El Gaucho).
Nantier said the private firm is growing, "even in a difficult comics market." He credited the growth to "a lot of sales channels: comics stores, general trade stores, catalogue sales, direct mail, libraries and foreign sales." He added to that a growing "penetration into the general market." Nantier lamented the loss of the Tower Books stores, but pointed to demand from the Virgin Megastores and other national chains. Indie stores, said Nantier, "are still slow," but he was impressed with BookSense's advance access program, which pushes e-mail notifications of galleys to retailers. "We've gotten a tremendous response from indie booksellers through that program. We've sent out a lot of galleys." Nantier said.
Heuet's adaptation of Proust's classic was controversial when it was published in France in 1998—French consumers loved it, but the critics hated it. The work, "carefully and thoughtfully crafted," said Nantier, will be published in 12 volumes (two are complete) and Nantier expects to publish them all. Rall is a controversial figure in cartooning, and Nantier said that 2024 is already attracting media attention. [In 1999, Rall wrote an article in the Village Voice that was highly critical of Maus author Art Spiegelman. There was a vigorous response to the article from Rall's critics, comics artist Danny Hellman among them. But Hellman went one step further and sent out a parodic e-mail (he called it a "prank") under Rall's name. Rall was not amused and immediately filed suit against Hellman for $1.5 million. To pay his legal expenses, Hellman is editing and self-publishing Legal Action Comics, a 256-page anthology collecting work by many artists, due out in July. The suit—and the mounting legal expenses—continues.]
"We get a lot of media attention," said Nantier, crediting both the quality of his books and the notoriety around Rall's lawsuit "We just need a bigger selection of comics in stores. We're working on it."