Next month Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish The Little Prince Graphic Novel, adapted from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic illustrated novella, with drawings by acclaimed French cartoonist Joann Sfar. HMH will release an initial printing of 50,000 copies of the English-language edition on October 18, in addition to a separate French edition for the U.S. market the same month.
Gallimard first published Sfar’s graphic novel adaptation in 2007 in France, where it sold more than 100,000 copies. Sfar, author of such critically hailed graphic novels as Little Vampire andThe Rabbi’s Cat, honors the beloved source material while infusing it with his own vision. It has “surpassed everyone’s expectations and hopes,” said Mary Wilcox, v-p and editorial director of franchise publishing of the HMH Children’s Book Group.
The idea for the project originated with the Saint-Exupéry estate, which reached out to Sfar. In an e-mail interview, the artist explained that he initially thought it was “a bad idea because there are already drawings in the original text.” However, Sfar became inspired by the idea of illustrating the narrator, who never appears in the original illustrations. He also “wanted to draw my little boy. So drawing my son was a great motivation to work in a natural way.”
Sfar also said that the project “would be a great way to demonstrate that a graphic novel is not an illustrated book. I feel there is a specificity in comic book storytelling which allows a different path than illustration.”
The artist said that he had a dramatic introduction to the book during his childhood. After Sfar’s mother died when he was three, his family told him she was travelling. When his grandfather finally told him the truth two years later, he used The Little Prince to introduce the idea of death to the young boy. Now, Sfar said, “The Little Prince is a tale about accepting death, it is a story which is meant to help the reader understand how valuable some moments or relationships can be, it is about love and friendship and maybe about fatherhood also.” He added, “The story is not naive, and it seems also very cruel at some moments.” The artist also explained how his relationship with the story has changed: “When I was a child, I identified with the little prince and now I tend to see myself as the narrator.”
Wilcox said that new adaptation should fit well with the company’s children's list. She called the project “literary, rewarding, a wonderful blend of classic and surprising—a goal for all our books.” In addition, HMH has a long relationship with The Little Prince. The book was originally published in the United States in 1943 by Reynal & Hitchcock, which was absorbed by Harcourt, Brace in 1948. The pop-up version of The Little Prince, which HMH published in 2009, sold out and will be back in stock soon.
According to Karen Walsh, director of publicity for the Children’s Book Group, the company will reach out to comic book bloggers and pop culture Web sites and reviewers, as well conduct an online banner campaign. The house will focus on the library market and review copies have been sent to library systems around the country; the book was featured in the company’s e-newsletter to K-12 educators, and HMH associate marketing director Lisa DiSarro discussed the book on a School Library Journal webcast in August.
Wilcox said she believes the graphic novel will have a broad reach, attracting children and adults, both new readers and those with a long history with the novella. “Adults always have come to the book in the original version; it is one of the true texts that can transcend age barriers.” She added, “Readers will be richly rewarded for the time they spend with this story. There are layers for each group to find."