The comics and graphic novel publisher BOOM! Studios—it publishes the bestselling graphic novel series Lumberjanes—is branching out in a new direction with What Is It?, a picture book in verse by the husband-and-wife team of Dustin Nguyen and Nicole Hoang.
BOOM! has published other non-graphic novel books before, notably novelizations of Jim Henson's Labyrinth, but picture books are a new direction for the company.
Hoang wrote and illustrated the story about a girl and a large, mysterious, furry animal, when she was 10 years old. Nguyen, who won this year's Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist for the graphic novel Descender, drew new illustrations as a surprise for her on their wedding day. BOOM! Studios managing editor Bryce Carlson, who is a friend of Nguyen’s, immediately wanted to publish the book, according to president of publishing and marketing Filip Sablik.
"It seemed like the perfect project for BOOM! to add picture books to our lineup," Sablik said. The book pubs on August 2 with an initial print run of 7,500, but, Sablik said, "My prediction is that we'll have to go to press before long."
Although this is Boom!’s first children's book, marketing manager Mel Caylo said, BOOM! Studios has experience working in the general book market. "We brought Dustin to BookExpo America in May, and he did a signing there with us," said Caylo. "We gave out about 100 complimentary copies to librarians, book buyers, and independent booksellers. We sent out dozens of advance copies to influential children's book reviewers, accompanied by a passionate letter written by Bryce." The marketing plans also include a Goodreads giveaway and social media promotion.
Sablik expects the book to do well in the three markets BOOM! Studios caters to: Bookstores, comic shops (aka the direct market), and libraries. "My guess is it will be strongest in the book market first," he said. "We have a terrific foothold in the kids' market there with the Cartoon Network titles, Lumberjanes, Peanuts, and Garfield. We had a great response from librarians at BEA this year,” he said. The book was also solicited in Diamond's Previews catalog for the comic shops market. "We knew that with a comics luminary like Dustin involved, we couldn't ignore the direct market," said Caylo.
Hoang said What Is It? is her only rhyming book. She had originally illustrated the book and bound it together with ribbons. When she was going out with Nguyen, she showed it to him. Nguyen said, "I saw something just purely imaginative and innocent, a simple story told from the point of view of a child. It was perfect."
For their wedding, Nguyen redrew the book and made up about 300 copies to hand out as favors. "We got all the kids in the crowd to read along with me during the reception to surprise Nicole," he said.” He redrew the book again for publication, adding an autumn theme, Hoang's favorite season. "I've gotten more comfortable with painting in the last 13 years and really wanted to put together something we can both be proud of,” Nguyen said.
BOOM! has more picture books planned for the future, Sablik said. The next one will be Jim Henson's Labyrinth Tales by Cory Godbey, which will be published under Boom!’s Archaia imprint.