Graphic novel publisher First Second, known for its creator-driven graphic novels, is kicking off a new line, Science Comics, aimed at middle-grade readers. The line launches in April with Dinosaurs by MK Reed and Joe Flood, and Coral Reefs by Maris Wicks. Jon Chad’s Volcanoes is on deck for fall.
This is the first time that First Second has published an editor-commissioned series, as opposed to graphic novels brought to them by creators, but the spirit is similar to their other books: while the material will be checked by experts, each book will be strongly shaped by the creative team, rather than following any particular formula. And while many nonfiction publishers aim at schools and libraries, senior editor Calista Brill told PW that First Second expects the book to appeal not only to those markets but to individual readers as well.
“Our top priority with these books is they be fun to read,” said Brill, who is overseeing the series and works with freelance editors Casey Gonzalez and Dave Roman. “The second priority, which is equally important, is we wanted each of these books to address a particular subject in enough depth and with enough respect for the intelligence and capacity of the middle grade reader that anyone can read these books and come away kind of an expert in the topic with a sense of the breadth of the topic and a grasp of a lot of the details.”
Dinosaurs, for example, gives a history of paleontology, focusing on the ways that scientists’ understanding of dinosaurs has changed over the past 150 years. Reed and Flood provide plenty of depictions of dinosaurs, but they also show the sometimes messy way that scientific discoveries unfold – including the quirks and feuds of the pioneers of the field.
“We are trying with each book to find an entry point into each topic that is revealing about the scientific process and how people learn and how people know things,” Brill said.
Each team takes a different approach: Coral Reefs is drawn in a playful, style and narrated by a talking fish, while the framing tale for Volcanoes is a sci-fi story about children scavenging a frozen earth for fuel. Each of the books is vetted by an expert in the field who also writes an introduction.
Still, writing nonfiction has its hazards, as Reed and Flood found out a week before their deadline, when scientists announced that they were restoring the Brontosaurus to its status as its own genus, after 80 years of claiming it was a species of Apatosaurus. The authors relayed that news in a humorous cartoon about it at the end of the book.
“This is one of the reasons our interest is not purely creating reference books in comic book form,” Brill said. “We want to provide good information but also reflective analysis of that information. That does not age. Smart writing about science is more than pure reporting of the facts.”
Dinosaurs by MK Reed and Joe Flood. First Second, $9.99 paper Apr. ISBN 978-1-62672-143-2
Coral Reefs by Maris Wicks. First Second, $9.99 paper Apr. ISBN 978-1-62672-145-6