IDW Publishing has secured global rights to publish illustrated books, primarily graphic novels but also other formats such as coloring and picture books, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. The plan is to release the first two titles as soon as fall 2020.

The agreement allows IDW to mine the institution’s 23 museums, zoos, and gardens for content. “The biggest challenge is deciding where to start,” said Justin Eisinger, IDW’s editorial director for graphic novels and collections. “The Smithsonian has all of these great museums and the most educated experts on their topics, who want to share their stories with the world. They’ve recognized the power of graphic novels to tell those stories and to reach a diverse audience with accurate information in an enjoyable package.”

The program will include a wide variety of graphic-driven nonfiction formats for all ages, with a middle grade reading level being the sweet spot.

One of the series planned is Time Trials, a line of middle-grade graphic novels inspired by a National Museum of American History video series of the same name. The series looks at how history should remember controversial figures such as Benedict Arnold and John Brown, with their actions debated in a courtroom setting.

There will also be original graphic novels about landmark events and people. These will be along the lines of some of the graphic novels published IDW imprint Top Shelf Productions, such as March, a trilogy by Congressman John Lewis about his life in the civil rights movement, and They Called Us Enemy, about Star Trek actor George Takei’s childhood experiences in an internment camp.

“A key focus of the Smithsonian partnership is representation and inclusion,” Eisinger noted. “We can pair creators that represent all of these diverse communities with research and information that is accurate and has the seal of approval of the Smithsonian, and then turn them loose.” Writers and illustrators will develop the books in close collaboration with Smithsonian experts, from curators to zookeepers. “Instead of spending hours doing their own research, the creators can go to the source, and then focus on what they do best, which is telling the story.”

In November, IDW launched a Spanish-language graphic novel program in North America. “Where there is a fit, we will explore doing these books in Spanish, as well as other indigenous languages in North America,” Eisinger said.

The launch list will likely include a coloring book and the first Time Trials title. Distribution, which is handled by Penguin Random House, will be through bookstores, the comic book direct market, and other retail outlets, as well as libraries and museums. E-books are also part of the deal.