While literature in translation can be a tough sell to U.S. readers, in recent years the Nicolas Grivel Agency, which represents such acclaimed international comics artists as Ulli Lust, Dylan Horrocks and Blutch, has managed to place a host of impressive foreign titles at U.S. publishers. And with big new graphic works coming from Horrocks, Lebanese comics artist Zeina Abirached and French comics artist Philippe Squarzoni, 2014 looks to be much the same.
A former senior editor at Pika, a manga imprint at Hachette France, Grivel spent seven years acquiring and editing, “bandes dessinées,” the French term for comics, in Paris before setting up his agency in New York in 2011. “Pika is the French twin of Yen Press, it’s how I know Kurt Hassler,” Grivel told PW, referring to the publishing director of the Hachette Book Group’s manga and graphic novel imprint here in New York.
While acknowledging the difficulty in selling foreign language graphic novels to American publishers, Grivel emphasized that “I have a lot of hope,” pointing to such U.S. publishers as Fantagraphics, First Second, Top Shelf, NBM, Abrams ComicArts, Pantheon and others. “They have been publishing novels in translations for years. I think more and more U.S. publishers are looking for foreign licenses. Nowadays it’s easier to get information about what’s going on in the comics scene around the world.”
Grivel said the key to selling in the U.S. is, “to choose strong stories which could fit for U.S. readers. With my European angle and my experience in New York, I try to be a bridge between foreign projects and publishers.”
Here’s a list of a few of the books and artists represented by the Nicolas Grivel Agency that will be coming out in 2014 and beyond.
Dylan Horrocks, author of the much acclaimed graphic novel Hicksville, has sold his new graphic novel, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen, to Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics. Originally a web comic, the book is the story of Zabel, a cartoonist who has created a much-acclaimed work that now overwhelms his ability to create anything new, and will be published in the Fall 2014.
Zeina Abirached, author of the much-lauded 2012 graphic bio, A Game for Swallows, the story of Abirached’s childhood in Lebanon in the 1980s, has sold I Remember Beirut, the latest in a series of graphic memoir that look back over a life growing up in war torn Lebanon. The book was acquired by Lerner editorial director Andrew Karre and will be published by Lerner Graphic in 2014. Karre has also acquired Tao The Little Samourai by Laurent Richard and Niclas Ryser, a children’s graphic novel about the hijinks of a kid samurai known as much for mischief as for his fighting skills. Lerner Graphic will publish the book in January 2014.
Over at Abrams ComicArts, editor Carol Burrell has acquired Philippe Squarzoni’s Climate Changed, a major nonfiction comics work that meticulously examines the scientific research around climate change and takes on the task of explaining its potential impact. The book will be published in April 2014. Abrams' David Cashion has acquired Jim Curious by Matthias Picard, a delightful fantasy about a young boy diving to the bottom of the sea in an old-fashioned diving suit that’s created in detailed 3D images. The book will be published in April 2014.
Grivel has sold another work of serious nonfiction to publisher/cartoonist Tom Kaczynski at Uncivilized Books, a small indie press in Minnesota rapidly gaining a reputation for releasing outstanding comics works. The book, An Iranian Metamorphosis by Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani, winner of the 2010 Cartoonists Rights Network International Courage Award in editorial cartooning, is the story of how one of Neyestani’s cartoons spurred a riot and a repressive backlash that ended with Neyestani and his editor in an Iranian Prison. His “Kakaesque” experience is the backdrop to the title of the book. Kaczynski has also acquired Pascin, a biography of Julius Mordecai Pincas (1885-1930), the Jewish modernist painter known as Pascin, by the acclaimed French cartoonist Joann Sfar, that looks at his revolutionary art and on the role sexuality in his life and artwork.
The Russian Notebooks and the Ukrainian Notebooks by Igort Tuveri, a work of nonfiction comics that chronicles sufferings of the people of the former Soviet Russia in the past and in the recent present, was sold to S&S in North America and will be published in the U.K. by Jonathan Cape. The books will be edited by Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape and by Michael Szczerban at S&S.
Over at Top Shelf, publisher Chris Starios has acquired Renée, a new graphic novel by Ludovic Debeurme, the sequel to his much acclaimed graphic novel Lucille, a love story about two teenage misfits from families with a legacy of devastating dysfunction.
Winner of Spain’s National Comic Prize in 2010, The Art of Flying by writer Antonio Altarriba and the artist Kim, has been acquired by Dan Franklin of Jonathan Cape in the U.K. and will be published in 2015. The acclaimed graphic work is based on the suicide of Altarriba’s father but uses that tragedy to create a narrative about the human condition that is driven by love and humor.
Grivel had a good 2013 with the release of new volumes of Ariol by Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant (Papercutz), David B.’s Incidents in the Night (Uncivilized Books), Blutch’s So Long Silver Screen (PictureBox) and Ulli Lust’s Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life (Fantagraphics), which was named a PW Best Book of 2014.
Another key to selling translations, he said, is to work with “good translators such as Edward Gauvin or Jamie Richards to bring English samples to the publishers to consider the projects.” But he also acknowledged that his biggest problem, “a tricky point,” is not having the authors in the U.S. to promote the books when they are released. “Readers need to see the authors at [bookstore and convention] signings, lectures, on stage.”
Nevertheless he also represents authors beyond Europe, including the Iranian artists Mana Neystani. “I do hope to find soon a U.S. publisher for an amazing graphic novel by Kun Woon Park of South Korea. So I wish to bring more from various countries.” And he even hopes to eventually represent American comics artists.
“Maybe in the future, I will work with U.S. authors for the US market, we will see,” he said. “But I'm already glad to represent the rights of Sam Zabel & The Magic Pen by Dylan Horrocks because the story is also a part of the American [comics] culture—even though Dylan is from New Zealand.”