Originally launched in 2012 as a digital-first comics publisher with a limited line of adult and children’s titles, Lion Forge Comics is heading for ALA midwinter meeting in Atlanta this week with new staff and an expanded list of standalone graphic novels and monthly comics.
Last summer Lion Forge added staff—among them Rich Johnson, v-p sales, marketing and business development and senior editor Joseph Illidge—as it ramped up its operations to become a full-service publishing operation offering a line of graphic novels for adults and children. This past fall at New York Comic Con, Lion Forge launched CubHouse, a new line of comics targeting pre-K through 12, which will be a part of its established kids’ imprint Roar Comics, which will now focus on comics for teens and young adults.
The house also hired book trade veteran Andrea Colvin, named senior editor, to head the house’s expanded children’s imprint. Colvin, formerly v-p of content in Andrews McMeel Universal’s book division, has also worked as director of publishing operations at Open Road Integrated Media, and was executive managing editor at Abrams.
Colvin will oversee the newly expanded kids imprints of Roar Comics and CubHouse and she spoke with PW about the graphic novel market, Lion Forge’s newly expanded children’s imprint and the company’s plans for ALA.
Do you see a trend or trends in the growing marketplace for graphic novels aimed at children and young adults?
There are a couple of trends. One is the overall acceptance, and in many cases championing, of graphic novels and comics in classrooms and school libraries. Librarians have certainly led this charge, but classroom educators have really come around in the past five or so years to the benefit of comics for increasing literacy as well as aiding the understanding of complex topics.
Another great trend is the increase in the number of comics and graphic novels that tackle those complex topics, from science and history to social issues (Abrams/Amulet’s Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales is a great examples). Also, authentic personal histories that kids can identify with (Svetlana Chemakova’s Awkward from Yen Press is an example). The next step for Lion Forge is to create comics and graphic novels like these that come from diverse perspectives and feature diverse characters.
What will you and Lion Forge do at the ALA meeting?
Lion Forge has a number of exciting announcements we’ll be making at ALA, but the main goal of the show for us is to connect with librarians. We recognize that librarians are really the boots on the ground when it comes to what kids want to read, what kids should be reading, and where the holes in the market are currently. I cannot overstate the importance of librarians for actually putting books in the hands of kids.
How many titles can we expect to come from Roar and From CubHouse?
2017 and 2018 are going to be really formative years for us. For 2017 we’re expecting to have 15 to 20 titles/properties in each line—this includes, for CubHouse, picture books, graphic novels, and comics series, and for Roar both graphic novels and series. I imagine we’ll expand that in 2018 up to about 30 titles per line. We like to stay busy! But we’re finding so much great content from great creators that we are really excited to bring to market.
Beyond the age level, what is likely to be the difference between the two Lion Forge kids lines.
Well, age level is a pretty big distinction, in how it affects content tone. Our CubHouse content will be more fun, and infused with a lot more humor, in general, than the Roar content, which is likely often to have a stronger, and sometimes darker, emotional core (though certainly not devoid of humor!). Both lines will publish nonfiction—both memoir and topics of interest to the educational market—and both will publish ongoing monthly comics series as well as original graphic novels and graphic novel series. I’m particularly excited about our forthcoming picture book line under the CubHouse imprint. It’s still in the development stages, but I think there is a great opportunity for comics-inspired picture books and picture books by comics creators.
You have an extensive background in the book trade but you also worked with graphic novels at Andrews McMeel’s AMP! kids’graphic novel imprint. Are there any meaningful differences or adjustments to be made when working for a comics publishing house versus a trade book publisher?
There are two big differences I noticed right away. The first is that publishing comics on a monthly schedule is a LOT different from thinking of books as belonging to one of two “lists” a year! Deadlines are a lot tighter! Rather than the often solitary work of months or even years that goes into longer-form comics and graphic novels, monthly comics generally have a whole team of creatives working on them—writers, artists, colorists, letterers, designers. Quickly coordinating all of that work is a really different experience for me. Luckily I have a talented assistant editor, Hazel Newlevant—a graphic novelist herself—who has led me through the learning process.
The other big difference, and it’s possible that this is unique to Lion Forge, is the appetite for creative risk. Trade book publishers, in my experience, can often be risk averse (I know this isn’t true across the board). What that often means is that it’s difficult to sign up untested creators, those who may have had projects that didn’t sell particularly well, or those without significant “platforms.” At Lion Forge, we’re looking for exciting—and diverse—talent, plain and simple.
How will Roar/CubHouse work with the Magnetic Collection and can you describe its publishing program?
The Magnetic Collection is created and curated by Mike Kennedy, who founded Magnetic Press, which Lion Forge acquired around the time of last year’s New York Comic Con. Mike and Magnetic made a name publishing really lush graphic novels, higher-end comics, and comics art books. Mike, along with our editorial director, Mark Smylie, has deep connections in the European comics publishing world and are using those to bring some really gorgeous books to Lion Forge. The books aimed at teen, YA, or younger audiences, will be published as part of the Roar or CubHouse imprints. My current favorites on the Magnetic Collection for Roar list are Tony Sandoval’s Doomboy and Rendez-Vous in Phoenix (the latter an account of the creator’s real-life journey to the US as an undocumented Mexican immigrant).
What are some of the projects we can expect to see from the Roar/CubHouse imprint?
All sorts of great things! Here are two that we’ve not yet formally announced—so you’re the first to know!
—Taproot by Keezy Young is an original graphic novel that’s both a ghost story and queer love story featuring Blue, who is dead, and also in love with his best friend, Hamal, who can see ghosts.
—Wrapped Up is an ongoing series in our CubHouse line that is written by Dave Scheidt and drawn by Scoot McMahon. It’s the story of Milo, your average twelve year old boy, whose parents happen to be mummies, his friend a wizard and his babysitters are witches! He likes to hangout with cool teen vampires, typical kids stuff. We will be making many, many more announcements in the weeks and months to come.
Comics publishers often release their kids’ comics under the general “All Ages” category which can be a problem in the book trade, where retailers expect a book to have a specific age level. Will Roar/CubHouse use the “All Ages” category to describe its books?
We will not. Luckily we’ve got Rich Johnson running our sales strategy, and he’s got extensive experience in the trade book market as well as with comics publishers. He knows All Ages is a problem for the book trade, and, frankly, a problem for book buyers as well, particularly the so-called “gatekeepers”—the parents, teachers, and librarians who are most often the actual purchasers of kids titles.