In the years since Abrams launched ComicArts, an imprint devoted to publishing graphic novels and comics-related titles of all kinds, the graphic novel market has grown dramatically. Abrams ComicArts, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this week under founding editorial director Charles Kochman, has contributed a long list of popular titles to the categories' growth and now takes aim at the next 10 years of comics in the book trade.
The imprint continues to expand its reach. Last September ComicArts announced the launch of Megascope, a sub-imprint of ComicArts under the direction of John Jennings, a college professor and comics artist, in addition to being an acclaimed ComicArts creator (he’s coauthor of CA’s bestselling graphic adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred.) Megascope will be focused on graphic novels created by artists of color and its first titles will be released in 2020.
To mark its anniversary, the house has launched a 10th anniversary website and the Society of Illustrators will host an exhibition, reception, and panel discussion on Abram ComicArts at the SoI exhibition space on East 63rd St. in New York City on April 23.
New ComicArts titles coming in 2019 include, Live Oak, with Moss, a graphic work by award-winning illustrator Brian Selznick that is based on 12 previously unpublished poems by Walt Whitman; a graphic adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, created by John Jennings and Damian Duffy; and Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of America’s Legendary Theater by Ted Fox and James Otis Smith.
Since its launch in 2009 ComicArts has published about 100 titles on a list that combines literary quality with commercial impact. Kochman cited three critically acclaimed titles that define the CA list: My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (2012), a graphic memoir about going to high school with the murderer; The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui (2017), a graphic memoir documenting her refugee family’s harrowing immigration to the U.S., and Kindred, a graphic adaptation of the Octavia Butler novel (2017). All three, he said, have sold more than 100,000 copies.
Kochman noted other ComicArts backlist titles with strong sales, among them R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country, Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier, Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts by Chip Kidd, and Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work) in Words and Pictures by Michael Goodwin and Dan Burr. He described the books as “steadily backlisted with strong ongoing sales. The list has been very consistent and has had terrific international reach.”
Kochman joined Abrams in 2005 after 12 years at DC Comics and Mad magazine with a very distinctive set of skills--publishing experience in the comics industry as well as the book trade.
His first pre-ComicArts acquisition was Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies, a web comic turned print graphic memoir that was published by Abrams in 2006. Kochman followed with about a dozen titles that are now part of the ComicArts backlist. And he was responsible for acquiring one of Abrams's most important authors, buying Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid in 2006. It’s not part of the ComicArts list, but Kochman described the mega-bestselling series as “a combination of comics and kids books I hadn’t seen before.”
Kochman said “I didn’t come to Abrams to start publishing comics. I wanted to expand to other kinds of books.”
But it didn’t take long for his comics and pop culture background to point the way forward. The ComicArts list, he said, is inspired by the influence of three giants of American comics, and ComicArts has published a nonfiction work in tribute to each of them: pioneering graphic novel artist Will Eisner (Will Eisner: Champion of the Graphic Novel by Paul Levitz, 2015), superhero master artist Jack Kirby (Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier, 2008), and legendary Mad magazine cofounder, editor and cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman (The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics by Denis Kitchen and Paul Buhle, 2009).
Kochman was quick to cite the support of his publisher, ComicArts senior v-p and publisher Andrew Smith, editor Charlotte Greenbaum (who will work with Jennings at Megascope), assistant editor Ashley Albert, senior publicists Gabby Fisher and Maya Bradford, and senior editor Samantha Weiner, and a long list of former CA editors who helped shape its publishing program.
The plan at ComicArts was to “publish books about comics that would be artful and unapologetic about the comics medium,” Kochman said, also pointing out that this year is also the 70th anniversary of Abrams. “It means even more that I can do this kind of publishing at a house like Abrams.”