Andrea Colvin arrived at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers last summer, appointed editorial director, Graphic Publishing, with a directive to expand the graphic novel list and with the credentials and connections to do it well. Colvin was one of the founders of Andrews McMeel’s AMP graphic novel imprint in 2012 and later moved to indie comics publisher Lion Forge, where she built a young readers graphic list, acquiring such well-regarded titles as Joel Christian Gill’s Fights. Colvin left Lion Forge when it merged with Oni Press last year, and in July she took the position at LBYR.
While LBYR has been publishing graphic novels for a while, Colvin’s title is a new one. “My mandate is to create and curate a graphic novel list for LBYR,” she said. This will include fiction and nonfiction graphic novels for a range of ages, from early readers to young adults. All titles will be released under the LBYR banner and not as a separate imprint.
“LBYR is really more like a boutique publisher housed within a big-five house,” Colvin said, with a reputation for good relations with authors, excellent design, and strong marketing, especially to schools and libraries. “The hope is that publishing the graphic novel list under the main Little, Brown name will reflect the aura of that established and beloved brand onto these new books.”
LBYR published three graphic novels in 2019, and plans to triple that in 2020 and double it again in 2021. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, a 2019 graphic adaptation of Little Women, was well received by critics and readers alike and was picked up by mass marketers such as Target. “LBYR has also had great success with Drew Brockington’s Catstronauts titles, and we have much more to come from him,” Colvin says; the sixth volume is due out in August.
This year’s releases include Cecil Castelucci’s The Plain Janes (the creative team was interviewed on the More to Come podcast) along with Niki Smith’s The Deep and Dark Blue, both of which came out in January, and Mark Tatulli’s The Big Break, due out March 31. “I had been Mark’s editor back at Andrews McMeel, so this was a wonderful reunion,” Colvin says.
The first titles acquired by Colvin in her new job will be out in May 2021: Shark Summer by Ira Marcks, a mystery set on Martha’s Vineyard; Just Pretend by Tori Sharp, a memoir of growing up with divorce; and The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Deya Muniz, which Colvin describes as “a swoony love story that takes on marriage inequality, and also involves a lot of cheese.” All three are middle-grade graphic novels.
Colvin has a special connection with Shark Summer. “That book started as a couple lines in an email Ira sent me out of the blue, before I was even hired by Little, Brown,” she says. “Every bit of feedback or encouragement I gave him turned into something new and delightfully exciting, and now he’s creating a book that is truly light years beyond what I could ever have expected.”
Colvin will also be looking for opportunities to transform LBYR’s existing properties into graphic novels, although she is not interested in straight adaptations. “I’ve done some research on this, and historically, direct adaptations have sold only about 10% of the source material,” she says. Instead, she wants to create new stories using the characters or settings of existing books, or even “age up” familiar picture book characters and give them their own graphic novels.
Earlier this year, Colvin got a surprise when LBYR’s parent company, Hachette Book Group, acquired more than 1,000 titles from Disney Book Group—including some graphic novels. She will be responsible for most of the graphic novels, and Colvin said she was thrilled at the news. “Some are sequels to books I’ve read and loved, some are even books I’ve bid on in the past at other houses, so I couldn’t be happier about this turn of events,” she said. “There are some really talented creators on this list. I’m particularly excited about Molly Brooks’s Sanity & Tallulah series, which I’ve very much enjoyed as a reader, the innovative nonfiction series produced by the Center for Cartoon Studies, and Greg Pizzoli’s charming Baloney and Friends.”
While her first acquisitions were all middle-grade titles, Colvin sees opportunities for growth in other age groups/ “I’ve been saying for a little while that growth is coming on either side of middle-grade—both early graphic novels (also sometimes called emerging reader graphic novels or graphic novel chapter books—we need to all agree on a term!) and in teen and YA,” she said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of books in those categories start to enter the market in 2021, 2022, and beyond. The competition for good YA projects has been particularly hot lately, even though the current size of that market is quite small compared to middle-grade.”