The Penn State University Press will launch Graphic Mundi, a new fiction and nonfiction graphic imprint, in spring 2021. The new imprint will build on the press’s Graphic Medicine series, but expands the subject matter to include graphic works on the environment, human rights, and social justice as well as health and medicine.

The Graphic Mundi publisher will be Kendra Boileau, assistant director and editor-in-chief of PSUP. Rich Johnson, former v-p of book trade marketing at DC Comics and more recently at indie comics publisher Lion Forge, is working with the press as a consultant.

Boileau plans to publish seven titles in the first season: In February the press will publish COVID Chronicles: A Comics Anthology, edited by Boileau and Johnson; in March, Twister by Roland Burkart, a semi-fictional story about dealing with quadriplegia, and The Parakeet by Espé, the story of a child growing up with a mentally ill mother (based on the author’s experiences); and in April, Fat by Regina Hofer, a memoir of living with an eating disorder, and Crude: A Memoir by Pablo Fajardo, Sophie Tardy-Joubert, and Damian Roudeau, which recounts the fight against big oil companies’ exploitation of the Amazon oil fields. Coming in May will be Dirty Biology: The X-Rated Story of the Science of Sex by Léo and Colas Grasset, along with The Body Factory: From the First Prosthetics to the Augmented Human by Héloïse Chochois, which looks at the history of amputation and augmentation of the human body.

The press plans to publish 12 Graphic Mundi books per year, about 10% of the press’s total output. “Our graphic novels have higher print runs because of the production values,” Boileau says. “I would say that our print runs for graphic novels are at least 10 times higher than for our scholarly books, for the initial run.” PSUP handles its own distribution to the book trade.

As a university press, PSUP already has conduits to the academic market. Boileau expects the Graphic Mundi titles will expand the press’s reach to trade book consumers. “The general reader audience is something we are now going after aggressively, especially with Rich’s expertise,” she said. Graphic Mundi books will be available in bookstores, through online retailers and the PSU Press website, and in some cases digitally as well.

PSUP has been associated with the emerging category of graphic medicine, which is focused on the use of comics and graphic novels to explore healthcare issues, since it launched its Graphic Medicine series in 2015 with the publication of Graphic Medicine Manifesto, a mix of comics and prose essays. The Graphic Medicine category is growing in consumer popularity as well as for its utility for medical training. The list offers titles that address topics from HIV/AIDS and Parkinson’s Disease to hospice care and menopause.

The original series was suggested by Susan Squier, a member of the Penn State faculty, and Boileau initially thought it would be a series of scholarly monographs analyzing graphic novels. The Graphic Medicine series now has a backlist of 22 works on a variety of healthcare issues. “I was thinking we could do the occasional graphic novel,” said Boileau, “but as it turned out many of them have done pretty well for us.”

In order to succeed in a growing and competitive graphic novel market, Johnson recommended an imprint devoted solely to the graphic format. Furthermore, Boileau noted, the graphic medicine movement is well-established and independent of PSU and she didn’t want to interfere with their branding.

Boileau said the PSUP Graphic Medicine series will continue to publish analyses of graphic novels and books designed for the classroom, but most of PSUP’s forthcoming graphic works will be published under the Graphic Mundi imprint.

The imprint’s name, Mundi, which is Latin for worlds, was chosen by Boileau and she said the plural is important. “Comics open up new worlds for readers, who might not have experience with them. To read a graphic novel about [the history of] amputation and prosthetics, such as The Body Factory, gives a glimpse into amputation, what it was like to be an amputee in ancient times, how surgery developed, when did prosthetics come onto the scene,” she said. “So the idea is to publish graphic novels that demonstrate the tension between one world and multiple worlds, the tension between the particular and the universal,” Boileau said.

Boileau cited forthcoming COVID Chronicles anthology, which will include about 55 short comics stories by amateur and professional creators alike. She noted that the book will bring together a wide variety of authors and artists who have donated their work to the project and the proceeds will go to an organization that will help comics shops, bookstores, and their employees weather the pandemic crisis. Details are being negotiated with the university and will be announced at a later date.

“If we select the right books this imprint will be a continuation of the mission of the university press,” Boileau said. “Especially if they disseminate more broadly than an opaque scholarly monograph.”