Founded in 1898 as the publishing unit of the nonprofit U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Md., the Naval Institute Press specializes in books on the military, including works on history, education, and biography, as well as some fiction. But soon, the press will add graphic novels and graphic nonfiction.
Later this year, the Naval Institute Press is launching Dead Reckoning, a graphic books imprint that will release four titles in 2018, with more to come. The imprint is named after a navigation technique.
Dead Reckoning is headed by Gary Thompson, NIP’s assistant acquisitions editor and graphic novel lead, who explained that the imprint will target adults and young adults. Dead Reckoning, he said, will focus “primarily on stories about military history, military biography/memoir, general history, and stories of the high seas.” But he emphasized that the line will also offer “plenty of fiction, as well as fictionalized stories based on true events.”
The imprint accepts agent submissions, although Thompson developed most of the titles on the initial list in-house. NIP pays advances (the house also offers page-rate equivalents, which are more typical in the traditional comics industry).
Although NIP has its own warehouse and distributes its own titles, the press brought in comics consultant Sven Larsen and Parson-Weems Publisher Services, which has a longtime relationship with graphic novel distributor Diamond, to handle sales and marketing of Dead Reckoning’s titles. “They have expertise in the comics industry and were brought in to help navigate the more idiosyncratic elements of the graphic novel marketplace,” Thompson said.
Discussions about publishing graphic novels began at the press in 2015, after the NIP director asked staffers what new trends the house should focus on. Thompson, who had earlier convinced NIP to publish poetry, suggested graphic novels. Plans quickly grew from publishing a single work to starting an entire line of graphic books.
“Why do just one?” Thompson asked. “To show that we’re serious, we need to do it right: publish as many books as possible and work to make this a success. Maybe some of the books won’t work, but that’s publishing.”
Thompson used visits to local comics shows (among them the Small Press Expo outside Washington, D.C., and the Baltimore Comic Con), to find artists and writers—“anyone who looked like they would fit our plans for publishing military nonfiction,” he said.
A longtime comics fan, Thompson noted that his taste in comics is reflected in the Dead Reckoning list. “I read the big two [Marvel and DC] as a kid,” he said, “and later manga and indie comics.” He added that the imprint’s list is a “mix of all that stuff.”
The list offers a mix of book-length and anthologized short works focused on military history and combat memoir, as well as a series of archival collections that reprint classic WWII-era war comics. Overall, the initial list offers current works on military culture, done in “indie styles,” Thompson said, comparable to the drawing and writing associated with literary comics.
Indeed, Thompson said a key element in the Dead Reckoning program was asking, “What should a contemporary war comic look like?” He added, “I love Sgt. Rock”—a classic war comic created by the legendary comics artist Joe Kubert—“but I can’t do books like that all the time.”
Among the first titles from the imprint is Machete Squad, a memoir by Brent Dulak, who was an Army medic who served at a remote base in Afghanistan. The book was written with war reporters Kevin Knodell and David Axe and artist Per Berg. Another forthcoming title is The ’Stan, also by David Axe, Kevin Knodell, and artist Blue Delliquanti, which is an anthology of stories by American and Afghan soldiers (including one member of the Taliban) about their time in the Afghan War.
Ian Densford’s Trench Dogs is a wordless story set in the trenches of World War I. It uses anthropomorphized dogs, pigs, and bears as soldiers from Britain, Germany, and Russia. And The Best of Don Winslow of the Navy, edited by noted comics archivist Craig Yoe, collects vintage pulp adventures of a popular fictional WWII Navy hero whose comics are largely forgotten today.
Although NIP is best known for academic works on the military, Thompson knows those books “are not everyone’s cup of tea.” Dead Reckoning, he said, is “trying to tell the stories that make up history, not just offer the dry facts.” He adds, “We want to offer cool military stories for a new audience of comics readers.”