School shooting survivor Lauren Hogg has teamed up with Anthony E. Zuiker, creator of the TV series CSI and cofounder of Zuiker Press, to turn her harrowing story into a graphic memoir. Zuiker Press was founded in Los Angeles by Zuiker and his wife, Michele Zuiker, who is a teacher, and began releasing titles in 2018.
Hogg’s book, Activist, A Story of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Shooting, was published in November and depicts her experiences during the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Fla., in which she lost two friends. It also describes how that event spurred her to become an advocate for gun control. Activist is one of a series of works of graphic memoir from ZP by teens that tell true stories on a range of modern social issues faced by teens. The authors get help from professional writers and the comics artists who illustrate the books.
ZP released its first books in November 2018: Mend: A Story of Divorce by Sophia Recca, and Click: A Story of Cyberbullying by Alexandra Philips. Other books in the series include Imperfect: A Story of Body Image by Dounya Awada; Brother: A Story of Autism by Carlton Hudgens, as told by Bridget Hudgens; and Colorblind: A Story of Racism by Johnathan Harris. ZP titles are distributed by Simon & Schuster.
ZP has an unusual business model. “We raise money through the community, private donors, and businesses, and purchase our own books at a deep discount and offer them to the schools for free,” Zuiker said. ZP also provides video interviews with the teen authors and their parents, along with teaching guides about the social issues in each book, which can be found on the ZP website.
“To date, we have shipped $250,000 in free books,” Zuiker said. “The National Writing Project [a nonprofit] takes care of all of the donation money and fulfillment once we establish school demand.” As a result, the Zuikers focus their marketing on schools, not the general public, building relationships with principals, superintendents, and school districts. Initial print runs for the books are 8,000–10,000 copies, and every book has been back to press at least once, Zuiker said.
All of ZP’s graphic nonfiction titles are told in the first person. The Zuikers have a list of social issues they want to cover, but the challenge is finding the right teen author and story for each one. “The criteria for all of our [teen] writers is they have to use their real name, be ambassadors of their issue, and help promote their own story to help other kids,” Zuiker said. “There is no blueprint to find a writer. Our first author was a family friend, our second author was recommended by the CIA, our third author was found via a Facebook post, our fourth author was a word-of-mouth recommendation, and so on.”
To ensure that the books are told in the teen author’s voice, the Zuikers start with a lengthy interview with the teen and his or her family. Zuiker turns the interview into a script and sends it back to them for notes. Once they approve it, he adds descriptions of the visuals and sends it out to the art team.
“We are a ‘talk up’ company,” Michelle Zuiker said. “We do all in our power to keep the child’s POV and speak their language at all times.”
“The only difference between storytelling for CSI and Zuiker Press is scale,” Anthony Zuiker said. “On CSI, we are telling weekly stories for 73.8 million people a week. At Zuiker Press, we are trying to convince schools and districts to take on the books—for free. We’ve been tremendously successful with this business model. After all, it’s all about getting our books in the hands of kids who need them the most.”