“In early 2020, we were holding our breath—we didn’t know what to expect,” said Andrews McMeel Publishing president and publisher Kirsty Melville. “It turned out to be a very good year, and 2021 just continued that momentum.” Sales last year were up 25% from 2019, she added.

AMP, a division of Andrews McMeel Universal, is best known as the publisher of the bestselling Doonesbury, Calvin and Hobbes, and Far Side comics strip compilations, and it remains preeminent in the comics and humor category. But Melville noted that sales are spiking in the poetry and children’s categories as well, both of which the company entered approximately 10 years ago.

Poetry sales rose 10% since the start of the pandemic, Melville said. “That speaks to the times. Our poetry is part self-care, part reflection, part nurturing. We have these poets who speak to the moment.” She cited a few of AMP’s bestselling poets, among them its top author, Rupi Kaur, a Canadian who emigrated from India with her family and whose poetry resonates with people of color and millennials; r.h. Sin, whose work pulls in Black readers; and Australian poet Courtney Peppernell, who has built up a large LGBTQ audience.

“Our poetry represents diversity in a big way,” Melville said, “in the authors we publish and in the audiences we publish for.” She expects the upward sales trajectory to continue, with new poetry compilations coming from a number of poets, including Kaur.

While the move into poetry has had a profound impact on AMP and has “changed the emphasis of the company,” accounting for 20% of its list, Melville maintained that humor remains the core of AMP’s publishing program. Humor backlist sales have been “phenomenal” over the past two years, she said, led by Calvin and Hobbes and Far Side compilations.

Along with the evergreen bestsellers, women’s humor also is driving sales in the category, Melville said, citing cartoonist Catana Chetwynd, the author of several humor books she called “very relatable.” AMP is publishing Chetwynd’s next humor/comics collection, You’re Home, in October. “And readers are going back to Sarah Andersen,” Melville added, noting the resonance of the cartoonist’s graphic novel series Sarah Scribbles among angst-ridden millennials.

The calendar component of AMP’s humor list has also grown in the past two years. “I think people thought calendars would just disappear,” Melville said. “But people want that daily joke, they need that daily joke—and we have the content for that.”

Melville noted the success of the Far Side Off the Wall day-to-day calendar, which sold 300,000 units when it debuted in 2020; this year’s calendar sold 400,000 units.

AMP Kids ramps up

Andrews McMeel Publishing Kids, which launched in 2010 and now accounts for 30% of AMP’s list, has been another growth driver. “We’ve been publishing graphic novels for children long before everybody else, before it was fashionable,” Melville said. “It’s an outgrowth of our heritage, which is humor and comics.”

Over the past two years, sales in the children’s group increased 20%. Melville attributed the spike to a combination of educational trends and AMP marketing strategy. “Parents and teachers have come to realize that graphic learning—through words and pictures—is as profound,” she explained, “and as important as words on their own,” particularly for reluctant readers.

Melville noted that part of the sales increase in the children’s division was due to the pandemic, as parents looked for books to help educate—and entertain—their children at home. AMP Kids titles have sold well in indie bookstores as well as at Barnes & Noble, and, since the pandemic, in Target and Walmart.

To help keep the children’s division growing, AMP hired former Scholastic acquisitions editor Erin Pascal, who is developing several new graphic novel series. It also hired children’s marketing manager Diane Mangan to pump up the imprint’s book promotion.

ViacomCBS is partnering with AMP to develop a new series of Lincoln Peirce’s Big Nate graphic novels for middle grade readers. Nickelodeon Animation Studio adapted an animated series based on AMP’s Big Nate books that debuted in February on Nickelodeon/Paramount+, and the new book series will comprise two volumes per year for the next three years based on the story lines of the streaming series, as well as two activity books. The books will launch in late August with the release of Destined for Awesomeness, which will include stories from three episodes of the show. AMP’s Big Nate graphic novels for middle grade readers have been bestsellers for the press for the past decade, Melville said, selling 250,000–300,000 copies each year. “So when ViacomCBS wanted to do a graphic novel series, we jumped on that.”

AMP is also partnering with Tapas Media, a mobile webcomics storytelling platform showcasing strong female and underrepresented characters, to launch a graphic novel line featuring popular Tapas series this fall.

During the pandemic, AMP, which is based in Kansas City, Mo., hired remote workers in New York City, on the West Coast, and elsewhere, but Melville contended that the house’s location still makes it unique. “The core business is here, but for certain roles, it’s exciting to work with people who are not in Kansas City,” she said. “It’s exciting for them to work with an indie press. You have to work harder at communication, but working with people remotely has become easier.”

Despite the evolution, Melville insisted that AMP’s core values have not changed. She credited AMP’s success to its “creative-first approach that respects the authors and creators we work with. We’re experimenting with new things and trying new things, but we’re growing and building on what came before us.”

An earlier version of this story was inaccurate regarding the number of books being published by Andrews McMeel in conjunction with the Big Nate Nickelodeon/Paramount+ animated series. It has been corrected.