Over the past two years, the Japanese bookstore chain Books Kinokuniya has been working to expand its selection of comics beyond Japanese manga and anime, adding a wide range of European and American graphic novels. Continuing these efforts, Books Kinokuniya is now collaborating with several publishers to offer fans variant covers for a select group of graphic novels in English, to be sold exclusively at Kinokuniya stores around the world.
Over the next five months, Kinokuniya will offer trade paperback editions of four non-Japanese graphic novels with new cover art in limited runs. These will be sold in its stores in the U.S., the Middle East, and Asia. Variant covers are a marketing and promotional strategy often used in traditional American comics periodical publishing—some U.S. comic books have multiple covers for the same issue—although the tactic is seldom used for the book format.
Terence Irvins, the graphic novel buyer at Kinokuniya’s New York City store, who is overseeing the program, said variant covers can work just as well for the book format. “It’s unusual to do it for books, but variant covers are very popular with fans. We’ve actually done it for prose books; we did it for a couple of Murakami titles. But this is the first time we’ve done it with graphic novels.” For the forthcoming variant covers, Irvins said Kinokuniya approached the publishers about creating new cover art.
The books include the SF thriller Golem by LRNZ (Italian comics artist Lorenzo Ceccotti), published in the U.S. by Magnetic Press; Tokyo Ghost by Rick Remember and Sean Murphy, a sci-fi crime adventure series (published by Image Comics in the U.S.); a hardcover edition of the pop-culture-driven mythological fantasy The Wicked + the Divine, Vol. 1, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (Image); and Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (Image), a paranormal alternative history set in early-20th-century Asia. The first variant covers should appear in March (Golem and Tokyo Ghost), followed by The Wicked + the Divine in April and Monstress in July. The variant covers will all display the Kinokuniya logo.
Kinokuniya has more than 60 stores in Japan, 10 in the U.S., and about 17 in its Asia territories (outside of Japan), which include Dubai, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan.
Irvins said he has a mandate to expand the chain’s graphic novel selection and the use of variant covers is an extension of how the bookstore chain selects, displays, and sells graphic novels in its physical stores. He described Kinokuniya’s approach as an act of “curation,” explaining that he selects titles to reach a wide range of readership. “Fans want a bigger selection of [comics] titles” than is generally found in American comics shops, he said.
Irvins emphasized that “Kinokuniya is entrenched in Western graphic novels, not just manga and anime.” And since the summer of 2014, the Japanese bookstore chain has added a wide range of non-Japanese graphic novel titles from such publishers as Image, Magnetic Press, Boom, and Valiant, as well as superhero titles from Marvel and DC, and European works from such houses as Humanoids, Titan, Soaring Penguin Press, Alaxis Press, 2000AD, Glenat, and Mediatoons.
“We’ve doubled the scale and size of our selection and shelves for graphic novels, children’s graphic novels, and art books and sketchbooks, and we plan to expand even further,” Irvins said, emphasizing Kinokuniya’s focus on book-format comics. Kinokuniya’s New York store offers a deep backlist of all kinds of graphic novels, with extensive face-out displays, a table devoted to Image Comics, and a wide inventory of related pop culture merchandise and regularly scheduled in-store comics events and signings.
Irvin said publishers are eager to work with Kinokuniya on variant covers because of the success the chain has had “reaching new readers.” He added, “We’ve built a customer base that’s interested in both manga and U.S. graphic novels. We’ve brought together both kinds of readers.”
“We embrace the culture of comics. We want to show off our boutique presentation and display of comics,” Irvins said. “We’re trying to be proactive to get people to read comics.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an inaccurate number of variant covers for Murakami prose works, as well as giving an incorrect number of Kinokuniya stores. Also Kinokuniya approached publishers about creating new covers, not the artists, and the chain added more than French graphic novels to its selection.