Thomas Nelson is making a serious commitment to the graphic novel category with plans to publish adaptations of the prose novels of bestselling author Ted Dekker as well as a variety of manga-styled series aimed at teens, especially girls. While some of these graphic novels reflect the publisher's religious mission, most of the new works do not have overt religious content and are aimed at the growing secular book market for graphic novels.

“We are not a Christian fiction publisher,” said Allen Arnold, senior v-p and publisher for fiction at Nelson. “We work with Christian authors who want to tell great stories,” he said, explaining that his authors weave their faith into their stories. While Christians may detect religious themes, he said, secular readers will not. “We're not publishing heavy-handed Bible stories,” he explained. “We just want great stories that anyone can read.”

Nelson will publish roughly 20 graphic novels over the next two years, with the adaptations of Dekker's bestsellers the centerpiece. In 2007, Nelson released the Circle Trilogy, three fantasy graphic novels taken from Dekker's 10-volume Books of History Chronicles. The house will adapt at least four more YA novels (called the Lost Novels) from Dekker's prose series, two in 2008 and two more in 2009.

The house also has an agreement with Realbuzz Studios, a comics packager that specializes in religious comics, produced in the visual style of manga. Realbuzz is under contract to produce about 24 titles for Nelson (including 10 already in stores) and will publish at least 12 to 14 manga works this year and next. Some of the comics, like the Serenity series, about an unhappy teen girl who has Christian friends, do have overt religious content. But others, like Goofyfoot Gurl, about a group of teen surfers in California, read and look very much like mainstream original manga.

Chosen line art

Dekker's prose novels have sold nearly three million copies and, Arnold said, the Circle Trilogy sold 15,000 to 20,000 copies of each volume. Nelson sells 70% of its fiction in general bookstores. “Our graphic novels and manga are split about 50/50, general and Christian retailers,” said Arnold.

The house plans a variety of marketing efforts—from back-of-the-book ads cross-promoting Dekker's prose and graphic novels to online video/animation trailers—to promote its titles.

“We're not dabbling,” said Arnold, who added that the category (especially manga) is still very new to CBA stores. “We're taking a long term view.”