Beacon Press, a 155 year-old Boston-based nonprofit publisher with a mission driven by social justice, will publish a graphic adaptation of the late Hugo-award winning science-fiction novelist Octavia Butler’s much-praised novel Kindred, the latest comics work to be acquired by Beacon. The graphic novel version of Kindred comes on the heels of a new hardcover edition of the prose novel released at the beginning of 2009. The graphic deal was negotiated by literary agent Merrilee Heifetz, who represents the Butler estate, and was ultimately the result of a PW story about Heifetz’s interest in adapting Butler’s works into comics that ran on the PW website in 2007.

The acquisition of the graphic rights to Kindred is the latest comics work commissioned by Beacon Press, which is the publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, an organization that represents over a 1,000 liberal religious congregations. Over the last year the house has acquired three other comics properties—all nonfiction—and outlined plans to publish a line of comics works that speak to the house’s mission of publishing on issues of social justice and liberal political activism. Noted comics artist Alison Bechdel, creator of the longrunning strip, Dykes to Watch Out For and author of the much-lauded comics memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, has acted as an informal consultant to the press, recommending two of the titles Beacon plans to publish.

artist Jamar Nicolas

In addition to Butler’s novel, Beacon plans a comics adaptation of Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America (also published by Beacon), the bestselling memoir of Geoffrey Canada, a children’s issues activist and president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, with art by Philadelphia comics artist and educator Jamar Nicolas. Beacon will also publish Calling Dr. Laura, a graphic memoir by the storytelling feminist and zine-creator Nicole Georges, in a deal negotiated by agent Holly Bemiss. Georges’ book is described by Bechdel as “a beautifully rendered life story of family secrets, psychic connections, and conservative talk radio.” Bechdel also offered praise for an as yet unnamed project by cartoonist Dylan Edwards, creator of the long-running gay-themed comics strips The Outfield and Politically InQueerect, that will be based on stories about the lives of gay transsexual men. “He’s one of the only trans cartoonists I know. There’s something extremely kinetic about Dylan Edwards’ comics,” Bechdel said, “the subtlety of both the drawing and the writing make his characters leap off the page.”

Beacon Press has published such authors as James Baldwin, Marian Wright Edelman and academic/social activist Cornel West. The publisher has a long history of publishing works supporting social justice movements of all kinds—from civil rights and black women writers to books on women’s rights and works on the lesbian, gay and transgender movement.

Beacon Press executive director Helen Atwan said assistant editor Alison Trzop has been promoted to oversee the new line of graphic works. Atwan also pointed to the PW story detailing Heifetz’s interest in adapting Kindred, which is the story of a modern black woman mysteriously transported back to the antebellum south—and slavery—on her 26thbirthday. Kindred was originally published in 1979 and brought back into print in a trade paperback edition in 1988 by Beacon Press.

from Nicole Georges Calling Dr. Laura

“When I saw that story I got on the phone to Merrilee,” Atwan said about the PW item. “We realized that we could reach a new group of readers. We think a Kindred graphic novel can be a crossover book that can be read by adults as well as younger readers. “Atwan said the book will likely appeal to “20 and 30 year olds who read prose but are attracted to graphic works as a different way to tell a story. These are readers who grew up in the wake of Maus and Persepolis.”

Trzop, a longtime comics fan on the Beacon staff who researched the category and lobbied the press to start a comics line, said the addition of Kindred made sense. Trzop said the press will solicit proposals to find an artist for Kindred. The first of the Beacon comics works will likely be published sometime in 2010. “Beacon is the longtime publisher of Kindred; we’re close to the estate,” Trzop said. She also called Bechdel “a patron saint” of the Beacon program. “She’s been a real advocate for cartoonists and been very open helping us get started.” She said the graphic treatment was a “new field for Canada. He’s excited about the book and we’re hoping to get kids engaged.” She called Fist Stick Knife Gun “a jewel on our list” and said the book details “Canada’s childhood in the South Bronx, the violence around him and his maturation into an anti-violence advocate for kids.”

Heifetz also represents novelist and comics writer Neil Gaiman and other bestselling novelists—among them urban fantasy writers Laurell K. Hamilton and Sherrilyn Kenyon—who have had their prose works adapted into comics. “I’m thrilled that Beacon is going to adapt Kindred. They’ve had so much success with the book,” she said. “Octavia Butler’s writing is very visual and she was a comics fan herself—we found a huge comics collection at her home after her death. We hope that Kindred is the first of many graphic works based on her books.”