Midwest educational and library publisherLerner Publishing has added a trade line to Graphic Universe, an imprint specializing in educational hardcover and paperback comics aimed at ages 9--12. Graphic Universe will be published from Lerner's New York City office, and cartoonist Carol Burrell, a former children's prose book editor, has been hired as a senior editor to develop the line. Shannon Barefield, editorial director of Lerner's trade book imprint Carolrhoda Books, has been named editorial director of Graphic Universe and will manage the two imprints from New York.

Lerner launched the Graphic Universe imprint last fall with 16 titles in its Myth & Legends series, works that retell such legends as Hercules and King Arthur in full-color comics. The first titles are 48-page, hardcover editions (in library bindings) priced at $8.95. Beginning this fall, Lerner will release the Myths & Legends titles in paperback editions for the trade market. Among the titles in the line is Isis & Osiris: To the Ends of the Earth by Jeff Limke and artist David Witt.

Also this fall, Lerner will add a series called Twisted Journeys, 112-page, full-color comics works of fiction in historical settings that allow the reader to “control the action” by picking among multiple outcomes for each story. Among the new Twisted Journey titles are Captured by Pirates by writers Ron and Justine Fontes and artist David Witt; and Escape from Pyramid X by writer Dan Jolley and artist Matt Wendt. The Twisted Journey series will be released simultaneously in hardcover and paperback to the trade and educational market.

Lerner will publish 14 to 16 Graphic Universe books a year, with plans to add more titles and new series, Barefield said. Although the 9--12 age group is the target audience, she expects the books will also appeal to teens and some adults.

Barefield said basing Graphic Universe in New York City is a big help in staffing the imprint. “Getting someone like Carol--who knows kids' books and comics--is not an easy combination to find in the Midwest,” Barefield said. Burrell is a former children's book editor at Clarion Books and is also the creator of SPQR Blues, a popular Web comic. She has also worked at the Children's Book Council.

While a number of educational publishers are creating graphic novel lines, Barefield said Lerner decided early on to use experienced comics professionals to write, illustrate and produce the series. Bill Hauser, a comics industry veteran, set up production procedures and helped bring in creators who have worked for Marvel, DC Comics and other comics publishers.

“Bill set up an entire comics production staff and system that didn't exist at Lerner before,” said Barefield. “This is a growing format with so much potential to bring stories and information to kids who already love comics or to kids who may struggle with prose,” said Barefield. “We're not the first to do this, but we want to do it well.”