X-POSITION: Yost Gives His X-Men an "Amazing" End
On one level, Eric Orchard’s Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch is a classic adventure tale about a girl who has to go find the witch who turned her parents into kangaroo rats, in order to undo the spell. The art is reminiscent of children’s fantasy tales, and Maddy meets a fanciful assortment of friends and foes along the way. However, after reading Orchard’s recent tweets about his experiences with mental illness, I realized there are many layers to this story.
I asked Orchard if he would discuss the way his experiences with mental disorders — his mother’s schizophrenia and his own depression and anxiety — have influenced his storytelling.
Brigid Alverson: How has mental illness affected your life?
Eric Orchard: My mother always suffered terribly from schizophrenia, but when my father died, when I was 2, she fell apart. Most of my childhood was my mother struggling to keep herself together. In retrospect it seems like a heroic feat; even though I suffered somewhat, she overcame things that I find astounding. She had reserves of strength and compassion that saw us through. She was battling fears and terrifying visions so that I could have some kind of normal life. Really, there was only so much she could do. What I recall most was the antipsychotics causing her to sleep most of the day. With no siblings or father, I was alone a lot. These were times I started writing and drawing. I had hours to tell elaborate stories and build worlds. I was taught to read very young by an aunt, and that also helped.
Koyama Press’ latest announcement arrived in my in-box while I was on my way home from Angoulême, so I’m just now getting around to it, but it’s impressive enough to merit a bit of belated blogging.
As Koyama Press is a small publisher, the list is short: six titles all together, four for adults and two for kids. But there’s some interesting range to it, and the books are packaged attractively and displayed in a way that makes you want to read each one for different reasons, which isn’t necessarily the case if you’re just looking at a stack of random art-comix. One thing I really enjoyed, as I was reading through their catalog descriptions, was their use of high-concept blurbs. “Richard Scarry and Rube Goldberg collide in John Martz’s whimsical comic book world.” Bring it on!
While children’s comics may seem like a stretch, it’s one of the fastest growing sectors of the comics market, and one can see a niche for books that appeal to children and adults on different levels (such as Luke Pearson’s Hilda books, published by Nobrow Press) and for children’s books that are far off the commercial beaten track. The challenge will be to get them in front of parents and children who aren’t regular readers of The Comics Journal. It will be interesting to see if librarians climb on board; that could be a game-changer.
Anyway, here’s the list:
Among the deluge of pre-NYCC press releases was one from Papercutz that really grabbed my attention: According to publisher Terry Nantier (who also helms parent company NBM), pre-orders of their Ninjago graphic novel have topped 170,000 copies. That’s a pretty impressive number.
The graphic novel is based on Lego’s ninja-themed Ninjago playsets, which have already spawned a couple of made-for-TV movies, and there’s a cartoon series in the works. Plus, people really like Lego, so it’s logical that it would do well.
Still, numbers like that put Ninjago in rarefied company. The first printing of Scott Pilgrim (which admittedly wasn’t a slam dunk) was about 10,000, if memory serves. Potential blockbusters justify greater risk: Yen Press announced an initial printing of 350,000 copies of the first Twilight graphic novel, and over 168,000 copies were sold in stores monitored by BookScan (which includes sales from bookstores only, and not all of those) last year.
There aren’t many books that do that well, though. Dork Diaries, which is a prose-graphic novel hybrid, actually topped Twilight on the BookScan charts, and The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung Fu Cave, by Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey, came in a very close third. But only those three topped 100,000 copies; Scott Pilgrim filled slots 4 through 9 on the chart, with sales ranging from 90,000 to almost 60,00, and the number 10 book was a volume of Naruto that moved about 53,000 copies.
That effect was even more pronounced in 2009, when BookScan’s top seller Watchmen, dwarfed the ninjas and the vampires with sales of well over 400,000 copies. The second best-selling book that year was Dork Diaries (again!) with sales of over 68,000, a considerable dropoff from the top spot. With graphic novels, it seems you can’t count on volume—unless you have Lego ninjas on your side.