We recently spoke with First Second Editorial Director Mark Siegel for an update on the company’s releases and its view of the market.  In Part One, we talk about the state of the graphic novel market given the current economic conditions and the response to First Second’s releases from spring 2008.  In Part Two, we talk about First Second’s bestselling books of all time, and the top prospects for Fall 2008 and for Spring 2009.  In Part Three, we continue the discussion of First Second’s '09 publishing plans, (including First Second’s first manhwa title), plus the company’s efforts to target the education and library markets. 


Since we last spoke about six months ago (see "Interview with Mark Siegel, Part 1"), there have been a lot of economic changes.  What is First Second seeing in the graphic novel market?

It’s a funny thing because I talk to other editors and other publishers doing graphic novels at the moment, and it seems like we all have different pictures at different times--and certainly from each other.  For us it feels like since we’re going for steady growth and building a lasting collection there is a side to the business that feels like it’s plodding along nicely and building and growing.  We’re getting a bit smarter about doing what it is we do and going for the long haul rather than be too focused.  We’ve had different seasons: we’ve had big bang seasons and some other steady sales.  We do have a fallback with the steady sales from the seasons that don’t have some kind of big fireworks number, but this fall we’re coming out with some pretty big stuff--Prince of Persia obviously at the head of it.


Right now the sense is that we’ve passed the point of First Second launch--that was the first couple of years and we’re getting a sense of where we stand; we’re viable, we can work, we can keep going.  Now how do we build on that and broadcast what we do in a bigger way, year by year? 


Are you seeing any changes in how either major graphic novel channels (the bookstores or comic stores) are stocking or handling backlist, or in general just how they’re handling the graphic novel business from your perspective?

Yes, it’s definitely a fluid situation.  We’re watching and trying to gauge.  It changes between chains and independent booksellers--I think the independent book store still has a lot of ground to cover--but there are some people who are having some success recruiting others to it.  I’m encouraged that it’s heading in the right direction, it just slower.


I think a lot of comic stores are finding that their graphic novel sections, when they’re distinguishing it from their regular comics or from manga, that that section is doing good things for them.  That’s where we are in some stores and in others we’re kind of spread out throughout.  I think stores that follow the model of Rocket Ship in Brooklyn, or these real graphic novel stores so to speak, or if you go to Jim Hanley’s [Universe] in midtown, I think we have a good presence there. Some of our titles are backlisting very nicely.  I’ve tried to banish the word "backlist" internally and we talk about the First Second “collection” because that really is how I think of it.  Ideally we’re building on books that will stay in print.  There’s evidence that a lot of stores will play.  There are certain books that I see, whether it’s in the chains or the comic shops, that seem to stick around from our past seasons.


How about the book chains?  Borders' desire to cut inventory has had a big impact on some publishers--are you seeing that in your business at all?

No, no.  Not at the moment.  We rely on the chains; it’s a big part of our picture.  The chains as a group average out really nicely.  We have some good friends in there, and in some places the orders are a little bit conservative, but it averages out that they’ve been very, very receptive to us.  First Second definitely has a presence there that you can’t miss, if you go visit the graphic novel section of B&N, you’re going see quite a lot of First Second there.


Since the last time we talked (six months ago), what have been your surprises on new releases that have done really well?

From Spring 2008, Three Shadows got a really good, good start.  That one went out with a bang more than I thought.  I knew that it would review well, and it reviewed even better than I thought.  In ICv2 actually there was a marvelous one. 


So what kind of a print run was on that?

It wasn’t a huge print run, maybe 15,000 or 20,000.


Have you gone back on press with that one?

Yes, we have gone back on that one.  There was also the Jessica Abel and Matt Madden textbook.  Now that’s a really important book for us on many levels: editorially in terms of First Second investing in the future of the form itself, it’s kind of a statement there. 


There’s also Adventures in Cartooning coming up this spring from the Center for Cartoon Studies and James Sturm, which is a much, much younger how to cartoon book. 


But the textbook is a really serious, authoritative book--a big book. Our campaign was a long view campaign with the academic market in mind.  Now as it happens, it actually launched in a much more impressive way than we were even hoping.  We really thought, we’re just going to keep building this one for the long haul, but it got adopted.  Last I heard 95 colleges have it their course adoptions.


That’s a nice little number right there, I’m sure.

That is meaningful short- and long-term.  Matt and Jessica, who put together a small army of people to work on this with them, did a really impressive job.  Not only does it look great but it really delivers and there’s actually another one in the works.


What was the initial run on that?

If I’m not mistaken, I think it was 25,000 and I don’t know if we’ve gone back yet, but I’m sure we will.  We know the news we’re getting is going to translate into orders and the reviews and everything else helps of course.


That is the kind of book that will sell forever.

Exactly, the gamble is up until you have the product in hand, but [once you have it] in hand, you say, yep, this gives all that it promises and more, so we have every reason to be pround.  The same season we had Jessica Abel’s Life Sucks, which did very nicely.  There’s all kind of movies and things around that; we may be around 30,000 on that one.


Click here for Part Two