ICv2 recently spoke with BOOM! Studios Senior Editor Sierra Hahn as part of our BD Week event. Hahn joined BOOM! Studios in 2015 (see “Sierra Hahn Moves to BOOM!”) and primarily works on titles for the publisher’s Archaia Entertainment imprint, including BD. We talked about Hahn's assessment of the U.S. market for BD, the audience, and Archaia's key releases.
What's your assessment of the current American market for BD?
My assessment is that the audience is there and it's growing and that more publishers are focusing on BD be it Humanoids or Nobrow, Dark Horse, First Second, Fantagraphics, and I was really thrilled to come over to BOOM! and have the opportunity to do more work like this.
At Dark Horse, I think, Diana Schutz really had that on lockdown. She really understood the trends, she speaks French, and so that was a really strong focus for her and didn't give me a lot of room to play in that spectrum because she was such a pro. That was really an area of expertise for her.
Coming over to BOOM!‑Archaia, I get to play around a little bit more and explore some of the titles and artists that I've loved. I've had a lot of time traveling in France and throughout Europe and discovering new artists, but not quite having the opportunity to bring their work to American audiences until now.
You said that you've noticed that there's more publishers bringing BD here. Do you think that that's because there are people that recognize that they're enjoying titles that are BD and want more, or are the titles just getting matched up with particular audience segments that like the kinds of stories that are being brought over?
I think it's definitely story‑focused. I know it's important for me to focus less on the fact that it's bandes dessinees and that it was previously published in France. As far as marketing and promotional efforts on my part, I just want to focus on the universal language of storytelling, what reaches an audience, what inspires people.
Books that really help set the path for that, and maybe the last decade a little more than that, are Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi or Epileptic by David B., and certainly in more recent years, having the Moebius Library have such a heavy focus at Dark Horse now and going forward.
I think we have a broader audience, especially in the book market right now, and that they're looking for beautiful art in addition to strong storytelling, universal storytelling experiences, the way they might a good prose novel.
Based at your experience at BOOM! or on what you observe from other publishers, what is the audience for BD and how does it differ from the audience for American comics, if at all?
Honestly, I would say it's a little all over the place. I think with something like The Killer by Matz and Jacamon that that's a book that will speak to a traditional comic book market that likes crime, that likes action, but wants some beautiful art and really strong storytelling, really iconic characters, that has a modern noir sensibility. That is a line of books that's been really successful in both book market and traditional comic book stores.
Then we have something like Asaf Hanuka's The Realist, which I think has more of a traditional book market appeal or maybe the online retailer or independent bookstores and librarians, because it has some real world elements. There are single page strips about life in Tel Aviv and Israel and the political turmoil there, but there are also stories that are really grounded in the daily life of a family and what it means to be a working parent, to be a father, to be in a marriage, to raise two children, let alone against these sort of heightened political circumstances. I think bandes dessinees allows us to reach a really broad audience.
We assume the Archaia BD audience is primarily adult. Do you have any idea of gender mix?
If I had to guess I’d say The Killer probably has more male readers and I would suspect that The Realist is an even split.
Then, we have a book that was Eisner-nominated this last year called The March of the Crabs, which is completely different than the two titles I've previously discussed, and has a more animated quality artistically to it that could appeal to younger readers aesthetically as well.
I think the demographic is going to be 20‑year‑olds and upwards generally with our tale line, but we're not trying to exclude any age range in particular.
You‘ve been at Archaia for a couple of years. Have you noticed any trends, any changes over that period of time in what's popular?
In my short time here I've seen a continual interest and growth in the book market for these original graphic novels and what people are looking for to expand their library, to expand their world view.
I think that's something that I really look for in bandes dessinees, again, really beautiful art, a different storytelling sensibility, but what are the stories that can change your perception about what's going on in the world or how people relate to each other?
The French readership has a strong attraction to that be it philosophy, be it politics, be it poetry, be it art, be it music. That's something that's really emphasized and valued culturally in France, and I think that comes through in much of their comic book publications.
Bringing that sensibility to American audiences is really important to me, and something that American audiences are excited about, and it’s content that elevates their perception of what the medium can do.
You've mentioned a couple of titles, The Killer and The Realist, as two critically well‑received titles. Have those been your most commercially successful titles over the last year or two also?
Absolutely. The Killer has been a very important book for just the industry at large. Archaia's been publishing that line for quite a long time, for several years, and the last volume will be coming out in 2017, and we have a strong relationship with the writer, Matz. He'd actually done a translation or an adaptation of The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy along with David Fincher, the filmmaker, and an artist named Miles Hyman, and that was a book that was published, ironically enough in French, and we translated back into English for American audiences. That came out this year and has been very successful for us critically and just great traction in the comic book market. The Realist won the Eisner this year and we have plans to do more of The Realist next year, and have a very strong wonderful relationship with Asaf Hanuka who I think is just an utter genius. Those have been our two great successes in the last few years.
What have you got coming up that you're excited about from Archaia?
Continuing with The Realist, the second volume we just sent to press about two weeks ago. It's going to be called The Realist: Plug and Play (see “Exclusive: BOOM! to Release New ‘Realist’”).
It was really important to me to not put a volume number on it because it's a series that people can pick up at any point in its run. We'll have The Realist and then we'll have The Realist: Plug and Play. I think that will allow readers to have their own jumping on point and find the material without feeling like, "Oh, I'm buying volume two and I need to get volume one."
That one I'm very excited about, because I think it's a really strong title that can change people's perception about the world and the human experience.
And then we’re continuing on with some of the series that we've already had in play. Okko is a series that we've been publishing for a long time, Siegfried, and we're continuing on with March of the Crabs, which was the other Eisner-nominated international title from this last year.
Anything else you want to communicate to our retailer audience about how to get their arms around this category?
If I look at manga or if I look at bandes dessinees, my perception is just ‘is this a strong book?’ ‘Is this strong art and storytelling and what experience am I looking to get out of it?’ Regardless of where it originated, those are the questions I ask myself with anything. So being able to look at something based off of what the story is and what it looks like, rather than was this French or was this Spanish or was this Italian, I think is a great way to approach new content or untested writers and artists in the American sphere. Having an open mind.