The Graphic Canon in the Wall Street Journal

Barbara Chai just wrote up The Graphic Canon in the Wall Street Journal:

On the Horizon | by Barbara Chai

Imagine a tale from literature retold as a graphic novel. That’s the idea behind “The Graphic Canon.”

The 500-page first volume of the three-volume anthology is set for release May 22 by Seven Stories Press. Volumes two and three will be out later this year. The series spans literature from the epic “Gilgamesh” to David Foster Wallace’s zany 1996 novel “Infinite Jest,” with everything from “Pride and Prejudice” to “Alice in Wonderland” in between.

“It’s a huge project for any publisher, and it’s almost overwhelming for us,” said Ruth Weiner, the publicity and marketing director of Seven Stories Press, which has a staff of 10.

The three volumes contain mostly original, commissioned work from about 130 artists as well as some excerpts from earlier books, which Seven Stories paid for permissions to use. Each volume will retail for $34.95, and a three-volume box set for $90 will be available when the third volume is released in October.

“We have an in-house editor and art director who devoted virtually a year to this project,” said Dan Simon, publisher of Seven Stories. Also adding to the expense was the art and printing. The oversized books are being published in full color and on heavy stock paper.

Seven Stories has set aside a five-figure marketing budget for the three volumes, Ms. Weiner said. “For John Grisham, that’s a drop in the bucket, but…this is getting more marketing push than most books will see,” she said. The publisher is spending at least four figures for ads on Facebook., which will feature art from the series and will be promoted on the pages of Facebook users who have an interest in graphic novels or a cartoonist like Robert Crumb, or a specific work of literature included in “The Graphic Canon.”

The project started as a single-volume idea that came to Russ Kick, who became the book’s editor, in 2008, when he was in the graphic-novel section of a bookstore in Tucson, Ariz. “I had the Shakespeare adaptations, but I saw an adaptation of ‘The Trial’ by Kafka. That was the moment it came together, and I realized someone needs to do an anthology here,” he said.

Mr. Kick proposed the idea to several agents, but there were no takers. “They told me that it was a really interesting idea, but they had no idea how to sell it to publishers,” he said. He then decided to create a prototype by scanning pages from existing comic-book adaptations, and using print on demand to create bound copies to send directly to publishers.

Through a contact, he met Mr. Simon at Seven Stories Press, who took on the single-volume project Over time, as they discussed the growing number of artists and works of literature to be included, he suggested taking the book to two volumes. The conversation continued until the project became 1,500 pages over three volumes, with 75% of the work commissioned.

“This became a kind of ‘Moby Dick’ for us,” Mr. Simon said.

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Detail from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, adapted by Rebecca Dart

In other news, we were sadly unable to attend the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend as we’d previously planned. At least this meant that we weren’t in town standing forlornly ticketless outside 918 Bathurst while actual ticket holders streamed in to see Kid Koala’s Space Cadet Headphone Concert.