Archive for April 20th, 2006

our books, our shelves

April 20th, 2006

Does it make sense for bookstores to put graphic memoirs about war, cancer, and domestic violence on the same shelf as Batman? An article in today’s Philadelphia Enquirer ponders this searching question, and in the process makes a brief mention of my forthcoming book “Fun Home.”

Telling serious stories through cartooning is not novel, of course. Art Spiegelman’s Maus, about his father’s experiences during the Holocaust, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. And Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, about a girl’s life in Iran during the Islamic revolution, came out in 2003 and has become required reading for cadets at West Point.

“But what is new is that now graphic memoirs are beginning to show up on the lists of traditional publishers’ releases,” says Calvin Reid, an editor at Publishers Weekly who specializes in comics.

In other words, the big boys of the book world have come to comics and, Reid says, that is likely to change how graphic literature is shelved in bookstores, marketed by publishers, and, ultimately, received by the public.

In March, Abrams Image published Mom’s Cancer by Web cartoonist Brian Fies, and this month, Harper Paperbacks will release Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person by Miriam Engelberg. Houghton Mifflin will release Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, about her closeted gay father, in June, and in September, Knopf will launch Cancer Vixen: A True Story, by New Yorker cartoonist Marisa Acocella Marchetto.

“Bookstores have embraced graphic novels, but until now they’ve stayed in the graphic novel section, alongside science fiction and supernatural stories,” says David Roth-Ey, editorial director of Harper Perennial Paperbacks. “I think Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person will be put in the health section, and that’s a first for us. This could be a new wave.”