The Rise of YA
An Interview with Roar Comics Editor

Young adult graphic novels have become one of the most compelling pieces of literature in the last decade from Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese to John Lewis’ March trilogy. The demand for this genre has led many publishers to focus on creating content specifically for young adult readers. Comics publisher, Lion Forge, is paving the way for young adult graphic novels with their dedicated imprint, Roar Comics. We spoke with Lion Forge Vice President and Executive Editor, Andrea Colvin, about the state of the market and how Roar plans on expanding their content and their support of educators and librarians.

Diamond BookShelf: Young adult graphic novels have been pioneering the road to literary and academic acclaim for graphic novels in recent years. What would you say was the turning point that sparked the demand for graphic novels aimed at children and young adults?

Andrea Colvin: Well I think it’s easy to point to the publication of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile in 2010 as a watershed moment in kids’ comics – and it was – but the truth is that momentum had been building in the kids’ comics space for years before that. Librarians had been steadily building their young readers graphic novel sections as they watched those books become some of the most highly circulated in their collections. And the accessibility and authenticity of Smile really pushed the genre over the edge into the mainstream.

I also think one can’t discount the effect of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series – the first in the comics-prose hybrid genre – on gatekeepers such as parents and teachers, whom it showed that images could in fact be interdependent with text in a “real” book. Combine all of this with the tendency of reluctant readers to gravitate toward comics, and you’ve got the recipe for what is now one of the fastest growing segments in trade publishing.

Diamond BookShelf: What was the inspiration behind launching Roar Comics as an imprint dedicated to focusing on comics for teens and young adults? What sets it apart from both Lion Forge and the CubHouse imprint?

Andrea Colvin: Well we started with Roar as an “all ages” imprint under the Lion Forge umbrella. But we quickly understood that there were a couple of problems with that. First, what does “all ages” even mean? What are parents supposed to understand from that designation? How does that help them choose appropriate graphic novels for their kids? How does that help librarians know where to shelve books in their collections? Second, books aimed at, say, 8 to 12 year olds should necessarily be different in tone and content from books aimed at 14 to 17 year olds. There’s a reason bookstores have moved the teen books out of the children’s section.

So, we launched CubHouse to publish books for younger readers, from the very youngest kids (we publish picture books for kids as young as 3) to middle-grade (up to 12 years old). Younger kids are more interested in humor and the absurd, and teens and young adults want more searing emotional storytelling. Of course, younger kids like emotional and heartfelt stories as well, and teens aren’t totally devoid of humor! But we felt it was important to be able to draw a line, even a fuzzy one, between content appropriate for younger kids and content that will appeal to teens and young adults.

Diamond BookShelf: Young adult graphic novels are often popular not only because they target a specific audience, but because the themes and content are easily accessible to adults and sometimes children. How do you feel the accessibility of young adult graphic novels benefits the genre and the medium in the academic world?

Andrea Colvin: There is a huge adult crossover audience for teen and YA graphic novels. As in prose publishing, adults are reading books originally conceived for teens and young adults in droves. And some titles are also appealing to the more mature among younger readers. But as far as their suitability for an adoption into the institutional market, we still feel it’s important to have a teen/YA (or younger, if it’s CubHouse) readership in mind when we are creating and marketing titles. Institutional gatekeepers don’t have time to read every graphic novel published, which is why it’s important that we are clear about appropriateness for those audiences.

Diamond BookShelf: Does Lion Forge have any resources available for librarians or schools to help get more young adult graphic novels into circulation?

Andrea Colvin: We’re planning a robust nonfiction list in coming years, and we’ll be making sure those titles cover subjects that are part of school curriculum. I’ve seen studies that show students retain information better when it’s presented in a graphic format; I know it works for me! At the least we can find new and compelling ways to tell stories that might interest kids in a topic, hopefully piquing their interest in additional texts and prose nonfiction reading.

Additionally, we plan to have robust teaching and discussion guides available for all our CubHouse titles as well as our nonfiction Roar titles. We want to make it easy for schools and libraries to use our books!

Diamond BookShelf: Can you give a little bit of background on a couple of titles coming out this year from Roar/CubHouse and how they fit into the young adult genre?

Andrea Colvin: There are two in particular I’m excited about in 2017.

The first is Lighter Than My Shadow by British creator Katie Green. It’s a memoir of her harrowing journey through a tenacious eating disorder and abuse by a trusted therapist. The way Katie uses the graphic format is amazing; she forces the reader to really feel what she felt and to understand what she went through. This book is a gut punch, but one it’s impossible to look away from. Every time I pick up Katie’s work, I get lost in it. She’s a wonderful talent.

The second is Taproot by Keezy Young. Keezy is a sublime storyteller and incredible artist. Taproot is an atmospheric tale centered around a gardener who is secretly in love with his best friend, who happens to be a ghost. It’s an affecting queer love story that is not about being queer. Rather it’s about friendship, loss, acceptance, and surrender. It’s just beautiful.

Diamond BookShelf: Do you believe it is necessary for the comics industry to recognize the shift in demand for young adult graphic novels? As a publisher, how do you track these trends as well as the longevity of them?

Andrea Colvin: Well the trade publishing industry is sure waking up to the increase in demand for kids’ graphic novels, so it would behoove the comics industry to do the same if it wants to remain competitive in this space. I think we’re teetering on the brink of something really big, and there is so much wonderful talent out there.

As far as tracking longevity of the market, this is always tough. Of course, we look closely at both recent and longer-term sales trends, but you know the old adage that past performance is not a guarantee of future results. A certain amount of this is gut, and faith. But the fact is, comics and graphic novels are great books for kids, and not just reluctant readers. They help readers develop visual literacy as well as textual literacy. They’re great for English language learners. They’re great for emerging readers. And as parents, teachers, and librarians get more and more comfortable with the comics format, I don’t see this trend slowing down!


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