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Monday, March 15, 2010

GalleyCat Interviews GraphicNovelReporter.com's John Hogan

Graphic novels have never been hotter. Novels such as Watchmen and the NY Times bestseller, Stitches by David Small have shown that interest in the genre has expanded beyond the so-called comic book geek audience and into the mainstream.

One one of those leading that movement is GraphicNovelReporter.com's Editorial Director, John Hogan. We had the opportunity to speak with him at length and this is what he had to say:

Who are you John, really? I mean, tell us about your professional background and your current title.

For several years, I was the editor of Pages magazine ("the magazine for people who love books"). Unfortunately, the magazine came to an end in 2007. As sad as I was to see Pages go away, it gave me a chance to make a change, which involved moving from San Diego to New York and becoming a freelance writer and editor. I've been lucky enough in my career to always get to work with books in some form or another—that's about as good as it gets, in my opinion!


Your site is one of the most popular sources for information and news on graphic novels. Tell us about GraphicNovelReporter.com. What is it and how did it begin?

GraphicNovelReporter.com is a home for people on the web to find reviews of new and classic graphic books, interviews with creators and publishing professionals, news about the industry, opinions from readers and experts, and resource materials for teachers and librarians who want to incorporate graphic novels into their curricula. We're part of The Book Report Network, which was started by Carol Fitzgerald. Carol and I had known each other for years, and she had written a column for Pages. So when I moved to New York, we stayed in touch and in one conversation, she asked if there were anything in particular that I loved, a field I really wanted to work in, I quickly answered, "graphic novels." Flash-forward a few years, as Carol meanwhile began thinking about adding a graphic-novel website to her stable of sites, she called to see if I was interested in getting on board. So I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I began writing several graphic-novel reviews for bookreporter.com and teenreads.com all while Carol and I plotted out the editorial development of the new site we were envisioning. It really helped, because when we officially launched at the end of 2008, we were able to do so with a pretty diverse and well-rounded cache of content. Because Carol had already successfully launched so many sites, it was easier on us in some ways since she knew what to anticipate, but this was something new, so we wanted to get it right as much as possible from the get-go.


You seem passionate about using graphic novels as teaching tools. Why?

When we started GraphicNovelReporter.com, it was really a fan site. And in a way, it still is; we'll always be a home for every type of graphic-novel reader. But we also noticed there was a lot of activity going on with teachers and librarians. They were really at the forefront of bringing a newfound respect to graphic novels. But there weren't many places they could turn to for help, so we wanted to make sure we became that resource. Oftentimes, we were seeing teachers and librarians working with the same graphic novels over and over—they were great graphic novels, but it was obvious they weren't being exposed to the entire wealth of excellent material that's out there. Once we started, it was like we had opened a floodgate. The response we've gotten from teachers and librarians has been phenomenal. And obviously graphic novels are really successful in the classroom. There are so many readers who can be reached through comics. If we can help educators do this, we're really happy.


You've been a fan of comics and graphic novels for years. Do you roll your eyes at the public's newfound interest in graphic novels or does it excite you?

Oh, it definitely excites me. There's never been so much available all at once and all in so many different genres. This is a period of vast exploration in graphic novels. That doesn't mean it's all great, but seeing the range of things being published now is incredible. No matter how hard I try, I just can't keep up with it all. As frustrating as that is, that's just exciting. Plus, it's fun to be able to introduce so many new readers to what's good in the graphic format. It's unbelievable to see the amount of talent out there.

What graphic novels in particular have stood out recently? What should we keep an eye out for that haven't been released?

I could talk about graphic novels I love all day long. I try to cater my recommendations to the genres that people really like the most when I can. For example, if you like science fiction, two ongoing series you should really know about are Rasl by Jeff Smith and Echo by Terry Moore. The biggest literary graphic novel of last year was David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, which was brilliant. I've handed that to a few people who don't normally read graphic novels, and they loved it. I've done the same with The Photographer, by Didier Lefevre and Emmanuel Guibert. That book is stunning, both in content and design. Some other recent favorites of mine have included The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld, and Stitches by David Small. George O'Connor just started a new series called Olympians; the first book is on Zeus, and it's a lot of fun. The Wasteland series by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten is incredible. One of the best books of last year, one that really blew me away, was Bayou by Jeremy Love. It was a webcomic first, and it was just collected in print a few months ago. The memoir genre is big right now too; there were two recently that have similar themes of women trying to understand the lives their fathers led, but both were incredibly different—and both were amazing: You'll Never Know by C. Tyler and The Impostor's Daughter by Laurie Sandell. Coming up, expect the Twilight graphic novel to get a lot of attention. And on the comic-book side, with the new Iron Man movie coming, you'll see a lot of good Iron Man books. I'm really anxious to see Top Shelf's new line of imported Swedish graphic novels; it seems like a brilliant idea to translate them into English and bring them to the States. Also, if you're a fan of noir books, keep an eye on the Vertigo line. They're brought in several talented prose and comics writers to work on edgy new graphic novels; so far, I've loved Jason Starr's The Chill and Kevin Baker's Luna Park. I'm really looking forward to Peter Milligan's Bronx Kill next.


Where do you see the future of graphic novels as an industry going in the next 5-10 years?

In no particular order, I think several things will have a big impact on comics in the coming years. Right now, we're starting to see a lot of overlap between graphic novels and "mainstream" publishing. Major properties and writers (like the aforementioned Twilight and James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, Laurell K. Hamilton, and numerous others) are crossing over, and that will get more plentiful, which will bring in an even wider audience for comics. Webcomics and independently produced works will gain more momentum, which will continue to push the industry in new and exciting directions. So many of the most challenging and rewarding works come out of this environment already. And of course, one of the big questions people are trying to answer currently is how fans will read graphic novels in a few years whether they'll be moving more significantly to electronic devices like the iPad. I think there will be a lot of traction gained there, but I'm a print purist myself. I love the smell of books, comics especially. I think there are enough people who feel similarly to keep comics presses running for a long time to come. And the collector market alone can keep print alive.

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