Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Behind-the Scenes Superhero: Gina Gagliano

   There are companies and people within the comics world that I place into two categories-  the good and the bad (and the ugly are usually the bad, too!). From my experience as a librarian, accessibility and partnering for programs and events is easier with the smaller, hungrier and more artistically driven publishers. Top Shelf and Chris Staros, IDW, Boom! Studios, Oni Press, Campfire and :01 Books are some of the smaller companies who have this drive and hunger. And at :01 Books, the person who gets the books into the hands of reviewers, librarians and sellers is Gina Gagliano the Associate Marketing and Publicity Manager. I could just call her Gina and there would be a slew of artists, writers, publicists, bloggers, etc. who would know who "Gina" is.

  Along with promotion of :01 Books' new materials, Gina also advocates for graphic novels in schools and libraries and has participated in a number of webinars to discuss all aspects of graphic novels to teachers, librarians, reading specialists and even parents. I have been so impressed with Gina, that I decided to do one of my infamous email interviews. Read on to see how Gina got involved in the world of comics, what the future may or may not hold, and what her job actually entails! (Note- we also requested an approved picture of Gina, but gave her the option of not sending one. So our crack research staff- Detective Chimp- has tried to find her and brought back his "photographic trail" of Gina. See if you can find this behind-the-scenes superhero in these photos!)


Gina's workspace at :01- she's probably hiding in there...
       What is it you do, and how did you get into this job?
First Second employs four people – Mark Siegel, our Editorial Director; Calista Brill, our Senior Editor (they edit our books); Colleen AF Venable, our designer (she designs our books), and me – and my job is to do marketing and publicity.  The shorthand definition of ‘marketing and publicity’ is: make sure people know about the books that we publish and convince them to buy them.  The longhand definition runs through advertising and teachers and librarians and social media and author tours and talking to booksellers and comic book sellers and organizing reviews and interviews and exhibiting at conventions and being involved with book-related decisions that have to do with audience and how the books are presented to the public. 
                It’s a great job!
I got this job by going to a New York City book fair in Bryant Park – it was called Great Reads in the Park – and handing my resume to an editor who turned out to work for First Second’s parent company’s parent company.  I didn’t know at the time that First Second existed – this was about eight months before we started publishing books – but ended up getting hired a month later.
Gina is at lots of comics and book coventions. Look closely- you may find her in there!
          Were you always a fan of comics? What was your first comic, or the one you remember most fondly?
I’m very much part of this new generation of comics readers who started out reading graphic novels as adults (or almost) – I started reading comics in college.  I went to a small liberal arts school in Portland, OR called Reed – they’re a really wonderful school!  But they had one problem: their college library was very academic-oriented, so there wasn’t a lot of fiction to read there.  I read just about all the time, so this was starting to drive me nuts after only a few weeks – at which point I learned that Reed had a student-run comics library.  Instead of reading prose, I could start reading comics all the time – and so I did. 
By the time I graduated, I was running that library – a job I passed on to Leigh Walton, who’s now in charge of Top Shelf’s marketing and publicity. 
The first comic that I can remember reading was Neil Gaiman’s Sandman – which I pulled off the shelf because I recognized the author’s name from his prose books, since I was a huge science fiction/fantasy reader as a teen (and still am).  Delirium is still my favorite of all the Endless, FYI.
This is Delirium, for those who didn't know. (The girl- not the dog!)

      Are you surprised how comics have moved to more of a graphic novel format?
I love pamphlet comics and mini-comics, but unfortunately, they’re not very permanent – the production quality on them isn’t usually high enough that they’ll last through repeated readings.  That’s why bags and boards exist, right? 
The kind of care that’s necessary to read and re-read comics just doesn’t seem to be a place where the book-reading population is right now.  So it makes sense to me that people would want sturdier, more re-readable comics that aren’t going to fall apart if you put them in a tote bag to read on the subway on the way to work or take to school in a backpack.   

 Would :01 ever consider, or did they ever consider , offering an on-going monthly series in print?
I can’t speak to all the possible futures of :01, but publishing monthly pamphlets really isn’t something that we’re set up to do at this company.  So – maybe someday, but definitely not in the near future.   

 :01 has had digital comics, or on-line comics, that could be read for free. Is this something that will continue?
Indeed it will.  Because we do our serial comics in a run-up to publication, we don’t have any on the hook right now.  But some will be coming down the pike soon. 

 How do you find new talent? I read an article by you once where you talked about what it took to get a look from :01. Do people come to you because your name is out there?
I don’t personally do a lot of finding new talent at First Second because I do marketing and publicity, rather than editing.  But I definitely go to conventions and talk to people, occasionally look at the internet, and read lots of books, all of which are reasonable ways to find new talent.
And as the person at :01 who gets the general First Second e-mail directly in their inbox – that’s the mail@firstsecondbooks.com address – I can tell you that we got two unsolicited submissions e-mailed to us already today.  People do come to us because our name is out there – both people we’ve encountered professionally at conventions or whose books we’ve read or who we’ve asked to be part of one of our anthologies or whose work we’ve admired, and also people who are new to us. 

 Speaking of being out there, you have quite a presence with schools and public libraries through your emails and webinars. What other demographics do you go after? Some people would argue by targeting libraries and schools, you are cutting yourself out of buyers- is this true or are libraries a good way to go?
First of all, do people really say that if your books are read in libraries and classrooms, you’re cutting yourself out of sales?  It doesn’t seem all that probable – after all, the way that books get into classrooms and libraries is that the teachers and librarians buy the books.  Teachers and librarians are both awesome – they’re some of the biggest evangelical support that we get not just at First Second, but in the whole book industry.  Just think about it: they spend all their time convincing people that reading is awesome and that they should do more of it.  Succeeding at doing this successfully is their actual job.  What better people to have on your side as a publisher?
Other audiences we pursue (and you’ll be shocked to hear this, I’m sure) include bookstores and comics stores!

What sorts of graphic novels do you read? Are you a fan of superheroes or adventure or biographical? What are some new ones you have read?
Okay, pretty sure Gina is NOT in this picture!
I read all sorts of graphic novels – superheroes, adventure, nonfiction, kids – pretty much anything!  I enjoyed Rutu Modan’s The Property, which I read earlier this year – that’s a great example of a really solid adult fiction book.  And I’m currently in the middle of reading Farel Dalrymple’s new collection from AdHouse, Delusional.  Pretty much everything he does is super.
         
Top 3 graphic novels :01 has done, all-time. Go:
This is such a hard question, because we publish books in so many different categories – adult science nonfiction! Kids nursery rhyme anthology!  Teen paranormal! – that’s it’s really difficult to pick favorites.  Pass!
            
Top 3 you wish :01 could have had their label on:
I’m a huge fan of Jordan Crane’s The Clouds Above.  I don’t know if we could have published that because of the format, but it’s wonderful!  I also really love Eleanor Davis’ Stinky and The Secret Science Alliance – those are both excellent books. 
   
     
 Ten years from now, comics and graphic novels will be: bigger than ever, almost extinct, only in digital or going places that most people can’t imagine right now?
What we’re finding at First Second that every year, more and more people are starting to read graphic novels – and that more and more kids especially are starting to read graphic novels.  In ten years, I’m sure those kids will still be reading graphic novels as teens and adults. 
 Would you argue there is educational merit to comics? Can they be considered “literature?” How about “art?”
I would definitely argue that there is educational merit to comics. 
 But, the great thing is, I don’t have to argue about this now that it’s 2013!  The MLA – the Modern Language Association, basically US English professors’ annual convention – has had a track of graphic novel programming in at least their past two conferences.  The ALAN Review – the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, basically the high school English teacher’s professional journal – regularly reviews and writes about graphic novels.  And if those two things don’t convince you, check out the IJOCA – the International Journal of Comic Art, an academic journal dedicated solely to comics criticism.


   If this lady would get out of the way, we might have been able to find Gina in this photo!
  
 If you made a graphic novel (maybe you are working on one right now?), what would it be about?
I’m not a writer or an artist; in fact, I don’t really have a lot of interest in being a writer or an artist.  For one thing, it’s really hard!  And for another, I have a job that I really love that’s what I want to be doing with my life – I don’t have a lot of spare time to take on the challenging, frequently-not-very-fun job of making graphic novels (or novels or poetry or nonfiction or whatever) on top of this one. 
I think that in the publishing industry – in the libraries, schools, media, etc. that surround the publishing – you encounter a lot of people who really enjoy doing what they do, but also want to become writers.  I think that presents publishing-industry people with a pretty skewed idea of what readers are like: they all want to become writers.
Luckily, that isn’t the case across the board.  There are a whole lot of people who just like reading – who like words and art on paper – and could care less about writing their own novel one day.  And you know what?  That’s wonderful.   We need those people to buy the books that we produce.  Think about it – if only the people who wrote books bought books, what would the book market in the US look like right now?   
What, in your opinion, sets  :01 apart from other publishers?
There are a few things that set First Second apart from other publishers. 
First: our parent company.  First Second is the only comics publisher with one of the major US publishers backing them.  (Scholastic Graphix and Pantheon both are part of a big NYC publisher, but neither of them are publishing graphic novels every season at this point, unfortunately.)  This means more to me, in my job doing marketing and publicity, than it probably means to our editorial team.  But what it mostly means to me is that we have an in-house sales team – and another team of sales representatives around the company – who are all employed specifically to be promoting our books.  Having these people on our side means that we have a whole active team of people across the country working to convince everywhere that sells books that graphic novels are worth their time.  First Second has excellent distribution.
What it also means (and here’s where our editorial team is also very appreciative) is that we have people at our parent company who deal with things like selling our books to other countries, negotiating book pricing with our printer, managing copy-editing, doing our e-book conversions, and even things like making sure our computers work, keeping the lights on, taking out the trash, keeping the refrigerator stocked, cleaning the office, sending out all of our mail, etc.  First Second has a staff of four; I’m so glad that the four of us don’t actually have to spend time doing any of that.
Robot, dog, but no Gina!
Second: our sensibility.  Our Editorial Director, Mark Siegel sometimes refers to First Second as “publishing books with heart.”  This is something you can especially see when looking at a book like Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams or Nick Abadzis’ Laika – but in general, First Second tries to publish genuine, sincere books that make a lasting impact on peoples’ minds and in peoples’ hearts.  That means that when we look at books to acquire, we go for books with a very specific tone, and that’s something that holds true across all of the age categories we publish.
Third: our breadth of publishing.  Here’s the easiest way to explain First Second’s publishing program: when our parent company’s publisher, John Sargent, decided that Macmillan should have a graphic novel imprint, it was because graphic novels were clearly catching on in the venues that the book industry typically sells to – bookstores, schools, and libraries.  Those are the venues that our parent company, Macmillan, also has already-established relationships with.  So when First Second was founded, the goal was to publish graphic novels for those book-loving readers who were finding books in bookstores, schools, and libraries, and get them to start reading graphic novels, too.  We’ve made a lot of effort to reach the comics-specific market, and work extensively with comics stores here at :01.  But we’re also trying to reach all the people (and all the interests) you find in a regular bookstore – nonfiction, fiction, genre fiction – science fiction, fantasy, mystery – young adult, and kids.  And when I say ‘trying to’ here, what I really mean is, we have a concerted publishing plan to reach a balanced set of readers across varied interests and age categories in every season of books we publish. 

 Walker Bean, Claudette (Giants Beware) and Maggie (Friends with Boys) in a caged death-match. Who wins? Bwha-haa-ha-ha!
Probably Maggie, because she’s older (and therefore taller!) than the rest of them.  Also, she has a ghost – which unfortunately probably won’t do a lot of good because it is not a very interactive ghost – but that is more superpowers than any of the other characters have!

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