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18 posts from September 2009

September 30, 2009

Why I love The Photographer


The words below were originally intended to be an Amazon.com review. But even I had to concede that it might be a little disingenuous for an editor to post a review as though she were a random reader and not someone who spent much of 2008 reading, editing, and falling in love with the book in question. Luckily, First Second provides me with an alternative soap box.


The Photographer is, first, a scrupulously honest work. This is largely thanks to its forthright narrator, Didier Lefevre, and the clear-eyed writing and illustration of Emmanuel Guibert (Alan’s War and The Professor’s Daughter).

Embarking on a humanitarian mission into Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders, Lefevre is keenly aware of—and readily admits—how ill-prepared he is. But he still willingly climbs into the back of a truck in the dead of night to be smuggled across the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan with a small team of doctors and nurses. With his camera always at hand, Lefevre painstakingly documents nearly every event of what will prove to be a harrowing journey. Frank and relatively unprejudiced, Lefevre proves the ideal narrator for this story, bringing the reader along with him to learn a little more about the people and history of Afghanistan, and about the doctors and nurses of MSF (Doctors Without Borders).

The book creates a startlingly intimate experience, as characters are introduced both through drawings and photographs. The easy intimacy and emotional connection that the comics sequences create is complicated by the startling realization—through the photographs—that these “characters” are real people. That this really happened.

It is impossible not to cheer the team on as they hike over the mountainous, lunar landscape of Afghan passes to reach a remote field hospital where they treat the war wounded. It is impossible not to weep as the doctors struggle, and sometimes fail, to save children torn apart by both war and poverty. And it is impossible not to rail against Didier as he makes an obvious, terrible mistake that proves nearly to be the end of him.

It is this mistake—and the repercussions of it—that occupy the last third of the book. And this is one of the places where The Photographer really shines as a non-fiction document. The romantic tale of the brave, stalwart doctors risking life and limb to do good is completely derailed as we watch the foolish, obstinate Didier (our hero!) do his best to get himself killed in his efforts to get away from this grand, romantic adventure and back into civilization. This turn of events is a shocking awakening, and a necessary one, for any reader who has allowed herself to be drawn into the epic sweep of this tale of exploration and selfless humanitarianism.

Because The Photographer isn’t a novel. It isn’t fiction. Didier and the doctors of MSF are real people, fallible and petty, and all the more heroic for their faults.

September 28, 2009

Reading (and then) Remembering How to Breathe

[Danica Novgorodoff on Refresh, Refresh and other things]

I know I’m supposed to write about my new graphic novel, Refresh, Refresh. But what I really want to talk about is The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel. I’m only on page 58 and I want to ride the subway from Brooklyn to the Bronx to Manhattan to Queens and back (I do most of my reading on the subway). I have to read each story twice in a row and then remember to breathe.

It’s kind of how I felt when I first read James Ponsoldt’s screenplay Refresh, Refresh, and the short story by Benjamin Percy it was based on. That thrill, and also the longing – “I wish I’d written that.”

There’s a story by Hempel called Going, about a teenage boy who is hospitalized after he wrecks his car in the desert. It goes,


‘…Anyway, the accident was a learning experience.

You know – pain teaches?

One of the nurses picked it up from there. She was bending over my bed, snatching pebbles of safety glass out of my hair. “What do we learn from this?” she asked.’


What does pain teach?

In Refresh, Refresh, the three boys beat the crap out of each other in a homemade boxing ring after school, and pain teaches them to be stronger, to become men, and also to hope.


I was stuck trying to create a cover image for Refresh, Refresh. I tried something with an American flag – but it’s not really a story about politics or patriotism. I tried something with a computer, something that would explain the title – but a laptop computer just isn’t an aesthetically appealing icon. I tried an image of the three boys fighting – but First Second editor Mark Siegel said it looked like a “Young Rocky” boxing book.

It came to me as I was listening to a song. My best friend was playing the new song she’d written, and I saw the image: fingers crossed, like boys playing guns. Fingers crossed, like making wishes. Because in the act of repeatedly and obsessively hitting the Refresh button, looking for emails from their fathers who are at war, there is some great act of hope, and also some terrible apprehension of loss.


Hempel continues,

‘It was like that class at school where the teacher talks about Realization, about how you could realize something big in a commonplace thing. The example he gave – and the liar said it really happened – was that once while drinking orange juice, he’d realized he would be dead someday. He wondered if we, his students, had had similar “realizations.”

Is he kidding? I thought.

Once I cashed a paycheck and I realized it wasn’t enough.

Once I had food poisoning and realized I was trapped inside my body.’


September 26, 2009

Laika: Words and Pictures and Music


Laika (the graphic novel about the first dog to travel to outer space by Nick Abadzis) is tragic and wonderful and pulls on all of our heartstrings here at First Second.  So when Nick e-mailed us to say that an Italian composer named Luca Tozzi also had his heartstrings tugged on by the book, we were all pretty unsurprised.  But Nick went on to tell us that Luca had been inspired to create some music for Laika, and that's just totally awesome. 

Yay for inspiration! 

Now there's a video up on youtube that combines the music with some pages from Laika, and it looks and sounds absolutely lovely. 

[go, watch!]

September 25, 2009


This weekend is SPX, the Small Press Expo, which is held every year down in Bethesda, Maryland.


It is always very awesome, not in the least because of the Ignatz Awards (bricks for the most excellent!) and the chocolate fountain that follows the ceremony. 

First Second creator Alexis Frederick-Frost will be there with copies of Adventures in Cartooning, if any of you are going to be in the neighborhood.

September 24, 2009

Translations of a Wordless Book

Back in the day when I used to work in a cubicle almost a FULL ten feet away (my previous job was for :01's parent company Roaring Brook) I had the pleasure of sitting right next to one of my favorite things. The Bookcase of First Second Foreign Editions—something I love so much I feel the need to capitalize all of the letters of the words to describe it.

It's fascinating to see which covers stay and which get switched. Which logos undergo font-overhauls and which countries seem to think all of the text of a book should be stuck on the outside of as well as the inside. My personal favorite was ROBO UND HUND, the German edition of Sara Varon's classic, ROBOT DREAMS. Rough translation: ROBOT AND DOG with their new subtitle "Wahre Freundschaft Rostet Nicht" a.k.a. "True Friendship Does Not Rust." I was so smitten that my favorite translation widget and I spent almost two hours in an attempt to order it from a German website. Two hours well spent.

What I loved most about the German edition, and later on the French edition, was that it had been completely translated...despite the fact most people consider ROBOT DREAMS to be a wordless story.

American Edition of Robot Dreams German Edition of Robot Dreams French Edition of Robot Dreams

There is such beauty in the language of sound effects around the world. A "Gasp" becomes a startled German "Schluck" and a French "OOOH" of surprise. The "Shiver Shiver" of a snowman becomes "Bidder Bidder" in Berlin and "glagla glagla" in Grenoble. (Also can we stop and take a moment to appreciate that these are images of a snowman shivering. While he may be chilly, it warms my heart.)

American Edition of Robot Dreams German Edition of Robot Dreams French Edition of Robot Dreams

There are a few more examples on the First Second Flickr page, Including translations of my favorite panel and the panel that kills me every time. Reading ROBOT DREAMS in any language always makes me cry. Bunnies can be so cruel!

Robot Dreams Sara Varon's Wordless Book in Three Languages
(French, American, and German editions of ROBOT DREAMS, on top of a sneak peek of my messy desk and George O'Connor's ATHENA, my current design project.)

September 23, 2009

Richard Sala and the Cartoon Art Museum

On the list of 'Things to Do If/When You're in San Francisco.'

Richard Sala has a spotlight at the Cartoon Art Museum

Andrew Farago, their curator and gallery manager, has been kind enough to send us some pictures.  This show looks wonderful!  And as people who have had the priviledge to actually lay hands on Richard Sala's original artwork, we can testify that it only gets better when you see it in person. 

(click for larger)




(Richard Sala not enough of an incentive to get you to CAM?  The other show they have up now is 'Once Upon a Dream: The Art of Sleeping Beauty.'  It looks amazing!  Richard Sala and Sleeping Beauty -- that has to be a museum-attendance-worthy combination.)

September 22, 2009

Danica Novgorodoff -- Book Launch


To Do This Weekend: Danica Novgorodoff at Rocketship

Danica Novgorodoff will be launching her latest graphic novel, Refresh, Refresh, at Rocketship this Saturday at 8:00.  Danica herself will be on hand to be talented, thoughtful, and perhaps even sign books! 

[Rocketship is at 208 Smith Street in Brooklyn, NY.  They're about a block away from the Bergen Street stop on the F or the G train.]


September 19, 2009

Derek Kirk Kim's Tune


Derek Kirk Kim starts making comics for the internet again! 

Go, read!

[portrait of Derek by Jesse Hamm]

September 16, 2009

The pleasure of line-editing: the pleasure of re-reading

For anyone who's ever wondered what editors do (and why they do it!) when they're not working on big-picture story editing:

After the (more or less final) words and pictures of a graphic novel have been turned over to our stalwart design department (aka Colleen), she creates a mechanical and begins working on the design for the book. Then the first "pass" of a First Second graphic novel hies its merry way off to a copy editor. The copy editor reads through this complete print-out, corrects any typos or errors, queries things she finds unclear, and creates a style sheet for the project.

Then it all comes back to the editor, who reads it, approving or canceling the copy editor's corrections, and adding her own. Any substantive changes go to the author/creator, for review and approval. (Or disapproval!)

Corrections go back to design, who inputs them, and a new, clean, corrected pass is created. Second pass is read only by the editor, as is third and (if necessary) fourth. Why so many read-throughs? Because one is never enough.

I catch a new error or awkwardness on nearly every pass. I know a book is ready to go to the printer when I only find five or ten corrections out of 200 pages. (Left to my own devices, I would continue reading most of our books, tweaking little oddments here and there, ad infinitum, and no books would ever be published, and everyone would probably be very unhappy. It's just as well I'm not left to my own devices, I suppose...)

This all may sound like dull work -- carefully reading the same book again and again, scrutinizing the same words and pictures over and over -- but that's one of the benefits of publishing really good books. Each new reading is a new pleasure.

As a child, I re-read my favorite books obsessively, losing myself in those familiar worlds again and again. But now, when I re-read a book I'm editing, I can't let myself get lost in the story -- because that would distract me from what I'm actually supposed to be doing. I have to consciously note every line of art, every pane of color, every folio, every panel, every gutter, every word, every letter, every balloon, well, you get the idea. It's a kind of reading so technical and draining that you'd expect it to be a fairly joyless experience.

But it isn't. Instead, with a really great book, a close line-edit can be incredibly fun. Look at how beautifully this line is lettered! Look at that sweet coloring job on that background character (is his belt the same color as it was last panel?)! What a great choice of words, here. What a nice transition between pages. Every technical choice made by an author/artist comes under the microscope, and when those choices are good--no, great--no, brilliant!, well, a line-edit can yield as much appreciation of great art as an immersive, uncritical read.

It's an underrated pleasure, perhaps because it only really works when the book in question is truly a strong enough work to stand up to that kind of close attention. Which is why I'm personally grateful on a daily basis that First Second creators are so very, very good at what they do. They make my job -- not easy -- but fun.

September 14, 2009

Kim Dong Hwa's Color Trilogy

ColorofEarth_COVER_300rgb   ColorofWater_COVER_300rgb   ColorofHeaven_COVER_300rgb

This year, First Second published their first ever manhwa: a trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa that follows the life of a young girl name Ehwa and her growth from a child to young woman to her eventual marriage.  Some people on the internet have liked it very much, and been kind enough to say so

We hope you enjoy this page: a discussion of love from the second book, The Color of Water


[you can find a reading group guide for this series here]

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