Uncivilized Books is a small graphic novel publisher with a literary bent; its catalog includes MariNaomi’s “Dragon’s Breath” and Mana Neyestani’s “An Iranian Metamorphosis” as well as works by Dash Shaw, Gabrielle Bell, and Sam Alden. What’s missing from this list, of course, is children’s comics, but they’re fixing that with a Kickstarter to launch its young-readers imprint, Odod Books.
The Kickstarter has an ambitious goal, $32,250, because its first new project is an ambitious one — Uncivilized will co-print the French graphic novel “Musnet” with its French publisher, Dargaud. “Musnet” — which was just nominated for the Angouleme Comics Festival’s Prix Jeunesse — is the story of a mouse who lives in the same house as the painter Claude Monet, in Giverny, France, and who learns to paint alongside Monet. We asked publisher Tom Kaczynski, an acclaimed cartoonist himself, to tell us more about Uncivilized and Odod, and he shared a preview of the book as well as a video of the creator, Kickliy, in action.
CBR: How long has Uncivilized Books been around, and what is its mission?
Tom Kaczynski: Uncivilized Books has been around for a few years. We started out as a publisher of handmade mini comics. About four years ago we grew into trade publisher with wide distribution (via Consortium/Ingram). Our mission is to continue the development of the comics medium. I see Uncivilized Books as a new generation of comics publishers. We have different challenges. The medium is more accepted and diverse than ever (thank you Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly). Bookstores are more interested in the kinds of things we publish than at any other point in time. As a consequence, we’re focused on bookstores in a way that small comics publishers in the past were never able to be. Most of our sales come from bookstores not comic book stores. We publish a diverse range of comics from literary memoir (by Gabrielle Bell), to literary French comics (by David B. and Joann Sfar), political non-fiction (by Mana Neyestani or Sophie Yanow), comics criticism (we’re about to release a collection of Alan Moore short comics with commentary by critic Marc Sobel) and more!
If I recall correctly, you published a YA book a few years ago. Is that the only one, or have you done others?
Our first and only YA book was “Over the Wall,” by Peter Wartman. I loved art, the story and the world building Peter was doing in the book, but it sat awkwardly in our line which is aimed at adult readers. “Over the Wall” did really well for us, and sold out of its initial print run pretty quickly.
Why do you think it’s important to have a separate imprint?
The young reader comics are pretty different from our usual offerings, and to be frank, our name can be a turn off to parents that might consider some of our books. It just made sense to create a new imprint. We’ve been contemplating it for a while. We kept seeing great comics for younger readers that didn’t have a home, and when it came time to reprint “Over the Wall,” we decided to take the plunge.
What about these books made you feel they were worth the effort of setting up a Kickstarter?
I really do think these are great comics. The Musnet series especially have stirred up memories of reading comics as kid when I was growing up in Poland in the 80’s. I’ve been rereading some of those comics recently. I loved them as a kid, but now I see that they also had so much for older readers. I can really enjoy these books again! The oversized European album format really does justice to the art, the great adventure story is fun, but it also has lots of nice touches that the parents will appreciate. The Musnet books do that for me and I hope they can do that for many other readers. The Kickstarter has a dual purpose, on the one hand it helps us finance the printing, on the other, we are hoping to generate a lot of interest in the new line of books.
Can you explain your process with Dargaud for “Musnet”? How are you printing English and French editions at the same time? Why does that make sense?
Dargaud is “Musnet”’s publisher for the French market. The quality of their books is really great. Since we always wanted to print “Musnet” in the oversized European album format, it made sense to join forces on printing. The print files are set up with color art separated from lettering. This way we can print the color layers together, effectively increasing the overall print run and lowering the unit costs.
How do you find these books?
So far we haven’t really had to look. With the exception of “Over the Wall” (I became aware of Peter Wartman when he was a student of mine at MCAD), all the books in the line we came across mostly by chance over the last couple of of years. Once we decided to start the Odod Books imprint, we had two years worth of material.
Are you focusing on imports, or do you expect to publish books by American authors as well?
I was born in Poland and I have a special fondness for European comics. So imports will always be part of any publishing project I’m involved with. That said, the focus isn’t on imports, it’s on smart, well written, beautifully drawn comics, regardless of origin.
Why is the amount of this Kickstarter so high?
The “Musnet” books are not cheap to print. They are very high quality hardcover books, with nice paper, and nice production values. We’re also going with higher print runs, since we want to take advantage of the opportunity provided by Dargaud.
You have an impressive range of premiums, from $5 to $10,000. Why did you design them that way?
We wanted something for everyone. Kickliy is an accomplished artist (see video of his studio) and we wanted to show off what he can do with his original art premiums. On the expensive side, we thought it’d be fun to mirror the Master/Apprentice painter relationship from the “Musnet” books, where someone could experience Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny first hand… and do some painting along with the artist.
You have backed a number of Kickstarters, but this is the first one you have created. What have you learned from this?
We have done logistical support for a couple of other Kickstarters, but this is the first one I’m running completely. It’s certainly not easy! We’re still learning a lot from it. One lesson is that it’s hard to launch a very new brand that is not yet familiar to many people. This is pretty obvious in retrospect. Even if we fail, we’ll have learned a lot from this, and we’ll have introduced Odod Books to a lot of new readers.
Do you expect to do more crowdfunding projects in the future?
If we have the right project, I would definitely consider it again. With Uncivilized Books, I’ve tried to structure things in such where we’re not always reliant on crowdfunding. That is still my preferred mode. Crowdfunding is very time consuming, and can get in the way of day to day stuff I need to do to keep everything else moving. In the background there are other books we’re constantly working on.