Nantier Talks Smurfs, Rick Geary And More

Terry Nantier founded NBM in 1976 and since then, the small publishing company has been at the forefront of every trend in the comics business. NBM has been pushing graphic novels from the beginning and they were the first American publisher of European artists like Enki Bilal and others. The company is also famous for its reprints of classic comic strips including Milton Caniff's complete run of "Terry and the Pirates" in the 1980s as well as being one of the premier publishers of European reprints with their "Dungeon" series, "Ordinary Victories" and the Louvre series. They have also published books by Dave McKean, P. Craig Russell, Peter Kuper, Rick Geary, Luis Royo and many other American and foreign artists.

If that weren't enough, NBM also has the Eurotica imprint which specializes in graphic erotica, receiving praise last year for the hardcover volume collecting Guido Crepax's adaptation of "The Story of O." The Papercutz imprint of NBM targets a very different audience, and after much success with "Geronimo Stilton," "Nancy Drew" and "The Hardy Boys," this year they launch two major series; "Disney Fairies," which came out in the spring, and "The Smurfs," which arrives in the fall. We spoke with Nantier about the company, their philosophy and what's coming up this year.

CBR News: Terry, Comic-Con International is fast approaching, so we were wondering if we could start by talking about what you're debuting at the convention as well as the other titles you have coming out over the next few months.

Terry Nantier: The big books that we've got this year are "Networked: Carabella on the Run" that we're doing in cooperation with the Privacy Activism organization. It's a fun story, very suspenseful, but the main point is that it brings up a lot of issues around privacy and use of cell phones and the internet. Obviously a very hot topical issue. Facebook just had a huge controversy around that very issue. The story is done by Gerard Jones and Mark Badger - I don't need to present them, they're quite well known comics artists. We're very excited about that. That's going to be premiered in San Diego, with the authors signing at our booth.

Aside from that, we've another really good graphic novel coming out in August called "The Broadcast," which is [about] when Orson Welles did his famous broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" that panicked so many people because they thought it was real. In this story, we're focusing on a few families that come together and huddle together thinking that this is really happening, but in the end, the tension in a stormy night between the families ends up being the real danger. It's a very tense, dark story that's quite well written with art by Noel Tuazon. We're quite excited about those two.

Aside from that, we're continuing with "Dungeon." We have the next "Miss Don't Touch Me." The first one that we brought out was quite a success, so we look forward to the second one and the continuing adventures of Blanche. We've got a new series we're launching by Nicolas de Crecy.

Nicolas de Crecy did a great book in the Louvre series that you publish, "Glacial Period."

"Glacial Period" did very well. We're in the third printing. We have a series here that's quite goofy, very de Crecy in its absurdity and very charming, called "Salvatore."

We will have a shojo-type manga, although it's a little bit of a twist on that kind of manga, done by a Japanese artist who's an expat, as well as a British writer, that involves a Chinese girl getting involved with an English guy in Hong Kong and the clash of cultures that that involves. That's our fall schedule. We're pretty excited. We don't publish a lot of books, but the ones that we do we put ourselves behind each and every one. That's really our policy here.

As you say, NBM only releases one or two titles each month, a mixture of foreign reprints and independent comics. Is it a challenge in terms of finding the right books?

We select the most impressive talent that comes to us. A very good recent example is Brooke Allen who we launched with "A Home for Mr. Easter." She's a young artist, still finishing college at the Savannah College of Art and Design. The talent that she exhibits already in that book is absolutely amazing, and we got tremendous press for it. I knew that was going to happen. It premiered at MoCCA and was an immediate sell out. Basically, if we launch anybody, it's somebody we're really, really excited about and has to be really exceptional.

Another one last year was Greg Houston who's an incredibly talented caricaturist whose book "Vatican Hustle" we did, Now we're about to bring out "Elephant Man" by him in July.

On the European side, we have to make very, very careful choices because a lot of what's done in Europe is going to have very small demand here. We have to make choices accordingly. We shy away from more historical things because generally that doesn't work here, for instance, and other elements that might be way too European we'll generally avoid, so that does boil things down quite a bit when we have to take those things into consideration.

How did you end up publishing the Louvre books. It's an amazing series.

That was offered to us for foreign rights from Futuropolis, which is a great publisher in France of more alternative independent kinds of comics. More experimental, you might say. They are the ones putting this together with the Louvre Museum. The museum came to them and said, "We're looking to expand our publishing program and expand the image of the Louvre and basically dust off the image with something that presents a different point of view of what the Louvre is doing." That's exactly what they got. [Marc-Antoine] Mathieu for instance, who did "The Museum Vaults," was pretty sarcastic about the whole aspect of collecting pieces of art, what's involved and the appreciation of it and how do you, in fact, restore them. It was very, very critically sarcastic, and the Louvre let that fly. They were okay with it. You might argue that it's not the best image for a museum to be putting forward, but I think they show that they have a good sense of humor about themselves and what they do in having those books come out.

You're still doing the "Dungeon" series, which has been hugely successful.

Yes, that's a series that's done quite well. We've done quite well charging back into European comics with the "new generation," as they've been called in France. That's Trondheim and Christophe Blain and Joann Sfar and so forth. We've done quite well with works by these guys, and "Dungeon" is one of them that's co-written by Trondheim and Sfar. It used to be co-drawn, in fact, until Sfar ran out of time with too many other projects.

It's a very sarcastic take on heroic fantasy and creates this whole enormous world and all these subworlds to it and different time points with collections to it as part of the joke, such as "Dungeon Zenith," which is the main one, "Dungeon The Early Years" and "Dungeon Twilight" and so forth. I think people are really catching onto the humor and how intelligently that world is constructed. It's not just a light, little piece. They are doing this whole construction with huge casts of characters interacting and intertwining throughout all these volumes. It's also wonderful in terms of catching moods and sentiments and very real experiences. I just shows how brilliant Trondheim and Sfar are. That's what makes it so much fun.

I wanted to ask about the size and shape of the books. You take two European albums and print them in a small square bound format - how did that formatting decision come about?

We were the first to do that in the beginning of this decade. The standard European, or, I should say Franco-Belgian format ,which is 48 pages and 8 1/2" by 11" or even bigger, just wasn't sticking here. The hardcover that's standard in France, here, has been equated with children's books. That's the origin in France as well. Nobody makes that connection anymore over there, but here they do.

All of those formats were part of the problem of getting acceptance for European comics here. We devised a more standard fiction format of 6" x 9", which is fine for the type of art that this new generation does. Then, making the books as thicker real books, not thin 48 pagers. With two stories, we really started to hit a nerve.

Of course, that's a little bit constraining. There are other instances, such as the Louvre collection, where it would have better to be in the larger format because the art often times is really quite arresting. I'm glad to see that now things are evolving in a way that there's more acceptance of more formats. We will not be absolutely married to nothing but 6" x 9". We'll take it as we go and see what's best.

Do you have any specific plans right now for releasing books in the oversize album format?

Well, like I said, from here on out, if a series really should be at the larger format because the art is such that it will suffer from being reduced, then we will keep to that French format. We may very well do hardcovers. Something like that we would be more likely to do at this point.

Is there more Christophe Blain coming out? I was a great fan of his "Isaac and the Pirates" series.

"Isaac the Pirate" has stopped and he hasn't gone back to it in a while, unfortunately. That's not to say he isn't going to get back to it, just that he's been busy with a lot of other things. There is one other series that we're looking to bring out soon, so stay tuned. I can't give out too many details, but in 2011 we should have something new by him.

I don't mean to simply throw out names, but I'm curious if there's anything more by Manu Larcenet coming out. "Ordinary Victories" did very well, I believe.

It did really well. It's a great piece of fiction and it was compellingly written. A very real experience. Heartfelt and definitely worthy of publication. Unfortunately, the latest that he's done has just come out in France. He is a huge success. "Ordinary Victories" in France sold like a quarter million copies each, if not more. He's done another one just recently, a very different kind of style, much darker, called "Blast." Personally, and this is the kind of editorial choice you just have to make, I am not that impressed with that book. I've decided so far to pass. The first book is two hundred pages, and he's still got more to the story. I don't know. I'm not that convinced about it, unfortunately.

Admittedly my knowledge of European comics is limited, especially compared to yours, but even though the album still reigns, other formats are making inroads.

Things have changed a lot thanks to the New Generation and L'Association, that they started, where they were doing in fact books that were a lot bigger - 100-200 pages. Still, the mainstay of European comics, and Franco-Belgian comics in particular, is very much the 48-64 pages. "Salvatore" by de Crecy is a 48 page story series. He's just decided to stick with that specific old style format. We're going to be bringing together two stories in the 6" x 9" format the way we've been doing.

From the beginning, NBM has been dedicated to reprinting classic comics - the "Terry and the Pirates" reprints, for example, back in the 1980s. You're publishing a series of reprints now, as a matter of fact, correct?

It's not really a series - we're doing things a little bit differently. Forever Nutz is the series imprint that we've launched in the last couple years. We're doing really old classic comic strips, finding our niche there, if you will, not planning to do more than one volume of some of the earliest material within those comic strips, such as "Mutt and Jeff." We've done "Happy Hooligan" and "Bringing Up Father" last year. We're taking it easy here. One book at a time. Not throwing out a lot of books. We'll have some other announcements for 2011, but it's a very crowded market out there right now with reprints. It's great see, because they're beautifully done and very well designed. That's part of the attraction. They're very carefully designed and really beautiful, library-worthy volumes. It's great to see that, because we were the first to do that back in 1982, proving primarily in the comics marketplace that more expensive hardcover reprints could actually make it. You have to remember, back in 1982, graphic novels barely existed and book form comics weren't seen much. We proved there was demand for it and were quite successful. The "Terry and the Pirates" reprint was a good moment in NBM history.

Is the thinking behind releasing just a single volume simply about getting the work back in the public consciousness?

That's right. Archive very important material that, in fact, has a danger of disappearing, possibly forever. Newspapers can only last so long, and the materials involved are not good to begin with. Many of the newspapers were archived as microfiche, with no interest in reproducing the art, or for that matter photographs, in any real good way. Comics don't get archived well in that kind of microfiche so there is an issue of just keeping a permanent record of some of the best of the early days of comics. Our choices are based on things where we see the humor as having an eternal quality to it. Not just of the day, but elements that are still perfectly funny today as well.

I'll be honest, until your "Mutt and Jeff" collection, I knew the phrase but I never knew it was a comic, which shows my age. It's interesting how that phrase has entered the consciousness, but the comics got lost.

That's a strip that has been around for a very long time. It was only stopped recently. Of course, for the last number of years it was in very few papers.

NBM also has an erotica imprint which, like NBM proper, also puts out one or two books each month and reprints a lot of European books. Does the line essentially have the same mandate, approach and thinking that NBM has?

Pretty much. Not everything we're publishing in that line is heady or particularly high literature, admittedly, but even if the stories may not be going very far, at least the art is really quite beautiful. Honestly, my choices there...if it doesn't really turn me on, or if I don't think it's going to turn other people on, I'm not going to do it. In this market that we're in now, there's just an incredible amount of adult material available off the internet, all of it crap. Who needs to add to that? What differentiates us is that what we're putting in our books is worth having in a book and not just peering at on your computer screen.

With that said, within the line we do have quite a few intelligently written series that really explore human sexuality and the experience of it, such as those written by Robert Edison Sandiford, and "Shadow and Light" and series like that. Even the stuff written by Kevin Taylor may have a strong fantastic element to it, but there's some intelligence to the writing. Some of the things we're bringing in from abroad have a tremendous sense of humor and observation of the absurdities of people and sexual situations. Noe, who we're bringing in from Spain, has an incredible sense of humor. The next one that we're bringing out, "Pin-up Artist," is just very, very funny. It's very raunchy, very erotic, very adult but also very, very funny. Really making fun of that whole pin-up artist milieu. We do look for something that goes beyond just your work a day adult stuff.

Probably the best example of that is last year's big book, the Guido Crepax adaptation of "The Story of O."

That's something that we started our Eurotica line with back in 1990 and then went onto do a lot of Crepax's work, but "The Story of O" is his best. That is a very intelligent piece on S&M written by a woman who was willing to at least fantasize that she would put herself out for this kind of experience. It's very controversial, but in an intelligent way, and we're very proud of that omnibus volume that we brought out last year. Another one that we brought out last year is "First Time," which comes from France and is a bunch of stories by comics artists who normally don't do adult, including Dave McKean. Most of them are French, and that too we got tremendous reviews on. Very well written stories about sexual situations that might happen to anyone. Very true and very real and very erotic as well, but also thoughtful stories.

Switching gears completely to another NBM line, let's focus on Papercutz, which is aimed at a very different market and seems to be doing well.

Papercutz is doing very, very well. The focus there is on tweens, specifically 6-14. We've had real success with "Geronimo Stilton" and with "Bionicle." Now we're launching "Disney Fairies." We've got "The Smurfs" this fall. I know a lot of people are really looking forward to that. I was very gratified and happy to see the great reaction that we got from the comics press and blogs. I didn't really expect that there were that many people coming out of the closet and were aware of the great comics that this all comes from. Most people in America don't know that the Smurfs came from comics to begin with. That's going to be our message, that these are charming classics of children's comics.

And even for those of us who knew they started in comics, I don't know anyone who's ever read them, at least in English.

They've been unavailable. There were two or three done by Doubleday back in the eighties. They were way too early. Graphic novels were just barely starting in the general bookstore market and the comics market, and there weren't any kids graphic novels at the time. I'm told that there were some Marvel comic books, and I don't know about the UK, but in America, very, very little of the many, many books that are available in the French language and many other languages have ever been seen here in America, so this will be a discovery.

Peyo did a number of books - twenty or thirty, is that right?

He did at least thirty. I don't know the exact number. It's the classic graphic novel format as I mentioned, 48-64 pages. Then they've been continued since, so they've added a lot more titles to them. There's plenty of material.

So, the plan for "The Smurfs" is to reprint the comics individually, not bundle them like with "Dungeon" and other NBM titles.

That's right. We're not doing it 8 1/2" by 11", we're doing 6 1/2" by 9". It won't be following exactly the way they come out in France, although it will roughly [work out] in terms of chronology. We're doing $5.99 paperbacks. "Geronimo Stilton" has that kind of format and is doing very well. It becomes an impulse item to pick up for your kids. I think we've got a good formula there. We'll have to move some things around just to fit within our format of the 56 pages or so, but pretty much we'll be starting at the beginning and going forward from there.

Because the Smurfs originally appeared in another book as supporting characters, is that right?

They started in "Spirou" magazine in the 1950s, but it started in another series called "Johan and Peewit." They were introduced in this other ongoing series about a couple of medieval adventurers by Peyo, and the Smurfs proved to be so popular that they ended up totally overtaking Johan and Peewit.

The second book that we're doing is, in fact, the Johan and Peewit story where the Smurfs were first introduced, which translated in English is "The Magic Flute." That's our second book. We didn't want to start with that right away, because it is a little disconcerting in that it concentrates a lot on Johann and Peewit and then they fall upon the Smurf village somewhere in the story. It wasn't the best first book to do. The first book is the actual first album of the Smurfs by themselves, "The Purple Smurf."

And then the other big Papercutz book this year is the recently launched "Disney Fairies."

We've got a lot of anticipation for that. We did a big sale with Scholastic on the second one. That's one of the bigger properties at Disney. Under the supervision of John Lassiter who's one of the main guys from Pixar, is a new video direct to DVD release every fall of Tinkerbell and the fairies.

Is there anything else or anyone else that we haven't talked about?

We haven't mentioned much of our leading American artists. Rick Geary continues to grow in popularity as more and more people appreciate what he's doing. It was slow in coming, but great to see. I think the world has caught up with him and is more ready for what he's doing, and his popularity just keeps growing. It's amazing - in San Diego he has his own booth and last year he was mobbed. He didn't have a moment to breath.

Ted Rall is a very controversial cartoonist that we've published. Most people in comics still love to hate the guy. I wish they'd just leave all the stuff that happened a long time ago and move forward and see what he's doing. He's throwing himself back into Afghanistan. He's going there in August and he's blogging in preparation for that on our site. It'll be very interesting to see what he finds out over there. The last time he was there, he brought back some very different kinds of points of view of what was going on in the Afghan war back in 2001 in the book we published "To Afghanistan and Back." He definitely has incredibly controversial opinions and can totally alienate people with them, but at least he has the courage of them. Sometimes he's quite right and does make you think and bring up some valid points.

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