What are some upcoming trends for 2014?
Oy, that’s always the hardest question to get asked. It’s like asking a musician, “What will the kids be listening to?” When we hear it, we know. It’s so hard to predict. I guess I would say that the publishing world has not fallen apart given the emergence of digital books. I would hope that the reading experience can be enhanced digitally and online with YouTube and other devices so that we can delve even deeper into what we are reading, making it more immersive. We just published a coffee-table book on Rube Goldberg and are currently working on the e-book. The book has a broad range of images that survey his entire career, but we can’t fit everything into 192 pages. But for the e-book, we’re hoping to include everything we have from his estate and various archives and collectors—and not just more comics and cartoons, but home movies, TV appearances, radio interviews, LP recordings, and all kinds of work he did, including an unpublished novel and short stories. I have to imagine that as more and more of our lives are transformed digitally by the Internet and our mobile devices, we will be transforming not just the way we read, but what we read and how we are able to experience the subjects we read about.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I’m most excited by something I have never seen before. As an editor, I don’t look at trends and try to jump on the bandwagon du jour. I remember discussing this with Scott McCloud, and he referred to it as “the race to be first to be second.” If X is hot, then time is of the essence to put out an imitation version. When we published the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid, for example, it went against conventional wisdom that “boys don’t read.” There was no hybrid of comics and prose. Now there is a whole industry of “diary fiction” imitators. I try to look at what’s not on my shelves and see if I can fill in those blanks. For each book I edit, I like to think that if I had nothing to do with it and I saw it in a bookstore, I would be drawn to pick it up and buy a copy. To be honest, I look for projects that first and foremost interest me, and I trust my instincts as the proxy for those readers who are interested in art books, graphic novels and middle-grade novels.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
Anything derivative, regardless of who is creatively involved. As an industry, we have an inherent responsibility to aspire to originality. I love this quote from William Blake: “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s. I will not reason and compare: My business is to create.”
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
If you love comics, we’re in a new golden age. Publishers are putting out dream projects we never could have imagined as kids. Collections, reprints, formats—all this material from our youth is becoming available for mass consumption, designed and presented in a way that best suits the material. Everything isn’t the same trim size so as to fit nicely on your shelf alongside all your other books, like video tapes and DVDs. If the story lends itself to a landscape format, for example, then that’s how it’s published. Content dictates the format, and just about all serious comic-book publishers are experimenting with format to great success. Also, no longer do the gatekeepers look down on comics and treat them as subliterature. That old guard is long gone: the stereotypical librarian with the glasses and an allegiance to the “classics.” If it’s being read, then it’s literature, regardless of whether it’s presented visually, just as text, or as a combination of the two. I think it’s because those of us who grew up reading comics are now in positions where we can influence what people read, and we want to share and convert readers into this world we’ve been secretly enjoying on the fringes of cool ever since we were kids. Now it’s mainstream, with adaptations into movies and television shows—even Broadway musicals. And every major house publishes comics of one kind or another.
Anything else you’d like to add?
How about what I’m reading at the moment? Jules Feiffer is about to publish a noir graphic novel with Norton in August called Kill My Mother. I was lucky enough to read a galley and was transfixed as I read it from cover to cover in one sitting, unable to put it down. Jules has boiled everything he knows about writing and art into only the most necessary words and lines on each page. At 85 years old, he went back to his roots as a comic-book fan and an old-movie buff and created a work that redefines what a graphic novel can be. And it’s his first. We should all be as inspired as Jules has consistently been throughout his career, taking on new creative projects and excelling at each new venture. That’s what I want to be like when I grow up.
Charles Kochman is the editorial director of Abrams ComicArts and editor of the best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. Kochman has edited several hundred books for all age groups, from picture books for kids to award-winning coffee-table books for adults. Prior to joining Abrams, he spent 12 years at DC Comics and Mad magazine. He was also an editor at Bantam Books and Putnam Publishing. Kochman is a member of the National Cartoonists Society, the Society of Illustrators, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.