GRAPHIC CLASSICS INTERVIEWS

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CREATURE FEATURE
www.countgore.com/vault.htm
Interview by J. L. Comeau
4/5/03

Good evening, VaultVultures! ‘Tis I, your delightfully desiccated TombKeeper, hanging out with the artsy crowd tonight. No kidding! I’ve managed to snare artist, editor and publisher of the spectacular Graphic Classics illustrated fiction series for an interview in the vault! His illustrated collections of classic fiction and poetry are very sophisticated and polished, but also really fun to read-and that’s as good as it gets. I just love these books and I’m sure that horror, science fiction and fantasy fans everywhere will love them, too. Please join me in a big Internet round of applause for my guest, Graphic Classics’ man-at-the helm, Tom Pomplun.

TK: Welcome to the Creature Feature Vault, Tom. It has been such a pleasure to read your extraordinary illustrated volumes of classic literature. These are very stylish and fascinating books! And what a wonderful idea! How did Graphic Classics come about, and how did you manage to get such an ambitious project off the ground?

TP: GRAPHIC CLASSICS originally began as a spin-off from ROSEBUD, a literary magazine that I have designed and produced (but not published) for the past ten years. ROSEBUD is a magazine of fiction and poetry that I have also worked to make a showcase for a broad range of visual arts. And starting with Issue 18, in 2000, I began adding comics to the mix. While I had a free hand with the art content in the magazine, I wanted a venue where I had more control over the editorial matter, so I decided to create another publication on my own, and I just recently resigned from ROSEBUD to concentrate on my personal projects.

I decided I would do a series of illustrated books, rather than a periodical, which has a more limited shelf life. I knew I wanted to do something that combined comics stories with heavily-illustrated text stories, and that I wanted to do “graphic anthologies” rather than “graphic novels,” though I went through a number of ideas before settling on GRAPHIC CLASSICS.

The idea of illustrating classic literature is of course hardly new, and I was influenced by memories of the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED comics I read in my youth. But I wanted to do something rather different with the idea. Instead of adapting novels to comics, as had CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED and the many similar series that followed, I wanted to concentrate on the shorter works of great authors. That would allow me to work with many artists within a single book and present a wide range of styles. I also wanted to use artists with strong individual styles who could bring their own interpretations to the works.

The books are created to be accessible to all ages, and many teachers have shown an interest in using them in classrooms. But they are written at an adult level, utilizing as much of the author’s original language as possible. I believe that by making the books visually exciting I can encourage children to read above their normal level, rather than by oversimplifying the adaptations. My goal in these books is to create entertainment, in the same way that movies present adaptations of classics. Unlike earlier illustrated classics series, my main mission is not to promote literacy and entice children to “Now read the original,” though if I can introduce readers to authors they might not otherwise enjoy, that is a bonus.

TK: How do you decide which author’s work will translate well to illustrated format?

TP: I have tended to choose authors whose works fall into the genres of adventure, horror, comedy and science fiction. These are stories that I believe lend themselves best to illustration and comics adaptation. And of course the choices reflect my personal tastes. There are many classic authors whose works I greatly admire, but whose stories would not make good comics. Jane Austen’s stories, for example, might make good films, but in comics they would be a succession of talking heads in parlor scenes. I want to do comics that can add something to a story, rather than just reiterate it. This was a problem with the original CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED and similar series. They too often turned exciting literature into dull comics. While GRAPHIC CLASSICS may never reach perfection, I promise they will never be dull.

TK: I can vouch for that! The original fiction is surely protected under copyright laws. How do you go about securing permission for your use and adaptation?

TP: On the contrary, most of the stories to date in GRAPHIC CLASSICS were originally published before 1923, and are thus in the public domain. This was one of the things which originally steered me to adapting classic literature when I was considering options for my book series. Frankly, if I had to pay rights for all the original stories it would be impossible for me to afford to produce the books. There are a couple exceptions within the series. The Clive Barker story in the Poe volume is under copyright and I had to obtain permission both from the author and his publisher. I find that authors are generally rather generous to small publishers like myself. Agents, estates, and the large publishing houses are considerably less so. For the Lovecraft book, most of the stories are in the public domain, but for those that weren’t, I obtained permission from the Lovecraft estate. They proved the exception by being very helpful.

While the necessity to utilize public domain material seemed at first a restriction, it has opened my eyes to a vast wealth of turn-of-the-century literature that I had not previously read. And I have made an effort to dig out some relatively obscure pieces from each of the authors. This is most evident in the Jack London book which features many of his little-known short stories, rather than his more famous novels. As the series progresses and (hopefully) begins to turn a profit, I would like to expand into literature still under copyright.

TK: The artists who illustrate Graphic Classics are some of the most famous and well-respected talents in the business: Richard Corben (one of my very favorites!), Gahan Wilson, Maxon Crumb, Rick Geary, just to name a few. The artwork and fiction are always married so perfectly! How do you decide which artist’s unique style will best suit a particular piece of fiction or poetry?

TP: I do a lot of reading; I have read more fiction in the last two years I have been working on this than I believe I did in the previous twenty. Before I can decide on an artist I first have to decide if a writer’s work will translate well to comics at all. And then I need to read all the material I can find to decide if there are enough stories that I feel will work to fill a book. Many authors that I have started to read I have set aside. I want to choose authors with a wide range of stories that I can assign to a correspondingly wide range of artists.

As I read the stories I try to visualize them in different styles. How would this look illustrated by Richard Corben, or how would this work illustrated by Hunt Emerson? I have a large and continually growing list of artists with whom I have already collaborated as well as artists that I hope to work with in the future. When I have chosen a story I go down the list, trying to visualize it done by each artist. Usually one jumps out as the obvious choice, though occasionally that choice doesn’t present itself. In that case I start doing research, going through publications and searching the internet until I find the artist I think can best do the story. I try to involve illustrators, cartoonists and gallery painters as well as comics artists in the books. And among comics artists I have included those from the mainstream, the indie presses, and online comics as well as underground comix greats. I have made a special effort to include women artists, often underrepresented in comics anthologies, and have tried to expand the international scope of GRAPHIC CLASSICS. I am now working with artists from Canada, England, France, Italy, Greece, Australia, South Africa and the Philippines, as well as all over the U.S..

When I have selected the perfect artists, then I of course have to contact them, which is not always simple. Many are easy to find, while others I have found through referrals from artists and writers. And once I reach them I have to convince them to do great work for the ridiculously low payment I can afford. While a number of artists have turned me down, a surprising number are willing to work at lower than their normal rates, because they are interested in the project and feel I am creating a quality product.

The biggest joy in this project is the opportunities I’ve had to “meet,” if only through letters, e-mails, and phone calls, a huge number of artists. Many of them are new to me, while others, such as Gahan Wilson, Richard Corben, Frank Stack, Skip Williamson, Nick Cuti, Spain Rodriguez, Trina Robbins, Dan O’Neill, Shary Flenniken, S. Clay Wilson and Robert Crumb are talents I’ve admired most of my life. Sadly, a pair of artists I had just begun to know have passed away during the production of the books; Tom Sutton and Vince Fago. Others are becoming growing friendships.

TK: Your own illustrations are quite remarkable. What is your background, and which hat do you prefer wearing most — artist, editor or publisher?

TP: Thank you, I’m flattered, but I don’t consider my own abilities as an illustrator to be on a par with the other artists in GRAPHIC CLASSICS, which is why I have (with one exception) resisted the temptation. While I have degrees in both fine and commercial arts and studied illustration at the Art Institute of Boston, I believe I am a much more competent designer and typographer than I am an illustrator. I worked for twelve years as an ad agency art director and still do freelance design work which is mostly how I fund GRAPHIC CLASSICS.

As a small publisher I am everything from designer and editor to shipper and bookkeeper. I most enjoy planning and physically creating the books. The part of the job I dislike most and perform least successfully is the sales and promotion.

TK: Graphic Classics is indisputably your baby and a one-man operation. How is it possible to produce such a polished and professional product without a staff?

TP: While this is a small business, operating from my home, I was determined to produce a product that I feel can compete on a quality level with anything from the large publishers. While I have no staff, I am greatly aided by my wife, Georgene, who is a painter and graphic designer. She provides not only moral support, but also valuable advice as she was for twelve years the art director of a mid-size book publisher in Chicago. And she is a great proofreader. Additional proofreading assistance is provided by Eileen Fitzgerald, a professional editor for University of Wisconsin Publications. And I have had much advice and support from the series’ artists and writers, especially author Mort Castle, who contributed comics bios of Jack London and Ambrose Bierce. I have made a number of contacts in the comics industry who have been helpful, particularly Patrick Rosenkranz, author of the underground comix history REBEL VISIONS.

TK: So far, you’ve produced illustrated works by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, H. P. Lovecraft and a truly stunning collection of illustrated and rather arcane little gems by Jack London. What can we look forward to seeing next from Graphic Classics?

TP: The next volume will be stories by Ambrose Bierce, and I think it will be the most impressive collection yet (though I like to think that of each successive volume). A total of 43 artists have contributed to the book, and keeping track of it all has been a monumental task. But nearly all the artwork is in and now I just have to put it all together. English artist John Coulthart has completed a stunning version of Bierce’s most famous story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” and new comics adaptations of other stories are by Milton Knight, Frank Cammuso, Stan Shaw, Mark Nelson, Annie Owens, Michael Slack, Rick Geary, and Italian artist Francesca Ghermandi. I have also included a revised version of Gahan Wilson’s adaptation of “The Boarded Window.” Well-known greeting card artist Leslie Murray has illustrated excerpts from “The Devil’s Dictionary,” which is also featured on the cover by Justin Hampton. The largest section of the book is dedicated to “Bierce’s Fables,” a collection of poems and short pieces from Bierce’s newspaper columns which are presented in one- and two-page adaptations by 29 great artists including Dan O’Neill, Skip Williamson, Shary Flenniken, Johnny Ryan, Evert Geradts, and political cartoonists Mike Konopacki, P.S. Mueller and William L. Brown. The book will be available in mid-June.

The seventh book in the series will be GRAPHIC CLASSICS: BRAM STOKER. As it has been adapted countless (pun accidental) times and is too lengthy to present properly, I have elected to not adapt DRACULA in its entirety. Instead I am presenting two excerpts from the book, illustrated by John Pierard and British great Hunt Emerson, plus a “Dracula Gallery” with individual illustrations by Spain Rodriguez, Maxon Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Jeff Gaither, Allen Koszowski, Michael Manning, Mitch O’Connell, Lisa K. Weber, painters Skot Olsen and Todd Schorr, and Australians Neale Blanden and Anton Emdin. The lead story for the book will be an adaptation of LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM by South African artist Rico Schacherl, with additional stories by Richard Sala, Onsmith Jeremi, J.B. Bonivert, Lesley Reppeteaux, Gerry Alanguilan and Evert Geradts. The cover will be by gallery painter Glenn Barr, with an introduction by Mort Castle. All the art is underway, and the book is scheduled for September.

Other volumes are in planning stages, including Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

TK: I cannot recommend more highly these amazing collections of illustrated stories and poems. Where do we go to get our copies?

TP: The books are distributed to comics shops and bookstores by Diamond Book Distributors. They are available through Amazon.com, and I particularly appreciate direct orders through my website at www.graphicclassics.com .

TK: Last question: Is any of the Graphic Classics original artwork available for purchase? Something tells me it’s going to be a very hot collectible…

TP: This is something I have thought about and hope to offer in the near future. The GRAPHIC CLASSICS website presents short bios of the series’ artists and examples of their work, and I plan on adding original art and prints for sale. I still need to work out the logistics with the artists. The main obstacle is finding time to set it up while keeping up on the production of new volumes of GRAPHIC CLASSICS. If enough interest is shown I’ll certainly give it a priority. Readers can contact me at tom@graphicclassics.com .

Thanks for the invitation, Judy. This has been a pleasure.

TK: Thank YOU, Tom! The pleasure has been all mine.

And now, here’s a special treat for Creature Feature fans: Two full- page illustrations from Graphic Classics’ upcoming illustrated collection from the great American author, Ambrose Bierce! Click Here to see a page from “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” illustrated by John Coulthart, and click here to view a page from “The Race at Left Bower” illustrated by Frank Cammuso. Great stuff, TombRats! You can pre-order a copy of this sure-to-be-collectible Ambrose Bierce collection by clicking on www.graphicclassics.com .

Okay, VaultVultures and TombRats, I want to hear the pitter-patter of tiny claws beating a path down to the Tomb, where I’m featuring my personal evaluations of five-count ‘em, FIVE-- of Graphic Classics’ outstanding illustrated collections. As always, last one into the Tomb is a rotten vulture’s egg.

Goodnight, everybody!

Yours from the darkside,
J. L. Comeau
The TombKeeper

Creature Feature © D. Dyszel 2003

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NEWSARAMA.COM
http://newsarama.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=9478
February 21, 2004

MAKING THE CLASSICS GRAPHIC: GRAPHIC CLASSICS
by Aaron Weisbrod

Inspired by his voracious love of literature, Tom Pomplun started Graphic Classics in 2001 as a series of graphic novels that would allow both adults and children alike an opportunity to enjoy short stories, poems, and novel excerpts written by famous “classic” authors adapted and illustrated by various high-profile illustrators and artists.

Three years later Pomplun is still going strong. On the verge of releasing the ninth volume of Graphic Classics, a volume dedicated to the works of Robert Louis Stevenson scheduled to hit shelves in June, re-releasing a new edition of the inaugural volume which spotlights the works Edgar Allan Poe, and preparing to expand the series to include genre-based volumes, Pomplun recently took some time to discuss the genesis of the series, the trials and tribulations of publishing books so inherently difficult to “categorize”, and why teachers should consider adding H.P. Lovecraft to their literature curriculums…

Newsarama: Before we get into the nitty-gritty concerning the Graphic Classics series itself, let’s talk about you. What are your roots from both a comic book and literary perspective, and how what motivated you to start the Graphic Classics series?

Tom Pomplun: I have degrees in fine and commercial arts and many years of experience as an advertising art director. But the most immediate predecessor to Graphic Classics was Rosebud, a literary magazine I designed and produced for ten years - though I was not the publisher. Rosebud is a magazine of poetry and short fiction which, during my tenure as art director, I strove to make into a showcase for art as well.

Rosebud often hosted “theme” issues, and with Issue #18, I assumed temporary editorial control and assembled the “Rosebud Cartoon Issue”. It featured both reprint and original comics and panel cartoons by artists including Robert Crumb, Joost Swarte, Mitch O’Connell and Mark Nelson. From that issue on, I always included comics as part of the literary mix, along with the fiction and poetry, with work from Jack Jackson, Roger Langridge, Brad Teare, Skip Williamson and others. Rick Geary and P.S. Mueller became regular columnists.

But the comics met with mixed reactions from many of the more traditional literary magazine readers. I also found that the comics part of the magazine was becoming much more interesting to me personally than the other literature. Furthermore, after ten years, I wanted a venue where I could produce something that reflected my own tastes, without being subject to committee. Thus I decided to start the Graphic Classics series and to publish it myself. Many of the artists who had worked with me on Rosebud joined in contributing to the early volumes.

NRAMA: Let’s make this perfectly clear right off the bat: some comic fans may associate your Graphic Classics series with the now defunct Classics Illustrated series. While Classics Illustrated usually charged one writer and artist with adapting a full-length work, your Graphic Classics series takes a slightly different approach, instead utilizing several artists per volume to illustrate poems or excerpts of short stories. Did you choose this method specifically to differentiate your series from the former, or did other factors play into the decision as well?

TP: Of course I was inspired in part by my childhood memories of the Classics Illustrated comics, but I have taken an intentionally different approach to the idea. First, the books are not simplified for children, as were the original Classics Illustrated, nor do they contain the old “you’ve read the adaptation, now read the original” message at the end. If reading my books encourages someone to read more by an author, that is great, but I am not on an educational mission. My purpose is to create entertainment. Ironically, I believe that objective ends up creating a product that is more likely to be read by children than one where the content is oversimplified to an insulting level. While the stories are adapted at an adult level, utilizing as much as possible of the author’s original language, I take pains to minimize the sexual content of the art and the racism and sexism common in much of this 19th century literature. I want these books to be entertaining for adults, yet accessible to all ages.
As you noted, another difference is that I have concentrated on presenting shorter pieces, rather than the single novel adaptations usually found in Classics Illustrated and the many similar publications which followed. The main reason is that it allows me to use a number of illustrators and to present a wide variety of artistic styles in each book. While there were some great artists in the original Classics Illustrated and the follow-ups, many of them were also rather pedestrian. It is my feeling that many of these succeeded only in taking exciting stories and turning them into dull comics. When I started Graphic Classics I was determined that, whatever other fault my books might have, they would not be dull. I accordingly tend to choose artists with very strong and distinctive styles, who can bring their own interpretations to the works. Because these styles are so strong and distinctive, I like to present a range of them in each book.

While Graphic Classics does present some greatly-abridged novels, excerpts and poetry, the mainstay of each volume is short stories.

NRAMA: Do you pick all of the literary works that are to be included in each volume yourself in advance, or do you do a type of “cattle call” in which you contact the artists and tell them that you’re going to be publishing a volume on, say, Edgar Allan Poe and see what they bring to the table themselves?

TP: Occasionally artists will request a particular story, and I am constantly receiving suggestions of authors and stories from readers. But for the most part the decisions are mine. I choose a potential author for a volume and read everything I can find by him or her. I was always a voracious reader as a child, but I think I have read more fiction in the last three years than in the rest of my life altogether.
I look for writers who have a large body of shorter fiction, preferably crossing several genres. As I read, I try to picture each story in illustrated form. I find that the majority would not lend themselves well to illustration or comics adaptation. I want to create opportunities for artists to bring their own interpretations and add something to the stories in their adaptations. I don’t want to create situations where the adaptation will be less than the original.

Once I have chosen the author and decided that there are enough adaptable stories to make up a book, then I start visualizing a story as if illustrated by various artists until I find the one I feel is the best match. In the earlier volumes, it was sometimes difficult to find that match, and I did a lot of searching and soliciting of artists. Now over a hundred artists have participated in the series, and more are seeking me out all the time, so it has become easier to find the right illustrator for a particular story.

NRAMA: On a similar note, one of the things I found especially intriguing in this series was the various formats used throughout the respective volumes. Sometimes a short story or poem is fully adapted via sequential art, sometimes the full text narrative is republished with spot illustrations, and sometimes it’s a combination of the two. Do you decide on what format each adaptation should take in advance, or is this something you let your artists decide upon once their story selection is approved?

TP: The artist’s preferences and talents are always taken into account, but usually the form is determined by what I believe will best serve the story. Some stories lend themselves well to a comics-based adaptation. Generally they are those that have some action or interesting settings. A parlor drama with nothing but talking heads may be a great story, but it does not make good comics. Other stories, particularly those where the drama is more internalized in the characters than expressed in overt action, may lend themselves better to a presentation in text with spot illustrations. Still other stories may be better off left alone in text form, and are not good candidates for Graphic Classics.
When I first began the series, I envisioned the books as being about half comics adaptations and half illustrated text, and have experimented with various hybrids of the two forms. However, the comics adaptations have proven more popular with readers, so I have since shifted that balance much more strongly to the comics. But Graphic Classics will always continue to publish some stories in illustrated text form if I feel it is an important story and that it lends itself better to that style of presentation.

NRAMA: Since 2001 you’ve published eight volumes of Graphic Classics so far, and for the most part the usual suspects are accounted for (Poe, Twain, Wells, and Bierce among others). However, Volume Four was quite a surprise. Why include H.P. Lovecraft, a writer who, although extremely influential, is not usually rated among the same caliber as the other writers featured? I mean, to be fair, I can’t think of a high school literature textbook in existence that contains excerpts from “The Call of Cthulu”…

TP: Well, maybe they should… they might hold students’ attention. Seriously, as I said earlier, my main objective is not to fill a high school curriculum, but to create entertaining books that people will want to read, not feel obliged to read. It is my intention to expand this series beyond what are generally considered the accepted “classics.” In my definition, any writer who has remained popular for a hundred years deserves the designation, regardless of their current evaluation by academia.
Another reason that Lovecraft is included is simply because I like Lovecraft. While artists and writers from all over the world are contributing to this series, it is essentially a one-man business, and of course the authors, stories and artists are going to reflect my personal tastes. The bottom-line reason for publishing these books is that they are my own creative outlet. It is certainly not for any financial gain, which has so far been nonexistent.

NRAMA: Let’s switch our focus back to the artists for a moment. For the most part you’ve chosen cartoonists, underground artists, and magazine illustrators rather than “hot” comic book artists to adapt these tales. Why? Surely it can’t be due to a lack of interest on behalf of comicdom’s brightest stars, can it?

TP: The artists, like the story choices, reflect my personal tastes. Having come at this from my experience on a literary magazine, I am something of an outsider in the comics field. I grew up on comics, and still read and collected them avidly into my 20s. But I reached a point where I became bored with the repetitiveness of the stories and the sameness of the art. I was also turned off by the growth of comics collectors and the culture of the comics shops and trade shows. I grew up in a time when comics were something to be folded-up, tucked in your pocket, and passed around and shared -- not something to be sealed in a plastic bag to improve its speculative value. I stopped buying mainstream comics and concentrated on the undergrounds, which I found much more interesting and inventive. When that scene died out, I pretty much stopped reading comics until recent years, with the growth of the small press and independent books.

I have little interest in the mainstream and superhero comics, which I think generally, have a rather homogeneous look, with all the artists copying whoever is currently “hot.” Things seem to have loosened up a bit in the last few years, probably because of the influence of Japanese manga, but to me those also tend to all look pretty much the same.

I am looking for artists in my books who have their own distinctive and original styles. While I have published and will continue to use mainstream comics artists when the adaptations call for it, my tendency is to use artists and illustrators from other disciplines who can bring a different approach and different look to the stories.

NRAMA: One of the most predominant comic artists who has contributed artwork to this series in Richard Corben, who will also be contributing some illustrations of “The Masque of the Red Death” for the new second printing of the Edgar Allan Poe volume. You mentioned in a previous conversation that part of the reason for the reprint is so you can expunge Clive Barker’s short story “New Murders in the Rue Morgue”… but are there addition stories you’ll be adding in to replace it?

TP: Richard Corben is certainly one of the most popular and respected of the artists who have appeared in the series. As such, he is also one of the busiest, and it is difficult to persuade him to take time from his personal work and more lucrative assignments to work on my books. He did, however, graciously provide a new sketch for “The Masque of the Red Death” which appears in the new edition of Graphic Classics: Edgar Allan Poe.

As for “expunging” the Clive Barker story from the new edition, I want to make it clear that I am proud of having printed that story in the first book, and especially of the wonderful illustrations Mark Nelson did to accompany it. However, I have gone through some changes in my thinking since creating that first volume.

Originally, I had planned on targeting this series at adult comics buyers. I soon found that, in order to print and sell enough copies to make this economically feasible, I would have to expand my market. While I did not want to create children’s books per se, I saw I would have to make the books accessible to younger readers to survive. It is a difficult balance to achieve, but my goal is to create books that are interesting to adult readers and do not compromise on creativity, yet do not contain content that is inappropriate for younger readers. I believe I have achieved that in all the subsequent volumes, and have now revised the Poe book to match.

The Barker story and a couple of other pieces have been replaced with new adaptations of “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Matt Howarth, “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” by Milton Knight, and “The Cask of Amontillado” by a great new Danish artist, Pedro Lopez. Also, for this edition Richard Sala has re-illustrated “The Black Cat,” and Rick Geary has completely redrawn his adaptation of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

NRAMA: Of the eight volumes you have published so far, four of them focus on horror and sci-fi writers. Was this a conscious decision on your part? If so, why?

TP: Again, this is partly a reflection of my personal tastes, and of the type of stories that I think make good comics. It also has to do with the preferences of my core group of readers. While I am striving to expand my readership into the bookstore, library and educational markets, the most loyal customers have been comics fans. And among these readers, horror, fantasy and science fiction have proven the most popular genres. As the market for my books grows, I will be expanding the series into other genres. I would love to do westerns, mysteries, adventure tales and others in the future.

NRAMA: The upcoming Volume Nine will spotlight Robert Louis Stevenson… but do you have any concrete plans as to who will be “featured” after that? Any chances of us seeing a Golding, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, and/or Melville volume in the near future?

TP: Those are all possibilities, though none are on the immediate calendar. After the Robert Louis Stevenson book, which is well into production and due in June, I will be publishing a multiple-author anthology to be called Horror Classics. This is the first of what I hope will be a long series of genre-themed anthologies which will alternate with the single-author collections. Authors in this book will include Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Saki, Jack London, Brete Harte, W.W. Jacobs and Clark Ashton Smith. Artists include Michael Manning, Gabrielle Bell, Richard Jenkins and Ryan Inzana.

After that, I am now beginning plans for a volume on the master of the surprise ending, O. Henry, with adaptations of “The Gift of the Magi”, “The Ransom of Red Chief” and others.

NRAMA: There has been much debate in comic circles about whether or not bookstores will lead to the “salvation” of the comic book industry. How receptive have national book store chains been to the Graphic Classics series?

TP: The series is distributed by Diamond Book Distributors, and I have made some progress in bookstore sales. But since my books are not easily categorizable as “superheroes,” “manga,” or even as the usually confessional “alternative press” books, they tend to get lost in the shuffle. While I will continue to strive to increase my bookstore presence, I feel the greater potential for growth in readership is through library and educational sales.

NRAMA: Finally, who is your primary audience with this series? High school classrooms… comic book readers… fans of the authors in question… or all of the above?

TP: I guess you could say I am trying to be all things to all people with these books. I have tried to build from a core audience of comics readers to reach fans of the individual authors and people who would not normally buy graphic novels. I think these books form an ideal “crossover” for people who are somewhat intimidated by the medium, or have considered it exclusively “kid’s stuff.”

While, as I said earlier, I refuse to oversimplify these books to make them more palatable to the educational market, it is my belief that by choosing exciting stories and presenting them with strong, distinctive artwork I can encourage children to read at a higher level than they normally would. Though the books are created as entertainment, an increasing number of teachers are finding them useful as incentives for reluctant readers.

So I guess the real answer is that I want everybody in the English-speaking world to read my books and won’t rest until I reach that goal. That is one reason I have priced my books as low as possible, despite some pressure from retailers and others to raise the cover price. I would rather sell 10,000 books at $10 each than 5,000 books at $20 each. It gets back to that childhood ideal of comics being things to read and share, not things to collect in storage.

Thus far the Graphic Classic series consists of eight volumes, spotlighting Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, Bram Stoker, and Mark Twain, respectively. Each volume offers close to 150 pages of content for $9.95. Addition information on the series, including ordering information, is available at www.graphicclassics.com

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