Open Your Mouth: Issue #3

Thu, May 22nd, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
J. Torres, Columnist

Terry Nantier on what creators need to first consider before sending a submission his way: "Be aware of who we are and what we publish."

This is something echoed by book publishers, and it does sound like common sense. But you'd be surprised how many aspiring comic creators will submit their pitches to just about anyone in the vain hope that, if they hit enough places, someone will bite. So, shall we begin this week's Submissions 101 class with a quick history lesson?

THE N IN NBM

Just don't ask him what the "BM" stands for…

Terry Nantier founded NBM Publishing in 1976 while he was still in college and during a time when graphic novels didn't even have a name yet. He had spent his adolescence in Paris where he first encountered bande dessinees in the graphic novel (or album) format - like "Spirou," "Tintin" and "Asterix" among many, many others - and wondered why they weren't available in the US. Although his personal fondness and tastes in certain titles would extend beyond what he thought he could import successfully here, he was certain that "graphic novels could rock comics" on this side of the pond.

"Racket Ramba," a Mad Magazine-like spoof of detective stories, by French artist Loro was NBM's first imported title, published in the spring of 1977, predating the Euro-centric Heavy Metal by a few months. Next came the first book ever by Enki Bilal, "The Call Of The Stars," recently published by Humanoids under a different title. "Although we ultimately did sell out of those books done in the first few years, it was very tough going," reflects Nantier. "The concept was pretty radical at the time."

However, from day one, the young entrepreneur had his eye on bookstores. To this end, he soon hired sales reps to work for him and as early as 1980 had enlisted the services of a distributor, and basically just kept at it "like a bulldog." All the while working various day jobs. Finally, in 1983-84 things started to really happen for NBM and the company began to expand quite rapidly.

Eventually, the company found its niche as an importer of fine European graphic novels and to this day continues to enjoy that reputation. But NBM as a publisher of only European translations is a "misconception" that the company has been struggling with claims Nantier. He's quick to point out that at most 50% of what his company publishes is foreign. "We started with European material as a way to get the ball rolling as it were," says the publisher. "We've pursued a few choice artists from 'over there' but it's been years that we've published an increasing number of well-known to new North American artists."

ONE BOOK IN FIVE SOLD IN FRANCE IS A GRAPHIC NOVEL

Contrary to popular belief - not a bestseller in France!
When asked to compare the US and European comic book markets Nantier says, "Well, to start, 'comic books' virtually don't exist there, it's all graphic novels. So comparing the comics market as a whole, they've had a few years of late of excellent healthy growth which in turn has translated into a glut of titles and new publishers. Leading series continue to outperform regular books, GNs take an outsize share of best sellers. Now, one book in five sold in France is… a graphic novel!"

We continue to drool for such a market here, but Nantier thinks we're heading - arguably starting to careen - in that direction. "Imagine how huge such a relative size of the book market that would translate into for here... it's rather mind boggling," he continues. "We are talking in the billions of dollars. I believe we can achieve that and there's room for lots of diversity."

Given these facts, however, Nantier still insists in publishing monthly pamphlets. "Comic books keep an artist and a series in the public eye on a more constant basis, and can create buzz better than a huge tome once every 2 to 3 years," he says. "In Europe, they're used to GNs at 48 or 64 pages and, even those, artists will typically take a whole year to finish." So although the general trend in American comics these days is definitely toward GNs, Nantier counters: "But that does not mean comic books can't pre-serialize that material."

NO HULKS PLEASE

So, what does NBM want to see pitch-wise from aspiring comic book creators? "Send a one page synopsis of your story with a few finished pages of art from that story or something similar in style with a SASE - important for an answer - as a start, then we can take it from there," replies Nantier. And although the company isn't looking for any particular genre or style Nantier cautions: "We're pretty diverse, as long as it ain't superheroes which we are not known for... But definitely be aware of who we are and what we publish and make sure it'll fit." NBM has a penchant for more literate comics as illustrated by their Comics Lit line and Nantier says he's looking for "something that pushes the envelope, even if in a small way, something fun to read and not empty headed."

NBM receives a few dozen unsolicited submissions through the mail each year, and is one of the few comic book publishers in North America that still accepts submissions in this manner. They publish creator-owned works and do not hire freelance or work-for-hire at this time. The company tends to sign one new artist a year but Nantier says: "You need to have something really important to say and/or be an artist that will knock people's socks off." After all, you're trying to join a club whose membership boasts names like Will Eisner, Ted Rall, Peter Kuper, Rick Geary, P. Craig Russell, etc.

Finally, Nantier points out: "San Diego has been an amazing breeding ground, you might say. Many of our new relationships with either established or new artists started in San Diego." He invites potential creators to just come up to the booth and see if he's free to talk. "But have comics - not just illustrations - to show and be sure you're a match with what we publish," he warns. "I cannot and will not critique samples of the Hulk. I'm not qualified. I'm not interested."

Next week: Stephanie Moore, the head gatekeeper of Marvel's new Epic line.

Meanwhile, drop by the Open Your Mouth message boards to find out more about NBM Publishing and upcoming titles being added to its fine line of comic books and graphic novels.

Thank you for your attention.

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