01 October 2009

Five Questions for Eric Reynolds

I've internet-known Eric Reynolds for about a decade, although we've never met. As publicist for Fantagraphics Books, he has been absolutely invaluable to me in getting me access to great cartoonists to interview on the radio and online, and I have known no more passionate advocate for good comics in my life. He recently got kicked upstairs at Fantagraphics, so I wanted to take a few minutes to pick his brain about what he's seen so far in comics, and where he, and the art form, are headed.

Alan David Doane: You spent most of the last decade as publicist for Fantagraphics Books, one of the fastest-growing and most diverse comics publishers in the world. I'd argue that this has been the most interesting decade in the history of comics, and obviously your position in that time gave you a front-row seat at changes in both the industry and the art form. What would you say has been the most surprising development in comics over that time?

Eric Reynolds: I suppose it's been twofold: the solidification of the 'graphic novel' as the delivery format of choice over the periodical comic book, and the mainstream acceptance of comics in regard to the reading public and media. I suppose neither of those are very surprising answers, but I'm not sure I could have believed how far both have come when I started at Fantagraphics over 15 years ago. Close third: the slow, sad erosion of the direct market in spite of everyone's best interests.

From porn to classic newspaper strips and from Los Bros. Hernandez to R. Crumb, Fantagraphics really does seem to publish a more diverse line of comics than any five other companies combined; what do you think is the unifying philosophy that defines Fantagraphics as a brand?

Well, first, thanks. But the overriding philosophy has always very simply been "good cartooning." Maybe we don't see as much difference between Schulz and Crumb and Jim Flora and the Hernandez brothers, et al, as most people. As we've broadened into even more diverse areas of art and prose, we've really just trusted our instincts and pursued our own tastes and interests, collectively and individually. Gary has always led the charge on this front. If he likes something and thinks we should publish it, he'll be damned if anyone is going to stop him.

This has probably changed over the course of your career at Fantagraphics, so could you talk a little bit about what the challenges were in promoting the company's comics at the start versus what the challenges are now?

There's simply more competition. When I started, we were probably one of fewer than five comics publishers sending review copies to places like Publishers Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, etc. Now everyone does. I'm grateful that we established ourselves when we did, because it would be difficult to break into the business as a startup with no reputation at this point in time. Also, as larger publishers have entered the field, it's been more difficult to get yourself heard above the din of corporate publicity efforts. Ten years ago, I never felt that by us being in Seattle, we were marginalized in any way, but sometimes now in spite of the ease of communications via the internet and email, I feel like we suffer a bit because we aren't in New York City, which is a surprising development to me. It's not a major hurdle, just an observation, really.

You recently were promoted to associate publisher, and Jacq Cohen is taking over your role as publicist. What goals have you set for yourself -- or had set for you -- in your new position?

Basically, between Jacq and I, we simply want to promote our books better. We needed the extra person, and I'll be working closely with Jacq and supervising her efforts, and focusing on more specific and special projects and books. I hope I'll also have more time to focus on the publishing side, acquiring and editing more books. I think my tastes are different enough from Gary and Kim's while still complementing what they've created with Fantagraphics that I can be of value on that front. They've always trusted my instincts on that front and given me a lot of freedom but I've had to limit myself to one or two projects a year as an editor the last few years because of too much other work and I'd love to be able to do a bit more. But I also want to be able to focus more concertedly on certain books and projects that really could use the extra promotional push, and extra marketing efforts that reach beyond traditional comics audiences. Jacq will be a tremendous asset on that front.

What do you think are five outstanding comics not published by Fantagraphics?

I like a lot of what Picturebox and Buenaventura and Sparkplug do, in particular. Off the top of my head, I thought Lisa Hanawalt's new comic was really, really great. Recently, I loved a comic called Sausage Hands that Sparkplug put out recently and seems to have flown completely under the radar. I think the creator's name is Andrew Smith. I look forward to anything that old school D&Q guys like Adrian Tomine or Chester Brown or Seth or Joe Matt do. I think Ben Jones is amazing, Leif Goldberg, too. I think Will Sweeney's Tales from Greenfuzz is one of the greatest comics of this decade; I wish we published it. Sammy Harkham is a brilliant and can do no wrong as an artist or editor. Those are just off the top of my head -- the fact is, there's a ton of great cartoonists out there beyond what we publish. I think my favorite comics-related book I've read recently was The Art of Harvey Kurtzman from Abrams. That book kills, and is a must-read for anyone who enjoys good comics. And Matt Furie's Boys Club is awesome.

For more information, visit Fantagraphics Books.

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