The Rise of the Graphic Novel
Emma Hayley founded London-based publishing house SelfMadeHero in 2007 after spotting a gap in the UK market for high quality graphic novels for adults. At that time the manga market was on the up and there was an increasing appetite for graphic novels, so SelfMadeHero opened their list with two manga Shakespeare titles: Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. These ground-breaking books were shortly followed by an edition of Kafka’s The Trial. As well-received as these early publications were – a review in the Guardian praised The Trial as ‘an uncompromised success. As much as anyone can expect from literary adaptation’ – no one could have predicted six years ago just how radically the graphic novel publishing landscape would change in such a short time. The shortlists for the 2012 Costa Book Awards included two graphic entries for the first time: Joff Winterhart’s Days of the Bagnold Summer in the Best Novel category and Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot’s Dotter of her Father Eyes, winner of the Biography category. In January 2013 the London Review of Books featured two of SelfMadeHero’s novels – something that would have been unimaginable even a decade ago. Graphic novels are being taken more seriously than ever before – by readers and publishers, reviewers and booksellers alike.
Despite the expansion of the graphic novel sector in the UK in recent years, the scene here just does not compare with the enormous popularity of graphic novels in continental Europe. Germany, Belgium and especially France are big players in the international market. A testament to this is the Angoulême International Comics Festival, the largest festival for graphic literature in Europe and the second biggest in the world after Tokyo’s twice yearly gathering, Comiket. Angoulême was founded in 1974 and takes place each January in the eponymous French town. SelfMadeHero make the most of this prime opportunity for buying and selling the rights for graphic novels; they have particularly good relationships with German publishers whom they meet throughout the year to discuss acquisitions. SelfMadeHero made waves at this year’s 40th Angoulême Festival when their critically acclaimed title The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon won a major award, the Prix Spécial du Jury.
Emma has a keen sense of the importance of translated fiction within the UK’s graphic novel market and values the translator’s role in capturing the tone and feel of a book. She reads French and Spanish but relies on readers’ reports for insights into German-language writing. From the graphic adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial as one of their earliest titles, to their recent acquisition of the rights for Reinhard Kleist’s graphic memoir of a Holocaust survivor The Boxer (featured in the autumn 2012 issue of NBG), German-language texts make a significant contribution to SelfMadeHero’s catalogue. SelfMadeHero have also published two of Kleist’s graphic biographies, Johnny Cash and Castro. Due to the intrinsically international nature of the graphic novel market, readers and publishers are simply not fazed by having to consume and produce books in translation. Rather than being perceived as a barrier to publication, translation is accepted as an essential part of the production process for many titles, as a way of giving readers access to the best and brightest graphic offerings from around the globe – quality is the most important benchmark here.
Emma is enthusiastic about what are currently exciting times for the UK publishing scene with its burgeoning arts festivals, and the sense of a re-emergence of thriving independent publishing movement whose members are willing to take risks and whose high production values ensure their titles stand out from the crowd. SelfMadeHero are clearly playing a vital part in this movement, contributing to the increasingly high profile of graphic novels across the publishing industry. With their titles being championed in rave reviews across the UK press, as well as internationally, SelfMadeHero can afford to be confident about what the future holds.