Renata Gorgani is the publishing director of Il Castoro, Italian publishing house dedicated to kids’ and young readers’ books that, in the last few years, launched an ever-growing division dedicated to graphic novels. In this interview we explore how this division came to be and how it evolved through time, what the state of this market segment is, and what is the future for children’s graphic novels.
Il Castoro is a historic children's publishing house, which recently inaugurated an imprint fully dedicated to comics. Why did you make this choice, and how it became a reality?
Actually, this all happened by accident. We read Raina Telgemeier's first book, Smile, found it beautiful, and we published it. For the first time, we found ourselves before a children comic book that aimed to be as complex as a novel. It was love at first sight. We immediately realised that it was indeed a special and unique book.The desire to experiment is in our publishing house’s DNA, and we couldn’t miss this opportunity. Raina Telgemeier knows how to build a special relationship with the reader. Her stories are always a bit autobiographical and, at same time, she has the extraordinary ability to make them universal. I think that children deeply feel that Raina talks about them, their feelings, their fears, their ailments, their loves, the strength it takes to grow up and how they can be found. We’ve continued to publish her books and started looking for other editorial projects that present these same traits.
Your catalogue is not limited to Telgemeier's works, and includes several other titles, both original publications (for example 21 days at the end of the world by Silvia Vecchini and Sualzo) and translated ones (including the extraordinary This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews, to be published in 2021). What makes a comic book by Il Castoro so different? How do you balance comic books dedicated to different age groups?
We look for beautiful, intense stories, told in a linear way, with a rich and clear design and clean lines. Our ideal audience is the boy or the girl who approaches comics for the first time. She or he must enter this world in the most caring and easiest way possible. They must be passionate, willing to continue with these readings. We like important topics, and also the everyday small things. Stories with morals, and funny stories as well.
Silvia Vecchini and Sualzo are both great authors. We’ve sold the rights to their books in the USA, France, Spain and many other countries.
We’re going to keep on publishing Italian comics. In fact, we’ve just published Girotondo by Sergio Rossi and Agnese Innocente, and Clara and the shadows by Andrea Fontana and Claudia Petrazzi. Our requests to the authors are, beyond a good story and high-quality characters, the ‘Castoro’ format (we need them to be able to publish them in books of the same size as our fiction books) and with easily readable lines.
Children comics, in Italy and internationally, are growing in terms of quantity and quality.
How do you evaluate this ‘rebirth’? What are the causes of this phenomenon and its possible effects on the training of new readers?
In some countries comic books have always been a way to promote more reading for young people. In others, like Italy, they have been relegated as “inferior literary products”, made exclusively for entertainment. Finally, we realised that comics feature their own language, and a unique way to tell stories with both words and images. They can, and have to, have the literary dignity of any other book. Contrary to popular belief, they require a really complex reading, made up of many levels, but closer to today’s young readers, who already have the habit to link words and images.
How do you evaluate its official entry into the Bologna Children's Book Fair, with the establishment of the Comics Corner?
We thought it was a natural step. In Italy there are important festivals and fairs focused on comics - and have been for years -, from Lucca Comics & Games to Naples’ Comicon, but none of them concentrates on the professional exchange of rights. They’re customer-oriented. So we welcome the Comics Corner to Bologna! It could represent the perfect bridge between ‘traditional’ publishing and comic book publishing, bringing the most anxious booksellers closer to this world. It could also convince illustrators to try this path, too. Finally, it could create the basis for the official entry of comic books into the world of school.
Il Castoro recently acquired the rights to the brand new DC Comics children series, while the rest of the US publisher's production is translated and distributed by Panini Comics. It’s interesting that DC Comics' adult comics are published by a ‘comics’ publisher, while those for children by a ‘children's’ publisher, whose activity is not specific to comics. What have you to say about this?
The DC Comics YA and children's series have been created for the bookstore and not for the comic book market, where DC comic books are usually sold. Even the US majors have understood that the time to gather the world of books and comics has come. So they called upon great children's authors to write the stories, realizing beautiful works very close to the world of children's storytelling. We felt that we were facing the same challenge and decided to work together.
In your opinion, how do you see the future of children's comics, both in a more extensive way and in Italy? Do you think it’ll be increasingly conveyed by dedicated imprints within the catalogue of traditionally children's fiction publishers, or do you think that it’ll become an important segment even for specialised publishers?
We think that comics are and will be an ever-growing market. It doesn't matter if the publishers will be dedicated to comics or traditional children's books. As far as we’re concerned, in addition to publishing comics as Il Castoro, we’ve also signed a partnership deal with Tunué, a comics-only publisher. We complement each other, since they have a different approach to comics, with more attention to art and drawing and without age limitations. Together, we want to outline the path of this new wave. It's a really exciting project!
For more information on Il Castoro books and graphic novels, please contact Andreina Speciale, Foreign right sales and Production manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org
This post is part of a series of interviews to some of the most interesting international publishers specialized in comic books and graphic novel for children and young readers, made in collaboration with BilBOlbul, International Comic Book Festival (curated by Hamelin Associazione Culturale).