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The Stories, the People and the Magic of BCBF

Comics for kids and young readers: let's meet Flying Eye

An interview with Sam Arthur, co-founder and managing director of Nobrow and Flying Eye

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Sam Arthur is co-founder and managing director of Nobrow and Flying Eye. In this interview, we explore his point of view on the present and future of comics for kids and young readers, the relationship between graphic novels and picturebooks and the possibilities of cross-mediality. 

Children’s comic books are the rising stars of the comic book industry right now, an industry that seems to me to have been on the past years more focused on comics and graphic novels meant for an adult readership.

How would you comment on the causes and current explosion of the young readers comic books market?

I think a big reason for the recent popularity of children’s comic books is the fact that they are such a fantastic tool in children’s literacy. For many years comics were not valued in children’s educational institutions and that has begun to change. Now that there is such a huge range of comics for younger readers they are being supported and promoted much more by the adult gatekeepers. There has been lots of work from creators and publishers behind the scenes, but this would not be possible without the enthusiasm of teachers, librarians and booksellers.

How and why did you decide to launch Flying Eye? And what kind of books and readers, did you have in mind?

We had been publishing picture books with Nobrow for several years and many of these books were for all ages rather than simply for adult readers. We quickly realised that the books we were creating for younger readers such as Hilda by Luke Pearson were not reaching their intended audience. This is when we created Flying Eye Books as an imprint intended solely for children. It had a great impact on our ability to reach the children’s book market place and we have not looked back since!

With Flying Eye you publish both comic books and picturebooks. Besides the obvious linguistic one, do you feel there’s a market difference between these two products? Do you approach their publication differently?

There is definitely a difference between comics and picture books. We feel the most important difference is that picture books are typically read aloud and shared and comics are more often enjoyed by an individual in a more solitary fashion. So I do believe we approach the two products with a different attitude. However our intention to create wonderful stories with beautiful illustrations never changes.

Moreover, did having a single label for such different products (comic books and picture books) make your life easier or harder both in terms of communication and reception of your books? Did you reach unexpected readership by having both products under the same umbrella?

That’s a very interesting question and one that we are constantly revaluating. We are a small publisher so I’m not sure we would benefit from having separate brands for our different formats. However sometimes I can see how it would help to position our books in specific markets. I think that those that know our publishing recognise our approach to quality storytelling and understand our offering. As a result I hope there is some cross over from picture books to comics with people that might not have considered them before.

This year the Bologna Children’s Book Fair decided to establish a Comics Corner, confirming the importance of this market on the grandest scale of children’s literature tout-court. What do you think of this decision? What do you think the impact of comic books children and young readers will be on the literature market?

BCBF’s decision to create a Comics Corner was great! It gives so much validation not only to the publishers and creators making the books but also to the children that are choosing to read them. To have the largest children’s book fair in the world recognise the importance of this sector is hugely important.

One of the most iconic titles on your catalogue is definitely the Hilda series, by Luke Pearson, which has an undeniable appeal for children but also for an adult readership. What do you think are the reasons of its success across such a wide age group? Is there, in Hilda, a lesson for children’s comics in general?

What makes an individual series successful is always such a hard thing to pin down and publishers are continually attempting to replicate bestselling formulae to little avail. In Hilda there are identifiable characters that children and adults can relate to and there are elements of fantasy, adventure and comedy which Luke Pearson weaves seamlessly into each book with incredible skill and artistry. The takeaway from this is that to be successful in comics you have to be extremely good at what you do!

Hilda recently received an animated adaptation produced by Netflix, and I assume that was as happy an event for you as it was for us as readers. How did the adaptation impact the comic book series? Are such adaptations crucial and therefrom do you think they should have a relevant impact, if they don’t yet, on the decision-making process about a book, looking at it as a cross-medial brand? Or are they more of an extension, a “happy incident” in the life of the book?

In today’s content hungry television streaming environment it is inevitable that any popular children’s books series will have multiple offers from film and TV production companies. If a character or world has a devoted following in children’s books then it stands to reason that the same is possible (although not guaranteed) in the moving image market place. Our job as publishers is to create content that works in books. If, in doing this, we plant the seed for a much bigger cross-media brand then we have done our jobs well. The more exposure a brand has across platforms the more chance we have to sell the books – so in the case of Hilda we have worked closely with Silvergate Media who created the television show for Netflix and we have collectively done what we can to reach the widest audience possible.

What future do you envision for children’s comic books, both in the young reader’s literature scenario and in the comic industry?

As always in publishing we are dependent on the creativity of our authors and of the receptiveness of our audience. As long as people want to be published and as long as children want to read then I believe there will be a bright future for children’s comics. 

For more information on Nobrow and Flying Eye books and graphic novels, please contact Harry Gwinner, International Rights & Licensing, at harry@nobrow.net 

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). 

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