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May 8, 2007

That New L&R Book Series and Its Impact on the Title’s Publishing Picture

By Tom Spurgeon

More or less quietly given its slew of big-name comic strip reprint projects, art books and original graphic novels, venerable art comics publisher Fantagraphics finds itself in the midst of yet another treatment of the first 50-magazine volume of the groundbreaking Love & Rockets comic book, an endeavor more noteworthy for its modesty more than high-end re-formatting. This new series is in a smaller, paperback format, and collects in seven volumes, three each from Jaime Hernandez and Gilbert Hernandez, what had previously gone into a successful series of magazine-sized, numbered hardcover/soft cover editions. As I wrote here, I like them quite a bit.

Committing to a brand new format for an established series with multiple bookstore entry points begs a slew of questions, or at least it did for me. I became curious about the scope of the new project and its implications for the other two book series collecting that work. I bothered Fantagraphics publicity flack Eric Reynolds until my questions were answered. Here is what I found out.

image* There are four volumes out right now in the new paperback book series. Maggie the Mechanic (early Jaime), The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S. (middle Jaime), Heartbreak Soup (early Gilbert), and Human Diastrophism (middle and late Gilbert). Two more volumes should be out by the end of the year: La Perla Loca (later Jaime) and Beyond Palomar (middle Gilbert, essentially the Poison River and Love and Rockets X stories). A final volume collecting odds and ends, Amor & Cohetes, will be released by summer 2008.

* Barring a massive downturn in sales -- the initial print runs were 10,000 for each book -- Fantagraphics has plans to eventually release the post-L&R Vol. 1 material in this format as well.

* The original hardcover/softcover album-sized volumes with numbers on the spine, like Duck Feet (Vol. 5), will now go out of print.

* However, Fantagraphics has plans to continue doing hardcover graphic novels of individual stories, like the recent Ghost of Hoppers, before releasing that material into the paperback series.

* With a smaller overall price tag for the amount of material collected -- close to 1/3, by Reynolds' estimate -- and therefore a smaller return to the artists for the same amount of narrative content sold, Fantagraphics believes that increased sales will make up the royalties difference. From their perspective, new sales should come in part because the new volumes are not only attractive and cheaper for the consumer, and also because they'll be easier for bookstores and comic shops to carry: less shelf space, less of a financial commitment in terms of investment.

image* The huge collections -- 2003's Palomar (pictured; 520 pages) and 2004's Locas (780 pages) -- will remain in print. There may even do sequels. "They sell to a different demographic, and unlike the new series, are not comprehensive but rather abridged collections," says Reynolds.

The publicity director also stressed that despite rumors that Gilbert Hernandez's stated desire to do more original graphic novel work might have an impact on the comic book-sized second volume of the Love & Rockets series, that there are no plans to delay or suspend the title, one of the few remaining alternative comic books on the market. Gilbert will simply concentrate on short stories starting with issue #20, and will no longer serialize longer works in the periodical.

I hope to make occasional one-shot feature stories out of lingering questions concerning comics projects or news stories, and ask for your patience until I get up to speed on how they should be written and figuring out appropriate subjects for inquiry.
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