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Monday, January 26, 2009

Stuck in a book

When I was a little girl, all I did was read—to the point where now, I sometimes have a memory and can’t remember whether it happened to me or happened to Jane Eyre or Anne Shirley or Francie Nolan (that scene where Francie pretends her name is Mary to get the doll? I was pretty sure I did that until I reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as an adult). I also loved the fact that there was a character in Little Women with my name. How I thrilled at the scenes “I” was in, even to “my” deathbed! So when I heard about the contest our marketing department is holding to highlight our new DC Super Heroes books, I thought immediately of my younger self, and how exciting it would have been for her to get her real name in a book. What a treasure that would have been! (If you haven’t seen the information about the contest, it’s here.)

If I could become a character in any book, I think it would have to be Anne Shirley. I loved how smart, how unconventionally beautiful, and how daring she was. I recently reread the first couple of Anne books and couldn’t help remembering how cool I thought she was when I first read Anne of Green Gables around age nine, sitting in my room, wishing I could be as exciting as Anne. If I could become a character in a Stone Arch book, I think I’d be Sam X—losing shadows! Being hunted by a boomerang! Finding a living statue!

After my son, Sam, was born, I brought home copies of each Sam X book. When he’s old enough, we’ll read them together, so that at each mention of his name, he’ll imagine himself in those same adventures. And maybe his memories will get mixed up with fiction, like mine have. I hope he’s that lucky!

What book would you want to be in?

Beth Brezenoff
Senior Editor
Stone Arch Books

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Childhood Dream Come True

In 1978, Warner Brothers released a theatrical one-sheet (or, a movie poster) bearing a familiar S-shield and the tagline, “You’ll believe a man can fly.” That same year, the studio premiered Superman: The Movie, a film that would help change the landscape of science fiction film and pave the way for today’s surge of comic-book and graphic novel-inspired blockbusters. This film is important because it was my first exposure to the world of comic book fiction, and ultimately opened my eyes to a much larger realm of modern-day mythology. The power, the heroism, the majesty – Superman embodied every idea and fantasy that my budding creative mind could conjure. Fast forward ten years: in late 1988, a young, offbeat director embarked on a new quest to bring the Dark Knight to the silver screen. A far cry from the campy, “Technicolor” Batman portrayed by Adam West in the 1960s, director Tim Burton’s “Batman” was dark and gritty, existing in an alternate Gotham City that hearkened back to the days of Art Deco and film noir. To a young sixth-grader like myself, it was a shock as much as it was a breath of fresh air. Batman was real now; he was human. An intelligent, industrious, and determined hero who received his “powers” through hard work and sheer will.

Flashing forward to the present day, I’d have to say that working in collaboration with DC Comics on the first set of our DC Super Hero titles was an absolute joy. Their attention to the little details, I’m convinced, is why Superman and Batman are by far two of the most recognizable properties in the world. Not only has DC left an imprint on pop culture, but they’ve also managed to maintain the image of two super heroes that made their first appearances during World War II. Just look at how little Superman has changed stylistically in the last 70 years! From pencil sketches to final color, the editors at DC worked with us to ensure that Superman and Batman (along with their respective supporting casts) were given the same treatment in our books. Going with the “animated” designs of each character, we geared these titles toward a young audience that has grown to know “Supes” and “Bats” (as they are sometimes dubbed in the industry) from their appearances in animated cartoon series on television and in film. The design of the books followed that same animated feel, and soon we had rich, entertaining novels brimming with full-color artwork and action-packed sound effects.

For those of you who enjoy seeing the process behind the creation of a book, here is the progression of the Stolen Super Powers cover, from rough pencils to final cover design:

Rough cover pencil:

Rough cover pencil (with revised hero poses):

Final cover inks:

Final cover color:

Final cover design (with title and branding):

Art credits: Sketches, pencils, and inks by Rick Burchett. Colorist: Lee Loughridge.

As we move ahead in our adventure with DC, I look forward to the opportunity of working with them even more closely (possibly even illustrating a title myself . . . ?) to ensure that we produce books that together hold up the integrity of DC Comics and Stone Arch Books. In Season 2 of DC Super Heroes, we’ll see more action and adventure, including the origin of Batman, as well as the introduction of several more super villains. Season 3 will welcome everyone’s favorite Amazon, Wonder Woman, to the fold. After that, could we see some team-ups with some of the DC Universe’s other great heroes?

The future is bright for Stone Arch, for DC, for comics . . . for fiction!

Bob Lentz
Art Director
Stone Arch Books

Monday, January 12, 2009

Is Superman Dead?

When I was 8 years old, I purchased a 12-cent (!) DC comic with the book-length story “The Last Days of Superman.” This was not the amazing graphic-novel blockbuster of 1992, but the earlier Superman, issue 156, October 1962. I must have read that story about 35 times, weeping during the first 20. Of course, Superman didn’t die. How could he? Superman is invincible (except for kryptonite, but that’s not the point).

I thought of that story when I read a recent article in the December issue of School Library Journal. It was titled “Wanted: Male Models” and lamented the lack of male reading models for young children, especially for boys. We definitely need more men to read to their children, to spend more time curled up with a book rather than with a warm TV set or computer monitor. I agree with the writer —we need more male mentors. But I have seen them, and it’s usually at a comic book shop or in the graphic novel section at the local big-chain bookstore.

Wednesday is “new comic book” day across the country. Several of us from the Stone Arch office often visit one of our favorite comic book stores in the middle of the week, either to browse or to get that special issue we’ve been itching for. (For me, it was the new Metal Men by DC artist Duncan Rouleau.) Often, we see other guys there with their kids, all gazing at shiny new covers or vintage editions wrapped in protective plastic.

I frequent another comic shop in downtown Minneapolis, usually on the weekends. I always see dads, and often moms, accompanied by their bright-eyed kids, all of them excited and talking about some new manga adventure or superhero tale. The male models are out there. They are reading, although they may not be in the library. Yet.

Which, I guess, answers the question I posed at the beginning of this posting. Superman isn’t dead. He has a growing horde of new fans. And that makes me hopeful—about reading in general, and in particular, about the imaginations of the young. It also thrills me to partner with DC Comics in our new Super Hero line of original stories about Batman and Superman. This could pull back into the library some of those kids who were looking for their favorite reading material elsewhere. And for me to help create books with the same people who gripped me with their caped crusaders when I was 8 years old . . . wow!

Pastimes and hobbies and ways of spending time will change over the years, but we’ll always need stories. Kids are still reading about superheroes. Maybe they’re hidden in the back corner of a comic book store, or behind a spinner rack blooming with manga, but they are there, and they’re very much alive.

Michael Dahl
Editorial Director, Stone Arch Books

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy New Year!

2008 was a big year for us at Stone Arch Books.
  • We published 102 books (and that doesn't include paperbacks, reprints, audio, or interactive).
  • We won a bunch of awards: American Graphic Design Awards for The Adventures of Sam X, our Spring 2008 catalog, our Fall 2007 catalog, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; the Golden Duck Award; and Ropes of Revolution won both the Moonbeam Award and the Teacher's Choice Award.
  • As part of a restructuring at Capstone Publishers, we assumed responsibility for Picture Window Books' fiction, and now we're publishing a more comprehensive selection of fiction, expanding our age range to preK through grade 9.
  • We said goodbye to Kay, one of our designers, and Maryellen (who is now working as the classroom project manager for Heinemann Raintree/Capstone Publishers).
  • We welcomed two new editors (Julie and Christianne), an art director (Bob), two designers (Emily and Hilary), and an intern (Sean, who has just officially become an associate editor).
  • We solved approximately 250 New York Times crossword puzzles during lunch.
  • Two babies were born (Sam, to Beth, and Isla, to Julie).
  • We got a bunch of great reviews.
  • We moved from our cramped cubicles in "the garage" to more spacious offices downstairs. Our new location is a work in progress—and some of us are still not in our permanent desks—but we've got a lot more room!
  • We traveled all over the US—to ALA, SCBWI, Comic-Con, TLA, and helped host PLA here in Minneapolis (where we introduced Jake Maddox to a bunch of happy librarians).
  • We had tons of fun!

How can we possibly top 2008? It's going to be tough, but we're pretty sure we can do it. For starters, we've got 106 new books headed to libraries now for our Spring 2009 season. We'll have another 98 the season after that (making our 2009 total 204!). January will mark the launch of our new DC Super Heroes set, featuring Batman and Superman. We've been working on these books for years now, and we're so excited for them to finally be in the hands of readers! But the fun won't end in January—we'll have more new series, great new authors and illustrators, and fantastic new books all year long.

The Stone Arch Books blog is evolving in 2009 too. We want to give you more—more insight, more behind-the-scenes, more commentary. We'll feature more staff members, authors, and illustrators. We'll unveil more new features. And we want to hear from you—please use the comments sections to tell us what you want, what you think, how we can better serve you (as teachers, librarians, parents, readers).

Our resolution for 2009: Innovate more. We know that 2009 is going to bring challenges in every industry, including ours. We've always considered ourselves innovative, but with the new economic atmosphere, we're going to have to be even more creative. We'll have to find new ways to do things. We'll have to do our work differently. It'll be exciting to see what comes out of it.

What's your resolution for 2009? What challenge are you excited to tackle? (Let us know by leaving a comment!)

Happy New Year from all of us here at Stone Arch Books. 2009 may not be easy, but we're pretty sure it's going to be good.