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December 15, 2008

Every Picture Tells a Story


I am smiling as we launch There are lots of reasons for that.

First, it’s the result of a really wild 14 months for me. Unlike most people who are working on this site, I did not grow up reading comic books. Sure, I read comics in the newspaper --- I remember following Steve Roper and Mike Nomad (and I credit them today with my love of thrillers), Dennis the Menace, The Family Circus, and a whole host of comics, but never comic books, unless you count Peanuts. While we have covered manga titles on for years, the rest of the graphic novel market was pretty alien to me.

In October 2007, I was at a regional book sales conference in Baltimore when John Shableski from Diamond Book Distributors asked me what I was doing with graphic novels. I told him I knew Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman --- and excused myself to get a pop-up book signed for my son by Matthew Reinhart. John kept asking questions, and I confess I did not understand the questions, let alone have the capacity to give him any answers.

When I got home, there was a note from John asking if I would meet with some graphic novel publishers that Diamond represented about promotion and marketing ideas. I repeated that I needed an education about the market.

The following week, John sent me a piece he’d written about the history of the world of comics and the evolution of graphic novels, comparing this moment to the arrival of rock ’n’ roll. While it still read a bit like Greek to me, I was starting to get the picture and I did understand the rock ’n’ roll metaphor. He kept telling me more (those of you who know John know his tenacity) about the books and I started learning enough to ask questions, which he patiently answered. Looking at those questions now, I cringe, so please know that if you are new to the format, you cannot ask anything that will make you appear more naive than me. I started to see there was a much bigger story out there than the very limited number of superheroes I knew. I literally was starting to hear drums and there was a beat.

From there, I attacked this like I was taking a doctoral course. I hit conferences, met people, read books, shopped in stores, and asked about a zillion questions. And along the way, I also realized I was having fun. Lots of fun.

Now, we already had seven editorial websites in The Book Report Network, and I had sworn “never again,” but I started sketching out a site plan in notebooks and began thinking how this might come together. The bug to build yet another site was coming alive. Those notebooks read like a diary of the last year.

I knew we needed an editor from outside the present staff as none of the rest of The Book Report Network editorial gang reads graphic novels. Jogging my memory, I remembered having coffee a couple of years ago with John Hogan after he left Pages magazine; somehow it stuck in my very crowded brain that his eyes lit up when I asked what kind of books he would like to work with in a dream world and he said, “graphic novels.” I tracked him down, asked him to write some reviews and interviews for us for, and shortly afterward asked him to be the editorial director of the site. Together, we made more notes and knocked more ideas around.

By the time we hit Comic-Con in San Diego in July, I had an editorial plan that had been shaped by talking to publishers, creators, and the true cheerleaders of this format, librarians --- and endless brainstorming over Diet Coke with Hogan. The Con was educational, but also amusing --- and fun. At Comic-Con, I shot hundreds of pictures so I’d have a clearer understanding of the audience we could hope to reach. As I like visualizing the audience when I write, this really helped.

Back in New York, I asked Alexandra Cannon, a very talented producer whom we had just hired, to design the new site. She loves graphic novels and quickly gave me six designs that we could play with. She also patiently took Hogan’s and my musings and tried to crystallize them. Once we had something of a graphic look for the site, we hired Jeff Raab, one of the most talented graphic designers/producers in the business, to draw and build the site architecture, along with Sunil Kumar, our longtime producer.

Hogan found writers, and after a lot more Diet Coke, we started to see how the site that you’re looking at today would come together. We lined up some amazing writers, brainstormed editorial pieces and interviews, and layered in every new idea that we came across. While there were a couple of frustrating moments, it really was just plain…fun.

There are so many people to thank for looking at the prototype, giving us feedback and just encouraging us to keep going. You will see their fingerprints all over these pages. I thank them for their patient replies to, “What do you think?” and “Am I making sense?” The latter line I think will end up on my tombstone!

But in the dozen years since we launched our first website, I clearly have learned that once a site goes live, it’s not just our vision that shapes it; it’s yours. We want to hear from you. Tell us what you want to see, and read, on In the past, our best ideas always have come from our readers. So fire away; nothing is too small to be considered.

I am very glad I went to Baltimore, which for me was a very spur-of -the-moment trip. It took me in a whole other direction --- actually lots of them, crisscrossing the country. By last week, I had made Gold Elite status on Continental, which is a lot of miles. My contacts list on my Blackberry expanded enormously. But more than that, a whole new world of reading opened up to me.

Now, again, I am going to say that this is the last site that I am going to launch…and I am serious this time. Eight is enough. And if you see me thinking otherwise, please stop me. Now go enjoy, explore, and as always, thanks for reading. I look forward to seeing what you have to say. I am headed for a long overdue margarita to celebrate!