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January 24, 2011

Beyond the Pages with Andrew Dodd


Building on its publishing roots in India, comics publisher Campfire is growing a global comics base with both original works and comics adaptations of beloved classics. With an ambitious lineup of new releases planned for 2011, Campfire is making a renewed impact on the comics world. We talked with Campfire publisher Andrew Dodd to discuss the company’s roots, its publishing vision, and where it’s going in the months ahead.

Welcome to GNR! I’d like to start with a little background first. Can you tell us a little bit about Campfire’s publishing operations and history?
Campfire launched its first titles across India in December 2008. The first five graphic novels we published were The Time MachineA Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Robinson Crusoe, The Land That Time Forgot, and The Master of the World. Including these, we published a total of 21 titles in the first year. All except two of them were adaptations of Western classics—the other two being a biography (Harry Houdini) and a mythological retelling (Stolen Hearts: The Love of Eros and Psyche).

During our first year in business, we focused our attention on the domestic Indian market and concentrated on producing a selection of quality titles to take to the world market. We then exploited our catalogue of graphic novels in earnest last year, with distribution agreements being signed for many countries across the globe, including the UK, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and, most importantly, North America. We were particularly pleased when a North America distribution agreement was signed with Random House Publisher Services through Steerforth Press, as this is a key market in our business plan. We work very closely with Steerforth Press, and our arrangement with them works particularly well as they have the requisite specialist knowledge for the North American market.

In addition to distribution agreements across the whole of the native English-speaking world and other key territories, Campfire has licensed out the foreign-language translation rights to seven languages, ranging from Portuguese to Turkish to a Mongolian coedition.

At the beginning of Campfire’s publishing history, we decided that adapting Western classics into the graphic-novel format would serve as a good platform for branching out into other genres at a later date. This we started to do slowly and are continuing to do at a faster pace as time goes by. At this time, we have published three biographies, four mythological stories, and five titles showcasing completely original material. In addition, we are continuing to add to our range of classics, which now totals 34 titles.
What are some of your goals for 2011?
One of our main goals for 2011 is to expand our presence in North America, by continuing to make inroads into the retail and education sectors. In 2010 we launched 16 titles in the U.S. and Canada. By comparison, we will be publishing a further 50 titles by the end of 2011, and hope to continue this momentum into 2012 and beyond.

Another of our targets for the year is to continue shifting our focus toward producing great original material. We are continuing to adapt classics, but are very passionate about stamping our name on the industry through fresh, contemporary works. So, if the next Alan Moore is reading this, please get in touch.

This January, you’re publishing more books than usual, so congratulations! Is this a good sign of where the company’s headed in this new year?
Absolutely. Eight titles in January and 50 in the next 12 months is Campfire’s way of setting its stall out. We take the graphic novel business very seriously and feel we are demonstrating our commitment by bringing out an extensive range of titles in 2011.
When adapting a classic to the comics format, what are the “guidelines” you follow? How do you ensure that you’ve remained faithful to the source material yet provided the right fit for comics?
Converting a classic into the graphic-novel format is much harder than it initially seems. Remaining true to the original text, and maintaining the feel of the author’s narrative, is of utmost importance. That said, adapting a 500-page, text-only novel into a 100-page graphic novel obviously means that the text has to be abridged and certain subplots or events have to be omitted. Great care is taken to ensure that the selections we make regarding what to keep in and what to leave out do not affect the overall telling of the story and allow it to flow seamlessly without any noticeable gaps.

In terms of our treatment of the original text, we take pains to ensure that, when modifying it to suit a contemporary audience, we maintain the voice of the author. For example, if you read our adaptation of A Christmas Carol, you will feel like you are reading something written by the hand of Dickens, yet on closer examination, you will realize that certain words and grammatical structures have been altered to better suit our target audience.
What are some of the qualities you look for in the books you decide to adapt?
Stories that are full of action are an obvious choice for any visual medium. However, we don’t find ourselves restricted just to titles of this nature. Stories that include less action (in the common sense of the word) can still make great graphic novels—they just need to be treated differently by the scriptwriter and illustrator. A book where the characters remain in one room throughout can have just as much impact as one where there are many changes of location and big action-packed scenes. The effectiveness of the adaptation is all down to ensuring the treatment that is used is appropriate to the story being told.
You’ve been able to build a successful worldwide business model with these. Are there any major differences, besides obvious language ones, between the different foreign editions?
There are very few differences between the various foreign-language editions that are published. The only elements of the book that are sometimes changed are the page size and the type of paper. However, we insist that the high-quality production is maintained no matter which language or which country they are being sold in.
How have the adaptations been received in schools and libraries?
For graphic-novel publishers, now is a great time to be producing titles that are suitable for the education and library markets. Public libraries are expanding their collections, the idea of stocking them in school libraries is growing in popularity, and teachers are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about the great potential of using them in classrooms. Both reluctant readers and avid bibliophiles of school-going age love the medium and become enthused and excited by the use of graphic novels as a tool for learning. I’ve even heard teachers talk of their students arguing over who can take the books home next. Whether they are read as a stepping stone on the way to wider reading, or as great pieces of literature in their own right, graphic novels are beginning to receive the acknowledgement they rightly deserve amongst academics.

As for Campfire, the response in schools and libraries has so far been very positive, and another of our focuses for 2011 will be to continue introducing our titles into educational institutes across North America. Our vision is to be a big part of the movement, which will soon see every child and young person voluntarily reading simply for the love of immersing themselves in a good book.
What are some of your new books coming up in the first half of the year?
There are so many books that I’m really looking forward to seeing available in the U.S. this year. However, I’m particularly excited about two of the titles that we’re launching in January. The Land That Time Forgot and The People That Time Forgot, originally by Edgar Rice Burroughs, have many fans in North America who have been crying out to see the graphic-novel versions. Other classics that will be available within the next couple of months include The Hound of the BaskervillesGulliver’s Travels, The Wizard of Oz, The Three Musketeers, and Jekyll and Hyde.

Almost all the titles we’re publishing in North America during the first half of 2011 will be from our Classics range. Then, from June onward, the focus will shift toward the launch of many biography, mythology, and original titles.
What made the time right to do more original content?
As a new graphic-novel publishing house, we spent the early days of our life honing our processes, building up a stable of proficient writers and establishing our worldwide distribution. Now these are all in place, we are in a position to create the kind of original material that we can promote and distribute effectively across the world. Publishing classics at the outset allowed us to bring out titles that are already well-known whilst building the brand image of Campfire. Now this brand-building is well underway, we feel confident that the time is right to publish some original material.

Some of the original titles we’ll be launching in North America in the latter half of this year:
400BC: The Story of the Ten Thousand—This is a story based on a real historic battle and how it affects the life of one warrior in particular.
Photo Booth—A thriller that weaves mystery and detective work together, and offers a few twists and turns along the way.
The Dusk Society—Four seemingly ordinary teenagers are brought together as the newest recruits of a secret society that battles evil and corruption that most people don’t even know exist.
In Defense of the Realm—This is a piece of historical fiction based in the Indus Valley Civilization in ancient India, several thousand years ago.
Which of your books have been the most successful, and why do you think they did so well with readers?
When it comes to graphic novels, titles that are related to current movies in some way always benefit—regardless of which came first. For us, Alice in Wonderland and The Hound of the Baskervilles have sold very well in the last 12 months for this reason.
In your time with Campfire, does something stand out as the book or event you’re proudest of?
Last week, our first two Indian mythology titles were launched—Sita: Daughter of the Earth and The Offering: The Story of Ekalavya and Dronacharya. This is something I was particularly proud of. Having lived in Delhi for four years, and having been associated with Campfire for the majority of that time, creating a range of titles that retell the greatest stories from the Indian epics—the Mahabharat and the Ramayana—has been our collective vision. These titles are dearly loved throughout the whole of India, and to bring these wonderful tales to the rest of the world is an exciting prospect.