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Eric Reynolds from Fantagraphics talks about his favorite books

The genesis of Fantagraphics...

READERSVOICE.COM: I know that Gary Groth and Kim Thompson, the owners of Fantagraphics, started out as co-editors of the Fantagraphics publication The Comics Journal. Could you talk a bit about how they started Fantagraphics?
ERIC REYNOLDS: Nowadays, the idea of producing a line of comics that would appeal to adults, that would treat comics as a serious means of expression on the level of film, theater, or literature, is not exactly outlandish-but it was a lot more so, not that long ago, in 1976, when Gary and Kim formed the company.
They were simply two young entrepreneurs who had more ambitious tastes than most comic book fans of the era, and they decided to shake up the comic-book world during the mid-to-late ’70s with The Comics Journal.
That was the first publication, and they had no aspirations at first to branch out beyond that, but eventually, like outspoken critics in any field, they soon found themselves greeted with a barrage of “if you’re so smart, why don’t you publish comics yourself?”
So they did. The earliest of Fantagraphics Books’ releases included Los Tejanos by underground comix legend Jack Jackson, and a new comic by a trio of completely unknown Mexican-American brothers from Oxnard, California, with the unlikely but memorable title of Love and Rockets.
RV: Do Gary Groth and Kim Thompson each have different areas they focus on at Fantagraphics?
ER: Not so much different as individual.

They both pursue projects according to their own taste, and trust each other enough to not step on each other’s toes.
Their tastes overlap in many areas and diverge in just as many more.
But, ultimately, they each focus on what each perceives to be exemplary examples of comics and cartooning.
RV: What’s the difference between the book store market and the direct market? Which area does Fantagraphics go toward these days?
ER: The direct market refers to dedicated comic book shops that do not carry unrelated books, and buy on a non-returnable basis from Diamond Comics Distributors and a few other regional distributors.
The book trade refers to everything else and operates on a non-returnable basis.
We still deal equally with both markets.
Most of our books are split pretty evenly between the two markets, with a slight edge to the book market, while the old-fashioned comic books are sold almost exclusively through the direct market, which balances things out overall.
RV: What’s the attitude of book stores and the general reading public to comics? Is it changing?
ER: It’s definitely maturing and changing and probably getting closer to a European style of acceptance.

RV: Does Fantagraphics just have the one distributor in the U.S, W.W.Norton? Can you talk a bit about the roles of the distributor, and how your choice of distributor is important?
ER: It’s terribly important. W.W. Norton is the oldest independent book distributor in the U.S. and is considered one of the most influential and distinguished publishers and distributors in the country, famous for its Norton Anthologies of Literature, and a list of authors that includes Sebastian Junger, Michael Lewis, and Patrick O’Brien.

Norton also distributes books from a sterling lineup of publishers including the award-winning art book publisher Thames & Hudson, as well as prestigious small houses like Verso, New Press, and New Directions.
They lend us a legitimacy that we were only ever to establish so far on our own — I mean, I could scream up and down for years that we should be taken seriously, but it’s still coming from us and sounds a bit self-serving; when it comes from Norton, people listen because they are a trusted distributor and publisher with a proven track record.
RV: Why is it that Fantagraphics was represented at the London Book Fair by your English distributor, rather than by Fantagraphics itself?
ER: Because it’s just too expensive for us to come all the way from the west coast.
If we were in New York maybe it would be different, but Turnaround does a good job representing us in the UK and they know that market better than we do.