First look at First Second's upcoming graphic novels
From personal memoir to DIY instructional manuals, First Second’s graphic novel catalog for winter 2019 once again packs a wide spectrum of stories. EW spoke with First Second editorial director Calista Brill about what to expect from the publisher’s upcoming lineup of comics.
Science Comics: Polar Bears by Jason Viola and Zack Giallongo (Dec. 31)
First Second’s opening release of the winter is the latest title in their Science Comics series of science-oriented non-fiction graphic novels for middle-grade readers. Since this one tackles the subject of polar bears, it also comes face-to-face with global warming.
“It’s about two polar bear cubs learning how to be polar bears from their mom, and it talks about the degradation of their environment,” Brill tells EW. “But it’s coming at it from a really optimistic point of view. The book lays out all these challenges, but it also talks about all the things humanity can do to slow down and maybe even reverse global warming.”
Hephaistos by George O'Connor (Jan. 29)
Every year brings a new installment in O’Connor’s series about the lives of Greek gods. This time the subject is Hephaistos, god of the forge — who, in some versions of the Greek myths, was thrown off Olympus as a baby because of a physical deformity.
“It’s a really cool and tragic story about an outsider who’s doing his best to fit in on Olympus,” Brill says. “The art as always is incredibly dramatic, beautiful, and exciting. These books are immaculately researched. George is a huge fan of Greek mythology, and then he also brings a superhero point-of-view through these books, so they have a fun, action-packed, dynamic feel to them.”
Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro! by Falynn Koch (Feb. 5)
This season sees the debut of First Second’s new Maker Comics series of DIY instructional books for middle-grade readers to learn a useful skill set. Falynn Koch brings her own baking experience to Bake Like a Pro!
“In addition to being a professional cartoonist, Falynn Koch is a really accomplished chef. In fact, she took a break from her cartooning career to run a mac-n-cheese food truck in Buffalo, NY for a couple of years,” Brill says. “She knows what she’s talking about and she’s put together a great book of recipes that are really clear and simple to allow kids to learn how to bake, and also discuss some of the science that goes into baking.”
Maker Comics: Fix a Car! by Chris Schweizer (Feb. 5)
The second Maker Comics installment looks at car maintenance, and comes at it from a very personal place for the author.
“It comes from a place of emphasizing, if you’re gonna be driving a car, you should go in knowing how the thing works and how to take care of it,” Brill says. “The author Chris Schweizer and his daughter have been working together to fix up a clunker so that when she turns 16 she’ll have a car to drive. It comes from a personal place for him and you can tell.”
Bloom, by Kevin Panetta and Savana Ganucheau (Feb. 12)
This story of young love focuses on Ari, who wants to leave his small town for the big city after graduation. Ari soon finds himself falling for Hector, the boy he’s supposed to be training to take over for him at his family’s bakery.
“One of the things I love about it is it’s deeply romantic, but it’s also a story about real human relationships, why they work and why they sometimes don’t,” Brill says. “Ari is somebody who needs to do a lot of growing up, and Hector needs him to grow up in order for their relationship to work. So it’s about how real people navigate real romantic relationships, but it’s also just incredibly adorable. It’s full of beautiful baking scenes and gorgeous art. I can’t talk about it without getting all fluttery.”
Secret Coders: The Complete Boxed Set by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes (Feb. 26)
Gene Luen Yang’s full series combining adventure stories with coding lessons is available here in full, including little punch-ups of the series’ main characters.
“Gene Yang’s terrific middle-grade computer programming series integrates a really exciting and dramatic adventure story with very specific and actionable lessons on coding,” Brill says. “Gene himself, in addition to being an award-winning graphic novelist and former ambassador for children’s books, is also a former high school computer science teacher, so this is near and dear to his heart.”
Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley (Feb. 26)
Lucy Knisley’s latest adult memoir project is about her struggle to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and successfully give birth to a baby. Despite the serious subject matter, Knisley’s story is also filled with well-earned humor.
“It’s really dramatic but also really funny! Lucy has a knack for presenting her experiences in a way that is both relatable and powerful,” Brill says. “This is a book that tackles things many women have experienced about the joys and lows of human reproduction, told through a very human and very thoughtful and funny point of view. Lucy’s an amazing talent.”
PTSD by Guillaume Singelin (Feb. 26)
This story is set in a near-future world, but the struggles of the protagonist to make a life for herself after coming back from war are very much relevant to our own modern world.
“It’s a really thoughtful portrait of a recent combat veteran, and it has a lot to say about how vets are treated and what their challenges are,” Brill says. “But there’s nothing about it that feels humorless or gritty or gloomy. One of the things that’s really remarkable about this book is the art is really cute and beautiful and bright. The sensibility is so optimistic that it defies the usual cliches of this type of fiction. As a result, I think it’s a very interesting and powerful work.”
The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson (March 5)
This graphic novel focuses on the members of a remedial middle school soccer team — so, not the A-team, and not the B-team, but rather the kids who can barely even play the sport.
“They’re the worst of the worst, they suck at soccer and most of them hate it. But what it’s mostly about is their friendships and how they evolve and how they affect each other’s lives,” Brill says. “It’s a funny, honest, moving portrait of what the lives of middle schoolers are actually like. It also captures the incredible diversity of experience that many middle schoolers have in a powerful way. Cathy is an educator, so this is drawing directly from her experiences with students.”
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen Crenshaw (March 12)
Brill describes this graphic novel sort of like “if Fun Home had the tone of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but without any actual vampires. Similar to how Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home features the protagonist coming to terms with her own sexuality at the same time as finding out about her father’s secrets, Kiss Number 8 is about a young woman from a conservative Catholic community figuring out her own bisexuality and also untangling her father’s relationship with his mother, who transitioned to being a man when he was young.
“It’s a story about a family in crisis in a very specific setting. It feels really funny and true,” Brill says. “The author does such a good job of taking this very delicate material and rendering it in all of its absurdity and beauty and joy and sadness. It’s a very nuanced and very entertaining look.”
Cannabis by Box Brown (April 2)
Box Brown’s previous graphic novels include biographies of wrestler Andre the Giant and comedian Andy Kaufman, but his latest eschews the personal focus for a larger history of how cannabis became an illegal substance in America.
“Box sets out to make the argument, and does it very persuasively, that the illegalization of cannabis has always been a matter of racism and has always been driven primarily by an interest in finding ways of putting brown people behind bars,” Brill says. “It makes a very strong argument for its legalization, unilaterally. Box has been doing a lot of activism work and publishing a lot of work online making this argument. He is part of the legalization movement, and he is bringing a lot of good information to bear on this conversation.”
Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths by Graham Annable (April 9)
The second book about the adventures of unlikely best friends Peter and Ernesto finds the duo reunited just in time to survive a hurricane destroying their tree home. Now, Peter and Ernesto have to set out on a journey to find a new great tree for their tribe.
“It’s basically The Aeneid but with sloths,” Brill says. “It’s such a sweet and funny and touching story. Peter and Ernesto are protagonists for the ages. It really doesn’t feel like a bridge too far to compare to Frog and Toad in terms of a classic-feeling timeless friendship story that is at once so universal and so specific.”
Science Comics: Wild Weather by MK Reed and Jonathan Hunt (April 16)
The second entry in the Science Comics series for winter 2019 tackles the subject of meteorology.
“The second you crack this book open, you realize meteorology is actually way more glamorous than you ever expected,” Brill says. “It follows a fictional weatherman walking the reader through his science. The book looks at interesting conditions of extreme weather conditions and natural disasters. It’s got a lot of really cool bonkers weather stuff. It’s an interesting look at the challenges of meteorology, how sophisticated a science it is, and how difficult it is to predict anything.”
Nico Bravo and the Hound of Hades by Mike Cavallaro (April 23)
As the title suggests, Nico Bravo and the Hound of Hades is the second graphic novel this season to dabble in Greek mythology. Due to his job, Nico actually has to deal with a lot of different figures from mythology.
“It’s a middle-grade graphic novel about a young man who works in a store positioned at the nexus of different fictional and mythological realms. It’s kind of like the general store for fairy tale adventurers and gods from all kinds of different traditions,” Brill says. “Nico Bravo, because he works at this store, ends up with his nose in everybody’s business and getting involved in all these crazy high-stakes fantasy hijinks.”
Grace by Tiffanie DeBartolo, Pascal Dizin, Lisa Reist (April 23)
Singer Jeff Buckley only released one album in his life before dying tragically young, but that album has proved to be incredibly influential. With the help of Buckley’s mother, the authors of this graphic novel put together a portrait of the artist as a young man.
“It’s a beautiful portrait of the artistic drive that takes somebody to the point he reached,” Brill says. “The art is expressive and lively, the whole thing is a joyful ode to him rather than a solemn tribute. His mother was very involved in the creation of this book, so the authors had access to a terrific wellspring of information about him. Buckley’s fans will adore this book, and it’ll be an interesting read for people who aren’t familiar with his work.”