Gina Gagliano Has Big Plans for Random House Graphic

Brigid Alverson sat down with Gagliano at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, in her brief week between jobs, to discuss what she hopes to accomplish at Random House Graphic.

Gina Gagliano

This week, Gina Gagliano steps into her new role as publishing director of the newly established imprint Random House Graphic. Gagliano began her career at First Second Books 13 years ago, six months before their first book came out; her most recent title there was associate director, marketing and publicity. When First Second editorial director Mark Siegel hired her, he told her that part of her job would be to build a comics reading culture in America. We sat down with Gagliano at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, in her brief week between jobs, to discuss what she hopes to accomplish at Random House Graphic.  What are your plans for Random House Graphic? We are going to have a dedicated publishing imprint that is like First Second, Scholastic Graphix, or Abrams ComicArts, with a dedicated staff. It will  publish an extensive slate of kids’ graphic novels every year, starting in 2019–2020. I will be hiring a staff, and we will be working together to edit, design, and do marketing and publicity for all titles. In addition, we want to advocate for the industry and get graphic novels to be more a part of mainstream culture in America and get parents and grandparents excited about the fact that kids love the comics medium. Random House has been publishing graphic novels for a while. What will happen to existing properties such as Babymouse? We’re still figuring out the details of how this is going to work. We’re definitely not taking books away from their existing editors and establishing a fiefdom, but we are talking about branding and how to consolidate on that front, bringing everything under the Random House Graphic imprint. What’s your target audience? I feel that it’s important to get kids reading comics as soon as they are reading independently, so I want to go from ages 5 to 18–19—do younger books and middle grade, do YA, really, all the way across that span. Publishing in only one category isn’t healthy for the medium. To get people to be comics readers, you have to give them comics they can read their entire life. When you talk about kids’ comics, are you thinking about comics readers or readers who will pick up a comic? I would love to make all the readers who pick up a comic into comics readers. I think a big reason that you have parents who aren’t into comics is there wasn’t anything for them to read when they were five or 16. Or when they were 10. Oni, Lion Forge, First Second, Graphix, Abrams, are doing a good job of filling  those gaps, but I’m excited to have Random House come into the market, so when your 9- or 10-year-old has read Cece Bell, Svetlana Chmakova, Nathan Hale, Vera Brosgol, and Raina Telgemeier and asks “OK, , what else can I read?” you won’t have to say “Well, there are no other books.” I was in Books of Wonder, which is a very esteemed New York children’s bookstore, recently and there were two girls who told the bookseller “We’ve bought all of Raina Telgemeier’s work, what else do we read?” The bookseller went through all the rest of these books and they were like “No, we read them already, so what else do we read?” And then they just left. They were like, “There are no more books. What do we do?” That’s the state that the comics industry is in right now. Are you going to be looking for any particular types of books? We want to span genres and age categories, everything from nonfiction to contemporary fiction to science fiction, fantasy, mystery, all that. A real emphasis on the diversity that’s reflected in our culture today. We want to be on the forefront of that. How did you come to First Second? I came in six months before they published their first book. Working with them was my first job out of college. I went to Reed College. Reed has some distinguished alumni in the comics industry. Angie Wang and Lucy Bellwood went there, and Leigh Walton over at Top Shelf. They are all amazing. Reed College is actually what got me into comics. I didn’t read comics as a kid, because I lived in a really small town in Connecticut, and there were no comics in the bookstore or the library. What did you read? Mainly science fiction and fantasy. That’s still my favorite adult genre. I read voraciously when I was a kid, and then I went off to college and it was a small school that had a very academic library. So it was like, “We have Chaucer!” And I was like, “Where is there some entertaining genre fiction to read?” And Reed turned out to have the only student-run comics library in the country. I ran the library for two years. In my senior year, I interned at Dark Horse. It was everything from Stan Sakai would send his pages in and I would have to erase his blue line to [establishing a publishing plan for] the Little Lulu reissue editions. They said “Someone needs to figure out how to break up these books into volumes. Why don’t you make the publishing plan for the entire series?” It gave me a huge amount of experience doing stuff all across the board, which was amazing. I had known since I was very tiny that I wanted to work in publishing. I remember the first time I saw a book that had a lot of misspellings in it, and I was thinking “It must be someone’s job to make this book, and I could do it better.” I was in fourth grade. Portland has an amazing comics industry right now. I talked to all the people who were there when I was in college and they weren’t hiring, so I moved back to Connecticut. I started working at a bookstore, and I basically spent all my time applying for jobs in New York publishing. I met John Sterling, who was then the publisher of Holt adult, at a book festival, and I gave him my resume. Mark [Siegel] called me a week later and said, “My boss’s boss met you somewhere at a park. Would you come in to interview for this job?” And I was like “Who are you? What is this company? I’ve never heard of it before.” Mark and I got along really well, and he hired me to do marketing and publicity. It seemed like First Second came out of nowhere with this big wave of publicity. What did you do? They [told me to] get to know everybody in the industry, so they will know about First Second. And that’s what I did for a year. Our parent company [Macmillan] did sales, and my boss at the time, Lauren Wohl, knew all these people in the book industry, so they were like: “Comics media, comics stores, entertainment, pop culture media, librarians who like comics who aren’t typically on the Newbery committee—find all of them.” And I’d get them to write about First Second and carry First Second books in their libraries, and do events with our authors. What did you do after that first year? I collaborated with Lauren on getting graphic novels on the radar of the comics people I had spent a year meeting, and also all the book industry people, figuring out how to get comics in their hands and make them a part of that pie of children’s things that they love. Figuring out the right books for people, and figuring out the right way to talk about the books, which was  helped by Mark, of course, who is talented at the book trade and is an advocate. What was your biggest accomplishment at First Second? I feel like my biggest accomplishment was the entirety of Gene Yang’s career. Gene kind of grew with us, from his debut [American Born Chinese] to being recognized as the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature. I am so privileged to have gotten to work with him. He is just so smart and thoughtful and kind about everything he does.  

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