NBM Publishing is one of the oldest comic book publishers in North America. Its repertoire of volume is unique and wide. NBM publishes comic books that cater to children, adaptations from Europe, comic strips compilations and erotica. NBM publisher and founder Terry Nantier agreed to this interview for the NBM Month at The Comic Book Bin. We hope to shed some light on this great American publisher.
CBB: Many of the readers reading this article only have vague notions about who NBM Publishing is. Can you shed some light into your early years as a publisher?
Terry Nantier: I started this company when ‘graphic novels’ wasn’t even a word yet back in 1976 with the vision that GNs were what was missing here. As the time comic strips were getting increasingly cut in papers, and comic books were getting cut out of newsstands, comic book stores were barely starting. I had spent my teen years in Paris where GNs were responsible for an explosion in creativity, popularity and importantly respectability. I thought ‘why don’t we have this in the US?’ So I started NBM (then Flying Buttress) principally bringing over European GNs to show the way really, not with the intention of just being a Euro-comics publisher. We were the first to publish Bilal here. Soon enough we started publishing American artists as well but along the way, we were the 1st to start doing complete library-worthy collections of comic strips with the complete library of Caniff’s Terry & the Pirates which proved very successful. In GNs’ we wowed the world with The Mercenary, the first fully painted series of GNs, we did Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese.
From the start our choices for our catalog have been to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, not just a certain group of fans. Even in the late seventies I was already actively pursuing general distribution in bookstores. Obviously it was very tough but I learned a lot and ended up very ahead of the game compared to the rest of the comics industry in dealing with that market. By the time everyone else wanted to enter it and GNs were becoming a real factor in comics, we had been there, done that and were starting to get reviews in Publishers Weekly and newspapers, helping to establish comics as a respectable art form. We were also the first to distribute Dark Horse into that market, btw.
CBB: What led you start a comic book publishing company that published what would later be known as graphic novels way back in the 1970s?
Terry Nantier: [answered above]
CBB: How close is the North American graphic novel to the European album which it seems to have been inspired from? Do you think a cardboard stock cover would work well in North America?
Terry Nantier: American GNs have taken a turn more to real novel-length as opposed to the sorter from that was standard in Europe. The irony is now ‘Le graphic novel’ in France means a full, somewhat smaller, more like a regular book of fiction, GN, so we’ve ended up being an example to them!
Shorter works in large size and especially in hardcover simply didn’t work here for a variety of reasons, from looking like it’s for kids to shelving problems but now it looks like that may be changing.
CBB: Why have the pages and format not followed the extended format of the European album even in translations done by NBM? Is that a market/industry requirement?
Terry Nantier: We were the first to come up with the idea of adapting the ‘album de Bande Dessinée’ by going to a 6x9 standard fiction format AND putting 2 stories into one book for at least 100 pages, as opposed to the standard Franco-Belgian 48 in 8 ½ x 11. The thicker book is better but the lower size is good for some, like Trondheim, Sfar or Blain but not all, so it’s good if we can have more leeway as our market evolves.
CBB: How has the comic book industry changed since you started publishing comics way back in 1976?
Terry Nantier: Oh, one heck of a lot. Mainly it’s been years for the GN and comics to become fully accepted as it is today and its success in the last decade is certainly great vindication! But my vision that GNs would become the prime vehicle has indeed come about. Back in 1976, both comics fans and general bookstores thought I was some laughable nut.
CBB: NBM has a great library of books some of which covers crucial American comic strips like Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy. Many of those books seem to have fallen out of print. What is the process involved in making sure that as a publisher you continue to have rights to all these books you published and can reprint second editions?
Terry Nantier: Hey, books all have a certain life cycle and our comic strip reprints lasted many years but can’t last forever. I’m just very proud that we were the first in 1982 to show that expensive hardcover complete reprints could actually work, instead of magazines. Now we’ve relaunched ourselves into this classic strip collecting with vintage greats presented in our ‘Forever Nuts’ collection with Mutt & Jeff, Happy Hooligan and Bringing Up Father. We have others up our sleeve but are not looking to flood the market. NBM has always been about quality and each book being worth publishing, not quantity.
CBB: Are second editions difficult to publish and market?
Terry Nantier: With enough years in between, one can come back as witness new collections of Terry & The Pirates.
CBB: It seems that there is a new aesthetic for publishing older comic strips and designing books around them. What’s your take on modern comic strip compilation design?
Terry Nantier: I think it’s great, they’re really keepsakes, lovingly designed. Forever Nuts also has a strong design element but as we’ve always done, not bringing attention to itself, jus being a good platform to show off the star: the classic comic being collected. Our design on all our books follows that aesthetic. We’re not designing magazine/periodicals/comicbooks. We’re designing BOOKS. That means something more eternal that must have room to breathe. Not every page needs to have some full bleed art, blank pages are OK. Less is more. You’re doing a platform for your artist, not trying to invade his work with excessive splash.
CBB: Many publishers have published erotica lines in the past. Yours, called Amerotica continues to this day. Is erotic material a crutch to sustain and finance a comic book publisher or is it a fully developed genre in itself with its own audience, media and network? Is there a built in audience or are collectors single men in buying one book or twice per year and reading them in solitude?
Terry Nantier: Our main imprint is in fact Eurotica of which Amerotica is a part. We started that in 1990 with Crepax’ Story of O which we just brought back out. While this line does help us financially, we’ve always managed it with the view that erotic comics are a perfectly legitimate form of expression, need not be some horrid sausage factory. We’ve had some very intelligent comics in this line, even if hardcore, they’ve had something to say, but most of all they’ve had very beautiful art. And that works well to this day where adult slop exists by the silo-fulls on the internet. That’s how we differentiate ourselves.
CBB: How much space does the Amerotica line occupies at NBM?
Terry Nantier: Eurotica is about 40% of our sales and publishing program.
CBB: What would it take for mainstream media, like The Comic Book Bin to cover erotic comic book adequately?
Terry Nantier: Balls. I’ m serious! Most media cave in to the puritan pressures.
CBB: Many would argue that comic books are literature. What differentiates the ComicLit line from other comic books?
Terry Nantier: Obviously not all comics are literature. They may be entertainment but necessarily literature which aspires to a higher set of standards. That’s what ComicsLit is all about. Regular, non-genre fiction that makes you think, that may reveal something to you. (And not to say that genre can’t do that, just that Comicslit is non-genre).
CBB: By the way, I have a preference and affinity for the word comic book over graphic novel. I’ve always found the word graphic novel pretentious and applied to many comic books that were simply compiled into collections and then branded as graphic novel. What’s your take on that old debate?
Terry Nantier: Tiresome. That’s the word being used, so be it, let’s move on. Is it perfect? No. It’s being used even for collections of short stories. That’s wrong. But hey, I’m not interested in discussing the sex of angels. ‘Movies’... doesn’t that sound ridiculous when you get down to it?
CBB: The work of an editor is important in determining what trends are and what you perceive the market is ready for. How do you go about that process at NBM? Is it more about your personal tastes, or the joy of finding new talents and propelling them out there?
Terry Nantier: I gather that amongst our peers of indie comics pubs, we’re probably more interactive with our authors than most. But it depends. Rick Geary, I correct typos. Naomi Nowak, I guide fairly closely with input she actively seeks from me. Initial choices are obviously going to be guided with what I feel we can really get behind and makes sense for our catalog.
CBB: There are a lot of opportunities for comic book creators to self publish their books through print on demand services, even through Web comics and apps for mobile devices. What is the role of the editor in such an environment where anyone can bypass the editor’s desk and make a go on their own (mind you I am not advocating an end to publishers and editors, quite the opposite, but many think of them as middle men).
Terry Nantier: Many starting artists are quite green around the gills and do need that direction an editor can provide. And then again it is amazing how many come to comics almost fully formed with an already amazingly original voice. Our Nowak, or Greg Houston or Brooke Allen are like that, just needing some suggestions. Another one like that is Dash Shaw. But self-publishing means climbing an even steeper hill to making a living. You may achieve success online, a great way to first propel yourself but few make money with that success. An established publisher knowledgeable of all the markets will bring that to the table. The artist already has to spend a lot of time making a good comic that having to spend so much time acquiring that knowledge and running a business is not viable.
CBB: I see that NBM publishes some of its contents on mobile apps through a third party. While many in the industry think of this as a good move, given my understanding of these things and experience working everyday in Web development and even doing graduate research on the topic, I feel it is a great mistake because digital goods are not great loss leaders and perhaps encourage piracy even more. I know it’s a controversial opinion, and I’m not asking you to agree with me. But what is your view of these issues?
Terry Nantier: This is the future. Publishers are not fillers of dead tree products. Publishers help to create content whether it be entertainment or information. That content can be enjoyed on many platforms. Be there or someone else will do it for you, be it by scanning your books and posting that all over creation.
CBB: Media access is difficult. I should know. Yet it seems that without constant media coverage companies cease to exist. Many publishers have attempted to take their message directly to their potential audiences, often bypassing the media completely. When I visit NBM, I see a Web site that still believes in providing general and broad information to its visitors without trying to entertain visitors the way other Web sites do it. Understanding that the resources for such an undertaking are huge, if it were not an issue of resources, would it be a worthwhile strategy to connect with audiences directly?
Terry Nantier: I’m not sure we’re looking to ‘entertain visitors’ as obviously inform them of what we’ve got. And the fact is we have a very active blog with our authors on it talking about their creations, not just us talking. And those entries get sent over to our Twitter account as well as Facebook, we also have presence on other book social media. We mail out newsletters to 5000 subscribers. So while it’s difficult to achieve a good balance, we are talking to and interacting with our audience.
CBB: I don’t like the word “alternative comics.” I believe that alternatives exist only as mirrors to originals and therefore can never rise above what they are trying to differ from. As a publisher, I believe NBM is far from being an alternative publisher. Any comic book publisher that publishes contents from overseas, an erotic line and a line aimed at children is not alternative. In your word, what is the identity and culture of NBM as a comic book and book publisher?
Terry Nantier: Yeah, ‘alternative’ is actually ironic because it’s in fact, in comics, really mainstream in its appeal. The ‘alternative’ in comics is to superheroes which, as comics, are in fact marginal. What the big publishers are doing in comics is what ‘alternative’ comics publishers are known for. We’re a general appeal independent comics publisher.
CBB: The fact that NBM has existed for so long and is a solid company in a very difficult market should make you media darlings and earn you more respect. Yet it seems that you guys are busier publishing and finding new voices to feature than being involved in the going on of the comic book industry and its chatting classes. What’s your secret?
Terry Nantier: We do get tremendous media attention far and wide, not just comics blogs, as well as we sell to many markets: bookstores, libraries, online, adult stores, comics stores of course, through foreign distributors, etc... Our sales in comics stores are only 30% of our total and have been that way for over two decades, well ahead of anyone else. That said we’d LOVE to get more attention in the comics press! It is frustrating that we don’t always get our due. But any one of our books will get reviewed on prominent comics sites 6-10 times, so maybe we shouldn’t complain?
CBB: Here’s a pet peeve of mine. There is great Argentinean and Brazilian comic book material to be found and ready to be adapted for a North American audience. Hugo Pratt started his career in Argentina and look where it took him. Have you guys ever considered adapting some of the best work from those two countries and similar output from the region for North America?
Terry Nantier: I’m familiar with great Argentine comics artists who have been published in Europe but haven’t been shown the rest, honestly.
CBB: The last question is open ended. Surely, NBM is working on cool stuff right now. What would you recommend from NBM that’s upcoming for say
CBB: a) A female friend that I’m trying to get into reading comics?
Terry Nantier: Naomi Nowak’s work is perfect, Brooke Allen’s ‘A Home for Mr Easter” and later this year we’ve got The Story of Lee which is a shojo manga with a twist: about a multicultural relationship and its clashes. ( it’s on website in coming up: December)
CBB: b) A buddy that’s interested into returning to comic books?
Terry Nantier: Gosh, most of what we publish is good for that. As I explained earlier, that’s how we choose what we publish.
CBB: c) A hardcore comic book fan that’s more used to super heroes?