Naval Institute Press is setting its sights on the comic industry with their new imprint Dead Reckoning. Announced in October 2017, the new line of comics and graphic novels will launch in the Fall 2018 with full-length original graphic novels and collections of classic comics with a special focus on military and naval history, military and naval biography, general history, and stories of the high seas.
I got to ask Assistant Acquisitions Editor/Graphic Novel Lead Gary Thompson what we can expect from this exciting new comic publisher.
Graphic Policy: Why did the Naval Institute Press decide to create a graphic novel imprint in Dead Reckoning?
Gary Thompson: For us, it just made sense. Comics and graphic novels are big business, and we think we can make a contribution to the field. Publishing graphic novels was something that I wanted and brought up in a discussion with the press director. He was game and we happened to have a pitch for a graphic novel that was sent to us years prior but withered on the vine because no one knew what to do with it. I contacted David Axe, who had submitted that original pitch, and we started talking. The idea at first was we would take on this project and try our hand at publishing a single graphic novel.
Once we opened that door, though, things began to snowball. There were a number of small factors that we discussed that helped point us in the direction of doing something larger, but seeing how it could benefit our mission and objectives really helped to drive the decision home.
GP: What was the process like coming to the decision? What did you all observe about the comics industry that you felt this was a direction to go in?
GT: Once we decided to commit to doing a single book, we started looking at publishing graphic novels on a broader scale. We discussed everything from the audience to the market to the method and questioned everything all along the way. Why publish only one book? Why would anyone carry a single book from an outlier publisher? Haven’t there been several publishers who came into the market unprepared and ignorant only to go belly-up after a book or two? What keeps us from the same fate? And so on. The more we questioned what came before and the state of the industry now, the more shape our concept started to take.
We looked at the sustained growth in the comics market and saw that there was an opportunity for mutual benefit. In general, more people are reading, and that’s a good sign. With that growing readership, there is also a broadening landscape of stories people want to read, which is also a good sign. To us, that looks like an opportunity. We work with a specific topic that happens to be underrepresented in comics when you compare it to other media. Several publishers do a military or war book here and there, which is great, but with our entrance into the market it provides a chance for us give a broad swath of good stories a logical home and, hopefully, provide an outlet for other stories who typically get no home at all.
GP: You mention having both fiction and non-fiction comics. Will you also have some focused on philosophy or strategy that aren’t narrative focused like your prose?
GT: It depends. There’s some room out there for books that explore concepts like those in a sequential way, but the marketability of the topic is key. I think it’s important that we be open to possibilities that present the right combination of topic and execution when it comes around. Off the top of my head, I don’t see a book like that happening anytime soon. But if there’s someone out there who could make something interesting, informative, and marketable? That would be a hell of a feat and I would love to see it.
GP: Where are you in the process of production? You mention an initial 5 titles then expanding to 10-12 the next year. Do you have the initial five titles already?
GT: They are all pretty much finished and have moved on to the next stages of production. We are all paying a lot of attention to this initial transition from editorial to production so we can establish and solidify a smooth process. I’m also working through the initial 2019 releases.
GP: Is it only going to be graphic novels or will there be ongoing “floppy” comics too? Will these be single volumes or multi-volume stories?
GT: I love my monthly comics, but we have no plans to enter that arena. I want our books to have a beginning, middle, and end, and I think that’s where the readership is going, too. For now, everything we have in development is single volume, but we are open to the idea of multi-volume stories.
Since we are just getting on our feet we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves and end up biting off more than we can chew. Any multi-volume series would have to be limited to two or three volumes at most.
GP: What will be the process of choosing the comics to produce? Is it open submission? Will you seek out talent?
GT: It’s a bit of everything. We have books in development where I started with an idea and reached out to people to make it happen, others are books I have solicited after talking to creators at conventions, and for the time being we have completely open submissions as well.
We only just announced the imprint in early October, but this is something I have been working on for years. Once we decided to make an imprint, I immediately I started going to conventions with the sole purpose of introducing myself, talking to people about the imprint, and soliciting pitches. That’s hard to do when no one has heard of you and there isn’t a catalog they can easily look at to reference the type of books you are interested in publishing. But the more conventions I have gone to the more the word got out, and I started getting calls from people that I had never met who got my information from someone else who I never met. The first time that happened was wild.
Going forward, I’ll keep pairing talent for certain titles and adaptations we want made, but we will have open submissions and I will encourage anyone who has an idea they think would work for us to submit.
IIlustration by Bill Reinhold from the upcoming graphic novel The Flying Column.
GP: You have an impressive catalog of prose books, will you be adapting any of them into comics?
GT: Yes! That is something we are actively doing now. We hope to have several adaptations of our previously published books out in the future.
When we first started brainstorming what we wanted Dead Reckoning to be, adaptations were high on this list of desires. One of the biggest opportunities we have in launching this imprint is the possibility of introducing some of these stories to a new audience. Military history is rife with great stories that Hollywood has mined for decades, so why not comics? In fact, comics provides a better medium because Hollywood tends to only be interested in telling a simplified subset of military history. When you have to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into a single film, it better have the kind of appeal only a crowd-pleasing blockbuster can provide. Even though comics are expensive to make, the risk isn’t quite that high. We have more latitude to publish a different variety of stories – more honest and more nuanced.
GP: How do you see comics and its visual power adding to your goals of advancing the “professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and other issues of critical global security?” What does the comic medium add that prose might not?
GT: The comics medium is exceptionally powerful for conveying information. While there is certainly nothing wrong with prose, when one of your stated goals as an institution is spreading understanding and encouraging thought, you must concern yourself with accessibility. Prose works are important and indispensable, but at some point general knowledge becomes specialized knowledge. What we typically publish is very specialized in goals and execution, but many of the building blocks of those books are not. They are the same kinds of history and personal stories that millions of people read about or discuss every day. What comics will allow us to do is to take some of those building blocks that are frequently relegated to the realm of specialized knowledge and bring them into that of general knowledge. Comics makes telling complicated and nuances stories easier and more comprehensible, and that speaks to the heart of the Institute’s mission.
GP: In your announcement you mentioned the long history of comics in telling stories about war and the military. Even Captain America’s debut was advocating for the US entry into World War II. Many of the early giants of the industry were in the military and served in some fashion. What are your thoughts on this “graphic journalism” in capturing military history? Do you all plan on spotlighting some of that history of comics through your publishing efforts or other ways?
GT: The Institute has always done what it can to honor veterans and the contributions they have made in and out of uniform. Dead Reckoning will be no different. We are still discussing some of the specifics on how we will do that, but the contributions of men and women who have both served our country and played an important role in comic’s past and present will never be far from our mind.
GP: The Government has created comics in the past for the use by the military. Any chance you might reproduce some of those for a new audience to see and study?
GT: I think there’s a possibility there that we will be keeping an eye on. Most of the comics the military has created have been very instructional, so finding a way to collect them in print isn’t a priority at the moment. But a graphical historical piece that looks at how the military has used comics — Grampaw Pettibone, Willie and Joe, maintenance manuals – could be interesting.
GP: Digital comics have risen over the years and there’s been some impressive ones taking on history like Operation Ajax which mixed real historical documents and video into the comic to teach. How does that fit into this new venture?
GT: More than anything I am most concerned with putting out quality books on paper. That isn’t to say we aren’t interested in the possibilities that new technologies bring to the table, but we have to stand before we can run.
We are at an interesting nexus in publishing right now where we can see so many possibilities, but knowing which ones to invest in will always be a challenge. You don’t have to look back very far to see people declaring the imminent death of print (for the Nth time) because of ebooks. Today it’s easy to see how that shook out. Ebooks are nice, but their sales aren’t going to change the industry. Instead, they are another arrow in the quiver to introduce new content to new audiences. And what we have now with digital comics and VR comics is another new horizon for the industry. Will they flourish? Will they fade? I can’t say. Both formats offer up some compelling opportunities, but I want to watch them for a little while. If they prove a valuable asset to the mission, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t be considered thoughtfully.
GP: With prose there’s a focus on getting facts down but in comics there’s the visual aspect added in. How meticulous will you be to make sure all of the visuals are accurate to reality for what you produce?
GT: That depends on the book. We certainly appreciate accuracy and readers of military history are passionate about it, but demanding a hard and fast line on accuracy is a good way to stifle creativity. So far, as we’ve been putting together our first books, I’ve gauged how accurate something should be on what kind of story it’s trying to tell. If your book is the graphic novel version of a seminal battle in military history, you bet accuracy is important. But if you are looking to tell a personal story about your internal conflicts while deployed I’m not going to be terribly concerned with how accurate your Humvees are.
GP: Do you know if the Navy currently uses comics to teach or train?
GT: Not to the best of my knowledge. I believe the Army still puts together instructional comics for things like taking care of your weapon or vehicle maintenance, but that might be it.
GP: What’s the most exciting thing you all are looking forward to with this new venture?
GT: There are so many it’s hard to say! I suppose, in a broad sense, I’m most excited about the possibilities that come with doing something new.
When talking to creators, I’ve told them that in our own small way, I hope we can play our part to make the American comic market look a bit more like the European and Japanese ones. Certainly, we have a niche, and while you will see it executed in more ways than the traditional war comic, it’s a relatively well-defined area where we can play, experiment, and try new things. So fiction, non-fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, espionage, traditional comics creators, independent creators, unpublished talents, and pretty much everything between. I want Dead Reckoning to represent all facets of the comics world and, hopefully, offer up something for every type of reader, both present and future.
We all know this is a nearly limitless medium. The possibilities are staggering. But ultimately, my biggest hopes lie on two sides of the same coin: Introducing our topics to dedicated comic readers, and introducing comics to regular readers of our topics.
GP: Thanks so much for chatting and look forward to seeing what you all release!