Launched in 2012, Avery Hill has become known for publishing some amazing graphic novels and finding talent before they break big. Tillie Walden and Zoe Thorogood are just two of the names you’ll have found published by them.
Coming off of celebrating 10 years in publishing we got a chance to chat with one of the founders and copublisher Ricky Miller looking at the past ten years and looking forward to what 2023 brings!
Graphic Policy: First, I want to say congrats on ten years. How does it feel to make it to a decade in the comic industry?
Ricky Miller: Unexpected!
When we started the company, we thought we’d be doing it for a couple of years at most. So to reach ten years is pretty mind-blowing.
The longevity can be put down to some of the amazing authors we’ve met along the way who have made us want to keep things going. Discovering Tillie Walden was a big factor, and then other fantastic creators like Charlot Kristensen, Zoe Thorogood, and George Wylesol helped us keep up that momentum. Additionally, seeing our other authors, like Tim Bird, Katriona Chapman, B. Mure, and Owen Pomery develop into outstanding graphic novelists gives us so much energy and excitement.
We’ve also had the opportunity to travel around, go to some brilliant comics shows in various countries and meet people, see cities, and have experiences that we probably would never have had if not for comics! Really, it’s been life changing.
Also you saying “in the comics industry” made my heart do a little flutter there, as I don’t often think about us being in the comics industry. But I guess we are, and the me in my early teens would have very much been amazed at that.
GP: Before we get to the future, I want to focus a bit on the recent past. The comic industry is absolutely in an interesting space with so much shifting, how has Avery Hill fared during everything that’s been going on?
RM: Yes there we are definitely living in “interesting times!”
Some of the things going on have impacted the UK, and some haven’t. Obviously, the pandemic affected everybody, and while it was going on we were quite successful in pivoting our focus to sales through our online store while sales from online retailers also remained strong. In fact, 2020 was one of our best ever years in terms of sales. However, there was definitely a fall-off the following year and it was a massive shame not to be able to give proper launches to the books that came out during that time.
Some of the digital developments, such as the growth of Webtoon and Tapas, haven’t really featured on our radar as yet. Any digital sales we have are a very small part of our overall sales and I’ve yet to be convinced that the adult GN market has much of a future digitally, at least not until there’s a really good reader that can handle things like double page spreads nicely!
I think the thing we’re most waiting to see the effect of is some of the antipathy towards the traditional social media platforms impacting our sales. There was a time when we would find new creators through Twitter (such as Tillie Walden and Zoe Thorogood), but I think that is getting increasingly hard due to the amount of noise on that platform making it almost impossible to spot anything new or worthwhile. Sales through our online store that we used to be able to directly attribute to social media posts have definitely been decreasing as well.
GP: What challenges have you felt as a publisher?
RM: There are lots of logistical issues, especially around how long international shipping takes and the associated costs. We have UK and US distribution, so getting the books out to the US in time for launch dates has definitely been a problem. Issues with EU VAT have meant selling and shipping books into the EU has become a lot harder.
And then there are print costs going through the roof and the retail sector figuring out new/altered models of business. . . .
GP: You had some interesting tweets lately about an initiative for “adult graphic novels” that’s similar to the push for the middle-grade market that’s caused massive growth there. With some “adult” graphic novels that are really well-known in the mainstream, why do you think one has succeeded with such growth and the other hasn’t?
RM: A lot of the issue with adult graphic novels gets blamed on superheroes, and on the fact that grown-ups can be put off because of the broader reputation of comics being just that single genre.
However, I think the kind of adult market we should be aiming for, the kind of adult that regularly reads novels and non-fiction, are well aware that GNs aren’t just for kids. They may even have read Persepolis or Fun Home. But they just have never moved on to read them regularly.
A lot of that is not knowing what else they should be reading. The information sources they have, the non-comics focused media, only tends to latch onto one (or fewer) GN per year and then loses interest. Mostly that GN will be non-fiction and have a topical or relatable angle that can be written about.
These people don’t have friends who regularly read comics, and they‘ve never been in a comics store. Their local bookshop might have stocked a couple of GNs due to being talked into it by a sales rep (possibly something random or boring), but the owner has probably never read them and definitely isn’t actively pushing them. No one is visibly reading them on their commute. So they don’t know what to buy, and they don’t know where to buy it. And worse, they don’t even know that they’re missing anything.
Most of the graphic novel publishers who are putting out adult graphic novels are small indie publishers (as is Avery Hill), so we don’t necessarily have the resources of ‘the big 5’. But I think it’s essential for all of us to think about expanding the market and gaining new readers as we publish every book – raising the profile of adult graphic novels so those booksellers and readers have comics in the front of their minds!
GP: What do you see as being behind the growth of the middle-grade graphic novel market?
RM: The middle-grade market was created in the US by Scholastic and First Second, essentially getting to the kids through schools and libraries. Money and time was spent educating them and publishing great books and authors (like Bone, Raina Telgemeier, Dav Pilkey).
These books are widely available in the UK, but kids of the same age over here aren’t reading them as voraciously because there hasn’t ever been the same sort of initiative targeted towards them by a publisher. Manga sells here, because manga is, firstly, AMAZING, and secondly, there are tons of ways for young people to be introduced to manga titles.
GP: You’re a publisher that has a talent for finding aspiring creators who haven’t broken out yet. How does it feel being able to recognize and find that talent and any secrets to being so good at it?
RM: I’m sure that most people who had seen work by the likes of Tillie Walden and Zoe Thorogood before they were published knew they were looking at good work, we’re not particularly alone in that!
What we’re also looking for is something a little different about the authors we work with, some kind of sensibility or sense of humor or something that makes you stop and think – something that makes them unique. With Tillie, it was her ability to just shine emotion out of every drawing she did, to make you feel something. For Zoe, it was all about attitude and little details in her work that made me feel like there was a great intelligence in what she was doing, that every detail had been thought of – if not consciously, then at least subconsciously, like her mind had been living this stuff for years.
With both of those two, it pretty much just took one drawing for me to make my mind up about them. Then the real trick is in deciding if authors are ready to make a book and being able to help them do that.
Making one piece of art is much different from making a book. We have extensive conversations with authors about the process and time-commitment of making comics before we sign a contract with them, and then work to help them as much as possible throughout the process. We also publish a number of ‘novella-length’ graphic novels – not only are they a satisfying way to read, that means we don’t need to ask first-time authors to make 200 – 300 page books!
GP: Talk to us about what’s coming in 2023. What can readers and fans look forward to? What are you excited to get out there?
RM: We’ve got some exciting titles in store for 2023, with genres ranging from horror to literary to science fiction – some from new authors, and some from returning Avery Hill favorites.
Pet Peeves by Nicole Goux is a horror story about being in your twenties and wanting to be a musician but owning a soul sucking alien dog instead. We’ve been following Nicole’s work for years since we came across it at a couple of comics shows, and we’re very excited to be putting out her first full-length comic that she’s written and drawn.
Then there’s Ellice Weaver’s new book, Big Ugly, which is about sibling rivalry/co-dependency that stretches deep into adulthood. As anyone who has read her first book, Something City, would know, Ellice combines an incredible gift for illustration and design, with a slightly odd worldview that makes everything she does beautiful and just a little strange. No one else could or would have written this book like this, and we find that massively exciting.
Our third book is an adaptation of Macbeth by K. Briggs. We’ve never done any kind of adaptation before and didn’t know we wanted to until Briggs sent us this. It’s the full text rendered in Briggs’ stained-glass window/collage art style, and it’s a wonder.
Then we have a sci-fi book by Owen Pomery called The Hard Switch. If you enjoyed Owen’s book Victory Point, which is gentle, thoughtful and lovely, then this is like that . . . but with guns and spaceships!
GP: How long have these graphic novels been in the works?
RM: We tend to know what we’re putting out a couple of years in advance. With these graphic novels, we’ve been involved at different points in the process for each one. Nicole had already finished Pet Peeves when she came to us about it last year, whereas Owen only had a title and synopsis plus a couple of images when we started discussing The Hard Switch. Macbeth has been a long labor of love for Briggs, and Ellice has been trying to do another graphic novel for years, but has been swamped with illustration jobs.
GP: When putting together what to publish in a year, what type of thoughts go into it?
RM: Building a year-long publishing schedule is part creative, part logistics (that’s a HUGE part!), and part balancing all that against our personal lives and commitments.
Beyond that, we like to try to get a mix of different types of books and try to get a balance between new creators and creators we’ve worked with before. We also like to have one or two US creators in there when we find someone whose work we fall in love with.
Predominantly though, we definitely see ourselves as a UK publisher, with responsibility towards helping to nurture our local creators. Publishing opportunities for adult graphic novelists in the UK are few, and seem to always be getting fewer.
It always makes for an interesting list of authors and titles, and I’m excited for you to see everything that’s in store from Avery Hill in 2023!
GP: Thanks so much for chatting and looking forward to reading Avery Hill’s releases!