And here is the rousing conclusion to my chat with Andrew Aydin, in which we discuss diversity in publishing, awesome authors/books, and why all of this is so important! (Check out Part I and Part II if you missed them! And comment to win a copy of The March.)
Me: So, one other big question. The diversity of voices (or lack thereof) in the children’s book publishing world right now is a huge topic of conversation, but I’ve noticed that in the past six to eight years that the same publishers who won’t publish diverse voices and narratives in their traditional books are publishing wildly diverse writers and stories in their graphic novels. And it’s not coming from the old comic book world because that seems to be like an old boys’ network.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely.
Me: Not that I don’t love Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore and all them, but I was wondering if you had any insight into why so many diverse narratives—GLBTQ stories, international stories, racial minorities, stories about mental illness—are coming out of the more traditional publishing world right now?
Andrew: I can’t really speak to the whole children’s publishing community, but I think in terms of graphic novels, the indie comics’ world was the haven of the maladjusted. And it has given birth to a true cross-section of America in this class of creators that we see working today, whether it’s Alison Bechdel, Gene Yang, Raina Telgemeier . . . I mean heck, I’m Turkish-American. I’m pretty sure we haven’t had any Turkish-American graphic novelists before.
I think about it in my own sense. I was able to just pitch a publisher over the table with my idea and he liked it and he was willing to take a chance with it. Now, I know I had an easier time because Congressman Lewis was involved. So that sort of overcame the hurdle that I can’t draw, but it wouldn’t have worked if there wasn’t a story there. So with some of these other creators . . .if they show that they’re able to express themselves fully as master’s of their page, so to speak, then all that matters is the stories and it’s easier to get them out there. All I think that you’re seeing now, is the market having to reconcile that there is a demand for this.
When there couldn’t be a quality piece put out there because it was controlled by a certain few, you would never know that there’s a market because nobody every tried to tap into it. But today because of independent comics, the barriers for entry are lower. At the same time, it’s also made it more competitive. And that’s made the stories better. That’s made the storytelling better, and it’s just a matter of time before everyone else has to catch up. They went and made a play out of Fun Home that got nominated for a Pulitzer.
The ripple effect of this explosion from Independent Comics is going to move through the entire entertainment industry and through literature. You look at what schools are reading (in comics) and you see a story about the holocaust, the Iranian Revolution, a coming of age story like Fun Home dealing with brutal and yet beautiful LGBT issues. They’re reading American Born Chinese about growing up in America but having foreign born parents and what it’s like to be a minority that’s a little different than most other minorities. Or in our case, dealing with the Civil Rights Movement, which has been largely unapproached in a direct way.
We’re on the verge of something bigger, I think.
Me: I definitely agree. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk. Do you have any other words of wisdom, or anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t covered?
Andrew: I don’t know. I guess the only thing I’d say is that, the best part about this whole journey for me is that we’re really opening up the door in many schools for using a graphic novel as part of their curriculum. When I was a kid, I never got to read a graphic novel in class. I can remember one teacher telling me, “take that comic book off your desk. That’s not a real book.” And now I’ve had the experience of that same teacher teaching my graphic novel to her class. It’s really meaningful to me that I get to be a part of changing that. At the same time, being able to bring someone else’s story, like John Lewis that’s so important and so necessary to the classroom. In the Southern Poverty Law Center Report, it says that 47 states need to improve their Civil Rights education standard and how they teach the Civil Rights Movement. And we have to give them the tools to do that. Being able to do that and give them that tool . . . I’m just incredibly lucky to be part of that.