Roundtable: Happy 10 Year Anniversary, First Second!
It’s sort of like watching your friend’s kid growing up: You remember when they were born, but now they’re a big kid. They’ve grown up so much! That’s how I felt when I heard that First Second was celebrating their 10 year anniversary. I clearly remember looking at their first catalogs and being very impressed with the quality. Since then, they’ve never really disappointed. Their books have garnered much recognition, winning awards in the comic and book industries.
While they’re celebrating all year long, they are celebrating this February by having readers share their favorite titles.
Here at Good Comics for Kids, we thought we’d sure some of our favorite First Second Titles and also talk about titles that are potential classics.
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, because it often changes as I read new things. But browsing through the titles I’ll have to put Giants Beware by Jorge Aguirre, illustrated by Rafael Rosado, as one of my favorites. I love a spunky female heroine, especially if she’s flawed. I thought this title (and its sequel) really have the perfect mix of comedy and adventure with a good dose of feel-good moments.
As for classic titles, I’ll have to go with George O’Connor’s Olympian series. Greek mythology just doesn’t get old. The stories have been around forever and O’Connor has made the mythology accessible in a way that even I could appreciate the myths! This series will stay in print for a long time.
Like Esther, I find it so difficult to pick a favorite First Second book. It’s even rough listing Honorable Mentions for fear of leaving out something wonderful. So I’ll just say that Aaron Renier’s Unsinkable Walker Bean feels like it was created especially for me. Pirate tales are one of my favorite genres, but it’s tough to find a good one, let alone an excellent one. That’s what Renier created though, with charmingly expressive linework that immerses me in his story of a young, seafaring boy trying to save his dying grandfather from giant lobster-witches and a mystical skull.
I thought it would be easy to pick a favorite from First Second’s catalog until I realized how many of their books I’ve really enjoyed. But I’m gonna stick with the first title that came to mind, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks. I loved the story of two high school groups who you couldn’t imagine possibly getting along, working together on a common goal. And fighting robot competitions. I loved the fighting robot competition. For an honorable mention I also loved Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant.
I agree with Esther that George O’Connor’s Olympians series has the makings of a classic. O’Connor tells stories about the Greek gods that not everyone may know, and does it in a way that is different and fresh. These are stories anyone interested in the Greek myths will want to read for years to come.
I’d like to pretend that I had to do some deep soul searching to choose my favorite First Second title, but that would be a complete lie. Seeing as how I’ve been a Tony Cliff fangirl for a really (really) long time, and seeing as how I have three different editions of the book — mini comic, French bd (along with the original cover art), and American gn — it’s no surprise that Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is at the top of my list. Granted, it was pretty safe for me to go with my heart on this one because I knew my colleagues would choose many of the other outstanding titles I love so much.
The classic title that has stuck with me over the years has been Emmanuel Guibert’s The Photographer. This documentary of photographer Lefèvre’s time attached to a humanitarian mission into war torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders has haunted me since my first reading and it’s one of the few “committee” books I’ve kept long after my term on the committee was over. First Second does an amazing job of identifying exactly the right books to have translated into English, from Aristophane’s Zabime Sisters to Kampung Boy by Lat, and I’m always excited to see what they have coming out next.
As for what’s coming out next, I’ll second Robin’s enthusiasm for Nameless City and add John Patrick Green’s new book, Hippopotamister. This is the best kind of picture book/graphic novel mashup: a satisfying solo read that also has storytime appeal. The illustrations are gorgeous and full of sight gags and inside jokes that will keep careful readers giggling long after they’ve taken in the book’s not-at-all-didactic story about being happy with who you are. I can’t wait to get this into the hands of my readers.
I scanned through the list of titles First Second has produced over the decade and I am hard pressed to pick favorites. The remarkable delight of First Second is that they highlight a range of art styles and types of stories, and I can highlight a range of titles for different reasons. George O’Connor’s Journey into Mohawk Country is a top recommendation for teachers and lovers of history. Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick’s Feynman will always be close to my heart. Their titles have introduced me to so many amazing artists including Jen Wang, Vera Brosgol, Cyril Pedrosa, LeUyen Pham, Faith Erin Hicks, Ben Hatke, and of course Mark Siegel as an editor and a creator.
To name one favorite, though, I will have to go with Faith Erin Hicks. Her work on Friends with Boys and Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong (with Prudence Shen) shows her steady growth into the amazing artist and dedicated storyteller she is now. Her latest series launches in April with the first volume of The Nameless City, and as I’ve seen from the advance copy, it’s truly her finest work to date. She’s creating a rich, complicated world and cast of characters, and I cannot wait to see how this journey continues.
As for the classics that First Second has produced, I think it’s indisputable that Gene Luen Yang’s works, especially including American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints, are already becoming classics. I also share the belief that the series mentioned by many of you, George O’Connor’s Olympians, has a lasting place in young readers’ lives in perhaps the same way that the D’Aulaires’ myth collections did for previous generations.
So congratulations First Second! Here’s to another 10 years of fabulous titles!
Filed under: Graphic Novels
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.
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