For Some Stories, Comics Are a Natural Fit | LJ Talks to Interlink Books

Interlink Books as added graphic novels to its already well-rounded roster of fiction and nonfiction, many with a Middle Eastern slant. Why graphic novels now? LJ asked Interlink publicist Whitney Sanderson.
Interlink publisher and Lebanon native Michel Moushabeck told the publishing services company BookBlast® last February, “The founding of Interlink afforded me the unique opportunity to merge my passion for Arabic literature-in-translation and the arts with the house’s mission of changing the way people think about the world.” Now Interlink has added graphic novels to its already well-rounded roster of fiction and nonfiction, many with a Middle Eastern slant. Why graphic novels now? LJ asked Interlink publicist Whitney Sanderson.
LJ: Is Hamid Sulaiman’s Freedom Hospital: A Syrian Story (LJ 2/1/18) Interlink’s first graphic novel? WS: We have published one other graphic novel, Lamia Ziade’s Bye Bye Babylon: Beirut 1975–1979 [in 2011]. It’s a memoir set in East Beirut, Lebanon, that begins with seven-year-old Lamia’s childhood memories and describes the devastating changes as war [in that country] progresses. The story is illustrated in a vivid technopop style that filters stark images of war through the primary-color world of childhood.

PHOTO BY © Jeüreümie Lortic

Why incorporate more comics into your catalog now? In a way, the last decade or two has been the era of the graphic novel, which has come into its own as a literary genre, on par with traditional novels, poetry, and memoir. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is now such a classic, and for good reason—the way it blends the story of a political moment, a young woman’s coming of age, and the evolution of an artist exemplifies the cross-genre power of the graphic medium. At the same time, when we had the opportunity to publish Freedom Hospital, the story seemed like such a natural fit; that it was a graphic novel was almost secondary. What do you see as the advantages of comics for presenting the content Interlink aims to publish? Visual art affects people differently than verbal description; we actually process it differently in our brains and remember it differently. Techniques such as chiaroscuro and negative space—which Sulaiman uses so effectively in Freedom Hospital—can impact people emotionally in a way that bypasses linguistic and cultural differences, which makes it ideal for telling the global stories that Interlink seeks to bring to U.S. readers. In terms of the art, nothing will be lost in translation. How did Interlink come across Sulaiman’s work? Publisher Michel Moushabeck first heard about Hamid and his work [through] an article in the Guardian. A week later it was brought to his attention by a French publishing colleague who knows Interlink’s publishing program well and thought that the book, hugely successful in France, would be of interest. We later found out that a UK edition was being translated from the original French by Vintage Penguin Random House UK. We then acquired North American rights. How do you envision U.S. readership for Freedom Hospital? Freedom Hospital is an important book for anyone wanting to understand the Arab Spring and the Syrian revolution from the perspective of the people living through it. It would be an excellent learning tool in high school and college curriculums, which increasingly focus on narrative journalism and giving a platform to suppressed voices. Students now spend a lot of time learning to analyze and seek multiple perspectives on current events, as they should in an era when global news—real and fake—spreads virally on Twitter and YouTube. Freedom Hospital portrays how the revolution itself was catalyzed by these media forms—YouTube videos capture the Assad regime’s brutality to citizens, and protests are organized on social media. The story also features characters aligned with a variety of revolutionary groups, from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. And of course, Sulaiman has his own point of view based on his experiences in Syria at the outbreak of the conflict. So there are a lot of layers in the storytelling that would make for a rich classroom discussion. Does Interlink envision more graphic titles in the future? We are actively interested in acquiring more graphic novels that fit our focus on underrepresented voices and cultures. In particular, we’d like to expand our list to include more YA fiction—and the graphic novel is a natural medium for this readership. Interlink’s content extends into beverages, international food, and travel. Might you be interested in putting out comics in these areas? A graphic novel about whisky could be unique and enjoyable. Absolutely. I recently came across Fumi Yoshinaga’s manga What Did You Eat Yesterday? and found it so delightful. It was like the literary equivalent of sushi—soothing, elegant comfort food. If Interlink came across a graphic novel that told the story of a nation’s cuisine, an immigrant chef’s story, or the history of a globetrotting ingredient such as tea or chocolate, we’d definitely consider it. What advice would Interlink have for other publishers considering adding graphic narratives? I think the considerations for acquiring a graphic novel and a text-based novel are fundamentally similar: Is it a compelling story told with simplicity and style? Are the characters well-drawn (literally and figuratively), and does it offer a perspective that will interest, challenge, delight, or educate? In both cases, you’re looking for a story that draws you fully into its world and leaves you a little bit changed by it.—Martha Cornog
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