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Fantagraphics: An old guard on the vanguard

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Photo courtesy of Fantagraphics
Photo courtesy of Fantagraphics

In such a literary town as Seattle, the right book can be someone's gift of the year. And with winter only just beginning around Christmas, a new book to curl up with is timely.

But unless the giftee in question is already a comic book geek, it's typical to default to fiction, poetry, or even self-help. The lineup at Fantagraphics, though, as its social media and events manager Lauren Peugh attests, will likely change that.

Peugh spoke with me over Zoom from Fantagraphics' Seattle office. Nestled between the tall, colorful bookshelves were posters, figurines, stickers, and cardboard cutouts — the many layers of decoration serving as a telling sign of the publisher's rich past.

Fantagraphics was founded in College Park, Maryland, in 1976, and after relocating a few times, in 1989, it settled down in the Maple Leaf neighborhood of Seattle. Peugh says the city's strong arts scene and very literary residents has made it an ideal place for the headquarters.

Since its founding, Fantagraphics has published more famous series and artists than could be listed here, so Peugh and I focused on what's new.

"I've always been more partial to the kinds of books Fantagraphics publishes, as opposed to superhero stories," Peugh told me. "We tend to publish narratives more than superhero stories... They're actually really accessible to people who don't normally read comics."

At one time, Peugh was one of those people. She says she arrived at the hobby only recently, in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when as an avid reader, she was suddenly finding it hard to concentrate on traditional books.

"I found graphic novels, for some reason, were the only thing that could hold my attention," she said. "So... I would just scan the spines and look for the Fantagraphics logo and grab whatever I found, just like, 'I don't care what it is, I know I'll enjoy it.'"

Now she has been at Fantagraphics for a year. "It's really fun seeing how the sausage is made," she said, "and I love getting early access to great comics."

Fantagraphics usually connects with the Seattle community by hosting in-person events, notably a number of panels at the annual Emerald City Comic-Con (ECCC). Last year, like so many other organizations, it switched to hosting virtual events only.

Peugh says Fantagraphics' in-person presence at ECCC this year will be minimal, with only one artist panel planned so far, although it does plan to celebrate its Georgetown bookstore's 15th anniversary in December. (The store is at 1201 S. Vale Street, at Airport Way S.)

Aside from problems in the supply chain, though, its sales have only grown during the pandemic. Many of its employees work remotely, and its artists are all over the world, so adjusting wasn't hard.
But while Fantagraphics is global, Seattle is special because of its arts scene. Peugh said of Seattle, "There are so many creative, talented people, I'm constantly shocked by it."

Gift guide
This year Fantagraphics is giving back with early discounts on the books in its holiday gift guide, which can be found on the website (https://www.fantagraphics.com/). Here are some suggestions:

Stone Fruit by Lee Lai: especially recommended by Peugh, described as a Queer narrative and "an ode to love and connection shared by three women and the child they all adore."

Queen of the Ring: Wrestling Drawings by Jaime Hernandez, by the artist who made the famed Love and Rockets series, celebrating the "often forgotten" women in pro wrestling.

Red Room: The Antisocial Network by Ed Piskor: A gory series of "outlaw, cyberpunk" comics in which a dark web organization has begun to livestream murders.

No One Else by R. Kikuo Johnson, a graphic novella "of tender truth" by the author of the critically acclaimed literary novel Night Fisher.