Stan Lee’s Real Legacy

The comic book industry has lost another legend. On November 12th, Stan Lee, former writer, editor, and publisher of Marvel, passed away at the age of 95, after an astonishing 79 years of being professionally involved in comics.

Lee was unquestionably the most famous single individual ever associated with the medium, and tributes have poured in from around the world. But the in-industry tributes are notably more measured, more complex, and more restrained than the broader entertainment ones. This speaks not just to the difficulty comics pros and fans are having with reconciling the loss of someone whose influence and brand have permeated the field so completely, but to the fact that over the decades, Lee has become an increasingly controversial figure, one whose contributions are impossible to measure as much for their murky origins as for their extensiveness.

First, the facts: Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922 to Romanian Jewish immigrant parents, and grew up working class in New York City. In 1939, at the age of 17, he was hired as an assistant at Timely Comics, the company that would become Marvel, doing things like filling inkwells and fetching lunch. He wrote his first stories in 1941, using the pen name “Stan Lee” to hide his real name, since comics were considered unsavory at the time. That déclassé reputation and the attendant lack of competition served him in good stead when he was named interim publisher just before his 19th birthday, although the fact that he kept the company afloat during the tumultuous decade just goes to show what a boy wonder he was. He would remain editor-in-chief until 1972, when he took over as publisher.

After a (non-combative) stint in the military during World War II, Lee returned to Marvel, writing across genres from romance to science fiction. According to popular lore, he was considering leaving comics by the end of the 1950s, but DC had just kicked off the Silver Age with their reinvention of the Flash, and publisher Martin Goodman asked Lee to create a superhero team in response. Lee’s wife Joan suggested he go nuts with it, since, after all, he was going to quit.

And thus Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four, a team of flawed, humanheroes who bickered constantly. They went on to create the X-Men, the Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man; with Steve Ditko, Lee co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange; with Bill Everett, he co-created Daredevil.

At the risk of reiterating an oft-told story, the characters Lee created were shockingly different from the gleaming, square-jawed perfection of their DC counterparts, even if it is hard to look at Reed Richards from the lens of 2018 and see much difference from Barry Allen. The assortment of characters listed above were neurotic. They worried about money. They fought with their loved ones. They pined for impossible romances. Some of them, most notably the Thing, the Hulk, Spider-Man, and of course the X-Men, were shunned by society or trapped in monstrous bodies or both.

They were astonishing. They were spectacular. They were uncanny.

They changed comics.

How, you may ask, did Stan Lee manage to write every Marvel comic for years on end? Well, True Believer, therein lies both the brilliance and the problem. Lee and his artistic collaborators, like Kirby and Ditko, used an approach that’s been dubbed “the Marvel Method.” Lee and the artist in question would discuss the plot of the issue, or Lee would provide a synopsis. The artist would draw the whole dang thing, Lee would request any necessary changes, and finally, when the art was finished, Lee would fill in the dialogue. (Here are a few really fun depictions of how this worked from old school Marvel comics themselves, although please take them with the requisite grain of salt.)

Stan Lee and Steve Ditko poking fun at Lee’s reputation.

The problem was, as Marvel got bigger and Lee’s responsibilities grew, he had less and less time to collaborate. Increasingly, artists were writing the comics too, especially trusted ones like Kirby and Ditko, and Lee was just coming along and tweaking the dialogue. (Sometimes this put the art in opposition to the words, as the fascinating blog Kirby Without Words painstakingly explores.)

In other words, Lee wasn’t really writing the comics anymore, but he was still taking full credit for them—especially because the public at large didn’t (and still doesn’t) really understand how comics are made. Even when an artist is provided with a full script, as was happening at DC then and with most comics now, people unfamiliar with the process tend to assume that the writer is doing all of the creative labor, and the artist is just putting someone else’s genius on paper.

And whatever else Lee was, he was 5’11” of pure charisma, as anyone who’s seen one of his cameos in a Marvel movie knows. He was the voice and the face of Marvel Comics—of the industry, really, because there was never anyone at DC to rival him. He did the interviews. He responded directly to the fans in the letter columns. He splashed his name all over every book.

Image result for lee cameo in iron man

Stan Lee’s cameo in Marvel’s Iron Man

Therein lies both his tragic flaw and his greatest contribution. Because by branding Marvel Comics with, well, himself, Lee wasn’t just self-aggrandizing. He was giving it a human face. Yes, the face was his own—but that branding did for Marvel as a corporate entity what Peter Parker’s neuroses and the Hulk’s self-loathing did for Marvel as creative entity. It made it real. In an era when DC was aiming for six-year-olds who couldn’t have cared less who Mort Weisinger or Julius Schwartz were, and Disney fans were still referring to Carl Barks as “the good duck artist” because he was forbidden from signing his work, Marvel proudly proclaimed that its comics were made by real people, with quirks and flaws and goofy nicknames. (Smilin’ Stan! King Kirby! Jazzy Johnny [Romita Sr.]!) Check out those Marvel Method comics linked up above. Don’t they endear you to the creative staff, as ridiculous as they are?

Lee helped the readers see the Marvel team as real people…and made it clear that he saw the readers that way too. While DC’s letters at the time are mostly pedantic kids trying to catch DC out on continuity errors (plus ça change…), Lee struck a conversational (if hyperactive) note, and cultivated a playful us-versus-them attitude by referring to Marvel fans as “True Believers” and to DC, tongue firmly in cheek, as both “the Distinguished Competition” and “Brand Ecch.” Under Lee’s reign, comics weren’t just a piece of disposable entertainment you bought for a dime and rolled up in your back pocket. They were an identity. You weren’t just a kid who sometimes read comics (i.e. basically every kid at the time). You were a Marvel fan. You were a True Believer.

Combine that approach with Lee’s (and Kirby’s, and Ditko’s, and so on) cast of outcasts, misfits, and neurotics, and is it any wonder that comics increasingly became a place for readers who felt like they didn’t belong anywhere else? If you felt geeky or monstrous or just plain ordinary, Marvel gave you a place full of people like you, on and off the page. A place to fit in. And yes, this clubhouse for outcasts eventually fostered a community of intensely toxic gatekeeping that we’re still dealing with today (hello, Comicsgate!), but it’s also the reason that comics became an industry supported by passion above all. That’s a complicated thing, but it’s not solely a bad thing. (It’s also worth noting here, would-be gatekeepers, that Lee co-created the first black superheroes in comics with Black Panther and the Falcon, as well as the X-Men with their message of tolerance and acceptance of the Other, and frequently railed against bigotry and hatred in his letter columns. Ahem.)

An anti-racism editorial from Lee in 1968.

And here we return to The Problem, because in branding all of Marvel with his own name, Lee elided and overshadowed the massive contributions made by his cohorts. As much as he praised his collaborators—he frequently referred to Kirby as “the greatest artist of all time” and was the one who dubbed him “the King”—he also made sure that his own name always came first on the masthead. In his telling, he’d be struck with another lightning bolt idea and assign it to Kirby to draw…but to wax rhapsodic, as he frequently did, about how the Fantastic Four came to him belies the obvious fact that they look a heck of a lot like the Challengers of the Unknown, who Kirby created for DC four years prior. In fact, Kirby later claimed to have come up with the original ideas for both the Fantastic Four and the Hulk.

Credit wasn’t just a sticky issue for Kirby—Ditko left Marvel four years after co-creating Spider-Man, by which point he and Lee were no longer speaking to one another, and other contemporary artists such as Wally Wood have taken potshots at Lee for stealing credit—but it looms largest in Kirby’s legacy. This is partially because of his own massive output—he drew over a hundred pages a month for Marvel at its Silver Age peak, a volume that gives me carpal tunnel just to think about—and partially because for the past posthumous quarter century, Kirby’s own star has been on the rise. Many consider him to be, as Lee breezily called him, the greatest comic book artist of all time, an auteur who nearly single-handedly shaped the medium as we know it without ever doing anything so gauche as to say that’s what he did. It helps that the irascible combat veteran, born in poverty and plugging away without recognition for decades, makes a damn fine underdog. Comic book publishers are also notorious for fleecing creators out of the royalties they’re owed for breathing life into billion dollar properties like Superman and the X-Men—and Stan “the Man” Lee, editor and publisher to Kirby’s mere freelance staffer, was literally The Man. Kirby was the exploited genius; Lee was Marvel the Corporate Entity, turning Kirby’s bombastic metaphors for the human condition into breakfast cereal and raking in the cash.

Kirby wasn’t shy about calling Lee out, either. After he left Marvel in the ’70s, he wrote and drew the Fourth World saga for DC: four interlinked series that many consider his magnum opus. In Mister Miracle, he introduced a wheeler-dealer and impresario named Funky Flashman, a false-mustache-and-toupee-clad leech described as “the driven little man who dreams of having it all!!!—the opportunistic spoiler without character or values who preys on all things like a cannibal!!!—including you!!!” (His treatment of Lee’s protégé Roy Thomas, depicted as the sniveling servant “Houseroy,” is even more vicious.)

Funky Flashman and Houseroy in Kirby’s Mister Miracle.

Some Kirby partisans take Funky Flashman pretty much as literally as possible. It’s hard to avoid the temptation. After all, Kirby died in 1994 and Ditko spent the last three decades as a furiously objectivist recluse before dying earlier this year, while Lee popped up in movies and on red carpets and across dozens of branded projects. Someone needs to speak up for the guys who aren’t entering rooms to the tune of their own theme music. (Side note: for more on this history, please read this excellent Lee obituary by Spencer Ackerman.)

And yeah, it can be maddening to see Lee still receiving the lion’s share of the credit for Marvel’s…everything. I’ve seen him hailed for everything from creating Captain America (he was still filling Kirby’s inkwells when Steve Rogers debuted) to the 2012 marriage of Northstar and his husband Kyle (characters he did not create, decades after leaving Marvel). He’d gleefully take credit for ridiculous things, too, like creating the first gay character in comics…because a character he revamped in 1960, the Rawhide Kid, was depicted as gay in a 2003 miniseries.

And yet it was hard to get too angry about it. My reaction to Lee and his spotlight hogging was always less fist-shaking and more your grandpa lying to you about leading the invasion of Normandy. Like, “Aw, Grandpa, that’s not true at all! Here, have another Werther’s.” Heck, I had to go back and revise almost every paragraph of this article when I realized I’d referred to Kirby and Ditko by their surnames throughout, but to Lee as “Stan.” I’m just fond of the guy. I think most of us always will be.

The truth is, it’s impossible to say who “really” created those all those wonderful comics half a century ago, because comics are a truly collaborative art. There’s no separating the story from the pictures, because the pictures are the story and the story is the pictures. Add in the time that’s passed and the fact that everyone involved told a slightly different story in every interview they gave, and you’re looking at leads that went cold decades ago. Besides, if the marriage wasn’t seamless, the comics wouldn’t have been so damn good.

It’s just as impossible to say to what degree Lee took credit or had it given to him, or how much he was motivated by ego, or a shrewd understanding of what was needed for Marvel to thrive, or spite, or simple involuntary charm. Only Lee knew for sure…and honestly, maybe not even him. What matters now, I think, is not assigning credit or blame, but appreciating what all of these creators gave us—and applying the lessons learned to ensuring that creators today get their due, especially in the face of the vastly larger IP factories they work for.

I’ve heard people say that Stan Lee’s death marks the end of an era, but I don’t think that’s an accurate statement. An era is a stage of being, a period in time, a slice of the pie, and Lee wasn’t only a stage. He was there at the beginning; he was here until this month. I don’t know that comics knows how to be comics without him.

What we have as we move into this brave new post–Stan Lee world are the characters he gave us, but perhaps more importantly, the community he built. We have the belief that comics can be smart and incisive; that they can be a place to belong; that heroism lies within the overlooked and the ostracized. He gave us all that great power, and he left us with a great responsibility—and if there’s a chance to wield it more wisely than he did, well, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

Excelsior, Stan. May your memory be a blessing, always.

Image result for lee excelsior

via GIPHY

By , November 
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THE BEST COMEDY BOOKS THAT CAN SAVE US FROM 2018

Friends, I wont lie…this year has been a slog. I’ve found myself flailing for all the self-care opportunities I could find. I’ve strayed from my previously beloved dark literary fiction. I’ve found myself spending most of my time listening to podcasts and watching Netflix instead of dutifully working my way through my TBR list. 2018 has been a tough one. But in the moments I finally hit pause on Sabrina or turned off Pod Save America, I find myself gravitating towards comedy books that will give me a moment of respite from this hellscape in which we all live.

Here is a list of the best comedy books, both new releases and classics. All are guaranteed to give you a moment of laughter and levity. There’s really no rhyme or reason…these are just some books that have given me a desperately needed minute of joy this year.

The best comedy books that saved us in 2018. book lists | humorous books | funny books | comedy books | comedy books 2018


YOU CAN’T TOUCH MY HAIR: AND OTHER THINGS I STILL HAVE TO EXPLAIN BY PHOEBE ROBINSON

As a fan of 2 Dope Queens, I was so excited to read this book. Robinson’s hilarious take on her experience with black culture, her ode to Lisa Bonet, and her funny-yet-heartfelt advice to her young niece gave me joy for days!


MY LIFE AS A GODDESS: A MEMOIR THROUGH (UN)POPULAR CULTURE BY GUY BRANUM

I laughed. I cried. I learned about the history of Canada. Branum is that wonderful combination of brain and humor. He educates his readers on world events while employing his excellent comedic timing. But the moments I really loved were when he sincerely spoke about his difficult relationship with his father and his complicated love of his mother.

WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE: ESSAYS BY SAMANTHA IRBY

Irby’s genius is in how she can speak about very serious topics (her childhood, her own ghosts) while also being irreverent and invoking pop culture references to make them more relatable. Her book leaves her as someone the reader wants to know.

 

BORN A CRIME: STORIES FROM A SOUTH AFRICAN CHILDHOOD BY TREVOR NOAH

The audiobook adds a special something to this story of Noah’s childhood as a mixed race child in South Africa during Apartheid. Amidst his tales of growing up with his very existence being considered illegal, Noah treats us all to the most amazing impersonations of his mother. This book has heart and taught me more about this dangerous time in South Africa’s history.

STAY HUNGRY BY SEBASTIAN MANISCALCO

In this collection of essays, stand-up comedian Sebastian Maniscalco shares with us his days breaking into the business and his rise to fame. The reader learns how his ambition saw him through his journey in a cynical business.

 

LOOK ALIVE OUT THERE: ESSAYS BY SLOANE CROSLEY

If you enjoyed New York Times bestseller I Was Told There’d Be Cake, you’ll love this collection of essays on difficult subjects like infertility or more light-hearted fare like the time she played herself on Gossip Girl.

 

 

SO CLOSE TO BEING THE SH*T, Y’ALL DON’T EVEN KNOW BY RETTA

Once beloved diva Donna Meagle on Parks and Recreation, Retta shares with readers her childhood and career with her brash, infectious wit and humor. This book is especially good on audio as she narrates and I feel like I would’ve lost some of her hilarity if I wasn’t hearing it in her own voice.

HITS & MISSES BY SIMON RICH

Former Saturday Night Live writer Simon Rich regales us with his time in Hollywood and his absurd experiences with fame.

 

 

I CAN’T DATE JESUS: LOVE, SEX, FAMILY, RACE, AND OTHER REASONS I’VE PUT MY FAITH IN BEYONCÉ BY MICHAEL ARCENEAUX

This collection of essays is a witty and sharp insight into what it’s like to be an LGBTQ man of color in a society that regular tries to reject his personhood. Arceneaux’s outspoken nature and humor both color your understanding and soothe your soul.

BOSSYPANTS BY TINA FEY

Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock alum Tina Fey tells of her time as a geek and growing into herself and into her current fame. Fey is always good and always smart and this book is a delight.

 

 

YES PLEASE BY AMY POEHLER

Learn about Poehler’s origins in Upright Citizens Brigade and watch as she finds her voice and ultimately her way to Saturday Night Live. Her writing is funny as hell and bitingly honest.

 

 

I CAN’T MAKE THIS UP: LIFE LESSONS BY KEVIN HART

From son of a drug addict to a comedian who can sell out stadiums all over the world, Kevin’s voice is one we very much need right now. His memoir is truthful, sincere, but in no way lacking in humor.

 

 

THE LAST BLACK UNICORN BY TIFFANY HADDISH

If you loved Haddish in Girl’s Trip, she’s pretty much that person in real life. She’s loud and confident and always the funniest person in the room. Her tale of her journey from an impoverished childhood has one constant: laughter. We have Haddish now because she navigated all situations by making those around her laugh.

DAD IS FAT BY JIM GAFFIGAN

A father of five, Gaffigan fully understands the absurdity in his home life. And then he’s good enough to share those tales with us. His patented self-deprecating humor comes through loud and clear in this book.

 

 

I KNOW I AM BUT WHAT ARE YOU? BY SAMANTHA BEE

One of The Daily Show‘s most famous alums, Bee takes us on an in-depth ride through her Canadian childhood. The sharp humor we’ve come to know and love from Full Frontal is woven throughout this entire book.

 

 

ATTEMPTING NORMAL BY MARC MARON

Maron has a knack for being able to take the most depressing situations and mining them for their inherent humor. He is an excellent storyteller who makes you feel like you were by his side, experiencing the same things.

 

SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS: HEARTWARMING TALES OF EPIC HUMILIATION BY AISHA TYLER

Tyler takes us through her life and shares with us all the mistakes, large and small, that brought her to where she is today. She reveals herself to us while never losing her trademark humor.

 

I CAN BARELY TAKE CARE OF MYSELF: TALES FROM A HAPPY LIFE WITHOUT KIDS BY JEN KIRKMAN

Regardless of the title, this book is for parents and the childless alike. For those without children, you’ll feel truly seen. And for those who insist that everyone should procreate, maybe you’ll think twice before you speak to the childless.

 

HOW NOT TO BE A BOY: RULES FOR BEING A MAN BY ROBERT WEBB

A hilarious treatise on what society expects from men and what those men grapple with as they become fathers and husbands themselves. Webb gives a hilarious and painful recount of what he’s learned along the way.

 

BELIEVE ME: A MEMOIR OF LOVE, DEATH AND JAZZ CHICKENS BY EDDIE IZZARD

Izzard’s comedy will take  you from world history to absurb stories of the every day. His recount of his childhood and discovery of his sexuality would be a worthwhile read even if Izzard wasn’t also so singularly funny.

 

THE BEDWETTER: STORIES OF COURAGE, REDEMPTION, AND PEE BY SARAH SILVERMAN

Silverman doesn’t disappoint those who have come to love her smart and dirty humor. She weaves personal tales of growing up and all the comedy within those stories.

 

I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK: AND OTHER THOUGHTS ON BEING A WOMAN BY NORA EPHRON

Ephron is beloved and it’s because of her witty humor combined with her accessibility. In this book, she delves into all the ways our bodies and worlds fail us as we become women of a certain age.

 

I SEE YOU MADE AN EFFORT: COMPLIMENTS, INDIGNITIES, AND SURVIVAL STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF 50 BY ANNABELLE GURWITCH

Gurwitch gives us essays on the indignities of aging that are relatable, while also lending an air of hope.

 

IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME?: AND OTHER CONCERNS BY MINDY KALING

Beloved Kaling takes her readers on a tour of her life, her experiences in Hollywood, her thoughts on romance, and what makes a great best friend. And she does so with her usual adorable humor that makes you want her to invite you to a sleepover.

 

ONE DAY WE’LL ALL BE DEAD AND NONE OF THIS WILL MATTER BY SCAACHI KOUL

An analysis into all the dangers and dreads in life, coupled with her experience as a woman of color, Koul gifts us a poignant-yet-funny look into her life and view of the world.

 

SICK IN THE HEAD: CONVERSATIONS ABOUT LIFE AND COMEDY BY JUDD APATOW

The famed writer and director shares with us conversations he’s had with comedy legends such as Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, Mel Brooks, etc. His interview style is comfortable while also revealing much about the subject.

 

A LOAD OF HOOEY BY BOB ODENKIRK

With a book that contains monologues, short pieces of fiction, and poetry, Odenkirk’s book appears to be a written sketch show…jumping from one subject to another while retaining the comedy.

 

 

IS IT JUST ME? BY MIRANDA HART

A self-proclaimed klutz, Hart takes her readers on a tour of all the ways she’s heaped humiliation upon herself over the years. But instead of coming across as someone to be pitied, her readers feel seen and heard…and maybe slightly less awkward.

 

By , November, 

Margaret Atwood Just Announced a ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Sequel

Incredible news in the book world this week: Author Margaret Atwood announced there will be a sequel to her novel The Handmaid’s Tale! Titled The Testaments, The Handmaid’s Talesequel is the book many fans of her classic dystopian novel have been eagerly awaiting.

Atwood announced The Handmaid’s Tale sequel on Twitter:

“Yes indeed to those who asked: I’m writing a sequel to The Handmaids TaleThe Testaments is set 15 years after Offred’s final scene and is narrated by three female characters. It will be published in September 2019.”

In her announcement tweet, Atwood also added this short video, with its simple text and background static adding to the ominous feel of The Handmaid’s Tale, and perhaps its coming sequel. “Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book,” the video reads. “Well, almost everything!” Atwood then adds, “The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.”

A New York Times bestseller, The Handmaid’s Tale was first published in 1985 and earned huge critical praise. The book is set in the near future under a regime called Gilead. The oppressive government forces the few fertile women into the role of handmaids: women who are enslaved for their ability to reproduce. The story is told through the eyes of Offred, who is a handmaid. Although the identity of the sequel’s three female narrators hasn’t been announced, there is speculation that one of the narrators will be Offred, and a second may be one of the wives of Gilead.

Hulu adapted The Handmaid’s Tale into an Emmy award-winning series in 2017, and the second season aired in spring 2018. Atwood was careful to clarify on her website that The Handmaid’s Tale book sequel “is not connected to the television adaptation.” Though fans of the series can only hope that the new story will be adapted, too!

In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale and the upcoming The Testaments, Margaret Atwood has written over 40 books of fiction, poetry, and essays. The Testaments hits shelves on September 10, 2019, and we look forward to bringing you more details about this exciting sequel as its release date nears!

Check out Atwood’s other books below:

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By G.G. Andrew

PAPER FOR BOOKS IS GETTING HARDER TO COME BY: WHY THE BACKBONE OF PUBLISHING MAY MAKE BOOK PRICES RISE

With gift-giving season approaching, booksellers are gearing up for seeing more traffic through their doors and at the registers. But this year, more than any year in recent memory, booksellers are increasingly worried about whether there will be enough copies of the biggest titles. Some of the hottest picture books of the season, including We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins, were missing from shelves in the otherwise rigorously stocked indie Mclean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan. Inquiries were made about special ordering the title and the expected fulfillment date was a ways off—January. But the delay isn’t solely due to immense popularity, bookseller Sara Grochowski explained.

One of the aspects of the book world we don’t think enough about is the very thing that serves as the backbone to publishing: paper. Ebooks have certainly caused a shift in reading habits, but they haven’t eliminated the need for print books to be printed on paper. Increasingly, though, sourcing paper for the production of books has proven challenging.

“There’s basically four different types of paper that are out in the world right now, and it’s freesheet, coated groundwood, uncoated freesheet, and uncoated groundwood. Most trade fiction and nonfiction, books you’d find on the New York Times list or in a store, straightforward text are printed on, those are all on an uncoated groundwood. Almost all of that paper, right now, is coming from the U.S. and Canada, mainly Canada. Most printers are always stocking up on that,” says Doug Wolff, Director of Production at Workman.

The uncoated groundwood sourced in Canada raised fears in the publishing world earlier this year. New tariffs on imports made many nervous costs would rise, both on the production end and on the consumer end. This was resolved, however, later in the summer in a policy turnaround from the U.S. International Trade Commission in which paper was disincluded from the sweeping tariffs.

Not all books are published in the U.S. Whether a book is published domestically or abroad is determined by things like the type of paper or printing process the book might demand, lead time in its publication, and costs. Traditional fiction and nonfiction—the kind you’d find in bookstores or on bestseller lists—which are primary text-based are frequently published domestically. Books which require more of a special type of paper or printing process, or require more than two color production are most frequently sent abroad, where the printing presses operate a bit differently and the quality of the product is better. While costs for overseas printing might be lower, the time it takes for the book to make it to U.S. warehouses is another consideration for publishers: ship time can be an added 4–5 weeks on top of printing time. Paper costs comprise the largest expense in the making of the physical book, and that, combined with shipping time and specificities of design, add up to some tricky math for publishers.

Further complicating the matter is the shrinking of the domestic printing landscape.

“Right now, paper is a major problem domestically, for no other reason other than paper mills have been shutting down, paper mills have been consolidating, there’s not as much book paper being made, so for me today to say I want to do a book and I want to print it in two weeks, that could be impossible, just because I might not be able to get paper that quickly. We’re getting things where they’re saying it’s five to six to seven weeks to get paper, which has never been the case in all the years I’ve done production. We might have to choose a different type of paper,” says Wolff. “We’re seeing this a lot with our reprints, where a book was printed on one stock and the reprint, the only way we can get it somewhat quickly, we have to move it to a different stock and then the next printing, we might have to go to a totally different stock again because of paper availability. That’s happening more domestically.”

Stacy Whitman, founder and publisher of Tu Books, notes that printers have also deprioritized paper for book printing. “[T]here’s been a perfect storm of global events/trends to change how the paper manufacturers prioritize what papers they make/what orders they’ll fill. We and pretty much every publisher printing domestically ran into it this year.”

Via Twitter, Whitman highlighted the fact that the paper side of the book world is one we don’t talk about enough, and she linked to three articles that break the information down (you can read those pieces here, here, and here).

“I hadn’t realized it, but the backlash against plastic noted in the article is an interesting domino to have fallen in this situation: the backlash against plastic in packaging materials, fast food packaging, other shipping/packaging—means that paper manufacturers found they could suddenly make more money on cheaper paper products than fine book paper. They deprioritized the publishing industry. Add to that other global factors affecting the production of paper, and the dominoes fall to eventually mean that publishers trying to print books and magazines are running into supply delays and printing delays as a result, and higher paper prices on top of everything,” she said.

That anxiety over paper availability is trickling down to indie booksellers. Grochowksi reports that sales reps from smaller publishing houses advised her to stock up early on titles she was excited about, as they’d be unable to reprint anything before the end of the holiday season. This news isn’t entirely surprising—booksellers have been noticing delays as far back as March, when the reprint of Pat Zietlow Miller’s Be Kind was delayed without an in-stock date for weeks. “It’s all been very word of mouth and said kind of hushed during sales calls,” Grochowksi reports, but shared that Simon & Schuster struggled to print enough copies of Fear by Bob Woodward.

It’s not likely that books will become more challenging to find at the bookstore this season, but it’s also not entirely out of the question that books going for reprint or that become popular unexpectedly could be on backorder for a period of time. This may cause consumers to turn to other sources, such as Amazon (if the book is still in stock), instead of shopping locally. Tariffs aren’t the reason though; it’s paper.

Wolff notes, “The problem right now is lead times to get the paper and the allocation of the paper because of the mills. So right now, if anything is going to hold up a book [a traditional nonfiction or fiction title] going back to print, it’s that the paper is a little harder to get. On top of that, over the last five years, the printers in America have been slowly consolidating. So not only is paper hard to get, but because there are so few printers now more than there have been before, the capacity is completely full and has been full since August. We’re being told if you place an order today, the earliest we can get you books is a month and a half from now. And part of it is because of capacity, because it’s a big season, because of crashed political books going back to reprinting, everything is basically full. There is some truth to a book not being able to get enough books out there but it’s not really tariffs.”

Title reprints complicate matters as well. Publishers often go beyond the standard cost analysis to look too at things like speed, printer availability, and whether or not shipping time will impact potential sales. Wolff calls it the tricky math of what the back end of the book production process does. Questions considered include how quick the reprint can be done domestically, if it can be done domestically in a time frame that would put it on shelves quicker than printing overseas, and, ultimately, what’s the cost to do it one way or the other in relation to the profit on the title.

“Something like Atlas Obscura, the majority of those are printed overseas. By the time I order a reprint, it can take three months to get to warehouse. So for holiday sales, in most cases, we’re ordering for the holidays in July knowing it’s going to get us books in October to get full distribution by the holidays, so if we get that number wrong and don’t discover that till October, we’re in trouble. It’s almost impossible to get books. Which is why we did a printing of Atlas Obscura domestically one year, because we couldn’t get books fast enough,” he says. He also notes that on the domestic side of printing, the challenge of paper stock and printer availability has been growing over the last few years, with 2018 being the most challenging to date.

Reprint decisions often happen early enough in a book’s life that publishers aren’t caught by surprise. But sometimes, they are.

Demand for the 2009 picture book The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith surged when a video of Scottish grandmother reading aloud to her grandson went viral in September. Grochowski noted that the book’s publisher, Scholastic, seemed to be able to keep up with demands fairly well…but also noticed that some graphic novels from Scholastic’s Graphix imprint experienced delays. Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk, a July 2018 release, was delayed until early December as of this writing, and Jarrett Krosoczka’s Hey Kiddo, a National Book Award finalist, experienced intermittent delays this fall, although Grochowski was quick to point out that Hey Kiddo’s delay probably wasn’t wholly due to the popularity of The Wonky Donkey. “The NBA longlisting and then the shortlisting made the sell-through happen more quickly than expected,” she acknowledged. “And now it’s harder to get printer access to get ahead of the demand.”

Wolff notes that if something goes viral or there’s a surprise uptick in sales, books may end up backordered while publishers seek out a printer and navigate the decisions of whether it can be printed domestically (taking into consideration cost, paper sourcing, and printer availability) or whether it is better served overseas (considering cost and shipping time).

Tariffs aren’t out of the question in the new year, though. With the threats of a potential trade war with China from the Trump administration, it’s possible that books could fall under the category of products from China seeing higher prices. “Books aren’t currently on the list of tariffed items, but if the tariffs include books, every book being produced in China—which are a lot and generally the more expensive ones—could all have a tariff imposed, and those tariffs are pretty high. There’s a threat they could go up to 25%. While books aren’t currently included in China tariffs, things like planners, diaries, engagement diaries are. They are on the list that should be getting tariffs at 10%. Calendars are not on there…yet! But there have been threats. This, more than anything, could cause a giant scramble come the new year if that changes at all. Publishers would struggle about where to print, whether domestically or into other Asian markets outside China,” says Wolff.

Preordering books can make an impact, though. Preorders do indicate to publishers there may be a strong interest in a title that they didn’t anticipate, encouraging a reprint of the title from the get-go or vice versa—a title they anticipated being a big title might need more publicity behind it in order to meet their projections. If you’re eager for a book, preordering encourages a publisher to act on that interest.

So what about your bottom line?

“You might notice that the prices of your books might be going up in the next year, and it all comes down to one thing: paper for books is getting harder to come by,” says Whitman.

“Might” is the key word here, as so many variables are unknown. Chances are you may not notice a significant difference in the cost of your books this season or next year, even if the cost of paper and production of a title nudges the list price up a dollar or two. But that might not remain the case if paper supply continues to be a challenge.

Wolff says, “We are looking at retail prices much harder than we ever have before because as paper costs rise, suddenly something that’s always been $14.95—we’re looking and realizing we’re not making the profit we should be and considering whether we should make it $15.95. As we’re going back and reprinting, we’re looking at retail costs because paper and material increases are really impacting the cost we’re paying out and at some point, you need to increase retail prices.”

As it stands now, finding the big, buzzy books at your local bookstore shouldn’t be challenging and the titles you wish to gift should be readily available. In the instances this isn’t the case, it’s likely due to paper and not tariffs. The average reader, in other words, shouldn’t expect to notice anything different.

By , November 

Books to Film: Holidays 2018

Queen of Scots by John Guy

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When it comes out: December 7
What the book is about: She was crowned Queen of Scotland at nine months of age, and Queen of France at sixteen years; at eighteen she ascended the throne that was her birthright and began ruling one of the most fractious courts in Europe, riven by religious conflict and personal lust for power. She rode out at the head of an army in both victory and defeat; saw her second husband assassinated, and married his murderer. At twenty-five she entered captivity at the hands of her rival queen, from which only death would release her.

All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling

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Movie: Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle
When it comes out: December 7
What the book is about: The collected stories of Mowgli, the fabled wild boy who was raised by wolves, taught by a panther, befriended by a bear and had many great adventures in and around the jungles of India.

Schindler’s Ark (List) by Thomas Keneally

1394875Schindler's List movie.jpgMovie: Schindler’s List: Remastered
When it comes out: December 7
What the book is about: In the shadow of Auschwitz, a flamboyant German industrialist grew into a living legend to the Jews of Cracow. He was a womanizer, a heavy drinker, and a bon viveur, but to them he became a savior. This is the extraordinary story of Oskar Schindler, who risked his life to protect Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland and who was transformed by the war into a man with a mission, a compassionate angel of mercy.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

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Movie: Dumplin’
When it comes out: December 7
What the book is about: Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back. Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

287861Mortal Engines teaser poster.jpgMovie: Mortal Engines
When it comes out:
December 14
What the book is about:
“It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”
Welcome to a post-apocalyptic world where communities exist only as crews of giant, predatory vehicle-cities, criss-crossing the decimated landscapes of Earth.

The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule” (featured in The New York Times) by Sam Dolnick

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Movie: The Mule
When it comes out: December 14
What the book is about: A 90-year-old horticulturist and WWII veteran is caught transporting $3 million worth of cocaine through Michigan for a Mexican drug cartel.

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P. L. Travers

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Movie: Mary Poppins Returns
When it comes out: December 19
What the book is about: Pulled down from the clouds at the end of a kite string, Mary Poppins is back. In Mary’s care, the Banks children meet the King of the Castle and the Dirty Rascal, visit the upside-down world of Mr. Turvy and his bride, Miss Topsy, and spend a breathless afternoon above the park, dangling from a clutch of balloons.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

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Movie: Bird Box
When it comes out: December 21
What the book is about: Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from. Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

4788505Image result for holmes and watsonMovie: Holmes & Watson
When it comes out: December 25
What the book is about: “It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Sherlock Holmes, scourge of criminals everywhere, whether they be lurking in London’s foggy backstreets or plotting behind the walls of an idyllic country mansion, and his faithful colleague Dr Watson solve twelve breathtaking and perplexing mysteries.

8 BOOK AND NETFLIX ORIGINAL SERIES PAIRINGS

If you’ve been paying any attention, you know that Netflix is creating some of the most marathon-worthy original content these days. But once you’ve watched all available episodes of your favorite Netflix show, you can find yourself in a sad slump. What to do now? It’s too soon to start a new series, but you’re not ready to leave your cozy couch cocoon. Lucky for you, we’re here with eight book recommendations based on your favorite Netflix shows! These book and Netflix original series pairings are sure to help you end those last episode blues.8 Book and Netflix Original Series Pairings graphic

THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA/LABYRINTH LOST

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina poster and Labyrinth Lost coverIf you enjoy the balance of dark magic and teen drama in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, you’ll love Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova. Much like Sabrina, teenage bruja Alex has a complicated relationship with her family legacy of magic. When she tries to rid herself of her powers at her Deathday celebration, her spell backfires and her whole family disappears. She must team up with Nova, a brujo she doesn’t trust, to save her family and redeem herself.

 

JESSICA JONES/ZERO SUM GAME

Jessica Jones poster and Zero Sum Game coverIf you’re a fan of badass private eye/superhero Jessica Jones, you’ll definitely appreciate badass mercenary/math genius Cas Russell from S.L. Huang’s Zero Sum Game. The author is a weapons expert and professional stuntwoman with a math degree from MIT. She’s used her expertise to create Cas, a protagonist who can calculate the trajectory of bullets and use her knowledge of physics to jump off of roofs and through windows. When she encounters a secret organization experimenting with mind control, her mastery of numbers gets more complicated. Much like Jessica Jones, Cas faces a lot of ethical questions when her skills, her job, and enemies that can control minds clash.

 

BLACK MIRROR/FRIDAY BLACK

Black Mirror poster and Friday Black coverIf you like the experimental sci-fi feel of Black Mirror, you should check out the captivating short story collection Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Adjei-Brenyah examines the everyday racism black people face by putting his characters in heightened, surreal situations. In one story, a young actor struggles with his role in an augmented reality that allows players to hunt “terrorists” or “intruders.” In another, a mall store employee must survive an apocalyptic zombie-like Black Friday sale. These and other haunting tales serve as social commentary in a way fans of Black Mirror will love.

 

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT/MR. & MRS. AMERICAN PIE

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt poster and Mr. & Mrs. American Pie coverFor fans of the absurd and hilarious Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Mr. & Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel is the perfect fit. Socialite and former beauty queen Maxine is climbing the social ranks in Palm Spring in 1969. That is, until her husband leaves her for his significantly younger secretary and she has a public meltdown. She decides that winning the Mr. & Mrs. American Pie contest is the only way to save her image. But first, she has to find a makeshift family she can sell to the judges as her own. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, led by an outrageous cast of characters and a plucky protagonist who will always find a way.

 

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE/ELOQUENT RAGE

Dear White People poster and Eloquent Rage coverIf you love the razor-sharp social commentary of Dear White People, read Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper. This essay collection is an astute and captivating examination of modern racism, respectability politics, and Black womanhood. Much like Samantha in Dear White People, Brittney Cooper has chosen to use her anger to fight racism and sexism in a powerful, thought-provoking way.

 

QUEER EYE/GURU

Queer Eye poster and GuRu coverLove the life advice and feel-goodiness of Queer Eye? Then you’re sure to enjoy the charming stories, thoughtful guidance, and beautiful pictures in GuRu, a new book from legendary drag queen RuPaul. Mama Ru is full of memorable one liners and tips for mindfulness. GuRu has a little bit of everything to provide perspective for the mind, body, and spirit. It will leave you feeling joyful and refreshed, much like Queer Eye’s Fab Five.

 

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK/THE MARS ROOM

Orange is the New Black poster and The Mars Room coverFans of Orange is the New Black, a dramedy set in a New York women’s prison, should check out The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, a novel set in a California women’s prison. When single mother and former stripper Romy kills a man who stalked her, she’s sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Upon her arrival in prison, she meets a variety of inmates with their own stories to tell. It’s a look at the harsh realities of incarceration and a flawed justice system told through many perspectives. The diversity of voices and experiences will appeal to Orange is the New Black viewers.

 

GRACE AND FRANKIE/BINGO LOVE

Grace and Frankie poster and Bingo Love coverIf you’re obsessed with the late-in-life romances and quirky relationships in Grace and Frankie, you’re bound to adore Bingo Love, a comic by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, and Cardinal Rae. Hazel and Mari fell in love at first sight at church bingo in 1963, but they were forced apart by their families and society. When they meet again decades later, they decide to give their love a chance. It’s heartwarming and sincere, much like the love and friendships in Grace and Frankie.

By , November