With a lineup as diverse as First Second’s, you would expect an editor with equally mobile tastes. Calista Brill doesn’t disappoint. The publishing house’s editor took time out of her busy day to answer our profile questions.
Do you remember your first comic book or graphic novel?
I grew up in a comics-friendly household, so my childhood is one big blur of narrative art. Tintin, certainly, Asterix, Lucky Luke. Little Lulu. My dad’s Uncle Scrooge collection. Piles of old cowboy comics I picked up in junk stores for a dime. When I was five or six, my brother gave me a Rainbow Brite comic that I loved more than it probably deserved; ditto the few Wonder Woman comics my dad bought me. Around 8 or 9, I discovered Elfquest and the next 10 years was elves, elves, elves, punctuated by the indie comics my mother and brother introduced me to: Jim Woodring, Love and Rockets, Fabulous Furry Freak Bros. Whoops, now you know my entire life story.
What do you love about the graphic novel as a format for storytelling?
C’mon. Words and pictures? Comics are like the smell-o-vision of literature!
Whose work do you admire?
Everyone’s. Seriously. If you make comics, I admire you. Creators I am beyond fanatical in my love for (random sampling): Los Bros. Hernandez, Jim Woodring, Lynda Barry, Wendy Pini, Katsuhiro Otomo, Emmanuel Guibert, Don Rosa.
Who do you read outside of the graphic novel format?
Right now, I just finished Ben Franklin’s autobiography and The Hunger Games. I’m about to start Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I’m in the middle of an intro textbook about basic electrical engineering. Other favorites I come back to a lot: A.S. Byatt, Paul Auster, Patrick O’Brian, Robin McKinley, Jane Austen, Samuel Beckett, Douglas Adams. I also read about 8,000,000 blogs.
How many graphic novels do you read a month? How many of those are manga?
It varies a great deal depending on my mood and workload. Not counting the graphic novels I read for work, as many as 15 or as few as 1. At work, probably 25–30 a month, including books I’m editing and submissions. I don’t read a great deal of manga—though I like it. I read Urasawa’s Pluto.
How did you first get involved in the field professionally?
I worked at the publishing arm of the Walt Disney Company for a few years and weaseled my way into editing a few comics here and there. I was lucky enough to have bosses who were extraordinarily kind and supportive of my weirdo interests. Then I somehow persuaded Mark Siegel to take me on at First Second.
What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people what you do?
Pretty much universally positive, although a lot of people would never have imagined a job like “editing graphic novels” would even exist. “What does that…entail, exactly?” is the follow-up question I usually get.
Do you collect comics? What is the most valuable piece of art, graphic novel, or comic book in your collection?
Huh! Not really? Not in any kind of systematic way. I have a watercolor painting by Jim Woodring that I really treasure, and an original page from Danica Novgorodoff’s Slow Storm, as well as some other lovely drawings given me by various cartoonists. In general, I buy and keep the books and pictures that I love the best.
Is there something you covet adding to your collection?
I’m sort of obsessed with that great big, huge Little Nemo book.