Well, awards season is now a wrap. Here’s the final tally for KENT STATE:
EISNER AWARD, Best Non-fiction Book
ALEX AWARD, for YA literature, The American Library Association.
ACBD CRITICS AWARD, France
RINGO AWARD, Best Non-fiction Book
Nominated for two Angloulême Prizes, Harvey Award Book-of-the-Year, two other Ringo Awards, and a couple other awards I’m forgetting off the top of my head.
It’s all I could have hoped for when I launched this book into the Covid void a year ago. The mix is different, but it’s garnered as much hardware as MY FRIEND DAHMER. Never dreamed I’d have another book like that! The Eisner is the big prize. I'll be buried with that at my Viking funeral!
Thanksgiving week seems a fitting time to look back at the past year and of tossing KENT STATE out into the world. I’ve very grateful for the reception it got… but it was THE most challenging book release I hope I’ll ever have.
I feel an odd mix of satisfied pride and loss. The book was originally slated to come out in April 2020. It was timed to piggyback onto the 50th commemoration of the Kent State Massacre in May 1970. That sounds crassly commercial, but I think the book speaks for itself in that regard, and we in the book biz routinely tie releases to anniversaries of events. It was a great plan, draft behind the big media coverage of the 50th and get attention a mere comic book would not normally get, not in the US anyways. Then I’d springboard into a promotional tour of cons and fests that would last the rest of the year.
The buzz was building as the launch approached. I never thought KENT STATE would be the sales and critical hit MY FRIEND DAHMER was, but it felt like it was going to be a big one. I was pretty excited. So was Abrams, my publisher, who were pushing it as one of their big Spring releases.
Then, of course, it all went to hell.
Covid hit, and the book business basically shut down for 3 months. The week-long May 4 commemoration at Kent State was cancelled, and the media barely noted it and moved on. No one gave a crap about anything but Covid and the Bloated Orange Buffoon’s rantings. Faced with nothing but bad choices, we delayed the release until September. The most ambitious tour of my career, which would have seen me crisscross the US and Europe, went up in a puff of smoke in a matter of days.
In September, we started again from scratch. Despite the lost momentum, the book sold briskly out of the gate. The first printing of MY FRIEND DAHMER sold out in its first week. KENT STATE’s first printing took about a month. All things considered, that ain’t bad. Then MORE challenges. The 2nd printing got held up in the supply chain clog. The book was on backorder everywhere when holiday shopping started. What can you do? I just had to shrug and laugh. Copies eventually arrived. KENT STATE is now in its 4th printing.
It also sold well in Europe. In France, where I enjoy an inexplicably large following, it was a smash hit! The coverage in French media was incredible: press, radio, podcast, television. Translations in Dutch, Swedish, Portuguese (out of Brazil) and Finnish (!) followed, and a Spanish edition is on the way. Again this trails MFD, which is currently in 18 languages, and TRASHED, which is in 14. I think Covid definitely affected the number of foreign translations. Publishers were being cautious. I doubt KENT STATE will ever make up that ground, so that's loss.
All “touring” was done via Zoom, and MAN am I sick of Zoom! The cons and fests, where I would have sold thousands of copies and talked to thousands of fans, still haven’t returned. The signed-book mailorder service I set up with MacsBacks here in Cleveland was a rousing success. KENT STATE is their #1 selling book EVER. That’s been a great innovation that I’ll use with future books, so chalk that up as something good to come from the Lockdown.
My publishers made the absolute best of an impossible situation… but I certainly feel as if much was lost, especially the experience and joy of a book tour. I don’t have that many of these left, frankly, and I’m loathe to lose a single one, especially with a book as important to me as KENT STATE.
I hope I never have to go through another launch like this one again!