word craft


Story Behind the Story #28: City of Light, City of Dark

City of Light, City of DarkI was liv­ing in Los Ange­les, so, nat­u­ral­ly, I wrote a fan­ta­sy about New York City. What’s more I sold it to a pub­lish­er. But as I con­tin­ued to think about the book I had a cru­cial (and a self-crit­i­cal) thought: It’s a sto­ry about NYC and there are no peo­ple of col­or or His­pan­ics in it. Wrong.

I called the edi­tor who had bought the book, and shared my thoughts. Long pause. She said, “I’ll have to talk to mar­ket­ing about that.”

There were a few more exchanges, the upshot being that if I went in that (inclu­sive) direc­tion, she no longer want­ed the book.

I worked on the book for some more time on my own. Showed the book to a cou­ple of oth­er edi­tors. No one want­ed it. One edi­tor said, “It has no salt.”

Dur­ing that peri­od I read an arti­cle by Will Eis­ner, the great com­ic book artist. Eis­ner argued that the com­ic book (what we would now call a graph­ic nov­el) was a per­fect­ly valid form of nar­ra­tive. I was a devot­ed com­ic book read­er as a kid, and had recent­ly read Maus by Art Spiegel­man. Why not turn my nov­el into a graph­ic novel?

I spoke to Richard Jack­son, my key edi­tor. “I know noth­ing about com­ic books.” I sent him Maus. His response: “It’s mar­velous. I’m inter­est­ed. But where could we find an artist?”

By that time I was liv­ing in Prov­i­dence, Rhode Island, and had struck up an acquain­tance with David Macaulay, who, among oth­er things, was teach­ing illus­tra­tion as the Rhode Island School of Design.

I told him I was look­ing for an artist who could do a com­ic book.

He said, “I have a young stu­dent at Brown Uni­ver­si­ty. He does a dai­ly com­ic strip for the Brown stu­dent news­pa­per. Quite tal­ent­ed. His name is Bri­an Flo­ca. Give him a call.”

I did.

I intro­duced Bri­an to Dick Jack­son, and the project went for­ward. Bri­an and I met every week or two, decid­ing what Bri­an should show, and what text would remain. All in all it was a three year project. And a fas­ci­nat­ing process at that.

When City of Light, City of Dark was final­ly pub­lished in 1993 it was issued as a hard­back. Book stores were baf­fled. Where should it be shelved? Chil­dren’s books? Com­ic books? Pic­ture books? And the crit­i­cal response to the book was equal­ly con­fused. Remem­ber, this was before the great graph­ic nov­el explosion.

All that said, it has remained in print (Scholas­tic) and is often cit­ed as one of the first graph­ic novels.

Bri­an and I became good friends, and when I wrote a sto­ry about a mouse .… to be continued.

1 thought on “Story Behind the Story #28: <em>City of Light, City of Dark</em>”

  1. I love that not cav­ing in to mar­ket­ing worked for you… It helped that you had excel­lent bonafide by that time. I have caved to mar­ket­ing con­sid­er­a­tions (at the sug­ges­tions of edi­tors) in the revi­sion process, and the sto­ries always lost, even­tu­al­ly not being acquired, to boot.
    Your CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF DARK sto­ry behind the sto­ry is inspiring.


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