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Industry group says graphic novel format tops $1 billion in annual sales.
Award-winning author, illustrator Mark Siegel presents lecture on Tempe campus.
February 14, 2017

Award-winning author and illustrator Mark Siegel to lead discussion on format, facilitate storytelling event with artists, ASU scientists

Print book sales have been on the decline since the Great Recession with one exception: graphic novels.

Trade group ICv2 says the novel-in-comic-strip format has gone over $1 billion in annual sales, with top sellers moving up to 150,000 units a week. Taking advantage of the momentum, ASU is bringing a leading industry voice to deliver a lecture and communication workshop on the rising popularity of the visual art form.

Award-winning author and illustrator Mark Siegel is the founder, editorial and creative director of First Second Books, the Macmillan publisher of graphic novels in every age category.

Siegel’s lecture, “The Great American Graphic Novel” on Thursday afternoon in Payne Hall on the Tempe campus, will cover the history of comics and graphic novels, the creative process, and the importance of the medium as a tool for literacy in an increasingly visual culture. The lecture is free and guests are asked to RSVP online.

And on Friday, ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination and the Institute for Humanities Research are hosting a workshop with Siegel that pairs local comic artists with ASU faculty to create an original, visual narrative of their research.

ASU Now reached out to Siegel in advance of his Tempe visit.

Question: What do you account for the rise of the graphic novel in the past decade?

Answer: Comics have deep roots in America whether it’s the newspaper strip or the superhero comics. They have a deep place in the American psyche, and it’s an American form of storytelling, even though it’s all over the world.

A decade ago the sounds coming out of the comic book industry were really grim and looked hopeless. Then a couple of things happened: Hollywood began basing movies on graphic novels coupled with the emergence of manga, which has been popular in Japan since the 1960s.

Suddenly, there were millions of dollars changing hands, huge sections of graphic novels appearing at bookstores. Publishers began asking, “What is this? And why are we missing out on these millions of dollars?”

It’s the fastest growing category in publishing, and America is the leading in this new graphic novel form.

Q: What is the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel?

A: If you ask different people, you’ll get slightly different answers. Some people are super militant about the differences.

For me, comics are a medium. So when you say comic, it’s generally the comic form, paneled and has word balloons.

A graphic novel has become a publishing category. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a novel, but it includes fiction, non-fiction and memoirs. It uses the comic form, but it has a spine like a book, not a pamphlet. Typically, when you say comic, that’s usually a pamphlet. That’s how I gauge it in a very practical way.

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Mark Siegel wrote "To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel" with his wife, Siena Cherson Siegel, in 2006.

Q: What is the power of the graphic novel?

A: We’re moving into an age where there’s a visual literacy that can go as deep and as substantive as prose literacy. People are being raised to think both visually and verbally. The graphic novel does those two things, and the dance of those two produces an experience.

There’s an interesting thing that cartoonist Art Spiegelman said about word balloons. That is, if they’re done well, they’re not like chunks of paragraphs or texts of words, but rather they’re puffs of thought. Brain scientists say that’s how your brain actually works.

We don’t really think in paragraphs or full sentences, but more like phrases that kind of clump together. The really good comics authors do that really well. There’s a pacing of thought that they establish. It can reach deeply, and it’s an active mental act.

Q: Let’s talk numbers. How big is this industry?

A: It’s huge numbers. Between comics, manga and graphic novels, it’s a big industry.

A title like “The Olympians,” a retelling of the Greek myths, we’ve sold well over 350,000 copies. So while that sounds like a lot of copies, there’s a lot of time that’s involved and you have to be a little nuts to do one of these things.

What’s interesting about the other book models is that it’s like the Hollywood blockbuster: it’s either huge or it dies on the spot. Graphic novels aren’t like that. If they stick, they can keep selling and selling and selling. They have this really long tail. But it’s not a quick money scheme; it’s more of a long-term investment.

Q: What do you hope to convey in your upcoming Feb. 16 lecture and Feb. 17 workshop?

A: The lecture will be a fun and lighthearted history of comics in America to see where we are today.

The presentation the following day is a behind-the-scenes of making a comics project. We’ll team scientists with local comic book artists and develop a rough mockup of a non-fiction comic.

It’s an event that may be even bigger than we had anticipated. Something wants to happen here.


Top photo: A panel from Sin City, a neo-noir comic by writer Frank Miller. The 2005 movie adaptation and a subsequent sequel helped propel the popularity of the graphic novel. Courtesy of

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ASU Regents' Professor Anne Stone mixes archaeology, biology and anthropology.
Chimps, disease and ancient people factor in anthropological geneticist's work.
Anne Stone seen as primary expert in population history of North, South America.
February 15, 2017

Anthropological geneticist selected as Regents' Professor, the university's highest faculty honor

If you want to know the future, study the past. Confucius said it. Anne Stone embodies it.

One part Indiana Jones; one part Charles Darwin; one part Jane Goodall: Stone has unearthed the secrets of a prehistoric Native American community, conducted the first analysis of Neanderthal DNA and revealed the surprising level of genetic diversity among chimpanzees.

Most recently, she was bestowed the highest faculty honor at Arizona State University when she was selected as a Regents’ Professor for these and other breakthroughs in anthropological genetics, which combines elements of archaeology, biology and anthropology.

The honor comes on the heels of her May 2016 election to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world’s most prestigious organizations of scholars whose members have included Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.

“Dr. Stone’s research is energetic and important,” said Alexandra Brewis Slade, former director of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. “It is tackling some of the most concerning re-emerging infectious diseases, like leprosy and tuberculosis. Its brilliance is in the ways it creatively integrates a wide array of genetic data from past and present human societies, and other mammal species, to tell the story of not only where we and our diseases come from, but also where things are headed next.”

Stone uses anthropological genetics as the basis for interdisciplinary research that seeks to understand how humans and the great apes have adapted to their environments over time, with a particular interest in the genetics of infectious diseases.

Her work has three main strands: Native American population history, understanding the co-evolutionary history of mycobacteria with human and non-human primates, and the evolutionary history of the great apes.

“A lot of what I do is basic science,” Stone said, “but there are a lot of benefits to basic science. … If you’re going to understand why humans get certain diseases, or why we have certain traits and what their origins are, we have to understand our evolutionary history.”

She became interested in the field after double majoring in biology and archaeology at the University of Virginia. During graduate school, Stone was drawn to the study of ancient DNA, solidifying her pursuit of anthropological genetics.

For her doctoral dissertation, she conducted one of the largest genetic analyses of a prehistoric community ever before attempted, allowing her to trace the migration patterns and settlement history of the original inhabitants of the Americas and to observe how they were affected by colonization. She is now considered the primary expert in the population history of North and South America.

Throughout her student academic career, she also contributed to the first analysis of Neanderthal DNA and research involving the origins of the Tyrolean IcemanThe Tyrolean Iceman — also known as Ötzi, the Iceman; the Similaun Man; the Man from Hauslabjoch; Homo tyrolensis; and the Hauslabjoch mummy — refers to the well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived around 3,300 B.C. in the Alps..

As one of the key developers of techniques for extraction of DNA from ancient remains, Stone has been able to reconstruct the genetic histories of species, examine relationships between species and understand how past adaptations are linked to modern humans and apes.

Currently, Stone teaches courses such as Peopling of the World in ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change and works closely with students in her Laboratory of Molecular Anthropology. There, students receive invaluable guidance and hands-on learning opportunities on a variety of projects, including research into the evolutionary history of tuberculosis and chimpanzee population history.

Maria Nieves Colon, an anthropology doctoral student who has worked with Stone in her lab, called her “an amazing mentor and role model.”

In relation to tuberculosis, Stone has collaborated with paleogeneticist Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History to uncover evidence that the disease was first transmitted to people in the Americas by seals, and that the jump into humans came more recently than previously thought — 3,000 to 6,000 years ago. The findings are significant as they determined that tuberculosis can “jump species.”

Her work with chimpanzees has revealed that the species is, surprisingly, much more genetically diverse than humans. Presently, she is collaborating with a primatologist at Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania — where Jane Goodall famously studied — to extract genetic material that she hopes will build on her earlier findings.

In addition, Stone is the senior editor for the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, recently served as the president of the American Association of Anthropological Geneticists, is a member of the Executive Committee of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and is a member of the Scientific Executive Committee of the Leakey Foundation.

She has been a Fulbright fellow, a Kavli Scholar and fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her interdisciplinary approach to research is evident by publications outside of anthropogony journals, including Cell, Nature and Science.

“I really enjoy it,” Stone said of her work. “I can’t imagine doing something different. … I see myself doing this for a while.”


Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now