It’s graphic: how novel

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Mark Siegel says he wants to do the impossible: publish attention-grabbing graphic novels that are literate and entertaining, as good for the soul as they are for reading at the beach.

"We intend to raise the bar on what people think comics are," says Siegel, the editorial director for First Second Books, a specialty imprint of Roaring Brook Press.

"We want to have a collection of titles for every age, so that a reader can grow up with us," Siegel says, "and [for our books] to find their way into every household in the English-speaking world."

Sound ambitious? Oh, yes. But there’s nothing wrong with that, especially after you see the first six books in what promises to be an inspired series featuring some of the world’s most talented fiction and nonfiction comic book writers and illustrators. Siegel says more titles are already in the pipeline.

"We want a company that would become the most attractive place for anyone wishing to create a graphic novel," Siegel says. "We want to build an author-driven list, dedicated to high quality, using a global talent pool."

Siegel’s comments would be little more than PR drivel if the first results of his ambition weren’t such stunners. Consider this stuff for late-night soul voyaging or to read while waves lap on the shore in the background:

• A.L.I.E.E.E.N. ($12.95 96 pp); Lewis Trondheim’s strange and sweet tale of extraterrestrial friendship, loneliness and an unstoppable avalanche of, uh, shit, as its vivid centerpiece. The story is told using an undecipherable alien language, when any language is used at all.

• Deogratias ($16.95 96 pp); a tale of love between a teenage boy and girl from rival Rwandan tribes amid one of the bloodiest genocidal conflicts in recent history. Belgian author J.P. Stassen won the Goscinny Prize for this sad, powerful book.

• The Fate of the Artist ($15.95 96 pp); It’s a self-deprecating, autobiographical hodgepodge of stories, panels and photographs. One of its best threads features author Eddie Campbell’s goth daughter talking about, among other things, her father "stepping backwards down the ladder of opportunity."

• The Lost Colony ($14.95 128 pp); Grady Klein’s first installment of his planned Snodgrass Conspiracy series is set on a mysterious island populated by capitalists, inventors and hucksters in a prototypical and metaphorical American dreamscape. It contains themes of greed, slavery, patriotism and religion — not typical summer reading fare, though the book’s rich earth tones might reflect best in bright sunshine.

• Sardine in Outer Space ($12.95 128 pp); This book, by French authors Emannuel Guibert and Joann Sfar, features talking clouds, cosmic squids and a little girl called Sardine, the unlikely heroine of this children’s adventure story. Other notable characters include an evil dictator known as Supermuscleman and Sardine’s pirate uncle, Captain Yellow Shoulder.

• Vampire in Love ($16.95,192 pp); Sfar authors this 192-page novel about the vampire Ferdinand, who only has one tooth and bites like a mosquito. This is a darkly funny story of looking for love where the sun don’t shine. It’s populated by golems, a tree-woman who cheats on Ferdinand, two red-headed vampire sisters who fancy our pale-skinned anti-hero and other weirdly sympathetic creatures. Walter Wasacz is a freelance writer. Send comments to

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