Egmont are recognised as the UK's top specialist children's publisher, selling more than 25 million books and 12 million magazines each year. The Egmont Group, head-quartred at its original home in Copenhagen, had an early success with comics when it licensed Donald Duck from Disney in 1949. The company has its origins back in 1878, and until as recently as 1992 was known as Gutenberghus. It now has branches all across Europe, as well as Australia, the Far East, and launching just last year, Egmont USA.
How did you end up at Egmont? Did you work in publishing beforehand?
I started at Egmont as a temp in 1999 to work on the Tintin exhibition at the Science Museum - and eleven years later, I'm still here! I began working in Marketing and PR before switching to Brand Management, and finally to my current role as commissioning editor. I did have a few jobs before publishing but I doubt you want to hear about my work in the sachet factory (riveting though it was... )
In brief, what does your job at Egmont entail?
As a commissioning editor for Egmont Press, I look after our classic character publishing including Tintin, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, Miffy, Babar and The Little Prince. I'm especially interested in commissioning new graphic fiction - it's such a shame that for UK children Tintin and Asterix are the only comics in their section of the bookshop.
Can you explain how Egmont UK is set up?
There are two divisions:
Egmont Publishing Group (EPG) deals with licensed characters such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Barbie, Waybuloo, Ben 10 and Timmy Time across books and magazines. They are predominantly for pre-school children and based on characters that appear in TV shows.
Egmont Press, which is where The Rainbow Orchid sits, is our original fiction and picture books division, and includes books by Michael Morpurgo, Jamila Gavin, Andy Stanton, Lemony Snicket, Julia Donaldson as well as A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh books, Hergé's Tintin and De Brunhoff's Babar.
What are Egmont's biggest sellers?
Thomas the Tank Engine and Winnie-the-Pooh were our biggest sellers in 2009, along with the pre-school children's series Waybuloo. In fiction, Andy Stanton's Mr. Gum books continue to be popular with children and their parents - their insane humour is irresistible.
Will Egmont be doing any kind of special promotion on the Tintin books to coincide with the Spielberg film?
With any major Hollywood film, the studios like to keep their cards close to their chest, and Tintin is no exception, so it's a bit too early to say what might happen with film books. I'm looking forward to the film as much as the next Tintin fan, though!
How and when did you first discover Tintin?
Part of my family are Dutch and when I was but a strip of a lad my cousins used to read Tintin to me on visits to Holland. I've been an addict pretty much ever since, and I've probably read each book hundreds of times. What's so special about them is that they keep on revealing new delights - I recently re-read the scene in The Calculus Affair, where Tintin and Haddock hitch a lift with an Italian, and literally cried with laughter. It's even more hilarious when you've encountered real Italian drivers!
Am I right is saying that you used to run your own Asterix fanzine?
I was hoping that everyone had forgotten about the Asterix fanzine! A friend and I produced it when we were 12 and sold it to our school friends at the bargain price of 15p. I think our print runs were about 10 copies and the material was composed of reviews, crosswords and sketches. Most of the proceeds were used to buy fizzy cola bottle sweets.
How do you think the UK comic scene looks from your position as a major book publisher?
My personal view is that there just aren't enough comics that are for children. Though there's been a growth of comic publishing in the UK, it's been primarily based in the graphic novel section of the bookshop, whereas in the children's section it's still mainly Tintin and Asterix. I think this is a great shame, given the potential of the medium to tell stories that others can't.
What are some of your personal favourite comic reads?
Apart of course from The Rainbow Orchid, I've been enjoying the Blake and Mortimer books produced by Cinebook recently. It's great to see this classic of ligne claire finally translated into English. In adult comics, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is a superb read and is usually the first book I give to comic sceptic friends. I also devour any new volume of Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham's Fables.
Will Egmont be moving into the realm of e-books?
Glad you asked - our first range of e-books were launched this month! [April] Ten titles are now available from Waterstone's, WHSmith and Amazon, including Jamila Gavin's Coram Boy, Michael Morpurgo's War Horse, picture book favourite The Velveteen Rabbit. Further titles are launching soon.
Is the future all digital, or will there still be a place for paper books?
As publishers we have to face the challenge of e-books - they're not going to go away - but I still see a future for the printed book, too. There are some things that print does best (for example books for very young children) and I think comics are definitely one of those.
What's the best thing about your job?
The most rewarding thing is working with talented authors and illustrators and seeing children respond to their books. It's also enormous fun working with the talented people at Egmont.
What other books do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I'm a bit of an omnivorous reader, flitting about between fiction and non-fiction - the last novel I read was The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford - a very funny and sad book set near where I live in Gloucestershire. In non-fiction I've just started Neil Sheehan's colossal book about John Paul Vann, A Bright, Shining Lie, which tells the story of the American involvement in Vietnam through the experiences of one officer.
Thank you very much, Tim!