Free Comic Book Day and The Growing Legitimacy of Comic Books as Literature

“I just don’t have time for books anymore.”

If you’re a working adult, or even just a busy person of indeterminate age, you may have heard this sentiment among your peers. Maybe even you have slipped into that tenebrific bookless existence. I am here to offer a solution you may not have considered before: graphic novels.

This Saturday, May 5th, is Free Comic Book Day, an event created in 2002 in order to celebrate and increase the visibility of independent comic sellers across the United States. Various comic publishers release special 1-issue samples for comic shops to give away on Free Comic Book Day. Series such as The Avengers, Tank Girl, Riverdale and many others are represented on the list of this year’s free comic samples. If you’ve ever been interested in the world of comics, but had no idea where to start, Free Comic Book Day could be an excellent, low-risk opportunity for you to make your entrance. Locally, businesses such as Paradox Comics and Cards and Comic Junction are joining in on the festivities, but for a list of participating businesses in your area, or for more information on the event, you can visit the official Free Comic Book Day website.

Maus, the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

There is something of a stigma surrounding comics and graphic novels. Their ample use of images rings in people minds as akin to childish picture-books. Much like cartoons, comics and graphic novels suffer from the assumption that only children can, or should, enjoy them. While children certainly enjoy reading comic books, and an ample supply of the comics on the market are meant for children, there is also a thriving market of comic stories meant to be relevant to adults. When it comes to comic books for adults, the thought is that with fewer words per page, this makes graphic novel reading easier and thus less fulfilling than reading a full prose novel. Additionally, there exists and undesirable stereotype about the kind of adult who reads comic books: that of an obsessive, dysfunctional, child-like adult. Let’s banish all of these misconceptions from our minds. Just as there is traditional literature of every genre for every age, so too, are there impactful comics for everyone of any background.

Hugo-Award Winning Graphic Novel: Saga

Comic books (as well as their Eastern counterpart, called manga/manhwa) have been making strides recently both in widespread popularity and in credibility as a legitimate form of art and storytelling. In 1992, the historical memoir graphic novel Maus, became the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize. As a result, it is often read alongside other historical literature in classrooms around the country. The first volume of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga series, a provocative space opera with elements of fantasy, won a Hugo Award in 2013.

In 2009, five comic book artists had their artwork displayed at the Louvre in Paris as a part of a special exhibit titled “The Louvre invites the Comics“. Among the participating artists was Hirohiko Araki of Japan, the mangaka (comic book artist) who created the internationally acclaimed manga series Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Illustration by comic artist Hirohiko Araki, whose art has been featured in the Louvre.

As we can see, comics, manga, and graphic novels have continuously proven their legitimacy as a media for art and storytelling. They can offer a fulfilling reading experience for people of any age, often with a smaller time commitment. As a visual medium, graphic novels are distinctly poised to enrich the experience of stories in which world-building or character nuance is key. The novel’s artwork allows the author’s vision to be communicated in the truest way. There exist many comic book adaptations of already existing classic or acclaimed literature. Here is a list of 5 graphic novels based off your favorite stories to help get you break into the world of comics.


wrinkle-in-time-coverA Wrinkle In Time

Adapted by Hope Larson / Based on Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time
Grahic Novel – Monochrome / Sci-Fi, Adventure
Published by Margaret Ferguson Books

Many Americans remember A Wrinkle in Time as “that confusing sci-fi book” from their middle school English class days. You may have had the chance to revisit this story with the recently released live action adaptation. If you just can’t get enough, pick up a copy of Hope Larson’s A Wrinkle in Time and see how the medium of the graphic novel has transformed this familiar yet delightfully strange story.


Adapted by Kaoru Mori (writing & art) / Based on Jane Austin’s Emma
Manga – Black and White / Historical Fiction, Romance
Published by Yen Press

In Japan, comic books are called manga, and have developed their own iconic look and conventions for telling stories.  They are marked by their unique art style (sometimes also referred to as “anime style,” after their animated, and more widely known equivalent) their inventive use of paneling and emotive character expression.

While I have not personally read this adaptation of Emma, I have read Mori’s other work, A Bride’s Story, a collection of stories from the perspective of different women in the historical Middle East and Central Asia. Mori’s artistic attention to detail, especially in clothes and home decor is astounding and her nuance in character development make her perfectly suited to adapting this classic novel.

Note: read from left to right, as per the original layout in the Japanese language.


max-ride-coverMaximum Ride

Adapted by Narae Lee (story & art) / Based on James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series
Manga – Black and White / Urban Fantasy, Action
Published by Yen Press

For the thrill junkie, check out Narae Lee’s adaptation of James Patterson’s wildly popular Maximum Ride series. The story centers around a “flock” of children all genetically enhanced with wings and other abilities, as they evade the cruel and shadowy organization that made them that way. I personally think that the fast-paced nature of the story and the fantastic details of the plot lend themselves better to a graphic novel than a traditional book. For that reason, this manga series is, in my opinion, the best way to experience the Maximum Ride saga.


lastunicorn_tpb_cvrThe Last Unicorn

Adapted by Peter B. Gillis (story) Renae De Liz (art) & Peter Dillion (art)
Based on Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn
Graphic Novel / Color
Published by Idea & Design Works LLC

You may take on look at that word “unicorn” and conjure up notions of silly, girlish, fantasies swathed in pink. Nevertheless, you will find something a fair bit more nuanced and mature in The Last Unicorn, though no less pretty to look at. This story feels equal parts folk and fairytale, and the art style of the graphic novel adaptation does an excellent job evoking the unnerving yet alluring nature of both. The story revolves around the eponymous last unicorn as she leaves her forest to search for her kin, rumored to be missing by malicious means. She is joined by a clumsy magician and courageous bar maid as they forge into the territory of the ruthless King Haggard in order to discover the truth.



Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Adapted by Andy Seto (story & art)
Based on The Iron-Crane Pentology by Wang Dulu
Historical Fantasy, Wuxia (Martial Arts Action Adventure), Romance
Manhua / Color
Published by Comics One

You may not have known that director Ang Lee’s year-2000 award-winning martial arts epic was based upon a series of novels dubbed the Iron-Crane Pentology. Or that it was further adapted into a gorgeously illustrated manhua (Chinese graphic novel) series. Inspired in combination by the original novel series and the movie, this adaptation of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, offers an action-packed, drama-filled saga set in a fantastical interpretation of historical China surrounding the wielders of  the legendary sword, Green Destiny, and those who would seek to steal or destroy it.

Originally posted May 3, 2018
Written by Mikaila Norman

Margaret Atwood’s Anti-Prediction: A Sendoff to Women’s History Month

Margaret Atwood, photo by Kate Peters

It is always necessary to celebrate women and their accomplishments especially during the month of March. Women’s history month celebrates the integral contributions by women to better the world. One such woman who has proven words and words alone can make an impact on the world is Margaret Atwood. She has shown time and again how influential her writing is. The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985, continues to be one of her most popular novels, and for good reason; it still has people talking about it today.

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 and has since written more than 40 books of poetry, fiction, and essays. She has said that she never intended to be a feminist writer, but soon began to change her writing based on the evolving world around her. Many of her novels and poems involve female characters who are suffering in some way. Atwood has said, “My women suffer because most of the women I talk to seem to have suffered” (“Margaret Atwood”). This encapsulates The Handmaid’s Tale. The female characters are all struggling, both internally and externally.

For anyone who hasn’t read The Handmaid’s Tale, it follows a young woman named Offred. Her name is formed from a man’s first name, Fred, and the prefix “of” meaning “belonging to.” In Offred’s case, she belongs to the Commander and his wife. Together they make up one of the many households in Gilead, a theocratic republic in what used to be the United States.


Offred is a Handmaid and must provide a baby for the Commander and his wife, who is infertile. This is the sole purpose of the Handmaids. If Offred does not provide a baby she will be given to a different household or sent to the colonies. The colonies are areas of North America that have been contaminated by radioactive waste and pollution. Anyone in the Republic of Gilead who has broken a law or proven themselves useless to the reproductive cause is sent to the colonies to clean the area up as retribution for their crimes.

The world in which The Handmaid’s Tale takes place is one in which almost all women are infertile. The “lucky” ones who are fertile are essentially kidnapped, enrolled in a school to learn obedience, and forcibly placed into households to provide children. The Handmaids are given no other objective and have almost no rights as human beings. They are only allowed to leave the house for scheduled appointments or to fetch supplies, and they must never go alone. They cannot wear anything other than red dresses and white bonnets. They cannot speak out of turn, or disrespect their household in any way. The Handmaids are considered property more so than human beings.

So why is this book about a society built on seventeenth-century Puritan roots still relevant today? So much of The Handmaid’s Tale is controversial, and controversy gets people talking. Much of what happens to the Handmaids in the book is cruel and unspeakable. For instance, while in the Handmaids’ school, Moira, Offred’s best friend from before Gilead, pretends to be ill. She is brought to the hospital and when it is found out she is faking, her feet are maimed using steel cables. Only the feet and hands were injured because they were not essential to reproduction. However, the women prove time and again how strong willed, intelligent, and determined they are to fight past each obstacle thrown their way. As a result, The Handmaid’s Tale is considered a feminist novel by many.

When asked whether the book was written to be a feminist novel Atwood replied, “If you mean a novel in which women are human beings—with all the variety of character and behavior that implies—and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure, and plot of the book, then yes.” It is no wonder that in today’s society where the feminist movement is growing exponentially every day that books this continue to be used as resources and loved by many.

Photo by George Kraychyk/Hulu

In addition to the book remaining popular to readers, it was adapted as a series on Hulu in April 2017. Of course with almost any book turned into movie/television there will be changes. The changes made for the series are substantial enough to be noticed, but nothing changes the meaning or plot of the book.

Since the book was written over thirty years ago, Bruce Miller, the producer of the series, made certain alterations in order to update aspects of the book. In the time before Gilead, the characters use smartphones and laptops, which did not exist when the book was written. The cast is also much more diverse than what appears in the book. This was an important change for Miller. In an interview with Time Magazine he recalled, “That was a very big discussion with Margaret about what the difference between reading the words, ‘There are no people of color in this world’ and seeing an all-white world on your television, which has a very different impact…” (Dockterman). The third big change is Offred’s character. She is more rebellious than in the book. This change was made in order to make her character more relatable and interesting to watch. Even with these changes, the series stays true to the novel and is worth watching.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has quickly become a favorite book of many. The characters are relatable and the plot is harrowing, but what keeps people coming back is the fear it instills. It even appears some believe a world like Gilead is plausible in the near future. In fact, Atwood is often asked if the novel is a prediction to which she responded, “Let’s say it’s an anti-prediction: if this future can be described in detail, maybe it won’t happen.” Women from all over the United States have taken this to heart and are using the book as a way to protest women’s issues. One occurrence took place in Texas on March 20th, 2017. Women dressed in red robes and white bonnets entered a courtroom to protest an anti-abortion law being considered by the state senate. The law would make it illegal to obtain an abortion in the second trimester and would allow doctors to lie to women considering an abortion. The clothing the women wore gave them a way to protest peacefully while proving a point.

Hopefully Gilead never becomes a reality and Margaret Atwood’s beloved novel remains on the fiction shelves at the local library. Only time will tell, but in the meantime read, revisit, or watch The Handmaid’s Tale. For anyone who has already read or watched The Handmaid’s Tale do you consider it a feminist novel? What do you like or not like about it? Do you think a world like Gilead is possible? Are there any other books by Margaret Atwood you enjoy? Let’s keep the conversation going because after all controversy gets people talking.

Sources Cited:

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor Books, 1998.

Canfield, David. “Activists Dressed as Characters From The Handmaid’s Tale to Protest Texas’ Anti-Abortion Measures.” Slate. The Slate Group, 2017. <view online here>

Dockterman, Eliana. “The Differences Between The Handmaid’s Tale Show and Book, Explained.” Time. Time Inc., 2017. <view online here>

“Margaret Atwood.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2018.

Written by Kendra Johnson
Originally Posted April 2, 2018

Spring 2018 Interns

Meet the Interns – Spring 2018

We have a fresh new batch of interns coming on board this spring. They will be joining the team assembled last fall, sans Rachael, who has graduated and moved onto the big wide open world.

Despite the program only being about 4 years old, each of our new interns is pursing a degree in English with a Publishing Emphasis. There also seem to be some pet lovers among the bunch!

Let’s get to know our new recruits!


Ashley Thorpe

. . . is a senior at MSUM majoring in English with an Emphasis in Publishing. She hopes to work as an editor at a major publishing company after graduation. This is her first semester interning at New Rivers Press and is very excited to get more hands-on experience. Ashley is very passionate (not obsessed!) with Taylor Swift, cats, and reading. In her free time, you can find her on Twitter, watching New Girl for the fifth time, or forcing cuddle time with her cat.


Kendra Johnson

. . . is a senior at MSUM seeking a degree in English with an Emphasis in Publishing and a Writing Minor. She grew up reading everything she could get her hands on and always knew she had a passion for books. When she is not working or interning for New Rivers Press, she is spending her time playing with her dog (AKA the cutest dog on the planet), cheering on the Minnesota Vikings, or enduring the excruciatingly long wait for the last season of Game of Thrones. She is excited to graduate in the spring and hopefully find a job in the Fargo/Moorhead area.



Trevor Fellow . . .

is a senior at MSUM, studying English with an Emphasis on Publishing. He finds himself habitually correcting people’s pronunciation and spelling, even when he knows he oughtn’t, and insists on proper grammar and syntax at all times—whether that’s at the keyboard or on his old-timey dumbphone (“I’m not ignoring you, it just takes forever to type out ‘magnanimous’!”). He likes unusual stories that fuel the imagination, and is particularly fond of Watership DownAmerican Gods, and anything written by the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett. He discovered a passion for words at a young age, and at a slightly less young age discovered that what he really likes is helping other people with their words. He loves working for NRP, and hopes to use the experience to find a similar job elsewhere in the field.

Its great to see another bunch of enthusiastic students joining the NRP crew. Best of luck this spring!

Free Speech Week

Free Speech Week logo

Free speech debates are raging around us all the time—from college campuses to town halls to dinner tables, we hear debates on the first amendment continuously. However, we don’t always set aside time to appreciate the ‘freedom’ in our freedom of speech.

October 16-22 marks national Free Speech Week in the U.S. The celebration was started just 12 years ago in 2005 by The Media Institute, which intends it to be an “annual, non-partisan nationwide program … to raise awareness of the value of free speech in our democracy,” according to The Media Institute’s website.

One core piece of free speech is the freedom to access news, stories, and information no matter where you are. Of course, bibliophiles think instantly of books, but there are many other important channels for free speech as well. And free speech also gives us the opportunity to listen to things outside our viewpoints or comfort zone. To celebrate Free Speech Week, you could …

  • Download a podcast on a topic you know nothing about
  • Watch a documentary on a government conspiracy theory
  • Listen to a wide-ranging radio show like This American Life
  • Read op-eds on subjects you disagree with
  • Check out a banned book from a public library
  • Blog about threats to free speech, public expression, or a free press
  • Go to a town hall meeting or public forum
  • Protest a proposal or sign a petition
  • Attend an art show
  • Teach a friend or child about the history of free speech
  • Research what free speech is like in other countries
Free Speech Love badge

And of course, you can keep on reading great books that exercise and invigorate our first amendment freedoms. No matter what you think of America, at least you can tell those thoughts to the world. So, spark your creativity and join the national conversation today!


Whether you’re a student, or full-time member of the work force you deserve a little treat for making it through the month of September. Our treat to you is the announcement of our very first Instagram book giveaway!  Also a fun way to celebrate National Book Month, this will (hopefully) become an annual event that our followers can look forward to. We hope this will give us the chance to engage with you, our social media masses, and reach out to a wider literary audience. So, please hop on over to our Instagram, and get in on the free book action!

Here’s how you enter for the oh-so-coveted chance to win a free book of your choosing:

  • Make sure you are following our Instagram account: @newriverspress
  • Like the post announcing the book giveaway
  • Tag a friend in the comments (make sure they like the post and follow our page as well!)
  • Wait (impatiently) for the contest window to close (Deadline specified in the Instagram post)

We will enter your name, as well as your friends, into a blind drawing to decide the FIVE winners of the contest. We ask that there be only one entry per person. The winners will be announced one at a time via our Instagram account. In the posts following the announcement of the first winner, we will include a list of the remaining options for prizes.

The five books featured in the giveaway are titles from the last publishing season. The winners will have their pick of the following titles published at New Rivers Press:

Flucht by Michelle Matthees

It Turns Out Like This by Stephen Coyne

We Got Him by Elizabeth Searle

American Fiction Volume 15, and

Frozen Voices by Lynne Heinzmann


In the time following the announcement of the giveaway we will be releasing short summaries of each of the possible book prizes to let our participants get an idea of which book they would like to receive should they be drawn as a winner.

Happy National Book Month!

—Cameron S