It's an undisputable fact that Seattle's own Fantagraphics Books is the best comic-book publisher in the United States. It may even be the best comic-book publisher in the world. This has been a truth for so long that it's easy to take Fantagraphics for granted: Seems like they've always been up there in their creepy serial-killer-looking house just off Lake City Way, publishing work by Daniel Clowes, Stranger Genius Ellen Forney, and the Hernandez Brothers that expands the medium. They've survived long enough to see comic books become accepted as real literature by all but the worst, most boring human beings in the literary world. They've survived chain bookstores,, and the e-book explosion. But right now, they're going through what might be the biggest, most difficult change of their entire history.

Last year, Fantagraphics copublisher Kim Thompson passed away. With founder Gary Groth, Thompson established the Fantagraphics aesthetic, editing and publishing only high-quality work from the finest cartoonists. Thompson also championed the translation and publication of international comics work, bringing Lewis Trondheim, Jason, Gabriella Giandelli, and many other beloved European comics artists to America. Thompson's death was a serious blow for the publisher. Aside from the obvious heartbreak of losing a friend and longtime coworker, Fantagraphics lost its chief translator and a major editorial force—Thompson was working on 13 upcoming releases at the time of his death. The company held a Kickstarter campaign to pre-fund the publication of its spring list of 39 titles (the $150,000 goal was reached in less than a week, and those Kickstarted books are just trickling out to bookstore shelves now).

But now that the crisis has passed, what's next? Today at 1 p.m., I'll be moderating a panel of Fantagraphics editors Gary Groth, Eric Reynolds, Mike Catron, and Kristy Valenti at Emerald City Comicon to discuss the company's plans for the years ahead. Wherever the publisher is heading, a survey of some of their most recent publications indicates that they're starting on solid ground...

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