Valdez knew from the start that Harmony Becker Himawari Housewhich earned a SLJ starred review, was something special.
Since her debut at First Second in 2016, editor Kiara Valdez has worked on several graphic novels that have received star-studded reviews, including one by Kat Leyh. Snapdragon (2020), Ngozi Ukazu Please check! (2018) and that of Kevin Panetta Bloom (2019).
Valdez knew from the start that Harmony Becker Himawari House (2021), which she acquired after seeing the webcomic version, was something special.
“Besides the beautiful art, the detail that drew me in was the masterful way Becker uses language to replicate what it feels like to study and live in another country,” she says of the book, about three foreign exchange students studying in Japan. “For example, most of the time, the Japanese dialogues are subtitled in English because the main character understands what is being said around her. But when she’s unsure, there are no subtitles, and readers are also left in the dark.
Valdez was right about Himawari House; it received what the publisher calls the “reviews bingo”: six starred reviews in book reviews, including one from SLJ.
Reading webcomics is part of the job for Valdez, who typically acquires six graphic novels a year and often finds new creators online. “Coming from a generation that grew up with webcomics and the popularization of [platforms such as] Web-toons and Tapas, I came in with a particular passion for adapting webcomics into books that we could publish,” she says.
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Valdez originally wanted to be a manga editor, but an informational interview with First Second’s editorial director Calista Brill changed that.
“[She] handed me a copy of Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang In real life (2014) and broadened my whole trajectory from ‘just manga’ to ‘comic books’ in general,” says Valdez. A year later, Valdez started working at First Second as a “brave and very Dominican editorial assistant,” as she puts it.
“One of the first questions I asked was, ‘Where are the Latinx stories?’ First Second has always cared about publishing books by a diverse group of creators, but there were obvious gaps that we, and the comics industry in general, needed to fill. to acquire projects from Latinx, Black and/or queer creators to fill these gaps.
Once she acquires a project, Valdez sees the editor’s role as providing perspective. “A good publisher should have the ability to put themselves in a reader’s shoes and tell the creator what he [as a reader] struggle to,” she says, “guide the creator (through questions and suggestions) to a version of the story that better realizes that creator’s intent.
Valdez is also a writer, which she says has helped her better understand the creators she works with. “I can talk more deeply about the craft because I’m going through it,” she says. Being an editor also informs her own work. “Because I know ‘how things work’, I can balance my love of the craft with a healthy dose of strategy.