This week we were supposed to run a review of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, a graphic novel by Chicagoan Emil Ferris about a precocious ten-year-old who becomes embroiled in the political turbulence of late 1960s Chicago as she tries to investigate the murder of her Holocaust-survivor upstairs neighbor. The reason we are not is because Fantagraphics, Ferris’s publisher, informed us last week that the entire print run of the book, 10,000 copies, is stranded on a cargo ship that has been seized at the Panama Canal.
The seizure has nothing to do with Fantagraphics or with Ferris, but with the bad luck of the book’s Chinese printer deciding to use Hanjin, a South Korean freight company, to transport the books from China to the U.S. In late August, after the books were already en route, Hanjin’s creditors, led by the South Korean state bank, announced they would no longer be supporting the company. On August 31, the company filed for bankruptcy protection, leaving 86 cargo ships carrying cargo worth approximately $14 billion literally at sea.
“Hanjin owed so much money to the ports,” explains Jacq Cohen, Fantagraphics’ director of marketing, publicity, and promotions, “that the boats literally are not allowed to come into port.”
And among the ships that were seized was the one containing the shipment of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters.
Monsters is Ferris’s first book, and Cohen says Fantagraphics has been doing its best to reassure her that it will be published. “No one wants to hear their books have been lost at sea,” says Cohen. “But we’ve been in touch with Emil by e-mail almost every day and she feels supported.”
The company’s lawyers are consulting with a maritime lawyer to see if there’s any way to rescue the lost shipment and find out how Fantagraphics will be reimbursed, but in the meantime, the publisher has decided to reprint. The new publication date will be in February. The publisher will not be using Hanjin.
“We’ve never done anything like this before in the 40 years we’ve been in business,” says Cohen.
Cohen isn’t sure of the logistics of how the books came to be shipped by Hanjin. “This is a printer we work with often because they do beautiful work,” she explains, “and can accommodate special trim sizes and ink. They work with a broker to do the shipping. It’s a good thing we have a lawyer, because it’s very complicated, and it’s difficult to say whose responsibility this is.”
Cohen is optimistic, though, that none of this trouble will detract from the impact of Monsters, once it’s finally released. “This book is so special,” she says. “I think we’ll look back on this in two years as a funny or crazy story, not a sad or stressful scramble.”
Update 10/27: The books have been found! Or, rather, the Panamanian government decided to release them. They arrived in New York on Wednesday and are now en-route to the distributor.
Writes Cohen in an e-mail: “We have no idea why (why they seized it in the first place and why they released it now). It’s utterly mystifying. All we know now is that we are in the clear. The book was released before we had to get into a legal tangle, so there was no need to get the lawyer involved.”
The book will still be released in February because Cohen already shifted the media campaign, but there will be no need to reprint.
And so they all lived happily ever after.