Apostolos Doxiadis

BookExpo America 2009 Remains Strong for Comics Publishers

By Calvin Reid and Heidi MacDonald, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

The book publishing industry may be in a crisis over the future of BookExpo America, but you couldn’t tell that from talking to comics and graphic novel publishers at the show. Comics publishers big and small seemed to have nothing but praise for this year’s BEA, citing a steady stream of foot traffic, meetings, deals and new opportunities during the show. And the praise wasn’t only about business deals and networking; such comics as David Small’s Stitches, Bloomsbury USA’s Logicomix: an Epic Search For Truth and R. Crumb’s Genesis Illustrated, were among the biggest and most talked about books at BEA.

BookExpo America attendees crowd publishers's booths in the Diamond Comics rowMaybe it’s because comics and related materials seem do well despite the economy or maybe it’s because comics publishers, mainstreamed into the book industry only over the last 7 or 8 years, are still riding a wave of trade and educational recognition by the book world–but most comics publishers contacted by PWCW at the show were enthusiastic about this year’s BookExpo America. In fact, many comics professionals and publishers (as well as some small book publishers) seemed a bit puzzled by the pessimism surrounding BEA’s future. Taking note of industry criticism aimed at BEA, Diamond Book Distribution’s Kuo-yu Liang, told PWCW he wanted to offer a “dissenting” opinion and called the show “terrific; busy with lots of interest in our publishers and books from every channel.”

Dark Horse’s Michael Martens said DH had a “great show” citing a succession of meetings with buyers, librarians and even increased interest from independent general bookstores looking to get involved in the category. Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds echoed this, saying it was probably the best BEA for the publisher in four years. IDW’s Ted Adams agreed that it was a busy show, while handing out galleys of Darwyn Cooke’s Richard Stark adaptation The Hunter, one of the hottest previews in the graphic novel aisle. Tokyopop v-p of marketing Marco Pavia said, “We had a great show; we rarely left the booth and the mood of the BEA crowd seemed much more upbeat than last year.” Image Comics had busy signings with Frank Cho and Robert “The Walking Dead” Kirkman and got an enthusiastic response from librarians for their kids books, including G-man.

San Francisco-based distributor/publisher Last Gasp, which publishes and distributes prose titles as well as comics, did express some frustration with the BEA. Like many book publishers, Last Gasp publisher Colin Turner said he was concerned about “the purpose of the show,” and suggested the show’s organizer should consider opening BEA to the public—a much-discussed but contentious topic among mainstream book publishers who have generally been opposed to it. But most comics publishers appeared to be happy with the current version of BEA. Last Gasp also exhibited their forthcoming first volume of Pelu by indie/psychedelic manga artist, Junko Mizuno.The book is coming out in August of this year and Last Gasp publisher Colin Turner plans to bring advance copies to San Diego Comic-con this summer.

DC Comics wasn’t exhibiting but Marvel showed off new books by Barry Lyga (Wolverine: Worst Day Ever); Nancy Butler (Pride & Prejudice) and Eric Shanower and Skott Young (Wizard of Oz) and threw a small 70th anniversary beer-bash at its booth in the Diamond Book Distribution row. Standing in his booth on the show floor, NBM publisher Terry Nantier was all smiles when PWCW stopped by to talk. He said that he was having a “great show” and cited lots of meetings with booksellers and librarians. Nantier was also touting several new books, among them The Big Kahn by Xeric award-winning comics writer Neil Kleid and artist Nicolas Cinquegrani, the story of a rabbi who is revealed as a fraud at his funeral; and The Year of Loving Dangerously by troublemaking cartoonist Ted Rall and artist Pablo G. Callejo, a graphic memoir that recounts Rall’s bout with homelessness when he was a college student in New York City in the 1980s.

Although Macmillan did not exhibit at the show, many of its imprints had significant comics titles at BEA. Macmillan subsidiary Bloomsbury USA did exhibit and publicity director Peter Miller said he spent the weekend handing out galleys of Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, an unusual biographic work about philosopher/mathematician Bertrand Russelll, by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou with art by Alecos Papadataos and Annie Di Donna. He said there was “great” interest in the book and pointed to a steady stream of interest and specific requests for the galley. Macmillan’s graphic novel imprint First Second and its editorial director Mark Siegel were featured on BEA’s very first YA Buzz Panel. Siegel used the opportunity to discuss Danica Novgorodoff’s Refresh, Refresh—“one of our best books yet”—a graphic adaptation of a Pushcart Award-winning short story by Benjamin Percy about two boys monitoring email from their fathers, who are fighting in Iraq.

While Viz Media also did not exhibit at BEA, the San Francisco-based manga publisher was taking meetings off the exhibition floor in the room set up by its distributor, Simon & Schuster. Viz v-p for sales and marketing Gonzalo Ferreyra told PWCW, that in even in this difficult economy, manga and graphic novels in general, “were stronger than ever.” Ferreyra also pointed to Viz’s efforts to introduce new kinds of manga into the U.S. market, noting both VizKids and the recent launch of SigIkki, the online magazine Viz plans to use to introduce and market manga aimed at older readers. He pointed to Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea, the first title to come from SigIkki; and also noted the fall publication of Go Go Monster by Taiyo Matsumoto, author of the Eisner Award winning Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White.

Comics stole the show at the Editors Buzz Panel, a venue reserved for the biggest adult books at the show. A number of publishing professionals approached PWCW to praise Caldecott award-winning illustrator David Small’s disturbing new graphic memoir Stitches—at the panel, W.W. Norton executive editor Robert Weil called it a book about a life “so terrifying it could have been imagined by Kafka”—and said it was the most “exciting” book presented during the panel.

In the bookselling programming, Jamie Carter from B&T’s Publisher Alley led a discussion of sales to libraries, spotlighting graphic novels with Liang and RandomHouse’s Ceneta Lee-Williams. Carter mentioned that GNs were a category built from scratch over the last 7 or 8 years, with libraries making up between 52 and 98% of B&T sales on a given title. The panel stressed that reviews are crucial for getting a book noticed by libraries.


Image Comics's Jim Valentino (l.) and CBLDF director Charles Brownstein at BookExpo America 2009
Jim Valentino (l.) shows off Image Comics Silverline kids imprint alongside CBLDF director Charles Brownstein.

Although graphic novel publishers seemed immune to much of the agita over e-publishing that gripped much of the rest of the floor, digital delivery was still much on the minds of publishers. Dark Horse and IDW have already created their own platforms for iTunes, and other houses are gearing up to either go it on their own or signing up with one of the explosion of iTunes distribution companies, such as iVerse or ulick. “It’s something we need to look into, but it has to be the right opportunity,” said Fantagraphics Eric Reynolds.

Amazon’s Kindle digital reader was also a topic of discussion; indeed some comics publishers received invitations from Amazon to view a forthcoming Kindle device with enhanced graphical display. Several publishers are already supplying digital files to Amazon in order to help the retailer improve the device’s ability to display comics.

Despite all the problems with the show and its place in the book world, Diamond’s Liang was bullish on BEA’s importance as a kind of one-stop-marketplace for a range of comics dealings, including international trade and the seemingly endless quest to get more indie bookstores to stock graphic novels. He mentioned very preliminary discussions with two of the biggest book fairs in the Arab world—the Dubai Book Fair and Sharjah World Book Fair—to bring graphic novels into the Arab book marketplace. And he noted that Diamond is also working with the educational seminars of both the American Booksellers Association and the Canadian Booksellers Association, to introduce the category to booksellers in those organizations. “There’s progress being made but much more work to be done,” he said. “It’s been a very productive show. And there’s no one story; it’s happening all over.”

[Additional reporting by Kai-Ming Cha]

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